Posts Tagged ‘show your work’
It’s been a long year and a half, but Show Your Work! is almost a “real” book. (That’s the cover, above.) We’re currently making edits to the second pass of the manuscript, which means being fussy about word choices, taking out a sentence then putting it back in, etc. Here’s a little screengrab of my edits to the first pass:
I like to do all editing on paper, but sometimes it takes a few days for the full manuscript to get from my publisher’s doorstep to mine, so I use the iPad app Goodreader and my trusty stylus to make annotations that I can then export as a PDF and send back to my editor.
There’s a lot of miscellaneous work to be done, too, like filling in the “back matter” of the book, with these “deleted scenes” (as this is a book about process, it would be wrong not to show my work):
Now that things are pretty settled, I’m entering what Jonathan Lethem calls “The Gulp”—the dangerous phase of publishing where the book is done, it no longer belongs to you, but it doesn’t belong to anyone else yet, either. (Or, as Alain De Botton put it recently, “The process of publishing a book is like telling a joke, then having to wait for 2 years to find out whether it was funny or not.”)
I’ve been making a few little teaser posters for fun:
But, as the book doesn’t come out until March, I’m going to step back and take the rest of the year to regroup, make art, doodle, catch up on reading, and hang out with my family.
Making this book has not been easy, but I’m glad I made it, and I’m proud of what it is now. (A book can be a pain in the ass to write, but it can’t be a pain in the ass to read.)
You can pre-order it here.
Illustrating is my favorite phase of the book-making process because—surprise!—it means the writing is finished, and now all I have to do is make pictures. For Show Your Work! I have a map of all ten chapters on two taped-together pieces of 11×17 paper. As I’m working, I make little doodles of illustrating ideas on sticky notes, and arrange them according to each section.
Once I have an idea of what I need to work on, I don’t make too many sketches, I just I head over to the analog desk, grab a Sharpie and start doodling. I don’t worry much about getting the drawings or the writing perfect because everything is eventually going to get scanned into the computer and fiddled with anyways.
The work is slow, but the book is really coming together. Occasionally, I’ll get some help from my studio assistant:
“The key to eternal happiness is low overhead and no debt.”
Anybody who tells people to “do what you love no matter what” should also have to teach a money management course.
Low overhead + “do what you love” = a good life.
“I deserve nice things” + “do what you love” = a time bomb.
A good life is not about living within your means, it’s about living below your means.
When Instapaper creator Marco Arment was asked about his business model, he said, “I sell an app for money, then I spend less than I make.” Sell something for money, spend less than you make. Is there a better model?
“The trick is,” film executive Tom Rothman says, “from the business side, to try to be fiscally responsible so you can be creatively reckless.”
The 80s underground band The Minutemen used to call this “jamming econo.” They knew the music they wanted to make would probably never be mainstream, so they kept their day jobs, made their records for cheap, learned how to fix their own tour van, and hauled their own equipment.
Live frugally so you can do the work you want to do. Save up some “screw you” money, so you can quit a job you hate to take a job you like better. Turn away venture capital money and bootstrap so you can keep control over your business.
To “jam econo” might not be the flashiest way of life, but it’s the best way to stay free.
I finished the first draft of Show Your Work! today. It’s printed out and sitting on my desk. Nobody has read it other than me. My wife will be the first. Then I’ll take her notes, make some changes, and send it to my editor.
The biggest challenge for me is structure. Once I have a structure, once I have a skeleton, then it’s easy to just pack on the meat. This book started out in three parts, with about two dozen chapters. Now it’s another list of ten, like Steal. Maybe it’ll morph into something else before this is all done.
For now, it’s time to sit back and have a beer and let people read. Then, it’s back to work.
It was my pleasure to give the inaugural talk at the first Creative Mornings here in Austin last month. The monthly theme was “The Future,” so I tried to make the talk a sort of rallying cry to encourage future presenters and attendees to open up and share the process of their creative work, not just the products of that process. (That happens to also be the subject of my next book.)
If you don’t want to watch the video, I’ve pasted my notes and a few slides from the talk below. Enjoy.
* * *
It’s weird to try to give a talk about the future, because most of the time, talks like this are actually about THE PAST. A speaker is asked to get up on stage and talk because they’re someone who’s accomplished something, so they must have something to say, some sort of wisdom or experience or advice to impart to the audience.
But I happen to think that most advice is autobiographical — a lot of the time when people give you advice, they’re really just talking to themselves in the past.
Now, we usually think that the past is behind us, and the future is in front of us. This seems totally natural, right? But years ago I read about this tribe of indigenous people in South America called the Aymara, and they have this very different way of talking about the past and the future.
When they talk about the past, they point to the space in front of them. When they talk about the future, they point behind them. Strange, right?
Well, the reason they point ahead of them when talking about the past is because the past is known to them — the past has happened, therefore it’s in front of them, where they can see it.
The future, on the other hand, is unknown, it hasn’t happened yet, so it’s behind them, where they can’t see it.
This kind of blew my mind when I read about it. The past is right in front of us, but the future is behind us.
The future is hard to talk about because it hasn’t happened yet — it’s behind us, where we can’t see it.
Due to the slow scheduling of the publishing industry, there’s usually a significant interlude between when you finish your book and when the book is released into the wild. Jonathan Lethem calls this “the gulp” — your book no longer belongs to you, but it doesn’t belong to readers yet, either. Add to that gulp the one or two months of intense publicity you have to dedicate to the book post-release, and if you’re not working on something new during that time, you’ve spent a ton of time not working.
I went through a funk after each of my books dropped, because I didn’t start anything new until a month or two after the publicity schedule from the last book wound down. Lucky for me, the questions and the byproducts from the previous book turned into the next book — Blackout‘s leftovers became Steal, and Steal‘s leftovers have turned into what I’m working on now — but each time, it was rough getting back into the swing of things.
Then I watched a documentary about Woody Allen and how he doesn’t take breaks in between movies. And thinking about that led me to make this little video…
It was hard to find a lot of good information about their relationship — most of this was gleaned from the documentary, Bob Ross: The Happy Painter (which only mentions their beginning, not the falling out), and this 1991 New York Times article, “Bob Ross, the Frugal Gourmet of Painting.”
Alexander Art has a terrific YouTube channel full of videos of Alexander painting.
There were a lot of ways you could go with the story (What happens when a gift becomes a business? Steal Like An Artist, etc.) but I was thinking mostly about what it means to be a mentor and what it means to be a protege.
Here’s a melancholy clip of Alexander that I thought was too sad in the context to use — he talks about how there’s always “new blood” coming in, and it’s okay to “make a buck” from painting, and how when he’s in heaven it will make him proud to see everyone painting:
And here’s a pic of Bill and Bob from the doc:
I like to think they reconciled before Ross’s death in 1995. (Alexander died two years later.) Maybe they’re up in heaven, painting together. Who knows.
Favorite story I had to cut for time/relevance: Bob Ross struggled so much in the early days that he got his famous perm to try save on haircuts. When his business partners made it his logo, he was stuck with it forever, and he always hated it.
Another interesting tidbit: Bob always had a reference painting off camera in the studio to copy off of — what looks like spontaneity was actually very planned. He was a terrific showman and knew how to play into his image. (I also believe he really, really loved to paint and teach.)
Speaking of showmanship, Patton Oswalt has a really funny skit parodying their different styles—Alexander with his lusty German “ZEE MIGHTY BRUSH!” and Ross’s hippy-ish “happy little trees.”
I’m having a lot of fun making these videos — trying to keep the production fast and dirt simple, using only Keynote for the animations, Garageband for recording the sound, and Quicktime Pro to cut it all together. I like the constraint of those primitive tools.
Can’t see the video? Watch it in HD here?
I’ve been messing around for the past couple of days learning how to do some really rudimentary animation in Keynote, the slideshow program for Mac. (I’ve also been watching a lot of Terry Gilliam, South Park, and Brad Neely.) The result? A little 2-minute video about Picasso, Brancusi, and how to tell if you have a vampire problem in your life.
Here’s more on the Brancusi/Picasso story→
Here’s a photo of Brancusi (left) next to a photo of my great grandfather Kleon (who was from Lupsa, Romania.)