The Creation Imperative

     A lot of YouTubers have been getting book deals. It’s cool. And particularly in the “Nerdfighter” community—the online community that rallies around the duo under the username The Vlogbrothers—it strikes me as only natural. One of the vlogbrothers, John Green, is the author of The Fault in our Stars as well as several other YA novels. As such, the audience heavily identifies as readers and many a reader also likes writing. However, I think it’s even more elemental than that.

     Those who maintain an actually active YouTube channel tend to be creative folks. They either think of lots of ideas for sketches, parodies, comedy, and socially relevant content, or they’re very good at expressing their unique worldview in the vlog format. The bottom line is that they’re always creating the next thing. Mostly, the next thing is another YouTube video, because they have a platform and an audience, but this is a very new medium. If YouTube or community-driven online video never existed, they would still be creative people, they’d just be filtering their energy into something else. Like these books they’ve just written. They didn’t write them because they’re YouTubers and it’s a fad for YouTubers to publish books, they wrote them because an idea caught their imagination, they saw that idea through, and they’re good at expressing themselves. Writing a book is a lot like vlogging. It’s a solitary exercise that takes concentration and an ability to express yourself. It’s something a single person can do. That’s why it makes sense for vloggers to make books instead of movies. Here are two of the vloggers who just got book deals recently:

Alex Day

Elmify

     It also probably doesn’t hurt that publishers, much like record companies, are looking to represent people who already have some kind of online presence, since that’s a hard thing to manufacture.

     The cliché about “having to write” that writers throw around has bugged me for awhile. “I write because I have to.”/“If you’re a writer, you can’t not write.”/”I’ll go crazy if I don’t write. It’s the only thing that keeps me sane.” You know, blah, blah, blah.

     It always struck me as a singularly pretentious notion. Toss a writer in a locked room without a pencil and they’d tear their flesh to craft sentences in their own blood. “My thoughts need construction and form! They must be preserved! You may take my tools, but not my arsenal of adverbs!” Not writing is actually very easy. There’s movies, TV, video games, online content, books, graphic novels, audio books, and once you’ve exhausted all of that, there’s exercise, cooking, exploring the outdoors (only relevant for half the calendar year if you live in the Midwest), tidying up, talking to friends or family, and sleeping. There’s all kinds of ways to not-write. I don’t-write all the time.

     When I pause and apply this creative imperative to just making stuff in general, however, it makes sense. I’ve just forgotten at this point what it’s like to not be making something. That sounds really self important too, but it’s true. Back before PoPS, I’d go through creative spells and I’d glom onto an idea, write it, produce it, shoot it, edit it, and screen it for my parents and friends. Done. Then I’d watch some movies for awhile and hang out until I’d feel that itch again. It is like an itch. Something pops into your brain and you’re like—Yeah, cool. That’s a new way of expressing that. And then you start piecing it together to explore it, all while injecting it with as much of yourself as possible. What’s entertaining, what’s relevant, what resonates with you? Then you want to put it in front of other people to see if they get it. If the same things draw them in.

     It’s not just the fact that these YouTubers are making time to write whole books in addition to their video making schedule, it’s that while I’m piecing together episode 8 of PoPS I’ve jumped into two completely unrelated shorter projects to create something a little bit different. I used to create shorts to get the fulfillment of storytelling while I day-job’ed at retail shops. When my day-job became creative—writing articles, reviews, and making videos—I started PoPS in order to fulfill my own personal means of storytelling, I create weekly updates and weekly blog posts as a means of continually engaging the audience that has developed around that pet project, now I’m creating and collaborating in other shorts as a third level of creative outlet so I can do something a little different than my main storytelling hobby. That’s why I started to resent the idea of “I can’t not write.” Because that phrase stopped communicating a compulsion to creatively discover, and starting feeling like an order. “You can’t not create!” I felt like I couldn’t leave the computer long enough to watch some g-dang TV.

     I’m trying to get better about balancing the drive to see projects through and explore different avenues of storytelling with the necessity to stop for a second and just hang out. Once you get any kind of audience together, the constant pull to work on things becomes pretty incessant. You don’t want them to forget about you. But without the audience, that pull would still exist. It just does.

Thanks for reading.

–Jake

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