Get Excited and Make Things!

Get_excited_and_make_things

My friend Ariana works with Warren Ellis to make all kinds of really cool things. Lately, they've been experimenting with print on demand technology to take creative risks that simple economics would have rendered impossible as recently as five years ago.

For example, three weeks ago, they started putting out a T-shirt of the Week at CafePress. It's a great idea: they put up a design on Sunday, it's available for a week, and then it goes off to the land of wind and ghosts to make room for something new. If you like the design, you grab it (possibly enjoying that you're part of a limited edition), and if you don't like the design, you just wait a week and try again.

Warren says: "TOTW is basically a joke that Ariana and I pull each week in our joint guise as the International Electrophonic Unit. Basically, we take some of the stupider things I’ve said on Twitter and elsewhere, often in a state of extreme alcoholic refreshment or severe sleep deprivation, and put them on a t-shirt. Ariana set up a Cafe Press store (because this is a joke and engaging with a serious maker of t-shirts would be less funny to us), and… well, once a week, here we are."

As a creator and as a consumer, I think this is awesome. The only thing Warren and Ariana are actually investing – that is, the only risk they're taking - is the time it takes to create the design, and if you're a creative person who, uh, enjoys creating, that's not really a risk as much as it's a chance to play with your toys and possibly make a little money while you do it.

This is incredibly inspiring to me, and I hope that it's just as inspiring to indie artists everywhere. Why not take a creative risk and see if it works out? Unlike the old days, when we had to purchase a lot of stock ahead of time and hope we could sell it, we can just Get Excited and Make Things, knowing that the very worst that can happen is that nobody likes that thing we made as much as we thought they would.

In the old days, creators had to hope that:

1. A store would carry their Thing.

2. Once in the store, their Thing would be in a place where people could see it.

3. People would buy their Thing.

4. People would buy enough of their Thing to get the cycle to start over at step 1.

Oh, and to have any hope of being successful, they have to do this in different stores all over the place, competing for space and attention with huge companies that have massive advertising budgets. It was, to say the very least, daunting.

But look at how much things have changed! Creative people can get excited, make something, and get it to their customers without ever having to go through any of those steps. The financial risk has been almost entirely taken away, so now we can take chances on our really crazy ideas, just because we're excited about them.

For example, when my episode of Criminal Minds was going to air, I got excited and made an audio version of the production diary from Sunken Treasure. The time elapsed from the moment I got excited until the moment I had an actual thing was about five hours. Now, it's hasn't exactly sold like crazy – only 242 total sales – and if I'd invested in actual product instead of doing it POD, I would have lost money on it for sure … but I spent half a day making something that has gotten great feedback from the people who listened to it, and I earned about nine hundred dollars for my trouble. Clearly, it's not a sustainable full-time business model, but it was certainly as successful as I could hope one of my Crazy Ideas would be.

If this sounds even remotely interesting or inspiring to you, I encourage you to read three posts Ariana has recently written on her blog about her experiences with POD:

TOTW: Three Weeks On

Will tomorrow’s design be niftier?  Who knows?  I’m taking the opportunity that a weekly project affords to try and up my game each time… but whether you like the next (or the next, or the next) better is, well, it’s all a bit like Let’s Make A Deal,isn’t it? Only instead of fabulous prizes and curtains named Door #4, it’s fabulous bits of silly on whatever clothing options we’ve decided to offer this week.  But the basic premise stands: Either you decide this week’s is the design you want… or its gone and that’s that.

[…]

with POD, there’s really no “…while supplies last!” either.  That’s brilliant, too, of course — a huge part of putting Shivering Sands on Lulu is just that: it can stay there as long as Lulu does, still pulling in a sale or two in ten years.

But, although I’m not advocating a fake or forced sense of urgency — because that’s a bit cheap, and more than a bit insulting to folks’ intelligence — there is something to be said about exploring how some online and POD systems do lend themselves to Being An Event.

It was Warren that first brought my attention to the concept of Event Internet (although he calls it “Appointment,” but I don’t love those so I’ve renamed for comfort), so I’m riffing off his playbook, here.  But he’s certainly not the only person playing with the idea.  There’s the well-documented Twitter-Flash-Mobbery that Amanda Palmer’s been pushing for a while, or Eliza Gauger’s Sweatshops, for instance.  Hell, just a few minutes ago, Wil sent me a link to this, saying: “It redraws random fractals every few seconds. You can’t save them, so you just appreciate them and then wait for the new one to show up.”  Which isn’t precisely an “event,” I suppose, but it sums up the idea rather nicely: You can’t save everything — although you can often record the live event to watch later — but sometimes, some things, even online, are about this moment.  And when they’re gone, you missed it.

So what the hell could that possibly have to do with Print On Demand which, as I just said, is so great because it just stays there forever?  Well, it’s all about looking at the tools in your kit and thinking about new ways to use them. 

In response to the inevitable cries of "but this only works for people like Warren Ellis because he's Warren Ellis" she wrote POD: If you're not Warren Ellis, which I can't really excerpt here, because it needs to be read in context. To sum up: before he was Warren Ellis, not even Warren Ellis was Warren Ellis. Stop crying about how you're not Warren Ellis, be who you are, and take that energy you're pouring into feeling sorry for yourself into getting excited and making something.

Finally, she wrote POD: Let's back up a bit here, which I think is the most inspiring of the three. You need to read the whole thing, but I'll pull a bit for you:

Here’s what you need to do, right now, tonight.  No, NOT tomorrow morning, or this weekend, or once your work rush has let off a little, or after the holidays, or sometime in the New Year: Right. Fucking. Now. 

Decide what you want to make.

And I’m talking about the single most complicated and ridiculous creation you can think of…

NO STOP IT I DIDN’T SAY HOW or WHY or WHEN, I only said WHAT.

[…]

I SAID STOP THINKING ABOUT THE HOW OR THE LOGISTICS OR THE MONEY OR THE TIME.  STOP IT.

This moment, right now, this THING that you’re deciding to make, this thing exists independently of the fiddly bits for now.  This, what you’re doing here, is something that back in the olden days, before the slagosphere wasted all your time telling you how not to do things they called a goal.  It’s a beautiful and magical thing that doesn’t need money or time or effort to believe in.  It’s only different from a dream in that you made it yourself, instead of letting your subconscious do all the work while you sleep.

Now, okay, here’s the little-bit harder step, are you ready?

Look at that THING you just said you wanted to make.  Really look at it.  Now, right now, tonight, NOT tomorrow morning, or this weekend, or once your work rush has let off a little, or after the holidays, or sometime in the New Year: Right. Fucking. Now.

DECIDE WHETHER YOU’RE GOING TO DO IT, OR NOT.

Period.  This is it.  You’ve been putting it off, or you’ve been planning to get around to it, or you know that once you get a little spare time it’s at the top of the list… for HOW long now?  I’m looking at you.  I know you’re already taking a breath to rattle off the list of all the things standing in your way.  and what’s more, I know you know they’re just excuses.

And it needs to end, now.  Your life is never going to GET less stressful.  It’s honestly not.  That’s not how life works.  When we put off the things we want to do, the stress of that adds into the stress of life.  You’re not going to GET more hours in the day.  You’re never going to have enough money to put aside spare time.  You’re not going to suddenly have That Moment where it all gels and you suddenly break out and start doing what you want to be doing… unless you MAKE that moment, right here, right now.

I'm not suggesting your quit your job and napalm the bridge behind you as you drive out of the parking lot, because not everyone is going to be able to do this and make a living from it … but that's not really the point, here. The point is to encourage those of you (us) who have been unable or unwilling to take the chance and just create something, already, to get out there and do it.

I once saw a poster or a paperweight or something that said, "What would you do if you knew you could not fail?" Think about that for a second. What thing do you want to make? What story do you want to tell? What song do you want to sing?

We can take these great creative risks now, because we really can't fail, not in the traditional monetary sense. Sure, we could be out a lot of time, but even that time isn't entirely wasted, as I hope to illustrate with two examples of my own: 

1. I spent days putting together a little book that I thought would be awesome, only to discover that there was absolutely no way to make it affordable for me or you. I was disappointed that I spent all that time, but it was incredibly fun while I did it, and maybe I have a script for a show now, instead of a book.

2. I worked really hard to write a story that ultimately wasn't really finished, as much as it was let go. I spent a lot of time after I was supposed to be done with it, trying to figure out how I could fix it so I could publish it, before reaching the very upsetting conclusion that it just can't be fixed. I talked about this with some friends who are writers, and told them how I felt like the whole thing was a waste of time and that all I got out of the experience was the knowledge that I need to do a whole lot of grinding before I level up as a writer. One of my friends, an incredibly talented and accomplished writer, told me, "Every project you finish levels you up as a writer." While I was (and am) still disappointed at what I believe was a failed project, I can't disagree with my friend. I gained Writer XP, even if I didn't gain a great story that I can feel good about publishing and selling.

So what are you waiting for? Do or do not. There is no Try. Whether it's an Etsy store, or a book with Lulu, or a T-shirt or a mug or a clock or a fucking teddy bear in a sweater from CafePresssingle  … hell, if it's a photograph you put on Flickr or a podcast you host on Archive.org, or a story that you write for Ficly or your own blog, just do it! Go get excited and make things, and when you're done, come back here and link us to what you did.

156 thoughts on “Get Excited and Make Things!”

  1. I chose Lulu because some of my friends had used Lulu already, and they were very happy with the tools and customer service. I didn't spend very much time looking at other things, to be honest, because Lulu came so highly recommended by people I trust.
    I love it that you're making a Brax book! That's great, man.

  2. Well done with the inspiration! I had this t-shirt I always wanted to make. Back in the day when Smashing Pumpkins broke up, Billy Corgan disappeared, which begged the question… Where is Billy Corgan? And I always wanted a t-shirt of it. So here it is:
    http://www.zazzle.com/billy_corgan_2_where_is_billy_corgan_tshirt-235107914358524848
    And you can take any photo, turn it into a Che Guevera style pic and upload to zazzle.
    Where is “insert name here” ?!

  3. Thanks for the reply. I am definitely on the Lulu train, but we’re trying to look at all the options. Yeah, we’re trying to follow the Halfpixel model of a book every year so we’re hoping to roll out the first one in the early spring of 2010. We’re going with a zine type look to go along with the whole music theme.

  4. I hear and obey.
    After 25 years of “I wanna be a writer” I finally decided to switch that on over to “I’m gonna be a writer”. So I decided to tackle National Novel Writing Month (or NaNo). The goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days and it is a perfect example of just letting yourself go, shutting off the ‘can’t’s and just Being Excited and Making. It’s made me love writing again. And I currently have 30,000+ words of a novel that (after hitting the 50K goal and editing) I’m going to shop out. Yay!

  5. …as a matter of fact I’m so sorry I have to say it twice, and in English. I’m sorry. I got so bent over him calling CafePress not a serious maker of shirts that I sort of lost the point of this whole post. You pretty much said exactly the opposite of that, and encouraged people to get cracking. That’s one of the things that I love about POD T-Shirt design- all of the economic (and promotional) barriers to entry are gone and you can focus on Putting Your Stuff Out There.

  6. Thanks for giving me a kick in the pants. Started working on my dormant short-story collection again. Planning to put it out via Lulu after seeing what a great experience you’ve had.

  7. About three years ago I decided, just for the thrill of it and probably exclusively as an ego salve, that I would like to see my name in print, specifically on a book. The creative juices were not likely to produce a tome overnight. But the non-profit organisation I worked for regularly bought in study guides for members to use at particular times of the year. A quick check confirmed nothing had been settled upon for the next study so – seeing a market opportunity – I researched local contributors, printing options, ISBN registration, copyright, design …and – apart from printing – I then edited, designed etc, etc the book. The printing was the only thing not done on my home PC. Now I’m not claiming the result was a creative masterpiece but it was an amazing learning opportunity and a bonus we made a $6000 profit and the books went into reprint. It was a minor rush!

  8. Check you out, Mr. Motivational Speaker. The Yoda quote towards the end of this entry really drove your point home. Bottom line, ever since I found out about self-publishing and print on demand services like Lulu, I’ve been meaning to get a few things done. First would be a collection of poetry that my Mom wrote when my sisters and I were kids. If I could pull it off by Christmas, that would be more awesome than words to describe. On the back burner would be a selection of about 25 years worth of my own poetry. It’s more about sentiment than turning any sort of profit, but to actually have a published book of her work in my Mom’s hands would probably mean the World to her.

  9. "… (any tips on that area would be *very* greatly appreciated!)"
    Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. You do that so you know what the music of the piece is, and so you give yourself the freedom to relax and enjoy the performance, riding through it with the audience.
    The most important thing, though, is to have FUN when you do it. That'll carry over the footlights into the house, and it will make a difference.
    Break a leg!

  10. Indeed, sometimes a kick in the pants like this is needed. I’ve been meaning to put my music someplace where it might actually get a sale or two. I don’t think I’ll be making a living off this stuff at any time since instrumental synthpop/ambient/experimental music is a pretty small niche market, but it would be nice to see some sort of monetary reflection of what I love to do.
    Anyway, I’ve finally honestly begun the process. I’ve only got about half of my catalog uploaded so far, but I hope to have the rest of it available before the weekend is out.
    And of course, there will be some free tracks available because if there’s one thing people dig, it’s free stuff. (Actually, I intend to have a lo-fi version of everything available for free but have yet to figure out that part of the site’s mechanics.)
    Anyway, you can check it out here if you’re so inclined:
    http://thehybiscusjournals.bandcamp.com/
    I’m also hoping to have two brand new releases available before the year is out. We’ll see how that goes.

  11. I feel kinda funny plugging it here (that’s what he said), but I’m pretty proud of this short my production company just released to the world at large.
    Actually, it premiered at a Mexican Imax theater for a crowd of about 6 people, all related to the film makers! The internet interest has thus far been less humbling. I hope everyone enjoys The Return of the El Diablo!

    Site: http://www.eldiabloreturns.com/
    Vimeo: http://bit.ly/1Gq2l
    YouTube: http://bit.ly/3mRAwT

    Thank you for giving us a space to be heard, Wil.
    ~j

  12. I have the exact same problem: what if nobody wants to read my stuff?
    Then I figured, what the hell. If I’m not going to make any money off of it, I would still be doing it in my spare time anyway. So I do! And there are billions of people in the world, so the chances are that there’s going to be at least a few who like what you do.
    P.S. To your writing problem, I recommend to you the most fantastic and exhilarating NaNoWriMo (www.nanowrimo.org). Think about your novel for now, write down a note or two whenever you feel like it or whenever you have an idea (I suggest a notepad in your pocket, in the kitchen, and beside your bed). And then in November, you write and throw your cares to the breeze, and you come up with something more fantastic than not, and you’ll find that the forced practice frees your mind up.
    Whoops, giving advice instead of making things (:

  13. And without further ado.
    Sculptures of random and not-the-best-yet-but-I’m-working-on-it:
    bestbreakfast.livejournal.com and http://www.flickr.com/photos/20344006@N06/
    Writings:
    kamikazepilotess.deviantart.com and theficisalie.livejournal.com
    I just stopped doing the things I hated, because I could never get better at them. Of course, I’m living with my parents so I have somewhat of a luxury in that respect, and I ALSO started GEaMT when I was about 16, so I’ve already had three years of practice. Not a lot, but it’s something!!

  14. Though I realize we are talking about writing and print creations, I thought some here might like a resource I went to often for my techie work in our local, small potatoes theatre. we are, after all, geeks, nerds, and freethinkers here. :)
    The website is http://www.instructables.com, where people-who-got-excited-and-made-some-things post how they made them,
    http://www.instructables.com/id/Building-a-Lightsaber/
    http://www.instructables.com/id/Arduino-RFID-Door-Lock/
    http://www.instructables.com/id/Duino-Tagger/ (laser tag)
    http://www.instructables.com/id/Build_A_Mobile_Bar_BaR2D2/
    http://www.instructables.com/id/Halloween-2009-The-Comedian/
    So, if any of us know how to make something, of any kind, maybe he or she can make an “ible” and share with the rest of us.

  15. Thank you so much for posting this, Wil! This was exactly what I needed to be reading right now. I’ve recently already started ACTUALLY making two things that I was afraid to for a long while, but your post makes me believe that I’m doing the right thing. Working on a book. Also, writing a web series that I’m producing with friends:
    http://www.thepackseries.com
    2010 is going to be the year for living the dream! :)

  16. An effervescent rallying cry and excellent pep talk.
    Something I got excited about this year made other people make things (the Desert Bus for Hope Craftalong — hopefully this will grow into bigger and better next-year experience (and also make LRR suffer more. Delicious, delicious schadenfreude. For the children!) Cross-fertilization between your recent writing on creativity and Warren Ellis’s has definitely given me the impetus to pick up long-languishing ideas, and to keep slogging away at the ink mines for a longer-format project (I won’t “Win” NaNoWriMo, but I will finish this) while also taking seriously the new, improbable things that have begun to well up.
    It’s as if the excercised creativity is clearing out stuck buffers, and the flow’s a lot greater than it was before. Am I still priming the pump? Quite possibly, but it’ll be interesting to see what the next several months of musing bring me clenched in their sharp, pearly teeth.
    Thank you, Wil, for doing what you do.

  17. first of all, wow. i totally found wil’s words inspiring, but seeing some of the cool stuff that people are doing kicked it up a notch. you are all awesome, talented and more importantly, creative thinkers. a lot of people in the world make junk that has no meaning or love in it. someone said it earlier and i heartily agree: be yourself. as long as you love what you do, whether it’s tshirts, jewelry, or lego dioramas (I *wish* I were that cool), you are full of awesomeness. I take a lot of photos but like many other people, I go through times – including now, in fact – when I feel frustrated, bored, and disappointed, yet deep down I love photography and it makes me happy. I even love my cameras as if they are part of the family, so I muddle through the bad times and keep an eye out for all the magical, ordinary, beautiful things out there. thank you, wil, for giving all of us a boost. :)
    p.s. anyone who is interested can see my photos (a gazillion of my dog, plus a lot of travel and nature) here:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/aurorajayne

  18. My office had that “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” magnet on the fridge.
    I wrote under it “Nail Jessica Alba”

  19. I am totally excited about POD and stuff like that. Inspired by Warren’s Shivering Sands, I’m currently spearheading a POD comics anthology with some friends. It’s going to collect the most recent Witch Doctor story I did with Lukas Ketner.
    Witch Doctor (“[Witch Doctor] is mental.” — Warren Ellis) is the thing I get excited and make the most. It’s a horror/medical drama comic, sort of Dr. Strange meets Dr. House, about a former doctor who explores the biology behind things like demonic possession, vampirism, zombies. The fun part is that we use actual biology, culled from the real world’s most disgusting creatures!
    Here’s the most recent story we did, about a golem:
    http://freakangels.com/whitechapel/comments.php?DiscussionID=6876&page=1
    And here’s our ‘pilot’ episode, featuring a very different take on vampires:
    http://www.witchdoctorcomic.com/2008/04/24/witch-doctor-first-incision-page-17/
    I’m currently finishing the script for a new one about possession and exorcisms, and all the press on New Moon has got me wanting to hurry up and do my Twilight-bashing story. (Because Twilight makes way more sense if Bella is infected with a parasite.)
    – Brandon Seifert

  20. That entry gave me the push I needed to set up my own Shadowrun – On the Run – Podcast. thanks a lot Wil. I will post it here… well I will, though most of you guys won’t understand it, due to the fact, that It will be in german ^^

  21. As a couple of other people have said, I am normally loathed to comment on people’s blogs, as it just seems strangely invasive (despite being in my twenties, I am clearly not a member of this generation . . . or if I am, I’m a really bad one, but I digress). And sadly as I am a doctoral student, the only thing I really *should* be getting excited about and making is my thesis, but it is a bit difficult to get excited about translating page after page of seventh century Greek sermons. (Sidenote: for all of those worried about writing something that no one may want to read, imagine how us humanities doctoral students feel – the most likely audience for my thesis is my two supervisors and my two examiners!)
    But since Wil Wheaton has commanded it (and really, if you can’t obey Wil Wheaton, then who can you, eh?), I’ve finally given in and put together a writers’ cafe account to host my most recent novel. It can’t have much of my attention right now, but I also don’t want to lose track of it completely, and would love to hear people’s thoughts: http://www.writerscafe.org/writers/crystal_sandra/ (it’s only the first chapter at the moment – there is a complete draft, I just haven’t finished putting it all up yet).

  22. Just checked out your blog, really liked it. You’ve been doing this blog lark for a long time. I’ve started following it, oh and I followed the link to get a hit counter for my blog, thanks.

  23. Wow … this post was very inspirational for me, as well as many other people on here it seems. I have had so many ideas for books, websites, etc, and just really never had the motivation. One huge reason being because it just all felt so overwhelming. For some reason though, after reading this post, it just made me realize one step at a time, and each step brings you closer to what you want. Thanks Wil!
    Also, linkey. This is a site a friend and I have been working on, and sometimes it is discouraging because not many people send in feedback and such, but now I am even more determined to do this!
    http://www.yeoldemapmaker.com/

  24. Wil, You raise some great points here to help inspire people out of their fears and hesitations. We all have them from time to time. To your question, I have been making webcomics about being a father at http://sillydaddy.net, and the 500th one has recently been completed. Thanks for asking.

  25. I’m a big believer in what the web has done for creative artists – in POD production, and in promotion, too. It’s a whole different deal than it was when I was young and analog.
    This week I’ve just wrapped a pretty major POD project, where I’ve gathered together my retro futuristic art from several sources and made the products available, all in one place:
    http://shop.webomator.com/retropolis/
    This had some interesting problems to solve. Some of them (obviously) were technical, but the most interesting problems had to do with usability and the perils of search engines.
    Better living through merciless experimentation!

  26. I may have loved the image at the top of the post so much I printed it out and taped it to the wall in front of my computer. :)
    I’m working on my master’s thesis paper right now, and this has reminded me why I picked the topic I did and to be excited about my work, not approach it like a high school book report. Thanks for the encouragement!

Comments are closed.