Placeholder Theory a.k.a. Advice for Creators

How learning to step back leads to giant steps forward

Marilyn McNeal
Jun 18 · 4 min read
intuitive, organic, instinctive, optimistic

A few weeks ago, a friend posted in a marketing group about being overwhelmed by how much there is to do when you’re working on your content and developing your brand.

I remember that feeling because that was me at different points over the past two-plus years of working on my own music project. Moving from one task to the next, tracking down one new resource after another, I felt like I was trying to put out a fire that kept getting bigger. And bigger. And bigger.

I still feel overwhelmed from time to time, but it happens much less frequently because I paid attention to what felt terrible and I paid attention to what felt good.

I’ve learned so much from these first years of starting my creative music project. Here are some of the ideas that helped me.

Sometimes the best ideas come after a break. Focus on getting just one or two things done a day and then give your brain, mind, heart, and soul time to absorb it all and communicate the next step. At the heart of making and marketing is a never-ending exploration of “why.” Why am I doing this? Why is this important to me? Why does this need to be moved out into the world?

Getting all of these juicy inner drivers excavated and available is not a 100% linear process nor is this something completely based on conscious awareness. Sometimes not focusing on your project brings its core elements into a clearer focus. So work work work and then forget about it and do something else. The answers will come when you are not looking for them.

Fall in love with re-building because iteration is king. When I started my folk music project two and a half years ago, I inhaled every blog, video and group post I could find about what to do, how to do it and how to get my work out into the world. I dug deep, wrote, recorded, edited and put my work out there, confident that it was authentic, clear and accessible to those who might benefit from it.

What I didn’t know is that my message, sense of priorities, understanding of my audience and willingness to share myself would shift and grow over time.

To date, I’ve redone my website, cover photos, banners and thumbnails probably more times than I can count. I used to think “This is it! I’ve got it dialed in.” Now I understand that this is it for now. I know that somewhere down the line I’ll have an even better understanding of my ‘why’ and then I’ll re-do all of the artwork I’ve done and replace the old with the new.

Bottom line — know that most of what you build today you will rebuild a few months down the road as you learn more. Put another way, almost everything you make is a placeholder for something better that is on the way.

Don’t rush to market once your product and marketing plan is in place. If you’re planning on selling your work, consider giving yourself 6 -12 months before you offer items for sale. In her 2017 Medium article, “The 12 Design Principles of Permaculture as Rules of LivingErin Meyer reminds us to

“Observe and interact- Let’s slow down and observe and appreciate our surroundings and others.”

While this idea was discussed in the context of cultivating a respectful relationship with the earth, the same applies to develop your audience for the goods and services you plan on offering to them.

Spend a year getting to know the people who are drawn to your work.

Read the comments they leave and get to know what work they’re sharing. Who is in your audience ecosystem and why are they drawn to you? What do they get out of your work? Specifically, how does it make them feel?

You can get a general idea from how folks engage with a few of your posts, but you’ll have a much clearer of a picture after six months to a year of comments, reactions and engagement.

Once you analyze this kind of data thoughtfully, you’ll be truly ready to make an offer to your community.

Lo-fi = done and done means you’re free to start all over again. A year ago, I had seven of my songs re-mixed and mastered professionally then turned into a CD for sale. I’d worked with the audio engineer for many years and loved his awesome ears and respectful edits.

The artwork I came up with felt great and my audience was genuinely excited about the offer. Overall, it was a positive experience and I have no complaints. But one year later, I’ve decided to offer downloads of the music as I’ve mixed it (lo-fi) because it’s more consistent with my approach to making unvarnished music and art.

My mixing has improved, but the decision to offer my work “as is” is based on my desire to respect my lo-fi roots instead of shellac over them.

Turns out “leveling up” to industry standards means ignoring my aesthetic and my personal standards. Completely against the point of making original work in the first place.

The takeaway here is that whatever feels done is done. If what you upload, publish or share feels like a solid offering to your community, then respect that and offer it up!

The folks who appreciate what you do will thank you.


Stories that celebrate the openness about the joys, victories, milestones, and pitfalls of life.

Marilyn McNeal

Written by

Chantmagick is a California based artist using music and video to explore our connection to nature.



Stories that celebrate the openness about the joys, victories, milestones, and pitfalls of life.

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