I’ve been trying to work myself out of creative debt for the past 18 months.
Creative debt occurs when somebody spends more time consuming other people’s creative endeavors than creating their own content:
- Reading more books about writing, instead of writing another book.
- Watching more TV rather than creating more video content, etc.
- Listening to myriad podcasts instead of finally starting one.
- Spending time at museums looking for more inspiration, rather than picking up a paintbrush and making bad art.
So, as I’ve been working my way out of creative debt, I’ve found comedians talking about their comedy process to be some of the most helpful stories to draw inspiration from.
As an example, I was IMMEDIATELY drawn to a passage in Jerry Seinfeld’s recent book, Is This Anything?:
For about two years after I finished [Seinfeld] I didn’t do anything. I moved my life back to New York. I had breakfast with Colin Quinn everyday. I played pool at Amsterdam Billiards at night. Very late sometimes. I met and married my wonderful wife, Jessica.
But no stand-up. No writing. Nothing.
Felt lost. And wanted to.
In LA, two of my comedy pals, Chris Rock and Mario Joyner, were doing a show at the Universal Amphitheater and I went to see them. The amphitheater is a big house, about six thousand seats. I sat there watching these two smooth, confident professionals handle that room and that crowd so easily.
I laughed and enjoyed that show so much. And then I thought, “What an amazing talent and skill set that is to witness. What a great time we’re having in this audience. How are they able to do that?!”
Here’s one of the funniest, most successful comedians on the planet, watching other comedians working on their craft, and thinking, “How are those comedians able to do what they do on stage?”
Again, this is JERRY effin’ SEINFELD!
A killer stand-up comedian and creator of arguably the best and most successful show ever…struggling to figure out how to get back to creating comedy.
I found myself in a similar position for the past two years.
My company, Nerd Fitness, started as a fun blog where I had to keep my own attention by writing funny content about health and fitness. Most of my time was spent writing and building, because that’s what paid the bills.
Since then, Nerd Fitness has evolved into a company with 45 employees, systems, processes, and an engine. I drifted more into a CEO role and away from a creator role. More spreadsheets and meetings, more growth and forecasting, more analysis and less “messy, creative process.”
As a result, trying to create ANYTHING started to feel daunting, and almost all of my creative ideas never left the port:
- I couldn’t write a follow up book to Level Up Your Life until I had the PERFECT sequel idea. I currently have 7 half-finished book proposals.
- I couldn’t write articles that didn’t fit the search engine optimization strategies that fit Nerd Fitness’s business plan.
- I couldn’t started a new project unless it aligned with the greater vision that was Nerd Fitness.
And then I attended a writers retreat with some of my longtime internet friends.
These are writers who specifically chose to build their careers around their writing and their creative process. These are ALSO authors who have sold millions and millions of copies of their books, and crafted their businesses around their strengths and skillsets.
At that retreat, as we swapped stories and struggles about writing and business and life, I couldn’t help but feel like Seinfeld admiring Chris Rock from the crowd: “Man, my writer friends are really good at what they do, and they seem really happy too. How did they do that?”
And then the answer came to me, just as the answer came to Seinfeld as he thought about his Comedian friends:
I thought, “I want to do that. I want to be like them.”
Then, “Wait a minute! That’s what I used to be! I used to know how to do everything they are doing. I still want to be that.”
[Chris and I were] having dinner at an Italian restaurant in Manhattan. I explain my situation. Chris says, “Well, at least you know there’s only one way to do it.”
It did feel great to be reminded of that.
I didn’t have to waste one second of time wondering how to approach the problem. I don’t use writers.
So, it’s back to tiny clubs with flimsy stuff, night after night, month after month. And it takes however long it takes.
When you see a comedian with a ton of great stuff, what you’re really marveling at, or should be, is “How could someone crawl on their belly that great a distance?”
My work here on SteveKamb.com is my attempt at building a little sandbox, and working on ways to get out of creative debt.
To create stuff just for the hell of it.
To write about what interests me.
To “chop wood and carry water,” and create because that’s what I’m on this planet to do.
So, this is me – getting back to what got me here in the first place.
Crawling on my belly for as long as it takes.
(Typed on my belly, at the start of a journey whose conclusion is unknown.)