THE CREATIVE PROCESS: From the Mindset to the Making to the Magic
These words of Steven Pressfield in his wonderful book The War of Art are a haunting and humbling reminder: “The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”
They’re scared because creative work is as terrifying as it is gratifying. You’ve put a large piece of yourself into this project. What if people don’t like it? What if someone tries to force you to change it? Creating was done in private, but soon you’ll have to explain and discuss in public. What if that’s painful? What if you can’t do it justice? This fear isn’t comfortable, but it’s a good sign. It will make you diligent.
The hunger and drive to create something great, coupled with the sincere belief that you can do it, can very quickly trip into delusion and hubris if you’re not vigilant. The more nervous and scared you are—the more you feel compelled to go back and improve and tweak because you’re just not ready—the better it bodes for the project. Because your goal is one that should make any rational person tremble a bit.
Let that feeling guide you. Honor it.
Meanwhile, those who think they can rush their way to that finish line—or have complete confidence they will get there without breaking a sweat—end up disappearing just as quickly. It takes time and effort and sacrifice to make something that lasts.
POSITIONING: From Polishing to Perfecting to Packaging
No better words about the creative process have been produced than when Winston Churchill described starting a project as an adventure. “To begin with,” he said, your project “is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling it to the public.”
That’s where you are now. You’ve done your creative work. You began your editing and reviewing, and perhaps that sent you straight back to the creative phase for significant reworking. Finally, as you fine-tuned and polished and adjusted for your audience, you began to prepare yourself for the inevitable day of your release. How would you describe this project? What’s special about it? What’s its pitch? Who is it for? All those questions were designed to anticipate the questions you would one day get from the media and from retailers and customers.
Well, now that day is nearly here. It’s time to put the pen down, back away from the computer, stop tweaking and fiddling. It’s time to fling this thing to the public. Meaning: It will be out there for other people to judge. Not everyone will like it. Some may even hate it.
We must steel ourselves in advance for these reactions. The artist’s life is hard. The road to a perennial seller is long—and it may seem, at times, that you’re heading in the wrong direction and that the sidewalks are lined with hostile faces. No matter.
MARKETING: From Courting to Coverage, Pushing to Promotion
When it comes to creating a perennial seller, the principle to never lose sight of is simple: Create word of mouth. The marketer of a movie that needs to open big at the box office its first weekend or the fashion marketer who needs to sell the latest fall trend? They need hype. They have to spend. The marketer trying to sell knockoffs or crummy products? They can rely on scammy sales tactics.
A perennial product requires perennial marketing. Yes, we want to start off strong—but we need to stay strong. For this reason, our efforts need to be lean. We can’t rely on a silver bullet—we need a cache of lead bullets. Which is why if you have to choose between spending money to pay for a publicist or buying your own products and giving them away to the right early adopters, you should go with the latter every time. One is a direct route to word of mouth; the other is a detour and depends on being at the right place at the right time in the right news cycle.
In the end, the freemium model, crazy stunts and newsjacking, or being provocative for provocation’s sake are just tools. In my experience, these strategies are powerful tools but your project may not need them. Maybe your project is just brilliant and perfectly timed enough that media will flock to you without effort and the press will be fawning and consistent. Maybe the influencers will embrace you without any work on your end. Maybe none of these things will work at first, but after a couple of starts and stops they will.
The best strategy is to try everything and see what works for your project—because it’s going to be different for every single project. When you find something, stick with it. Marketing is the art of allocating resources—sending more power to the wheels that are getting traction, sending it away from the ones that are spinning. And investing in each strategy until the results stop working. Then find the next one!
PLATFORM: From Fans to Friends and a Full-Fledged Career
Very few people get into creative fields to do one thing. Most of us have more than one book in us, more than one film, and even if we have only one company in us, we’ll probably want it to have more than one product over its lifetime.
Diversity and productivity are critical parts of that type of longevity. But they require the ability to experiment, to try new things, and to support a body of work, which in turn requires the development of independence and infrastructure. Short of a trust fund or a patient, deep-pocketed patron, there is only one way to do that.
To do our work without a platform is to be at the mercy of other people’s permission. Someone else must fund us, someone else must give us the green light, someone else must choose to let us make our work. To a creative person, that is death. Having an audience that we own? That we’re bound together with like hand and fist? That is life.
So don’t wait. Build your platform now. Build it before your first great perennial seller comes out, so that you have a better chance of actually turning it into one. Build it now so that you might create multiple works like that. Build it so you can have a career—so you can be more than just a guy or gal with a book or movie or app. Because you’re more than that. You’re an entrepreneur, an author, a filmmaker, a journalist. You’re a mogul.
Don’t just make it. Make it happen.