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Making Time to Make: The Job You Think You Have
Merlin Mann | Aug 5 2008
This article is Part 2 of a 3-part series about attention management for people who do creative work called, Making Time to Make.
If you're a publisher, journalist, author, blogger, musician, artist, designer, cartoonist, or any other sort of person whose job it is to connect with people by communicating ideas, it's natural and wholesome for people who are interested in what you do (and many of whom are certainly makers-of-stuff in their own right) to develop a relationship with your work and to want a way to participate in it, add to it, and build upon it. It's equally great to reciprocate in a way that's collaborative, fun, and useful. God knows, it's anybody's dream to have people interested enough in what you do to find that they want to reach out to you. Talk about a first-world problem.
But, it can still be a big challenge, and in my estimation, it's a multi-faceted problem that involves scale, resource constraint, and old-fashioned scarcity. It's a disparity that confronts anyone who tries to exhaustively participate in every request for his or her attention with equally unrestrained brio -- especially if you ever hope to make the time to do strong, creative work constituting anything but perfunctory meta-communication.
Thing is: if the amount of time you devote to lite correspondence with individual people exceeds the amount of time you spend on making things, then you may be in a different line of work than you'd originally thought you were. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But if you're feeling off your game, it might be a good time to ask yourself whether you're primarily a writer of novels or of email messages. Do you generate more IMs than comic panels? Have you drafted more web comments than scenes in your screenplay? Or, for that matter, do you find you're taking more meetings than photos these days?
What is it that you really do? What's the last thing you made that really excited you? Where are you and your work in all that "communication?"
The Connected Maker
The notion of the lone scribe, isolated in his garret and toiling away at an illuminated text, is an image that's as cliche as it is romantic. In fact, it's a hilariously quaint idea for those artists and makers who use social media and online communities to create, distribute, and expand upon their work.
You could even argue (and I'd happen to agree) that talented people like Jonathan Coulton, Ze Frank, and The Ninja have fashioned an enviable career largely out of making something delightful and by actively participating in projects that folks who've enjoyed their work are driving. Clearly, this is an emerging model for anyone who wants to take their act online, and it's generally great and very enjoyable for everyone involved. Except.
What happens at the theoretical point where Jonathan has to respond to so much personal email that it starts cutting into his songwriting time? Or, what if Ze were compelled to stop using forums and embedded video to communicate en masse, forced instead to conduct all his projects via one-on-one video IM sessions? And what about The Ninja? Well, imagine if, instead of appearing in a wildly-popular podcast, he were suddenly expected to visit every viewer's home to personally threaten to kill them. That's a lot of traveling. Even for a deadly ninja.
In each instance, the dedicated attention might be fabulous for the individual who demands and receives the modern equivalent of face time. And, for a while anyway, it'd probably be a lot of fun for the makers to do. But, is this a sane, scalable, and sustainable way to do your work? I'd say no. No, it is not.
The power of connecting with people in an authentic way (no, not in that cheesy, half-assed, internet "friends" way) falls apart at the point where its resource consumption curtails your ability to keep making new stuff. It's a twisted paradox, for sure. But, in essence, it'd be a little like the Beatles skipping the writing and recording of Rubber Soul in order to catch up on 1964's fan mail.
Put plainer, my sense is that western culture would be a damn sight poorer today if John Lennon had been forced to carry a goddamn BlackBerry.
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