When to Ease Up on the Hustle

I don’t know if you saw this tweet or not, but I’ve been thinking about it all weekend:

The screencapped text is from Brandon Stanton’s Patreon, and I will admit that I feel a little weird about sharing text he originally reserved for Patreon subscribers (and did not elect to tweet himself, as you’ll notice), but maybe more people will subscribe after seeing the tweet? Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself?

Anyway, if you don’t want to read tiny print, here’s the important part:

I think for every successful artist and entrepreneur, a good portion of their psychology remains anchored in the early days. When nothing was working. When nobody cared. When nobody was paying attention. When it felt like you were in a giant hole and the only way out was to work harder, and harder, and harder. And you were always scared that you were going to fail, unless you stay focused. And don’t stop. Don’t ever stop. Then suddenly it’s ten years later, and somehow you’ve made it. But you feel like the only reason you made it is because you didn’t stop. And you must keep going. Because there’s an hour of daylight left. And you can still fit in one more interview…

But you shouldn’t.

Because things are different now.

Things are definitely “different now” for me. I’m not worried about whether I can pay my rent this month, or whether I’ll be able to build a career and a reputation as a writer. On the other hand, I’m nowhere near the point where I can afford to go without continuous paying work—and I’m smart enough to know that if I want to keep booking work a year from now or two years from now, I need to keep building my skills and portfolio and network and readership.

So in my case, it’s figuring out the balance between not hustling every second and not letting my hustle slide to the point where I’m not growing.

I am very sure I haven’t found that balance yet.

What about you? ❤️

On Content That Makes Money and Projects That Don’t

Matt Zoller Seitz: Avengers, MCU, Game of Thrones, and the Content Endgame

This weekend saw the release of “Endgame” and the premiere of “The Long Night,” the longest and biggest episode of “Game of Thrones,” the most lavishly produced fantasy series in TV history, and one of the last series that people watch as a group, episode by episode, week by week, experiencing big moments as a single unified audience. One is a movie experience that takes many of its stylistic cues from television. The other is a television experience that strives to be thought of as cinematic. Both are mega-entertainments that are meant to be experienced on the largest screen possible (theatrical or home) in the presence of others. Both will ultimately be viewed on the handheld device that (according to our own statistics) 65% of you are using to read this essay. They’re just two more pieces in the content stream, bigger and shinier than all others, but ultimately things to discuss on social media, bond over, and quickly move beyond. The state of the art. 

This is it. 

This is where it was all leading, whether we realized it or not. 

This essay is SO GOOD and SO TRUE.

Seth Godin: When Your Project Isn’t Making Money

It might be that you’re too early to the market.

There are early adopters, certainly, but maybe not enough, or not willing to pay your price…

Being too early also means that your costs are higher and your forward motion is slower.

And it might be that you’re too late.

Which means that the people who were interested, interesting and willing to pay extra already have their needs met, and all you’re left with is bottom-fishing, bargain-hunting late adopters.

This piece lists all of the reasons why small projects fail. It’s already digging into the dark sticky parts of my brain, the small percentage of my mindset that isn’t perpetually optimistic.

It’s honest, in a way that all of the “try hard and you can succeed” essays are not.

It also offers some hope, at the end. ❤️

Three Articles About Pop Culture Phenomena

Slate: A Definitive Ranking of the Avengers’ New Hairstyles in Endgame

Avengers: Endgame offers many surprises, but foremost among them is the haircuts. While a couple of these new hairstyles have been spotted in the movie’s trailers by eagle-eyed viewers, Marvel kept most of them under lock and key, rightfully regarding them as one of the film’s biggest twists. What do our heroes’ updated manes reveal—and more importantly, how do they look? Below, we count down the Avengers’ new 2024 ’dos, from worst to best.

As a person who recently made a BIG HAIR CHANGE that just happened to coincide with a big life change, I totally sympathized with this post. (Especially the part where I haven’t really figured out how to style my new hair yet.)

Vox: “Khaleesi” became shorthand for a strong, empowered woman, but Daenerys Targaryen may be Game of Thrones’ final villain.

The showrunners didn’t just decide Dany was good until they needed her to be bad. Her story was always supposed to end this way, but it’s hard to capture a book character’s nuances — and, you know, her budding despotic tendencies — on a show that also has to give screentime to dozens of other characters. Our culture’s rampant Dany identification is the result of flat characterization: If all her choices are framed and marketed as unambiguously feminist and just, the audience will buy it. If the show had played sinister music or put a darker filter over her scenes, would the audience feel the same way about her?

I don’t actually think Dany will be the final villain—but I do think she’ll have to account for her actions.

Longreads: When Did Pop Culture Become Homework?

Creating art to dominate this discursive landscape turns that art into a chore — in other words, cultural homework. This is where people start saying things like, “Do I HAVE to watch Captain Marvel?” and “feeling a lot of pressure to read sally rooney!”and “do i have to listen to the yeehaw album?” This kind of coercion has been known to cause an extreme side effect — reactance, a psychological phenomenon in which a person who feels their freedom being constricted adopts a combative stance, turning a piece of art we might otherwise be neutral about into an object of derision. The Guardian’s Oliver Burkeman called it “cultural cantankerousness” and used another psychological concept, optimal distinctiveness theory, to further explain it. That term describes how people try to balance feeling included and feeling distinct within a social group. Burkeman, however, favored his reactance as a form of self-protective FOMO avoidance. “My irritation at the plaudits heaped on any given book, film or play is a way of reasserting control,” he wrote. “Instead of worrying about whether I should be reading Ferrante, I’m defiantly resolving that I won’t.” (This was written in 2016; if it were written now, I’m sure he would’ve used Rooney).

Fun fact: I tried reading Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends, got a few chapters in, and decided I was too old for the book—not because I was older than the protagonist, since I read plenty of novels about people both younger and older than me, but because the questions the characters were trying to answer were questions I had already outgrown.

In other words: not every pop culture phenomena is for everybody, and that’s fine. ❤️

Two Articles About Writing and One Short Story About Taxes

Chicago Review of Books: Richard Powers: Writing ‘The Overstory’ Quite Literally Changed My Life

I began to imagine what they must have looked like, those forests that would not return for centuries, if ever. It seemed to me that we had been at war for a long time, trees and people, and I wondered if it might be possible for things ever to go any other way. Within a few months, I quit my job at Stanford and devoted myself full time to writing The Overstory.

Earlier this week, The Overstory won the Pulitzer Prize—and it is very, very worth reading, so go check it out if you haven’t already.

LitHub: Unsilencing the Writing Workshop

When we unsilence workshop, when we invite students to participate in the discussion of their own work, everything changes: the writer is no longer passively accepting comments. Rather, they become who they should be: the creators and navigators of their own work.

The workshoppers, in turn, are asked to do less prescribing (I want to see more of this; I want this or that to happen; I didn’t want that character to be here) and more questioning. Why did you use first-person? How important is the sister character supposed to be? Instead of a typical old-school workshop comment such as “I want to see more about the mother,” there’s a question: “We don’t see much about the mother—how important of a character is she?” The former is a demand; the latter is an opening.

YES. I AGREE. ONE HUNDRED PERCENT.

The Paris Review: As Certain as Death and Taxes

The job I had before was for an investment advice publisher, where I learned that I liked numbers. I liked that the number four was always four and no one could argue with you about that. Every number had its own narrative power, even if you couldn’t see it right away. When a number changed, or when you expected it to and it didn’t change, that meant someone out there in the world had done something to make that happen. People made big decisions because of a little number. Everyone had a theory and a prediction about it. I had been an English major, but I didn’t feel out of place in the class. The theories we read and studied were really about people, and the tax return was a way of telling their stories.

Remember—this one’s fiction. ❤️

Weekend Link Roundup

There’s no unifying theme to these links besides “I liked them,” so here we go:

Laura Vanderkam: A New Habit, One Month In

If I were to describe a typical day, it would definitely involve my weight routine. However, for various reasons, I did the routine 3/5 weekdays the week of March 4, 4/5 weekdays the week of March 11, 4/5 weekdays the week of March 18, 2/5 weekdays the week of March 25, and 4/5 weekdays the week of April 1st. I did my weight routine every day I could reasonably be in my office at 8:10, but during that month, I had two morning kid conferences, two work trips requiring travel, one morning where I hadn’t managed to eat (so I elected to do that before jumping on my first phone call) and one morning where I had to shovel snow off the driveway.

In other words, what I might be tempted to describe as my “daily” habit never happened more than 4 times per week.

The Washington Post: There are certain realities in being an upright mammal over 50. Let me tell you a few.

Exercise and clean food help keep a body in working order. But there are certain realities involved in being an upright mammal over 50. Menopause is an eight- to 10-year tsunami of distressing and unpredictable symptoms. Everything in an aging body feels drier from muscles to skin. Though my husband and I both work out, weigh what the charts say we should and wear ugly $200 shoes with special cushioned soles, our feet hurt like crazy at the end of every day.

It’s a tightrope walk, knowing what to give in to and what to fight. 

The Outline: Content Is Coming: How Game of Thrones Coverage Broke the Internet

If there’s anything I’ve learned from covering culture on the internet in the 2010s, it’s that 1) Thrones-related content does very well and 2) you, too, may be asked to create it, because it does very well. As the series prepares to wrap after eight seasons, it will leave a hole in the content economy that could only be filled by another Game of Thrones.

Lastly, go read this Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal webcomic about what makes us human. Trust me. ❤️

Three Articles on the Creative Practice

Catapult: Watchword: A Writer Should Keep the Future in Mind

It is hard to be straightforward. It’s hard to be yourself. I don’t know why, but both statements are true. “The artist,” I believe, represents a mode of living best examined both from the outside, as an object, and from within, as a living, daily, and often frustrating practice—with the goal of becoming more straightforward, and being yourself.

I love everything about this Mensah Demary essay. Go read it twice.

Verabee: How the Sausage Gets Made

I thought it might be fun to show how I paint a page of my book from start to finish. I know I’m always curious about how artists work, maybe you are too.

Hat tip to Lucy Bellwood for sharing this link on Twitter, which is how I found it. (Also, I’m just now realizing that Verabee is Vera Brosgol, whom I met at a creative retreat in Juneau, Alaska a few years ago. Her book Leave Me Alone! is great, trust me.)

LitHub: On the Daily Rituals of Joan Didion, Patti Smith, and More

In 2005, Didion told an interviewer that she typically spends “most of the day working on a piece not actually putting anything on paper, just sitting there, trying to form a coherent idea and then maybe something will come to me about five in the afternoon and then I’ll work for a couple of hours and get three or four sentences, maybe a paragraph.” The slowness of the writing process stems, Didion has said, from the sheer difficulty of thinking clearly. “Writing,” she said in 2011, “forces you to think.”

I can’t be the only person who finds these kinds of interviews fascinating, if not inspiring. ❤️

How to Create the Systems/Structure in Which to Do Your Best Work: Part 2

Yesterday, we looked at the idea that it takes effort to be in a Space Mountain mood on the day you get to ride Space Mountain — that is, if you want to enjoy the ride on a day when you’re not tired or hungover or feeling ill from too many park snacks or whatever, you need to start planning for the mood you want to have in advance.

This is easier said than done, I know. (Especially when you’re trying to create a structure that will increase the likelihood that a whole family will be in a Space Mountain mood on the day they ride Space Mountain. You can’t control other people’s feelings or desires or needs, but you can theoretically institute an early bedtime… in an unfamiliar hotel room where you all have to sleep in the same space and some people might be too excited to sleep and you all might be jetlagged and the air conditioner might be making noise and so on and so on. Best of luck.)

So let’s add on another layer — this time from an article by Kira M. Newman that first published at Greater Good and then ran on the Washington Post. The piece is titled Why You Never Seem to Have Enough Time, but since you can probably come up with a list of reasons why you never seem to have enough time on your own, I’m going to focus on the part of the article that looks at how to align disparate goals:

Why does passion seem to free up our time? The researchers who observed this phenomenon wanted to discover what was really going on.

They found a clue when they asked employees about how conflicted or aligned their goals were. Employees lacking in passion said that their goals were competing with each other, fighting for time and attention; for example, the drive to do well at work might make it hard to get home for dinner with the family. But passionate employees were different: They saw their goals as supporting each other. After all, healthy home cooking and family bonding might give them more energy and motivation tomorrow.

This is the type of example that’ll immediately devolve into a comment fight that goes something like “if I can’t get home in time for dinner then how am I supposed to do the healthy home cooking thing” followed by “I batch-cook and freeze meals on the weekend” and then by “I can’t (or don’t want) to spend my weekends cooking” and then by “there are websites that teach you how to make a month’s worth of meals in a day,” and then a reminder that some people live in food deserts which makes that kind of prepwork difficult, so now that I’ve had that argument, you all don’t have to.

Instead, focus in on the part where the “passionate” people (not a huge fan of that word but okay) are trying to be in a Space Mountain mood on the day they get to ride Space Mountain.

Once again, the typical comment: “yay I get to cook my own food so I have energy to give my labor to capitalism,” and yes, I totally get that, so let’s extend that last sentence a little. Healthy home cooking and family bonding might give these employees more energy and motivation both at work and with their families.

Or at work, with their families, and at their creative practice.

You know where I’m going with this, after all. 😉

Now that I’ve set up this idea of planning for the experiences you want to have and aligning disparate goals to support these experiences, I’m ready to tell you how I structure that planning and alignment in my own life.

I mean, I’ll tell you tomorrow.

Because I have to build the suspense just a little. ❤️

How to Create the Systems/Structure in Which to Do Your Best Work: Part 1 (of Many)

Last week, I wrote a short post about how we know when we’re doing our best work.

Over the next week (or so), I want to write several posts about how to create the systems and/or structure in which we can do our best work — because although I absolutely agree with the whole “putting your butt in the seat is 90 percent of doing THE WORK” thing, it’s that other 10 percent that can transform THE WORK into your BEST WORK.

(Yes, I know that not all creative work involves a butt in a seat, don’t @ me.)

I’m going to kick this discussion off with something I heard on a recent episode of the Rope Drop Radio podcast, since I currently have Walt Disney World on the brain.

Also, it’s super-relevant.

In Episode 148, Bad Disney Advice, Derek Sasman and Doug McKnight explain why the whole “don’t get your FastPasses 60 days in advance because you don’t know what mood you’ll be in when you visit the parks” thing is terrible advice:

DOUG: I’ll tell you what mood you’re going to be in, in each park, 60 days out. You’re going to be in the Pandora mood, you’re going to be in the Slinky Dog mood, you’re going to be in the Space Mountain mood, what other mood am I missing? Test Track, Soarin’ mood? Come on, folks. Maybe a Frozen mood? I don’t even know you, and I know what mood you’re in when you’re going to walk around the park. But then you’re going to be miserable —

DEREK: Because you’re going to be waiting in line for two hours [without a FastPass].

DOUG: Have fun with that.

I agree with the gist of this — like, most people who visit WDW are going to want to ride one of the big headliner rides, and getting a FastPass in advance will help with that — but I want to look more closely at the word mood.

Because, as anyone who’s ever done a family vacation (or any kind of vacation) knows, you can spend six months thinking about how much fun it’ll be to ride Space Mountain and then, on the day of, you’ll be in the tired mood or the hungover mood or the my feet hurt mood or the if my dear loved one complains or whines one more time I’m going to scream mood.

So what you actually have to plan for, in addition to the FastPass, is how to be in a Space Mountain mood on the day you’re going to ride Space Mountain.*

I’d say “what does this have to do with creating your BEST WORK,” but I’m pretty sure you’ve already put it together. Planning to work on your project at a certain time, getting your butt in that seat, is only half of it.

The other half is doing your best to come to that seat in the right mood.

This is why you see many creative types say things like “I don’t check the news or social media until I’ve completed my work session, because I don’t want to see something that might turn my thoughts away from THE WORK.”

Why Tara K. Shepersky’s writing ritual included an early-morning walk before she sat down at her QWERTY.

Why I don’t do email until 10 a.m.

Those are just some of the systems and structures people put into place to help them do their BEST WORK — but, as this post title suggests, they aren’t the only ones.

We’ll discuss more tomorrow. ❤️

*Take this advice from someone who had Blue Bayou reservations and then ate this nasty Galactic Grill** meal that made her feel so gross that, two hours later, she wasn’t in a Blue Bayou mood. HUGE REGRETS. 

**Do not make the mistake of walking up to the Galactic Grill and thinking “yay, a place with no line!”

Two Articles on Never Being Too Old to Go After What You Want

Longreads: Is it ever too late to pursue a dream?

In September 2017, Stoddard enrolled as a freshman at Algonquin College, one of Canada’s largest public colleges. Not long after, the accounting major joined the basketball team. But Stoddard wasn’t just acting on a whim, a loosely conceived midlife crisis outfitted in size 14 Air Jordan 8s: Stoddard, who is known around campus as “Old Man Dan,” has serious hoop dreams. “You can call it lunacy,” he told me over tea with honey at Tim Hortons on campus. “I’m not saying I’ll make the NBA or go play overseas, but I want to get to a point where I can do it.”

Can a 39-year-old play college basketball? Absolutely.

LitHub: When 80 Famous Writers Published Their First (and Last) Books

In compiling these figures, I found it interesting to see how the length of a writer’s publishing career didn’t necessarily have any bearing on their current level of fame. Just look at the ten writers with the shortest number of years spent publishing: Shirley Jackson, Zora Neale Hurston, J.D. Salinger, Flannery O’Connor, Roberto Bolaño, Toni Cade Bambara, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Sylvia Plath, Nella Larsen. You wouldn’t exactly call any of these people “minor” or “forgotten.”

It doesn’t matter when you start doing THE WORK. It doesn’t even matter whether you can devote your whole life or just part of your life to THE WORK. All that matters is that you do THE WORK you want to do.

Whether it’s writing or singing or playing basketball. ❤️