Shovel a Mountain of Shit and Find an Ounce of Gold
If you’re prolific, you will create work that sucks. Most of it will be shit.
When I sit down to work, it might take 500 words, 2000 words, or 2 hours of tapping away at the keyboard before I stumble on something that doesn’t make me want to gouge my eyes out.
Maybe there are writers who sit down at their desk and watch brilliance flow from their fingertips. I’m not one of them. I don’t think there are many of them. And the rest of us secretly hate those people.
My average writing session starts with incoherent psychobabble. Each sentence has nothing to do with the one before. Other days, I just bitch and scribble.
But if I persist, eventually the work reveals itself. To be a prolific creator, you have to shovel a mountain of shit to find an ounce gold. That’s why it’s called a shitty first draft.
If you spend enough time making art, you’ll eventually hear someone talk about flow. “Flow is what makes life worth living,” says Steven Kotler. It’s addictive but productive.
Those moments of insight, those sparks of brilliance, and breakthroughs all happen when you’re in flow. I had the idea for this book while I was in flow. When I started writing that morning, I had no idea I was going to write another book.
Flow causes artists to be prolific.
A writer’s word count skyrockets.
A musician’s music resonates.
An actor’s monologue hits the director in the face with a crowbar.
It’s why writers return to the blank page after writing best-selling books; musicians return to the studio; and professional surfers go to the beach and get in the water after coming back from a world tour.
If focus is the fire of a prolific creator, flow is the Molotov cocktail.
Eat More Kale
Your two most valuable resources as a prolific creator are time and attention. How you spend your time and what you pay attention to will determine your creative output.
- Tweets, status updates, and Instagram pics are like donuts and cigarettes.
- Books and anything that requires a large investment of your time and attention are like kale, broccoli or whatever all the vegan hippies say makes you healthier.
If you want to be a prolific creator, eat more kale.
Apple Trees, Apple Vodka, and Apple Pie
A few years ago, Julien Smith shared this very simple yet profound insight with me: “If you have an apple tree, you can make lots of things from that apple tree.”
You can of course eat apples. But you can also make apple juice, apple pies, and apple martinis if you please.
Everything you create has byproducts. Everything you don’t use can be used for something else. This book started out as a series of rants and riffs. I didn’t even know I was going to write it. Just because something ends up in the cutting room, that doesn’t mean it won’t be useful later.
Every piece of creative work you do plants a seed. Eventually, that seed might become a tree. With that tree, you can make more art, different art, art that might not have occurred to you. What’s your apple tree?
This is part of a series about how to become a more prolific creator. You can download the entire book for free here.