You've probably heard a common refrain in the transmedia scene: "Just make something." It's the wisdom of centuries of artists before us -- you can talk forever, but you never become a creator if you don't actually apply all that theory. Writers write.
There's also a honing-your-craft angle to it; we writers say you have to write a million words of crap before you start writing anything good. Practice makes perfect: You have to try and fail a few times just to get the hang of most things, much less to make anything you're proud to hang your name on.
But a conversation with Transmedia Talk's own Nick Braccia a few days ago has me realizing that a lot more goes into climbing the skill ladder than just milling out content. There are writers who churn out millions of words of manuscripts in a year, each worse than the last; there are transmedia creators who likewise make disjointed and unfocused projects that never quite hang together into a cohesive whole. So here are five things that an ambitious creator will do, even above and beyond that old standby, "Make something."
1. Learn from work like yours. One of the most common ways of breaking into transmedia is inventing it. But when you do work in a vacuum, you're doing a huge disservice to yourself, your project, and your audience, because you aren't climbing onto the shoulders of those who have gone before you so you can see a little further. There's no sense reinventing the wheel. When you're wishing there were an easier or better way to do something, check to make sure someone hasn't already found one.
2. Talk to other creators. Sometimes learning from public examples isn't enough; become friendly with others doing similar projects, and trade information about roads not taken, close calls, war stories that might change how you do something. Sometimes a project that looked OK on the surface was a nightmare behind the scenes, and that's important to know if you don't want a nightmare on your hands, too.
3. Make every decision mindfully. Make sure you very clearly understand all of the parts of your project and how they fit together. At every step know what work is being done -- characterization, exposition, furthering the plot, making the user experience better. That applies to written and video content, to design and interface elements, to challenges, everything. If you can't explain why you're making the choices you have for everything from platform distribution to font choices, then you haven't yet thought it through well enough.
4. Seek out criticism of your work. This one is hard. Really, really hard. Partly that's because it's difficult to hear criticism of something you love; it can feel weirdly personal and put you on the defensive. (You have to get over that, sunshine, if you want to go pro.) But the other reason is that honest and robust criticism is rare in the transmedia space. There's snark between friends in private, to be sure, but very little moves into the public sphere. Try to get your hands on that honest criticism, be it from your audience, from other creators, from your dev team, or anywhere else you can find it. Feedback is valuable above jewels, and you should make it a priority if you want to actually get better at this stuff.
5. Own your failures. This one's hard, too, but mainly because of pride: Don't buy your own hype. Don't believe your press releases. Know when you've totally screwed up, and admit it to yourself. That's the first step to working out why and preventing a repeat. Even when you haven't totally screwed up, though, even for magnificent and award-winning work, turn your analytic eye to every part of a project once it's done to see what could've been done better. And then make something else -- better.
Of course, it's true that none of this applies if you haven't taken that first step, that step where you actually make something. But there's a lot more to doing good work than putting together any old inspiration and tossing it in front of an unwitting public. I can't guarantee that these five steps will turn you into a rockstar transmedia creator overnight, of course. But I promise you if you aren't doing these things, your path to the top will take a whole lot longer -- and you may never get there at all.