Ever have a really great idea for a book, article, film, business or joke? Did you ever actually put it out there? Or was it more just casual conversation with friends, lot’s of dog-eared, half-finished manuscripts, and a vague sense of: ‘I’m gonna do that, someday.’
Or, are you absolutely dead-set on never experiencing that sinking feeling again? That feeling you get when you stroll by a book, see a YouTube channel, or hear some road comic cashing in ‘ON YOUR IDEA!’ Ya snooze ya lose. Stings don’t it?
I might be able to help.
This article is about how to take that passionate pile of ideas, insights, and creativity and make them actionable. It is designed to help people in any career or stage of life be more creative (and perhaps make a career of it) starting today.
The following is a list that will help us do just that.
1) Know your worth.
2) Know when you are working.
3) Organize, Organize, Organize
4) Keep good records of fits, starts, failures, and successes
5) Network, Network, Network
6) Be Businesslike (Keep Yourself Accountable/Stop dreading Excel.)
7) Know your idea. Know the supporting ideas behind your idea.
8) Seek role models who have already done what you’re attempting to do. Use them as a metric. But not too rigidly.
9) Don’t let people with overdeveloped minimalism (Misers like Engineers and Stock Brokers) discourage you.
10) Stay fit. Eat right. And get proper rest (Sleep, Downtime, etc.)
Some folks might think that the above is prioritized all wrong. They might be right, but I’m going to explain my reasoning and why I think it’s sound. So if you’re an engineer or stock broker, who already has a bad taste in their mouth, relax we’ll build to spec and get to the bottom line soon enough.
# 1 Fit To Task
First, knowing your worth is #1 because people are terrible at it. They generally seem to either overestimate or underestimate their value. This is because ‘fit to task’ isn’t a common enough part of our vernacular.
How fit for your goal or idea are you? How fit for your job are you? Good self-assessment is tricky but you only get good at it through practice.
So, ask yourself those two questions right now.
If you’re a barista who’s fantastic at their job and enjoys exchanging quips with coworkers, interacting with customers, and delivering quality service, then you’re a great barista. You’re fit for your job.
After you get home reeking of overpriced lattes, do you pull out a guitar and surprise yourself with the inventive licks, that seem to spring out of nowhere? Are you more fit for music than being the dude or dudette, who makes corporate America a bit ‘jiterrier’ round the eight am commute?
This is a taste of the flavor of the sorts of thought process that you need to spend some serious time mulling over.
# 2 Your Job is a Habit
You know that you’re working when you hand that triple frappwhatever to the dude who’s obviously never learned to tie his tie right.
But playing that killer riff doesn’t feel like work. Even practicing scales doesn’t seem like work. You hesitate to tell people that you’re a musician or in extreme cases even that you play the guitar. You aren’t Jimmy Page so why bother respecting yourself or dignifying your time?
That’s just goofy. Because what you have is a skill. Given even a mediocre capacity: you’ve worked to develop something. Greatness has to start somewhere and that somewhere is usually mediocre.
A favorite Mozart quote of mine is:
“People make a mistake who think that my art has come easily to me. Nobody has devoted so much time and thought to composition as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not studied over and over.”
While Mozart certainly possessed a knack for music I think that he probably wasn’t MOZART the moment he was born. This quote is testament to the fact that he worked very hard to develop his musical skills. An ethic and habit which I think was far more instrumental and admirable in his popularity and success than any lazy, quasi-magical, ‘he’s a genius’ explanation.
Cheesy 80’s movies aside, Amadeus worked hard and knew when he was working. Many of us only know when we’re working when we expect a paycheck. It’s an understandable albeit destructive illusion.
It’s one that’s easy to make because typically ‘day jobs’ give you very obvious ‘work tells.’ The paycheck being the biggest one.
‘Work tells’ are things like ‘the lattes made,’ ‘the customers got the scone.’ They are also physical markers like certain flavors of fatigue.
During my recent super brief stint hawking Satellite subscriptions for a small marketing firm, at big box stores; my right pinky toe would scream, after eight hours of standing on linoleum, in discount wingtips.
Generally with everything ‘worky’ there’s always a slight sense of hunger and self-denial. When I was a creel operator, I knew that I’d worked because I’d be covered in fiberglass, my hands would have some sorta gear grease on them, and at least once or twice a week I’d be tired and hungry but would ask the boss for over-time. Over-time is almost as obvious of a work tell as that paycheck.
Despite ‘artsy careers’ having less clearly defined ‘work tells’ then ‘day jobs,’ the biggest barrier of taking them seriously and calling them work are psychological.
Who the hell cares about your guitar playing? Nobody wants to buy your scribblings! They want you to make lattes, delicious artery clogging, thigh busting, road rage inducing lattes! That’s what they’ll actually pay for you cheeky git!
That is until you stop thinking that way and actually make an album.
BIG INSIDER ADVERTISING SECRET – People often buy things just because they can and the things look semi-palatable.
Making your album, writing your book, or drawing up a business plan, and attracting investors will have its own tells. Some more obvious than others. For instance I know that I’ve worked after I have written an article or chapter. Generally when this is done I’m a tad stiff and my muscles are a bit achy from tension. The little hand on my green wall clock has also usually passed at least two different numbers.
Being more creative, and especially making a career out of your creativity, is going to require you to work. That means making a habit of working.
Speaking of knowing when you’re working through ‘work-tells.’ Another good one is that work is a habit.
Did you know that your day job is a habit?
A habit is just simply something you do on a regular basis for whatever reason. So the fact that you wake up every morning, shower, go over sales pitches, make some coffee, put on an ill fitting suit, and drive to a discount office by the lake, is a fact that’s a habit.
What if instead you made your habit waking up, showering, mentally preparing a list of writing topics, having your morning coffee, putting on a tie, and stepping out of your bedroom into your home office?
What if instead of getting the sale, meeting a fiberglass quota, or making sure that the woman from Munich has her Schnitzel you write a rough draft, review it, find it unsatisfactory, do two hours of research, revise it, and after proofreading for the third or fourth time submit it to a publisher or post it to your website?
I’ll tell ya what if: Ya worked.
# 3 File Don’t Pile
So now that you know what you’re worth, and you’re willing to work hard to make sure that you’re worth more than you were, you want to do this as efficiently as possible. This means organizing.
You need to:
- Know What You Need To Do
- Break Down The Steps To Do It
The way you do this will depend on your field.
In my case I know that I need to make headway on my books, my online magazine ‘The Fractal Journal,’ and make my best effort to finish at least a chapter, or at least one rough draft article, every working day.
When I broke down the steps to doing this. I found that what worked best was to approximate a workable theses, for the article or chapter topic, within the first five minutes of sitting down to work.
Then I’d sketch out a brief bullet point outline (unless I’m writing fiction or my nonfiction has a narrativy introduction). I then write out the article, or chapter, leaving myself notes, on information I’m unsure of or don’t know, research it, come back and fill in the blanks. Finally, I proofread it, and BAM it either gets posted or filed, to be sent out as a query to a publisher once the book or story is finished.
You could stop here if all you wanted was to be creative, but if you want to be creative for a living, then obviously you are going to need to make money.
Stay tuned! There’s more on the business side of this coming up.
# 4 What Gets Measured Gets Done
You need to keep a record, a portfolio, of your work. Basically think of this as a Bohemian version of a CV. It may literally become your resume. (Of course just like with your real resume, you might need to pretty it up, and not include that drunken attempt at impressionist painting you did when you were 22).
What’s more important then having something to show potential clients is having something to show to yourself.
You can’t gain very effective insight into what you need to improve, if you keep throwing away all the stuff that makes you cringe. You don’t have to display it prominently but you should by all means keep it.
You should especially keep your research notes, NetBeans code snippets, brain storming links, stray lyrics and bars, and various sketches. preferably according to date.
I’d go so far as to even suggest you start writing a journal that describes how and why you are doing things before, during, and after you are doing them. This will eventually become a gold mine, definitely figuratively, and potentially financially as well. All of this is also fantastic fun, once you get the swing of it, and ‘see the opportunity.’
There’s an old business slogan that says: What Gets Measured Gets Done. I think that it’s more or less accurate. In order to start measuring your progress as an Indie artist or entrepreneur you need to have something to measure.
Keep your stuff.
# 5 Network, Network, Network
Artists, and entrepreneurs, and those who want to be them often over-romanticize things. They often over-romanticize themselves. Generally, I’ve found that most people who are artists or writers have an over-developed sense of individualism.
This is not necessarily a bad thing but it can hold you back.
We’re social creatures we need other people.
Part of the reasons that you make art, music, or want to run a succesful enterprise is to help make others happy. You’re a people pleaser. Stings a bit doesn’t it? Well let it and then realize that it’s not such a terrible thing.
Part of the reason that you hold yourself up to a certain artistic, or ethical standard is that you’ve seen it before, and it made you happy. It made you want to participate in it.
Well, you want people to participate in your work. So get social.
This has to go far beyond just making posts on Facebook, Minds, Twitter, Gab, or YouTube. You need to learn to network. That means being able to realize what you can do for others and what they can do for you.
Networking is about building partnerships. You’re going to want partnerships. Even if they aren’t actual business partnerships. You’re going to want other people who can assess your work, who can keep you motivated, and who stir your creativity.
For instance if you’re learning computer programming, then hang around with others that are learning to code, or are freshly minted coders. If a full-on programmer has the patience for you then hang around with them. Such an approach helps to keep energy, and spirits high, and if done properly can foster healthy competitiveness and a ‘work chemistry’ that could take you to some spectacular places.
You need to learn when and how to tell people about who you are and what you do. You need to do this confidently. Effective networking is an art and science that comes with experience. The best way to get experience is to just start. So go forth!
# 6 Put On A Tie!
Artists, writers, entrepreneurs, and other hipsters are a catty bunch, that arch their backs when anything conventional even dares to peek around the corner.
There’s nothing more mundane or conventional than business. Thinking like a businessman is unsavory even for entrepreneurs these days.
Fact of the matter is that if you don’t want to be dude bumming beers at happy hour, and crashing on people’s couches as you figure out your ‘vision,’ then you’re going to have to start thinking about money.
Chances are high that you’re not going to maintain very much creative output if you feel like and are kind of a mooch. The same thing applies if you’re forcing yourself to work, low paying jobs, that you hate, to make yourself a little less of a mooch.
Wouldn’t all this be better if you were the guy able to help all the other moochers while actually achieving your ‘vision?’
You’d be King of the Hipsters.
Current Hipster King - Begging a Dethroning
But money is the root of all evil!
Is the pursuit of money less ethical than the pursuit of your ‘vision’ at the expense of other people’s money?
Remember, all that money is, is the representation of products and services. Service and products take time to do and create. So every time someone pitches in to help you out financially they’re in essence giving you their time.
Don’t be a time vampire. (If you know a time vampire, the cure is offering them a job, helping them find a job, or telling them to make a business plan.)
We’re all mortal and can’t afford to waste time or its little green representation: money. Don’t overcompensate by becoming a miser or sink into a pit of self-hatred because you’re bad at making money. Misers are miserable and solvency is a difficult thing these days even if you’re working a 9-5. The only thing you need to do is have an attitude shift and keep crackin’.
The trick that I’m trying to get you to learn to do here is to: Buy yourself time with the things you love to do.
This means thinking of yourself as a business.
So, right now if you are planning to become a musician, writer, or pottery maker then you are a small business.
You should figure out how much money you need to live on and operate. This is the baseline number for what you need to make. You then must figure out a way to meet an effort to profit ratio.
Meaning that, you should know that activity XYZ, will be making or contributing to making you $XYZ on a regular basis.
Patreon, Etsy, and others are great ways to generate some passive income. While patrons are probably the most pleasant way to make a living as an artist, you definitely want to have more than one revenue stream. Your patrons are also subject to the whims of fate, and economy, and may not always be able to financially support you, even if they want to.
So you need to find out about things like taxes, copyright laws, and the art of negotiating contracts and deals. Maybe so far as to even join your local chamber of commerce.
You’re going to need to learn how to market yourself and your products. You need to learn what freebies to offer to entice clients or get you gigs, how much the market charges for what you do, and then how to ask for more. (When your worth starts to merit it.)
The first and foremost thing is to take yourself seriously. Put on a tie. That’s what I do even though I’m only walking from one room to another.
It’s a psychological trick that says: Look buddy you have a production schedule! You wanna take this noose off your neck? You wanna go hiking and grab a brew? Well! Finish up by seven! Then you’re green.
My personal experience is that taking the extra steps to look and feel professional, helps me stay focused, and productive. I’ve heard stories of people who do great things in their hoodies and pajamas, and while I think its possible, I haven’t met any. I’d also wager that they may have done more, and gotten there faster, if they took themselves a bit more seriously.
Having production quotas like a chapter every two or four hours, along side with clearcut financial goals, and the marketing ken to meet those is as good of a recipe for Indie success as you’re going to get.
It’s serious business.
# 7 Know Your Idea
You’re now an executive.
You perform executive functions. However, you can’t execute what you don’t believe in and you can’t believe in what you don’t know. This is why its essential to really know what you’re about.
You have to go beyond just merely calling yourself a musician, writer, or entrepreneur.
You have to be niche specific, and almost compulsively knowledgable in your field
(Or make your own field).
It also means knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing at every moment of any given day.
This will help you gain competence, be more confident, and network more efficiently.
What does knowing what and why you’re doing something look like?
Well, for instance despite everything that I said above about making money being a priority. I’m writing this article (and have been for the past three hours) for absolutely free.
Pro bono. Qui Bono?
It’s a win, win, win.
You benefit because you get a free article, WordPress benefits because I pay them the very fair price of $100 or so bucks, a year to host my site; and I benefit because I’m getting practice and providing a marketable example of my work.
I know exactly what I’m doing, for exactly how long, for exactly which reasons, and am aware of the risks and benefits.
I could run you through a detailed cost/benefit analysis of throwing out freebies as a writer but you’d be bored to tears.
What I’ll do instead, is give you a brief rundown of how I came up with my vision, and how I’m working to make it actionable.
Basically I’m interested in everything, my natural proclivity and passion is language and writing, I enjoy systematizing and finding things out.
Very vague set of ideas and skills in the above sentence right?
So I narrowed it down, to wanting to maybe publish a book, or write some articles that would intrigue people; and serve as practice, edification, and potentially revenue for myself.
Then I thought how exactly am I going to do this? This question eventually led to a series of realizations, and ‘coincidences,’ that helped me come up with my idea for ‘The Fractal Journal.’
To be a good writer you need consistent practice, which requires feedback. To be a published writer, you need to convince people to publish your stuff, you need to stand out from the crowd. Basically you need to demonstrate value.
‘The Fractal Journal,’ I realized, meets these business goals, even though these goals were a vague afterthought, to the desire of creating a valuable product.
As I said above: I am interested in everything.
I like to write fiction, poetry, nonfiction, to make videos, to discuss what I can grasp of philosophy and science, and to play instruments. I also love instantly deploying my skills as a writer.
The Fractal Journal is something that I call ‘integrative journalism.’
It looks at the world through various angles. and iteratively posits insights and possible solutions. As well as provides commentary and models through fiction and op-eds. It’s a one stop shop for long reads and snippets alike. It is a way to keep my skills sharp, while gaining expertise through research in my areas of interest; as it acts to promote the various books that I’m writing.
The final part of knowing your product is knowing that it has value.
A lot of artists and indie sorts don’t feel like their work has the same sort of utility, as say, a tire. Fortunately we don’t live in a purely utilitarian world, or society. Furthermore, art, literature, philosophy, and your hipster microbrewery idea: all have utility that far outshines the tire’s.
The tire you see took a lot of talking, a lot of culture, a lot of confluence of factors to create. Art, literature,and philosophy are highly efficient engines for idea generation, and the creation of societies stable enough to produce the tire. They’re also a great deal of fun and smell nice.
I know that ‘The Fractal Journal’ has value because it has potential to grow into a job-creating business. I know that ‘The Fractal Journal’ has value because prevention is worth a pound of cure, knowledge is preferable to ignorance, and appreciating the world’s grand intricacies is a sacred duty.
Yes, you need to be that assertive about your vision.
Passion is the best way to know your product, idea, or service.
# 8 Role Models
I’m writing a book about water.
That means that I’ve added some new role models to my list of luminaries.
Folks like Alex Prud’homme, Fred Pearce, and Jacques Leslie. These narrative journalists give me ideas and inspiration for how to go about writing my own book.
Despite looking to these writers as examples, I don’t at all plan to follow in their footsteps. They’re guides and signposts.
To provide an example of differentiation: they’re print based veteran journalists just barely dipping their toes into the digital marketplace.
While I consider writing to be my passion (and my bread and butter) I also think of myself as a business man. The Fractal Journal is a small media business that provides marketing for my books and products.
The role models that I use for this aspect of what I’m doing are folks like Tim Pool, Joe Rogan, and Steven Crowder.
I suggest that you pick and choose in a similarly flexible way in order to form your own ‘mental council.’
# 9 Haters Gonna Hate
Artists, writers, and even most entrepreneurs tend to be an introspective bunch. Engineers and stockbrokers aren’t. I kid.
But really, there are certain professionals, that you might find it difficult to get along with. This is why I stress that you know your ideas inside and out, and develop an almost cocky confidence in your product. There’s nothing that hurts more than having an intelligent person you respect throw snippy little darts at your balloon.
It’s important to realize that these are just that: snippy little darts. Darts that are a not tossed about haphazardly by a person who is blinded by the habits of their profession and temperament.
Engineers and stock brokers might make some essential tools, and lots of cash, but they can also become addicted to reductionism. In their pursuit of efficiency, specs, and bottom lines, they can forgot that reductionism is just another method.
Don’t let people burst your bubble just because they’re smart and competent. Only let your bubble burst if it’s a legitimately bad idea. Something that you won’t know unless you have the strength, honesty, and confidence to think critically.
Don’t let haters destroy your critical thinking abilities.
# 10 Stay fit, Eat Right, and Get Adequate Rest
I can’t stress this enough. Everyone should be doing these things.
But Writers, programmers, and musicians really need to focus on these things. That’s because not only is writing, programming, and music a more or less sedentary pursuit; but both popular culture, and the subculture of each of these professions, can be a tad self-destructive.
Writers often get portrayed as Merlot chuugging depressives, programmers are unkempt greasy chips and soda addicted geekazoids, and musicians are drug crazed sex fiends.
While stereotypes do contain small kernels of truth… that doesn’t mean that you need to adopt the bad habits of professionals in your field. Even if those professionals are talented and incredibly succesful. Monkey see, monkey do, is for monkeys, and you’re a man.
So stay fit, eat right, and get adequate rest. These basic, almost boring dictums, will keep you productive and creative.
You might think you get more out of ‘winging it,’ or burning the midnight oil, or getting loaded. But if you’ve ever written anything while you were stoned, or utterly exhausted, or drunk you know that it tends to be rubbish. And if any ‘alchemical magic’ did occur, it was only possible to cobble together in your more lucid moments.
I know from experience the incredible yields of energy and clarity that hiking and weightlifting provide. Getting the right proteins, fats, and carbs requisite to keep your brain and body humming along is indispensable for the Indie set. Getting adequate rest can’t be overstated because you need to consolidate memories. Consolidated memories are what skills and symphonies are made of.