“If something inside you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write towards vulnerability. Don’t worry about appearing sentimental. Worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraudulent. Risk being unlikes. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.”
I reread Bird by Bird this past week. Anne Lamott’s thoughts on writing (and, really, all creative work) is inspiring, hopeful, honest, and beautiful. I wish I could write with her honesty and integrity and hope the work I do feels like that. I can’t recommend this book enough.
“Creative work is personal. You can’t get away from that. To do better work, you have to put more of yourself into it. It is a simple law of creative conservation. You put something in, and it takes something out of you. The best work, the stuff that takes real time, is exhausting. You move along slowly. Small steps. Little decisions. Maybe 10 or 15 solid decisions today. Maybe another 10 or 15 tomorrow. A long project can literally mean 10,000 decisions before it’s done. It’s an almost imperceptible shuffling of your feet. There is no wind in your hair while the world flies by. You inch-worm your way across 1000 yards of grass, dealing with each sharp edged blade as it comes.”
“I like pressure. Pressure doesn’t make me crack. It’s enabling. I eat pressure, and there might be times when I get a bad feeling in my gut that this might be too much, but you feel pressure when you’re not doing something, you know? When you’re getting ready for something, you feel pressure—when you’re anticipating. But when you’re constantly in activity, there’s no time for pressure to just sit there and make you crack.”
I — of course — was also interested in hearing Louis’s perspective on getting cast for the next Woody Allen film:
He was very kind to me, and I met him. It was a big deal for me; I didn’t care if I got the part or not. I really didn’t care. And I went back in and read it, and my heart rate was too high, I couldn’t control it, I didn’t do a perfect job, and they didn’t give me the part. But he found something else for me. So I got a personal letter from Woody saying, “You were too nice to be this guy, but how about this other guy?” The letter was very nice, and it’s my prized possession. It’s framed. If there’s a fire, I grab my kids and then the letter.
“There’s never been a better time to do creative work than right now. You can get stuff started. You can get it out to people. And you can turn it into a business if it’s decent. And there are more ways to get work to material. And it’s easier to get work. We are at a peak. Everything about our country is going to hell. Our politics, industry — like this is the one part of America which is actually going great.”
Let her be bored. Let her have long afternoons with absolutely nothing to do. Limit her TV-watching time and her internet-playing time and take away her cell phone. Give her a whole summer of lazy mornings and dreamy afternoons. Make sure she has a library card and a comfy corner where she can curl up with a book.
Give her a notebook and five bucks so she can pick out a great pen. Insist she spend time with the family. It’s even better if this time is spent in another state, a cabin in the woods, a cottage on the lake, far from her friends and people her own age. Give her some tedious chores to do. Make her mow the lawn, do the dishes by hand, paint the garage. Make her go on long walks with you and tell her you just want to listen to the sounds of the neighborhood.
Let her be lonely. Let her believe that no one in the world truly understands her. Give her the freedom to fall in love with the wrong person, to lose her heart, to have it smashed and abused and broken. Occasionally be too busy to listen, be distracted by other things, have your nose in a great book, be gone with your own friends. Let her have secrets
Have you ever read something and felt: “Yes, that’s right. That’s the story of my life”? That was this. I think you could replace “writer” with “artist” or “designer” or any creative job and it still works. My parents raised me well.
This past week, I’ve found myself involved in multiple conversations about keeping and organizing inspiration folders. I have a fairly elaborate, yet strangely simple system that I’ve been using for a few years that some people seem to be interested in. I think all designers keep a folder like this to some extent so thought it might be helpful to break down my system here for those that are interested.
This is a different kind of post than usually appears on the blog, but I think it fits into the overall arc I’ve established here as it can be a factor in doing your best creative work. And let’s face it, we’re all nerds here. We love peeking under the hood to see how something works and finding better taxonomies and systems. If posts about technology, organization, taxonomy, general nerdity aren’t your thing, you can stop right here. But, if you are into that sort of thing or are simply looking for a better way to organize your inspiration folder, then hop on in. It could be a long ride. Ready? Let’s go!
“Apple reaches for greatness without apology. Market share and profitability are important only as outcomes. They are not its purpose, which is to achieve the “insanely great.” It is as if they are on an ongoing Grail quest. (As Professor Henry Jones said to Indiana: “The search for the Grail is the search for the Divine in all of us.”)”
I love this. Money should never be the goal. The goal should be to do “insanely great” work, whatever that may be for you. I think doing good work is a lot easier than simply trying to get money. If you can do good work, money will follow. Reminds me of one of my favorite Walt Disney quotes: “We don’t make movies to make money. We make money to make more movies.”
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
We say “live everyday like it’s your last” so often that it has become cliche. But I wonder what would happen if we actually did, if we woke up every morning and did all those things we keep saying we will get around to?
Maybe we’d actually have the courage to start that business or ship that product or make that thing We’d stop waiting for the perfect timing or until we have permission. Maybe we’d stop planning and plotting and procrastinating (because that’s all it really is) and actually start doing.
But we don’t do that. It’s easier to put it off until we’re better prepared or to excuse ourselves, saying we’re too old or over the hill or we missed the best time. But the minute we think the best times are behind us, we are already dead. It’s never too late and you’ll never be fully prepared.
The best time is now.
Because now is all that is certain.
For the past thirty-three years, I’ve look in the mirror every morning and asked myself “If today were the last day of my life would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “no” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
There is a lot of talk amongst those I follow on Twitter about “noise.” Media is bombarding us from every angle and it’s hard to filter. Jeremy Cowart’s resolution for 2011 is “less emailing, more creating.” Then my pal Zach McNair responded on his blog with his desire to reduce the noise in his life:
To be honest, my mind has been contemplating all the ways that I can reduce various noise in my life. In September of this year, I was subscribed to or following countless blogs, was following over 250 people on Twitter, and read every email that came my way (including advertisements). Noise at its finest distracting me from what my clients were paying me to do – work.
I applaud both of these great fellows for their efforts. This can be hard thing to do. I’ve gone through it as I’ve essentially completely changed my online reading habits, significantly reducing the blogs I read and the people I follow on Twitter. However, I think this is only one side of the apparent “noise” problem. We shouldn’t only be thinking about reducing the noise in our lives, we should also be thinking about the noise we might be creating.
As my online reading habits changed, I started to notice another change. If I’m going to be particular about what blogs I read and who I follow on Twitter, I also need to be particular about what I am contributing and sharing and producing. I tried to stop blogging about every single cool thing I came across online. I stopped tweeting about every meal and every place I go.
I’m trying to be more thoughtful in what I publish online. For my blog, that means quality over quantity. I’m much more selective about what gets published and I try to avoid the ephemeral and trendy. If we continue retweeting, reblogging, and relinking to everything we see, post, and like, what we produce will never rise above the noise and become something lasting.
And that goes for more than just social networking. As creatives, I think that should be the goal for everything we make: to create something lasting. I don’t want my work to just be more noise in a world that is already too loud. Thoughtfulness and sincerity will always win over retweets and link-love.
The best way to reduce the noise is to stop creating it. And that’s my goal for 2011.
Colin Greenwood of Radiohead has written an interesting piece on the band’s decision to release In Rainbows digitally with a pay-what-you-want model back in 2007. Three years ago, this was revolutionary. Now, in 2010, countless bands release projects with this format and there are even sites dedicated to releasing music under this idea. The band has recently completed their next album and are currently deciding how they plan to release it to their fans. With this in mind, Greenwood says:
I am optimistic that if you make good work you can secure the patronage of your fans.
This reminded me of a thoughtful email I received recently from Asthmatic Kitty, the record label of Sufjan Stevens. Stevens has also recently completed a new album, though he will be selling his through more traditional distribution methods. He’ll be releasing his project on his site on October 12 digitally for $8 and on CD and LP for $12 and $20 respectively. Asthmatic Kitty sent an email to Sufjan’s fans stating they have reason to believe Amazon will be releasing the record at a significantly lower price like they did with Arcade Fire’s latest. Regarding Amazon’s release plans:
We have it on good authority that Amazon will be selling The Age of Adz for a very low price on release date, not unlike they did with Arcade Fire’s recent (and really terrific) The Suburbs. We’re not 100% sure Amazon will do this, but mostly sure.
We have mixed feelings about discounted pricing. Like we said, we love getting good music into the hands of good people, and when a price is low, more people buy. A low price will introduce a lot of people to Sufjan’s music and to this wonderful album. For that, we’re grateful.
But we also feel like the work that our artists produce is worth more than a cost of a latte. We value the skill, love, and time they’ve put into making their records. And we feel that our work too, in promotion and distribution, is also valuable and worthwhile.
I’d be interested in seeing a graph of some sort showing how much people payed for In Rainbows or what the average person paid for it. I stand by the idea that good worth deserves payment. I hope as an artist, my work is worth something to the viewer. I’m hoping I’m making good work that is securing the support of whatever fans I may have.
I like Radiohead and I like Sufjan Stevens and I want them to keep making music I can enjoy. Even when I pay for it.
Joshua Wolf is writing a new series for Slate Magazine on the subject of creative partnerships. The first piece in the series is an interesting look at the tumultuous relationship between Paul McCartney and John Lennon. Their creative relationship was a mix of competition and collaboration, a struggle to work together as one while retaining their individuality.
“I feel like being wrong is really important to doing decent work. To do any kind of creative work well, you have to run at stuff knowing that it’s usually going to fail. You have to take that into account and you have to make peace with it. We spend a lot of money and time on stuff that goes nowhere. It’s not unusual for us to go through 25 or 30 ideas and then go into production on eight or 10 and then kill everything but three or four. In my experience, most stuff that you start is mediocre for a really long time before it actually gets good. And you can’t tell if it’s going to be good until you’re really late in the process. So the only thing you can do is have faith that if you do enough stuff, something will turn out great and really surprise you.”
I love you Ira Glass.
I enjoyed reading every bit of this fantastic interview with Ira Glass, a personal hero and host of The American Life talking all about The Wrong Stuff. So many great quotes and there are multiple times I found myself laughing out loud. The man is brilliant.