• Brenna McCormick

Returning to a Creative Endeavor

Updated: Mar 12, 2019

When you come back to a project or idea, you have to take into account your new experiences, new insights.  You are, in a sense, a new version of yourself.  What if returning could also be the action that transforms your perspective?

The Paper Compass blog has been quiet. While my life has not.


Which is why it is a big deal for me to return here, to dust off my blog-writing, and most importantly to honor that this idea, started in the winter of 2010, still has a heartbeat.


As the desire to return to my blog has increased in volume the past few months, I have reflected on what it means to return to this idea. In some ways, it means being vulnerable to my own guilt and criticism for lack of perseverance and follow through. This is a creative project that has languished. Or, in harsher terms: been abandoned; set aside; placed on the proverbial back burner.


It is one thing to have a manuscript tucked away in a drawer, or a film half edited on your hard drive, as your relationship with that idea and its momentum (or not) is personal and private. Blogs, however—and all online endeavors—live in this half-light world of immediacy and reference. Their contents, whether a series of thoughts, ideas, articles or essays, exist without the container—of a print publication, the physical cover of a book, the expiration of a magazine. They are a project that reveals itself in real-time but with no end date. This makes them unique. They are an idea made immediately visible, and with this comes motivation, but also more potential for their public demise or neglect.


In the past few years, when I thought about The Paper Compass, I would think of it floating around on the internet, out of date, like space junk.


In moments of wanting to simplify, I would Kon-Mari it, “Does it spark joy?”

(“Not in its current state.”) 


More importantly, “Is it helping anyone?”

The tentative answer, “Maybe?”


And, “I hope so.”


Even if that person was just myself.


More than saying, “I did that. I wrote that. I put that out there.” I knew that The Paper Compass blog was a space I created to experiment. And write.  And share musings and meditations on what I am passionate about: helping people discover their sense of creativity, regardless of medium.


I wanted to come back to that.



So what does it mean to return?


Ironically, my last post in July of 2015, was a post about embracing the end of an endeavor. While I was writing about the emotional energy “dip” that I experience after the semester ends, I was actually in a transitional phase in my work life, moving towards something new, balancing my usual Account Manager duties at the digital agency where I worked, while building out a new endeavor for the company.  This was only the first shift in what would become four years of intense growth and moving (happily) outside my comfort zone.


In 2016, I began teaching full time, in a new major, Business of Creative Enterprises, which was the perfect melding of my professional experience, expertise and passion for creativity. I dove into this position and everything that came with it, both learning and creating, and creative problem solving.  And, as if there was not enough new things going on, I decided to steepen my own learning curve, as I also became a new mom, to my now 15 month-old son, Avery. This semester, just having written and submitted my third year review, I marvel at how fast the time has gone, as I begin advising my original first year students as they now become seniors; and come home in the evenings to a toddler who wants to climb out of the baby-safe areas and explore every dusty nook of the house.


So, two new jobs and a baby. Three leaps in learning and becoming.


I think I can forgive myself for some lapses in my blog posts. I can also be glad that The Paper Compass is here for me to return to; that the passion to take my material out of the classroom remains. Even more important, thanks to motherhood and teaching full-time, I feel more fueled by my experiences and observations.


Which brings me to what it means to return to a project or idea.



You are not the same as when you left off


When you come back to a project or idea, you have to take into account your new experiences, new insights.  You are, in a sense, a new version of yourself.  In the tradition of Joseph Campbell’s the hero’s journey, the hero returns, transformed, to where he started with new knowledge or power.  Yet, what if returning could also be the action that transforms the hero? Inspired by a new episode of my favorite series Chef’s Table on Netflix, I’ve been thinking about how returning to an idea, project or place can actually help solidify and frame your experiences.


In the latest season of Chef’s Table, in episode one, Chef Mashama Bailey begins the episode reflecting on her return to a place of childhood memories in Savannah, Georgia. In the opening she says, “When I left Georgia, there was a piece of me that was missing. Maybe it was the sun, maybe it was the marsh, maybe it was the smell of cut grass. Something was calling me. And then to come back to the Golden Coast and connect with the people and land, there is something that started to fill my soul. I think that there is a sense of pride and a sense of peace that happens when you come back home.”


Later in the episode, after she has trained and worked in France and in New York, she says, “When I returned to Savannah I was super nostalgic, I thought I could almost pick up where I left off, but I did not know this city at all through adult eyes. I was on my own. I had no friends here. I realized very quickly that I was an outsider.”


When Chef Bailey arrived in Savannah, it was the combination of both the challenge and the creative opportunity to create her own menu at her restaurant The Grey that pushed her to seek her own perspective, and to create something new.


Which is what I want to explore this year as I return to writing this blog. I have new thoughts.  Many inspired by the collision of deeper research, from my classes, and motherhood—of raising a small human, and living in a home that has now been taken over by baby gates and toys that chirp and sing and dance when I step on them (or eerily sometimes when I enter the room). My world is less self-centered, and more shared, generous and more exhausted. All of which gives me new perspectives and insights.


In this new, dusted-off version of The Paper Compass blog, you can anticipate posts on aesthetics, playfulness, routines, and even being inspired by data.  This blog is always about creativity, so I will not go full "mommy-blog," but I will be exploring what I see from this new perspective.  I hope that you will also find inspiration in each topic, helping you to navigate the creative projects you are working on.


Invitation to Share


My passion is to help people explore, grow and focus their creative thinking abilities, through which they discover their unique voice. I hope this blog helps you with that. Please leave comments and questions to let me know. Sharing drives valuable conversations.


I am also curious to learn:

What are some of the things that you have experienced that have given your creative work a unique perspective when you’ve returned to it?



Inspiration: Returning to a Project or Idea


Honor the New You: When you come back to a project or idea you’ve had experiences and insights that have changed you since you first began. As you pick up the project or return to the idea, consider: how can this new version of you inspire, influence or move the the project forward in a way that you could not previously?


Listen: If you’ve returned to a project or idea, it is important to identify what motivated you to do so. What prompted you to come back to the task? What new inspiration will keep you going?


Forgive: Life happens. Creative projects sometimes get derailed. Ideas die. If they don’t-- respect and honor them. Thank them for showing back up. Let go of guilt, shame, or whatever you beat yourself up about when you put down the project or idea before and forgive yourself. Then start again from a new place.


Define expiration dates and expectations: As I wrote about at the beginning of the post, some creative tasks need containers or else the Creative—more than the project—suffers from having no end-goal. Giving yourself deadlines and “expiration dates” for projects is actually highly motivating for creativity. And, if you don’t make a date, then move on to the next—whether that is a post or a new project. Find liberation in letting go of what isn’t working, or dig deep to discover what you need to do to make something flow again.



Speaking of which: My goal with TPC 2.0 is to post once a month, for roughly the next year. That feels realistic, while also challenging me to, as Seth Godin would say, “ship.” It also gives me an exit date, depending on what other projects may start brewing.


If you’ve been away too, then welcome back!

If you are new, I hope that you’ll join me on this refresh endeavor. 




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