Feb 14 2013
Whenever you discover a new band, their first album is great. You like most every song on the disc, the radio stations like most every song, it’s a great experience. The band is saying what they have to say, and it’s exciting and fresh and original. Fast forward to a year later, and their second album comes out. You rush to the mall during lunch to get it and when you pop it in the CD player, it’s missing something….
All the songs sound the same. There’s a bunch of crap songs on there, and the only ones that you like are produced by someone else that’s not even in the band. What happened?
The problem is that the first album wasn’t created or conceived in a year. It was a culmination of years of experiences and ideas. The second one was thrown together to capitalize on the band’s popularity. The problem is that the band wasn’t working consistently on their material. That’s the curse of the artist. In their pursuit for perfection, they waste a lot of time waiting for inspiration to strike. Well, I have some news for you, sister…the muse has gone out for a drink with some friends. She’s not coming back until you get back to work. She knows where to find you.
Chris Brogan calls it “loving the grind“. It’s absolutely true. You have to do the work, even if it’s boring. Especially if it’s boring. You have to write crap songs, or crap novels, in order for the flash of brilliance to come through. Just because you create it, doesn’t mean that it has to be perfect. It means that maybe you don’t ever share that particular body of work with anyone…ever. It’s not a waste of time, either. You learned something from that project. If nothing else, you learned how to plant your butt in the chair and do the work. You just might have formed a habit.
Contests like NanoWrimo and RPMChallenge are particularly good about this. They instill an deadline, which instills an artificial sense of urgency in you. It helps you to put down the TV remote and spend an hour or so on your craft. I’ve participated in both. My RPMChallenge record isn’t so hot: 0 and 1 so far. My NanoWrimo record is 3 and 3. I’ve finished three novel rough drafts and quit three times. No one put me in jail over quitting. Nor did they threaten my life if I quit. It just made sense to stop the contest. Out of the three rough drafts, two of them have been edited and published (although they do need another round of editing.) I could plan and dream and wish and want, all I want, but the words don’t write themselves. If you want to be a writer, someone’s gotta do the work. Just that simple.
The same thing applies to being a musician, or a sculptor or a performance artist. You have to DO, not just plan.
There are 52 weeks in a year. Let’s take two of them off for vacation, family events, etc. Lets take another two weeks off for being sick. That’s one month out of one year that you might not do any work on your art /craft. That still leaves 48 weeks of work. That’s a lot of time. In my studio, the plan is to work on songwriting one day a week (about an hour or so) and one day a week on technical learning for my studio equipment. That’s two days out of seven. Maybe, if I’m feeling froggy, I’ll work on it during the weekend as well. I can write /record a rough draft of a song in that time frame. That’s 48 songs in a year. I only need the best 15 or so for the album. That means that I can afford to say “I don’t think that this is all that great of a song”. 48 goes down to 15. This is true, whether or not it’s songs or short stories, or little sculpture pieces, or Etsy craft-type things.
So how do you avoid the sophomore syndrome? Simple. Each year, you are constantly working and getting better and publishing new ideas. Because the workflow is there, there’s not such a big variance between this years album and last years. Part of the problem is public perception of your work. If you’re consistent, and your changes are smaller in scope, then people are more accepting. In addition, the quality of your work will get better, simply because you are doing it more consistently. This is a bonus for you.
Working on a project one week at a time is easy to schedule (and therefore, comply with) because you can see the end in sight. If I told you that you would write 48 songs in one year, you’d throw up your hands and say “No way. Can’t do it.” BUT, if I said that you could write ONE song this week, you would be more inclined to say “Yeah, sure…I can do that. Easy peasy.” Just rinse and repeat.
But I have a life…
I’m not saying that you have to spend the entire week on the project either. My days are Tuesdays (I call them Tunesdays) and Thursdays. If life gets in the way (which it often does), then simply do it the next day. It’s your life; you’re in charge of it.
Now go make great art…