Making Things Fast – revisited

I was asked to write something about Making Things Fast recently – here’s a version of what I wrote. I’m still happy to do this as a talk, so long as people find it helpful. I even pitched it as a book but no one was interested.

Things I’ve made include: two books, loads of websites, columns, several online magazines, blogs, events, talks, a newspaper, a successful podcast, scripts, short films, a sympathy card from a child’s card making kit, a BBC Basic Twitter simulator, an argument for constructing the Death Star, a map of filming locations in About A Boy, “ketchup rice”, a mess.

Almost two years ago now I put my ideas into a talk called Making Things Fast. No one was more surprised than me that my pathological impatience with the world could be formulated into something positive. Since it went down quite well each time I delivered it, seems relevant to Happenstance, and may yet be useful to people trying to create new things, I thought I’d share some the outline of that talk for you, here.

1.    Stop caring. Stop caring about the future, and the past. Caring is a leaden responsibility that clings around your neck, tugs you around at whim, and ultimately just sends you back to where you started. Don’t invest emotionally in the future of your work, because the future hasn’t happened yet – and is much more out of your control than you think, in any case. There is no place for ‘strategy’ in fast making.

Stop caring about it being perfect, too, absorb the truth that it never will be. And stop caring about it being yours. If you love it, you will let it go. As soon as you’ve tried being generous and liberal with your ideas, the advantages of doing this will be obvious and the drawbacks of neurotic hoarding will show up in relief as a shocking embarrassment. Throwing your ideas out there into the world will attract interest and energy to you – and more ideas will grow in their place. Most people don’t have this confidence, so you won’t have much competition. Just don’t ever be left with just one thing to hold onto. Really, keep checking yourself, because you must guard against that like mad. Make it, ship it, forget it.

Past success is a poisoned chalice. We all know someone bitterly attempting to dine out on their historic achievements, perhaps still identifying themselves primarily as the author of a book published years ago, or still caught up on some idea that others have since done better. If you really want to make, you have to stop caring about the past: it’s difficult, actually it’s agony, but let it go. Let it go. You’re only as good as the next thing you make.

2. Remember that motivation is the mother of invention. Motivation declines over time. No surprises there. But make things fast, while the stars are aligned and the spirit is high, and you’ll be able to make so many more things. In fact, you’ll feel you need to. So: defend your motivation at all costs, because when it comes down to it, your motivation is all there is. I can’t stress that enough. Stand up for it, watch for doubt like a hawk, and hunt down inspiration every day. Motivation is the source of everything – why would you play fast and loose with it?

3. Drop your dreams. Controversial one, but think about it. We live in a society hell-bent on self-improvement and Britain’s Got Talent style “dreams”. But dreams are just a mind-altering drug to divert us from grim body-shovelling reality. However you look at it, making things come true involves making. So are you making, today? Or are you dreaming about next year? Are you doing what feels right or are you living your life as a competition? Because, you know, there’s no prize at the end. The only worthwhile ambition is the one that you can make good on today – there’s something to be said for acting as though tomorrow might never come. That behaviour doesn’t arise out of the fairytale fantasy of ‘ambition’, it comes from being conscious – sometimes horribly so –that none of this will last forever. Don’t watch Cinderella. You could watch Bambi, perhaps.

4. Stop making claims. We’re terribly good at telling ourselves stories. Sometimes we’re so good that we actually start to believe them, and they start to evolve into the stories we tell the rest of the world, and seep into other people’s heads, and eventually become such influential phenomena in society that people forget they are just based on hot air, hopes and lies. And it will keep happening, because all people really want is for other people to like them and give them attention.

I don’t like CVs and I don’t like “about me” pages. Making claims about yourself or your projects will filter your choices and influence your work – OK in some ways, of course, but a disaster for fast making. Claiming is dangerous because it might seem inspiring to begin with, but sooner or later it will slow you down and stop you making. Whatever you think you’re doing will bear very little relation to what other people think about the work anyway – any explanation you offer is just a reflection of a guess you’re making about a stranger. Why make life so difficult for yourself?

You only have so much energy – spend it making things, not statements of intent, and let your audience make up their own minds. Forget them, and they won’t be able to get enough of you. All supplementary writing creates distance: words, claims, tweets, the little cards with writing on next to sculptures – these things are absolutely bursting to step in where Things should be. Turn off Twitter and do something less boring instead, because things that exist are always better than things that don’t. Except unicorns, of course.

Barriers to fast making, then:

  • Worrying about what may happen. Clinging to and cossetting your ideas in a dream future you cannot, in fact, control.
  • Thinking you’ll never have a good idea, ever again (irrational: you haven’t had any problems so far).
  • Thinking every idea has to be The Idea. A million tiny failures are what gets you there, not One Dream.
  • Describing instead of just doing.

Solutions:

  • Detach from goals and let yourself play pointlessly, guilt-free.
  • Detach from past glories. You’re different now – how?
  • Make regularly, make fast, and make partial things. The faster you are, the more you can make!