When I’m not analyzing data, I like to make things from wood—furniture, cutting boards, etc. Making something physical after sitting at a computer all day is relaxing and rewarding, and I’m never short on gifts for family and friends.
My woodworking isn’t totally detached from technology, and I rely heavily on forums, websites, online magazines, and YouTube both for inspiration and to learn how to do things. I’ve learned most of what I know about woodworking from people on the Internet, and I’ve been inspired to tackle things that I never would have thought of otherwise.
There’s a downside to seeing all this creation on the Internet—you aren’t seeing the reality of the process. You see someone make an amazing bowl or cutting board in 6 or 12 minutes. Even on the long side, it’s rare to see something creative boiled down to more than an hour of footage or a couple dozen photographs and a few thousand words.
When you compress things down to a shareable size, you miss a lot. What you don’t see is the unglamorous parts: the sharpening of the chisels, the unclogging of your glue bottle, or the parts that don’t fit together. You don’t see the days where you are too tired or unmotivated to go down and work on anything at all, or those cases where life interferes and a “easy one weekend project” ends up stretching to six or twelve months.
This same phenomenon appears in sharing about web design and software. You see a major new version of a mobile app compressed into a few thousand words or an animation in a dozen GIFs, but you don’t see the day lost to fighting Xcode issues or waiting for things to render. You don’t see the mornings where you end up reverting the previous day’s commits entirely.
Any creative endeavor is highly non-linear, but the sharing of it almost always skips a lot of the actual work that goes into it. That’s ok; a clear progression makes for a good story that’s easy to tell. But don’t judge your reality against someone else’s compressed work. It’s ok if it takes you a day to make a cutting board like one that someone made in six minutes on YouTube; the truth is it probably took them a day too.
Adamon 17 Dec 14
YES. Thanks for writing this – great post.
twizon 17 Dec 14
Well said and really easy to forget when access to other people’s highlight reels are so accessible.
In the same vein, it would be pretty awesome if you did share the unclogging of the glue bottles. You’ve released public projects before but it has always been after the fact.
What about sharing a project publicly that is currently active for basecamp?
Even if it is just a sprint it would bean interesting, inspiring and less glamorous reality check to get a live look into the non-linear process you described above.
Something like embeddable active BC projects (“starting basecamp for ios 2.0….. and heres the project thats going to get us there”) would be an interesting way to share as opposed to what you described as most of the web does through “story/results blog posts.”
Chad Hallon 17 Dec 14
I remember as a younger man, believing that musicians went into the studio with every note perfectly arranged in their heads. Only years later, after knowing enough musicians did I realize that studio time equated to experimentation more than it did to alchemy. It’s a lesson that I have to continually remind myself of as I struggle to complete a challenging piece of writing or a challenging drawing.
I’m blogged a lot in the last few month on how I overcome the unmotivated days you speak of and how I refresh from exhaustion and frustration. Perhaps it was a way of me trying to share those unglamorous moments or maybe it was a way of telling people that they weren’t alone, but it occurs to me for the first time in reading this that those moments os shortening chisels and unclogging glue are the sole of the best moments. When I swirl the water into the watercolor for the right consistency or pull the ink into the fountain pen, those are moments; little burps of zen. Maybe we can’t share those moments, and maybe we shouldn’t. I wouldn’t want anyone to see all the bad draft of a blog before the final, but that process is what makes it art. The parts that we cannot share are the art, everything else is presentation.
I struggle to remind myself how each of our journeys is different, but I must also remember the similarities. We all have to clean the mess we’ve made and we all feel the glow of pride. The split between the two is not a fraction that can be measured, so yes you are right, we should stop comparing and zip up our trousers.
Thanks for an wonderful post.
Marek Pawlowskion 17 Dec 14
You’ve hit the nail on the head with your post. The web can have a glamourising and simplifying effect on the tricky skills and perseverance which are the hallmarks of many creative endeavours. It’s why examples which get into the detail and offer a personal take on specific difficulties encountered during projects can be so valuable.
It also made me wonder: could the web’s ability to facilitate real time communication over huge distances play another role here?
For instance, what would it feel like to undertake a day in the workshop while keeping a video link open with another creative person on the other side of the world? It wouldn’t be a continuous conference as such, but rather just an open channel, something you might turn to if you wanted a couple of minutes feedback or to watch them complete a task you were interested in…
For me, these kind of workshop days are about trying to disconnect from the consumption side of the web and do something practical and creative with traditional materials. I think I’d be instinctively cautious about bringing something like video communication into that environment, but nonetheless it seems like an intriguing experiment to see how that would feel and whether it could enhance the participants’ creative skills or distract from the task in hand.
Yanseyon 17 Dec 14
I’m really dissappointed, this blog has ‘jump the shark’ since the redesign 1-2 years ago.
The content and original posts are super weak these days.
Kevinon 17 Dec 14
Thanks for writing this Noah. As a fellow woodworker, the point about a weekend project stretching out 6 months hit me right in the gut – I have a couple unfinished pieces sitting in the garage awaiting paint/stain.
Even more reason it is important to enjoy the process of what you are working on – whether at work or for fun.
Justin Reeseon 17 Dec 14
As someone who is wrapping up three months’ work on a “three week” shed remodel, this hits very home. Especially the glue bit.
Sometimes the summarized recipe is all you need, but sometimes you really want to know all the paths to completion, all the trial and error. I love Cook’s Illustrated for their detailed “first we tried X, and it didn’t work because Y, so we adjusted with Z” prefaces to their recipes. You can skip it if you want, but you’ll learn so much by reading it.
In a similar vein (and apologies for the apparent self-promotion), when my buddy and I made a website for our short film, I decided to put all eight script drafts online (http://nomatterhowfar.com/script ). Almost nobody cares enough to read them all, but I’ve heard from a couple of people that it was interesting to see the progression of ideas. Mostly I did it for me, though, so I would always remember how we got from v1 to v8.
Anyway, for instructional stuff, I like the Cook’s Illustrated approach: a step-by-step guide with accompanying detailed article.
Rahulon 17 Dec 14
This reminds me of all those people who used to say they could copy Basecamp in a weekend, entirely missing the point that Basecamp is the product of a creative process, not just X hours of engineering.
Ericon 18 Dec 14
Michaelon 18 Dec 14
Good piece. I had an idea that how-to videos or articles should be subtitled or annotated with time. So, if you had a three minute video you’d see the clock spinning faster depending on how much was cut or the number of days accumulating. Would it help or just be a gimmick?
Christopher Mackayon 22 Dec 14
I enjoy Gruber tremendously and I read everything you post here.
If you believe everything nice your log files have to say about you, then you have believe all the bad things, too. ;)
This discussion is closed.