I watched Woody Allen’s Sleeper last night. It’s an early 70’s faux-future weirdness movie… in a good way. There’s an orgasm machine.
(Which, by the way, I think we’ve come far enough into the future to deserve an orgasm machine. We all work hard, we deserve this. C’mon the future!)
Ok, back to movies.
Have you seen any Woody Allen movies? Whatever you think of Woody Allen, his love life or the quality of his movies you cannot argue with the sheer NUMBER of movies he’s put out over the course of his life.
He’s averaged about one movie per year since 1965, that’s just about 50 movies! Think about that… one. movie. per. year. Some years he even put out two movies.
The sum total of his work? A handful of really great movies, a bunch of so-so movies and the praise of Roger Ebert calling Allen “a treasure of the cinema.”
Equal Odds Rule
Allen’s career makes me think of the “Equal Odds Rule,” something that’s come up on our podcast recently. The rule states the following:
The Equal Odds Rule says that the average [thing] of any particular [maker] does not have any statistically different chance of having more of an impact than any other [maker’s] average [thing].
(I changed the words in brackets. You can find the original in a great article from James Clear here.)
Allen’s film career upholds this rule marvelously: make as much stuff as you can and let the critics and box-offices sort them out… keep yourself concerned with the making, it’s the only thing you can control.
Another maker who follows this rule is Jonathan Mann. He writes a song every day, has done for 2,000+ days IN A ROW. Here’s the one he made on day 2,000:
Here’s how Jonathan thinks of this kind of making:
[It’s] like mining or fishing for the good songs that I know are inside of me and I just have to find them. It’s the 70/20/10 rule, which is: 70% of everything that you make is going to be mediocre, 20% is going to totally suck, and 10% is going to be awesome. ∞
(A video of Jonathan’s really great talk at a recent conference was just released. Highly recommended)
The Equal Odds Rule basically states that we should ship as much stuff as we can because we can’t really know which stuff is going to perform well… each made-thing has the same chance of having a big impact.
Woody Allen and Jonathan Mann are great examples of this kind of shipping; Allen making, on average, a movie a year and Jonathan making exactly a song a day.
These two are by no means the only ones who employ the Equal Odds Rule. Danielle Steele wrote 96 books (800 million copies sold!). This is a particularly lovely gem about Pablo Picasso (note the full name; emphasis added):
“Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno de los Remedios Crispín Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruíz y Picasso (1881-1973) of Spain was the most prolific of all professional painters in a career which lasted 75 years. It has been estimated that Picasso produced about 13,500 paintings and designs, 100,000 prints and engravings, 34,000 book illustrations and 300 sculptures and ceramics. His oeuvre has been valued at £500 million (US$788millon).” ∞
The First Question
In this article I want to ask you two questions. Now’s a good time for the first. The first question to ask yourself is this:
1. What’s the thing you could commit to making one after the other like Woody Allen and Jonathan Mann?
Blog posts? E-books? Illustrations? Songs? Courses? Coaching calls? Espresso shots? Tennis serves? Orgasm machines?
As I ask myself this question I think my answer is writing. Whether it’s a joke for a make-believe standup act, a blog post, a course for Fizzle, a podcast episode, a youtube video… writing these things, digging in, getting it down, DOING it, committing myself to the frequency of work… that’s compelling. This is, for me, the work I want to commit to doing over and over and over, the stuff I want to teach myself to enjoy.
What about you? What could be your thing to make over and over regardless of press or praise or results or reception?
Also, is there a frequency you want to commit to? Allen committed to a movie a year. Mann, a song a day. Picasso committed to… so damn much. What could you commit to?
But That’s Not All
I love this Equal Odds Rule. It’s wonderful and centering to, as a maker, bring our focus to the making of things instead of the results of those made things. Like Myke Cole says in There Is No That:
“You have to learn to love the effort divorced from the result.”
And if you’re brand new to this thing, if you’re just getting started, you’ve got to stop right here. Don’t keep reading. All of your effort should be on the work, the work, the work, the work, ship, ship, ship, ship… for another year… or nine. It’s an essential bit of mindset for developing as a writer, producer, podcaster, coach, orgasmer and maker of any kind.
However, for those who’ve put in several years at their craft already, there’s another bit I want to bring into balance with the Equal Odds Rule.
I’ve never been very strategic. I have a woefully artistic sensibility, prone to make just whatever the hell I feel compelled to make, regardless of the results. Which is good in a way.
But in another way this way of shipping has also led me down massive rat holes. I’ve ended projects (sometimes after several years of work) with nothing to show for the work… no audience, no cohesive body of work, just a few pretty good jokes trapped in a sea of confusing “content” that people aren’t finding and enjoying.
Though in those projects I did walk away with more experience, better skills, etc., and though I never committed myself to a publishing frequency (beyond whatever the hell I felt like doing), we know we can do better. I want us not only to be good at a thing, not only to commit to turning pro in that thing, but also to create a business out of good things surrounded by an audience who needs and loves those things.
I’ve always struggled with this balance. How do I do my artist thing, build the stuff I’m compelled to build, but also create that audience? How do I “follow my bliss” and create that value, that helpfulness and usefulness for a crew of people over time so they’re finding and enjoying the things I make (and keeping gluten free crackers on the table for my son)?
The Second Question
In the past 3 years I’ve learned more about that balance, but I didn’t have the words for it until I heard something Barrett said in one of our top 40 blog tips episodes:
“Write for the body of work you want to have in 5 years.”
Such a simple thing, but I like the way it gives me hand-holds for doing work NOW that builds up to something LATER.
You can go all-in on the equal odds rule, focus on the number of made things, shipping, not putting all your eggs in one basket… you can do that without COMPLETELY relying on “spray and pray,” throwing whatever you’ve got out into the world willy-nilly, without any seeming direction, greater intention or larger narrative arc.
So, here’s the second question I want to ask you:
2. What do you want your body of work to look like in 5 years?
Are there specific issues, topics, problems, mediums, forms, methods you want to be a badass in?
This question is harder for me to answer. Is it harder for you than #1 was?
There’s some topics I would love to put a dent in over time. The emotional journey of the entrepreneur, the depression, the mania, the platform, how to stay human when you have an inhuman amount of digital connections to real humans… that’s one that comes to mind.
What do I want that to look like? A long list of articles like this? A book? A 1-hour comedy special? A lot to explore in that question.
What I love about this “body of work” question is that it gets us thinking about how our work adds up WITHOUT getting us too uppity about vanity metrics.
In a word, it gets us closer to intention.
It asks us, “where is this work going and where would I like it to go?” instead of, “how many tweets did I get?”
It asks us, “what topic do I want to be an expert in in a few years?” instead of, “is this topic hot right now?”
It asks us, “who are the people and what are the problems I could create a long-term, sustainable business for?” instead of, “how do I get a lot of sales really quickly and take advantage of people and totally burn out my audience and wake up in 5 years divorced and feeling like a fraud and totally neglecting my children and just being a really bad person?”
(Might have done the whole “straw man” thing on that last one. My bad.)
The Two Questions
Okay, maybe this is too much exposition for two very simple questions, two questions you could, on your own, totally go to town in your notebook with:
- What’s the thing you could commit to making one after the other like Woody Allen and Jonathan Mann?
- What do you want your body of work to look like in 5 years?
- Bonus: What are you going to do about it?
Want to take this seriously? Find someone willing to do the same, commit to a regular publishing schedule (e.g., every tuesday night, every friday, every Mon, Wed + Fri) and keep each other accountable. Maybe add some stakes to the agreement… whoever doesn’t get their thing done owes the other money or back rubs or orgasm machines.
Listen, the whole deal about this Equal Odds Rule is simply this: make yourself about the work you love. There’s that Dorothy Parker quote, “I hate writing. I love having written.”
Woody Allen loves putting a movie out. Then he’s on to the next.
Jonathan Mann loves putting a good song out. Then onto the next.
Danielle Steele loves putting a new novel out. On, on to the next.
The two questions above, Allen, Mann, Steele, Picasso and the Equal Odds Rule help us come to terms with the fact that to stay creative is to be creating. So decide what you’ll make, how often you’ll make it and spend a little forethought on what it’ll all look like when it’s done.
“2 questions to ask yourself about the “Equal Odds Rule.””