“You HAVE to build your brand to stay part of the conversation.”
Any creative person operating online these days faces the challenge of building their personal brand and curate an audience with whom they can share their work.
We’re taught we have to stay relevant between major projects, otherwise we’ll fade into obscurity and nobody will be around to support our work when we finally get around to publishing something.
This means sharing daily motivational quotes on Twitter, posting videos on Instagram and TikTok, going on podcasts to promote and going on shows to stay in the public eye.
This advice is almost so ingrained that it almost doesn’t need to be said.
Is it true, though?
What if our focus on being relevant TODAY can keep us from creating work that truly matters for the next DECADE?
I was recently re-listening to an interview of comedian Bo Burnham on Pete Holmes’s Podcast, “You Made it Weird.”
This interview was conducted in 2016, before the launch of the absolutely amazing Make Happy, and five years before he created Emmy-winning masterpiece, INSIDE.
Pete and Bo are talking about making creative work that lasts:
The thing that’s under siege is good stuff.
A certain type of good thing being made…is hard, ALONE work. You need to work on something for years, by yourself, not showing it to anybody, and then show it to them.
And that is really really hard to do now.
It is really really hard to retreat and work on something for a while and then present it.
I mean, I put out specials in 2010, 2013, and 2016, and EVERY time everyone would tweet at me, “Are you dead?” “What happened?” “Do you remember him?” “What happened to you?”
It was horrible. I was so close to releasing stuff when it was half baked, and I just like…gritted my teeth and made my decision.
And then when I put it out, I was so thankful, and it worked…because I had taken the extra time.
Every part of the process and this system in which I’m operating is telling me NOT to do that.
Talking to somebody younger than me….work hard, retreat, be invisible.
99% of this is the quiet, unseen work. That should always be that.”
Your head is down, your hands are up, and you say “I made this for you.” That IS a scary place to be. But it’s also the secret sauce to create timeless, deep work that stays relevant for longer than a 24-hour news cycle.
Author Ryan Holiday shares a similar warning in Stillness is the Key:
There is a haunting clip of Joan Rivers, well into her seventies, already one of the most accomplished and respected and talented comedians of all time, in which she is asked why she keeps working, why she is always on the road, always looking for more gigs.
Telling the interviewer about the fear that drives her, she holds up an empty calendar. “If my book ever looked like this, it would mean that nobody wants me, that everything I ever tried to do in life didn’t work. Nobody cared and I’ve been totally forgotten.”
It’s not just that there was never enough for Joan. It’s that our best and most lasting work comes from when we take things slow. When we pick our shots and wait for the right pitches.
Somebody who thinks they’re nothing and don’t matter because they’re not doing something for even a few days is depriving themselves of stillness, yes—but they are also closing themselves off from a higher plane of performance that comes out of it.
Maybe instead of building a brand online with daily postings to stay relevant…we should be channeling that energy into creating work that’s so fucking good, so well crafted, that people will have no choice to talk about it.
As I begin work on my second book proposal, this is where my mind wanders to.
As Seth Godin explains in The Practice: “Here I made this” is the most important sentence of any creative person.
It’s up to us to make sure our work is given its due time to grow and evolve and develop before it’s thrust into the spotlight.
And that might mean we need to be okay with sitting alone with a project or idea for months or years, while people are asking if we’re dead.