August 1, 2004

put the hours in

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More thoughts on "How To Be Creative":

3. Put the hours in.

Doing anything worthwhile takes forever. 90% of what separates successful people and failed people is time, effort, and stamina.
I get asked a lot, "Your business card format is very simple. Aren't you worried about somebody ripping it off?"

Standard Answer: Only if they can draw more of them than me, better than me.

What gives the work its edge is the simple fact that I've spent years drawing them. I've drawn thousands. Tens of thousands of man hours.

So if somebody wants to rip my idea off, go ahead. If somebody wants to overtake me in the business card doodle wars, go ahead. You've got many long years in front of you. And unlike me, you won't be doing it for the joy of it. You'll be doing it for some self-loathing, ill-informed, lame-ass mercenary reason. So the years will be even longer and far, far more painful. Lucky you.

If somebody in your industry is more successful than you, it's probably because he works harder at it than you do. Sure, maybe he's more inherently talented, more adept at networking etc, but I don't consider that an excuse. Over time, that advantage counts for less and less. Which is why the world is full of highly talented, network-savvy, failed mediocrities.

So yeah, success means you've got a long road ahead of you, regardless. How do you best manage it?

Well, as I've written elsewhere, don't quit your day job. I didn't. I work every day at the office, same as any other regular schmoe. I have a long commute on the train, ergo that's when I do most of my drawing. When I was younger I drew mostly while sitting at a bar, but that got old.

The point is; an hour or two on the train is very managable for me. The fact I have a job means I don't feel pressured to do something market-friendly. Instead, I get to do whatever the hell I want. I get to do it for my own satisfaction. And I think that makes the work more powerful in the long run. It also makes it easier to carry on with it in a calm fashion, day-in-day out, and not go crazy in insane creative bursts brought on by money worries.

The day job, which I really like, gives me something productive and interesting to do among fellow adults. It gets me out of the house in the day time. If I were a professional cartoonist I'd just be chained to a drawing table at home all day, scribbling out a living in silence, interrupted only by freqent trips to the coffee shop. No, thank you.

Simply put, my method allows me to pace myself over the long haul, which is important.

Stamina is utterly important. And stamina is only possible if it's managed well. People think all they need to do is endure one crazy, intense, job-free creative burst and their dreams will come true. They are wrong, they are stupidly wrong.

Being good at anything is like figure skating- the definition of being good at it is being able to make it look easy. But it never is easy. Ever. That's what the stupidly wrong people coveniently forget.

If I was just starting out writing, say, a novel or a screenplay, or maybe starting up a new software company, I wouldn't try to quit my job in order to make this big, dramatic heroic-quest thing about it.

I would do something far simpler: I would find that extra hour or two in the day that belongs to nobody else but me, and I would make it productive. Put the hours in, do it for long enough and magical, life-transforming things happen eventually. Sure, that means less time watching TV, internet surfing, going out or whatever.

But who cares?

Posted by hugh macleod at August 1, 2004 12:33 PM | TrackBack
Comments

Thank you for saying exactly what I needed to hear. It really is all about stamina=success.

Posted by: Dale at August 1, 2004 6:47 PM

Thank you for this. :) I need to spend less time going out etc, but I've found that in going out I've discovered some thigns, like knitting, that I'm getting good at with practice. Now I'm logging off to go do some of that

Posted by: Amy at August 2, 2004 4:09 PM

This is one of the most sensible bits of advice I've ever heard, and it works. I went back to college at age 45, with no high school background, and it was terrible at first. I failed 5 courses. But I just put in lots and lots of time, and slowly I caught up. No genius about it, just the time. And it worked! (just got my BA now, at 50).

Posted by: judy at August 2, 2004 8:34 PM

This is one of the most sensible bits of advice I've ever heard, and it works. I went back to college in my 40's, with no high school background, and it was terrible at first. I failed 5 courses. But I just put in lots and lots of time, and slowly I caught up. No genius about it, just the time. And it worked! (just got my BA now).

Posted by: judy at August 2, 2004 8:34 PM

Again, another brilliant bit...
I'm still trying to figure out the "how to set down and do the same thing at the same time every night" thing though, especially since I don't have any consistency to my schedule beyond the 5 days a week of work. Guh.

Posted by: Jennifer at August 2, 2004 10:55 PM

"If somebody in your industry is more successful than you, it's probably because he works harder at it than you do."
This is crap. You need to know the right people. That's all. Even if you suck. That's all.

Posted by: dongelfrei at August 3, 2004 12:12 AM

And even if someone else tried the business card format, they'd be doing different drawings, and probably in a different style. They might be a direct competitor, they might move off into a different market, they might make the niche bigger.

Posted by: Nancy Lebovitz at August 3, 2004 1:37 AM

dongelfrei: It's not crap. An old friend of mine who started a business that made a profit after 5 years says the major difference between his company and his competitors is that his competitors are not willing to work as hard. "Knowing the right people" means nothing if your product is shoddy, you don't fulfill your contracts, don't meet deadlines etc. When you have thousands of customers, then who are the "right people" that allow you to ignore your customers needs, wants, desires and expectations?

Posted by: phil at August 3, 2004 1:00 PM

thank you.

Posted by: lorrie at August 3, 2004 7:26 PM

Wow. I'm really enjoying your comments on being creative. I've found a few of these true in my own work, and hadn't hit on the others yet. Thanks so much.

Posted by: Barbara at August 3, 2004 8:33 PM

"Knowing the right people" gets your foot in the door. Having talent or dedication gets you inside the room.

Posted by: Justin Kownacki at August 3, 2004 11:52 PM

Hmmm - Stamina and pacing yourself. Putting the time in day after day, but not too much in one day.

Well, I think you've got it. (Of course you already know that)

One of the things stopping me from getting to work on my beloved creative project was thinking I should put in big chunks of time at it. The kind of effort you do when a deadline looms. Well, under non-deadline circumstances I didn't even want to get started because I was afraid that I might exhaust myself.

I FINALY figured out that I should limit it to 3 hours per day absolute tops!! And only one hour at a time too. All of a sudden I was motivated to get to work - no problem. I know that with one hour at a time, I won't exhaust myself.

So, I guess this is the pacing part.

Posted by: Audrey at August 4, 2004 4:50 AM

It's definitely the time you put in that counts. Most small businesses close up in the first few years not because of cash flow problems or lack of business knowledge or the bottom falling out of their market etc. They close because the owner is not willing to put in the hours required to run a successful business.

Posted by: Sharon at August 4, 2004 8:12 AM

I went back to college in a very competitive program. I knew I could outlast much of the compitition by doing two things, being patient and doing the work. As an older student, I knew the kind of people you want on your project are the ones who work hard and are reliable. The more you work, the better jobs come your way. As the years went by, I saw friendships crash and burn as kids screwed around with their commitments. I basically waited out the impatient brats.
Oh, the tie-in to creativity, this was film school.

Posted by: Wendy at August 6, 2004 12:46 AM

For some, creativity cannot be part-timed or done off hours. They may find working a waste of time. Dont quit the day job only holds true if the cost of supporting unemployment is too high. If you can get someone to support you (parents, spouse, friends?) then leave the day job and see how it goes. Day job must be borne out of necessity and care must be taken that it doesnt become a funder for one's consumerist aims.

Posted by: jag at August 6, 2004 1:53 AM

Man oh man...I think you've got to add "have a sense of humor about the proceedings" to your main how-to list. It's so clear that you do, and it's so refreshing. I'm starting to think sense of humor is tied to ease or sense of proportion, so perhaps it's an adjunct of (to?) "don't quit your day job". But you rock, sir, on many levels.

Posted by: Colleen at August 6, 2004 3:41 PM

dongelfrei wrote: "You need to know the right people. That's all."

I used to think that, and in fact, there's some truth to it. Knowing the right people helps. But the question you have to ask yourself next is: "who are the right people?" Once you know who the right people are, introduce yourself. If you have put the hours in, chances are pretty good they will talk to you. If you spent the last few years not bothering to move forward because you didn't know the right people, well... what will you have to talk about when you meet them?

More clearly, "the right people" cannot help you make things. They help you promote them, or sell them, or exhibit them. But making them is initially up to you.

Posted by: jtunger at August 8, 2004 10:32 AM

The advice is sensible. But please don't mix hard work with creativity. Working hard is something, and being creative is something else. Totally different. Creativity is something that not everybody can experience. Only the few lucky ones. It is not your choice to be creative. Yet, hard work is your choice. You can sit back and watch stupid sitcoms and eat fatty food for hours, or grab a book and read for an hour or two something extra about your work, life, or anything beneficial for that matter. It's your choice.

Posted by: Hisham at August 9, 2004 12:16 PM

Right on target man! A really simple & elegant solution.

Posted by: sameer borate at August 13, 2004 6:14 PM

This is fab! Well done, congrats etc etc etc. Now where's my pencil?

Jon
www.julieburchill.org.uk
www.jonsimmons.com

Posted by: Jon at August 14, 2004 7:07 AM

>> Creativity is something that not everybody can experience. Only the few lucky ones. It is not your choice to be creative.

Bullshit.

Creativity is as necessary for human survival as breathing.

Not everyone can (or wants to) Make Art, but I've never known an uncreative person in my life.

Posted by: Katherine at August 14, 2004 10:05 PM

Regarding "knowing the right people": I've been told that in Hollywood, children of the film industry elite can get acting auditions when the average unknown actor is ignored. But they have to prove themselves at the audition, just like every other actor. Contacts and connections can get your foot in the door, but you have to be able to walk once you're inside the room.

Regarding "putting the time in": I completed a CD of original music in about 1 & 1/2 years of spare time; mostly 1-2 hours each evening and about 10 hours each weekend. I kept my day job. I wish I had the major label marketing budget to push my music to radio stations and magazine reviewers, but at the very least I am experiencing true creativitity on my terms.

Posted by: john g at August 17, 2004 1:11 AM

>>But please don't mix hard work with creativity. Working hard is something, and being creative is something else. Totally different.<<

I disagree completely. You can't guarantee creativity with hard work, but you'll never find creativity without it, particularly after your first few good ideas are over and done with. The mystical theory that creative ideas come from nowhere undermines the genuine effort that goes into so many great creative works.

Perhaps it's a problem of defining terms: "hard work" doesn't have to mean sweat, labor, or even a large amount of time, even if those things are usually part of it. I think it means figuring out what needs to be done next and doing it.

Posted by: scottcooper at August 19, 2004 10:06 PM

Longivity ='s Stamina
Like Eternity/Eternal ='s Quality of Life
or like Everlasting ='s Quantity of Life
and like the song 100 years by Five Fighting may mean the moment of life may mean 100 years of life.

Posted by: Chaplain Carolynn Patterson at September 17, 2004 11:30 PM

thanks for the inspiration. can stamina be gained or learned?

Posted by: brown at September 20, 2004 4:39 PM

how do u get my ideas?

Posted by: santosh at November 10, 2004 1:00 PM