🦊 Creative Experiments
#77 — Applying startup lessons to creativity: Embracing uncertainty, and trying smaller experiments to lower the barrier to learning.
I’m Salman, and this is the 🦊 Quick Brown Fox newsletter, in which I share creative journals on writing, drawing and balancing multiple pursuits. You can learn more about me on my website (salman.io), and/or connect with me on Twitter (@daretorant).
This year I’ve been hard at work on editing my book of fables. Writing it has been an incredibly rewarding process. (For more on that: I just published a new video with learnings from a year of writing the book.) I’m proud of myself for choosing big projects that I’m really passionate about. As Derek Sivers' advises in his excellent book Hell Yeah or No, I avoided a lot of projects I didn't feel “hell yes” about, and dove deeper into the ones where I did. I know I made the right decision with the book, because I remain just as excited and passionate about it, more than a year into the project. For someone that dabbles in lots of different passions, to remain excited about a self-driven project for this long is a big deal!
I had hoped to build and launch another creative project (a writing course) while I finish writing the book. But it’s been a real struggle—I was trying to do too much, too fast. In particular, it’s difficult to find the creative energy for a major project (where I have to define goals, the structure, the marketing, the operations, in addition to the content itself) while I’m still working on a huge project like writing a book. It’s not really about time or physical energy—it’s more that I have a limited amount of “deep creative energy” in a given week. Right now, all of that energy is devoted to writing the book. That’s the right prioritization, but it means I have to shift my approach to projects a little bit.
What I need right now is to try smaller, more manageable creative experiments which I can ship, sell and learn from quickly. (As Daniel Vassallo would say, I need to make “small bets.”) For example, instead of building an entire course and launching it, I could start with hosting one-off workshops, turn those into a series, and keep building from there. I need to be light on my feet with creative experiments and get into a fast feedback loop.
My main challenge has been that, thanks to my polymathic passions, I tend to get overwhelmed by the breadth of ideas and opportunities before me. It’s so hard to choose! I want to know that the paid experiment I’m going to try is something I want to do, something people want to experience, and that it’s a positive exchange for all.
In my search for certainty, I forgot the crucial lesson I learned from my days building startups: We never know how a product will resonate with the market. We can have all the plans and data points at hand, but we still can’t predict the future. At some point, we have to start throwing things at the wall to see what sticks.
I’m reminded of my favorite fable, the story of the Chinese farmer. I highly recommend listening to Alan Watts’ mesmerizing rendition of it, but I’ve also shared the transcript below:
Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer whose horse ran away.
That evening, all of his neighbors came around to commiserate. They said, “We are so sorry to hear your horse has run away. This is most unfortunate.”
The farmer said, “Maybe.”
The next day the horse came back bringing seven wild horses with it, and in the evening everybody came back and said, “Oh, isn’t that lucky. What a great turn of events. You now have eight horses!”
The farmer again said, “Maybe.”
The following day his son tried to break one of the horses, and while riding it, he was thrown and broke his leg. The neighbors then said, “Oh dear, that’s too bad,” and the farmer responded, “Maybe.”
The next day the conscription officers came around to conscript people into the army, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg. Again all the neighbors came around and said, “Isn’t that great!” Again, he said, “Maybe.”
The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity, and it’s really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad — because you never know what will be the consequence of the misfortune; or, you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.
The tale reminds us that we never really know how things will play out in life. Pretending like we do is what gets us into trouble. The best strategy is not to try and choose the best option, but rather to accept that we never know what the best option is. By embracing uncertainty, our stiff body begins to ease. Our steps become lighter.
Along with finishing my book, my goal for the rest of the year is to accelerate learning through smaller creative experiments. And I could really use your help: I’d love to get feedback from you on what has resonated most for you in my work thus far, and what interests you going forward. This will help focus my strategy on which areas are most ripe for expansion.
I’d really appreciate it if you could take 2 minutes to fill out this survey:
I’m excited to see where my creative experiments take me, but at the same time, I’m anxious about them! I could use all the support and encouragement you have to offer.
Many of you have been reading this newsletter for a long while (as of this writing we’re at 1,661 subscribers!), and I’m so grateful to have you along for the ride. I really appreciate your time and attention.
Thanks for reading Quick Brown Fox by Salman Ansari! Subscribe for free to follow my creative journey and see how the experiments go!
One Year of Writing a Book
I published a new video sharing lessons from a year of working on my book of fables. I explore drafting, editing and my plans for publishing.
You can watch a 1 min trailer, or click below for the full video:
My biggest takeaway is that if you have an idea for a book, and it’s been bugging you for a long while, write it! Drafting a book is not easy, but neither is anything worth doing.
In the video, I share more thoughts on what helped me get to this point, and what keeps me going. At a minimum, you’ll let go of a creative burden and feel lighter. At best, you'll go on to edit and publish a book into the world.
Drawing for Writers
Earlier this month, Nate Kadlac and I hosted a free live session, Drawing for Writers: Procreate 101, focused on helping writers get started with drawing. We went over the basics of using Procreate for the iPad, followed by a round of demos on drawing basic visualizations, comics, and more.
If you missed it, you can now watch the full recording on YouTube! Jump to this 1-min clip where I demo how to draw perfectly straight lines and shapes, or click below to watch the full video:
As of the morning of the session, we had over 230 signups! Nate & I were really excited to see the level of interest in drawing. I shared some of the feedback in this Twitter thread, but my favorite response came from Will Helliwell:
This is the kind of video you’d find in an expensive cohort course and we got to watch it for free! Amazing. High quality and so many great tips.
Look out for more from Nate & I soon!