In a recent interview, Neil Gaiman (#1 New York Times best-selling author) explained that when it comes to his writing, he only gives himself 2 options:
You can sit here and write, or you can sit here and do nothing. But you can’t sit here and do anything else.
Gaiman said he’s “easily distractible” — aren’t we all. But while most people procrastinate and fidget with their phones or computers, Gaiman doesn’t allow himself to do anything but 2 options — write or do absolutely nothing. Because eventually, you get bored of doing nothing. Eventually, doing the work seems like a better option.
“I would go down to my lovely little gazebo,” he said, “sit down, and I’m absolutely allowed not to do anything. I’m allowed to sit at my desk, I’m allowed to stare out at the world, I’m allowed to do anything I like. As long as it isn’t anything.
I’m not allowed to do a crossword, read a book, phone a friend…all I’m allowed to do is absolutely nothing, or write.
But writing is actually more interesting than doing nothing after a while. You’ve been staring out the window now for about 5 minutes, and it kind of loses its charm. And you’re going ‘Well actually, might as well write something.’
That was always — and still is…my biggest rule.”
Gaiman has written dozens of stories and novels, winning nearly a hundred awards for his writing.
If you want to consistently produce quality work that will truly influence the world, you can only give yourself 2 options:
Do the work, or do absolutely nothing at all. Eventually, you’ll start wanting to do the work — and that’s how you become successful.
You Can’t Do Something Poorly 52 Times In a Row
Ray Bradbury, perhaps once of the best short story authors of all time, once said:
Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.
If I told you you needed to do something 52 times before you got it right — would you do it?
Most people probably wouldn’t — too much work, too much failure to overcome. But the truth is, it probably wouldn’t take 52 times to do something before you got it right. But that’s the mindset you need to have because you never know when you’re going to start getting the hang of something. All you can do is start.
Mastery actually takes a lot less time than most people think. As Robert Greene wrote in Mastery: “The time that leads to mastery is dependent on the intensity of our focus.” You control how many times (and how intensely) you do something. Play guitar once a week, and it’ll be years before you get any good. But play it 3 times a day? You’ll see incredible results in a matter of weeks.
If you can get yourself to be someone who simply does the work, you’ll start to see huge results, very quickly. While everyone is focusing on marketing and promoting their mediocre work, you’ll be one making your craft into something extraordinary. “Be so good they can’t ignore you,” said comedian Steve Martin.
You can’t do something poorly 52 times in a row. You have to put in the repetition, which is something most people aren’t willing to do. As a best-selling author, Hal Elrod once wrote, “Repetition can be boring or tedious, which is why so few people ever master anything.”
Put in the work.
How To Gain 5 Months of Experience in 1 Day
If you practice something five times a day (and actually learn from it, of course), while other people only do it once a month, that means you’ll gain five months of experience in a single day.
Within one month, you’ll have the experience that takes most people a decade to learn.
For every day you keep going, thousands of others quit. Think of all the ground you’re gaining on the competition, every single day.
But most people simply won’t bother to put in the practice and effort to become better.
“Bloggers” post a few random times a month.
Would-be coaches might have a client every once in a while.
Coders, programmers, and designers fool around with their software, but only when they need to.
Most people don’t consistently and fully apply themselves, which is why it takes them so long to reach mastery (if they ever do). Author John Assaraf says most people are only “interested,” but not actually committed. If you choose to be a person who truly commits, you can accomplish extraordinary amounts of progress in a very short time.
I did the same thing — once I stopped publishing content once a week to once a day, my results exploded. Within six short months of consistent, focused practice, I literally increased my results 1000% — my readership, income, and followers all skyrocketed.
Ira Glass, one of the great radio hosts our of generation, had this to say:
All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.
A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit…And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.
It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.
Close the gap between where you are and where you want to be. Do this by increasing the frequency of your effort, as well as your intensity of focus when you’re practicing.
Give yourself only 2 options: do the work, or do nothing. Eventually, you’ll want to do the work.
But when you give yourself the option to waste time on social media, or play video games, or do a crossword puzzle…doing the work gets harder and harder. Better to endure a few minutes of antsy boredom than feel guilty for hours about not working.
Doing the work is the only way you’re going to get to where you want to go. Make it easy for yourself — either do the work or relax until you’re ready.