Creativity, Confusion, and Community

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..

creativity inc on audiobook

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.

Creativity, Confusion, and Community

Take it Apart, and Put it Back Together Again

show-up-white-board

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.

Take it Apart, and Put it Back Together Again

The Challenge of Showing Your Work

Right now I’m wrapping up the second article in my Focus Course Case Study. (The first article, that’s all about the launch of the course is here).

As I’m working on this next article, something I’ve realized is that I have two modes of work:

  1. Monk Mode
  2. 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?

Austin Kleon has a fantastic book about this. And one bit of advice Austin gives is to build a daily dispatch into your routine:

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.

The Challenge of Showing Your Work

Unordered Thoughts on Life at 35

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.

Unordered Thoughts on Life at 35

On Community

Once you’ve committed to do your best creative work, you may find that it can get lonely.

Sometimes it’s lonely by default…

You’re in “monk mode”. You’re disappearing to your cave for hours at a time to get some serious work done.

Or it’s lonely because the project is top of mind — it’s all you’re thinking about. Except it’s still the early stages of the project, and so you’re not yet clear enough on things to have any sort of coherent conversation about it. Your words just come out as fragmented ramblings while your conversation partner stares back blankly, trying desperately to follow along.

Showing up every day is hard enough work by itself. And because of how natural it can be to do the work in isolation, community becomes all the more valuable.

Last summer, a few weeks after I launched The Focus Course, my wife and I hosted a backyard BBQ party to celebrate.

I had just spent the better part of my past year working on it, and the vast majority of that time I spent alone. But it’s not a project I could have done completely alone.

There were so many people who were involved, those who helped with the project itself and those friends who encouraged me along the way.

So we invited anyone and everyone who had been involved at all with the building of the course. We served BBQ, played games, and told them thank you.

Building something can often be isolating and lonely. Especially for the independent creative entrepreneur.

You put in hours and hours and hours of work while sitting alone in your cave. Don’t let that work stay isolated.

Don’t let yourself experience your failures and successes alone.

Share them with others, invite your friends and family into what you’re doing. They need you just as much as you need them.

On Community

What Do You Want to Know About The Focus Course Launch?

This coming Thursday, June 23, it will be exactly one-year since The Focus Course launched.

For those of you who have built and launched something, you know first hand just how much work goes in to it. Especially if you’re a perfectionist and need everything to be just right.

So yeah, building and launching the course was a massive amount of work. And what made things even harder is that, at virtually every step of the way, I had no idea what I was doing.

So many things about The Focus Course were new for me; I was hesitant and unsure about so many aspects. I wrestled with every decision about how to validate, market, price, build, and launch the course…

For each step, I was desperate for any help I could find.

Some of the places I found the most help were from friends and peers who had gone before me and shared the details of their experiences — including actual numbers.

I would like to pay that forward by doing an in-depth case study, sharing all that has happened behind-the-scenes with launching and building The Focus Course over the past year.

I’m going to share everything about the course launch

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting a series of articles detailing all the stories, strategies, and takeaways I’ve learned during this past year.

  • How much revenue the course made during its launch week, and how much it has made in the year since.
  • Why I gutted my 17,000-word book and made an online course instead.
  • My workflow and tools used for building the course.
  • How I ran the pilot test group.
  • My entire marketing and launch sequence.
  • How I iterated on the course after launch.
  • Why I offer a 60-day money-back guarantee.
  • My approach to joint-venture launches and partnerships in a way that adds value to past and new members alike.
  • How and why I re-invested money back into the course after it launched.
  • All the software and services we now use to keep the course running day-to-day.
  • What I would do the same and what I would do differently.

Like I said, I’m going to share everything.

I hope my experiences and the lessons I’ve learned can be of help to you.

(I’m also posting this information here for my future self. I have an all-new course in the works for this fall, and I plan to build and launch it very similarly to how I did The Focus Course last year.)

What questions do you have?

So, before we get started, I wanted to open up the floor for any questions from you guys.

Do you have a product you’re working on or that you’re already selling? Are you trying to build an audience? Just curious about something in particular?

If there is anything you would like to know about the launch of The Focus Course, just ask.

You can ping me on Twitter or send me an email with your questions.

I’ll try to answer as many of your questions as I can in the upcoming articles.

What Do You Want to Know About The Focus Course Launch?

Defining Work / Life Balance

As you may know, there are nearly 600 folks — including yours truly — who are going through The Focus Course right now.

We’re a few days in, and our Focus Course assignment for today entailed listing out my life values.

Two of the values I listed may not really count as “values”. But oh well, I listed them anyway. One value was Business Savvy and another was Work / Life Balance.

Then, for each value I listed, I also had to write a description of how I express that value in my life.

Now, the tricky part here is that the descriptions have to be written as if I already live it out exactly as I would want to. Which, to be honest, is a challenge. Because, at least for me, I see my faults all too well.

Nevertheless, I wrote my descriptions for what what the value of Business Savvy looks like and what the value of Work / Life Balance looks like for me.

And as I was writing my description out, it dawned on me that so often we pit work and life against one another. As if work is bad and life is good. And that is a completely wrong mindset.

That said, I wanted to share with you how I defined Work / Life Balance for my own life.

Work / Life Balance

I have a strong drive to do my best creative work and to build a business that matters. I also have a deep love for my family and friends and living a healthy and full life.

These two things are not mutually exclusive. And so I don’t feel guilty about the time I spend working, and neither do I feel anxiety when taking time off of work.

My work responsibilities and goals are very important, but I don’t let them dominate my entire day as they are wont to do. I refuse to look back on my career and feel regret about spending too much time working and not enough time with my friends and family. But I also refuse to shy away from doing my best work every single day.

I understand the time I spend away from the work is just as important as the time I spend doing the work.

And so I refuse to live a life that’s driven by an addiction to the urgent. I know what healthy boundaries are, and I know that there will always be “one more thing” to do when it comes to my work. With that in mind, I don’t let the “seemingly urgent” tasks of my work dictate my schedule.

Defining Work / Life Balance