Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
How to find out what you want to do creatively (mrsteinberg.com)
102 points by jimhi on March 3, 2023 | hide | past | favorite | 36 comments

Is there a conclusion missing? So what did he end up doing?

I can't imagine unfocusing the beam to actually be productive. I was doing that for 15 years, it turned out to be ADHD.

E: ohhh he's already sold a company before this. Yeah I don't have fucking around money, I've still got 20 grand of debt to clear before I can even consider having fun creatively. I'm not the target market for this post haha.

I have a tub I chuck my idea cards into so that I stop thinking about them and get back to work. I used to call it the laterbase but later still isn't any closer after a decade. It's more of a hopes and dreams graveyard if anything lmao

> I have a tub I chuck my idea cards into so that I stop thinking about them and get back to work. I used to call it the laterbase but later still isn't any closer after a decade.

Apparently Bob Dylan used a similar trick to write music.

“Whenever Bob Dylan overhears something interesting, he writes it down and throws it in a box. When it's time to write, he opens the box.”


Nice! I adapted my card system from David Lynch I think - he said 70 scenes/cards and you've got a feature length film, something I was deluding myself into thinking I could do at the time.

Tried that for a bit but the films and TV drafts I curled out were never going to be good enough to be worth thinking about. I was just sinking time into them for no viable reward.

That Masterclass service. Very entertaining if you're into the subjects but ultimately another thing I wasted money on trying to find happiness.

It turns out happiness is literally just dopamine. You can get it anywhere. It's the assembly level language of life. Everything else is an abstraction on top of dopamine.

I do wish I could have seen the one I codenamed "Dreadnought". The quick gist humanity has space travel but it is funded by filming the ships as reality TV. Naturally this meant for ratings the upper management would send ships into dangerous situations for the content rather than real need. Such a dumb idea but it was the most fleshed out haha. Dreadnought being the ship/show we follow as the audience.

Recycled all the film/TV/story/music/fun cards and got back to work. I don't usually nuke idea categories like that but I can barely feed myself lmao, in what universe am I writing a film or TV show? Timewaster. Pop back down to reality dumbass, give that a go next lifetime.

Kept the system for tech projects though :)

Any time I am doing the idea generation part of a project I'll go through the existing ideas and shake out any new combos first. The system works for sure.

I have a big ol' google doc idea pad i toss ideas to whenever i get one. At least once this helped me to get an idea quick when an opportunity arose that required one quickly!

I used to do it as a doc but switched to cards because physical is more real and you can literally shuffle them into a new order. Shuffle then go through the deck again for bonus ideas!

Also I love writing with a sharpie. Tickles the brain just right lol

> ohhh he's already sold a company before this. Yeah I don't have fucking around money, I've still got 20 grand of debt to clear before I can even consider having fun creatively.

To be fair, he literally opened the post saying this is how to figure out your creative passion and not how to make money or have a "good" career.

Yeah that's why I'm not the target market mate. Can't delete comments when they've been responded to and editing completely would be confusing.

Wasn't expecting my whinging to be upvoted tbh

For what it is worth, creative pursuits are awful at making money but what makes life worth living. I was in much more debt than you are now about a year before I wrote this post.

Mate I've been in debt my entire working life. 16 years and counting. I have once in my life had a bank balance above £0 and I had to break a hip to do that. I'm saving the other one for retirement lmao

I'm literally just working to pay the banks back at this point. Every now and then some big expense comes up and resets the counter. If I had no debts I could work less than 30 hours a month and have the same life.

It turned out to be ADHD but as a recent discovery I've not quite worked around my defective-ass brain yet. I have since got my freelance rate up to £30/h from a full time income of like.. £12/h but it's never going to be enough to move the needle haha

Sorry to dump, just a little stuck tbh. I'd kill for just the one year lol

What are you freelancing as? If as a programmer in England your rates are still very low. When I was last freelancing for an English company my rates were more than double what you wrote and I know for certain my rates were not particularly high. I'm mentioning this only in case you're not aware that there's still lots of space between the top of your head and the ceiling & you can probably further increase your rate without decreasing the availability of work.

I do whatever is needed tbh. Primarily sysadmin and PHP/WordPress dev right now but I'll jump on calls, tech sales, documentation, set up and OOH a monitoring system, assist with billing guff.. data entry if there's nothing else to do. What do you need doing is a better question. If I can do it remote I'll figure it out on the fly. Worst case you show me how and I'll repeat your steps until it clicks and then I'll optimise the process.

The one positive of ADHD so far is being able to quickly pick up a new skill. I love working for small agencies as they've got the most empty hats and the most fires that need fighting, loads of dopamine (the only resource worth chasing) in quick learning. It's also how I know unfocusing the beam gets you nowhere.

Back when GDPR became a thing I printed the law off on a Friday and was advising law firms on how their site needed to change to be compliant the Monday. Have yet to be sued so I'm still pretty confident I got it right :)

Not to brag (seriously, I have nothing worth bragging about) but everyone I've worked with eventually calls me a genius. Genius lmao, bro I'm just bored. I can't accept that when I'm in debt anyway, geniuses can pass leetcode and get paid at the FAANGs. I'm also aware that people say things like that so you stick around longer.

Besides which, learning quickly is just understanding the 4 stages of competence and skipping the first one. It's not magic, just know you're shit until proven otherwise.

I already know the patio11 advice. I'm earning double my most well paid friend as it is. 30/h is already lottery win level of pay in my circles. I don't have wiggle room for "probably" yet. I only started freelance in sept and that's because a fixed salary wasn't breaking even anymore. Needed to be able to do more effort = more cash. If that probably turns into a cheapass that doesn't pay then I'm eating potatoes for a month.

I'm already minmaxing everything to the point of reminding the bank that their calls are costing me 50p a minute when they get distracted. I don't want to be a jerk but they're wanting me to rattle off my budget each month for no reason. I wish they'd give me forms to fill in, doing things over the phone is so excruciatingly slow. They (every one of them) call you asking if they can help every month if you're in persistent debt too.. is it not obvious to banks that they're not actually able to help? I talk to some of them more often than family! I know they're just covering themselves legally in reality, I'm familiar with the illusion of help haha.

To be honest I've played myself anyway really. Turns out if you work fast you get paid less freelancing lmao

In any case I'm only doing freelance until I can launch my own business. Working for someone else is for chumps like me.

I know whenever I rattle on about myself people either don't believe me or confirm that I ain't shit, I already know the latter and I can prove every claim otherwise. I can barely keep up with the truth so I try not to lie.

> It turned out to be ADHD but as a recent discovery I've not quite worked around my defective-ass brain yet.

Congrats on the diagnosis. Hopefully, it helps to clarify ways to move forward.

I think it's more about finding the patterns in your interests to show you what you're truly interested in and to spark ideas for creation. I agree the author never really lands the plane.

Also, I don't have fucking around money either. I work a full time job, but I still try to create a few things for myself on the side. I realize not everyone has the time, because life or family or whatever, but people make time for what they want to prioritize.

If you're in a full time job doesn't that mean your side things aren't working either? That's basically what I mean by no fucking around money, your best time has to be spent elsewhere.

I don't want to make little one-off tools, I already do that lol, these idea cards are businesses. With target markets and revenue streams and everything. Once I've got shot of the debt I'll give them a proper go rather than my current couple hour dregs of the day before bed.

Shame ideas aren't worth the card they're written on else I'd already have the money to have the time to actually work on them haha

I mean, my side hobbies are taking a learn to paint class at the local rec center. Not everything is about making money.

I averaged 300 calories a day last month, hwhat the fuck is a hobby

I'm definitely an imposter on this site lmao, gosh darn it I do love me some nerd news though.

This reminds me of Rick Rubin's new debut book, The Creative Act: A Way of Being, that came out recently.

It contains a lot of musings on different ways to cultivate creativity, among many other related topics. He discusses ideas to avoid pruning creative branches too early, in the same way this post does. It's an important point, avoiding filtering out potential ideas too soon is essential to the creative process.

That strikes me as backwards. I have lots and lots of creative ideas, the problem is feeling passionate about any of them long enough to continue working on any of them when the next interesting idea comes along.

I've learned to prune them constantly and only pay any significant attention to the ones that keep growing back.

Have you found that book to be helpful in actually cultivating creativity? I started reading it a week back because I saw it's been massively popular and wondered if it's actually going to be of much help to most of the readers. Perhaps it gets much better after the first short bit I read.

His conversation with Rogan was fantastic on this. Probably one of the best interviews I have seen about the creative process. The genius of Rubin is in his honesty about what he enjoys, and recognizing it in others and drawing it out.

Just like something, then do things that make you feel the same way..

I feel like I'd take anything Rubin says with a huge grain of salt. He has built up a mythology about him, but several artists have complained about him from being either too controlling in terms of applying the same style he applies to everything or nowhere to be found in the recording process. He honestly doesn't seem all that creative to me and seems to be a bit tunnel visioned.

Missing: your best ideas will come when you are bored. Keep your journal handy but take walks and especially road trips.

Making yet again "working on making your idea reality" something kind of exclusive to people not in poverty, as you don't have time to be bored as a poor person.

I don't know. I've definitely been poor — and still compelled to find a blank sheet of paper and a pencil to sketch out an idea that came into my head.

Also, make sure you write "© Company-You-Work-For-And-Signed-IP-Agreement-With" on all of your journal entries.


So, write your daydreams and what? I think it’s missing a conclusion.

Oh whoops, I wrote a follow up here - https://mrsteinberg.com/the-10-steps-of-originality/

Then make blog posts and put them on hn.

And review them periodically to spot patterns? That's the best I could come up with. That is still a useful tip though.

"Once you have your format. [...] Put your stuff out there."

Clear enough, no?

I read a great book recently which talks about this topic in a more rigorous way:

Creating: A practical guide to the creative process and how to use it to create anything - a work of art, a relationship, a career or a better life. https://a.co/d/6a1U0AM

Its specifically eye opening in the way your own life is just another thing to create but it could be applied to creating anything.

It talks about the choice to create itself. To make something for its own sake not to solve a problem. It also has a concept of primary choice, secondary choice (to create as a step toward primary choice) and foundational choices (what primary and secondary choices are based on)

Creating ultimately doesn’t come from anywhere. You start blank and you just “make it up”. You make up what you want to exist.

In the context of creating your life for example you write down all the things you want. And go through a process of tightening it.

The important thing the book says is 1. Have a clear vision for what you want to create and 2. Have an accurate picture of reality

The vision just needs to be clear enough so you know it when you see it.

He says having an accurate picture of reality was the surprising thing most people struggle with. Not the vision of what to create.

Very interesting book.

The thing you do most, maybe you just like it and that's your thing. We talk a lot about making and doing things, but some of the happiest people I know spend their time simply appreciating them.

Some of us are cursed to be unhappy unless we are creating.

I create obsessively as well, it's relating to the world by projecting oneself into it, an expression of demiurge. But I think to grow as a creator it needs to come from a foundation of appreciation, or where the appreciation is the fuel, as without it there's really nothing. Nobody ever gets tired of appreciating, either.

How to not do anything well

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact