What it Means to be a Creator
On May 9th Jason Kottke announced he would be taking a sabbatical after over 24 years of blogging. He started his blog in 1998 and has been regularly posting and sharing links to intriguing things online ever since.
In fact, Kottke was one of the reasons I decided to give this newsletter a go. I felt that I, like Kottke, liked to dive into rabbit holes and make connections along the way. I also enjoyed allowing the internet to regularly take me to new and fascinating places.
In my view, Kottke is a pioneer in blogging, and I will miss him as he takes time for himself.
Why is he taking a sabbatical? I think I will let his words speak for themselves.
I’m burrrrned out. I have been for a few years now. I’ve been trying to power through it, but if you’ve read anything about burnout, you know that approach doesn’t work.
I support a lot of individual writers, artists, YouTubers, and bloggers through Substack, Patreon, and other channels, and over the years I’ve seen some of them produce content at a furious pace to keep up their momentum, only to burn out and quit doing the projects that I, and loads of other people, loved. With so many more people pursuing independent work funded directly by readers & viewers these days, this is something all of us, creators and supporters alike, are going to have to think about.
Kottke brings up a point that I have dealt with repeatedly as a creator: consistency.
I have tried writing when I felt like it, only to go months without posting because I deemed what I was writing wasn’t “good enough.” I have written on a schedule of two or more newsletters a week only to quickly burn out and feel like my writing was a chore and not worth my time.
I currently write this newsletter once a week. Full disclosure I am writing this in my pajamas at 11 p.m. the night before I need to post this. I have allowed this writing to sit in my head without taking action for two days now, and I am terrified this will be some of the shittiest writing I have ever written.
But guess what, I have to send this out Wednesday at 9 a.m. before I leave for work. I promised a weekly newsletter to you all, and by golly, I will give you a newsletter.
With the thought of burning out and being a creator comes the “cost” of creation.
In the superb piece The Cost of Creation, Shaun Gold, writer of Youtopian Journey, talks about what you must pay to be a creator.
There is a cost of creation and that cost is far too high for the multitude to pay.
And what is this cost?
It is the agreement with yourself to constantly create, to dedicate yourself to becoming a manufacturer of your mind. Yet this factory of facts that you have setup within your head does not have a union. It does not have off hours or holidays. It does not have benefits. It has only you, the foreman, the CEO, the president, the creator.
This piece by Gold had me go down a rabbit hole about Charles Bukowski, and I learned a lot about him, but I think two things sum up my takeaways from him.
The first is a video from the Pursuit of Wonder YouTube channel, which gives a biography about Bukowski and some astute speculation about why his tombstone reads “DON’T TRY.”
With no real sight of success or money or fame — or even just creating a living from writing — Bukowski continued to write nearly every day before work for years of course we know how Bukowski’s story ended. He’s being spoken about right now as a writer; a renowned, successful, and important enough one to be spoken about with significance decades after his passing. To be considered one of the greats of all time…Only after a long-continued attempt at writing did Bukowski’s work finally become noticed and appreciated by an audience…Arguably, perhaps, this is where the most important idea can be found, not in just Bukoski’s work but in his life.
The second is a quote from another video I stumbled upon where KCET features Bukowski. He performs readings of his work in it, and in between each reading is a short interaction Bukowski had as the camera crew followed him around for a day.
One thing that stuck with me in this video was when he was discussing his poetry and how with poetry, the realities are never explained, and then he said this:
The reason I kept writing was not because I was so good but because they were so damn bad.
- Charles Bukowski
That quote reminds me of another great creator, Ira Glass from NPR. In a short piece called The Gap, Glass explains how when you start, what you make isn’t what you thought it would be, and you know that because you know what is good.
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, and I really wish somebody had told this to me.
All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there is this gap. For the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not that good.
But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past that phase. They quit.
The thing I would say to you with all my heart is most everybody I know who does interesting, creative work they went through years where they had really good taste and they could tell that what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. It didn’t have this special thing we wanted it to have. Everybody goes through that.
And if you are just starting out or if you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you’re going to finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you’re going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.
It takes awhile. It’s gonna take you a while. It’s normal to take a while. You just have to fight your way through that.
- Ira Glass
Whether it’s writing, making videos, painting, or sculpting, creating will take some time to learn and even more time to perfect. If you want to create, especially if you’re going to do so regularly, you must have an inextinguishable need to do so. If you don’t have that, you’re screwed. The temptations from TikTok, Netflix, that book on your nightstand, or the latest podcast you downloaded will envelop you like a net in the ocean catching a school of Mackerel.
If you do have that flame under you pushing you to create, you must make that thing you have wanted to make. Whether or not it is good isn’t in the equation, and neither is how many people will see it. Creating is for you, and you deserve to have that waterfall of dopamine after finishing what you set out to do.
So make the damn thing.