What's better than perfect? Done is better than perfect.
Part of the beauty of writing, asking, and making projects is actually doing them. The best way out of something is often through it. Getting it done is where the art is. Seth Godin says “ship.” I say “do.” It means the same thing. Make it happen. Get it done.
It doesn’t matter whether or not you create the perfect product, the perfect essay, or the best story in the world; what matters is whether or not you have the nerve to ask and to create.
Sometimes you need to execute more and think less.
Rather than listen to all the voices that say you can’t do it, or why you’ll fail, take a step out and get started. Moving through something (physically, through action) is the best anecdote to stress, fear, and worry. At least this is what I’ve learned so far.
"What's better than perfect? Done is better than perfect." (Tweet this)
Last Friday we wrapped the third week of my private Writer's Workshop, a small group of writers that signed up on a 3-week journey and exploration in creative writing, narrative formation, storytelling, and persuasion. The class, a 15-module intensive, took us through a whirlwind a writing exercises and outlines frameworks and ideas around storytelling, understanding who you are, and the art (and difficulty) of creating a writing practice. (Side note: I'm so proud of them!!)
Often, as I work with clients and writers and with myself, I find a common middle section of any creative project or endeavor that's fuzzy, mucky, uncomfortable, and scary. When we start any new practice--any art, any craft, anything that takes time and dedication and involves a bundle of newness--it's terrifying. It's that moment when the demons and creatures and critters tumble out of your neatly stacked closets, giggle and jump on your bed, and start a dance party that rattles you enough to make you think that starting was a bad idea.
But all those thoughts, all those jumbles, all that cranky and temperamental and strange stuff that pours out just when you were getting started--that is the good stuff. That's what you're made of. That's where the weird, wonderful, and zany comes from. It's right at the beginning and when we get started that e need to set down the judgments and trade them for observations, noting only that we have this smattering of extremely strange and uncomfortable critters setting up a band show across our normally-made bed (Hah! You really think I make my bed? Right. Onwards).
One of my favorite lessons from the three-week class is my lesson on my personal writing and creation mantras: a bundle of tips, tricks, and habits that I keep posted up on my walls and in various locations as reminders and mantras towards my better self.
When I feel like crawling under the bed into the safety of the darkness and I think that the critters inside my mind will break everything in my house just by being them, I look at one of these mantras, breathe in a little bit, and remind myself to keep going.
I can survive a little hair-pulling. I can survive crayons all over the floor. I can survive the messiness. I can survive a massive dance party instigated by imaginary creatures in my mind. I can survive the Wild Things. I CAN SURVIVE THE MESSINESS! Because truly, the messiness is me. And in the exercise, I ask each person to create a list of mantras of their own (or to adopt whichever ones seem to fit from below).
What are your writing mantras? What are your creation mantras? How do you create your best self, and your best work? Here's my list, to start you off.
17 Tips, Tricks & Habits I Use for Writing, Creation, Building and Motivation (Or Any Other Creative Pursuit).
In whatever your journey, the journey is about you.
Each person has a different dream, and your dream is the one that’s important in this journey (not anyone else’s). Your dream may be to write a book, to author a hundred books, or maybe to write a single essay. Perhaps your calling is to learn how to craft love letters to the important person in your life, or the important person who will be in your life after you write the story of how they get there. Writing might be a tool in your arsenal of visioning and dreaming, or it might be a process of self-discovery. Just like Gretchen Rubin writes "Be Gretchen," so do I have sticky note on my wall that says: "Be Sarah." Be you. Only you can be you.
In turn, the more I am me, the more me I become. Writing has been immensely useful in developing my relationship with myself, and seeing who I am and how I’ve grown. The better facility I gain with words, the better I get at processing, feeling, and learning from emotions.
The only system you need is the one that works.
I set up two key writing days for myself, with two optional mornings to write. I make these days priorities where writing is key; on the other days, writing is optional but always a possibility if I make time for it. If I find myself not writing or publishing as much, it’s a key to me to adjust the system—maybe I need to dial back the emphasis on other parts of my life and find another morning or night to dedicate an hour or two to writing. (Tweet this!)
Habits are important frameworks.
Every writer I know talks about the importance of ritual and habit—whether it’s a morning pattern or a daily habit. For me, I have a few loose frameworks that guide me towards my larger goals—I try to publish once weekly, at minimum, and I try to write at least three days per week. Some weeks I write every day (I love writing, and I’ve been in the habit for a few years so I’m long familiar with this); and other times I only write once a week or so. When I find myself writing less, there’s inevitably a day or a two that month that the ideas start to come pouring out because I haven’t given them time to breathe.
My weekly structure gives me two mornings and two evenings to focus on writing; while I can break these rules and patterns occasionally (there are always conference calls to China that pop up), I try to keep at least 2 or 3 of the times for myself so that I can write.
Within a given month, I try to make sure at least one weekend is “clean”—in that it doesn’t have travel, events, or anything else scheduled on at least one (if not both) of the days. Often I actually have to go in and preemptively schedule the day out for writing so I don’t muck it all up with too many appointments. I’ll set a date with myself at one of my favorite coffee shops and plan to go, write, and eat for 4-5 hours that day and focus on writing and writing alone.
It takes longer than you think.
Writing is about philosophy, about articulation and detailing ideas and getting clarity around a concept or an idea. The harder the concept or the more challenging the story, the longer it will take you to work through it. It can take me several hours just to piece together a single story framework. If I have less than an hour, I usually can’t get to a depth or a place that I want to get and I become quite frustrated. I try to block out at least an hour, if not two hours, for my morning and evening sessions. Lately I’ve found myself losing track of time – I’ll come home around 7:30 or 8 pm, start writing on a Friday evening, and I’ll look up and the clock will read 12 or 1 AM and I’ve got to put the pen (or computer) down and head to bed so I can make it through the day reasonably the next day.
Deadlines are critical.
I have weekly goals (I call them frameworks) and monthly goals that serve as a baseline for what I want to make in the world. Some months I can’t possibly achieve it, and that’s fine—I try to strike a balance between pushing myself and enjoying myself during the process. If I’m going absolutely nuts and feeling overwhelmed, scared, and exhausted, then that’s not any good. My goal isn’t to make myself miserable! But if I go for more than a month or two without maintaining my baseline and I don’t notice things changing, I step in and re-evaluate what I’m working on and see if there is something I can say no to so that I can make space for more of my writing.
“To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.” - Leonard Bernstein (Tweet this)
It’s okay to take breaks.
I took an entire quarter off from writing my blog last year by taking a week off of work and writing 8 posts and spacing them out over a couple of months--all so that I could take some much-needed time to rest and rejuvenate my soul. I tend to work on projects in “seasons,” and define goals within each season—and there’s often at least one rest season (read: Winter) during each year so that I can restore myself and think about what to build next. Sometimes during a Spring or Summer season, I’ll focus more on one aspect of a project (like launching a writer’s workshop, or swimming a bunch), and I’ll dial back on my other responsibilities and goals so I can make it happen.
Set parameters and end dates.
Always set end dates. Give yourself permission to finish something. As you think about the next phase of your writing practice, consider what your goals might be. I highly recommend starting with a small framework (of perhaps 3-4 essays) and building a series around one particular topic, and finishing it. It’s imperative to finish a project and have something to point to. Most people don’t need to start an indefinite blog to create work in the world.
I’ve created many small projects based on sub-topics (as an example, I wrote a 20-essay blog strictly on my experience of the environment in San Francisco with details of the fog, homeless, and urban lifestyle; I started the project knowing that I wanted to spend a summer ‘collecting observations’ about the city I loved, and that the project would wrap by the end of the summer). The writing was fun to do, I got to tell stories in a way that was different than I’d been doing before, and I now have a collection of essays that I can use as writing samples, that I can pull from in future stories, and that I could eventually turn into a bigger project if I felt the itch to do that. (As I’m always saying: get started and do something, and learn from it!)
If it’s too big to do, make it smaller.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by an aspect of your project, get way smaller. Just do a tiny bit of it. We work in fragments of time that add up, slowly. Today is just a day. Carve an hour, do a small bit.
"If it's too big to do, make it smaller." (Tweet this)
The BEST way to reduce stress is to do work on the project, not avoid it.
Want to feel better? Get started. That’s it. That’s my secret. Everything is part of a larger conversation. You’re just starting with a piece of it, and giving that nuance.
Read well. If you can’t read well, you can’t write well.
Get rid of the trash. Unsubscribe from blogs and news that aren’t helpful. Unfollow people that don’t fill your feed with good stuff. Fill your brain. Push it. Challenge it. The most important thing you can do to be a better writer is read. I recently listed a years’ worth of my favorite books, and I’m already embedded in at least half a dozen new novels, historical accounts, and business books this month alone. Immersing yourself in good quality writing is the best teacher. Seek out people who push you and challenge you and feel free to say no to the rest.
There is no good writing, there is only good re-writing.
When I work with new writers, I often tell them to expect the first page to be “full of shit, with a few gems hidden in there somewhere.” It takes time, patience, and a whole bunch of red-lines to work with words on a page. It also takes the courage to put words down on paper without initial judgment or concern. Just do it, and let yourself write. Don’t let your judgment of yourself preclude you from starting in the first place. Trust that it can continue to get better with editing, time, and practice.
The goal is not complex words and simple ideas, but simple words and complex ideas.
If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. Writing does not need to be complicated, pretentious, confusing, or full of jargon. To me, writing is a process for building understanding for yourself, and others. For myself, I often copy notes, explore ideas, and re-work words on a page just to tango with an idea until it makes sense in my mind. If I can’t explain it to people, then I’m not well-versed enough in the concept. Writing is a tool for communication (externally) as well as understanding (internally). Often, much of my writing is just about my words, rants, ideas, and explorations–before any of it gets shared with anyone else.
Let your voice develop.
Every writer has a different personality and voice, and learning what yours is takes time and practice. I’m often influenced by my favorite writers—leaning more towards a New York Times persona when I spend a Sunday reading the opinion pages, and oscillating back towards a bossy voice when I spend too much time listening to lectures. In between all of this input, I need to carve out time to develop my own voice and persona; this is a craft that takes many iterations. Start practicing!
What you take out is just as important as what you leave in.
Getting to a clear, simple essay or point is not straightforward. Often, I have to write 5-6 pages just to get to a distillation of one great paragraph. It’s part of the process.
Capture your ideas however you can.
I love keeping a notebook and jotting down my ideas. Inspiration can show up during your routine, and it can show up at any time. I keep a pocket recorder on my phone and I talk stories to myself while walking through the city or driving in a car (why is it that driving triggers so many new ideas!?). I keep the recordings as well as my digital notes and I send them to myself via email to a folder called “notes.” When I get back to my computer, if I don’t have any ideas that are pressing, I go back through and read my short notes and scratching from the recordings, notes, and my notebooks, and find something that catches my attention. Then I begin with that.
Take the time to build your space and your project.
The world needs to hear what you have to say. "The world" might just be your son, daughter, or significant other, but they still need to hear it. An audience of a handful of people is still an audience. (For more on this, read my thoughts on building your voice on the internet and why I think you should join in). It's time. Say what needs to be said.
Know what you want and what you value.
This is an easy phrase to say and can take years of work. Learn what’s important to you. Get to know yourself. Write because it teaches you, not just because you have something to say. Write because it will make you a better person, and write because it helps us become more of ourselves.
Done is done.
Sign it. Seal it. Deliver it. A dream unfinished is not reality. It's your job to create it. Make it happen. Done is done, nothing else.
"DONE is done. Nothing else." (Tweet this)
What about you? What creates your best self and your best work?
In the comments below, let me know: what are your writing mantras? What are your creation mantras? How do you create your best self, and your best work?