073. Sidestepping sophomore slump
omg a hit tweet!
I posted a comic on Twitter last week, and it was by far the most engagement I’ve received on Twitter so far.
I’m proud of the work, but now I’m feeling some internal pressure to make another one, and fast. Funnily enough, I had the same sensation a lifetime ago.
In high school, I made an original short film with friends that we uploaded to YouTube. We went mini-viral, breaking 20,000 views after a few weeks. This is chump change in the modern era, but a very big deal for some high schoolers during the age of NigaHiga and KevJumba.
Our next original film barely crossed 1,000 views. It wasn’t very good either.
In the music world, artists have their whole lives to pour into their first album. There’s no crushing expectation when they debut. However, if that album is a surprise hit, they’re suddenly on a deadline to rush out another to capitalize on the first’s success.
How often does this work out? To give you a hint, the failure for an artist’s second effort to live up to the high standards set by their first is so common, the industry has a name for it: “second-album syndrome”.
It’s funny that this phenomenon can happen at any scale. The dopamine feels the same whether I see 5 digits on YouTube, 2 digits on Twitter, or 1 digit on Substack. Isn’t it nice that the hedonic treadmill has an adaptive difficulty setting? 🙃
I’m grateful that the comic resonated, and I got helpful feedback that I’m still chewing on. But I’m writing this post to remind myself to follow aliveness and not just what pleases the crowd.
Most writers on the web became prisoners to their own audience. In an attempt to create a way out from their existing bosses, they grew a successful writing activity online that has now generated another couple of thousand bosses. And these bosses are more rabid and demanding than the old one.
I recognize the pressure I feel is also influenced by my perfectionism. The second album is a big deal when there’s only one other data point to compare you against. I imagine it’s chiller after your tenth album. A “do 100 thing” challenge combats that sense of preciousness.
Overall, this was a good reminder of the peakiness of social media and a reminder to redirect towards my internal compass – is my next project taking real risks or just trying to do numbers?
I have no marketing hacks up my sleeve, no growth strategies. I’m just me being me, doing me-things. And this doesn’t change, whether I have 1 follower or 60,000+.
I leave you with this parting thought:
The best art you’ve ever enjoyed was made with a studied indifference to its audience.
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Substack subscribers got early access!
Oh boy, I have to do a 100-day art challenge next, don’t I?
doing 100 of something as an antidote to preciousness about it is a great way of framing it.
I also think being comfortable doing something well as a one-off and then going on to do something else is a good approach, too.
Some really great art was made by people who quit while they were ahead & didn't try to milk it indefinitely (Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin & Hobbes, comes to mind).
Seems like just another way of acting on that "studied indifference" that's critical to making great stuff
writing daily is rewarding, but i still think i wouldn't be as consistent if i didn't know that other 100dcc friends might read my posts. having an audience, even just 1 person, changes the game completely.
"Oh boy, I have to do a 100-day art challenge next, don’t I?"
haha, i also find myself visualizing new challenges. i think this structure works because the daily goal is so low pressure, it feels like optimizing for fun not work. but over time, the small things compound so beautifully.