Content About Creation Is Procrastination
April 30, 2021 8:50 AM   Subscribe

"Meta-creators (creators who create about creating) say the answer is in their [product and/or service]" "If meta-creators were good, it would show in the long-term success of their followers. They could point to specific cases where followers increased their quantity and quality of work by applying what they learned. Their followers would credit the meta-creators as the source of their success. This rarely happens. Instead, meta-creators “prove” their success through the metrics of money, subscribers, followers, and attention, none of which help you create more."

If you just want to Do The Thing and are finding it hard, then perhaps reading War on Art By Steven Pressfield might help?

Alternatively the book Shut Your Monkey by Danny Gregory may give you the incentive to fight your inner critic.

Or you could decide to give up on perfectionism?

How About Just Doing The Thing?

Here is a 4 minute song to just help you Do The Thing! [SLYT from 2019 4min 28 seconds]

Remember failure means you tried, and it also means you are learning.
Skill improvement requires iteration.
Iteration requires Starting To Do The Thing.

Good Luck.
posted by Faintdreams (35 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
The Old Adage: Those who can't do, teach...
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 9:02 AM on April 30 [1 favorite]

Which is a really shitty adage that denigrates the skill of teaching, which is something different and important for educating future generations. The idea that teachers are failures is toxic and needs to die in a fire.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:05 AM on April 30 [119 favorites]

I mean, what class of "metacreators" is this article actually talking about? If it is "watch this video to learn how to go viral", sure, that's snake oil. But tutorials about an actual craft? Those can be amazing on multiple levels. Can teach you better technique, can introduce you to new tools, etc. etc. but also can just be plain old enjoyable, entertaining, and relaxing to watch. In any case, just keep on steady crafting...
posted by gwint at 9:10 AM on April 30 [6 favorites]

The origin of the phrase was the idea that those who can no longer do something are still able to teach others how to do it. A dancer who can no longer dance due to injury or aging can still be an effective and influential dance teacher.
posted by Lexica at 9:18 AM on April 30 [21 favorites]

I'm also confused about who these "meta-creators" are.

The quotes in the header image make it seem like the author is talking about people selling advice on productivity and promotion, but the article is thin. It lacks examples and focus, so it is kind of confusing what they're talking about.

Like, yes - watching tutorials and never putting what you learned into practice isn't going to get you anywhere. The problem isn't the tutorial, though - tutorials can be amazing! The problem is whatever is keeping you from picking up that pen. Also, the way that they conflate tutorials with general productivity or business advice is problematic.

"This course will teach you the fundamentals of using Blender" is a lot different than "pay $20 dollars and I'll teach you how to go viral!"

The Old Adage: Those who can't do, teach...

Please don't. There are bad teachers, but there are also bad lawyers, bad doctors, bad plumbers, bad coaches. Teaching is its own expertise, and worthy of respect, but it is also simply not the case that teachers are people who couldn't hack it. I have encountered this terrible saying so often when people are trying to deny teachers their professional dignity and justify treating them like shit.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:26 AM on April 30 [6 favorites]

I'm also confused about who these "meta-creators" are.

The gist I'm kinda getting is that "meta-creator" is a re-branding of "middleman".
posted by Thorzdad at 9:32 AM on April 30

A. I haven't read the article yet

B. the meta-creators I have experience with (mostly second hand, thank you God) are the weird lifelike organisms who populate what I'd call the HOW TO WRITE AND SELL A SCREENPLAY industry, which should not be confused with actual screenwriting or moviemaking except in the most peripheral way. This article (Screenwriting Gurus — Why Most of Them Suck and How to Avoid) gets to the nut of at least some of it.

Screenwriting gurus, put simply, are any of those people you see hanging out on the internet who run a blog or website which regurgitates the work of Syd Field, Blake Snyder, or Robert McKee, or other legitimate screenwriting educators, tweaking it a little and passing it off as their own work in the form of a how-to book. Typically, they’re trying to steer you towards buying their own e-book, or towards some fluffy e-course, or “access” to their Hollywood contacts, or some high-dollar seminar or other ridiculous thing no aspiring screenwriter actually needs.

C. I will now read the article.
posted by philip-random at 9:33 AM on April 30 [4 favorites]

I don't know whether to put it down to content mills or just the Dunning-Kruger effect that a ton of the advice online about writing just recycles advice that other people have heard about writing - to the point where 95% of the people who say "don't use adverbs" and "show, don't tell" are just saying that because they've heard other people say that, not because they've actually given any thought to the uses of adverbs and telling and showing.

Some of them will go so far wrong as to define an adverb as a word that ends in "ly."

Either way, it's not that writing about writing is bad. John McPhee and Annie Dillard have done it awfully well, and while it's easy to get sidetracked and stuck in tutorials forever and never actually do your own work, craft advice is actually good and valuable to a point.

The problem is that so many of the people who are giving advice don't actually know how to do a thing, and even if they do know how to do a thing they don't necessarily know how to teach it.

This is precisely what frustrates me about Steven Pressfield, who the article references - The War of Art has some useful things to say about pushing through artistic blocks, but if you push through artistic blocks to write The Legend of Bagger Vance, maybe those artistic blocks were there for a reason! And it's what frustrates me about how popular Save the Cat has become among both screenwriters and novelists - do you really want to take advice from someone who's never written a better movie than Miss Congeniality?

But - it's easier to get eyeballs on how-to-write advice than to get eyeballs on your fiction unless you're actually quite a good writer. So no wonder it feels seductive to try to sell writing advice to people, whether you know anything about writing or not.
posted by Jeanne at 9:55 AM on April 30 [8 favorites]

This is all summed up more succinctly by something I once heard David Milch say: "We act our way to right thinking, we don't think our way to right action." This is essentially the opposite of what the "Just Do the Thing" link says ("decide to do the thing"). No, don't decide to do it. Deciding to do it is delaying doing it. Do it.

(My pen is engraved, "Don't think. Write.")
posted by dobbs at 10:06 AM on April 30 [4 favorites]

well, that was a short piece. Talk about opening a door but not really going in.

In the context of the HOW TO WRITE AND SELL A SCREENPLAY industry, the one thing I'd add is that the meta-creator types (consciously or not) seem to be coming from a perspective that screenwriting is ultimately a science -- that if you do enough study, read enough books, master enough techniques and processes, you too can deliver the kind of high concept product that will have all of Hollywood slathering after you, inviting you to their parties.

That's the central lie, for me. Because though the screenplay is indeed an extremely formatted form, one that does require an enormous grasp of craft, it's still, at the end of the day, an art form. So it doesn't matter how much of that craft you may have mastered, if you don't have some of your own genuine "magic" to bring to it, you've got nothing. And that "magic" stuff -- it can't really be taught. Certainly not via "... newsletters, video courses, writing workshops, tweet threads, and productivity guides".
posted by philip-random at 10:09 AM on April 30 [5 favorites]

Some tutorials and inspirations may help, but endless consumption is a trap.

So why isn't Steven Pressfield a meta-creator? On his website, I count six books about writing. I confess to having read two of them, and they were basically the same book. Honestly, either of them could have been a blog post - an inspiring blog post, but a blog post.

I can think of a few other writers who are famous because of their books about writing - Anne Lamott, Natalie Goldberg. I've started reading novels by both of them, and I didn't think either was even good enough to finish. I'm not saying their writing books aren't worthwhile, but I do think reading them can become a form of procrastination - at least for me. I've often thought that the way to really make money as a writer is to sell books about how to be a successful writer. And though I've read a bunch of these books, there's something about it I find vaguely unsettling. And I probably would have gotten a lot more done if I'd spent that time writing instead of reading about writing. It does seem to me that the really popular writing books are more cheerleading books than craft books - that applies to Pressfield, Lamott, and Goldberg.

Stephen King is the only really successful current writer I can think of who has also written a book about writing - and I wouldn't call him a great writer. (I guess by "successful" in this context I mean "makes a lot of money".
posted by FencingGal at 10:11 AM on April 30 [3 favorites]

I strongly disagree with this article's premise. Meta-creators helped me get work (Alison Green, anyone?), helped me figure out the unspoken rules in my industry, and help me figure out other critical aspects of professionalism pretty much daily. I see them as extremely valuable, especially for people who get left out of networks and have never been able to secure a mentor for various reasons (like FOO class, educational path, and discrimination). Sure, some of them aren't great, but that's how it is in any field.
posted by Stoof at 10:20 AM on April 30 [4 favorites]

While I suspect much of this is snake oil (where there is money to be made,) there is something to be said for understanding how things work, so that you can build successful things. Movie tropes are a thing. They exist because enough writers have found a way to do something that connects with audiences that it's become commonplace. It is good to study those.

It's good to study those so you can understand the basics of your craft, and then how to get good enough to try to make real art by avoiding things like tropes when you can, to surprise and delight your audience.

There's this scene in The Incredibles, where the whole family has been captured, and Mr. Incredible is starting The Speech, where he Gets Emotional and Shows Vulnerability and it's supposed to be this touching moment, but the second it started, I got disappointed because it is always, always a mawkish, maudlin bit. It's false and I hate it every time I see it in a movie. Imagine my delight when they absolutely short circuit the whole thing w/ his daughter interrupting him and saying "okay that's enough apology and self-reflection, let's just get out of here." The writer(s) KNEW they had to have that beat, and they KNEW it is always a terrible beat. But they also knew that the they had to have that beat because the audience expects that beat. But because the audience expects it, the audience already knows what it is, how it's going to go, how it will result. So instead of going through with it, they just almost look right at the audience and say "yeah yeah, fast forward, let's get back to this interesting story."

And that was amazing. I LOVE it when writers expect that we all have these rules, we share them and understand them for what they are. But the truth is, even though most of us have those rules internally, many of us haven't externalized those rules. We can be delighted when they turn something on its head, but we might not know exactly why it's so delightful.

Screenwriters need to have externalized all of those rules. If you want to write screenplays, you probably need to read a book about screenplays, so that you don't have to externalize all of those rules on your own. (I mean, you can, just like you could also write your own encyclopedia, but...why?)
posted by nushustu at 10:42 AM on April 30 [6 favorites]

So we have a piece that goes meta on meta-creators.

It's a bit better than the pull quote. The pull quote is nonsense. It basically wants meta-creators to act like the business consultants who use the word "metric" a lot. No one should act like those people.

Successful writers do read about meta-creation. Jeff Vandermeer's Wonderbook has some fans among well known people. I've seen successful writers retweet creative-advice comments approvingly. Before twitter (soon-to-be) successful artists would get together in a bar or a salon and create a manifesto.

But overall? Sure, you're not going to learn about how to create something without creating at some point.
posted by mark k at 11:18 AM on April 30 [1 favorite]

Stephen King is the only really successful current writer I can think of who has also written a book about writing

Ursula le Guin?
posted by clew at 11:21 AM on April 30 [2 favorites]

Stephen King is the only really successful current writer I can think of who has also written a book about writing

Lawrence Block, Walter Mosley, EM Forster, John Gardner, Chuck Palahniuk, William Goldman, Ray Bradbury...
posted by dobbs at 11:49 AM on April 30 [3 favorites]

Lawrence Block, Walter Mosley, EM Forster, John Gardner, Chuck Palahniuk, William Goldman, Ray Bradbury...

Some of these are new to me, so thanks, but more than half are dead, so I wouldn't call them current.
posted by FencingGal at 12:00 PM on April 30

The Old Adage: Those who can't do, teach... - was meant to be a sardonic reference to those 'meta-creators' who spout lines like 'in order to be really successful' and so on which makes one think 'If they are so good at what they do then why are they not doing it and being a success?'. There are some wonderful on-line courses, presented by some gifted people, who are very talented individuals. Sadly, there are also many who jump on a band wagon in the belief that they are 'good enough' when they are not. Not everyone can write, nor play a musical instrument, nor even cook yet (fortunately) will try. Equally, many people should not 'teach'. Do not even get me started on 'influencers' either...

NOTE: I teach...
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 12:50 PM on April 30 [3 favorites]

Stephen King is the only really successful current writer I can think of who has also written a book about writing

I was going to say Wonderbook which is amazing. But also Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, The Writing Life, Annie Dillard, Negotiating with the Dead, Margaret Atwood.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:42 PM on April 30 [3 favorites]

A sizeable percentage of all internet activity at any given moment is captured in people loudly declaiming, criticizing, judging, snarking, or generally just disagreeing. Luckily some of you are brilliant, creative, lovely beings and I appreciate you. Thanks.
posted by elkevelvet at 1:51 PM on April 30 [3 favorites]

"Joining a Facebook group about creative productivity is like buying a chair about jogging." —Merlin Mann
posted by SansPoint at 1:56 PM on April 30 [6 favorites]

Warriorqueen, thanks for bringing up Dillard and Atwood, whom I am embarrassed to have forgotten, but as I said, Lamott is well known because of her book on writing. In fact, I would guess that most people who read her novels do so because they liked Bird by Bird. So I think that's very different from people like King, Dillard, and Atwood, who were famous writers before they wrote about writing.
posted by FencingGal at 1:59 PM on April 30

Not arguing, just discussing, but Lamott is really well known in my circles not at all for her books on writing but for Operating Instructions and Traveling Mercies.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:08 PM on April 30 [4 favorites]

...I will admit I kept Natalie Goldberg off my list because I love her books on writing and especially the painting one but don't love her other books, sadly.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:09 PM on April 30 [2 favorites]

warriorqueen, maybe I'm just not in the right Lamott circles.

I agree with you on Goldberg - but that's also how I feel about Lamott. I loved Bird by Bird the first time I read it, but when I tried to give it another go more recently, I found her humor tiresome. She did say one of my favorite things in the world in an interview where she talked about online dating - that men who described themselves as "spiritual but not religious" seem to mean they are generally friendly.
posted by FencingGal at 2:17 PM on April 30 [2 favorites]

I had similar thoughts about metacognition after going down the rabbit hole of 'second brain' systems and tools. You can get immersed very quickly in the idea of optimizing your ability to turn info into knowledge into wisdom, without getting much closer to action. And there's a ton of creators out there willing to sell you courses on how to think about how you think.

One thing I like about 'second brain' content; unlike the meta-creation field, they are almost uniformly encouraging people to do it their way. Some do proscribe a method, but they do so by saying 'this is one way to do it; use what works for you.' Something that is often missing from meta-creators' videos.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 3:06 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]

'Negotiating with the Dead' by M Atwood isn't quite about how to write a best-seller, it's more like a fascinating inquiry into the nature of creativity and the essential weirdness of books. It starts off with a list of different reasons why authors write (which goes on for several pages with several hundred different (and conflicting) possible motivations). It later goes into a brief history of the evolution of the modern novel, with some odd digressions and trivia.
posted by ovvl at 3:44 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]

Stephen King is the only really successful current writer I can think of who has also written a book about writing - and I wouldn't call him a great writer.

I think his book, On Writing, is one of his best-written books, personally (as its subtitle suggests, it's a memoir), but I also don't think King is really in the same class. King has written, in a variety of styles, well enough that his stories speak to people. What he's good at may not be something you value in a writer, but his advice comes from a long career of actually doing the work. A lot of these meta-creators can't point to anything they've made themselves to show that their techniques even work; others overstate the applicability of their method, as if they have cracked the code of all human endeavour.

"Joining a Facebook group about creative productivity is like buying a chair about jogging." —Merlin Mann

Merlin Mann was definitely one of these meta-creators, and while he seemed to mostly get out of that game, and his advice to never trust people telling you the right kind of notebook to buy for creative work has stuck with me, I still can't quite forgive him for the grift.

Anyway, I have pretty crippling perfectionism, so I make a commitment to half-ass every. single. comment. I make on this website
posted by Merus at 7:41 PM on April 30 [6 favorites]

Well, there are a hell of a lot of people who want to be writers, and I suppose they make up a lot of the market for the "writers on writing" genre. I don't really see any harm in this, even if some of those people are more about the fantasy life of "being a writer" than they are about actually trying to finish drafts and rewrite them and get criticism, etc.
posted by thelonius at 7:59 PM on April 30

No offence to the OP, but I think the fucking article (TFA) might have worked better as 3 tweets or fewer. It feels a little bit like fish-barrel-smoking gun.

Elizabeth George has published 24 novels. I like crime and mystery novels and have enjoyed the ones of hers that I have read. I was also in a workshop she taught for wannabe crime novelists, and it was excellent. She has written two books on writing. I've only read one but I thought it was helpful.

I don't really see any harm in this, even if some of those people are more about the fantasy life of "being a writer" than they are about actually trying to finish drafts and rewrite them and get criticism, etc.

As a wannabe novelist, thanks (I guess) for not calling what I and so many others do in our free time actually harmful. A lot of folks have active fantasy lives involving sports, writing, other arts, etc. When it comes to writing, most of us aren't pretending to be the future heirs of Stephen King or Elizabeth George or Jane Austin. We just enjoy learning about and discussing together an activity we enjoy. I'm not convinced folks who take writing classes or discuss writing are either weird or that their activity is worthy of dismissal. But you do you.

Anyone into writing festivals should check out the online Stockholm Writers Festival running May 28-30, 2021. This year's keynote speaker is Sarah Waters, whose amazing books include Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith, and The Paying Guests.
posted by Bella Donna at 6:54 AM on May 1 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I might have gone a little overboard in the last Udemy sale too, but sometimes I just really miss college, okay?
posted by EatTheWeak at 7:26 AM on May 1 [2 favorites]

there are a hell of a lot of people who want to be writers, and I suppose they make up a lot of the market for the "writers on writing" genre. I don't really see any harm in this,

the harm is that there's so much how-to (and beyond) STUFF out there that the wannabe writer, rather than just do the work (ie: sitting down and writing), can always distract to another book, another youtube vid, another seminar.

Ask pretty much any serious writer, it's always been too easy NOT to write -- always a room that needs to be cleaned, a errand that needs to be run, a dog that wants to be walked. The meta-creator industry and its many products and services is just one more distraction.
posted by philip-random at 8:00 AM on May 1 [1 favorite]

...are you seriously putting the blame on creators for your or others' difficulty overcoming procrastination? Ok.
posted by Stoof at 3:11 PM on May 1 [2 favorites]

I just wanted to add my fave "writers on writing" trivia (which I mentioned in a recent ask about backyard office-space):

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn preferred to write outdoors, typing at a picnic table under a tree in his backyard, any day the weather wasn't awful.

(Back when I was doing more writing I actually wrote outdoors quite a bit. Not as good as him, of course.)
posted by ovvl at 4:27 PM on May 1 [1 favorite]

I've thought about jotting down my own thoughts about writing sometime, but I suspect there is no market for advice like, "Chapter 1: A Lot Of Neophyte Writers Overuse Adverbs, But They're A Useful Part Of Language So Don't Go Overboard And Assume, Like, You Can Never Use One Either, And Bear In Mind That While There's A Current Preference For Relatively Short, Spare Sentences That's Both A Cultural And Generational Thing, Not A Hard And Fast Rule Of 'Good Writing', So If You Decide That Lush Language With Lots Of Descriptors Is Your Thing, You Do You, But Be Sure You Know What You're Doing And Are Aiming For A Deliberate Effect If You Go That Way, And Don't Use This As An Excuse To Overwrite, Because, As I Started By Saying, Too Many Adverbs Is A Much More Common Problem Than Too Few, But On The Other Hand ..."
posted by kyrademon at 5:55 PM on May 2 [4 favorites]

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