advice on creating work for an audience

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I recently spotted this list of lessons learned from running an open-source project and found much of it relevant to creating any kind of work on an ongoing basis for an audience.

If you’re interested in software development, the original post is worth a read. But for those of you who write, podcast, or otherwise create work on an ongoing basis for your audience, allow me to “fork” the original advice (as the open-source people say):

  • Start a creative project if you want to learn all you can about planning, making, marketing, and delivering your work; enjoy technical challenges, administrative challenges, compromise, and will be satisfied hoping that someone out there is benefitting from your work. Do not start a creative project if you need praise, warmth, and love from your fellow human beings.

  • If you could draw a boundary between that which is already a part of your work, and that which is not, you would find that all the activity, discussion, and drama occurs at that boundary. Requests only nibble at the periphery. Bold changes originate elsewhere.

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if you don’t know what you’re doing, do it faster

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If you read your contract carefully, you’ll see that we ask for the show to be 90 minutes in length, for it to have this many commercial breaks, and for it to be done for this budget. But nowhere in the contract do we ask for it to be good.

This is from Marc Maron’s highly anticipated interview with SNL creator Lorne Michaels. In the early days, Lorne’s perfectionism got in the way. An NBC exec helped put Lorne’s role as producer in perspective:

If you are so neurotic and driven that you feel you have to make it good, well, that’s a good thing for us, but it isn’t what we asked for. What we asked for was for it to be 90 minutes in length and to cost X amount.

This changed Lorne’s perspective on his job as the creator of a television show. He suddenly saw air between his task and his mission. His task was to make this 90-minute live comedy show. His mission was something much bigger, but if he got lost in the mission he couldn’t properly perform his task.

Writing is a feat with no finish line. You can always keep working on something, often long past your publisher’s deadline (believe me, I’ve been on the receiving end of that many times). It is astoundingly easy to become blind to the diminishing returns of additional work.

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