The Art of Elimination

Sometimes projects get too big, deadlines get too close, creative disagreements happen, or for some other reason you’re either stuck, falling behind schedule, or both. In my experience, this often happens when projects become too bloated with half-cocked ideas and unfinished features. To solve the problem you must invoke a dark art, namely the art of elimination.

I love the expression “kill your darlings”. In three words, it perfectly captures what this is all about. We tend to look at our ideas as darlings, loved little entities to nurture and grow. We take pride in them, boast about them and even build things around them with the help of others. But most ideas are not as good as they seemed, when they first appeared in your head.

There is a reason why the painter sketches before creating the final piece, the writer produces several drafts, the director does alternative takes, the game dev makes hundreds of builds; all of this in pursuit of perfection. What is also true is that in nearly every project using an iterative approach, those last few iterations are about cutting the fat to focus on what is important.

This can be agonizing. I witnessed a film director barricade himself in the editing room for two days, because his film was 6 minutes too long for the short film competition he was entering. He looked like hell at the end of it, and the film did not win the competition, but he got it done and submitted on time. At the end of the day, getting it done is the first building block for actually shipping something.

Here is how I approach the art of elimination in any creative project.

First, focus on the high level. What is the story we are telling here? What are the top priorities we want to convey? Keeping this list short is very important. One or two items is ideal, and you shouldn’t go beyond four.

Secondly, split your project into parts. If it’s a novel, split it into story arcs or subplots. If it’s a game, split it by quests, meta-game or whatever makes sense. The idea is to have an overview of the logical building blocks that make up your project. Chances are, you already have that in some form.

Once the project is split into parts, it becomes much easier to see which parts take up the most space. Compare this to the list of priorities, and evaluate how they connect. How does each part further the priorities? If you find that something is non-essential to the priorities, it makes a good candidate for getting cut. Note that “space” in this context can refer to anything from playtime in a game to how much mental focus a reader spends on it in a novel – while not necessarily a specific number of words or minutes, these are good data points to use as indicators.

Identify the best candidates for cutting. If none are found, you are probably not looking hard enough. But if I take your word for it, the next step then is to dive deeper into each of the parts you have identified, and find individual components within these parts that might be axed, combined or reduced. This will invariably lead to more fine editing and polish, but likely also an overall tighter result, without outright reducing the number of parts.

Doing this may sound simple, but choosing what to cut can be extremely difficult. If there are several contributors, and you are left to make the decision, it is likely that someone will disagree with or be upset by your call. However, there is no point blaming the editor, producer, or whomever is enforcing the limitations causing the cuts (in my experience, a looming marketing deadline and launch commitments are the most common causes for cutting things at the last minute). It just happens.

Killing your darlings can suck, but it can also be liberating and open your eyes in a different way, to the story you are telling or experience you are building. It enhances the focus of your top priorities, which tends to also increase the impact on and retention of the target audience by making your story clearer and easier to understand. Editing is your friend.

One thing to watch out for when cutting content, is that sometimes what may seem non-essential in one context (say, the main plot line) can be essential in another context (like world building). Make sure you examine your project from multiple angles.

Don’t be afraid to cut boldly to see what happens. You can always save a backup without the changes, and restore if you think it was too drastic. If you have to kill your darlings, you may as well have fun doing it. Good luck!

5 Ways to Promote Your Work

This post was originally written for artists, but its contents will apply to many freelancers as well. Whether you’re a writer, an actor, a designer or a band, all those seeking to make a living off their creative work must also take on the daunting task of self promotion. If you don’t, you will more than likely perish in the sea of other creatives working harder at getting seen than you.

Creating great work is essential, but in today’s market it is not enough. You need to be seen.

In the time I ran Another Passion, I interviewed many different artists and creative professionals, and I started to see patterns. Many don’t do a good job of marketing themselves because they either don’t know what they are doing, or have no interest in it (and thus either avoid it or do a half assed job). I’ve written about this topic before, but this time I will offer 5 specific suggestions.

The thing is, promotion should be part of your process no matter what artform you practice. It is not a bad thing, and you don’t have to “sell out” (which I define as pretending to be something you are not, in order to make a buck). But you do have to put in some time, effort and a little structure.

Here are 5 things you should be doing at the very least. Even if you only do three of them, but do them well, you will start building a stronger following of fans, clients and patrons.

1. Email, email, email!

Few things compare to the power of the email list. There are many good sources on how best to use them, and how not to. There are great services like MailChimp who make it easy and let you get started for free.

Email lists are important, because subscribers on your list are typically more than casually interested in what you’re doing. They want to be kept in the loop, and your job is to do just that. Let them know about upcoming events, progress on current projects or those sweet T-shirts you had made. It doesn’t take that much time to put together a decent email once a month to share the latest news – just keep it relevant and short.

2. Get on Twitter

If you’re not on Twitter, you should be. Once you figure out how to use the service, it becomes an amazing tool for both collaboration, networking and marketing. For free. The key is how you approach it, and again the answer is to keep your fans and followers up to speed with what’s going on, share relevant links and stories that relate to the values you stand for. And most importantly, engage with your followers and follow those you admire as well as those who support you. Twitter is all about sharing, so retweet others when they share something relevant or interesting. Have fun with it!

Twitter might not suit your personality, but give it an honest try. You can find me there – I’m @theprint. And if you end up hating Twitter, try taking your efforts to other social media platforms, such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Etsy (find one or two that fits what you do and the people you want to connect with).

3. Attend Events

As awesome as the web is, nothing beats meeting people face to face. The hardest part is finding the right events to attend, meaning that not everything labeled “networking event” will be for your network.

If you’re in the performing arts, think of every performance as potential networking. You never know who’s watching and might be able to help you later, so try to stay open minded, honest and forthcoming.

Seek out conferences that center around what you do, go to launch parties, performances and premieres when others in your network invite you, or just invite someone you admire out for coffee. Get out there!

4. Share!

You may have already noticed that sharing is a recurring theme here. Sharing is key.

What are the thoughts behind your process? What would you like to achieve through your work? Sharing process, progress and pieces of material is a great way to keep your name fresh in people’s mind, and to assert yourself as an authority within your field.

If you’re a writer, share insights into your work, give away a short story for people to sample. If you’re a painter, show us your sketches as well as your final work. If you’re a game designer, give us a demo! You get the idea.

Being personable and engaging will get you attention, but in the end it’s your work that will make you money. Make sure your work is never far away, so those interested can check it out and get in touch. Which leads me to the final point…

5. Stop Reading and Start Producing

Maybe you’re reading this hoping for inspiration, or maybe you’re procrastinating. Almost all of us do this on a regular basis, instead of spending the time and energy on actually producing work. However, at the end of the day it’s the work that counts.

No amount of self-help books and how-to articles is going to make you successful. Only you and the effort you put in can do that, with help from your network – but you have to take the first step and lead the way. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike or some angel patron to pave the way, start producing and shipping right now.

Molly Lewis’ Graduation Concert


On the 24th of June, I was asked to document an important night for entertainer Molly Lewis. She had recently graduated college and had decided to throw a celebratory concert, inviting some of her friends and fellow performers to share the stage with her at Seattle’s awesome venue, The Triple Door. There is nothing I love more than documenting an event like this, and I was extremely excited to be asked.

Shooting a concert like this one, is akin to shooting a wedding. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event, hugely important to the client, and there is definitely a pressure to deliver some memorable results. There is no do-over if you fail, but if you deliver good work, the client will be forever thankful. I brought an extra camera, so I could go back and forth between my favorite lenses without having to waste time switching. Missing some fantastic moment is easy when there are so many talented people together in one spot. Granted, most of the gold happens on stage, but there are always a few hidden diamonds behind the scenes as well. Those are the shots I live for!

Audience participation as Marian Call gets everyone to do the shark week! Click to see an animated gif version!
I arrived at the venue around 3.30pm, so I could cover all the last minute prep that goes into something like this. The band hastily rehearsing a few songs, harmonies being perfected, monitors being adjusted, jokes being made. Lots of ideas are still being thrown around at this point, and during downtime artists are candidly discussing their work and dreams – or passing time playing a game. The four and half hours between my arrival and official show start went by fast.

It was after 11pm when I left the venue, happy and exhausted, knowing I had at least another 10 hours of solid work, sorting and post-processing the images. I walked out on the streets of Seattle, caught a cab home and collapsed on the couch.

Below is a gallery of photos I took at the event. Of the 1,100 frames I shot before sorting away all the misfires, and frames badly out of focus (which happens a lot in such low light, and with people moving around), a grand total of 444 images survived the culling, were post-processed and sent off to a hopefully happy Molly Lewis.

I urge you to check out the performers present at the concert:

Photo Gallery