Two years ago, I started a podcast based on my book, Shut Your Monkey. I recorded eleven episodes and then moved on. Today I am completing that series with one last episode, The Final Shutdown.
But it’s not goodbye. Merely a reinvention.
I missed making that podcast, but not enough to wrestle with all the production nightmares I had created for myself what with fancy music edits and multiple interviews and various other monkey-encouraging fiddliness that made me dread making new episodes.
So I spoke to Koosje about launching a new podcast for Sketchbook Skool. I had a few basic ideas about it:
- I want to go back to exploring the sorts of ideas I used to write for this blog — about the nature of creativity and creative people. I love podcasts and these days I listen to them much more than I read blogs. Maybe you do too. If not, well, maybe I can upload transcripts for those of you who are audio-phobic.
I want to keep the production simple so I don’t run out of steam again.
I don’t want to have any set format. Just whatever I feel like doing at the time. Sometimes one guest. Sometimes many. Sometimes none at all.
I want to do an episode every week so I develop some momentum and don’t invest too much in any given episode.
I want to relate it to Sketchbook Skool but ultimately I want it to be about my favorite subject: me.
In short, a thicket of contradictions: A Sketchbook Skool podcast that’s actually about me that’s simple to make but made a lot.
It’s called art for all.
What it’s gonna be like? You can find out now. Subscribe on iTunes or just about every other podcast system or listen to it on the art for all webpage.
Let me know what you think.
Transcript of the episode:
02 On Starting
Hi there, and welcome to art for all. This is the very first episode ever. But before we start I want to tell you that if you listen to this whole thing — and I promise it’s not gonna be enormously long , but it’ll be enormously interesting— if you listen to the whole thing, I’ll give you a book at the end.
It’s a free book. I’m going to give you a free book at the end and it’s a book that is going to help you to be more creative right away. And it’s free. So stay tuned right until I’m done telling you something else. My name is Danny Gregory and I am one of the two co-founders of Sketchbook Skool.
This podcast is called art for all because it’s designed to help you to make stuff and one of the first things that will be helpful is to start making something while you listen. If you’re sitting in a straight back chair with your headphones on and your hands folded neatly in your lap, listening to nothing but my voice….Well, you’re allowed to multitask.
You’re allowed to pick up a pen and do a drawing. You’re allowed to pick up a brush and do a painting. You’re allowed to pick up some needles and do some knitting.Make something and listen to me while you do it. That way, we’ll both be more productive over the next X number of minutes. I haven’t determined how many minutes it is going to be but I’m sure they’re going to be minutes that are well spent.
It seems appropriate that in this the very first episode of this podcast that we talk about starting something new. Maybe you don’t have any particular creative project that you’re working on right now and you’re thinking about starting something new. Well, I have been to and that’s what led to what you’re listening to right now and that can be a really difficult thing, right? It can be very challenging to start a new thing and we put up all kinds of of barriers and throw in all kinds of brakes to actually get going on that new thing. Maybe there’s something that you’ve been, I don’t know, mulling over, contemplating, considering, you know, maybe you’ve seen some work somewhere that inspired you and you thought man I should do something like that.
Well getting over that first hump, that first step, is what I want to talk about today because it’s something that has been on my mind what with this new podcast in the offing for kind of too long, considering that it’s just a matter of me sitting down and recording this. But yet for I think literally months we’ve been talkin about the idea of doing a Sketchbook Skool podcast, but we’ve thought of all kinds of …. I don’t know not reasons not to do it honestly, but, you know things to consider, things to mull over. There’s been a lot of beard stroking and even among those of us at Sketchbook Skool who don’t have beards. There has been a lot of thinking and considering and just “I wonder if we should do this….” I mean we’ve we’ve talked about everything from what should it be called, which are the title of this thing we called. At one point, I was thinking let’s call it “Unblocked” because it’s designed to be a podcast that will unblock you but that seems sort of like an enema or some kind of pharmaceutical suppository. Probably not the most exciting name for a new podcast. Then we thought about calling it “Sketchbook Skool” Let’s call it “Sketchbook Skool: the podcast from Sketchbook Skool” and while that is certainly relevant, we’re a creative organization we can do better. So we’ve ended up calling it art for all after much deliberation. Art for all has been our motto at Sketchbook Skool for a long time so it seemed appropriate.
What are some of the of other ways which we’ve thought of to procrastinate?. We discussed what should the format be, maybe something that’s really highly produced highly polished. We could get in teams of audio engineers and experts to guide this and compose original pieces of music and the like how long should it be? At one point, we were going to call the podcast the 10-minute artist. We thought let’s make a ten minute podcast. And then we wondered well is that too short? Can we actually keep it down to 10 minutes? And does anybody really want to listen to a 10 Minute Podcast? I mean you might want to listen to a much longer podcast because you listen to podcasts while you drive to work and maybe have a long commute. So you’re gonna say well, I don’t know if 10 minutes will do it.
So that was another excuse. We kicked that ball around for quite a while. How often should we do the podcast…? So, there’s been a lot of procrastination and just to add to the things that have delayed us was the fact that I just signed a contract to do a new book that has become yet another source of procrastination, you know, so and I’ll tell you about that in a minute, but the point I wanted to make with all this is it takes a certain momentum to start whatever the new project is and I think that the key to doing that is what I’m doing right now, which is just sitting down and making something because the first step is the hardest of this long journey that you’re going to go on as you work on your project that first step of just getting it going is the hardest so make it easy on yourself.
Just get something down. That’s what I’m doing now. I said to myself and I said to my partner, Koosje, and to my other friends at Sketchbook Skool, I said, you know what let’s just plunge in and make something and you know, we’ll do it in whatever form it we can do it in just to get the wheels turning and maybe later on we’ll polish it and will well get theme music and well, much more elaborate theme music and celebrity guest interviews and recorded on location front of live studio audience. But for now, let’s just make something so for now, it’s it’s me here with you and that’s all
So as I mentioned I’ve been having this book on my mind for a while and I was dillying and dallying and dithering and doing all kinds of things to avoid actually sitting down and writing it. I’d write a few thoughts here and there on random scraps of paper or on various apps on my phone and then I would think you know what I’m gonna go and do some research. That’s really what I need to do before I actually get down to writing. Let’s do some research. I mean that’s the foundation of all great books going to the library pulling out dusty tomes and flipping through them, writing down notes and seeing how other better people have done it before. Shopping for highlight pens! You know, there’s so many different kinds of highlight pens different colors, green ones, blue ones, pink ones, different brands different thicknesses.You can waste huge amounts of time just thinking about the materials that you’ll use to take your notes in. I managed to while away a significant chunk of time shopping for the kinds of books or paper that I would use to write my notes in. At, one point. I thought, I should really write it in an app and then I thought no, I’m gonna try writing it on paper. That’ll be good. So I had a book that I would take notes in and then I spent some time transferring those notes onto my computer and then I spent some more time, formatting those notes and then I spent a good afternoon looking for a loose-leaf binder, which is certainly a technology I haven’t even. looked at for ages. Looseleaf Binders! Remember those three ring binders you had those in middle school maybe in high school and you know, you’d get reinforcement rings and you’d put those around the holes so the pages wouldn’t rip out and it turns out that you know, there’s of course lined paper that you can get with three ring binders, but I wanted blank paper and you’d be surprised it’s actually quite a challenge to find three ring. binder paper that doesn’t have lines on it and I managed to look around the internet and to talk to my local stationery store and I even went over to Staples and checked that out and then I thought well, maybe I should just get regular paper and I should get a three-ring hole punch…
All right, so I wasted a lot of time and then I also had a couple of different Publishers that I was talking to and I thought well, let me spend some time going back and forth with them on their ideas and you know reviewing the ways that they envision the book and that managed to again kick the peanut down the road further — Is that the expression? Or kick the can down the road or move the peanut down the field — anyway, as you can see I’m continuing to waste some time.
And now I’ve gone to the point where the contract is as I said signed but the book is due in one month one month from now or at least the first half of it is. The first half of the manuscript is due in one month.
So what did I do to make some progress? Well, it’s similar to what I’ve done here with this podcast. I decided you know what? The thing that’s holding me up is the idea of writing this book, illustrating this book, and designing the book. It just seems like a lot of stuff to deal with because I have other things to do as well as I’m sure you do and so that became really my issue was how can I do all of these things? And the way to do all those things was to do just a few of them. To break down this giant project into some manageable chunks and just tackle one at a time. I got my binder and I got my bits and bobs of all the little things that I’d written and I started to organize them into an outline and the outline had chapters to it and so I focused on individual chapters one at a time.
And then I created an InDesign file — In design is the app that I use to layout pages and I said, you know what I’m just going to take everything that I’ve written so far and I’m just going to start throwing it into the layout for this book and I was surprised after not very long working on this layout that I had an awful lot of the book written, a lot more than I thought. And somehow just putting those pieces down and starting to kind of shift them around a bit, but without getting too finicky about designing them or having the exact perfect font or the exact perfect picture to go with them ,it started to feel book like and that was a huge barrier for me across because once you have broken the back of a project, once it’s kind of manageable, once you can cross the mountains and have a feeling that you’re making momentum, then suddenly working on that project doesn’t feel so daunting anymore because you can look at what you’ve done you can say, this is actually coming along and when you sit down to work on it, it’s become a pleasure. So rather than being a chore or, worse, terrifying you can say, you know what? I think I know how to do this.
When we start working on a project, we often start by becoming perfectionists. We start saying, you know, what if I’m gonna work on this it’s got to be amazing. This has got to be just the greatest book or the greatest show or the greatest painting or the greatest podcast ever known to man. And if not, it’s not really worth my time.
And so that’s a really great excuse for not getting anything done, this whole issue of perfectionism, because we all have high standards and we like to think that we can approach those high standards with the stuff that we’re making. We see a lot of great stuff out there. We listen to a lot of great podcasts.
We read a lot of great books. We see a lot of great art and we think that’s the level that I have to achieve. But of course having that hanging over our heads gets in the way of our making progress because as we begin, the thing we’re making isn’t perfect. It’s rough. It’s raw. It’s hacked together. You can see all the seams, and it’s easy for that voice in our heads that ever-present companion that we have during the creative process what I call the monkey, it’s easy for that voice to say, “you see what you’re making is terrible. Stop doing it now. Let’s hang it up. There’s no point in going any further.”
And the reason that this voice is saying this to us is because that’s his job or her job. The job of the inner critic is to prevent us from taking risks from going too far out on a limb, from doing brand new things. The inner critic hates this because there’s a lot of risk associated with that.
And frankly when you go to a brand new place, when you embark on a brand new adventure, it’s true, you’re going to run into things that are scary. You’re gonna run into things you may not know how to handle and so the inner critic is saying, stay where you are. Don’t worry about it. There’s no reason to go out on that limb. Let’s continue doing the things we’ve always done… But of course, we’re creative people and creative people want to make new things. So we’ve got to get out there and start doing something.
So we’ve got to overcome our need for perfectionism and we’ve got to start just chunking it out. Just taking that giant block of marble and roughing out our first go at it.
Let me quote one of the great Perfectionists Of All Times: Steve Jobs. He was notorious for constantly insisting on higher and higher standards on the things that Apple made but he’s also famous for saying “real artists ship” which means just get it out there. If you want to be an artist, you got to make something you can’t just sit around navel-gazing. You can’t just sit around prognosticating and theorizing. You got to put something out there. You can make it better over time but only if you begin by making something out there. So the time for Perfection for that gleaming polish that we want to put on the things we make, the final top coat, that’s later on. We’ve got to start by making stuff. You can’t polish that beautiful gleaming brass door knocker on your mansion until you’ve dug the foundations, until you started to build the building. So let’s start there. Let’s start somewhere. Let’s start at the beginning.
Actually. You know what? Let’s not start at the beginning.
There’s an idea that’s been around for thousands of years. In Latin, it’s called in media res. it’s Latin for in the middle of things and it’s a term that was coined by an ancient Roman poet Horace, and he said that if you want to write an epic poem, open it in the middle of the story. Go straight to the heart of things and then later on you can kind of back up and tell us how we got here but plunges into the action. Start.right there.
Think about the movie Star Wars, or the series of Star Wars movies . What was the very first Star Wars? Which is now called “a new beginning” but was originally called Star Wars. That was actually the fourth Star Wars movie. Right? We’ve now kind of backtracked and we’ve made the first three and made the other whatever it is 7 but the fact is that the first movie plunges right into the middle of the story. Here Is Luke Skywalker. He’s on his aunt and uncle’s Farm. We don’t know anything about where he came from anything about that. The story starts to unfold, you know, and I like to think that that’s how George Lucas who wrote it began — by saying I’m just gonna start somewhere and I’m starting the middle of the desert on some obscure planet and then I’m gonna figure it out.
And you’re allowed to do that. You’re allowed to to jump into the middle of your story. You’re allowed to write the chorus of your song first. Or write the bridge first. You’re allowed to make dessert before you figure out your appetizer. Don’t feel like you have to have every single duck in a row. Get a duck. Make a duck short walking and waddling and then start polishing it over time.
The Bible starts “In the beginning..” But you don’t have to start there. You can open your Sketchbook in the middle. You can just say I’m not going to deal with Once Upon a Time at all. I’m just gonna plunge into some other part of the story. I’m going to knit the sleeves before I knit the body. The fact is you can start anywhere, but you have to start. You have to start somewhere. And I just did.
I just recorded this episode. It’s rough, but I wanted to get it out there to you because I know that once I have a single episode of this podcast out there, I’m gonna be that much more motivated to make a second one, and I know that my friends in the audience, my friends at Sketchbook Skool, the other teachers, they’ll be interested in joining me on this podcast once we’ve made one. We can say, you know what people actually like this. Where do we want to go with this next? What’s the next episode going to be? I don’t really know yet. We’ll find out We’ll see in the next episode, but at least we’ve begun.
Hopefully you began. Hopefully you began something today. Maybe it’s something that you’re going to chuck away and start something new again tomorrow, but you’ve made something and we’ve made something here together.
Thanks for joining me. And by the way, as I said at the beginning, if you like this podcast, I want to give you something else.
It’s a free book that was written by all of us at Sketchbook Skool and we wrote it to get you started. It’s called The 10-minute artist: tips on how to start making art. and all you have to do is. Go over to our website SketchbookSkool.com, or if you prefer sketchbook.school is lots of different ways of getting there, but just go to Sketchbook Skool and look for free stuff in the menu and that will lead you to a page full of all kinds of fun and free things that you can get including this wonderful book,The 10-minute artist: tips on how to start making art.
Thanks very much. And I’ll see you next time. I promise you it’ll get better. It’ll get more polished. There’ll be more things more enthusiasms, more energy, more cool production stuff. I promise I’ll make it better. But at least I made this.
Thanks so much for joining me. I’m Danny Gregory and this is art for all.