The Meta Trap

Why no-one understands what you do as a creative

Reinoud Schuijers
Apr 6, 2019 · 3 min read
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Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

Us creatives. Writers, designers, illustrators, musicians. We tend to walk into the same trap over and over again.

The meta trap.

Meta — adjective. Referring to itself or to the conventions of its genre; self-referential.

When we write for clients or a wider audience, we keep thinking: what will other writers think?

When we design a brand identity for a startup company, we ask ourselves: will my peers like this?

And when we talk to others about our craft, we think: would the way I talk about my work impress other illustrators? Am I unique enough? Do my individualism and style shine through?

We tend to lose ourselves focussing on what other creatives might think, and we adjust our work and how we talk about it accordingly. Meta stuff. But other creatives aren’t paying your mortgage — your clients and your audience are.

When you focus too much on becoming revered by your peers, your potential clients just can’t seem to grasp what it is that you do and if you’re any good at it.

The bakery

If you go out to buy a loaf of bread, does the baker talk about how much yeast is in each loaf of bread? The type of oven? What stickers are on the side of his oven? How long he has been a baker for, and the feeling he has that other bakers are all doing the same thing, and how he stands out? Does he tell you that, technically, he wouldn’t consider himself a baker, but more a creator of gluten?

No. Of course, he doesn’t. Instead, he tells you why a certain bread is so incredibly delicious. Why it goes well with paté. What type of butter to use. He talks about the texture, the smell, and how it is best cut. He tells you to skip the croissants, but go for a more yeasty bread instead, if you plan on freezing it.

And he talks about this new thing you should really try. He samples it to you. You like it. You buy some.

A baker talks about his craft in a way that makes you A) want to buy his stuff, and B) believe he must be one hell of a baker.

In the meantime, us creatives talk about our crafts in a way that hardly anyone who isn’t a creative understands. We confuse people. We forgo cutting to the case. We pull up smoke curtains because we want to be unique and accoladed by other creatives. We’re stuck in the meta trap.

But (potential) clients need guidance. They need to know what you do. They need to know that you’re a baker, so when they need bread, they will think about you, and not about the creator of gluten they once spoke to.

Be more like the baker. Make people want to buy your stuff. Accept that it is bread that you sell and make people believe that yours is by far the best in town.

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