On Being A Creator

Updates have kind of slowed down since the launch of this site. I go into some reasons why

When I got my first broadband internet connection with a permanent IP address, all the way back in the stone age of the early 2000's, I realized that it let me host a website from a computer on my network1. I bought a domain name, ran through some tutorials, got a web server with a content management system and an email server working in short order. I updated my brand-spanking-new website all the time with whatever random nonsense I could come up with. I never really got much traffic2, but I didn't really care all that much, either. I was having fun making stuff to share with my friends.

Then I discovered Apache Virtual Hosts.3

Once I did that, I went on a website blitz. I kept having ideas for new websites, so I would buy the domain name, set up a new content management system (CMS) and work on generating entries furiously for a period of time. Then I would peter out and realize that I had a dozen other sites that I wasn't paying any attention to, and, long story short, I would end up shutting most of them down shortly after I started them4.

Sometime around this time I discovered a little project called Google Video5. I had been making some stupid little videos to share with friends when we would to go LAN parties or just because it was something to do. I uploaded them to Google Video on a lark, mostly to share them with my internet friends without having to put them on my website and have it kill my internet connection every time anyone wanted to download it from me (remember, I was still hosting my website from my home internet connection at this time). The videos didn't get much traffic, but that was fine. I made them for fun and put them somewhere where I could point friends to them if I wanted, and where I wouldn't lose them if my hard drive died6.

Once Google Video was discontinued and my videos were moved to YouTube, I suddenly had a YouTube channel. A YouTube channel that I didn't know what to do with. I tried a few things, but never really put all that much work behind too much of it. I used it as a dumping ground for random video clips that I had hanging around my computer. I tried making Let's Plays, both by myself and with a rotating series of guests. I used it as a host for videos that I embedded into several of the blogs I insisted on starting and then killing. And so on. Nothing I did really got much attention (except, oddly enough, the crap I migrated from Google Video is some of my highest-viewed stuff). All of that is fine, too. I did all this stuff for fun, and I've long said that it doesn't really matter if people consume your stuff. It's the making that's important, and chasing fame on the Internet is a waste of time, effort and energy7. I still stand behind everything I wrote in that article.

But I'm not sure that I believe everything I wrote.

I hear and read advice from successful creators all the time. "Don't create <thing> to make money," they'll tell you. "You have to create things for the right reasons: because you're passionate about <thing>. And if you're any good (with the subtext "and also really lucky"), then an audience will follow". They'll also tell you how artists that are considered great by some measure or another toiled away in obscurity for months, years, decades, or their whole lives because they had a love for the craft. Not because they necessarily intended to make a living off it, though some did manage to do just that. They did it because deep within their souls, within their heart of hearts, they had this passion. They had this overriding compulsion to create whatever it was that they created.

That makes for an inspiring story, sure, and it's probably true in a lot of cases. Most cases of success, in fact. I have no doubt that anyone that has succeeded in making a creative endeavor that they're passionate about into something they could earn a living off worked incredibly hard over long hours over a huge amount of time to squeeze that success out of their creations, and that they continue working incredibly hard to keep being able to make that living. But it also creates this bizarre situation where it's expected that anyone wanting to make a hobby or passion project into a paying career must neccessarily work for free to build up an audience and then, once a critical mass has been reached, is allowed to ask for money via the usual avenues (donations, Patreon, selling merchandise, and so on), which is stupid. 8

But I also know that not everyone has it in them to be great. And the mix of natural gifts that everyone has are going to vary wildly between everyone on Earth, and it's sometimes hard to figure out what any individual person might be good at. It's very possible, probable, even, that the things that someone is good at don't align with what their interests are. But that's actually not that big of a problem.

Skills can be taught. You don't have to be the absolute best at something to have fun doing it, or to even make a living doing it. You just have to have the motivation to keep practicing the thing until you're good enough to be better at doing that thing than the people who were interested in it, but gave up because it was too hard9.

But there are a few intangibles that can't be taught, and, in an era where talking-head videos on YouTube rule the day, one in particular stands out: charisma.

Crawl: You have got charisma!
Becca: What's that?
Crawl: It's a special quality of leadership that inspires allegiance and devotion.
--Son In Law (1993)

Charisma is that quality that people have that plays a huge part of wanting to watch videos. Think back to the shows you watch or the videos you watch on whatever online service you use. We'll ignore the viral 'animal does something funny'/'some klutz falls down'/'ASMR' videos. Think to the shows you watch over and over. To the creators you watch more than once. Odds are that you end up connecting, in a superficial non-reciprocal way, with whoever it is on the other side of the screen. You may not even be able to articulate a reason why you made this connection (if you're even aware that you made this connection at all). But it keeps you coming back for more (assuming there is more), and that's the way that television and movies and plays have worked for thousands of years. It's nothing new.

But, what if you don't have that charisma, and it can't be teased out of you by any means you try? At least, not to any meaningful degree? Well, that depends on what your goals are.

If your goal is to make a lot of money by making videos that people will want to watch and then give you money to keep on making, or popular enough that putting ads on it will make a lot of money, you might have a tough time of it. I think that's why there are so many YouTube channels and websites and things that do nothing but re-host things that more popular. The people hosting them aren't good at/don't want to take the time to be good at making good original things, so they compile things that are already known to be good in the hopes that they can ride some of the wave of popularity that the popular thing. It's lazy, but it must work to some degree because it's so prevalent.

But if your goal is to make videos/paintings/sculptures/writings/whatever, and you're not skilled enough or charismatic enough to develop a following (forget making a living off it), is it still worth pursuing the craft? That's a tougher nut to crack.

The answer should be an unreserved "Yes". It's the crux of the 'you should create for the love of the craft' spiel above, that you should create things because you like creating those things, success is secondary. It's a nice idea, but it's flawed.

Speaking from personal experience, I can say that making things for yourself is great, and I heartily endorse anyone to do any kind of creative endeavor they want for their own enjoyment. But, also speaking from experience, I know that sometimes you create something that you're particularly proud of. Something that you want to share with the world, even if that world consists of a few friends and family. So you send it to them, maybe via social media, maybe via email, maybe you show them in person. And you get... no reaction. Friends aren't interested. Family isn't interested. Followers on social media that you've never met and probably never will aren't interested. Strangers aren't interested. You get no likes. You get no dislikes. You get no engagement.

The first time it happens, it's discouraging. The hundredth time it happens, it's heartbreaking.

And I think that's the real message behind that advice to creators. They know (even if on a subconscious level) that not everyone is going to be the next <insert_famous_artist_here>, in fact, it's statistically likely that anyone creating anything and is trying to be good enough to get a reaction out of anyone is not going to be successful. That's why they push the 'you should just do it because you love it (and success will follow if you really want it)' narrative so hard. It's because so few people are successful, and the ones that are successful did that, so you can, too. Maybe. But if it doesn't happen right away, that's okay! You just have to keep trying until you succeed! I have no doubt in my mind that there are people out there who have the right blend of skill, charisma, talent, and drive that they could be successful in a creative endeavor, but they don't try for one reason or another, and I have my suspicions that this advice is mostly targeted at those people. The people who have unrealized potential who just need a kick in the right direction to capitalize on it.

All of that sounds a lot more bleak than I intended. But even success has a lot of pitfalls that I'm only familiar with in the academic sense. If you get successful for doing a thing, you might not be fully aware what specific combination of factors led to that success, which can lead to stunted creativity since you're too scared to change anything and risk derailing your gravy train. Or you might get pigeonholed into doing one specific thing over and over because nobody is interested enough in your other work for that to cover your bills. And so on.

But a lack of success can, paradoxically, be very freeing. If you have no audience other than yourself, then you're only trying to please one person. You can be as creative as you want, and as weird or inscrutable or fantastic or long or short or annoying or soothing or any other combination of things that you want. As long as you're pleased with what you're making (and aren't harming anyone else), then you can create with reckless abandon, which can lead to interesting things.

So, should you or I or anyone else continue to create things? Even after attempting to create things for years or even decades of indifference?

I can't answer that for anyone but myself.

I've created things in some form or another for well over ten years. I've been discouraged. I've been heartbroken. I've given up more than once, but I keep coming back to try again. It used to be because I kept thinking that, "This time, for sure, will be the thing that gets me noticed!", and it never is. Partly because every time I think that it's because I've finally cracked what will be successful, it's me trying to hop onto the wave of whatever is popular at the time, doing a superficial job, and getting disappointed at the results. I made the cardinal mistake of trying to superficially recreate something that's already popular without making something that I want10.

That's why this site exists. I don't advertise it. I don't talk about it. I don't have a schedule for it. It may never gain any audience, but it's not supposed to (if it does, that's great, but that's not my goal for it). I'm not trying to please anyone but myself with this. I update when the mood strikes, and I develop what features I need when I need them.

And it's also why updates have kind of slowed in recent weeks. I got this site to where I wanted it at the time, and I turned my attention elsewhere for a while. I decided to redo a room in my house to make it into a kind of production studio to make the kind of videos that I want to. I won't be chasing trends, and I'll be doing the kinds of things that I want on my own schedule for my audience of one. If anyone wants to watch them other than me, then that's great. If they don't, that's great, too. The best that I can do is to make something that I'm proud of. If the world is collectively indifferent, then I have nothing to be ashamed of if I've truly made something that I think is good.

And I have to keep going for my own sake. I'm one of those weird people that has the compulsion to create things. Even if I'm not very good at it, and even if I never find success with doing it. I'm going to continue creating things in some form or another for as long as I'm able. I feel like I owe it to myself

But, as for what you should do? You'll have to answer that question for yourself.


  1. My ISP didn't technically allow it, but they didn't take any steps to top me, either. At least, not at first.
  2. According the my stats tool that I was using at the time, I was getting around 100 hits a day at its most popular
  3. Apache virtual hosts is a feature that lets you host most than one website from the same physical server, which is super convenient.
  4. Also, although each individual domain is relatively cheap, it starts running into money once renewal time comes up and you realize that you have a dozen domains you need to reregister at ~$15 a pop.
  5. Google Video was Google's answer to YouTube until they just gave up and bought YouTube instead
  6. It would be kind of like starting a business mowing lawns, and mowing them for free until you get enough customers that you can start charging. Trying to make a living by, say, Twitch streaming is akin to starting a business, and anyone starting a business can charge as much as they want for their services as soon as the doors open on the first day. They may not be successful at it, but they should absolutely try to get as much revenue out of it as they want or can.
  7. In those days I used a lot of hardware that was used and/or in questionable quality. Hard drived died frequently.
  8. See On Becoming Internet Famous
  9. It's kind of like a pyramid with every unskilled schlub at the bottom and the best of the best at the pinnacle. The further you go up the pyramid the harder it gets to make progress, but once you make it about halfway, you're so far ahead of everyone else that making it to the top requires a huge amount of effort for comparitively little gain*
    • There are some people out there who are motivated to make it to the top of the pyramid no matter what it takes, but it takes such a disproportionate amount of time, effort, energy, drive, and luck to not only make it there, but to stay there that it seems silly to me to shoot for it.
  10. This isn't entirely true. I made a lot of 'two guys sit on a couch playing video games and making silly comments about it' videos because I really liked doing them, even though most of them never got watched.

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