10 Hard Truths About Making Things.
…you might die without finishing anything.
You might die without finishing anything
When you’re a creative, unless you’re lucky enough to have a book deal or a paid publishing gig, you don’t have a lot of accountability. It’s a very privileged freedom, but it’s a freedom we pay for.
It means that most of the time, the world will keep spinning if you drop off the planet and never finish another piece of work. And it also means that you are the only one who can make you finish anything.
Because if you don’t push yourself, every day, to wake up and look in the mirror and ignore the feeling of near exhaustion that comes with balancing creativity and life itself, you could die without finishing anything.
Some people get rich building things. But that’s not the point.
There’s no end of examples of startup founders and rock stars and YA authors who have made absolute bank and never have to work another day in their lives. I wish I was one of them, believe me.
If you want to make more money than Scrooge McDuck, that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that.
By all means, plan to make money. Work to make money. Capitalise financially on whatever success you have.
But if you want to build or create something of honesty and integrity, whether that’s a startup or an album of Japanese noise music, you have to be able to put aside that focus on getting rich.
You are going to be misunderstood, but it doesn’t matter
We all want people to understand us, and understand our work, and understand what drives us. On some levels, the act of building something is an attempt to communicate in our own language. That could be an app, a line of code, or a book.
But nobody speaks that same language as you. And people are going to miss the point, read between the lines and add their own opinion and interpretations to whatever you make.
It’s going to get frustrating, and you’re going to want to scream.
You might even feel persecuted when people get the wrong end of the rope and try to hang you with it. Does it matter? No way. All that matters is that you listen to what drives you and you create what needs to be created.
Having a job is a learning experience, not an obstacle
Businesses can take a while to catch on, apps aren’t always an instant hit, and I’ve got news for the writers out there — even Kim Kardashian can’t sell more than 30,000 copies of a book. Most of us won’t be able to make a living off what we build right away. That’s where having a job comes in.
When all you want to do is work on your own project and create something that matters, it’s frustrating to have to set it aside every day and focus on the work that will make you money. The work that will pay the bills. The office job with the business suit or the 9-hour shift in a uniform you hate wearing.
But I challenge anyone to show me a job from which you can’t learn something. I flipped Burgers at McDonald’s for 5 years when all I wanted to do was paint skateboards, code websites and tour with a succession of shitty bands. It taught me how to manage people, how to manage my time, how to serve customers, and how to surprise and delight people when they don’t expect it.
The work you love could go unrecognised
The best thing I have ever written, in my honest opinion, is a 5-page short story about my experiences playing punk rock and hanging out with my best friends before life drove us apart. I love it, and I’m proud of it. Every now and then when I read through it, I honestly feel like I haven’t achieved the same raw emotion in anything I’ve created since.
Unfortunately, everyone I have shown it to can’t stand that piece of writing. They just can’t.
Part of being able to create anything at all ( and you can create anything at all) is being able to accept that what resonates with you could be hated by everyone else.
When John Romero made the video game Daikatana, he was creating the game that he dreamed of playing. Almost everyone hated it. I don’t know how he feels about it now or if he’s still as proud of it as he was when he first made it, but I do know that it was widely reviled.
(Yo John, if you ever read this, I thought it ruled. But those damn insects though…)
Your worst work could be your legacy
There’s a flip-side to number 5. The work that you always felt let you down, the pieces and the concepts and companies that never quite lived up to your dreams could be what you are remembered for. You want to know why?
You don’t get to control anyone’s perception of your work.
Starving artists are just entrepreneurs and creatives with no business sense
With the internet where it is, there’s no reason why you can’t turn what you build into at least a minor revenue stream. How? You treat it like a business. This is something I plan to expand on in a future post, but what it really comes down to is that…
Anything Can Be A Startup.
You can take whatever creative work you are pursuing and turn it into a business if you try hard enough. But you have to treat it like a business. Have a product, have a marketing plan, and understand how to grow revenue. Read the $100 startup. Read almost any book on startups. Don’t be a starving artist, be a businessperson with a flair for painting.
When you want to quit, nobody will talk you out of it…
…In fact, they’ll probably celebrate. Most people talk about Richard Branson, Paul McCartney and J.K. Rowling as though they were gods. Most people talk about entrepreneurs and creatives in hushed tones and admire them for being courageous and innovative.
But if you say you want to start a company or write a book, they’ll change their tune.
I’m not sure why this is. I wish I was. As a general rule, if we all lived our lives by what the majority of people wanted us to do, there’d be no end of engineers, lawyers and doctors and there’d never be another novel published.
So when you start to doubt your path (and you will) there’s a good chance your friends won’t tell you to stick to your guns.
The only person who will tell you not to quit is you. Because the only person who truly believes is you.
Talent won’t mean anything when you don’t finish anything.
This is something that I find difficult to accept. It doesn’t matter how good anything I create is, it only matters that I get it finished.
You’ll never be able to create your best work if you don’t publish any work. You’ll never turn your startup into Google if you never get it past a landing page with an email sign up form and a vague concept of an MVP.
Nothing has to be perfect.
Read that line again until you believe it.
Now read it again until you can think of a better way of phrasing it.
See? It wasn’t perfect.
You have to be able to put aside your fears and your nervousness and commit to publishing your work, posting your music and launching your concept. You have to, because if you don’t, you will never accomplish the things you want to accomplish. And your dreams will die. And you’ll probably turn into a real tool.