Ask the Mentor: How do I break my COVID creative drought?

Media Mentor Esther Coleman-Hawkins answers your career questions with brisk no-nonsense advice for screen professionals. And COVID impacts us all.
Ask the Mentor: How do I break my COVID creative drought? Today, Esther talks to EP Tom Whitty about how to keep inspiration alive in overwhelming times. Image via Shutterstock.

Esther Coleman-Hawkins

Sunday 6 September, 2020

Mr J writes…I feel like I’ve been in lockdown forever – I live in Brunswick so I sort of have been. I keep seeing series like Cancelled (produced during stage 4 lockdown in Spain) or ABC's Retrograde, and frankly they just make me more depressed that I’m not making fantastic content. I keep having ideas, but I just haven’t got it in me. How can I get my creativity and energy back? 

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 I hear you. My heart is heavy, I haven’t seen a friend or my work colleagues for weeks.

My stylish masks are annoying the Bejeesus out of me, and disco-damaged hearing means I can’t understand shop assistants (my only non-family conversations). 

Meanwhile I’m trying to work on new ideas to the soundtrack of ABC Kids. 

Unsurprisingly, my va-va-va-voom has f-f-f-fecked off.

The lockdown is right – saving lives is absolutely the most important thing. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck. 

In our industry, creativity is built on collaboration, on bouncing ideas around, starting with the spark of an idea before working together to unearth something incredible. Solo brainstorming on a whiteboard is both lonely and depressing – the very opposite of inspiration.

Read More: Australian comedy gets DIY and digital in isolating times
We hold some weird thoughts as truisms. Like stress causes weight loss or genius doesn’t require work.  Or that all the extra time on Jobkeeper / seeker (or living off your savings because you don’t qualify for Government support) is the best time to create that fabulous film that’s been hiding in you. 

I spoke to Tom Whitty about his experience of 2020. He’s executive producer of Australia Talks for the ABC, the host of comedy podcast Time To Die, and the former managing editor of The Project. He’s also full of ideas and always creating. 

 He said:

'Try to remember why you first pursued a creative career. If you’re like me, it was purely for the love of being creative. This idea that you need to always be creating the next masterpiece, or impressing your peers, should be banished from your creative brain. It kills the opportunity to create something purely for the joy of it. 

'For me, I’m not viewing 2020 as some great opportunity to write the next King Lear. I’m viewing it as a free pass. A chance to revert to my idealistic 14-year-old self who played guitar and wrote songs, and poems, and drew pictures of his friends.'

He concluded, 'I’m doing all of those things now, with no end game in place. I started doing it because it is better than doing nothing. I'm continuing to do it because I'm absolutely loving it. Give yourself that free pass.'

Yes! What he said. Stop comparing yourself to other people. It doesn’t help, and there isn’t a limited number of creative ideas. 

Accept where you are. Self-flagellation for not being ‘more’ seems unhelpful at best and downright damaging at worst.  I used to be a big fan of being angry at myself for not doing more. I made a conscious decision to stop it a few years ago. I’m no more or less productive but it is significantly nicer to live being kind to myself. 

Try doing something creative in a totally different field – paint something, draw, bake, edit, write, film, take photos. You might find that once you do one thing, you might well free up ideas in another area.

We’re in the middle of a global pandemic – there is no rule book for how we behave. The impacts of 2020 will be long lasting and wide ranging, probably in ways we can’t imagine. If you don’t do anything creative this year then you’ll still be ok.  

But take away the expectation of creating the next Cancelled or Retrograde, and you might just find you rediscover your enjoyment of your imagination. 

Got a question for the mentor? Send it to us at editor@screenhub.com.au with the subject line 'Media Mentor Question' and we'll pass it onto Esther.

Media Mentors are currently partnering with ACMI to produce the twice-weekly Running Free online skills workshops for screen industry professionals and enthusiasts, delivered free.

About the author

Co-founder of Media Mentors, Esther Coleman-Hawkins, is an experienced TV producer, conference organiser and career mentor. She’s made factual series for public service broadcasters around the world. She has also had the dubious honour of developing or producing 13 series about obesity… She’s developed numerous ideas for Australian production companies including 'Secrets of Our Streets' for SBS and 'Luke Warm Sex' for ABC1; she has an electric google search history. With Media Mentors she is building on her passion for helping people to develop their careers in the creative field.