Reader Q&A: Becoming A Full-Time Creator, How to Stand Out, Keeping Things Fresh
Just answering a few questions from y'all.
Substack recently launched a feature called “Subscriber Chats,” which allows me to interact with readers in a more casual way than newsletter posts. I think it’s fun but there are still a lot of shortcomings (the biggest one being that it’s only available via smartphone and not on the web). That said, feel free to download the Substack app and join me over there if you’d like! To do this:
Download the app by clicking this link or the button below.
Open the app and tap the Chat icon. It looks like two bubbles in the bottom bar, and you’ll see a row for my chat inside.
On my subscriber chat and on my personal Patreon, I recently put the call out for reader questions and a bunch of you responded so let’s get into it.
Thomas asks: What goals had you achieved or milestones did you cross that gave you the confidence to quit your day job and become a full-time creator?
For newcomers: in 2022, I quit my day job in a corporate role at a tech company and am currently making podcasts and videos full time. In a recent conversation with my colleagues at the podcast BaldMove (Patreon only), A. Ron Hubbard asked a very similar question: What is the ‘green light’ you are waiting for to go into content creation full time?
Our conclusion was that there’s never really a green light — no moment where you feel like, “All is right with the world! It’s time to quit my job and go it alone.” Instead, it’s always a series of blinking yellow lights. Perhaps that’s the best we can hope for.
For myself, I had a few clear conditions:
INCOME: I wanted to be in a position where I knew the amount of money I was making would cover my monthly expenses. With the amazing contributors signing up for my personal Patreon and the Filmcast Patreon, that had finally become possible.
SAVINGS: I wanted to have enough saved up that if all my online revenue was suddenly eliminated for unforeseen reasons, I’d still be able to financially survive for at least X months (fill in the number that you are most comfortable with. Mine changed all the time).
The thing is, even after meeting these first two conditions, I discovered there was an unspoken third condition: It had to FEEL right. It had to feel like I had some momentum behind the work I was doing, and that my audience still had the potential to grow instead of decline. It had to feel like dedicating my waking hours to the task at hand would be meaningful and satisfying. So did it feel right? Kind of! Next question.
Jerry asks: How do you differentiate yourself from the sea of creators? do you just let your work speak for itself and promote yourself everywhere you can?
There are many things I do to try to stand out online but I’ll list two big ones that come to mind at the moment:
EXPERIMENT: I’m always thinking about the different ways I can get my work out into the world. TikTok, Snapchat, BeReal, Hive, Mastodon, whatever. I’m a first adopter and a tinkerer. I try things when few others I know are into them. I never believe “if you build it, they will come.” Just making something great is no longer sufficient; you have to have a plan for getting people to check it out. In fact, getting people’s attention is often harder than creating the initial thing you want them to check out! I’m basically always keeping an eye out for how people are communicating and how I can better tap into the mechanics of how content is being shared. I’d encourage you to experiment and not hold any previous conventions as sacred.
HAVE PERSONALITY: This is something I really believe in and I am trying to work on: I think allowing your personality to come out in your work is really important. It’s arguably more important than having skill (if your goal is developing an audience)! I know lots of writers who have a really distinct personality who are only okay at writing, and it doesn’t matter. They distinguish themselves because they come across as people who I trust and want to engage with. So whatever your personality is, figure out a way for it to come through in the work you do.
Wil asks: How do you keep the act of watching movies ‘fresh’ and enjoyable so it doesn’t turn a favorite hobby into just ‘work?’..or is being a movie critic/reviewer the initial hobby?
Honestly, I don’t really think I need to do anything to keep things “fresh” because fundamentally, I still love watching and talking about TV shows and movies. Certain aspects of the entertainment industry have definitely jaded me and I can often find the online Film Twitter discourse (and all its takes) exhausting. But the act of sitting down in front of a TV or a movie screen, dimming the lights, and watching someone else’s vision of the world play out in front of you is always still a bit magical.
That being said, make no mistake: when you do stuff like “reviewing TV and movies” full time, you are making a hobby into work. This comes with a significant cost and will forever alter your relationship with that hobby. Until I give up this whole thing and/or retire, I can never really watch stuff without thinking about how I’m going to be covering it. A part of me does look forward to the one day far in the future when I’m 86 years old and can fire up my holographic television and watch a holo-series knowing that no one will hear my thoughts about it except for me.
That doesn’t mean it’s always a slog. In fact, there can often be great satisfaction to be found in writing a good review, recording a good podcast, or putting together a fun video. Publishing something and tracking its spread through the internet is actually one of my favorite activities. I’m one of those hardcore refreshers that checks my stats pretty regularly.
At the end of the day though, it’s still work. Just work that I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to do everyday still.
That’s it for now. I’ll try to do these fairly regularly. I hope you enjoyed the above and if you do, check out my Substack Subscriber Chat or my Patreon so that your question can be included next time around.
Stuff I’ve made
I host a podcast about parenthood with my brother called The Next Cheneration. It doesn’t update very often but when it does I always appreciate it as a document of our lives at that point in time. Here’s a recent episode.
Over on the Filmcast, we interviewed Rian Johnson to discuss the making of Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. Also, Rian relentlessly trolls me for the entire duration of the interview. Another classic episode!
On Decoding TV, Christian Spicer and I discussed the season premiere of The Last Of Us. For Decoding TV paid subscribers, we are also publishing regular bonus episodes about how the show compares with the videogame. The first one is free.
On Decoding Reality, we kicked off our coverage of The Bachelor and welcomed Justin Jordan and Deajah Woolery to the Decoding TV network! Listen to our season 27 preview episode here.
On my YouTube channel, Walter Chaw and I made the case against Avatar: The Way of Water.
There's only one glaring flaw in your answers: By the time you're 86, your television will be able to literally hear your thoughts and post them as comments about the show. Seriously, though. Thanks for the insights.
I always love hearing honest insights and behind-the-scenes tidbits that goes into your work. Thanks for this!