Posts From July 2016
My next course is about showing up every day, doing your best creative work, building an audience, and earning an income.
Right now the working title of the course is “The Creative Life”.
Because ultimately, this course is about developing the mindset, habits, and resources you need to do your best creative work.
But more on all of that another time…
- My own experience, stories, and wisdom.
- The experiences, stories, and wisdom of others.
At best, I have only a very small glimpse and perspective. So I lean on the wisdom and perspective of others.
Here are a few of the books that have helped me show up every day, do my best creative work, build an audience, and earn an income.
The Personal MBA, by Josh Kaufman
Creativity Inc., by Ed Catmull
Show Your Work, by Austin Kleon
Deep Work, by Cal Newport
The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton M. Christensen
Die Empty, by Todd Henry
The Accidental Creative, by Todd Henry
The Customer Funded Business, by John Mullins
The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp
Anything You Want, by Derek Sivers
Ask, by Ryan Levesque
Zero to One, by Peter Thiel
People Over Profit, by Dale Partridge
This past weekend I rented a car, drove 4 hours to Tulsa, bought a new (to me) family car that I’d found on Craigslist, and drove it back.
To accompany me on the road trip, I loaded up the audiobook version of Creativity Inc..
I began reading it on Kindle about a year ago, but only made it to chapter 5. I’ve been wanting to dive back in, and this was a great opportunity.
There is so much gold in this book.
One particular tidbit that stuck out to me from the chapter on Honesty and Candor.
People who take on complicated creative projects become lost at some point in the process. It is the nature of things — in order to create, you must internalize and almost become the project for a while, and that near-fusing with the project is an essential part of its emergence. But it is also confusing. Where once a movie’s writer/director had perspective, he or she loses it. Where once he or she could see a forest, now there are only trees. The details converge to obscure the whole, and that makes it difficult to move forward substantially in any one direction. The experience can be overwhelming.
If you’ve ever begun working a new project, learning a new skill, or the like, and you get into it and feel completely overwhelmed, lost, and confused — don’t freak out.
As Ed Catmull says, it is the nature of things.
How do you press through that feeling of overwhelm?
For one you keep going. You keep showing up every day, making choices, and doing the work. With patience, you will find clarity.
Secondly, you need community. People who can give candid advice, encouragement, and feedback. People who will level with you and keep you accountable to your goals.
What you’re looking at here is some white board scribbling that represents the first module of my next course.
The white board is so messy and random, you might think this was our very first whiteboard session for Module One.
Actually, this is the fourth whiteboard session we’ve had like this in the past two weeks.
This is our process of taking things apart and putting them back together again.
I’m working on a new course that’s about doing your best creative work, moving from hobbyist to pro, building and caring for an audience, and making a few dollars from your creative work.
Right now the course outline consists of more than 90 individual sessions within 6 modules. Plus worksheets. Plus interviews. Plus easter eggs.
That is a massive amount of content. It’s too much.
Who has the time to work their way through all of that?
That’s why we’re trying to distill the outline down to what is most essential.
And it starts by taking apart each module and asking: What is the single most important takeaway here?
- What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to do their best creative work?
- What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to move from hobby to pro?
- What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to define and build their audience?
- What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to steward their audience and give provide value?
- What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to make an income from their creative work?
- What is the single most important lesson for someone who wants to build and sell their products?
For us, we’re still in the preparation phase on all of these modules. We know all the surrounding ideas, mindsets, tactics, and tools. I’ve been writing about this stuff for years.
The aim right now is to get the outline clear so we can get to work on putting the pieces in place.
How do you edit an outline?
You take it apart and put it back together again.
You question your assumptions and hypothesis.
You try writing it out in a way that makes sense to your grandparents.
Then try writing it so it makes sense to your neighbor across the street.
Then you re-write again with your ideal customer in mind.
You make sure you’re answering all the questions and challenges your ideal customer is facing.
* * *
The above photo represents the fourth time we’ve taken apart this outline and put it back together again.
First we started with sticky notes on the whiteboard.
Then we moved the sticky notes onto posters on the wall. (We needed the whiteboard back.)
Then I re-wrote it all onto note cards.
Then we went back to white board drawings, which you see above.
We keep taking apart all the pieces, looking at them, asking why they’re there, and then putting the whole thing back together again.
Each pass we make at the outline things become a bit more clear.
Once we start taking it apart and putting it back together the same way, then it’ll be time to start writing.
If you’re interested in going behind-the-scenes at the creation of this course, and getting early access to the content, we’re looking for pilot course members.
There are some pretty great benefits, which I’ll share later.
Sign up over here to get on the list, and I’ll let you know once we open the doors.
As I’m working on this next article, something I’ve realized is that I have two modes of work:
- Monk Mode
- Publishing Mode
(Well, there is also the “Super Distracted Mode” and “Ugh, Bookkeeping Mode”…)
Long-time readers of this site have seen my Monk and Publishing modes first hand. I really went into “monk mode” early last year in the months leading up to the Focus Course launch. My days began to get very full with “deep work”. I was working longer-than-normal days and also usually working a few hours on the weekends as well.
All those hours were spent in research, reading, and writing for the course. Pretty much the only thing I was publishing was my once-a-week articles — a huge difference in publishing output compared to the first several years of this site when I was posting links and articles every single day.
What I’ve discovered is that when I’m in Monk Mode, I kinda go dark to the outside world. I spend all of my working hours with my keyboard, some books, my team, and a whiteboard. I don’t publish much to the site, my podcast episodes get sparse, I don’t update Twitter or Instagram all that much.
But when I’m in “Publishing Mode” then it’s the opposite. Most of my working hours are spent publishing things to my site, tweeting, etc. But I’m not focusing on any particular project or product.
A goal of mine right now is to get better at operating in both of these modes simultaneously.
I’m a huge advocate of showing up every day. But that coin has two sides: you’ve got to show up and do the work, but you’ve also got to share that work. You have to show up every day and do something, but you also have to show up every day and share something.
Lately I’m great at the former, not so great at the latter.
To peel the curtain back, I am in search of a work environment and rhythm that supports (a) deep work and creating huge pillar products while also (b) frequent publishing of articles, podcasts, ideas, links, inspiration, etc.
I’d like to get better at sharing artifacts from my daily work and opening the door to my creative process while also keeping my ability to stay in “Monk Mode” on a regular basis, focusing on building big projects.
And!… I want to do it all while working reasonable hours and maintaining margin in my day-to-day life. Piece of cake, right?
Once a day, after you’ve done your day’s work, go back to your documentation and find one little piece of your process that you can share.
I’m now beginning work on my next big course, that will be all about content creation and building an audience. And as part of the creative process for this course, I’m also committing to share more of my work as I go. It’s with the understanding that the process of doing our best creative work every day is a messy one — it’s a fight to stay creative.
Tomorrow is my birthday. And every year around this time I open up Day One and jot down an unordered list of reflections and thoughts on life.
It’s a chance for me to give advice to my future self. What are the things I’m learning and observing in this season of life that I may need to be reminded of in a year from now?
Here are a few from previous years:
- Serving others always has a reward.
- Generosity is never regretted.
- It’s worth it to sweat the details and do work you’re proud of.
- Don’t be afraid to take a risk – the biggest “risks” I’ve ever made, such as proposing to my wife, starting a business, moving to another state, they have all proven to be some of the most important life changes and have been so positive.
- Life is almost entirely a series of small, almost inconsequential choices and moments. All the little things that you do (and don’t do) are actually what paint the picture of your life. If you want a different life, make a small change to one thing and stick with it. Then change something else. Then something else.
And here are a few from this year:
Never underestimate the power of having a plan and keeping accountable to your progress. Because it’s far too easy to confuse activity with progress. I’m really good at “being active” but it takes much more intentionality to make sure that what I’m doing each day is putting one foot in front of the other.
Reading (learning) is becoming a competitive advantage in today’s knowledge worker / creative entrepreneurial landscape.
Be more cautious not to squander a few minutes here and there throughout my day. Stay on top of batch processing my Instapaper / Safari Tabs / Email / etc. Take more frequent breaks away from the desk in order to make space for longer hours of focused work.