After a brief rundown of their week, Jeff & Will discuss Austin Price’s presentation on the Habits of Effective Artists, which include daily work, volume not perfection, conscious learning, get feedback and create what you love. Will concludes the episode with an essay from James Victore about claiming your freedom.
Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase.
- Andrew Price’s Habits of Effective Artists on YouTube
- Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon on Amazon
- Episode 8 – Brokeback Mountain, Regency England & Story Beats with Anne Hawley on Big Gay Author Podcast
- Nicholas Erik website
- Feck Perfuction by James Victore on Amazon
- Jeff & Will’s Websites & Social Media:
Jeff: Welcome to the “Big Gay Author Podcast” the show that invite you to follow along as two writers attempt to make the transition from part-time to full-time authors of gay fiction. I’m your host Jeff Adams and with me is my fellow writer and husband Will Knauss.
Will: Hello everybody. Today is October 12, 2019 and we are so glad that you could join us. Today we’ll be discussing the habits of effective artists. Before we get to that, let’s talk about our week.
Jeff: For me, it was a pretty status-quo week, which I’m not sure that I’ve had since we started this podcast. I got my writing done. I Enjoyed my 90 Days to Done class. We got to help out an author who was feeling really at loose ends with her book and I hope that what she took from the class helped her re-find her focus and re-find her way.
And also it was a week that we were getting ready for GRL. Just making sure we had all of our ducks in a row to go to GayRomLit next week and be ready to enjoy that event.
Will: Yeah, I’m going to be putting the finishing touches on my GRL preparation on Monday and Tuesday. I’ll be hosting some Q&A’s with authors and some various other things.
But mainly my week has been spent consuming content so that I would have something to talk about when we record the podcasts over the weekend not only this show but we’re also going to be doing some bonus Patreon content and I’ve got to talk about something. So yeah. I’ve been busy with that.
This week our main topic is going to be a video. It’s called the “Habits of Effective Artists.” This video came across my YouTube feed probably a couple of years ago now. It’s essentially a TED style talk by a guy named Andrew Price. He is an artist and this talk was something he gave at the Blender Conference back in 2016. And not only is it interesting, engaging and funny.
The talk speaks to the creative process and challenges that all artists face. Not just painters or illustrators, which is essentially what Andrew was specifically talking about at that conference, but other types of artists as well. No matter what your creative outlet is, we thought it would be something interesting to discuss for all the writers in our audience.
So we highly recommend you check out the video itself. All you have to do is go to YouTube search “habits of effective artists,” or you can also always go to the shownotes page for this episode at biggayauthorpodcast.com.
Jeff: Yes, we will certainly have it there.
I’m so glad you put this video in front of me. It resonated so well. Each of these habits speak so much to writers. Every one of them has meaning. I immediately took some things away–some things that I think I do pretty well and some things that I could certainly do better.
Will: Definitely. Shall we get to the seven habits?
Jeff: Let’s do it.
Will: Okay. Number one is daily work.
Jeff: This is one I think I do pretty well. The days that I intend to set about my writing I do it. I have my word count that I need to hit and–you’ve often called me a machine where this is concerned and being able to sit down and do the words that need to get done.
I wish I could bring that into the weekends a little better but weekend is podcasting time. So I have to split up. I guess it’s still daily work. I am doing something for the author business.
Will: I’m fascinated. Well, maybe not fascinated. I admire your ability just to sit down and do it. Starting is something that has always been challenging for me. It’s wrapped up in a lot of fear that I have surrounding the creative process in general. So starting is something I have always, always struggled with and something I’m going to be trying to address next month during NaNoWriMo.
Now when Andrew is talking about daily work, I’m not necessarily positive he is speaking like literally that you have to work on your creative project every single day. I think what he’s talking about is staying engaged with the work and that can mean different things for different people. That could mean sitting down and working on it at a specific time every single day or maybe because you’ve got work obligations or family obligations that you have a specific time at other points during the week in which you get into your creative work. I think what this particular tip is offering is a way to keep your mind and your heart engaged in whatever your project is.
Jeff: Yeah for writers it could be maybe you’re not writing everyday, but you could be journaling about your book. You could be determining plot points for your book. But it is those moments… We’ve heard other people say they only had 15 minutes during lunch and they wrote their book in 15 minute increments over their lunch hour and that was their daily thing. So yeah, I would agree with that, to be engaged with your projects on a daily basis, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
Will: So before we get to number two, I want to give a brief bit of context for Andrew Price and the specific talk that he was giving. As a setup he was talking about something that he wasn’t good at, specifically 2D drawing. As a way to get better at that he set a challenge for himself. He wanted to get a thousand likes on his artist page. I don’t remember the name of it.
Jeff: I don’t either. It’s a place where you can display your work and you can have all these likes put on it. It sounded like a Facebook for art in a way.
Will: Exactly. So he wanted to have something contextual to force him to work on this one specific skill. He bet his cousin that he would get a thousand likes within a specific period of time and if he didn’t reach that goal he had to pay his cousin $1,000.
This is based on the principle that human beings generally respond better to what is commonly referred to as negative reinforcement better than positive reinforcement. Meaning that if you meet a specific goal, you get a treat. Most of us work out of fear and were more likely to achieve a specific goal to keep something bad from happening.
Jeff: It’s interesting how the bet was contextualized because he wasn’t getting $1,000 back from his cousin if he won the bet. If he won the bet he got the thousand likes and he got better at his craft. The penalty was that he had to pay this thousand dollars out if he did not get that.
Will: Okay. So let’s move on to tip number 2, which is volume not perfection.
Jeff: We all struggle with this I think. Everybody wants to be perfect. They want the manuscript to go out without a single typo or plot issues. No nothing. Sometimes we hold ourselves back from generating the amount of work that we could because we’re striving for that perfection. I know in those moments before I push a publishing button it’s like “is it all right? Is everything good? Is it all perfect?” And those never, ever happen and it can really be a whole way to hold yourself back from putting your work out.
Will: I think when he speaks to volume, he’s really flying in the face of some particularly problematic advice that writers often get. It’s about working on a manuscript and constantly revising and workshopping and editing. As they say, “Perfection is the enemy of done.”
Studies show it is much better to finish something and then move on to the next project instead of spending an eternity trying and struggling to make something perfect, which isn’t attainable anyway.
There was a study done. I can’t remember the particular citation specifically. It was in a college pottery class and the instructor divided the students in half and he told one of them your entire semester is going to be judged on one piece of pottery. So that’s what you’re going to spend this time doing. And that’s what your entire grade is based upon.
Now, he told the other half of the class. It’s going to be based essentially on volume, i.e. the number of pieces of pottery that you create during your time in this class. At the end of the semester, objectively the students who busted their butts and made as many pots as humanly possible, they were better than the students who focused on one single piece. So that’s what we’re kind of talking about here. Practice, practice, practice.
Jeff: Yes. Get those 10,000 hours in to use another popular idea that you become an expert after 10,000 hours. It takes a long time to go that far in writing.
Will: Yeah, will be speaking about the 10,000 hours idea in just a few minutes when there is a other tip that sort of touches on that. First, let’s get to tip number three, steal.
Jeff: This one really resonated for me, especially given some of the things that we’ve been looking at and talking about over the past six months.
This has to deal with building on the stuff that you love and some of the tips around this came from a chart that actually is from an Austin Kleon book and it shows the good theft versus the bad theft. So it’s like transforming is good, imitating is bad. Stealing from many is good stealing from one is bad.
It occurred to me that this also feeds right into what we talked to Anne Hawley about as she was breaking down “Brokeback Mountain.” She was studying a masterwork to learn from it and then create something new. That’s exactly what this is about. I think we do it as readers all the time because we’re constantly taking in from what we read and trying to digest what worked well in a book so that we can do a similar type things.
Will: Using points of inspiration to create something unique that is your specific viewpoint or voice. That book that Jeff was speaking about was Austin Kleon “Steal Like an Artist.” I highly recommended. I love Austin Kleon. He’s so amazing.
Okay, the next habit of effective artist is conscious learning which in other words means deliberate practice. This sort of feeds into the idea of 10,000 hours to become an expert at something.
We tend to think of practice as something linear, i.e. if you can picture a graph going from left to right it’s a straight line going up. Realistically studies show that that isn’t the case. In a specific instance with Andrew Price in the talk that he gave, he was talking about practice and essentially just sitting down at his sketchpad and doodling. One day he looked at what he was drawing and then flipped a few pages back. And he realized he wasn’t really getting any better. He was practicing for sure, but there was no conscious learning going on.
He realized some of the mistakes that he had been making and went and watched a YouTube video on facial anatomy and structures. Once he had that specific bit of learning, his sketches immediately got better. That’s what we’re talking about here with conscious learning. Its learning a specific skill that will make your project or your skillset better.
So it’s not enough to really just sit down and write any old story that comes into your head. I think if you’re a beginner that’s certainly an amazing way to explore your creativity. But if you want to consciously get better, you should probably focus on certain weak spots. Say your dialogue comes across maybe is a little stilted sometimes well, go read some great authors who specialize in fantastic dialogue and pick it apart and see how they do it. Then practice doing that.
Jeff: I think this is something I’m doing right now in the 90 Days to Done class learning more about plot structure as I’m actually in progress writing a book. I’ve never done a class at the same time I’ve been writing before. I might go take a class and then write a book later. But in this case I can make tweaks as we continue to talk about how to structure plot. I’ve been finding it quite helpful.
I talked a lot last week about the things that I came away with from my hot seat and where some of the issues were in the plot that I had. And even with some of the work we’ve done this week. I’m like, oh, yeah, “I see that” and I think I’ll actually be taking some of our travel time to continue to tweak that as part of continuous learning.
Will: The next habit of effective artist is rest.
Jeff: And this is not what you think it means. When rest came up on the screen during the talk. I’m like, “yeah sleep is good.” But that’s not what this is that all. This is actually about taking a step back from your work and then coming back to it with fresh eyes. Often authors will finish a book and then put it away, you know for a week or two and then come back to it to start the revisions. Or, you may have issues with a particular piece of plot and maybe you jump forward and write different chapters until you can noodle around on that piece that’s making you stuck.
For me, with revisions, and I never quite thought of it this way before because I never revised as I write. I always write forward. By the time I’m ready to revise all that work I did back in chapter one is brand-new because it’s been weeks since I’ve been there last. It makes total sense that you when you come back after having time away that you’ll see what the problem is.
Andrew certainly talked about issues in his own work where he would put it away and then come back and go, “oh that that’s what’s wrong.”
Will: I think rest sort of speaks to the idea of sometimes you just got to step away. For instance say that you feel blocked writing a particular scene in your book and instead of you know, trying to like push your way through sometimes it’s best to step away. Maybe go take a walk or walk the dog or go do the dishes and let your mind noodle on the problem at hand. Chances are once you’ve rested or taking a moment away from your manuscript the solution will present itself.
Jeff: Maybe the rest revolves around you can go sleep on it.
Will: Sounds good to me.
Okay, the next tip is about getting feedback.
Jeff: This was interesting in the examples that Andrew presented. He mentioned Kanye West who had so many producers and people working with him on his albums. He’s well known in the industry for just having people come in and listen to his work and give him honest feedback on it. He wants the good, the bad and the ugly of it so that he understands what’s good and what he might still need to put some time in. And I think with feedback to you have to think about what to do with the feedback because you certainly don’t want anybody messing with your author voice necessarily. You’ve got to know what to take in and what to set aside. But certainly feedback is oh so important.
Will: I think it’s important when it comes to feedback or specifically like maybe workshopping your manuscript that you don’t use this as a point of procrastination. This comes to volume not perfection what we are speaking to earlier. When we’re talking about getting feedback, it’s about no artist creates their work in a vacuum. It’s going to have context from the outside world and that’s what this is really about. It’s knowing and objectively understanding what other people think of your work and you’re certainly free to accept or reject any feedback that you get because it is your art, but I think it’s important to look at how your work is perceived with open eyes.
Jeff: And you’ve got to have your tribe of people that are the core of your feedback group. Like I don’t put a book out with without Will looking at it. I don’t put a book out without editors looking at it. And I like to have the editors who know my work, who know how to give me feedback and who know how to make me better as a core part of that tribe. Then of course it branches out from there and eventually you’re just getting feedback in the reviews that are left
Will: Last but not least, I personally think this is one of the most important habits of effective artists. It is create what you love you’ll stay more motivated.
Jeff: So, so true. Writing to market is so in and I get why it’s in but some of the things that if I was going to write to market, I would totally fail at because it’s not my jam. It’s not the thing that I want to write. It’s often not even what I want to read. There were examples that Andrew gave about musicians making music that they’d want to hear. It all rolls up in that same kind of tip around do what you love.
Will: In this specific instance of Andrew Price and the talk that he was giving at the Blender Conference he used the example of his own work and what he was putting up on that artist social media platform. People started leaving comments both good and bad and a lot of them happen to be “oh so you like drawing cute girls.” And this sort of comment came up several times. It started to get in his head and he thought well, okay if I want to get better at this whole drawing thing I guess I should draw some dudes. So that’s what he did and it came out awful. The video shows several examples of this. So that’s not where his particular interest lies. He likes drawing cute girls. So that’s what he decided to focus on and I think that’s perfectly okay.
When it comes to writing to market, I think where that specific instance can work for a writer is understanding the Venn diagram of what an audience wants and what you are interested in and where those two meet and intersect that’s where people can succeed most when it comes to writing to market.
Something interesting I want to quickly mention is a guy named Nicholas Erik. He is an author but he also writes extensively on marketing and motivation. I think he’s really brilliant and I’ve subscribed to his newsletter. He’s been doing an email series on productivity recently. This morning I received an email and it was talking about passion and creating what you love. Specifically he’s a writer and a musician and he got… it’s a thing for your guitar. It’s like a series of pedals. It’s a loop device meaning you play one riff and then the device loops it so you can play something else and you essentially become like a one-man band. Ed Sheeran is famous for using this device.
So he got this thing and he’s like doing the logical thing that you’re supposed to do as an adult. He’s practicing specific chords that he’s not interested in and is never going to use and and all of this sort of thing and he actually ended up not practicing at all because it was such drudgery and he wasn’t interested in it.
He finally realized that he bought this expensive doohickey because he wants to play with it. He wants to do songs that he loves. He wants to have fun. So I think that’s an interesting point. As adults we try to make our creative work important. And putting the label of work on it can sometimes be detrimental and can take the joy out of what you’re creating.
So think about that just a little bit when it comes to creating what you love I think for several years it was very popular advice in the romance market specifically to write the book of your heart because if you love it supposedly readers are going to love it. That advice eventually became stale and now the whole writing to market idea is far more popular. I think the sweet spot is really between the two.
Jeff: I certainly hope that it is. Readers are going to know if you’re not writing something that you feel passionately about. You may have a perfect technical structure to it if you will, but they will see that the passion’s just not in the words.
Will: One more thing I want to bring up from Nicholas Erik when it comes to the idea of passion. As I mentioned he was doing this series of emails about productivity. He says that passion is actually the skeleton key for productivity. What he means when he says that is that you can use all the internet blocking apps you want or like wake up at 5:00 a.m. and make all the smart goals that you want. But what it really comes down to is binding the passion in whatever you’re doing because if you’re passionate, all of that stuff becomes irrelevant because you’re going to want to do it and when you do do it time is just going to fall away.
Jeff: I totally agree with that. When I am in writer flow and just get into it it’s not a slog to make those words. It’s like oh darn. Now I have to stop because it’s time for something else to happen. But when I can hit it it is the most magical place to be.
Will: Yeah. All right, I think that’ll do it for now.
If you like the links to anything we discussed this week, especially the video, simply go to the shownotes page for episode 15 at biggayauthorpodcast.com. On the shownotes page you’ll also find the links to our individual websites and social media including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Jeff: Speaking of Twitter, follow us @BigGayAuthor where we will share things during the week the catch our attention. Plus if you want to give us feedback on the show, have suggestions on topics or anything else you can tweet us or leave comments on the shownotes page. Also be sure to subscribe to the show. So you never miss an episode where available anywhere you listen to podcasts.
Will: So to wrap up this week’s episode. I’d like to leave you with a quote from James Victore and his book “Feck Perfuction.” Now I came across this book, as one does, I was just browsing Amazon one day. This cover is very striking and I thought the title “Feck Perfuction” was actually completely hilarious and totally brilliant and I’m like, what’s this James guy all about. I adore this book and I’ll be talking about it at length in a future episode. But if you like Austin Kleon, I think you’re going to love James Victore.
In his chapter about fear, which is a chapter I have read several times so far because a lot of my resistance is wrapped up in that sort of stuff, he has a short essay about freedom and I wanted to read a right now.
“We all want freedom in our lives. We want the freedom to grow, experiment creatively and design nimble and flexible lives. We want the freedom to do the work that’s in our hearts and get paid for our gift, not just our ability to punch a clock. We want the freedom to explore, play, and fall flat on our faces, and do it all over again.
“All we need in order to create this magic is for someone to give us permission. So we wait for a savior to unchain us from our desks and grant approval of our freedom. We wait for some defining moment in our future but only when circumstances are conducive, of course. ‘After I make a few dollars lose a few pounds pay off my debt… then you’ll see!’ But circumstances are never kind and permission never comes.
“No one gives you Freedom. It is not earned or doled out over time. You take it, through bold and brave moves. Freedom is a leap. It’s taking the jump and believing that you land safely, or at least won’t die. It’s the reward for putting faith in yourself and your voice. There’s no warden or shining knight; the only person qualified to give you your freedom is you.
So, with that advice, I’ll ask you what freedom will you take this week? And what will you create and the next seven days?
Thank you for listening. We hope you’ll join us again next week when we’ll join you from GRL with our very special guest Lucy Lennox.
Until then keep writing.