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Make it GOOD: Five Questions for Jay Acunzo
Writer, speaker, and podcaster Jay Acunzo recently said something really nice about Foster:
Given Jay's mission — “to help creative people make what matters most” — the compliment meant a lot! We asked him to expand on his thoughts on what makes Foster special, and his advice for how creatives can make their best work.
What is it about Foster that excites you?
Most organizations who say they want to support writers or make it easier to write are focused on the removal of craft (e.g. AI promising the quick and easy creation of endless content) or the incremental things about the writing process (e.g. a workflow tool). Foster is actually trying to increase the signal of the web, not just add to the noise. Whereas most orgs who claim to help with writing are trying to let writers off the hook, Foster is putting people squarely on the hook. They have the audacity to stare marketers and creators in the eyes to say, "Yanno that thing you're making? You should make it GOOD." Then they're providing a service that can actually deliver on that demand.
Where do you see creators struggle the most?
Lots of creators agonize over the ideas and results. In short, they get stuck because they have a brilliance problem. At least, that's the story running in their minds. They have a brilliance problem. But they don't. In reality, they have a momentum problem. So why not solve THAT? Instead of agonizing over the perfect workflow or source of inspiration, just slap down a bad draft. Write about anything, then throw it away and re-focus on your core premise again. Ask questions, then investigate. Create to find your clarity. It's only through the process of creation that we find something worth writing about.
In the end, creativity is the consistent pursuit of curiosity, not the constant manufacturing of brilliance.
You talk so much about “making what matters,” a concept we are 100% in agreement with. What advice would you give to someone who’s trying to create more resonance in their work?
My friend Andrew Davis loves to say, "Ask a question Google can't answer." I love that. The willingness to leave behind the glut of experts in love with their generalities and absolutes to instead become an explorer is the single biggest unlock to a writer's work. Figure out what frustrates you -- that's like lighting a match. That's the spark. Then, ask the big or simple but open-ended questions -- that's how you light the kindling of your curiosity. Finally, aerate your ideas publicly so you improve your articulation of them and others get to respond to improve them too -- that's the oxygen to the fire. Over time, you get a roaring blaze of creativity. (You can hear Andrew Davis break down the "quest matrix" and this paradigm shift from expert to investigator in this story.)
Have community and collaboration played a role in your own creative journey? If so, how?
I've benefited greatly from great mentors (like Andrew Davis) and producers (like Ilana Nevins, my producer on Unthinkable). Primarily, I like to think of my work's collaborators as my audience. I'm constantly pursuing a big question or idea without the answers I need to, say, publish the book or deliver the speech on it just yet. So I use my newsletter to share my own stories and ideas about the concept (e.g. resonance, and how it works, and why we need to prioritize resonance over reach). Then I use my show as a place to tell the stories of others' and ask them questions about similar ideas.
This creates a virtuous cycle of asking questions, investigating, then holding it up to the audience to see what they think. Even if I get zero replies, that's still valuable data.
Who are some of the online creators making work that excites you? What qualities do they have that you’d like to see other creators channel?
Anyone who plants a flag for quality ranks high in my book. The folks who excite me recognize that a writer's challenge first and foremost is not where to write or whether to repurpose their writing into a thread or to rely more on video than audio or whether their podcast should also syndicate to YouTube.
These are distractions. They're incremental choices at best. The foundation of our work is a simple question: Can you resonate? We've become so obsessed with being visible, we've forgotten the job is to be memorable.
Can you resonate? Can you say something that matters? Develop your ideas over time such that people throw up their hands and go, “This! This speaks to my soul... and I have 12 friends who need to hear this right now.”
People who routinely inspire me include Ann Handley, Andrew Davis, Herbert Lui, Tom Webster, and Margo Aaron, to name a few.