Do you want people to pay attention to your creative work? You might want to read this first.
1. Know your shit
Bestselling author Steven Pressfield is a big believer in the value of learning on the job. In his latest book, Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit, he talks about how stints as an ad copywriter and screenwriter helped him hone his craft, and learn skills that apply equally to every field of writing.
As an ad copywriter, he quickly learnt that getting words on a page is only the beginning:
“The pros understand that nobody wants to read their shit. They will start from that premise and employ all their arts and all their skills to come up with some brilliant stroke that will cut through that indifference, that clutter, that B.S.”
By the way, I first heard about Gregg Krech on my friend Greg Berg’s excellent podcast Life on Purpose, and today I found out that he’s returned to the show to record another fascinating conversation – both are essential listening for anyone who has found this series helpful.
If you don’t like the magazine format, read on below as usual!
In another excellent essay in the book, Trudy Boyle shares her research on stress, and is keen to point out that not all stress is bad for you – in fact, it’s a normal part of life to some extent, as without some stress we probably wouldn’t achieve anything at all.
There are definitely some stresses which we want to avoid though. Stress caused by procrastination can be particularly harmful to our mental and physical health.
Boyle describes something that feels quite familiar to me – Any fellow freelancers/creative professionals will probably also relate!
“My number one stress creator is not completing a task I have set for myself or following through promptly. The stress is compounded when I take on more than I can deliver in the allotted time. And my final penchant, which makes up what I call my “stress triangle, is to ignore the whole lot until the last sixty seconds!”
But does this matter, as long as we get the work done ‘just in time’? Maybe some of us are just wired to do things at the last minute.
As well as Kech’s own writing, the book also features essays by other contributors which also have some great insights on the topic.
One of these essays is by the late musician and educator Shinichi Suzuki on the topic ‘To Merely Want to Do Something Is Not Enough’. Suzuki really gets to the heart of how we end up with the habit of procrastination and why it’s so unhelpful. He asks:
“Why is it that so many people think of doing things and do not do them?”
“Consider the implications of a life in which you don’t have the power, focus, or single-mindedness to do what you say you will do. Imagine the countless times your wiser self decides on a particular course of action, only to be blown off course by the merest breeze of immediate desire. There’s a helplessness, a scattered, drifting quality about such a life.”
Dan Rosenthal (quoted in The Art of Taking Action)
Did you start the new year, or the past week, or even this new day, with a clean slate? Unfortunately, I didn’t. I started it with a long list of overdue tasks.
I like the idea of ‘going with the flow’, but what if you’re floating down a river full of rocks and branches and other obstacles? What if you’ve also got your feet tangled in some river weeds and a hefty block of concrete chained to your torso? you’re not going to get anywhere fast.
It’s the same with unfinished tasks and unfulfilled dreams. They weigh us down.
I had tears in my eyes and fire in my heart by the time I finished this book, which charts Sean Platt’s journey from working in his father’s flower shop to full-time fiction writer.
I discovered Sean via his site Ghostwriter Dad (you can now find him at seanmplatt.com). His book Writing Online makes a great companion to this one, with loads of great advice for writers. This book however is much more personal and as a result was even more inspiring – and I believe will be for any writer.
Now, finally, it’s time to hear about what’s inside the book itself.
And when Godin asks “are you flying too low” he’s not talking about whether you’ve zipped up your jeans or not.
Taking the Myth
The Icarus Deception centres around the myth of Icarus, who ignored his father’s instructions not to fly too close to the sun, resulting in over-heating problems with his home-made wings and a fatal dip in the sea.
The Icarus myth is often used as an example of when hubris or over-confidence can go badly wrong.
However Godin points out that there is another part of the story – Icarus’s father Daedalus also told his son not to fly too low as the water could also damage his wings.
According to Godin;
“Society has altered the myth, encouraging us to forget the part about the sea, and created a culture where we constantly remind one another about the dangers of standing up, standing out, and making a ruckus.”
However, as Seth says, settling for too little is “a far more common failing”.
Fly Closer to the Sun
The crux of the book is this; We all have the potential to be artists and to do great work. However to do so, we need to leave our comfort zones – to fly closer to the sun. What this requires of us is to have the hubris to take bigger risks and create new things. this requires facing up to the pain involved in the creative process, and being open to possible failure and criticism.
The beautifully produced video below is a great summary of what the book is all about (and inspiring in its own right):
God is a DJ (but not exclusively)
Godin challenges us to consider ourselves on a par with the gods of ancient myth in terms of our creative potential.
He believes we can each take on a godlike quality (please note the small ‘g’) by becoming shamelessly confident. To do this, we must refuse to accept the shame that others bestow onto us for having the audacity to believe in ourselves and our art, and the willingness to be vulnerable enough to share it with the world:
“While someone can attempt to shame you, shame must also be accepted to be effective”.
This is clearly inspired by the message Brene Brown shares in her book Daring Greatly.
Crystallising Existing Concepts About Creativity
Indeed, the book could be seen as the distillation of all of Godin’s previous work as well as a raft of recent literature such as Brown’s book, into a powerful manifesto on the urgent need to be more creative.
Godin also echoes Dan Pink’s 2005 book A Whole New Mind, which argued that creative people were going to be the cornerstones of the new economy as their skills would be most in demand.
Godin believes that, as Pink predicted, we are currently in the midst of the ‘Connection Economy’, which demands we become artists and share more of ourselves with the world in order to succeed.
He also refers to Steven Pressfield’s War of Art and his concept of resistance as something we must battle each day in order to create. For Godin, the resistance is something to be embraced, because if you feel that sense of fear, uncertainty and pain when you come to make art, then you’re probably on the right track.
“Art is the act of doing work that matters while dancing with the voice in your head that screams for you to stop.” #Sethisms
A few people have commented that The Icarus Deception doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Godin even concedes in the acknowledgements that he has already tried out some of the ideas in the book on his blog – Indeed, it’s written in the same style – short, snappy segments which deal with one small element of the overall argument at a time.
It seems to me that Godin uses his blog and books as a way of digging down to the crux of how the digital revolution has changed both the economy and our lives. Each post, each short section of a book, each Sethism, is Godin’s method of chipping away at an underlying truth, in the same way that a sculptor brings to life a figure from a block of marble.
The Icarus Deception is a compelling and persuasive read that has really motivated me to create more and embrace the pain involved in creating new things as a necessary and integral part of the process.
And because it contains the most up-to-date distillation of Godin’s philosophy about creativity and the digital/connected world we live in, it’s a great book for both those unfamiliar with his previous work and those who have enjoyed following along as his outlook has evolved.
I’ve got four copies of The Icarus Deception to give away and one signed copy of the accompanying picture book, V is for Vulnerable, illustrated by Hugh MacLeod. To win you simply need to help me spread Sethisms.
The more you spread, and the closer you follow the competition guidelines, the more likely you are to win! More details here.
Please note that the closing date has been extended until midnight on Monday 21st January.
To some it will be a bit too airy fairy, and only something for hippies or weirdos. Or you might have heard a lot about it, but are unsure how to even go about getting started.
Well if you’re willing to look past your preconceptions or fears around meditation, you might want to try Headspace’s free Take Ten programme, which offers ten guided meditations lasting ten minutes.
Headspace takes a very modern approach, using great web and mobile design to help people establish a daily meditation habit. Each day you are guided through the process by Andy Puddicombe. Puddicombe is a former Buddhist monk, so he knows his stuff!
Update: I’ve now completed the full Headspace program. I speak a little bit more about it, and the differences between mindfulness meditation and transcendental meditation in this podcast:
Why is Meditation Useful for Creative People?
I’m sure a lot of people reading this are attracted to the idea of taking some time out of their day in order to calm their mind. After all, with all the ideas and thoughts floating around our minds, us creative types probably need it more than most.
In fact, given the title of this blog, it’s perhaps surprising that I haven’t discussed meditation in depth before now.
The fact is that both anecdotal and scientific evidence have shown that there are widespread benefits to meditating regularly. I’m already feeling the benefits! The Headspace site has loads more info on this.
You might want to try it now in order to help calm your mind at a busy and often stressful time of year. Or you may want to start doing it in the New Year. Thankfully, 10 minutes a day for 10 days is very manageable.
The truth is that whilst I’ve tried different meditation techniques in the past, I’ve never made it a regular habit.
And having given up drinking alcohol for what I’m calling ‘a Year of Clarity’ it made sense to try and establish a new, positive habit of meditating to take advantage of those mornings without a hangover.
Here are some of the positives and a few drawbacks of the Headspace approach. Bear in mind that the main Headspace programme takes a full year and there is a charge for it, so this free programme is obviously designed to get you to sign up to the full programme. However whilst you need to sign up with an email address, there is no charge for Take Ten itself.
Beautiful and useful design of both the website and mobile apps.
Very well designed apps for both iPhone and Android mean if you have a smartphone, you can access the Take Ten programme for free anywhere with a 3G connection.
The Take Ten programme is an extremely simple ‘taster’. Each meditation is guided so you can’t really go wrong.
You can set up reminders in the app so that you don’t forget to take part
There are videos which help you to approach the meditation including the best way to sit, and the best time to do the practice. Puddecombe suggests first thing in the morning, and I’ve found that repeating it a second time each day works really well.
I only found a few, very minor niggles about the Headspace system. Nothing’s perfect, after all and I’m sure these are things they could improve in future.
You need to give your email address and you will be sent about 3 emails prompting you to sign up to the full programme. I would have preferred to only receive one email at the end, but perhaps the repetition helps people remember and you do get offered a decent discount on the normal annual fee which helps. The ‘from’ field in the email also says ‘lapsed’ which was a bit off-putting.
On one of the days there was some downtime on the Headspace server, meaning I couldn’t access the meditation recording on the phone app. However this does seem to be a rare occurrence as I have now signed up to the full year and done 10 more days without any problems.
There are videos in the app, but annoyingly they can’t be watched in landscape mode on my iPhone so they are very small. Apart from this, the app is very well designed, but this does irritate me every time a video pops up (some of the recordings have an additional video intro from Andy).
If you do sign up for the full year, you’ll get guided meditations for every single day of that year, which go through a number of different themes. The first programme once you sign up is Take Fifteen. Things do gradually become a little more complex as the days go by, but it’s manageable so far. Also by the end of the year you will have received guidance on how to meditate on your own.
Of course you could just as easily learn how to meditate from someone you know who is already doing it, or from a book, but I love the Headspace approach because it is making establishing a daily habit extremely easy and pleasurable. As the title of this review suggests, as far as I’m concerned, signing up was a no-brainer.
You may have heard of Chris Guillebeau. He is at the forefront of a new breed of bloggers and creative entrepreneurs who are making a substantial income from their creative output, and inspiring thousands of other people to do the same.
As well as writing for free on his blog and in his two hugely popular manifestos, Chris has published a number of Unconventional Guides * which offer up to the minute advice on freelancing, publishing and travel hacking, and even the art of building your own online empire. As well as pursuing his goal of travelling to every country in the world before the age of 35, Chris has worked tirelessly to build his platform and a community of people around him, and he’s made a fantastic living from it.
In his new book, the $100 Start Up, which is already out in the US and available in the UK from this week, Chris provides a clear guide to getting started with your own business, using the examples of hundreds of members of his community who have done the same. He provides concrete figures too – he only features those who are earning at least $50,000 a year, but many of the businesses featured bring in several hundred thousand pounds a year. Most of them started with around $100 dollars.
That’s pretty amazing, right?
As Chris says in the introduction:
Small businesses aren’t new, but never before have so many possibilities come together in the right place at the right time.
One of the key points that Chris is making is that anyone can start a business if they can just grasp some of the key concepts in the book and apply them to their own situation.
Most of them aren’t geniuses or natural-born entrepreneurs. They are ordinary people who made a few key decisions that changed their lives.
Whilst Career Renegade is a great ‘awakener’ to alternative career possibilities for creative people, and Slim’s book is all about the transition from corporate employee to business owner, the message of $100 Start Up is more straightforward and not necessarily aimed at creative types.
It deals with all types of businesses, from dog walking to language learning. But it isn’t hard to see that anyone who is able to turn $100 into a liveable annual wage is using a great deal of creativity. And Chris himself is a great example – a writer who is extremely successful, not just scraping by.
The Basics of Business
The “$100 start up” Chris is recommending could also be referred to as a micro, or freedom business. Your goal is to have freedom for yourself, but to do that you need to provide real value for others, and to communicate that value to them as clearly as possible.
Ultimately, Chris’s message is a simple one. He covers the basics of building a small business and emphasises that you don’t need more that, at least to get going. Taking action, and making that first sale, is all important.
The basics of starting a business are very simple; you don’t need an MBA, venture capital, or even a detailed plan. You just need a product or service, a group of people willing to pay for it, and a way to get paid.
He adds that it helps to have an offer and a way of building interest, or hustling, and to use well proven techniques such as a launch strategy.
What the book goes on to outline is bound to make a few internet marketers sweat; people have been selling this information online packaged in expensive clothes for a long time now. Chris has brought the advice all together into one easy to follow book which will cost you around a tenth of his suggested start-up costs, much less than most of the information products which include similar info.
Throughout the book Guillebeau provides simple, but comprehensive one page checklists to help with choosing between competing projects, creating a basic business plan and market testing – as well as the essential ‘reality check’. You can get additional resources at the dedicated website for the book.
Of course, there are plenty of areas touched on in the book that you might want to investigate more deeply. But if you have any interest in earning money on your own terms, once you’ve read this book you’ll be struggling to come up with an excuse for not getting started right away. As Guillebeau says:
“The most important thing is to keep taking action”.
How I Intend to Use the Book – Action & Commitment
I’ve bought a number of products from Chris in the past and have found them very useful in my transition from civil servant to freelance writer. His blog was also a key inspiration behind this one.
However the book is a great reminder to me that I have been stalling somewhat in using the knowledge I already have. I could potentially earn money in more ways than just copywriting for businesses, and I intend to more fully explore some of these other options.
It is also an eye-opener when it comes to how much money many of the people featured are earning on a regular basis and whilst my quality of life is more important to me, it has convinced me I need to be a bit more ambitious in terms of my financial goals.
Chris is one of those ‘everyman’ figures – someone who seems relatively normal and therefore inspires others to follow his lead. However he is a very smart guy who works extremely hard. Not everyone can be him!
As you know if you read this blog regularly, I struggle with the commitment part e.g. when it comes to consistently working on this blog, and I’m actively trying to improve my own habits and work ethic.
All the information in the world isn’t enough if you don’t follow through, and this is a great reminder to keep pushing myself. Basically, if this book doesn’t inspire me (and you!) to get moving, nothing will.
(note: the above links are affiliate links which means if you buy them, Amazon might one day send me a gift voucher (I’m not holding my breath). The link above to the Unconventional Guides website is also an affiliate link, but Chris’s affiliate programme is a lot more generous so I might actually earn some cash if you use that one. There is more info on affiliate promotions in the book!)
I’ve been intending to re-read this for quite some time, and as part of my Annual Review I’m currently working out my goals for next year (one of which is to ensure I get more creative work done without getting overwhelmed) so thought it was good timing to also write a wee review for the ‘Clear-Minded Classics’ series.
The Power of Less was written by Leo Babauta who writes the hugely popular blog Zen Habits. I enjoy Leo’s writing on his blog but have to admit the first time I read the book I was a bit disappointed. It seemed almost *too* simplistic. Surely much of this advice was common sense?
However in hindsight I realised this kind of information needs to be written as simply as possible, and there’s no doubt that Leo practices what he preaches when it comes to both the way he lives his life and the way he writes. The fact is, we action so little of what we read, or learn, that the best writing needs to be extremely simple if we are to remember and action it.
On my second reading, my main concern was that it was impossible for me, as someone with loads of different interests, to achieve the level of simplicity that Leo suggests in terms of cutting down my goals/projects/commitments. There’s no doubt that for anyone with a full-time job where it’s difficult to be in control of what projects you’re tasked with, it can be tricky to follow his advice to the letter – but there’s still a lot of advice that’s worth following.
And because taking too much on/trying to do too much last year led to complete overwhelm for me, I thought it would be good to be a bit stricter with myself and actually follow his advice this year.
Some creative types have known what they want to do all their lives. From the minute they start to crawl and gurgle something resembling a human language, they have made a beeline for that one thing that floats their boat – whether it be a paintbrush or a pencil, a drum set or a guitar, or a camera.
I hate them.
Okay that’s a bit strong. Perhaps more accurate to say, I’m insanely jealous of them (the lucky swine).
Because I’ve never known what I wanted.
Writing is the thing that comes most naturally to me, but perhaps because of the culture I was brought up in it never seemed like something to pursue as a career, like a doctor or lawyer.
So as well as writing, I drew cartoons, I played guitar, I messed around with a camcorder and made daft DIY music videos. I tried scriptwriting, I tried music reviewing, I even tried this really daft new trend they’re calling blogging, which has enabled me to write, take photos, make videos and record podcasts.
I even get paid for my work as a copywriter now, though not full time as yet. I really enjoy it, I find it rewarding and interesting and it’s definitely suited to my skills. It’s taken me until my early thirties to finally get paid doing something creative that I really enjoy – and it’s still not my full time job.
But guess what? I still want to play guitar, I still want to draw and paint and make daft DIY music videos etc etc. I can’t quite give up on all my creative dreams. I wanted to write a novel, I wanted to record an album of my maudlin acoustic guitar ballads and I wanted to make a short film or even a feature. Still do in fact.
Even now, with all my efforts to be more clear-minded, I just can’t settle on one thing.
Which is where this month’s Clear-Minded Classic comes in. It’s a book called The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One, by Margaret Lobenstine.
The Ditch the Day Job Video Diaries are 20 video diaries I have filmed since I took voluntary redundancy in February 2012 – after ten years working in the Scottish civil service.
The videos also feature footage from a couple of adventures I went on to meet other bloggers and self-employed people from around the world and get their perspectives, including the World Domination Summit in Portland and a trip to Oslo.