A million tiny trials and tests and failures

Year upon year I’ve worked to find success.

Every time a year turns anew, I, along with a billion others, plan to make the twelve months that follow the perfect twelve.

“Enough is enough!” we declare, and hope to make sweeping gestures and implement grand change overnight.

Once I was sure I hadn’t planned enough the previous year, so I planned for weeks. Another year I was convinced I was simply too stupid to know what to do, so I wrote out a giant booklist.

Then I thought my site needed to be redesigned, that was my problem, that’s why I hadn’t achieved the heights I’d dream of, that’s what it is! Time to redesign!

One time the dark part of my soul was especially devious – I was convinced that the problem was that I simply planned too much, and that the goals I set were silly and just got in the way of getting real work done.

So I decide to no longer make plans, to be done with todo lists, and to act as if my goals were childish fantasy to be forgotten.

It was two years before I started to work again. Yeah, that one really hurt. Watched some great TV though.

It almost goes without saying, but I’ll put the cherry on the cake anyhow – all those resolutions proved meaningless.

As 2014 began to turn in, as billions of us started to think about how to make the next year different, I found myself pestered by an idea that quickly turned into an ideal.


Or, perhaps, craftsmanship.

The simple, small, and very much deliberate, slow steps of craftsmanship.

More than ever we are making things. It’s easier than ever to write an article and publish it, easier than ever to build a website from scratch and find a visitor, easier than ever to make and do just about anything.

But when was the last time you heard the idea of craftsmanship arise? It isn’t completely lost, but it has fallen out of favour.

I think it’s due to speed. We’re in the gold rush of creativity. I could say it’s every week there’s a new thing for us to play with, but let’s be honest, it’s every hour that something to play with grabs our attention. Refresh your Twitter stream, or your RSS reader, check your inbox, and you’ll find something new to play with.

Craftsmanship takes time. It takes decades of practice. It’s a million tiny trials and tests and failures. Most of all, and maybe this is where our eyes glaze over — it often means taking years of going unnoticed.

This whole “long time” thing is a problem if we want to ship, isn’t it? If we want to publish and make, then craftsmanship will get in the way, won’t it?

It’s why I’ve struggled for so long. I’ve avoided shipping in the pursuit of what I thought was craftsmanship. A pathetic little excuse, that is.

To me craftsmanship as an ideal means looking at the big picture. It means seeing how each little pieces makes up the whole, and realising, most of all, that not everything needs to be perfect because perfect doesn’t exist. There is only another level of craft, another stage of quality.

Shipping and publishing helps you seek out that next step. It forces you to stop. To start over. To reinforce the skills you’re developing and see how they work in different contexts and situations.

If you polish the one product forever, you’ll only get really good at polishing that one product. The more you polish it, the further you’ll travel away from being being able to even begin carving out the next one.

So no, craftsmanship isn’t the enemy of shipping and finishing. It might be the biggest cheerleader of such things, because it forces you to start over and develop those skills.

Besides, I kinda like the wordplay of “craftsmen ship”. Cute, no?

I was going to write about how we can take back craftsmanship in a digital era.

But, to be honest, I haven’t thought about that enough. The answer, as far as I can see, is both easy and difficult, hence it needing more thought.

I think it goes something like “show up and don’t expect much.”

Just get to work, focus on the small details, see what works, and repeat. When things go wrong, first understand them, then correct them.

Forget the word “fix” – it suggests a lazy education, like using !important in CSS – it’s a solution to the symptoms, not to what is causing the malady in the first place. It’s drinking in the morning instead of just dealing with the hangover. It’s letting a fight with your partner go dormant instead of solving the issue.

But back to craft. I think it’s somewhat become my resolution for 2015. That is, to focus on my craft.

Whenever I’ve done so, whenever I’ve pushed my ego aside, whenever I’ve just gotten down to work and followed the basics of what the work I’m doing means, whether it be with writing, or design, I’ve had my biggest wins. I’m willing to bet you’ve had the same experience.

Craft isn’t just focusing on the simple tasks, but developing an understanding that goes beyond a practice or routine, and sees the greater effect those things can have. Cutting and nailing can make a chair, but craft makes an heirloom.

So, for me, this year and I think for a quite few more to come, I’m going to focus on helping you become a better creative. I think that’s what I want my craft to be.

I’ll do that with research, and writing, and storytelling, and design, and thinking and talking about how each of those are crafts in and of themselves.

We’ll look at how fundamentals and habits and systems can help. We’ll talk to some amazing people and try to understand how they work and what little tricks we can steal away for ourselves.

We’ll make things and break things and we’ll ask why things work when they do and why they don’t when they don’t, and how we can use such knowledge to our advantage.

I’ll do all this because when I think of doing such a thing, of making your life just a little bit easier, a little bit more fun, of helping you develop your craft, I feel like I’m scratching at an electric charge.

Helping each of you be better creatives. To help you go from new to good, and good to great, and great to moving. As far as I’m concerned, that’s one hell of a craft to pursue and the more I think about it the more it feels like something to dedicate years of my life to.

This brings me to a simple question – what’s your craft?

I want to know what your craft is. What does the idea of craft within your work mean to you? How do you develop it? Nurture it?

Do you think all this talk about craft is worthwhile or kinda crazy and outdated? Let me know, I’d love to hear from you.

Hit reply and tell my the stories about your craft and I’ll happily publish some of my favourites in the very near future to the wider Retinart audience (name and website and whatever you’d like fully attributed, of course). Go on, hit reply and let’s chat.

What does craft mean to you?