To Build a Fire

I sometimes visit my sister, who lives in Maine. The cabin on their land has a wood stove (fireplaces aren’t used much in Maine, since they don’t radiate heat very well), so I’ve had a fair amount of experience making up fires.

You start by arranging a pile of kindling: ‘fat wood’, sticks, pieces of branches, cardboard nothing too big or thick. Probably some newspapers to start things off. When it’s built up, you light it. At this point you have to keep an eye on it and be ready to add more wood on, but you don’t add any cordwood yet (or if you do, you do it with the knowledge that it isn’t going to catch). The goal is to heat up the chimney so that the hot air above begins to draw oxygen into the stove. Once the chimney heats up, the fire will burn faster and hotter thanks to the added oxygen. At that point you can add in the cordwood.

Once you reach that point, you can more or less sit back and watch it go, adding more cordwood whenever you feel like it’s getting too low or when you want to make it even hotter. But the thing is, at this point the fire is going to take a long time to really go out.

From what I can understand, a creative career is like that. You have to start with a lot of work that won’t make much impact, steadily building up the heat (i.e. an audience) and creating a demand for your work. But then, once things get hot enough, you’ll find that your career has become self-sustaining: people are interested in your backlog, which keeps the heat going well enough that you no longer need to throw everything you’ve got into the fire: you can be more selective and apply the works that specifically advance your brand, that your audience really wants to see, and these they’ll devour like a pack of ravenous wolves. At that point you’re more or less guaranteed that anything you produce will turn a profit, or if not that it won’t ruin you. You would have to neglect your career for a good long time to kill it entirely.

Me, I’m in the kindling phase.

One thought on “To Build a Fire

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