Patrick Ward words, code, and music

Real Artists Ship and the Lizard Brain

It’s funny how, sometimes, when I feel like I’m goofing off, I actually discover some of my most profound realizations. During my recent spat of avoiding this blog, I found a vein of gold that led to a nugget of worthy proportions.

I don’t know why, but when I finish one aspect of a project, I often find I completely ignore it for days on end. It’s a nasty habit of mine that seems to only get worse as the years tick by. Of course, my being aware of it makes the pain even more unbearable. So, more often than not, I find myself poking around the internet, looking for that perfect, inspirational moment that will set me on fire again. Of course, it’s rare that that moment of clarity arises. In fact, it’s a near myth.

Except for today.

Today, I found a nugget of information on Wil Wheaton’s blog that led to a broader realization on 43 Folders that led me to a video by Seth Godin, which ultimately made me realize something very important about being an artist: Real artists ship.


Seth Godin: Quieting the Lizard Brain from 99% on Vimeo.

Real artists don’t sit around whining about how awful they are, or how ridiculous their ideas sound, or why they can’t work because they’re tired. They just do. Somewhere inside of them they find the courage to break through that social fear and let things loose. If you’re not letting the products of your efforts out into the world, how can you realistically call yourself an artist, writer, innovator, creator, or whatever you’d like to call yourself?

I’ve run into the same issue when I write software, build a new website, or come up with an idea for work. Sure, I’ve seen many of these ideas through to completion, but most of the time I simply let them fade away in memory; only to be brought back as ways to torture myself, reminders of my failed opportunities.

I can’t call myself an aspiring writer if I’m not writing; if I don’t let these words fly. It’s obvious, but there’s a part of me that does everything it can to prevent me from following through on that very transparent fact. I’ve called it my inner critic in the past, others, like Seth Godin, call it the Lizard Brain. It’s the resistance that tells me to stop, compromise, and hold back on whatever it is I’m about to do. It’s the fear factory and the anxiety drip that feeds me each time I try to step outside my boundaries.

Each insight I have is followed up by an even stronger denial by the lizard brain and his minions of panic and worry. The only cure, is to face them head on, acknowledge them, and then do something productive and practical to counteract them.

For me, that requires sitting down and writing; simple, but demanding. I have to push through those first few hundred words without looking back; denying the critic his urge to correct. If I can make it through the first 200-300 words I’m usually okay; the lizard brain settles down and I can get on with the necessary work. However, those first few moments are sheer hell. They test my mettle every time; and recently the lizard brain has been winning. Except today. I’ve identified him, forced him into the light, and took constructive action to push him out of the way — temporarily.

He’ll be back, but I’m wiser to his game now, more skilled at returning his volley.