This is Iteration number 100 and before we dive in, I want to say that this one is a big deal for me, not because it’s number 100—although, yes, that—but more because it’s about what it’s taken for me to get here and what I’ve learned about consistency and my own creative process.
If you’re an artist or maker of some kind and you’re on social media, regardless of the platform, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the importance of consistency. It’s one of the two main things that the algorithm rewards—the other one being time on platform. The problem with platforms is that you either are consistent or you aren’t. There’s typically no space for flux because the algorithm doesn’t care about nuance—it cares about numbers.
In the introduction to the very first Iteration I released as a newsletter on Mailchimp—the first audio version didn’t happen until Iteration 25—I called it “my mostly weekly brain dump of thoughts, inspiration and ideas.” To me, that meant every other week. I knew I couldn’t commit to doing it weekly—especially since I’m not what you would call a fast writer and I was already doing On Taking Pictures every week. But I thought every other week was perfectly doable, given the other things I was doing. The first Iteration came out on May 5, 2016, the second on July 20, the third on August 10, and the fourth on September 30. The fifth one didn’t come out until January of the following year. Not exactly the consistency I had hoped for (or promised) and honestly I can’t even tell you why. By contrast, for the past seven months I’ve put out a written Iteration, an audio podcast, and a Blip every week—and that's in addition to also releasing semi-regular episodes of Deep Natter, On Taking Pictures, and completing several new bodies of paintings. What happened between then and now is what I'd like to unpack a little.
It takes a lot of energy to do ANYTHING creative consistently. For many of us, it’s just not the way we’re wired. When I think about consistency, there are basically two ways that I look at it. The first relates to working and the other is tied to output or shipping. With regard to working, it’s important to remember that the work isn’t just when the words hit the paper or paint hits the canvas or when your hands are otherwise in motion. I’ve often quoted a friend who said, “It’s always better to be doing than thinking about doing.” And while I understand what he means, and I think it’s a notion that serves him well, I’ve come around to something a little different. For me, thinking about doing—and thinking about it constantly—is what gets me to the stage of actually doing. It’s a necessary component. The thinking has weight and sets a tone and a direction and establishes intent. I need the thinking part—or the overthinking part, as my friend Jon has pointed out repeatedly—to act as the catalyst for the doing.
Jerry Seinfeld was on Howard Stern about 10 years ago and as he was talking about how he comes up with his material, at one point he said, “I’m never not working on material. Every second of my existence I’m thinking, ‘could I do something with that?’” I can’t tell you how much I relate to this and how deeply it resonates. I am always working, either in the actual process of making or thinking about some sort of idea for something to make in the future. In a previous Iteration, I talked about how my studios are littered with partially filled notebooks, Post-it notes, and random scraps of paper that are covered with drawings, doodles, diagrams, paragraphs, sentences, or just single words. It’s part of the blessing and the curse of what my mom and Adrianne (funny enough) both call my Busy Brain. Regardless of how often I actually release something into the world, whether that’s a painting or a podcast or whatever else I do, I’m always thinking about creativity and my creative practice—and I was when I first launched Iterations, too. My biggest challenge over the past several years has been to bridge the gap—to make a more consistent connection between thinking and doing.
When I first moved to the East Coast from Southern California, I had long hair, and one of the first things Adrianne told me about the humidity here is that you have to learn to work with it, not against it. The same thing holds true for my particular creative practice. I know that I’m not a consistent creator in terms of working on the same thing every day and I never have been. For example, when I started painting again, I only worked on one painting at a time. The problem I ran into is that my painting process can be very time consuming. It’s not uncommon for one of my paintings to have 10, 20, or even more layers of paint, ephemera, or emulsion transfers, and each of those layers has to dry completely before moving on to the next one. I would sometimes work on a single piece for weeks and would end up getting bored with it or lose the direction that I wanted to take it in. When I started working on multiple paintings at once, not only was I finishing more work, the work was better because when I would inevitably hit a wall with one piece, rather than having to rethink it or sand it down and start again, I could simply move to the next piece and keep going. And often, I would plan out ideas for an entire series, but in production end up moving ideas around to a different piece that created a stronger narrative or was just more pleasing aesthetically. The point is that I learned to work with my process rather than against it. The same goes for my writing. At any given moment, I have several things in the works and have learned to pivot between them when I hit a wall—and the wall always comes. Every painting, every newsletter, pretty much every creative thing I do gets to a point that I hate it and want to scrap it and start over—and early on, that’s exactly what I did. But over the years, I have learned to accept that as part of the process, or at least my process, and when I do hit the wall, I move to a different painting, or I sit down to write, or I simply put everything down and go out for a walk to shake it off and recenter. What I used to see as a downside of having so many interests and such a wide range of skills is actually one of the biggest advantages. In my process, it’s not HOW I get there that’s consistent, it’s THAT I get there.
I know that I’m never going to release a steady stream of new work every week or use social media the way it wants to be used to “maximize my visibility” so that I can grow my audience. But that’s okay because that’s not my why. If it’s yours, that’s great. I hope you get there and I will celebrate you if and when you do. I used to think that that was my why and I would beat myself up for not being able to get there. But I’ve found a kind of consistency that works for me and I’m becoming a better maker because of it—I’m certainly a better writer. Would I like a bigger audience? Maybe, but not if it means losing the kind of engagement I have with my current audience. Every Iteration I release on Substack gets better than a 50% open rate—some have even crossed 60%, which I’m told is basically unheard of. It’s miles above the industry average, and the feedback and comments I get from actual people mean more to me a bunch of random hearts or likes. Don’t get me wrong, recognition is great. We all want our work to be seen, but visibility without personal connection is not what I’m after. I don’t want to be consistent in what I release just for the sake of being consistent or to satisfy an algorithm. I want to be consistent to keep seeing the benefits that consistency offers my audience and brings to the other aspects of my creative process.
Thanks so much for reading.
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I hear you Jeffrey. I find it so hard to keep up the consistency, many reasons why. Usually involves making money or time itself. It feels like a hamster wheel or the newspapers that have all this energy put into them and within the flick of a hand it hits the bin like a basketball shot worth no points. Also to engage with people as you say is a wonderful thing it is the soul purpose because your creativity can live on in the hearts and minds of our supporters, friends, lovers of creativity and not in the bin of yesterdays newspapers. But again, I find it so hard to create that bridge and maintain it, a heavy heart and anxiety that I can’t reply to all the genuine comments. I’m no complaining, like you say, but there isn’t enough time to be genuine, the business world of art is hard, cold and not genuine. Maybe that’s just me, but I will continue to put my heart and soul into what I do and make time to respond to wonderful people like yourself whom I listen, enjoy and gain so much. Thank you. Excuse my poor writing, I’m not Dicky Shakespeare 😁 I wonder what he would think of todays creative world.
With such a range of art you are interested/create being able to go from piece to piece when you are stuck with it makes sense ( drying times alone being so long ). That you are so actively creative is one reasons I 'dial in' to your almost daily walks and talks because there is such variety in your topics and your share your life for that time with us all. Its so different and refreshing to hear about not just the depth of work but your thoughts and life.
It seems that no matter what you create it adds to this world in a positive way and that is so so good. :)