11 Lessons From Writing A Book
“Writing is hard for every last one of us… Coal…
Seems like people with blogs fall into one of two categories. Those who love lists, and insist that every post is a list. And those who avoid lists like the plague. Other than one or two, so far there’s been little list-love on this blog. But later this week my personal clock goes forward another year (crumbs), and it seems as fitting time as any to fire up a bit of list-action. Whilst the road has hardly been figured out yet (seems like quite the opposite in recent months), there’s a few things that have stuck so far and that I try to keep in mind.
So here’s my cheat-sheet for life, with literal examples and metaphors, and in no particular order. Many of these came about during the Vague Direction bicycle journey, and many of these inspired it. It was going to be a list of ten but grew to a list of thirty-plus. Once you pop it’s tricky to stop. Of course it’s a case of different strokes for different folks, but these are the most valuable, honest points I can think of. Maybe you can use some of them or share them with someone who could. If not, look at number 10 and throw this post in the bin.
1) There’s never a right moment. Don’t wait for all the cards to line up or for things to settle down. If you want it but don’t have the time, then find the time by eliminating other, less-worthy parts of the day. Creativity is boosted through constraint so if you really don’t have much time, make use of the little time you can make. (Age is no excuse).
2) But remember to sleep. Don’t kill yourself. Sleep 8+ hours a day. Sleep as many hours as you need to to catch up. You won’t be as snappy, you’ll be more productive, more creative, have a better immune system, and be happier.
3) If you’re not happy, change things. If you don’t change things, then of course you won’t get happier, and if you can’t change things, see #1.
4) Flying too low is just as risky as flying too high. Icarus’ dad made him some wings, and told him not to fly too close to the sun. Icarus flew too high, the wax melted, and he fell to his death. Hardly anyone mentions that Icarus was also warned about flying too low. Flying too low was just as dangerous as flying too high, because seawater would ruin the lift in his wings. Metaphor over. Flying higher is better than flying lower.
5) Say yes to the things that scare you. The riskiest route we can take is to play it safe. If anything makes you anxious, it probably means it’s something you should face. Nervous? Shy? Introverted? Good. Crush your nerves by going on live TV and you’ll laugh at your anxiety once it’s done. Or something else scary. You can only grow as a person, and you can only broaden your comfort zone, if you seek out and embrace risk and discomfort.
6) Say no too. Say no when you can’t bring value. Be aggressively selective. Many loss leaders are all loss, no lead. Make sure there’s batteries in your BS alarm.
7) Make new stuff, and make it personal. Doing something creative, making something, building something is the easiest way out of a rut. When something flops, work on something new. Maybe next time it will work. And when something goes well, ignore the hype and avoid the ego by consistently making something new. The best way to get your ideal gig is to set yourself a dream brief again and again. Publish, publish and publish your personal work until a decision-maker notices.
8) Be honest. Blogs, writing, any creative work – it’s always better when it’s honest. Even if you’re worried you’re putting too much on the line. You should get scared before hitting publish. That’s a great sign. Writing is not about key literary techniques and tenses, it’s about honesty. Sugarcoating sucks.
9) Don’t get too close to the industry of an activity you love. Just do the activity instead. If you love to do something, becoming involved in the politics of it all can turn sour. I’ve drifted away from countless sports and activities I loved because of being too close to the industry, and in each case it’s taken years to heal. Made a conscious decision at the beginning of the Vague Direction project to stay away from the adventure, travel, and cycling industries and it’s worked out way better.
10) Most of the things you own aren’t necessary. When was the last time you used that Zip Drive? Time and happiness are far better measuring sticks than a collection of things or a currency.
11) “There are two ways to build the biggest building in town. 1. Build the biggest building in town. 2. Tear down all the other buildings around you.” Be genuinely happy for people when they win and make leaps in life. Jealousy, cynicism, bitterness are a disease and you should avoid them. Choose the first way, not the second.
12) Sometimes walking away to clear your head is necessary, and isolation is an easy way to find creativity and recharge, but for most people the best memories are those that are shared. Perhaps not the most hardcore but certainly the fondest. There’s vast amounts of worthwhile things to do on your own, but shared experiences will always rise to the top.
13) The grand, big, ambitious missions are the best missions.
14) Make it clear from the outset what’s important to your lifestyle and use that as a pillar. One of the most important things for me at the moment is being able to work remotely from anywhere with an internet connection. Find out the things most important to you and build them in to your path now rather than attempting to add them as a pillar later.
15) The winner is the one who stays in the game the longest. Failure and the long-haul is awesome, it means you’re doing it, you’re trying. Get to know people who have failed more times than they’ve succeeded, because it’s easier to learn that way. There’s no luck involved in the victory if it comes after failing ten times.
16) Understand how you operate and embrace it. I do the best work late, into the early hours, when it’s quiet. Others are up before sunrise and they do best before the day begins. Others crank the tunes to get in the zone. You can try and adapt your system but if you always fall back into your old ways, your body and mind is telling you something.
17) When it rains, suck it up. It’ll stop raining soon. Even if it starts hailing, snowing, lightning or literally raining labrador puppies and siamese hairballs, blue skies are on the way. Time heals all wounds. In three months you’ll laugh about it.
18) Laugh a lot. Some of the shittiest situations can be fixed, or at least softened, with laughter. And movement. Steal Jimmy’s catchphrase and keep your chin up. And make steps forward even when they seem to be leading nowhere.
19) Routine and persistence is more likely to produce results than a single lightbulb moment. Recognise the difference between should and must.
20) Stop worrying about what people think, and don’t try to please the majority. Brene Brown advises to have a short list of people whos opinions you care about. This seems like good advice. You don’t need everyone to like your work, just a very small subset of people who love it.
21) “Good artists copy but great artists steal” – you’re a wise dude Pablo P-dog. I hate the word artist because it conjures up pretentious imagery of berets and palettes. But what he’s saying applies to much more than that. There’s no need to be totally original all the time. People make stuff so that you will use it. Steal. Whoever made it wants you to. They won’t mind. Steal the building blocks so it frees up energy to make something that only you can make.
22) Always deliver value, and always be kind. Because it’s the right thing to do and a nice thing to do. Plus you never know when you’ll need to ask the Karmic-gods for help.
23) Ask for help. People want to help. People want to mentor. People want to see other people grow and grow themselves. It might seem brave to go it alone but it won’t be as easy, or as good compared to if you ask someone. Plus, they’ll get a lot out of it too, so don’t think of it as taking. Often, by asking, you’re giving.
24) You have access to the best mentors in the world. Try to access them face-to-face by providing them with something that no-one else bothers to give them. If you’re doing it right, they’ll initially say no. Take the no, send them an idea that will help them, and be unlike everyone else so they say yes. And if they really are impossible to access, it’s OK because the internet will let you learn from them regardless.
25) Everyone feels like a fraud. No-one really knows what they’re doing. Roll with it. And don’t be intimidated by any individual person who tells you anything different because intimidation is not real and you’ve just invented it in your head.
26) Make sure you keep the people who energise and lift you around you. Help them. All the time. Help them tackle their obstacles. Keep in touch with them, even when they’re on the other side of the world.
27) Politely eject anyone who brings you down. This includes gossipers, those who don’t understand about or have any ambition, and those who belittle other peoples choices. Not worth your time. Sometimes it’s necessary to cut ties.
28) Policies, procedures and rules have often been designed by Sir Jeremy Jobsworth and should be taken with a grain of salt. But when you mess up, which you will, apologise and move on. The good thing about mistakes is that you’ll remember them and they won’t be mistakes again. It’s much easier learning from experience than theory, and it’s easier to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.
29) Being rejected is awesome. It’s a hurdle. Hurdles filter out the people who aren’t willing to find a way over them from those who are. Take the rejection, and then figure out a way to jump the hurdle. Copy Jessica Ennis.
30) If you can’t work in a hoody, or go to meetings in a baseball hat, eat lunch outside, or say ‘rad’ and ‘awesome’ a lot, even though you dream of being able to do all that, then something is wrong.
31) “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse”, Henry Ford. Listen to other peoples opinions, but don’t always assume they’re right.
32) Dogs > cats.
No doubt there’ll be more going forwards.