Reclaiming Creativity for Its Own Sake
Srinivas Rao is the author of An Audience of One: Reclaiming Creativity for Its Own Sake. He is also the host of the podcast, Unmistakable Creative. Srinivas’ mantra is around creativity. Today, we discuss Srinivas’ take on the role social media plays in our society today, podcasting, creating timeless work, some great insights into publishing, and the impact of people you surround yourself with on your creative capacity.
[02:15] Srinivas’ Journey Through Creative
Srinivas went to college at a time of the dot com era, by which all these tools and technologies are still being structured. They were still not what they are today. Building a website could take months and cost tens of thousands of dollars. Now, the tools have gotten much better. They’re much easier to use.
Fast-forward to five years, YouTube came out as well as Blogger, and his natural instinct was when he sees some form of new technology is what he can make use of it. He got blown away by how amazing many tools, one of them, Beautiful.AI, a slide development tool which he used while developing his website for Unmistakable Creative. True to their claim, he was able to make a presentation in 10 mins.
Throughout, he has been writing in some form or another. He even wrote a 63-paged, single-spaced autobiography in college in just eight days. What he likes is the ability to express himself which he found really engaging.
[06:05] Doing Internship
Fast-forward to 2008, Srinivas was in business school. He just graduated from college and between his first two years of business school and he got rejected for all the jobs he wanted. Then he got a job offer at Intuit for the summer to be their social media intern. But he didn’t get the job in the end since he didn’t do his job. However, he used this opportunity to learn as much as he could about the new tools and technology.
So he began to blog that summer about his internship. Funny thing, many people who read his blog contacted him about his experience and they ended up getting hired.
Not being offered a job by Intuit, he saw this as a massive failure, not realizing this had planted the seed for everything he went on to do. Then he graduated in 2009 – a crappy time to get out of school as nobody was hiring. But his was a blessing in disguise as Srinivas would describe it as this has forced him to really do something, having nothing else.
[08:55] How He Got Into the Podcast World
Srinivas took an online course about how to build a blog that led to his weekly series called Interviews with Up and Coming Bloggers, which was spun out into a separate site called BlogcastFM. The pivotal piece of this is that writing has been an integral part of his process, even though he’d consider himself as a much better interviewer than he is a writer – one reason he started the podcast in the first place.
[12:50] The Struggles of Being a Creative
Srinivas spills out this irony in that you write a book with a message and you do everything that is the antithesis of the message – working hard to promote the book, etc.
As a byproduct of the technology created, this has also inhibited this in some ways. We can basically get attention as simple and as quickly as just posting an Instagram pic or a status update. This gives you digital validation in the forms of likes. And suddenly, this becomes the measure of the quality of the work. And this is absolutely irrelevant in so many ways.
This being said, there are a lot of things that can distract people from the quality of the work. And it can be seductive because it feels like work as these tools are designed to do exactly that – addictive, habit-forming, and to make you feel as if you’re rewarded in some way for what you’re doing. The feedback loops are what keeps you coming back for more.
[15:50] Creating for an Audience of One: How He Chooses People He Interviews
Srinivas explains that the criteria for the people he wants to be on his podcast would be based on what he is curious about. And this is literally the only filter. If the story makes him curious, he wants to tell it. And there is no formula for this, as he puts it. The podcast was originally for bloggers focused on tactical stuff and then they shifted to being story-focused, almost like an NPR show without nearly the same production level.
Although more niched, the impact is so HUGE. Using content from Unmistakable Creative, they have parents who homeschooled their children, therapists counseling their patients, coaches sharing content, and even college teachers using this as part of their curriculum. He knew that if he changed the style of the content, then they’d lose that.
[18:25] Focus on the Work Itself
Srinivas remembers asking someone at Intuit while he was doing an internship in about how to get ahead. And her answer was PRESENCE.
And for so many people, they think about anything but the work. They’re concerned with how people are going to respond if they share something on social media. This may be okay just to test ideas to see if there’s any resonance. But there’s a point where you really have to focus on the work itself. And this leads to mastery.
The feeling of being completely in the zone focused on just one thing to the point where it completely absorbs you and engages you and the rest of the world ceases to exist, there’s nothing that tops that.
What he really wants people to understand is not only do you find great joy from this, but it also frees you of the fear of how your work will be judged or received Think about how much energy you put into things that you have absolutely no control over. The more time you focus on creating it, the more likely it is to spread and be promoted and stand the test of time.
[23:55] Be Relevant and Aim for Longevity: Create Something Timeless
Relevance is another key. Tell the types of stories you want to tell. Second, attempt to create something timeless. Create something that when you create it now, and it could still be relevant three to four years from now. A lot of the bestselling books are the best “marketed books” but it doesn’t mean they’re the best books.
Make sure you’re ideas are worth spreading. It’s not about being good or how it’s delivered, but have a message that is amplified by the clear sense of the message. And authors can get stuck in this idea of how readers respond that they end up not writing the book at all.
[27:45] It’s Your Work, Not the Publisher’s: Make Sure You Commit to It!
Srinivas goes on to say that his first self-published book really did well and then Penguin picked him up. And he wants to stress this that often, people get in their head that they want to get published just for the sake of it. And there’s that vanity to it. But Srinivas points out how this could be a one-shot deal so you have to make sure it’s something that you want to create, not just something that a publisher is saying that they’ll back you if you do it. But you’re the one who’s going to be stuck with this for the rest your life. You’re the one who’s going to have your name on it.
Srinivas recalls getting approached by Penguin when he didn’t even have an outline. The reason they said they were interested was they wanted him to write about The Audience of One, but it ended up to be a two-book deal instead.
All this being said, write a book that you want to do and that lights you up. You’re going to be immersed in this every day, for two years or so. And if you’re not interested in this genuinely, it’s going to be way harder. In short, if you really want to write a book, then you really have to be committed to it. Even in terms of marketing, you’re going to have to care about it way more than they do.
[30:40] Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing
Srinivas says that while his first book had lots of errors and it wasn’t well-written, it was selling better than his second book that should have been a thousand times better in terms of quality. So there’s the feeling of how you’re going to top your first work.
Srinivas explains that while you can do everything to create a book without a traditional publisher, we’re still in this phase where a traditional publisher gives great credibility. But he thinks that the process of writing a book with a publisher is one of the most formative personal growth experiences you can have as a writer since you’re held to a certain standard portfolio. Personally. Srinivas describes how this has transformed him into a very different person.
Additionally, when you write a blog, you can just write whatever or however you want. But with a book, you have to write one theme and be able to expand on that theme for 150-200 pages and make a compelling argument that supports it. And there’s value in this since you learn how to research and make compelling arguments. Otherwise, it’s easy to make arguments with nothing to back you up. And this, he learned as a byproduct of going through this traditional process. Luckily, he was working with a writing coach. Penguin wasn’t concerned about his ability to finish a book, but about his ability to structure ideas in a linear fashion.
This has carried over to his speaking where he only began getting paid speaking engagements only after a traditionally published book came out. And he wouldn’t have given the kind of keynote presentations he would have given now had he not gone through all of this since it forced him to really understand his topic at a level of depth that he really didn’t have to go for.
[37:00] Cultivating Your Passion
Srinivas says that we tend to underestimate seemingly pointless acts of creativity. To add to that, consistency is so incredibly underrated. We don’t pay attention to what actually engages. People have such short attention spans that they may find writing for only ten minutes as highly challenging. So start as small as you can. And then build on one thing on top of another. Also, stick with something long enough before it starts to produce results. And sometimes, you won’t find something engaging until you’ve given it enough time to get to that point. It takes time to find something engaging. In those spaces that seem like boredom are often the precursor to great creative work and insight. And you have to do it repeatedly before it starts to feel engaging.
[41:15] Cutting Ties with Toxic People
We tend to underestimate the impact of the people we’re friends with on social media. Toxic relationships can weigh on you and they can stifle creativity in so many ways. The quality of your relationships and the people in your life have a huge impact on your creative capacity. Think about the people in your life and if your environment is nothing but a representation of your past, your future is going to look a lot like your past.