Just Do What You're Excited About
How many different ways do you know how to say "I'm not allowed to do that?"
Hello! Happy New Year!
The routine of writing and/or making for this newsletter was going well in November, but the drama and general chaos of December (along with assorted fun life things like becoming an UNCLE for the first time ✨😭♥️) caused me to take a short break, and now I find I'm avoiding coming back.
That isn't even accurate - I did share a post in December - but I'm finding that the flow of ideas has since plugged itself up and I've been struggling to show up and write anything at all. This isn't something I'm worried about or apologizing for - the ebb and flow of motivation and ideas is a natural cycle for all of us, and those of us who work in artistic fields know that through the experience of showing up to do your work and finding your creative well has run dry. Eventually, that becomes a familiar feeling, and you just hope the well doesn't stay dry forever.
Over the years, I've found that there are seemingly endless ways to move through this kind of block with varying degrees of reliability. For me, there's no single trick to get me creative momentum back, but there always seems to be some kind of trick.
Recently, these two things helped me greatly with my creative drought - especially when the drought is particularly acute in a specific place, like I'm currently finding with this newsletter.
1. Try to push through it by just showing up and working for a few minutes.
Often, the drought of ideas is more of an imagined drought. I find myself unwilling to start until I have an idea. But that's rarely how I work, and this barrier means I spend no time working through any ideas to see what I can come up with. By convincing myself that I should just work for a few minutes, I can lower the bar and give myself permission to have no ideas.
So, that's what I'll do. Set a timer for one or two or five minutes and just work for that long. Usually it ends up being much longer (this is honestly a very meta idea for this newsletter, since I had sort of forgotten this lesson, and a few minutes ago wasn't planning on writing about this at all).
2. Look for inspiration in other people.
The other way I find I can motivate myself to start is by looking for inspiration not in other people's work, but in the people themselves.
I find it counterintuitively discouraging at times of creative blocks to look at great art. When I'm in this mindset, I find that it pushes me further away from the feeling that I can do something worthwhile when I see really amazing art that represents the end-result of someone's motivation or idea. I feel so far from a finished product when I'm trying to start, that great art (that on other occasions may inspire me deeply) makes me feel less capable of starting. Look at how far I would have to go.
Instead, I find it helpful to look at artists (using the broadest interpretation of that term) for inspiration. Not as a way of emulating their careers, or trying to make work like they did, but more to remind myself that art is made by people - people who are creative and lazy and hard working and boring and smart and smelly and fundamentally just people. They don't have some magic skill or secret well of energy and ideas that you or I don't. They make great, inspiring things and they're just people.
As much as I may hate to admit it, I'm a person, too.
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Thinking Outside Your Box
People that are inspiring me right now are the people who just do shit. There's this strong sense we all seem to develop that we have a box to be in, and that we aren't allowed to stray from that box. If you're a painter, you may find yourself hesitant to pick up some clay and make yourself a cup. If you're a writer, you may deny yourself the chance to weld two pieces of metal together. Fear of making mistakes, of being called out or told we don't belong - fear in general seems to sit at the heart of this limitation. We carve ourselves a little niche of "qualification" through practice and repetition, and eventually it becomes a trench we're afraid to poke our heads out of.
Right now I'm inspired by the people who just do whatever they want anyways. Not because they're immune to that feeling, but because they didn't let themselves be ruled by it. Here are a few that are top of mind:
This whole idea came together for me recently when I learned about the software company iA (information Architects). Their primary product is iA Writer, a bare-bones word processor for hyper-minimalists. I like a lot about what they do and how they present themselves. I like the idea of highly-constrained software that isn't trying to do everything for everyone. I love how they talk about their financial models, flat out stating that they don't do sales so you shouldn't bother waiting for one. But I really love that, as a software company, they've decided to make a notebook.
There's just something so perfectly wrong about the idea. All the benefits of writing on the computer - the exact thing their main product is all about - is missing in a physical notebook. And yet it's kind of clarifying. You learn more about the people behind this company when you learn about this product. They're humans, who use paper and pens and live in an analogue world, so if they sell products about writing, why not sell a notebook? It feels so simple, but so outside the box. Or maybe, it clarifies that they aren't in the box I thought they were.
Cabel Sasser is, to me, the epitome of the "do whatever you want" mentality and is who I immediately thought of when I saw iA's notebook.
Panic, the company Cabel co-founded, is a software company...? Just going to their website shows you how limiting that descriptor is. Panic was a software company, known for creating FTP software and other technical programs for Macs. So why did they suddenly decide to publish a video game in 2016? I guess you could argue that that's still software... but then they put out an entire game console, too! And it's weird and really cool and fun!
All of this seems tied to the mentality of Cabel Sasser. My favourite manifestation of this "why not?" mentality can be found in the story behind how Panic suddenly started selling t-shirts based on the Katamari games - when even Namco wasn't making t-shirts based on their own property.
We all loved the Katamari game. And we had some t-shirt experience with our MacWorld shirts, and had started selling shirts online. My friend Jason Sturgill off-handidly suggested that we should make Katamari shirts. I half-jokingly suggested it via e-mail to Noby, our guy in Japan. Noby half-seriously looked in the phone book and called Namco Japan and, after a brief discussion, they scheduled a face-to-face licensing meeting that same day. Noby met with Keita Takahashi and Kei Umeki (Namco's licensing guy), and, after talking, permission was granted.
What I love about this story is that there really wasn't a good reason not to make these shirts. ...unless you listened to the made-up voice inside that says "that's not what we do." Otherwise, it actually made a lot of sense! The personalities of Panic's co-founder and Katamari's creator clearly work well together, even if this venture isn't on paper something that makes business sense for a software company to do. Keita Takahashi saying that a conventional shirt design becoming the most popular is "regrettable," and then Panic using that quote to market the shirt is another wonderful example of how this partnership actually did make sense.
Inspired by excitement.
To me, the lesson here is to be inspired by excitement. Be inspired by the ability people have to be energized into action.
There's a place in our lives for being moved to create by the profundity of great works of art, but more often I feel people hold great works up as an excuse not to make something. They'll fall short. They'll fail. They don't know where to start.
Instead, look at all the things people do in spite of these feelings and embrace that bold rejection of the box that you're in. Often we put ourselves in that box to help us articulate who we are to others. Often we put ourselves there to help explain who we are to ourselves. But we're always more than that. We're people. We can do whatever we want. So shouldn't we do what excites us?
With love (and excitement),