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The Ebb and Flow of Making

davidjcreative profile image David Johnson ・6 min read

A planet with a set of code brackets, a hammer, a comment bubble, and a set of eigth notes orbiting around them.

Chances are, if you know me, you know I like to make things. Whether it is with code, pencils, paint, ink, or musical instruments, I’ve been making my whole life. I figured I would share some thoughts around the process, feedback, and the emotional undercurrent of the whole mindset.

Making

Everyone makes. Sometimes it’s art, sometimes it’s music. Sometimes its cars, kids, habits, furniture, dinner—the list goes on. Making is a huge part of the human experience and it’s critical in every culture. On a smaller scale, I want to talk about how it relates to our day jobs, hobbies, and side gigs.

I spend the majority of my evenings behind a desk or with a guitar making something meaningful to me or for someone who is meaningful to me. As cliche as it is, a byproduct of making is your blood sweat and tears—literally. For better or worse, it’s a cruel relationship that can pay dividends unparalleled by anything else in life. This stuff keeps me up at night, but the satisfaction and fulfillment from making helps me sleep. If you are a “maker” you totally understand what this looks like.

Making things can really suck.

But.

I love it and I can’t stop because it’s totally awesome.

In my experience, the maker process goes like so: you start for fun. That fun balloons into people wanting you to make for them. So you do that for fun. Then, at some point, you really need to start charging for your time at some point. It’s right at that moment when the thing you’re making will start to enlighten your well being more than ever before, or crush it into dust.

I’ve seen it happen. It has happened to me.

I think there are a lot of reasons why this happens to people. But for the sake of brevity I will focus on two ideas that are the biggest antagonists for makers: feedback and the old existential, “why?”

Feedback

There is formal feedback, and informal feedback. The former is an email, Base Camp, Jira, or Trello message with a list of things you need to change. And then the latter is the casual “Hey good job!” or the “Who the hell thought that was a good idea?!”.

I personally appreciate all of it. Feedback, counterpoints, diverse opinions are all important to making the thing you made better. So why does it suck sometimes?

The answer being is you made it. You are emotionally invested. The person reviewing your work might not be a maker, or they’re just client. They likely do not have the context of your investment. I for one, love walking up to the plate and hitting home runs: present A thing, the client/reviewer loves it, package up the remaining odds and ends and ship it off. Perfect. Blissful.

Nobody hits home runs every time.

For the people who do not make things but offer feedback, this is important. The person who made that thing will hinge on your words. Be honest. But for the love of all that is good in this world, have a calculated response. If the thing they presented wasn’t what you are looking for and your only offer is a retort along the lines of “None of this makes any sense, I hate this!!!” you are failing on your end and devaluing your own product. A vague statement like that forces the other person to try and contain a tornado. The project will get whisked away like the barn from the movie Twister.

For the people who make things, I offer this: Feedback is everything that will make you better at your craft, and better as a better person. My trick is to foster a working friendship with the client from the beginning. Taking on projects you are genuinely enthusiastic about will be easy for you to show enthusiasm. The client sees this, they know you’re invested, and now they think you are playing for the same team. Because you are. Their feedback will be more empathetic by nature this way.

The Cosmic Background of Feedback

You read that right. In 1965, Bell telephone labs discovered this strange signal coming from space itself, and with a little help from some scientists that predicted the noise’s existence, they named it the “Cosmic Microwave Background”. What I’m talking about feedback from outside your client work. Feedback that lingers in small comments without your presence.

Both in the real world and online in places like Instagram, Dribbble, you name it, people will talk about your work. Whether if you share it digitally, or produce the items physically, someone will always have an opinion about your work. Like all feedback, it has its pros and cons, which I’m happy to talk at length with anyone willing to listen.

But.

I just want to say that it is there. You will listen to it sometimes. It will call you up in the middle of the night to say hello. It will be there when you get to work and hang around all day. Let it be there. Don’t let it take your attention away from your vision and your goals.

The Big Existential Question: Why?

Lately, I’ve thought alot about my own work and wondered, what am I building up to? Why am I still hearing conversations about Instagram statistics in relation to the “content I’m producing”? Do I currently have a good body of work? Will I have a good body of work? Would anyone talk about my work at my funeral? Are the projects I’m doing that notable in my life?

It’s some heavy stuff.

I’ve seen friends pay the hefty cost of getting into the craft market only to not sell much of anything. “Why do I even make the things I make?” they asked. Or when a post on instagram didn’t do well, “Why do I even share?” they (and admittedly, myself) shouted at the Insta-gods.

It’s because this is you, and it’s an extension of your well being for the people who care.

I’ve heard musicians say “I’d rather play to a dozen people singing the lyrics of our songs than a room full of people on their phones.” I couldn’t agree more.

I make because I love the things I make, and I love the connections with people that approach me about my work. Because I make, I’ve made relationships with people that genuinely help me through life and care about me. And I care about them now and helping them to succeed.

Can’t say enough how important this part is.

These connections with folks who “get it” will motivate, enrich, and empower your own life. You should do the same for them.

It’s a Good Thing that Making is Hard Work

Not everyone can do it. I’ve ran through the whole spectrum of emotions doing this stuff. If you feel like making is draining you, take a step back. Look at the parts that are painful and think about what might alleviate it. If making is treating you well right now, soak it in. You will need to remember this feeling when your are in the trenches of a bad project.

If you are a maker in a tough (or a good) spot, feel free to reach out. I’d love to talk shop.


Thank you to my friends Kyle Grady and Savanna Sprowls for helping me revise this article.

This article was originally posted to my personal site

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