What It Takes Pt. 6: Momentum
Do you remember learning to ride a bike?
If you did so as a child you might not, however I learned recently and remember it vividly. The hardest thing about learning to ride a bike is lifting your second foot off the floor on to the pedal, and keeping the bike upright whilst you push the first foot downwards. If you can get past that initial hurdle, you can ride a bike.
All you have to do to override your fear is keep your eyes facing forwards, and however tempting it is try not to brake or put your foot down. If you can do that, you’re flying. On the flat or downhill you barely have to do anything but steer. You have momentum.
It’s much the same with your work. Big gaps can feel like starting from scratch because of all of the energy you have to expend to get started again. It’s far easier to just keep going or take smaller breaks.
I’m definitely not talking about sending your work out in to the world continuously, the regularity of the work you share is individual and the spaces between can be just as important as the moments of release. I’m talking about creating.
Don’t Stop, Don’t Look Down
Often once we become ‘professionals’, we get in to a cycle of making what we make for sale. Which is hard and tiring. We have less time to create for ourselves, with no aim in mind other than enjoyment or self-expression.
It also raises the stakes when we do make something. We end up trying to ‘top’ the last thing rather than making something experimental, something our fans may hate, or that doesn’t fit in to our existing body of work.
The demands of releasing our work in to the world can leave us very little energy to be creative at the same time… which means that when we pick up our tools again to start, it’s been a long and not necessarily nourishing or inspiring break.
How can you make time to be creative in your busy moments? Can you spend 5 minutes a day making something? Can you challenge yourself with a mini creative project?
Investors vs Gamblers
External momentum often works in a similar way: you peddle you work as hard as you can uphill and eventually other people help propel you forwards. It might be a team, your fans, industry supporters of your work or all of the above.
When you’re doing the pushing alone it feels like incredibly hard and lonely work, and you dream of the day you’ll get some help or support.
The moment that help or support you’ve been dreaming of arrives can be bittersweet, because more often than not it arrives at the exact moment you no longer need it.
That agent will probably want to sign you when you’ve already got lots of great gigs. That deal will probably come your way when you’ve built your own audience and figured out how to reach them. By the time the press start calling you the hot new thing you’ll probably feel you’ve been around forever.
You’ll feel sad about how few people trust their own taste and judgment and are just waiting for others to tell them what’s good or worthwhile.
Sometimes all it takes to end that frustrating phase where you can’t get any support because you don’t have any support, is for a few sheep to notice the other sheep seem to be headed in your direction.
People with enough power and resources to offer you significant support are usually investors, not gamblers. They want to invest in someone who has already proven their resilience, commitment, and a willingness to invest in themselves in order to find out whether or not what they do connects.
None of which is very easy to do by yourself, which is why so many people want to work with record labels or publishers or managers or agents or organisations who do take a chance, and there are not enough of those around.
How to do it yourself
So how you do you create momentum by yourself? You do it in stages.
What’s your big goal? Performing at a big festival? A best selling book? Your play premiering at the National Theatre? Not sure yet but you’ll know it when you see it? Plan your path to get there in stages by working backwards.
Perhaps you can’t afford a publicist, but you know a couple of podcasters who might invite you on as a guest.
You might not have the interest of your dream publications for a feature, but you can pitch to write something for them.
It’s hard to find time to write a full-length novel, but you could enter short-story competitions.
You might not be able to afford a music video, but you could ask live video blogs to perform for them.
If I’m working with an artist or creative, I look for the low hanging fruit (what they’re really good at), and start there.
For example, if I know an artist really wants to play a particular festival and they’re not very experienced at performing live yet, I might suggest: they offer a free remix to one of the key artists who’ve been announced to play at that festival. I’ll use that remix to get some radio plays and a guest slot on a tastemaker radio show, where they might talk about how much they like that festival and hope to play it one day. Their fans will probably start tweeting at the festival they should perform, and they’re on the radar. They might not get booked until they’re more experienced live performers or have more of a following, but at least a link has been made.
Where most of us slip up and stall our momentum is by putting off part of the work we don’t have that manager/ strategist/ agent/ producer/ publicist etc in our team there to do yet. Until you get that person in your team, that person is you, and you need to do their job as best you can until they arrive.
It won’t be easy, but you will slow your momentum down if you don’t do that work. The key is to remember you’re working in stages so you don’t become disheartened. It’s also worth mentioning that by the time you get there, your goal might be very different.
Another common issue is dialing it back or putting on the breaks due to vertigo or a false sense of security. We’ll take our foot off the accelerator on the activity we know is driving our momentum because things are moving too fast and we’re scared, or because we feel we can afford to.
The ideal time to take your foot off the accelerator is when you’ve planned to do so as part of your strategy, or because you’re putting your energies in to some other important activity that’s going to bring you closer to your goals. Beware self-sabotage, really think about your motivation if you’re making this kind of change.
Write down a list of the tasks you’d like to assign someone else if you were able to. For example, it could be your press (who wants to do their own press?!), your accounting, finding live performance or speaking opportunities etc.
You guessed it: add at least one of those tasks to your to do list each week. So one week you might be trying to seek out a press/ podcast/ radio opportunity. The next week it could be downloading the Coconut App or completing a free HMRC webinar. Week three might entail emailing three promoters or finding out how a certain conference finds and books their speakers.
If you already have a team, how solid are your processes? Do you have regular meetings? A shared calendar and a team collaboration tool such as Slack? Healthy set hours set up for talking to each other? How do you communicate your goals to them? Do you still set goals and let your team know what they are? Do you find yourself being pulled in to unnecessary conversations or left out of important ones?
Spend some time this week thinking about what you can tweak about your current set-up to improve your momentum.