You have to do a lot of difficult and boring work to create something worthwhile.
Ideas and Effort
In the early days of iPhone apps, people would contact developers and say something like this:
“I have this great idea for an app that I think you should build. I’ll tell it to you if you sign a non-disclosure agreement.”
Most developers would smile and say, “no thank you.”
The person with the idea would often press and say, “we can split the profits.”
I wrote apps for other people under many arrangements. I charged an hourly rate, or a weekly rate, or a rate per milestone, or a rate for the whole project. I even capped my fee as guaranteeing it wouldn’t go over a certain amount. I never just split the profits.
Most people undervalue the hard and boring work that is required to finish a project.
The boring parts
Even we forget, when we take on a new project, how much of the time will be spent on the nonintersecting. Our success depends on us being able to manage those moments and persevere.
We go into a project with the excitement of what it will be and who it will help. We’re focused on the person reading our book or using our app or whatever it is they will do with what we are creating.
The people who are working on vaccines for Covid19 are engaged in a goal that is both exciting and important. But the day to day work involves a lot of routine bench science. There’s a lot of repetition, and waiting, and statistics.
If you ask most creators, they mostly don’t notice the boring parts because they remain focused on the goal.
For me, writing is hard work. But once I’m actually writing - and not finding a million things to do rather than sit down and write - hey, does that counter need cleaning - oh I haven’t caught up on the news yet today …
But, once I’m actually writing, I get lost in it. From an actuarial standpoint, I need to write hours every day to produce a chapter in a week to a week and a half. It takes months to complete a book.
From the outside it’s hard and boring work.
As Dorothy Parker famously said, “I hate writing, I love having written.”
Successful creators have the ability to persevere through the boring and difficult parts.
There are so many moments in your life and career when perseverance is the key. Not only when you are engaged in a project, but sometimes to get that gig in the first place.
There was a tweet about Duncan Wardle this week about his advice for this year’s graduates of Edinburgh Napier University, “Perseverance. Duncan called@Disney every day for 27 days in the early stages of his career, eventually becoming their Head of Innovation and Creativity.”
I’ve learned a lot from Wardle’s teaching and advice, but this lesson on perservence resonates with me. Follow the link for video of him speaking.
When I was trying to move from one radio station to another in Cleveland in the ’90s, I called certain stations once a week for a year before a program director listened to my tape and got back to me.
Even then, even though I’d worked the morning and evening shifts at another station in the market, I had to begin on weekends and filling in for overnights.
We notice someone working in a prominent position all of a sudden and don’t realize that “all of a sudden” required years and years of work and preparation.
Eugene Walingford blogs “Persistence wins, even for someone like you”. He quotes a James Propp essay which argues that you should go “into a field that you find difficult to grasp, as long as you’re willing to be really persistent, because if you find a different way to think about things, something that works even for someone like you, chances are that other people will find it useful too.”
I love that.
It’s mostly why I write.
I write to understand difficult things. And then once I’ve understood them better, I share that writing with others. I always write for a specific audience, but I only write a book if I can’t find the one I’m looking for.
The screenwriter John August describes this often in his Scriptnotes podcast as creating the thing you want to see in the world.
Don’t focus on being a writer. Focus on writing.
If you write. You are a writer.
If you keep writing, if you persist and persevere, before you know it, you will have written.
In his short post The noun and the verb, Austin Kleon writes.
“Let go of the thing that you’re trying to be (the noun), and focus on the actual work you need to be doing (the verb).”
“Doing the verb will take you someplace further and far more interesting than just wanting the noun.”
Did you see what I said there. “Austin Kleon writes”.
Pick your verb and get started.
Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 17. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe