How To Make Something People Give A Shit About.


How To Make Something People Give A Shit About.

You could make something right now. If you wanted to stop reading, grab a sheet of butcher’s paper and brainstorm ideas, you could probably come up with half a dozen ideas for apps, books or products. Ideas aren’t the hard part, after all — just ask Tom Haverford.

You could build a Wordpress site and start harassing your friends to test the concept. You could start writing op-ed pieces on Medium and put “Founder” or “Author” in your Twitter bio within 48 hours. You could throw up a landing page, post the first chapter of a book and start pushing it on Product Hunt.

Where things get tough is when you’re trying to make something that people genuinely give a shit about. You don’t want your dream to die in the chamber, because nobody read it, watched it, used it or listened to it. The deafening silence surrounding your work can crush your soul.

You want people to care?
Here’s how.


Only Make What You Care About

If you want to make something that people really care about, that they actually give a hot shit about, you have to care about it yourself. Because if you don’t, then try as you might, it’ll come out in the final product.

The reason for this?

Making something is hard. Making something you don’t care about is even harder.

The only way you’ll be able to consistently work, when you don’t want to work, consistently try when you don’t want to try, is by deeply and honestly caring about your work.

You want people to care?
You have to genuinely care, yourself


Make Things For Real People

The best writing advice I have ever heard was to write specifically for someone I know. It’s a genius idea. Every time I go to create something, or build something I think about who I know that would benefit from what I’m doing.

If you have something that you care enough about to make, you have to ask the next question —who are you making it for? What information do they need? What turn of phrase would stop them in their tracks? What is their single pain point that the product could solve, or their secret story that your novel would be able to touch and cultivate into a real emotional response?

Stop thinking about your audience as a vague concept, a collection of faceless people.  Believe that your audience is a real person with feelings, experiences and a story. It will change your perspective.

You want people to care?
You have to know what will make them care.


Ask Yourself If You Fit The Project

You need to ask yourself whether you have the courage, the strength, the motivation and the passion to make what you want to make. And I mean really ask yourself, because when you first come up with an idea you can get so caught up in it that you can’t see anything else. It’s easy to mistake excitement for passion, motivation and ability.

When that feeling starts to die down, or you get used to it, you can realise that you don’t have the real raw power to be able to finish and follow through. That’s not a bad thing; there is nothing wrong with recognising that a project isn’t right for you. Maybe there’s another project that is.

It’s not enough just to care about what you’re making — it has to feel right.

You want people to care?
Only work on projects that feel right.


Don’t Do Anything To Be Someone

Have you ever watched one of those reality TV singing competitions? You’ve probably seen a hundred young people, eyes shining, clutching microphones and talking about their dreams. They’ll explain that ever since they were kids, they wanted to be singers.

They hardly ever say they wanted to sing. When it comes down to it, half the time it’s because actually singing isn’t the end goal. They want the trappings and lifestyle and the breaks of being a singer.

If the act of singing was really their end goal, they wouldn’t be on a reality TV show. They’d be out there every night singing anywhere they could, writing songs, starting bands, recording music.

The same is true for anything you could make. Do you want to make X, or do you want to be the person who made X? Because if you don’t care about the act of making something, and if you don’t want to get out there every day and try to make something, you might as well quit.

You want people to care?
They should care about your work. Not you.


Work. Work Hard.

If you want to write a book that can break someone’s heart — work hard.

If you want to start a business that changes the world — work hard.

If you want to draw a comic book that expresses everything you are, and dream about — work hard.

You want people to care?
Work hard.

Working For Free Is Not An Opportunity


Working For Free Is Not An Opportunity.

If you’re a designer, they value the effect that your work will have in terms of making their business look professional and attracting clients. But they don’t value the creative work itself.The other day, I sat down for a meeting with an entrepreneur who was looking for a marketer and content writer. A mutual friend had put us in touch, and prior to our meeting I had provided him with a clear breakdown of my fees and estimates. We met up at a cafe and shared some coffee to discuss his project.

He gave a long pitch about his startup and how it was both synergistic and disruptive. All was well.

He spoke about changing the world and using social responsibility to have a wider impact outside of his product area. All was well.

He began outlining his bootstrap approach. All was no longer well.
I attempted to remain interested despite the slow, sinking feeling that I was about to be asked to let him royally screw me.

And then he came out with it. He said that he didn’t have the budget to pay for any work. But that he had projected millions of dollars in profits over the next two years and was prepared to give me equity.

Despite an urge to scream in his face, I was polite and courteous, thanked him his time and repeated the fees that I had quoted to him before our meeting. He seemed stunned by the fact that I wasn’t so excited about his company that I would work pro bono.

Thankfully, the meeting wasn’t a total waste of time. He did pay for my cappuccino. I briefly toyed with the idea of suggesting that he ask the Barista to work for free as making coffee for him would be a huge opportunity, but I let it slide. We parted amicably, but he left a terrible lasting impression.

This kind of behaviour is a bad look. It shows a total disregard for anyone but yourself. The fact of the matter is that if you cannot afford to pay for someone to perform creative work, you need to seriously re-evaluate your business plan or develop the skills yourself. Expecting people to work for free in exchange for a future windfall at best or a tweet at worst looks self-centered and unprofessional.

When you’re a creative, you will be faced with this all the time. It’s a constant, demoralising expectation. It comes from a wide range of people. You are expected to be prepared and more than happy to work for free. You are pushed to take advantage of some fictional “great opportunity” in which you will be given amazing publicity and some content for your portfolio.

It doesn’t matter if you are a writer, an artist, a musician, even a scrapbooking consultant. You will come across so many people who don’t value your work. They value what they see as the results of your work.

As a designer, they value the effect that your work will have in terms of making their business look professional and attracting clients. But they don’t value the creative work itself.

I myself have been approached to design free websites, run social media accounts and campaigns for the experience and develop marketing strategies for jack shit. I’ve been asked to create custom drawn flyers, merchandise and album covers for so many different bands, companies and entrepreneurs who “don’t have any room in their budget” that I have now lost count.

Here’s the thing. As a creative professional, the greatest opportunity that anyone can give me is paid work. That’s all I’m asking for. Because my work deserves that much respect.

If you’re a creative, understand that you need to be bold. Be brave. Stand up for yourself and say that you deserve payment. It doesn’t have to be much. It doesn’t have to be a large fee. But it does need to be something.

If you’re an entrepreneur, understand that the kind of respect that you are fighting for, for your app or service, is the kind of respect that every freelancer out there is fighting for.

If you’re building a product you love, understand that asking someone to design your materials for free makes you the bad guy. It shows that you only care about one person; you.

Just Putting It Out There.


Just Putting It Out There.

If there’s one thing I struggle with, as a creative, it’s finishing. It doesn’t matter how hard I’ve worked on something, or for how long. I falter at the point where I know that I should call it a day, and send what I’ve made out into the world. I’m prone to a debilitating panic. Unable to click the big ol’ button marked Send/Save/Publish, my cursor will hover, and I’ll come so close…

I’m sure many creatives have this problem. Particularly when you‘re putting something out on your own blog or website or even your Medium account. It’s not like authoring a work for a third party. You don’t have an editorial authority who can have the last word on the quality or release date. Without that watchfulness, and without a clear deadline for completion, you can become stuck in a holding pattern, unable to reach a point where your work is done.

You think, maybe you’ll sleep on it. Maybe you’ll give it a little thought. Maybe it will read differently tomorrow. Maybe you can make it better.

Behind these vague thoughts, lurks a huge needling doubt.

Maybe it’s not good enough.

There are uncounted, untold numbers of creative works published every day. Maybe my work could never live up to any of them, let alone to my own benchmarks of success, derived from my favourite authors and artists and musicians.

Once that doubt takes hold, it colours everything. I can no longer even attempt objectivity, and the negative aspects or flaws of my work become amplified to an extreme degree, drowning out any positive elements.

This is true for almost any creative pursuit.

In a previous life as an indie musician, I used to produce electronic and experimental tracks. This was a few years ago now, when I was in my early twenties and I believed that I had found my calling. I would work for weeks on a piece of music.

Making the music was a painstaking process. It was a process of composing and re-writing, changing the mix, trying new things. I would be up late, far later than I should have been. I’d work on my laptop and on a collection of classic Roland drum machines until 4 AM some days. It was draining, but at the same time it was the most creative period of my life. I drank black coffee, bleary eyed outside studios in a freezing Sydney winter. I felt incredibly alive because of the creative spark that I felt so in touch with. Talking to my girlfriend or to my best friend, I would outline the plans I had for when the music was finished.

But the music was never finished.

All the excitement that accompanied making it was always followed by that panic. That panic over calling my work a finished piece and giving it to someone else to enjoy. I would compare the piece to finished, polished work by my own idols, and ask why it came up wanting.

It was unrealistic to expect my music to reach the lofty heights of artists who created amazing work with other voices and minds to guide them, better resources at their disposal and the benefit of cultural hindsight and connotations. But that never mattered.

When the time came to upload it to Bandcamp or SoundCloud, I would end up in a self-destructive panic and delete whatever I had in the pipeline to start again. Getting over that fear of finishing proved to be impossible for me, back then. If I’m honest with myself, I know that I deleted at least a dozen album’s worth of music. While not earth-shattering it was at least as good as anything else I could have made.

Thinking back, it’s not necessarily the loss of the music itself that bothers me. It’s knowing that if I had shared it around and played it for people, I could have found listeners who cared about my creations. There were years where I could have been building an audience, but for my lack of courage.

My inability to close and complete my work culminated in a rough morning where the weight of my failing overpowered me completely.

I wiped every external hard drive and gave away my machines and synths. After, I refused to even begin another project. I was angry and frustrated with myself because I couldn’t step back and appraise my work with honesty and say I was proud of it. I called myself a perfectionist, but even then I knew it was more than that.

Today, I can understand that it wasn’t perfectionism, and it wasn’t holding myself to a high standard. It was a fear of not being good enough. I’ve talked about this now with a few friends who are artists, designers and musicians. They understand my experience, and they’ve been there themselves. We all agree that we have learned to recognise that fear as it takes old now, and we’ve learned that publishing is almost more important than any stage of the creative process.

Learning from it is one thing, but acting on what we’ve learned is still not easy.

I took a long break from creativity of any kind after I stopped making music. For a few years, I focused solely on working at a series of tech and marketing startups. As of this year, I’ve started to become creative again, largely through writing.

So I’m Building An Editing Process.

Although I can’t say that I’ve solved the case of the crushing personality disorder and can now publish my work with impunity, the truth is that I’m still scared. As we say in Australia, I’m scared shitless. The only way I can get past it is by forcing myself to stick to a draft schedule. Now when I work on something I am allowed only three drafts.

  1. The first run through, which must be completed without touching a previously written line. This isn’t easy. It makes for a chaotic experience, but it keeps my mind focused on the work at hand.
  2. The re-work, where I take that first stream of consciousness and research and pretentious phrasing and organise it into some semblance of order.
  3. The final edit, in which I try to take the work and turn it into the best version of itself that it can be, through carefully pushing and pulling the content in every direction.

When I’ve been through each of those draft stages, I’m done. I’m finished. I’m not allowed to touch the keyboard one more time, and I have to publish the work. Even if I feel sure that it’s a terrible disaster of an abomination, I will push it out.

This drafting process is certainly not perfect. The first stage can take weeks to reach completion sometimes, and the second stage is a hair pulling and frustratingly tortuous process. But at least it’s a methodology, and it can be comforting to at least try to follow it.

Whether or not I am able to keep the doubt at bay and finish my work, pushing it out in front of readers is yet to be seen. I want to. I desperately want to. Publishing and finishing isn’t easy. Maybe it never gets easier. But just putting it out there — sometimes you have to just put it out there.