I’ve been writing for five and a half years, and, so far, I’ve only seen two constants in writers, Youtubers, freelancers, and any other creative types who succeeded on a big scale: consistency and experimentation.
Usually, one follows the other, and people who fail get stuck on climbing either the first or the second step of this metaphorical ladder. As a corollary, I haven’t seen anyone do both and completely fail in the long run.
Consistency and experimentation are the two stages of a thriving creative career.
Consistency Is the Entrance Ticket
The two basic questions of a career based around creation are:
- How much output do you produce?
- How much of it is actually creative?
Let’s stick with the first one. Only 5% of the people who bought my writing course a year ago still publish regularly today. Clearly, consistency is a huge barrier to entry. Many people struggle to take control of their habits, and the habits of creation are no different.
Few people ever manage to build a steadfast routine of writing, shooting videos, taking pictures, or creating any other kind of art and releasing it to the public on a frequent basis. Most never publish their first piece, some give up if it’s not an instant hit, and few don’t lose motivation after six months with little traction. The Dip is real.
In a world where there are near-endless quantities of everything, volume is a necessary prerequisite to being noticed if not a sufficient one.
In 2016, I started an Instagram account and posted six motivational quotes each day. Within eleven days, I had 2,000 followers. Another account I started in 2019, however, has just over 300 followers after one year of posting daily. Consistency alone is not enough anymore, and yet, without consistency, you won’t get anywhere.
This rule applies to the newest nobody as much as it does to the most established creator. It took Casey Neistat five years to learn. In 2015, after five years of many viral hits but flat growth, the filmmaker finally committed to being a Youtuber — and posting a new vlog every day.
“I’m not Stanley Kubrick. Youtube ain’t Hollywood. You can’t succeed here if you show up once a month!”
Within five months, Casey doubled his subscribers. Then again after two months. And again. And again. After 18 months, he ended the experiment. Now, with nearly 12 million subscribers, Casey can afford to put quality over quantity, but if he disappears for too long, so will a large chunk of his fans.
On a day-to-day basis, consistency can be boring and hard for the creator, but from month to month, it’s impressive and valuable to the audience.
Find a way to make the daily grind fun. Learn to enjoy the process. Let the work be its own reward. Adopting the mindset of a pro regardless of external compensation is the first step towards creative success — and then, you have to start experimenting.
Experimentation Sorts the Wheat From the Chaff
I’ll never forget the day I stumbled onto the writing of an interesting, successful entrepreneur. He had worked at ebay and Google, was a university professor, and ran his own VC firm. Clearly, this person had tons of interesting stories in their mind, waiting to be released. He even published consistently.
There was only one problem: All of his articles were two-minute reads. I kept scrolling and scrolling, waiting for the length to change. Unfortunately, it never did — and neither did his follower count.
If you keep posting short stories to no effect, you should try longer stories. There’s no guarantee they’ll do better, but it’s the most obvious thing to try. Maybe, it’s impossible to tell your best stories in two minutes. Maybe, you need more space. That’s fine, but don’t stick to your patterns just because you feel comfortable inside them.
Without experimentation, consistency is meaningless. Again: Frequent creation is necessary — but not sufficient.
If you tell an interesting story in a boring way, no one will listen. If you tell a boring story in an interesting way, it’ll still be derivative. Originality is hard. Experimentation on top of consistent output is the only path that works.
Often, you’ll think you’re experimenting, but some other pattern you don’t see overshadows your efforts. Maybe, the length of your articles varies, but they’re all in a listicle format. Maybe, you always start with a boring fact. Look for repetition and then ask: What can I do here that I haven’t tried?
Experimentation is scary because it opens you up to the possibility of being wrong. When it comes to creativity, however, you can’t just insist on being right. You have to be who you are while becoming who you’d like to be, and the audience will tell you who you are — but only if you experiment long enough.
Stephen King has no idea which of his books will resonate the most with readers. He must publish what he can based on who he is at the time, and then his audience will tell him if he’s moving in the right direction through their reaction at large. If Stephen doesn’t change, neither will the reaction.
Repetition is comfortable because it gets easy after a while and, to an extent, it works. If you never alienate your audience, you become a reliable source. On the other hand, you also stop learning, evolving, and having fun. You can’t get to the highest level in your field without breaking character.
The beauty of experimentation, despite its scary exposure to being wrong, is that you get to reinvent yourself again and again. This is good for creativity and happiness. It’ll also lead to not one or two but many formulas that work, all of which you can double down on and practice until you master them. Each new format expands your tool belt until, eventually, you’ll blend a combination of different tools into a style that’s original and unique to you.
Whatever this singular, authentic outlet of creativity will be for you, it’s the remarkable characteristic that’ll make you successful. It’ll resonate with people in a big way because, on this earth, only you can give it to them.
The only way to get there is to increase variety while delivering consistently until you break the creative sound barrier and succeed. So change the thumbnail, tweak the subheads, tell us an untold story. Experiment until we can’t help but say: “Who is this person? How do they make this? And why have I never seen anything like it before?”
Do What You Can’t
Jimmy Donaldson aka MrBeast made 500+ videos over eight years before he found an idea that broke through. Pieter Levels coded and launched eight projects in eight months until one became too big to ignore. Russ released 87 songs and 11 albums for free on SoundCloud. Eventually, the world took notice.
PewDiePie first blew up playing horror video games. Today, he covers the news, culture, and is Youtube’s voice of reason. Charles Bukowski published hundreds of short stories and dozens of books, but we remember him for his poems — which he also wrote thousands of.
If you want to have a thriving career as a creative, show up. Show up consistently in all kinds of places with all kinds of ideas and experiment until your brain starts hurting. Then, experiment some more.
One day, you’ll wake up and realize: You’re doing what you can’t — and the world will never be the same.