She sits across from the music legend, black shirt hanging loosely around her shoulders, hair draped over her chest.
It’s been 3:22 seconds since either of them have spoken.
You have a creative career. Let's find it.
She sits across from the music legend, black shirt hanging loosely around her shoulders, hair draped over her chest.
It’s been 3:22 seconds since either of them have spoken.
Kate walks on the beach in front of me, her father to her right.
I don’t know what, exactly, I am looking for. Something, anything, which shows they share a gene pool— a 6th toe maybe? A flair on the right pinky which had been passed down through generations of Thompson feet?
Flesh squished into sand as the ocean splashed up on our ankles.
With each step, I became more and more disappointed. Their footprints looked the same.
In fact, All of our footprints looked the same.
Why was this crushing me?
After walking to the stage, pumping his fist, and yelling ecstatically, Chancelor Bennett gives a nervous chuckle when he gets behind the microphone.
The crowd is on edge, waiting to see what this first-time Grammy winner will say. Every musical celebrity is packed into an enormous room which, somehow, actually seems too small for the amount of collective influence. Everyone is dressed to the nines, even Chancelor, despite the grey hat perched on his head. It boasts a single number – 3.
Clearing his throat, the winner speaks:
“I want to thank God and for my mother and my father who supported me since I was young. For Kirsten. For Kinsely. For all of Chicago.”
When he says the word “Chicago,” a roar bursts out of the crowd. There is applause, as if Chicago is more than just some town, as if Chancelor is more than Best New Artist of 2017.
Chancelor Bennett won his first Grammy in 2017 for an album titled “Coloring Book.” Coloring Book was considered to be a masterpiece by most experts in his genre. It was filled with innovative ideas. Many superstars pitched in to help write each of the pieces, and the output what was some called “simply genius.”
During the final three months before the album was finished, Chancelor and nearly 20 of his friends – other musicians, family members, show promotors, etc. – lived in the studio. Typically this is an expression. For Chancelor, he meant it literally. His daughter slept next to him on the floor most nights as they sacrificed as much as they could for the music.
“There was a lot of fatigue and tension,” Chancelor said in an interview. “But the last time we played [the record] before we sent it in, we knew it was perfect.”
It was perfect. At least, the whole of the musical world thought so. On May 13, 2016, Chancelor Bennett – more commonly known as Chance the Rapper – delivered Coloring Book to Apple, and his world changed forever.
What is being overlooked in this story? Honestly, it’s a dynamic most people miss in this age of internet culture. We have been trained to look only at the viral stories – the Domino’s pizza kid who blew cheese out of his nose, the lady who put on the Chewbacca mask, the kindergartener who can rap Nicki Manaj lyrics.
Here’s the issue – Can you give me the person’s name from any of those phenomena?
You aren’t alone. Almost nobody knows who is in these seemingly random videos. They are here today and gone tomorrow, thrust out of the limelight almost as quickly as they found it.
Why then, is Chance the Rapper still selling out shows all over the world? Why has he become a massive brand who is turning down label offers left and right? Why do people know his name, even though his album does not have as many views as other “viral” stars? Why does he continue to dominate in a highly competitive field (music), in a genre which might be the most competitive of the options (hip-hop)?
It’s because Chance tapped into a secret. Before clutching a trophy in front of an audience of millions, he grabbed a microphone in front of tens. Chance had to become king of Chicago before he could be seen worldwide.
He unlocked The Law of Early Diffusion.
(This is probably undeniable rule #5 for creative people)
The Law of Early Diffusion is simply a theory of how fast new ideas take hold. Originally conceived in the 1960s, this premise has been tweaked, stretched, pulled, and updated even to this day.
A popular article is Kevin Kelly’s “1,000 true fans.” In the premise of 1,000 true fans, Kelly suggests if you were to ignore the allure of worldwide fame and set a goal to gain 1,000 true fans, your career would flourish, as they would carry you on to victory through their own social connections.
I would reduce the scale even more. If you are just getting started, 10 true fans is plenty.
There’s a problem with that, though. It is boring to sell your art to 10 people. It is sexy to sell your art to 10 MILLION people. Therefore, The Law of Early Diffusion is often ignored, momentum is never gained, a dream dies quietly, and another creative goes back to sit in a grey office surrounded by grey walls and grey desks and grey people, chained to someone else’s vision.
What if you weren’t worried about selling a massive amount of work right now? Instead, what if you focused now on making the decisions which would enable you to do exactly whatever you want the rest of your life? This includes using creativity as your dominant source of income.
This piece is not about selling 1,000 pieces of art one time and never again. It’s about slowly selling one piece and then another and another and another.
I would rather you have 15 years of boring success than 15 minutes of fame.
The Law of Early Diffusion is critical to building a career that lasts as opposed to being another flash-in-the-pan internet sensation. Think of the waves crashing onto the shore from the ocean. They don’t just pop up spontaneously. The currents build and move, aligning themselves together. Water swells in a current over and over until enough momentum is built to tip the wave. What was one thousands of individual drops of water now becomes a powerful force, crashing into the coast and dragging dirt, sand, and people with it.
“Going Viral,” is more like a freak thunderstorm. It gets a lot of attention in a moment, but is quickly forgotten.
In September 2015 I wrote my first viral post. I have no idea how it happened or who caused it. Actually, I was a little embarrassed by the post. I considered not even pressing publish and starting on another idea. As it happened, I let it go, and my career really did change trajectory. Hundreds of thousands of people saw my name for the first time.
Those people who read and enjoyed that viral post helped activate The Law of Early Diffusion for me.
Enough waxing poetic. There are two practical ways to leverage The Law of Early Diffusion. Based on the fact you read this far, I can probably guess which of the two will be more attractive to you, but I’ll list them both anyway.
Option 1 – Decide to go for a very niche market.
You will see this all the time with products and markets that are very crowded. Young companies don’t just make products for “golfers.” They’ll make them for “young female golfers in the southeast region of America.” In this instance, the law of early diffusion is manufactured. The business zeros in as far as they can go and wins an entire market. Once our imaginary company has captured an acceptable share of the young female golfers in the southeast region of America, they will be able to ride that momentum and word of mouth up the coast, expanding to Kentucky and Ohio and perhaps on up into New England.
This option requires considerable thought up front. You must know exactly where you are aiming. Businesses who manufacture The Law of Early Diffusion in this way are often quite boring to watch. They are narrow with their content and marketing because they must be. They know and follow the law.
Option 2 – Do what interests you at all times to attract your niche market.
This option is the more attractive to most creative people. Sounds great, right? All you have to do is follow your heart!
Reality is much more jarring.
When you choose option 2 in today’s era, you are now competing with everyone else in that space. I wrote one post encouraging people to live their best creative lives, not realizing I’d be jumping in the ring with the likes of James Altucher, Jeff Goins, and Srinivas Rao.
Let’s pretend you are terribly passionate about writing. What separates you from all the other writing blogs?
Most likely when you begin, the answer is “I don’t know.” That’s okay.
“I don’t know” is always an excellent place to start. But unlike option 1, where you are definite about your differentiator, an attempt to create an early audience by following your interests requires much more faith.
When I began writing online in 2015, I had no idea who I was or what I wanted to be. I just knew I wanted to write. That sounds nice now that I have over 50,000 people, but for the first year, I didn’t break 10,000. That means I operated by faith alone for at least 365 days.
If I’m completely honest, I am still operating on faith alone most days. Hope and Faith.
Still, though, I recommend people follow their interests first, and find the differentiator second. If you choose that route, you must address both the quantity and the quality of your work.
Quantity is simple: Do as much as you can as often as you can.
It could be the difference between your cooking blog and every other cooking blog is the amount of recipes. When you focus on the quantity of your work, you will have hundreds of items to refer to by the time the world even realizes what you are doing.
Quality is a little more difficult to define. After all, who gets to determine quality? The health nut might shove a hemp protein shake in your face and rave about how good it is, but if you think it tastes like dirt mixed with cement, you are probably not going to value that drink very much.
There is, however, a bullet proof formula to mastering your craft. Even if not everyone is drawn to it, you can be confident of your best work if you follow this process.
To improve quality every day: Do something to the best of your ability. Then do a little bit more.
Those are the only two steps.
Are you an average writer? Write as much as you can. Then add 100 words.
Average painter? Paint as well as you can. Then start a new canvas.
Average intelligence? Read as much as you feel like reading. Then turn the page.
Average musician? Practice as much as you can. Then do 10 more minutes worth.
Still feel average?
Repeat this process. Then do it again.
Then do it forever.
The trick to The Law of Early Diffusion is this: there is no one way to accomplish it. However, quantity and quality almost always get you there. Choose your path and stick to it.
Relentless practice of this law can lead to long term success. Refusal to acknowledge it will often lead to burn out, slow results, and consistent frustration.
Luckily, you get to make the choice.
It was May in 1930. A man with a fabulous mustache sat upright in his favorite chair, seconds away from dozing off.
Just as his head dipped into dream world, the ball bearings plummeted from his hand and onto a metal plate, where the clatter shook the man back into reality.
He then stood up, walked across the room, and began to paint.
The man’s name was Salvador Dali.
He painted “The Persistence of Memory.” You have probably seen it before I put it at the top of this post. It’s typically called something like “The One with the Weird Melting Clocks.”
Dali believed the stuff of our dreams was literally located on the cusp of sleeping and waking. He would often nap for only a few seconds because he wanted to capture that sensation.
You know this feeling, don’t you?
It’s late at night. You are drifting away, and for a moment you see your life as it could be. You see the success. You see the recognition you deserve. You see fulfillment. This is the “could be.”
It’s gone in a moment. Lost in Dreamland.
The next morning you wake up and have no time for the dream. There are important things to do. Adult things! URGENT things! Productive things!
The reason you don’t feel as motivated in the morning to chase you dreams is this:
Life interrupts the “could be” with the “is” on a daily basis. You could be a great musician, but class is starting in five minutes.
You could be a better person, but your temper is often unchecked.
Here is one thing we know:
The “is” will always become the “was.”
Luckily, you get to decide whether or not the “could be” becomes the “could have been.”
(For more on mitigating The Life Effect, see also — How to Ignore Absolutely Everything)
Okay, first I’ll give you the very simple goal of this tip:
REMOVE THE BRAIN FROM THE WRITING PROCESS.
Let me explain.
At a job — you think about stuff. A specific problem is presented and an objective decision is made based on cost and time and “best” practices.
In writing — you feel stuff. You brain can’t help you find a solution because you don’t even know what the issue is.
The further open the window to your heart, soul, and guts, the more powerful your writing. We’ll discuss how to better access that window in this post.
As an artist, you are not dealing with tangible problems. You are dealing with emotional problems. Those are undefined and ugly and messy and confusing.You don’t think your way to an answer. You stumble through the darkness and find your way there.
“That all sounds marvelous Todd. Thanks for the imagery. But what good does that do me?”
Fine. Let me step off my metaphysical high horse and back into reality.
The best way to remove the brain from the process is stream-of-consciousness writing.
I learned this exercise once in middle school, didn’t use it for 12 years, and have now come back to doing it every single day. It is a staple of my creative process.
At the risk of losing some respect from you (HA!) here is the first paragraph of my stream-of-consciousness writing from yesterday:
Have you ever seen so many misspelled words? Luckily, I still have permission to be terrible. So do you.
The steps are exactly what you’d expect:
Do not write with an agenda. Do not write to publish. Do not write for perfection.
Write to write.
Your first thought will be:
“Eww, I’m a freak.”
(That’s okay. We all are.)
Your second thought will be:
“I can’t can’t spell anything correctly”
Your third (and most important) thought will be:
“Huh, I didn’t know I cared about ________”
If you come out of the exercise with one sentence you like, that would be an incredible result. The less you filter, the better. The more you misspell, the better.
Stream-of-consciousness writing helps you find your pure voice. The one you’ve been sitting on for a while but your inner editor kicks down. Silence that clown. He has no place in your mind.
Later, he will come in handy.
But that’s another post for another time.
(More about removing the brain from the creative process starting at 1:13 in this video:
No, it’s not the cell phone specifically.
The most overrated pleasure is the notification (in all forms).
You see how it happened, don’t you?
The early notification said:
“You are significant. I love you.”
The new notification says:
“You are significant. Now pay attention to me.”
The modern notification says:
“You are significant, but only in this reality. Come backto me.”
The notification phenomena is so common we don’t even consider it a pleasure, just a part of life. We trade away flow in our work and conversations for a string of tiny dopamine hits.
I don’t talk about notifications because I am above them. I talk about notifications because I was a slave once. The little red circles demanded my attention and I submitted. I substituted real emotion for a cheap high. I surrendered self-love for a few pixels forming a number.
When they made a big one, I was happy.
When I didn’t, I was sad.
You are probably stronger than me. You can probably handle it.
At least, I hope you can.
My cursor pulsed on the blank page.
I wrote sentence and then deleted every word. I stood up 6 times for coffee in 2 hours. Surprisingly, my page would still be blank when I returned.
I wanted to start a blog. I wanted to start a business. I wanted to change the world.
But all those things invite ridicule. I had a fear of being ridiculed.
So I sat safely in the corner, dumping ideas into my hard drive where they collected dust.
One day, a friend of mine told me something which changed my perspective forever. He said this:
“Nobody cares what you are doing.”
Far from being depressing, this was the most liberating thing I ever discovered.
Obscurity is not a problem. It’s an opportunity. It allows you to lay the firstbrick in your idea without a judging panel. Then, you might find the confidence to lay another. And then another. Safe in your shroud of being a nobody, you have full reign to take whatever type of material you like and build whatever type of legacy you want.
Eventually you will fail in front of somebody. It might hurt a little. It might hurt a lot. When the raw emotions fade, though, you’ll look around and realize something:
You are still alive.
Yesterday, I got a letter from a publisher which began “Dear Author.” It hurt. A lot.
But I am still alive.
Oh, and as a reminder:
Thought does not conquer fear. Plans do not conquer fear. Ideas do not conquer fear. Encouragement does not conquer fear. Friends do not conquer fear.
Action conquers fear.
As a matter of fact, it may be the only thing that does.