How to properly build what you want to build.

To build something you really want to build, and build it right, you need time and expertise. You may need money. You will likely need more of all of them than you’ve currently got, unless you are Bill Gates and it’s the mid-1980s.

Time is non-replenishable. You can’t get more, so use what you’ve got well. Expertise is readily available from other people, who’ve spent all of their time becoming experts, but they will only give you their time in exchange for money. True experts often need a lot of money, maybe because they spent a lot of time. Money can come by a variety of means:

Let’s discount finding it in a ditch, and you probably already know that you haven’t inherited it. You can borrow a very limited amount of it with sufficient collateral, but then you must repay a larger amount. You could have it invested in you by investors, but they also want a larger pile to come back, and building something really properly isn’t a surefire way to do that. Plus, they don’t know you or what you’re capable of, so they’d probably never give you the huge sum of money you need. You’ll probably need to get paid, by a large number of people. Preferably on a recurring basis. So you’ll have to have something lots of people want.

Discounting finding that in a ditch (ditches are not the treasure trove modern media may lead one to believe) you’re going to have to make it yourself. Again, you need time, money, and expertise, but less of each than before. You can free up your work-time by having money. A loan is still an option, but betting collateral on your business is a recipe for disaster. So maybe try for a smaller investment–you’ll have less to prove than for the larger sum, so you may just need a solid track record, a good reputation, and to pound the pavement. (Plot hole: let’s ignore nepotism, groupthink, and social status.) You could try to skimp on time by continuing to work, which would free you from the investment.

Expertise in this case is ‘just’ knowing what people want, and how to build it well enough that it doesn’t anger them–usually easier than really building something right. This also comes back to a track record. A track record is just a history. It’s building things, time and time again.

How do you build things? Decide on something that you do not already have, then dream up a possible way to make it, and set to work. You don’t have to know exactly how when you set out. You probably won’t need to learn how either. You will quickly figure out what things you really need to learn by trying to do what you want, and failing.

So try. Go start now.

Try something out, learn what you need to learn by making mistakes, and build what you want to build by actually doing it. Don’t do a tutorial, don’t look up background research, don’t read an introduction to the language. Don’t open Hacker News. Don’t reinvent things–use the tools, frameworks, and freebies that flood the internet. Get out there and script-kiddie-lego-monkey-duct-tape-copycat it until you absolutely can’t go further. Then fix just enough of the hole in your knowledge so that you can keep going, and get right back to it. There are no barriers to doing something now.

And don’t worry, I promise you you’re learning things, no matter how janky your stuff is. Building it properly will come later. Building anything comes now.

What’s next after starting? Well, that’s another hard part: continuing. You have to keep building your thing. Then you have to finish it, which is also hard. Then you have to move on and start again, and do the whole thing over, preferably something pretty different. Then do it over again, and over, and over, for a long time. None of the things you make will be the track record on its own, and none of them will impress investors, or customers, or even necessarily you. Until one day, something you made does impress somebody. It won’t happen until it has, but as you work, the chances go up and up.

Why is continuing so hard?

Because it means not going out tonight. It means not sleeping in tomorrow, and not going to sleep now even though you’re tired. Not seeing your family right now, or catching up with your friends this time. Not working on your other hobby. Not eating healthy, or keeping up on exercise. It means not reading, not writing, nor volunteering, not staying at work late because you zoned out a bit that day and just need to finish one more little thing. It means not getting home and turning on Netflix. It means seriously choosing not to lose track of time scrolling through social media feeds.

It hopefully doesn’t mean all of that, or even most of it–if it means most of it for you, it’s getting unhealthy. But it does mean some of that, sometimes, and which bits is different for all of us. Honing the skill of continuing is going to be more of that bad stuff than you want it to be.

So, continuing is hard. It’s a trade where you decide what you want more, what you think is worth more to you: building things, or other stuff. For most of us, other stuff ought to be more important. You can and should try to find a balance, but be honest at the outset: if you want to do something difficult, you will have to make real sacrifices, and do real work.

It’s also hard because continuing means facing yesterday’s choices. It means a lot of boring fixing and tweaking and hitting your head against a wall. It means doing the things you haven’t already done before, and the things you didn’t do first out of sheer excitement. It sometimes means closing doors on ideas, and admitting you made mistakes. It is by definition hard work. Much harder than starting.

Why is finishing hard?

It’s everything that was hard about continuing, taken to the extreme. The last mile is nearly totally populated by boring minutia. It’s also got those really hard, annoying problems you managed to avoid solving. It’s all polish and review and stupid bugs you thought you fixed, and it takes an impossibly long time. It’s full of people not liking your baby, complaining about things outside of your control, and using your stuff wrong.

So, finishing means being devoted, empathetic, and humble. It’s done by understanding the flaws in your own work and splitting that work away from your ego, and just gritting your teeth and doing every little thing that needs to be done. It will never really be done–nothing ever really is, but at some point you will find it receives more use than abuse. More compliments than complaints. While we’re here, be careful about glowing comments from loved ones. You pretty much have to entirely discount their happy opinions on this. Only angry internet strangers’ approval matters, because theirs is the hardest to win. They are the people you want to pay you some day.

Some day, after you start, and continue, and finish, and build a track record, and (maybe) take money, and build something people want. Then, you can hire people who are really experts, and build what you want to build, and build it right.

So, why is starting hard?

It isn’t. People only think it is.

People see all the stuff above, and get caught up worrying about where or whether they’ll fail. Sometimes they wisely discover that there are other paths, or that they care more about building things properly than choosing what to build (maybe they’ll become an expert). Maybe they simply value the rest of life more. Some people spend years or decades planning to start, and just never really do it, or they never start what they think they wanted to.

But it is actually easy to start. You just start.

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