Yesterday I listened to this podcast episode with Seth Godin on my new girl crush Debbie Millman’s blog, Design Matters (girl’s married to Roxanne Gay and was the OG podcaster - I'm in love). Seth is amazing, and is the newest name to have catapulted his way into my world. Last week I finished Amanda Fucking Palmer’s book The Art of Asking, and despite for some reason really not wanting to like her (I haven’t figured out why yet, maybe it’s because she’s a Masshole like me and unlike me, she isn’t politely trying to forget that and become a REAL New Yorker or some shit, or it's almost definitely that she completely ignores any question of privilege, race, gender, sexuality, and conventional notions of attractiveness as boundaries to the creation of a crowd that you must THEN get over the fear of asking), it was fucking good. It made me cry. A lot.
I have these two people to thank for me finally getting off the nail and starting this blog as a daily practice, a practice I’ve been thinking about for some time, but that’s I’ve been blowing fantastically out of proportion in my head as something that needs to be IMPORTANT, and WELL FORMATTED.
First the nail story, as told to my darling friend Jeni. The originally version of this story appears in The Art of Asking, told to Amanda by her mentor and all around professional Good Human, Anthony (RIP).
Everyday on her way to theatre, the queen walks by the front stoop of an old woman who’s been sitting there longer than anyone can remember. Sitting next to her is always her equally old dog, a little gray mutt. And everyday, as the queen walks day, the dog is whimpering softly.
After a few weeks of walking by and hearing the dog’s sad crying, the queen finally stops. “Excuse me, why is your dog always crying?”
“Oh he’s sitting on a nail,” replies the old woman.
“What do you mean?” Says the queen, taken aback. “Why doesn’t he just get off?”
“Doesn’t hurt enough yet.”
Well after many many months of agonizing over my creative process, I’m getting off the nail. The solution isn’t some perfectly meaningful blog post to start with. It isn’t having some overarching project that incapsulates all of the things that are important to me. It’s taking the advice of these two people that have just become incredibly important to me.
In the podcast with Debbie, Seth talks about his new book, The Practice: Shipping Creative Work (which I promptly ordered and will be reading soon). I’ve been a big fan of Julia Cameron’s morning pages for the past two years, and I’ve done them almost every day (although not in the morning, and my vertigo this summer cut into it substantially). Seth has the same approach to creative output. Making something everyday is non-negotiable. It’s not about judging whether it’s worth making. It’s about making it, and then getting feedback from the world. Most of us, no, me, take responsibility for your thoughts Scarlet. I have my creative priorities backwards. I want to make good and important work, so I think about ideas, concepts, projects, and then I try to decide if they’re worth doing. But they’ve never been done! I have the crazy arrogance to think that I will know how something will turn out before doing it, and instead of even starting to try it, I spend all my time trying to decide to which thing to commit all my efforts.
Seth’s way out is a good one. Don’t commit to the project, commit to the practice. For me, that means a reorientation of my thinking about production. I’ve been obsessing about whether I should commit to my music as a career, but then spiraling into guilt about leaving behind my career as an entrepreneur and tech polyglot, thinking about ways I can help local, inclusive small businesses do relationship based marketing. Then I think about how much I love to write, and that I should actually just focus on writing a book. Perhaps needless to say, this cycle is endless. My only creative product has been in music, and it’s been because I’ve been able to create a process with analog synthesizers that doesn’t allow for cycling and editing - I start by destroying yesterday’s patch, I make something new, I record it as a live mix, and that’s it. There’s no doing back, yesterday’s track is done.
The solution is to create a similar process for my idea work. My current understanding of it is this.
- Morning Pages
- Draft blog post based on what emerges
- Publish yesterday’s blog post
- Create art inspired by #2 - my current focus is music. Create and record a track.
- Put art into blog post
- Have the rest of a fulfilling life - talk to people in my community, expand my community, be of service to others.
- Do this everyday. This is life, not work. It’s not weekdays only, if I have less time, or I feel shitty, make it short.
- Take feedback from people I trust
Seth said something really important, and I’ve heard this in hundreds of different ways, but as usual, you only hear something when you’re reading to receive it.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the mood to create. You don’t start flow state already in flow state. You don’t lie down to sleep already asleep. You lie down because it’s time to go to bed. You sit down to create because it’s time to create.
Now is my time to create.
The second important part: How does this translate into a life that supports my basic needs? How do I pay my rent?
This is what I’ve been learning from Amanda Palmer.
I deserve to ask.
You deserve to say no.