5 Lessons in Creativity from
the Return of Ze Frank

image of ze frank

It’s one of the most frequent questions we get from online publishers: How do I find ideas for all this content that’s going to fuel my business?

We all face the blank page screen every day. It’s not easy.

Ze Frank is an artist who illustrates — and overcomes — this creative struggle well. If you’re not familiar with him, his stuff can seem quite … unique.

He’s one of the best-known and most talented video artists/bloggers/content creators on the web. His “The Show” (running daily for one year only) started back in 2006. Through consistency, brilliant ideas, and a genius for tapping into the evolving interests of his audience, it quickly became the stuff of digital legend.

Ze’s back with a new show called “A Show”.

Though your content strategy probably differs radically from his, the opening episode is indeed an instructive and beautiful invocation for those of us working every day to make something great.

Below are 5 quick lessons in creativity I picked up from the start of Ze Frank’s brand new run. Watch his first episode below …

Click here if you don’t see the player

1. Everyone hates starting

If you’re starting something, anything, and you feel uneasy about it, you’re in good company.

Ze confesses his fear and reluctance about starting again very plainly:

I don’t want to start. But I will. This is an invocation for anyone who hasn’t begun, who’s stuck in a terrible place between zero and one.
- Ze Frank

He truly doesn’t want to. But he truly wants to. Sound familiar?

Some of the best advice on starting I’ve read is to simply commit to a minimum viable amount of time. For instance, working on something for a mere 33 minutes can change your day, and therefore, your career.

Start something.

2. Perfection is the enemy of everything

We all want it. None of us will ever get it.

Even though nobody in the history of the world has ever achieved perfection in their craft, we still believe the lie that it’s possible for us.

Even if it were possible to achieve, it would not be preferable …

Perfectionism may look good in his shiny shoes, but he’s a little bit of an asshole and no one invites him to their pool parties.
- Ze Frank

Accept it: perfection is not an option.

Faithfully learning, working, and submitting to the laws of your craft is an option. And, if you stay at it, it can eventually give you a living.

Forget perfection.

3. You don’t need VC, you need an audience

Ze doesn’t have viewers, he has Sports Racers (Google it).

From the early days of “The Show”, his devotion to his audience was clear. They weren’t a passive mass … they were part of the show itself.

He’s stated his respect for them — and for his current work — again:

Let me not think of my work only as a stepping stone to something else. And if it is, let me become fascinated with the shape of the stone.
– Ze Frank

Ze had some fairly radical (see: potentially expensive) ideas he wanted to run with in this new show. Whatever his early thoughts or conversations were on matters of budget, in the end, he turned to his faithful fans with a Kickstarter campaign.

The result was stunning.

In serving his audience, and adapting to their desires and needs, they showed up and gave him everything he needed (and more) to continue his work.

Build an audience.

4. Kill the distractions

Yeah, yeah, you hear this every day. We’re busy. We’re wired. We’re always on.

But do you know the true cost of your distractions?

Let me not hit up my Facebook like it’s a crack pipe … keep the browser closed.
- Ze Frank

Can you see there — off in the distance — what you might accomplish by keeping your browser closed?

Just a thought.

Browsers kill businesses.

5. Doing is the thing

Here’s a tweet from Ze, just a few days before the premier of his new show …

If you’re human, and you care about your work, you know exactly what he’s talking about.

It’s the cost of actually doing something. The more important that something is, the bigger the pit-in-stomach.

Most of us are talented talkers. Few among us are faithful doers.

With apologies, allow me to quote a famous utterance … “Just do it.” It’s famous because it’s essential to creation.

Turn on the camera. Then do it again.

You?

What are you working on these days? What are you afraid of working on these days?

Let me remember that my courage is a wild dog. It won’t just come when I call it. I have to chase it down and hold on as tight as I can.
- Ze Frank

The work you’re avoiding might just be the work you’re meant to do.

Will you do it? The comments below make for a nice microphone …

About the Author: Robert Bruce is Copyblogger Media’s Chief Copywriter and Resident Recluse.

Image courtesy of Ze Frank

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Comments

  1. 2 an 5, 2 and 5, over and over, Robert.

    ZF knows, because he’s a creative dynamo. You never get it perfect. Unless you are God. So release on the whole perfection notion, which is the intense fear of criticism, manifest. Forget it.

    Then, you do. Over and over. I’ve penned some 1500 blog posts on 3 blogs. Filmed over 800 videos. I did. So now, even though many are far from perfect – actually, really far, for more than a few – I churn out good content these days, usable content, lead generating content, fast. I did, for thousands of hours, no matter how uncomfortable, nervous, or embarassed, or angry I felt, when people offered harsh criticism, or had fun with my content, or whatever. I laugh, because I am more like ZF than these folks, and know pretty well where he is coming from.

    Thanks for sharing Robert.

  2. #1! #1! #1!
    That is the best advice for procrastinating guys like me. All the tips are great and dog quote, well, awesome! :)
    Thanks for sharing the post.

  3. Nice inspiration!
    Can’t agree more that starting something is difficult and we have to get it started as soon as possible.
    And year, these distraction! I don’t use FB but my main distractions comes from people around me. Each time they find the worst time to ask me to do something. :)

  4. Pit in stomach, indeed.

    I liked meeting Ze Frank, I also liked that you summarized the video with an outline. That made the viewing experience better because it went so fast, I would have missed some of the great one-liners.

    Now to go chase that dog…

  5. I happened to watch Ze’s TED talk yesterday and was struck by how nervous he seemed, as opposed to how “in control” he seems in his video. A live show is clearly not his strong suit. But when you’re filming yourself (as I well know) you can do endless retakes.
    It made me all the more impressed with him, that he went out there and, though clearly nervous, gave it his best shot. I look forward to his new series. The guy is amazingly creative.

  6. Great advice, well written. One of my new favorite Copyblogger posts. Thanks for sharing.

    Now, to attend to #4-5.

  7. I never respected (or really understood) that dude — until now. Thanks.

  8. “Most of us are talented talkers. Few among us are faithful doers.”

    I loved this quote—probably because it resonates so much with me (and with every other creative person I know). It’s easy to think up ideas and talk about them—and so much harder to actually DO them!

    I’ve never watched/heard of Ze Frank, but now I’m intrigued. Thanks.

  9. Close my browser? Are you out of your mind? That’s the kind of talk that gets you slapped in the face with a white glove and then challenged to a duel.

    Other then that, I dig the post and am glad I’m not the only creative person who struggles at getting started.

  10. Great summary, with lots of pearls of wisdom. Confirms that people stuck in lives they hope to escape typically commit several of the cardinal steps on the 12-step program to losing. Not having the balls to dream, or if you dare, to be unprepared to do what it takes. Realizing that being successful requires work, lots of it, then deciding to return to being a loser. Knowing “B1″ is the best vitamin for friendship, but not taking any. Believing work consists of “good” and “bad”, then choosing to do the good only.

    Competition IS ruthless, life IS difficult and success never a milk run. Because reality plays its part in it, too, “5 Lessons in Creativity on the Return of Ze Frank” is a fabulous-way-above-average piece of reading any aspiring perfectionist should take at heart :-] ~Beat

  11. What is VC? (#3)
    I don’t think it’s Viet Cong (do I date myself?)…

  12. Thank you, that was excellent. Nothing I don’t know. Little I don’t follow. Much I could improve on and become more consistent with. I really connected with this post more than any other in a very long time. – tim

  13. Robert,

    Until now, I had never heard of Ze Frank, so thanks for your contribution. It really added value, your post.

    Striving for perfection is sort of like living in a fool’s paradise: Gilligan’s Island only exists on TV, after all.

    We can, however, try to strive for excellence. You can achieve excellence by transcending your moods. The daily act of writing should be a matter of discipline, not about your mood swings. “I am not in the mood today” is just a sorry excuse for not doing what it is that you are meant to.

    On the other hand, there a plenty of people who would not agree with this method. For many creative people, creativity is all about the divine madness. Being divinely inspired means listening to your muse, so it is all about mood swings.

    For every disciplined creative, you will find in equal measure creatives who bow to their emotions and listen to the silent whispers between their ears. There is no one way for creative people. To each his or her own, I say. Cheers.

  14. Thanks for this, Bruce. Really great to meet Ze Frank. He’s right on point about so much of the human condition of creation.

    Me doing:
    1. Just started my first class yesterday with your own Jon Morrow on building my $100K blog. Awesome!
    2. Building content for launch of my new blog, Rock and Roll Zen.
    Fear level: very high
    Reasons for fear: family with two young children I need to eventually put through college, mortgage in NYC, don’t want to fail
    Motivation: (see Reasons above)
    3. Will be using combination written / video blog format.
    Timing of this post: priceless!

    Thanks.

  15. correction on last post: Thanks Robert (not Bruce)

    MH

  16. Never heard of Ze Frank but his quotes were amazing.

  17. Excellent post. Funny how even when you’ve heard something hundreds of times, like advice on how to take action on fulfilling your creative dreams, it’s possible for someone to put just a slightly different spin on it and suddenly deliver the message in a way that’s clear and easy to take to heart.

    [In case I'm not being clear, I think that's what you've somehow managed here.]

    I’m a recording/performing singer/songwriter a few weeks away from playing my first real show in about 7 years, and this post is really highlighting the fact that my desire to make it an engaging, thrilling – nay, perfect – experience for the audience is paralyzing my ability to just buckle down and start preparing to just play the damn gig.

    Headed downstairs to plug in the guitar now. Thanks again for the post.

  18. THANK YOU! for the great advice. I am a quintessential perfectionist; I hate to start and hate to finish, hence I am forever stuck somewhere between the beginning and the middle.
    I am going to past this article to my bathroom mirror.

  19. As a Wisconsinite/cheese addict, I appreciated and laughed audibly at the “Cheese of Accomplishment”

  20. In Steven Pressfield’s book, Do the Work (which I recommend to every human on the planet – regardless of what you do), he describes the creative process as war with yourself – battling the inner voice (AKA insecurity) that constantly whispers in your ear, reinforcing all of your fears and feelings of self-doubt.

    Set aside, for a moment, all the roadblocks in actually putting pen to paper, how about all rough drafts you’ve completed, that are follow-up be that little voice, telling you it’s all shit and you suck. In truth, the creative process can, at times, be a ridiculously relentless grind.

    And no matter how many systems you devise, tricks you employ or distractions you evade, when it come right down to it – you simply have to fight the fight (believing you can win) – and do the work to secure the victory.

  21. Robert,
    Thanks so much this post. There are a few projects in my mind that I just can’t get started but after reading this post I starting on project #1 tonight.
    Thanks also for making me aware of Ze Frank’s new show.

    Keep of the great work!

    Thanks,
    Brendan

  22. I’ve been thinking about Ze’s video since last week. From an entertainment perspective, I’m SO EXCITED that he’s back with this new show, but this lit a serious buttfire under me in my work too. Particularly the part about not hitting up the Facebook crackpipe, and ignoring that beast perfectionism. Awesome distillation of his video into a workable list! Love it.

  23. “Let me extend that generosity to myself.” I like this Ze Frank!

  24. Intriguing, refreshing. Sounds like a prayer. Gotta check Ze Frank’s clip on Ted Talks… :)

  25. Love it – as an entrepreneur, designer, and blogger, I can recognize those lessons every day. It’s difficult to deal with sometimes, but, as you (and Nike) have said – Just Do It. Getting some grit and going at it for a few minutes usually helps break down any hesitation in my experience. The more I do that, the easier it gets, too.

    Great post, and I’m going to have to check out some of Ze’s stuff, now. I’m intrigued.

  26. Just do it!
    Love the “pit in stomach.” I have to check out more of his stuff.
    Really inspiring!

  27. This is a very intelligent idea! #1 is indeed very true, but you need to start to finish.
    #4. Kill Facebook! LOL.

    Thank you for this post!

  28. One thing to think about on this subject is the difference between “DOING just enough to get by,” and “DOING what I need to do to actually reach my long term goals.”

    I find it pretty easy to motivate myself to do at least some work every day. After all, if I don’t, I’ll starve. The hard part is actually motivating myself to do the level of work that would be required to get me to those scenarios that I daydream about when I’m showering or out walking late at night.

    On that score, I must admit, I have been less successful than I’d like to have been to date.

  29. Great article! this is for people like who are afraid of “Starting” :)

  30. these 5 are the biggest obstacles to creativity. but I think the most important is the no.1 , “Start Something”. If you get yourself started, the rest will be easy. . =)

  31. Thank you for the post.
    I just started watching “A Show” yesterday and #1 and #5 resonated well for me.

    …now I gotta get back to the important stuff :)

  32. Wow, don’t know what sandy hole my head’s been in but this was my first exposure to Ze Frank. Brilliant.

    The two lines in this—I want to call it a manifesto of sorts. It’s sounds like his intention for the project, a certain poetry enhanced by visual creativity—are:
    1. That’s my cheese monster talking, and my cheese monster will never be satisfied by cheddar only the cheese of accomplishment. — Yes! that’s the guiding force that will not let me rest until what needs to be said has been said.

    2. There’s no need to sharpen my pencils anymore, my pencils are sharp enough. Even the dull ones will make a mark. — Ahhh, nothing can prevent me from creating but myself.

    As for what I’m working on that is ready to make it’s entrance into the world is my own Natural Professional manifesto. The gremlin I’d been fighting that just got kicked to the curb is the one taunting: how could you ever include everything you want to say? Yes, yet another form of perfectionism. Soooo done with that.