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Production value changes the product

I have a tendency toward ever-higher production value. As a creative person, this is often a natural draw over time.

On episode 104 of Cortex podcast, CGP Grey discussed a similar situation. For him, it wasn’t merely a personal/business move, but also a business one—his Patreon charged patrons only when he released a video, so he hesitated to release anything smaller than what’s come before for fear of disappointing them. But over time, it stifles creativity & limits possibilities to have this ever-rising standard.

Beyond a simple webcam vlog, YouTube videos of any production value are essentially always for an audience. You don’t buy lights & cameras or do animation, write scripts, record takes, edit & export & publish a complex video as a note to yourself. In contrast, blogs can seamlessly blur the line of being for yourself or an audience—you can take a note jotted on a phone & make it public in a few seconds. (Here’s the shortcut I use to publish with, using Working Copy.)

Making something at all public exists inherently for an audience, but its role in the author’s life can go far beyond that. While there’s certainly a divide between my personal notes & what I publish on my Notebook, I want it to be a space that's not entirely performative. Performative, let me clarify, is not bad—many of the most impactful things we read/consume were not dashed-off notes to self, they are carefully-written, thoroughly-edited pieces made over a significant period of time. Very rarely are impromptu, one-take creations truly eloquent & powerful.

The ease of adding, publishing, & updating is a key aspect of this. This blog runs on files stored in Git on GitHub, & while it’s not difficult to make commits & push them, it takes a conscious move & has some weight to the action. One thing my friend Zach Latta did to simplify his personal notes setup, which also runs on Git/GitHub, is have a script that automatically commits & pushes his folder of notes every 5 minutes, so it becomes an unconscious, automatic move. (An iOS shortcut using Working Copy complements the Bash script.)

Higher production values can be amazing, but they can also be stifling. The creators of Stranger Things having an idea & getting it onto Netflix is a gap filled by years & $10M/episode. On this Notebook, it’s usually at minimum 15 minutes. In the notes app on my iPhone, it’s <30 seconds. Those interactions & the barriers between drastically change the scope of ideas & what ends up being produced.

I think it’s critical with creative projects to be explicit about the production value you’re looking for. It naturally shifts upwards over time—look at the quality of CGP Grey’s videos, the visual effects on Stranger Things, the pages of this Notebook over time. That can be amazing, & enable the creation of increasingly stunning & impactful works over time, but personally as a creative person it can also be oppressive. It can make you stop writing entirely for fear of the article not being as great as the last.

So be clear with yourself when you’re creating. Maybe the pages you’re adding to a website must always be performant, typo-free, accessible, responsive, look great. Or new posts on the blog should be edited, but never take more than a day. Or a new note in this folder should happen fluidly in 30 seconds & be published automatically. Your work will be liberated by this declared constraint, instead of stifled under shifting vagueries of self-expectation.

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