Want popularity? You have to be the first.
Want to succeed? You have to be the loudest.
I know those things aren’t actually true, but I can’t tell you how many times I have personally thought them.
I create things, at least I try to on most occasions.
Creating en masse
I am absolutely guilty of giving into my desire to write what is popular versus writing what I wanted to. These two things are not always in agreement with one another. But I wanted the big article, the one that people at work were talking about, the one that my friends were sharing and I had no qualms in sacrificing everything I believed in, in order to get it. I was a woman possessed. The more I tried, the more I failed.
I saw this Tweet the other day:
“Every startup’s everyday dilemma: the gap between “quick and dirty” and “doing it right the long way”
I think this goes for writers, artists, hell anyone that creates for a living. If you push content on the internet you also have to take into consideration how to get out in front. If you are playing the SEO game, you’ve got to hit it hard and fast, or else you will drowned in a sea of other content. Of course you could also resort to click-bait:
“Using #Beats headphones at full volume for just 15 minutes a day could lead to hearing loss.”
What has happened here is this:
Take a widely known (and accepted scientific) fact regarding listening to anything at full volume for 15 minutes and apply it to a trending topic. This headline makes it seem like the Beats headphones are unique in their ability to give you hearing loss, but that’s simply not the case.
Many of us are under the presumption that the internet is democratic. That it is open to all who want a voice, but what happens when you look behind the curtain of viral phenomenon? Who are the organizations really holding the strings? Writer, John Wihbey recently wrote about exactly this:
“For the most part, behind any mass online phenomenon there is a powerful group with a megaphone—still usually a big media outlet—doing most of the yelling.”
Wihbey’s article highlights the immense difficulties that exist with getting eyes on a page. Especially when you consider that 94% of people get their news from two sources at most. We are engaged in an arms race for attention, the consequences of which are not pretty.
When you’ve got a bunch of websites vying for the same SEO position we all suffer. Which is why both visually and content wise, we seem to be drowning in an abyss of sameness:
This is a cop out. You want to create? Fine. Good. Do it. But do something different, add something to the conversation.
I imagine we are very close to reaching what I call the apex of bullshit mountain, perhaps a bullshit tipping point? I truly believe that there are more people out there, writers, creators, artists who want to contribute new, novel work to the Universe.
For once, what would happen if you just wrote something to write it? Wrote something that mattered to you because you felt it needed to be said? In the spirit of that, I present to you some ideas for how to create what matters.
I always do this thing where I decide what I don’t like about the Universe and then I become hell bent on changing it. My creativity becomes second to my axe-to-grind-du-jour. Seth Godin, an entrepreneur, TED talker, and author puts it this way:
“Don’t try to change the structure of the outside world [hoping that] then you’ll be fine, then you’ll be creative and then you’ll be brave. No. First, figure out how to be creative and brave and courageous, and the outside world will change on your behalf…”
I feel like what he’s saying here is this, we often wait for some sort of signal before we create. We wait for the right time, the right place, the right words, but that usually means we end up waiting forever. Instead, what would happen if we began each day asking ourselves this:
How will I be creative today?
How will I be brave today?
If I can’t answer those questions, I’m probably not focusing my energies in the most efficient way. Or worse, I’m trying to replicate the success of the past.
Don’t rely on past success—push yourself
There was this article I wrote about sleep, it’s the most popular article I’ve ever wrote on Medium (popular of course being both relative and subjective). I have lost sleep over trying to figure out how to replicate its success. I’ve tried several times and each time it’s failed miserably. Those efforts would have been much better spent focusing on new creations, not on how to replicate past ones.
“Perfection itself would be a failure. All we can hope is that we will fail better. That we won’t succumb to fear of the unknown. That we will not fall prey to the easy enchantments of repeating what may have worked in the past.”—Dani Shapiro
Past success is exactly that, it beguiles us and ensnares us, and a lot of times we don’t even know it’s happening. You overcome this by forcing yourself to do something different. Which means you have to create, and you have to create a lot. I’m talking every single day. It doesn’t have to be a big-to-do, it’s just about trying to put something new out into the ether. It’s about not getting too comfortable with yourself.
That’s why I really like this piece by Stef Lewandowski on his own experience with creating something each day. I particularly enjoyed his idea of responding with “yes and”:
The best tool in the box for creative work is the response “yes, and…” to most suggestions you hear, instead of “yes, but…”. You’ll be surprised what effect it can have. Try it.
The trick is to open yourself up to more possibilities, not close yourself off from them.
Sometimes I see the way other people write and I think, ‘If I only wrote more like them, I would be more successful.’ I’ll change my writing style to match theirs in the hope of capturing some of their magic. It doesn’t work like that though, that’s not authentic and people do not identify with inauthenticity.
In Kurt Vonnegut’s How to Write With Style, he lists his ‘8 rules for great writing.’ Here’s number five:
“I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am. What alternatives do I have?”
Alas, he is right. We have scarce few alternatives but to be ourselves. This is truly what people identify with, what they will connect with. They want to connect with you, the real you. Of course being genuine also leaves us open, vulnerable, and that’s scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Dr. Brené Brown, researcher on empathy and shame, says this:
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.”
But how do we get to this place? Especially when you consider that our nervous systems are set up to feel alarm when we feel vulnerable. It’s a self-protective impulse. Becoming more comfortable with vulnerability involves self-validation. Accepting and acknowledging your feelings and admitting when you’ve done your best (or even when you haven’t) and being able to move on from that point.
We connect with people and we have the greatest chance of effecting change when we are quite simply, ourselves.
All of this, creativity itself most assuredly, is a process. Every day we create is a success. We must push ourselves always in the direction of what is new, of what we are afraid of. We must, as Dr. Brené Brown says:
“Pay attention to the space between where we’re actually standing and where we want to be.”
Creating what matters will help us get there.