Friday, March 25, 2022

Your Stream is a Work in Progress

On Twitch, it’s easy to become discouraged when things don’t match your expectations. After however many days you’ve been streaming, your shows may not look the way you wanted them to, maybe you’re not getting the kinds of chat interactions you’d hoped for, or you could just feel a general sense of dissatisfaction. This is normal. And it’s a good thing. No matter what you expected streaming to be like, or what milestones you thought you’d reach in a certain amount of time, your content isn’t going to feel finished anytime soon. But more importantly, it shouldn’t feel finished. If you want to stay happy with what you’re doing, accept that your stream is always a work in progress. 


Peter Jackson’s incredible fly-on-the-wall Beatles documentary, Get Back, is all about works in progress. In trying to create a new album, the band sat down in the studio and simply jammed, for days and weeks on end. Over 60 hours of film and 150 hours of audio were recorded during these sessions, in which the fab four continuously pressed on through the mediocrity and dejection of partially-finished songs until they finally arrived at Let It Be, the legendary album we know today. There are hundreds of fantastic moments from this epic three-part documentary which communicate my point, but the one that stuck out most to me involved George Harrison tinkering with his song Something. The music and lyrics are pretty much all there, but one or two words keep tripping him up. “Something in the way she moves, attracts me like _____” He just can’t get figure out that one phrase, and every time he sings the song he’s forced to replace that empty space with filler, while he and the band flesh out the rest of the arrangement. “Attracts me like a cauliflower,” or “like a pomegranate” certainly don’t live up to what would eventually become one of the most beautiful songs ever written, but George doesn’t allow this small creative hiccup to stifle his ability to work. During this moment, he admits that he had been stuck for the past six months, and the song itself wouldn’t even be released until the next album, Abbey Road, in the later half of that year. But I think we can all be grateful that he didn’t lose hope while his song was a work in progress.

Rome wasn't built in a day.

For a creative person, it can be uncomfortable when your project stays in a state of limbo for so long. We streamers can certainly feel that way when our cameras don’t look up to par, or we’re unable to perform in competitive games at the level we’d like. If we stay in that rut long enough, we might even throw up our arms and decide it’s time to cut our losses. Virgil, the ancient Roman poet,
died requesting that his friends destroy his magnum opus before it could see the light of day. If not for the intervention of others, including the emperor of Rome himself, The Aeneid would have been completely lost to time. This story went on to inspire countless authors, playwrights, poets and other storytellers the world over, and Virgil’s work is generally viewed alongside the epics of Homer in its importance to Western literature. Though there are varying accounts, it’s predominantly believed that Virgil wanted his manuscript burned because was unhappy with its unfinished state. Judging by its polish and completeness, the progress was somewhere around 99%, but that one percent nearly caused the destruction of the whole project. Don’t let this happen to you. Think of the benefit the world received from Virgil’s creation, even if it was not technically finished. Your streams could be bringing happiness and inspiration to others in this same way, even if you don’t think they’re as good as they could be. 


Are there any aspects of your streams that have been bothering you because they’re not yet up to snuff? Have you considered what your stream would be like when you do attain that quality standard? Yes it would look great to this version of you, but the more experienced version of you would hope for more. This finish line will become another starting point, and the cycle would begin again. This is not to say that you should give up all your ambitions and consider your streams ‘finished’ right now- without ambition, George Harrison would never have released his song, and Virgil wouldn’t have started on The Aeneid in the first place. So keep those ambitions, and keep working toward your goals. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that reaching those goals will mean something is ‘finished.’ Instead, accept that your stream will always be a work in progress, and enjoy the ride. 

Friday, March 18, 2022

When Streaming, Look at the Small Picture


If you’re just starting on your streaming journey, it’s likely you have some kind of ultimate goal for your channel. And since most channels don’t begin exactly how we envision them, that goal might be pretty far off. You’ll work toward those ambitions over time, with plenty of experimentation and difficult lessons along the way. Similarly, even if you’re an experienced streamer and you’ve already met your original stream goals, you’ve likely since created new objectives to chase after. It’s good to stay fresh, and continually try to reach new heights. But as I’ve explored in entries before, goals come in many shapes and sizes. And some goals can actually hurt your channel more than they help. So what’s the best way to approach a goal if you want to stay motivated throughout your journey? 

There’s an old proverb: ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’ In other words, the prospect of eating an elephant is so unimaginably daunting that the only way to get it done is to focus on the next bite. In streaming, it’s best to think the same way. It’s fine to have a large, long-term goal for your channel, but that’s like eating an elephant- it’s impossible to envision an actual day-to-day strategy that will lead you where you want to go when you think in terms that big. Instead, break your large ambitions down into little ‘bites,’ which will help you not only to stay on track with your tasks, but to feel a more frequent sense of accomplishment. 


Depending on which fantasy universe
you visit, the elephants might be
even more daunting.

Of course, the lesson here isn’t only that goals need to be broken down in order to be reached. But even more importantly, the goals you coveted at the beginning of your journey may not be right for you once you’ve reached them. In the book Atomic Habits, author James Clear has this to say about the dangers of using goals as your North Star during a project: “Goals create an “either-or” conflict: either you achieve your goal and are successful or you fail and you are a disappointment. You mentally box yourself into a narrow version of happiness. This is misguided. It is unlikely that your actual path through life will match the exact journey you had in mind when you set out. It makes no sense to restrict your satisfaction to one scenario when there are many paths to success.” 

As you may have guessed from its title, the book instead recommends creating habits to guide your life. This will let you find satisfaction in the day-to-day process of working on your project. And with these much more fluid and personal values to guide your path, you’ll have a better chance of finding where you truly want to be. I should mention that this book, Atomic Habits, is probably one of the most important resources a streamer could ever read. It has helped me in countless ways, and I’m sure it can do the same for you. 


Let's just get through this massive
army of Uruk-hai for starters.
There are a few quotes I love which touch on this subject of de-prioritizing large goals. Several important people across many fields have explored the same sentiment. Legendary animated film director Hayao Miyazaki has a charmingly naturalistic take: “There are so many things we can’t do anything about if we think about generalities. Things won’t go well because there is a huge gap between the generalities and the particulars. If we see generalities from the top of a mountain or from a plane, we feel it’s hopeless, but if we go down, there is a nice road running about fifty meters, we feel this is a nice road, and if the weather is fine and shining, we feel we can go on...” And as Sam says in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King when Frodo laments the huge expanse of Mordor between the two hobbits and their goal, “Let’s just make it down the hill for starters.” 

Finally, in his incredible 2005 Stanford
commencement speech, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs gave some insight on how he embraces the futility of forward planning to simply follow his heart: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” Incidentally, if you haven’t watched this 15-minute talk before, I highly recommend it. It’s one of the most motivating speeches I’ve ever seen.

So the next time you’re working on your channel and you begin to worry about the massive goal looming over your head, take the advice of many who came before you. Forget about the big picture and focus instead on the now. Eat the elephant one bite at a time, and your streams will eventually get to where they need to go. 

Friday, March 11, 2022

Make Your Streaming Dream Come True


Do you have any streaming dreams? Maybe they involve trying a new idea, or designing something for your graphics layout. Maybe you simply want to become more consistent with your show schedule. Or if you haven’t started yet, you want to begin streaming in the first place. Whatever the ambition, what are you doing right now to make your streaming dream come true? 


One of my favorite Seinfeld jokes is brilliant in its simplicity. Jerry and George are in the locker room at their gym, and across the room they spot the baseball player Keith Hernandez. As they nervously wonder whether they should go up and introduce themselves, Jerry tells George about how smart Keith Hernandez is outside of baseball: “You know, he’s a civil war buff.” George looks wistful and says, “I’d love to be a civil war buff.” 

It’s such an absurd thing to say, almost an oxymoron. It’s of course completely in one’s own power whether they become a buff, enthusiast or hobbyist- all they have to do is engage in their hobby. And yet, most prospective streamers think the same way George does. Instead of simply doing the thing they’re interested in, they wish they cared enough to actually try. 

Here’s the thing about following a dream like streaming: Doing it badly isn’t the problem. Having an ugly looking channel isn’t the issue either. Neither is sitting down, only to find you can’t muster up the energy to go live. The biggest problem when following a streaming dream occurs before you even sit down to do the work. Our minds work against us, and convince us that it’s not even worth attempting in the first place. Like two magnets repelling each other, the closer you get to the chair where you might sit down to start creating, the less you want to actually sit down. We’ve all felt it when facing some important project in our lives. Sometimes it’s a random chore, any chore, that conveniently pops into your head when you’re just about to get to work. Or maybe you realize you’re tired and want to go to sleep, or relax by watching netflix. I’ve even felt nausea when trying to sit down on certain days, not because I was sick, but specifically at the moment when I had to face the prospect of actually doing my work. 

But if you can take that one massive step, and sit down to get started, the work will begin to flow. It doesn’t seem to make sense, but trust me. There’s some kind of magic in sitting down and simply doing anything in the direction of your goal. As others who paint, work out, or clean their houses could tell you, merely starting by saying, “I’ll only do a little bit today,” is likely to snowball until suddenly you’ve accomplished more than you ever expected.


Fight for what you believe in.

This strategy comes in handy for me all the time. One of the biggest hurdles it helps me with is The Twitch Playbook. Every week, after the newest episode has come out and it’s time for me to start on the next, I think there’s nothing left in the tank. After more than 150 episodes, I can’t imagine what else I could possibly write about. It feels like a completely hopeless endeavor to come up with something new, and even sitting down to write strikes me as a huge waste of time. I’ll come up with any excuse in the world not to do it. I’ll shift my entire calendar to put off the podcast writing time slot until later, and then when the time comes I’ll shift it again. It’s not an exaggeration to say that every single week there’s a point where I think that the previous Twitch Playbook entry might end up being the last. 

But of course, this is all in my head. As soon as I sit down and start putting words on the page- any words, even if they’re terrible and never make it into the entry- those fears begin to go away. Once I stand up 15-30 minutes later, I have only the roughest concept of what the new entry will be, but I’ll already feel confident that I’m on the right track. Because at that point the hardest part, just forcing myself to get started, is over. 

Based on how much I love streaming, and how consistent I am when doing it, you might imagine the same doesn’t happen to me when trying to go live. And you’d be partly right. Most days, I’m thrilled to stream. I look forward to it during the monotony of a long day, or simply can’t wait to pick up where I left off in my current game. But sure enough, bad days will always come. Maybe I’ve been out all day and I’m incredibly tired, or I’m so stressed about something else I need to do that I don’t think I’ll have time to stream. Or maybe, if it’s a creative stream where I make art, I’m nervous I’m going to ruin the piece with whatever I add. But just like with The Twitch Playbook, I force myself to simply sit down and start doing something. I go through the motions of setting up my show. I tell myself, “It’s okay not to do a full-length episode today, and it’s even okay if the show isn’t as good as it normally is. Just get through it. Doing anything is better than nothing.” 

And when I lower my expectations that way, the magic kicks in. As soon as I spend a few minutes on the air, or even setting up the show before going live, I begin to feel the energy come back. My other problems melt away, and I can simply exist in the present. I can enjoy each part of the task for what it is, without any expectations, fears or regrets. 

Whatever your streaming dreams are, whether you want to add new game styles to your offering, create visual overhauls, or even just get started on Twitch, think about the moment before doing your work as the climb of a roller coaster. The car is slowly pulling itself uphill, the fears begin to rise within you, and oftentimes you can’t see where the track beyond the hill’s crest is going to lead. But once you get yourself over that ledge, the work begins picking up speed. And before you know it, the anxiety about the climb is forgotten and fun is the only thing you’re thinking about. So sit down and start working, even if you tell yourself it’s only going to be for a minute or two. Your streaming dreams might start coming together quicker than you think. 

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Streaming Habits vs Goals

In 2007, an artist named Mike Winkelmann set out on a creative quest that few before him, but many since, have attempted: he wanted to create a new piece of art every day for a whole year. However, there was one key difference between him and most others who try this: he pulled it off. And not only did he actually produce 365 distinct images in as many days, but after it was over he decided to keep his streak going. Fourteen years of nonstop daily creations later, Winkelmann, known as Beeple in the art world, sold a piece of his work from this ‘Everydays’ project for $69 million. 

What does it take to have such commitment to a personal project? And as I’m sure many more of you are wondering, how did he work up to a place where he could become so fabulously successful from his work? Are the answers to these two questions somehow inextricably linked? And if so, how can we harness the power of our habits to attain such acclaim? In this entry we’ll explore how habits and goals factored into Beeple’s success, and whether one of these two concepts might serve you more than the other in your own streaming journey. 


By creating a finished image every
day, Beeple grew immensely as
an artist.

There are some clear connections to be drawn between the commitment required of a project like Beeple’s and the lifestyle of a streamer. He’s creating content from start to finish by working a few hours each day, the time it takes most of us to do a broadcast. He works on a computer to make his art, which exposes him to several of the same wildcard factors and glitches we run into when trying to go live: power outages, software bugs, broken parts, and anything else the tech gods want to throw at us. He, like us, has struggled to produce his work amidst other real-world personal and professional responsibilities. I’m sure he isn’t hurting for cash nowadays, but for over a decade he was still hustling and doing client work while also creating his personal ‘Everydays’ project on the side. And finally, he’s forcing himself to post something online, which exposes him to public scrutiny- the same thing we do as streamers every time we broadcast. Just like with our shows, whether he’s proud of his output that day or not, it’s out there for all to see. And if he’s not proud, maybe that’ll motivate him to do better the next day. Beeple essentially went through every significant trial we could face, and stuck with it no matter what challenge presented itself, for fourteen years straight. So when we miss stream days, what’s our excuse? 

The first thing everyone wants to know is, how does Beeple stay motivated? Does he simply exist on some plane of work ethic high above all the rest of us? He’d be the first to tell you that’s not the case. For him, it’s a combination of a few factors: accepting imperfection, staying flexible, and allowing the streak to become its own motivation. 

Speaking with The Atlantic in 2011, a decade before he’d make his record-breaking sale, he had this to say about the process of creating content, elegant as always: “Art is like taking a dump, it's not always fun or convenient but it's something you gotta do everyday and you shouldn't get too hung up if the product looks like pile of crap. Yer not gonna make a masterpiece everyday or even 95% of the time, but it's a numbers game and you've got to get rid of all those crappy ideas before you can get to the good ones. Just showing up is 90% of the battle.” 

When Vice asked him how long it takes to create a piece of art, he demonstrated just how committed he is to the concept of creating every day: “From five minutes, if that's all the time I have—like the day my first daughter was born—to a couple of hours.” You may recognize this concept from the Twitch Playbook entry Just Keep Streaming, in which I said, “You should be flexible about WHEN and HOW you stream, but never about WHETHER you stream.” I truly think that the notion of a ‘fixed stream length’ is the number one killer of motivation. Because if you aren’t flexible enough to simply pump out something shorter or lower quality on a difficult day, your habit is unlikely to last when you’re put under large amounts of pressure. 


So Beeple clearly carved out a very good thing for himself. He created a rock-solid habit, and with lots of dedication, he was able to stick to it. But what about his massive success later in his career? Here we’ll focus specifically on his Everydays project, not his other professional work, because creating artwork after hours each day is the closest approximation to streaming among Beeple’s habits. And of course, the Everydays project is what made him $69 million in a single sale. So how did Beeple set himself up to make such a sale? And how did he keep himself going for fourteen years until he struck gold? 

The 5-minute image Beeple made the day
his daughter was born. He didn't stop his
streak, but he didn't let the streak 
interfere with his personal life either. 

The answer is that he didn’t plan for success. When speaking a few years ago about whether he ever imagined he’d reach a ten year streak, he replied, “No. I was focused on trying to get better at drawing. I wasn't thinking about an end date. After the momentum of the 2nd year, I realized I could keep doing this for a while. Once you get the momentum, that's what carries you forward.” He began the project as a means of improving his art, and that seems to be all he’s ever been interested in with the project: “I feel like I'm still so far from where I want to be. I look at artists in a variety of mediums and think, "Why would I stop now?" Part of it is not looking at it too far down the line, and focusing on short term goals.” 

Many Twitch streamers begin their channels in the opposite way from Beeple. They imagine the ends (fame and fortune) before even attempting to engage in the means (actually doing a broadcast). This is, in my opinion, the absolute wrong way to pick up a habit. It’s very unlikely someone will stick with a project for the long term, if they don’t genuinely get into it for the love of the act itself. The most interesting part about Beeple’s story is that his coming into fabulous wealth is almost an incidental footnote. The project was the real reward. He would have continued doing it whether or not it made him money, whether or not he became famous, and whether or not anyone even looked at his images at all. How do we know that? Because he proved that he would. Every day, for over 5,000 days. And as Beeple put it when asked by GQ where he’ll go after making his sale, “Well, I’m not going to listen to all the critics. I only do what I want to do and if that resonates with people then so be it.” Can you let go of your long term goals, and allow your Twitch passion to take you wherever it might lead? If you do, whether you reach your original goals or not, you’ll always enjoy the ride. And like Beeple, you might just find that you end up somewhere even better than you could have imagined.