Today I want to talk about three elements of success with creative work:
- Producing work of incredibly high quality.
- The importance of publishing/communicating frequently.
- How relationships — mixed with high quality work — are essential for success.
Last week I asked my newsletter subscribers what their biggest fears and biggest goals were, and I receive nearly 7,000 words in response. I keep reading through them again and again, immersing myself in that place between one’s vision and one’s reality.
If you are a writer or creative professional of any sort — someone pursuing a creative vision around their craft — please keep reading. I want to show you the practical realities of what it takes to frequently craft work of high quality, and the value of connecting with colleagues/audience in that process.
Okay, let’s dig in…
Let’s Frame This Conversation in Reality
I don’t want to just focus on theory of success here, I want to ground it in a real-life example. And I want to give that example a name: Casey Neistat.
The truth is, I have been obsessed with Casey for the past two weeks, watching more than 90 videos of his. I would estimate it to be more than 10 hours of viewing time.
Casey is a filmmaker, perhaps best known for YouTube videos typically 5-10 minutes long. Some of them are for big brands such as Nike, some are “viral videos,” and some are daily vlogs – video diaries of his day.
When I think of the three ingredients of creative success listed above, this is how Casey illustrates each:
- Quality: Casey stands out in a sea of mediocre. Bottom line: Casey works harder than others in order to take his craft to a level that few others will even attempt. That said: many will try to copy his success after they see it working for him.
- Frequency: Casey is prolific, currently publishing one new video a day, 7 days per week. But when you dig back into his biography, you find that he has worked on a wide range of projects over his 15+ year career. Somehow, it seems like he’s been pushing the envelope the entire time.
- Relationships: Casey’s videos often have the camera pointed at his face, but when it’s not, it is filled with other successful creative professionals, as well has his audience. Yes, his actual audience, who camp out in front of his office hoping to meet him, and who he randomly passes on the streets on New York (and in the oddest little corners of the world that he travels to.)
Want to experience some of his work? Here you go:
- Bike Lanes (video with more than 15 million views)
- This Nike Video (that has 16 million views, which, to give you a sense of scale, is Nike’s most watched video on YouTube of all time)
- Aladdin in NYC (produced with his friend Jesse M. Wellens. It has had more than 10 million views.)
- His daily vlog – every day he gets more than 1/2 million views per video.
- Beme – this is the social network that Casey has co-founded. Honestly, I’m still trying to figure out how to use it.
How Casey Overcomes the “Quality Problem” By Working Harder Than Others
Casey is married, has a 1-year old daughter, a 17 year old son, runs a startup, does filmmaking on the side, and works 7 days a week.
Why do I consider Casey’s work to be of high quality? I see it the most in his daily vlog. These are 5-10 minute videos he creates each day.
- The vlog is mostly a narration of his day. But instead of just using an iPhone, he carried a heavy rig with him everywhere consisting of a Canon 70D, a Rode microphone, and a large GorillaPod that he uses as a selfie-stick.
- Each video starts in the morning and is edited by the evening. Every day, 7 days per week.
- There is music in each video, and it is expertly paired with editing. So the cuts happen to the beat.
- His videos are filled with time-lapse shots. That means that he needs to setup a shot of the skyline or traffic or airplanes, then sit there and wait as it captures a lot of footage which will eventually be compressed down to a few seconds.
- Even though everything is shot by him, he tries to film a lot of it as if someone else is filming it. What I mean is that if he takes an 8 mile run, it will be filled with shots of him running. Which means he had to stop, set up the camera, run back, then run in front of the camera, then run back to get the camera, then continue running. He does this again and again throughout a run. He will do this with anything, like going up an escalator. You see him get on, which means he left his camera behind, then you see him on the elevator, then you see him get off the elevator. To get the shot, he must need to go up and down the elevator three times, running back and forth.
Now, you could watch his videos and not appreciate his style. Or the topics. Or Casey himself. That’s fine, I respect your freedom of taste. But I watch a lot of vlogs and YouTube videos. Casey stands out in a major way.
Something about his method comes across to me as sheer brute force. Casey will spend more time, more effort, more resources to craft a simple vlog than most anyone else. Yes, he is a talented filmmaker with years of experience, has lots of friends, charisma, and storytelling chops. But… he simply works long hours as well.
This is a typical example: a vlog that showcases his entire day of visiting with friends, going out on the town, and at the end he has to leave the party early because it’s late in the night and he has to go back to his hotel to edit that day’s vlog. Why? Because he posts a new one each day at 8am. Deadline, every day.
Which brings us to…
Frequency is a key to success. Producing work frequently. Connecting with your audience frequently.
If you are a novelist, NO, this does not mean that you have to write 6 novels per year. And this is where the example of Casey comes in handy: Casey does not produce his films all that often. Those take time to craft. But he does publish a vlog each day.
Back in August, his vlog had 1 million subscribers, and just a few months later, it now has 1.5 million subscribers. That is an incredible rate of growth. It’s the power of frequency.
The key here is NOT to feel you that you need to rush your craft. Remember, this post started with the topic of quality at the very top. Quality of your craft is first. Period.
But I would ask: how else can you communicate with your audience? What else can you publish? This answer will be different for each of you.
For Casey, it is daily vlogs. For others it may be: articles, blogs, newsletters, Tumblr, Snapchat, workshops, speaking, podcasts or so much else.
Consider why there has been a rush of podcast launches recently from wonderful folks such as Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Gilbert. They only publish books every couple years, and the podcast is a way to not only communicate with their audience more frequently, but to do so with their voice. That is a really personal connection.
The Pursuit of Quality Should Create Relationships
There is another side to the process of crafting work of high quality, frequently: who you meet.
And how, over time that becomes a PROFOUND way that your career grows.
Casey makes a point to meet others who are doing creative things with film and video, because he says that is how you learn. Here are some examples that illustrate the relationships he has developed in that process. Each of these people seemed to almost randomly pop up in his daily vlogs:
- Casey stops by a friend’s apartment and casually mentions “this is my good friend Jérôme.” Nothing more.It turns out, it’s Jérôme Jarre who has 8.5 million Vine followers.
- In another video, Casey takes us along to a video shoot that he says he has no idea what it is for, and it turns out, it’s a YouTube video for his friend Karlie Kloss’ channel.
- He visits LA, and I notice that he’s in the Vine apartment complex, hanging out with people who each have millions of followers.
- Someone stops by his office, and it’s Shay Carl, who has more than 2 billion views on YouTube. Yes, billion.
Now, I know these are GENUINE friends of his. And that he developed those friendships one by one, slowly over the course of years.
It doesn’t take much daydreaming to realize how this can contribute to Casey’s success. How knowing Jesse M. Wellens as a friend led to Jesse reaching out to Casey to be involved in the Aladdin video. It’s easy to imagine Karlie Kloss saying to her friend Taylor Swift, “Oh you have to get Casey to do a video for you.”
So often we like to assume that success is purely about crafting great work. I said it twice before in this post, and I’ll say it again: YES, QUALITY IS THE FIRST THING. QUALITY IS THE PRIMARY THING.
But relationships are a critical part of success as well. When I see Casey’s daily life through his vlogs, I see what that looks like at an almost intimate level. He has developed a life filled with creative professionals. Each day isn’t just about Casey creating, but about being a part of a community of creators.
It’s a powerful thing to witness.
Hard Work is about Focus, Enthusiasm, and Sacrifice
What strikes me about Casey is that he is one of these people who you just know will succeed one way or another. You can immediately sense their vision, their focus, their drive.
While some of this may be innate talent or charisma, it often comes down to something we don’t want to cop to: he will work harder than us.
I think that each of us see people like this in each of our chosen creative fields.
Those who will endure through failure after failure, and still try again. No matter how beaten down they are, they will try again.
Those who will feel the same crushing weight of anxiety that you or I will about our creative work, yet they will still show up at 6am to work the next day anyway. And stay until 11pm. And do it again the next day. And the next. That is what strikes me about Casey. Sure, he has lots of fun, 100% feels that his family is the most important thing, yet because of the vlog, he is always creating. He shoots family stuff just as much as work stuff.
Those who will have people put them down, keep them out, crap all over their work, and still throw a new idea out there. Casey did a whole video about haters, those who just put him (and his wife) down.
Those who will succeed through stamina and endurance. By trying four times harder than the next person who is already working pretty darned hard.
Is Casey privileged? Did he start off with more than others, is he smarter than others, does he have access that we don’t, or more money than we did?
No. And he certainly did not have any of these things at the beginning or middle of his career.
I know growing up wasn’t easy for him. His family didn’t have money. He didn’t graduate high school. He didn’t go to college. Had became a dad when he was 17. His creative ideas were dismissed in the area where he grew up. He moved to NYC in the summer of 2001, sleeping on a friend’s couch 1/2 a block from WTC. His experience of Sept 11 was intense. That was his introduction to NYC.
But Casey worked hard.
He failed. A lot.
Even now, he is trying to build his company Beme. It’s a huge risk, and he is honest when reflecting on it: nothing is certain.
It’s easy to see Casey’s confidence and assume that he has a special gift that you don’t.
It’s easy to see a video with him guesting in a Karlie Kloss YouTube video and think “He has famous friends, he has access that I don’t.”
But Casey started with nothing.
Except a drive to create.
Persistance to sustain.
Hard work every day.
If you want to feel like crap about yourself, look at how much Casey does each week, and how much he is accomplishing with his creative work.
If you want to feel amazing about yourself, look at how much Casey does each week, and how much he is accomplishing with his creative work, building it step by step from NOTHING except his vision/gumption.
It’s clear in watching vlog after vlog that Casey has no tricks. No shortcuts. He is able to do what he does by putting in the time and energy.
Casey has chosen to share his creative process — and his life — very openly online. That is an incredible risk. it opens himself, his work, and his family up to immense criticism. It invites vulnerability.
But something special is created in that process, which is why I am writing this post.
Too often we settle because the process is difficult. When I see someone like Casey — someone who pushes beyond normal limits, I am inspired by how CREATIVE life can be. How FULL life can be. How much FUN life can be. And yes, how ACCOMPLISHED one can be.
Casey: thank you. To those reading this: thank you as well.
Have you found that quality, frequency, and relationships to be a key part to your success? What else would you add to that mix?