Creativity

Big Update to Shawn Blanc's eBook, 'Delight is in the Details'

Delight is in the Details — v2

My buddy Shawn Blanc has published a huge update to his ebook about creativity, Delight is in the Details. Everything that made the original version awesome is still there, along with a ton of new content and refinements:

  • The ebook has been upped from 75 pages to 88 thanks to the addition of two new chapters
  • Two new audio interviews (Matt Alexander and Jared Sinclair), bringing the total to 10
  • All of the audiobook and audio interview tracks have been remastered
  • There are now transcripts of all the interviews, in case you’d rather read than listen
  • A new Makers Q&A section
  • References to iOS and OS X have been updated
  • Three short videos about creativity and design, all with high production value. You can watch one of them right now: “The Creative Life”

If you already bought the first edition of Delight is in the Details, you get this update (and all future updates) for free. A Gumroad link to the new files will be emailed to you, so keep an eye out.

For the rest of you who have yet to make the plunge, the book is 25% off—$29, down from $39—today only. Now’s your chance to get in on a fantastic book that will spur your creative work and show you why sweating the details is so important.

Neil Gaiman's 2012 Commencement Speech

Somehow I completely missed out on watching this speech until a few days ago. It seems like the kind of thing my internet friends would have been linking left and right, but I guess better late than never, right?

Here are a few of my favorite highlights, with accompanying time markers:

[1:51] - “First of all, when you start out on a career in the arts, you have no idea what you're doing. This is great. People who know what they're doing know the rules, and they know what is possible, and what is impossible. You do not, and you should not.”


[2:10] “The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can. If you don't know it's impossible, it's easier to do. And because nobody's done it before, they haven't made up rules to stop anyone doing that particular thing again.”


[19:29] “And now, go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make. Good. Art.”

Content is Crap

Greg Satell:

“...content isn’t really king. Content is crap. Nobody walks out of a great movie and says, “Wow! What great content.” Nobody who produces meaningful artistic expression thinks of themselves as content producers either. So the first step to becoming a successful publisher is to start treating creative work with the respect it deserves.”

Fighting to Stay Creative

Shawn Blanc on the importance of the "fun factor" in creative work (emphasis mine):

“There is something freeing about creating for yourself. When we take hold of that baton and create for that second version of ourselves, it’s like having a permission slip to do awesome work. And what better way to have fun than to do awesome work? There’s an inverse truth here as well: most of our best work comes from the place of delight. When we are excited about a project, that creative momentum propels us to think outside the box and to dream new ideas as the project takes residence as the top idea in our mind.

He goes on to give several helpful tips and reminders for anyone who gets stuck in a creative rut. It's something we all go through sooner or later, so keep this one bookmarked.

Creativity, Inc.

Speaking of Pixar, there's a book coming out tomorrow called Creativity, Inc. that I can't wait to read. Written by co-founder Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc. grants readers a peek into the creative process at Pixar and how other businesses can apply the many lessons he has learned from managing teams of creative people over the years.

If this excerpt at Fast Company is anything to go by, Creativity, Inc. is going to be an excellent book. Pre-order it from Amazon or from the iBooks Store.

Building the Next Pixar

Evie Nagy of Fast Company interviewed a bunch of Pixar alums about working for one of the best animation studios in the world, and how those experiences translated into their own ventures.

Articles like this make it difficult to pick out the best quotes because they're all so good, but I particularly enjoyed this one by Suzanne Slatcher (who helped create Finding Nemo's Sydney Opera House, the car-like rock formations in Cars, and the iconic house in Up):

“A computer will make something perfectly square, perfectly spherical, and that’s just ugly and boring. All of your time is spent kind of messing it up, which is the opposite of most people’s jobs…the real world is a big old mess and most people’s time is spent tidying it up.”

Here's another good'un for anyone who thinks they always need the newest, shiniest thing to do good work (emphasis mine):

“John Lasseter understood that this was a new medium, but the fundamental medium was storytelling, not technology. The technology helped, but it was just a better pencil—it was marrying the artists and storytellers with the technology in a way that they both really understood and appreciated. That was the key to Pixar's creative success, and it still is.”

There's plenty more where that came from, so go read the whole article.

Resistance

Seinfeld's not the only one who thinks writers should stop making excuses. Steven Pressfield's book, The War of Art, is a master class in combating "Resistance" — his term for the cumulative forces (both internal and external) that aim to prevent us from doing our work.

Here's what he has to say on the matter (emphasis mine):

“Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean. It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you. It will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man. Resistance has no conscience. It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your back is turned. If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get. Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.

Another good quote:

“There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.”

This sort of thing is a common theme I see from creative people who are at the top of their respective fields. Yes, there are days when it's more difficult than usual to produce something great, but none of that takes precedence over sitting down and doing the work.

My advice is to listen to these guys. They certainly didn't get to where they are in life by being lazy.

Jerry Seinfeld on Writer's Block

Seinfeld did a Reddit AMA ("Ask Me Anything") and told a bunch of great stories about the making of Seinfeld and Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (which is one of the best things on the internet right now). All the answers are worth reading through, but the best of the bunch was this one:

Q: “How do you deal with writers block?”

A: “Writer's block is a phony, made up, BS excuse for not doing your work.”

Things I've Learned in 2013

Inspired by a post Patrick Rhone did at the end of 2011, and another at the end of 2012, I thought I'd put together a list of things I've learned in 2013. In no particular order...

  • It's almost always better to sleep on an article draft and edit it the next day, rather than publish it immediately.

  • Although it sometimes hurts to cut things from my articles, even my favorite and most "clever" bits, they usually turn out for the better that way. Even if it means starting over from scratch.

  • Time spent on fiddling with my blog's design is better spent on writing.

  • It's best to ignore threads about my work on sites like Hacker News and Reddit. Even a large number of compliments can't stop those few detractors from getting into my head.

  • Don't give much thought to pageviews. A huge surge of traffic to the site can seem absolutely crazy for a few days, but really this sort of attention is fleeting. It's better to have a smaller, truly supportive audience that always has your back, than a large one that will bounce without a second thought.

  • Babies will always, always choose to throw a screaming fit at the most inopportune times. This is a universal constant.

  • Some of the most well-received pieces I've published have been the ones I spent the least amount of time editing or put the least thought into. The internet works in mysterious ways.

  • After I lost my job and we started having to budget ourselves more strictly, my wife and I discovered we can get by on surprisingly little money. Eating at home rather than at restaurants has been the biggest factor for us.

  • I have just about everything I need in life, despite having a lot less income. I have a loving wife, a supportive family, a two-year-old son who makes me laugh, and a roof over my head. Like anyone, there are plenty more things I wish I had (more gadgets, a bigger house, etc), but really my life is quite comfortable at the moment. I consider myself extremely lucky.

  • My wife is even more supportive of my writing endeavors than I previously thought. She's amazing.

  • My parents and other family members don't really have a clue what I do for a living, despite my attempts to explain it.

  • It's often better to try calmly talking my son down from one of his hysterical fits rather than lose my own temper about it.

  • Let kids experiment with their environment a little. It might be annoying when they make messes, or that they want to get a cooking pot out of the cabinet and start hitting it with a spoon, but they're just exploring and learning about the world around them. Don't immediately shut them down all the time or you risk stunting their curiosity and creativity. (Unless they're about to accidentally hurt or kill themselves, obviously.)

  • When interviewing people, it's difficult to find the balance between staying out of the interviewee's way and maintaining a certain flow to the conversation, but so rewarding when that balance is found.

  • I need to journal more often.

  • I need to read more books.

  • Audiobooks are more engaging than I thought they would be. I never really gave them a chance until a roadtrip we took earlier this year, and now I wish I'd done so sooner.

  • Being off the internet for a week wasn't so bad, and I hardly missed anything important. I should do this a few more times a year.

As a writer, my goal is to inspire others to be more creative and do their best work. If my writing has helped or inspired you in any way, please consider supporting this site with a modest donation or by signing up for the $3/month membership subscription.

The Great Discontent's Interview with Merlin Mann

Here are two reasons I was super excited to read this interview:

  1. I'm an unabashed Merlin Mann fanboy (Mannboy? Er...hmm.)
  2. The Great Discontent is consistently one of my favorite sites to read, and was a big inspiration for my own interview series.

I just finished reading the interview, and it certainly didn't disappoint. I went back through afterward to find something I could blockquote here, but in true Merlin style, almost the entire thing is quotable so I'll just recommend that you go read it right now.

Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling

There are a couple of animation studios that I consider to be the best in their field. One is Studio Ghibli, and the other is Pixar. So when Pixar's (former) Story Artist lays down some rules for great storytelling, people should pay attention.

Although I enjoyed the entire list, two rules in particular struck me as useful for any sort of creative work:

11. “Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.”

-and-

17. “No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.”

'Perfectly Unbalanced'

David T. Lewis reflects on work/life balance, and how it doesn't necessarily mean the same for creatives as it does for others.

“I had spent a lot of my 20’s trying to fight off these urges, now approaching 40 I can’t help but think that any – mild – success I have had comes out of this worldview. By embracing this idea I can stop apologizing for it, I can actually appreciate how lucky I am to be exactly where I want to be, doing exactly what I want to do.”

'How Designers Destroyed the World'

Mike Monteiro of Mule Design gave an impassioned (and profanity-laden) talk at Webstock 2013, in which he discusses the importance of speaking up when a project is about to head downhill. I think it's a must-watch for anyone in the design world, and probably people outside of it too.

If you like Mike's talk, be sure to also check out his book.

Dear Mr. Watterson

Here's the trailer for the upcoming documentary that takes a look at the life and work of Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes. It would be an understatement to say that I'm really excited about seeing this film.

After you watch the trailer, be sure to also check out Gavin Aung Than's excellent comic-strip recreation of Watterson's most famous inspirational speech over on Zen Pencils.

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Mediocrity

It's a pattern as old as civilization: an amateur, unsure of themselves, will obsess over what their heroes might think or say or do in a given situation, rather than simply hunkering down and doing the work for themselves. It's a perfectly human behavior, and something I've certainly been guilty of in the past.

Some even take it a step further, attempting to re-create whatever it was that made their heroes successful.

“I did what most writers do at their beginnings: emulated my elders, imitated my peers, thus turning away from any possibility of discovering truths beneath my skin and behind my eyes.”
Ray Bradbury

Over the years though, I've reached the same conclusion that so many others surely have throughout history: there is no shortcut, no secret sauce, no magic bullet, that will make your work great. Emulating your heroes can undoubtedly be a useful learning method in the short term, but in the long term it's no more effective than being that kid in middle school who cheats on tests and never learns anything.

Eventually, you must find your own voice. Nobody's going to do it for you, especially not your idols. I guarantee you they had to go through the same process themselves when they first started pursuing their passions, and they'd tell you the same exact thing I am now.

Here are a few tenets I encourage you to keep in mind:

  1. If you do great work, it will speak for itself.
  2. If you are passionate about what you do, then you are sure to do great work.
  3. Don't be too concerned with your skill level in the beginning. You might not be very good at first (and truthfully, almost nobody is), but with time your skills will grow. Just put something, anything out into the world, and the rest will come.
  4. Don't be desperate for attention. Aspire to reach a level where your heroes will want to work with you as peers, not just notice you from afar.
  5. Lastly, don't fawn over your heroes. I'm 100% serious because I know how easy it is to fall into this trap. You'll either creep them out or they'll ignore you the same way they ignore all the other gushers out there. It's okay to point out something awesome they've done, but keep it professional.

I'll leave you with a quote by Josh Long that gets right to the heart of what I'm talking about:

“The people that we look up to are no different than we are. They still wake every morning with their own routine and their own ambitions for the day. They have the same fears, challenges, set backs, and epiphanies.

The difference is that they ship.”

Steven Pressfield's Trying Something New

Steven Pressfield, best known for writing The Legend of Bagger Vance and a few excellent books on doing professional knowledge work, is easily one of the best resources of creative inspiration around in my book (see what I did there?). Can't say enough great things about the guy.

Which is why I'm excited about his upcoming newsletter experiment.

“What makes something ready for the Big Leagues? How long do we have to languish in the minors before we break through? What does it take to get over the hump?

I suspect that no few of the readers of this blog find themselves in that exact same spot.

What’s missing?

What’s the final piece to the puzzle?”

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? If you click through to the newsletter signup page, he goes into more detail on what this project is about (emphasis mine):

“I have a new, long form project that’s about the writing of a first novel; what takes a project from being unpublishable to being publishable. It’s too long to be on the blog, so I’m going to give it with a bunch of other goodies.”

Such advice from Steven is sure to be invaluable, so it was an instant sign-up for me. How about you?

Scott Belsky on Taking Action

Scott Belsky, Adobe’s Vice President of Products/Community and Head of Behance, was interviewed by The Great Discontent. He spoke a lot about creativity and doing great work.

There are two particular quotes that stood out to me. Here's the first:

“One piece of advice is that the opportunity cost of waiting to do what you want to do just goes up. The excuses you tell yourself to wait to try what you have in your mind are wrong. In truth, you will have more responsibility tomorrow than you have today — it’s a fact. You can always find a reason why you should wait, and some are very valid, like having to pay back student loans, but recognize the fact that the opportunity cost goes up, not down. Whenever people talk to me about their ideas, I get frustrated because I want them to do something about it. Take action on things that are in your mind’s eye.

And later on:

“There are probably more half-written novels in the world than completed ones. The solutions to all of our gravest problems in society are in the minds of creative people out there: the creative chemist who works in a lab somewhere but can’t stay organized, or doesn’t have the impetus to act, may have the cure for cancer. Obviously, all of the greatest artists who we know are the ones who have produced stuff, but that doesn’t mean they’re the ones with the greatest insights.

The biggest takeaway I got from this interview is the sheer importance of getting started with something. You might be holding onto the greatest idea ever, but it's worthless to the world if you don't do anything with it.

One Thing Well

There are a lot of apps in the world that are renowned for doing "one thing well." They're often seen as the best in their respective fields, because the developer focused on a single problem and simply nailed the hell out of it.

Why not apply the same principle to ourselves as artists?

After all, there are a ton of potential roadblocks when it comes to doing creative work, many of them psychological. Maybe you're trying to juggle too many projects at once. Maybe you've got so many ideas that you can't even take the first step with any of them because you're overthinking everything. At some point, you've probably allowed yourself to become distracted from your work, even despite your best efforts.

We've all been guilty of these things and more. I think it helps to focus on a single issue and really tackle that one thing until you're at the point where the only thing left to do is slightly tweak here and there. Pick a single project and aim for perfection in that one thing before even thinking about moving onto something else.

Perfection may not be achievable – or else nobody would need to be creative anymore – but your work will be better for trying. This is what all efficient craftspeople originally set out to do: eagerly master that one skill, honing it day-by-day until it becomes second nature.

Don't allow your work to become diluted by indecision and inaction. Forget distractions. Focus on the task at hand and block out the rest.

Do one thing well.