Making the creative leap of faith easier to take

Building upon two Twitter threads I wrote: 1, 2

How do you make it easier for people to create?

I’ve been thinking about that question for the past month. The solution I’ve come up with is a platform called Making a Thing — perhaps easiest to think of as a Craigslist for project ideas. Anyone can submit a project proposal, and anyone can see project ideas posted on a big master list within the site.

The idea is that compiling a wide variety of open ideas on MAT will encourage newcomers to start working on projects they find interesting.

But I’ve overlooked a simple point: merely offering ideas isn’t suddenly going to get uninvested people to work on them. As the saying goes: ideas are cheap, but execution is expensive.

The bigger problem for beginners is not a lack of ideas, but the high barrier to entry of making stuff.

A leap of faith

To make something, you generally need three things.

MAT — or, the vision for MAT — helps people who are lacking ideas but already have sufficient motivation and knowledge to create. It’s a resource for those who have already been waist-deep in the creative waters before.

But those trying to dip their toes for the first time don’t need ideas or motivation. What they need is knowledge of how to create.1

I don’t mean technical knowledge. There are millions of guides on how to set up a blog, make a particular video edit, or fix a coding error. Besides, most people who start creating for the first few times will tackle something in their domain of expertise anyways.

What most people tend to lack is soft knowledge — the importance of shipping an imperfect final product, mustering the will to push through the constant drumbeat of self-doubt, trusting the inevitably hectic creative process, or how it feels to put 20 hours of work into something that people will skim for 20 seconds and then subsequently forget about.

These are obstacles that you can’t understand unless you experience them firsthand. You have to take that leap of faith and try making a thing in spite of them. This is, in my experience, the main barrier to entry when it comes to creating.

Most people won’t take that leap of faith. Or, they’ll try, but give up — because that leap usually involves working through long periods of confusion, uncertainty, and oftentimes, loneliness. And unless you have extreme motivation or belief in an idea, that stretch of uncertainty is often enough to deter someone from following through on a project.

So the question becomes: how do you make that leap of faith easier for beginners to take?

Three ideal conditions

When I was first starting this blog, I asked my English teacher for help. In hindsight, I realized they didn’t really know anything about blogging. But that didn’t matter. Simply knowing I had someone I could ask for help made it a lot easier to keep going.

So I hypothesize three ideal conditions for making the creative leap of faith easier to take: offering personalized help in real time, making the creative process less lonely, and doing it all for free.

IRL vs Online

Finding all three of these conditions in real life can be really easy or really difficult. It mostly depends on what someone’s immediate circle looks like. If someone is trying to start a blog and has a friend who already runs one, then they can just ask for help.

The problem is that if someone can’t get enough help from their immediate circle, then their creative interest is likely to wane, and over time, they may associate the creative process with negativity and disappointment.2

This is where people may turn to the Internet for help. And that’s also where things get tricky.

First of all, it’s hard to get personalized help online, much less in real time. The best option is probably hiring a coach or tutor and scheduling a time to meet online. However, that not only costs money and takes time to set up, but is a big commitment for someone who may just want to dip their toes in the water.

Second, it’s hard to build meaningful relationships online. People don’t know who you are, and you don’t know who other people are. Friendships and trust take time to organically build, and it can be much harder to build that online.

Third, doing all of this for free is unheard of. It’s related to the first two conditions. If you don’t have a meaningful, invested relationship with someone, then why would they help you for free?

So that’s how we end up with this problem: if you want to create but don’t have help from your immediate circle, then you have to blindly take the leap of faith.

You have to do all the work. You have to painstakingly figure out what works and doesn’t. You have to find your own creative inspirations. You have to scrap and find your communities online. And doing all that is not only daunting, but time consuming.3

Baby steps

Ok, so offering an online means for people to easily and quickly get free, real time, and personalized help might be impossible. As of now. But we can start somewhere.

Two things I’m trying:

I’m optimistic that this hypothetical online website or service will eventually become a reality. I think there are a lot of people who would have otherwise followed through on making something, but didn’t because they lacked the necessary help and knowledge. So if anyone can figure out a solution to this problem, I think it’s going to blow up. I’m certainly going to try.

1. It's easy to get excited by the prospect of some idea and want to execute. But actually executing is difficult.

2. Looking through the lens of high schoolers, it’s worth noting that there often isn’t a tangible payoff for embarking on creative projects. So in lots of academically competitive high schools, students end up grinding schoolwork and predictable extracurriculars. In turn, lots of students won’t have much experience with creative projects, which means that any given student’s immediate circles usually won’t be of much help. There’s a cultural feedback loop there. At least, that’s how it was for me.

3. Another benefit of having an IRL companion is that they can speed up your process of finding online communities or resources with direct recommendations. Even if their recommendations aren’t perfect, they’ll at least point you in the right direction.