Book 2: The Art of Work
If you intend to create a work of art, then you’ll need to master the art of work. They’re birds of a feather. One can’t happen without the other. In no particular order, these are things that will transform you into a prolific creator:
Treat It Like a Job.
The prolific creator treats his art like a job.
- He sticks to a schedule.
- He has a target.
- He creates a list of things to do.
- He sets an intention.
- He does the work.
If you want to be prolific, you must above all things learn to silence the voice in your head. You must be able to do things that you say you can’t do. You have to put pen to paper and get to work.
I wake up at the same time every day. I do the same thing for the first 3 hours. I read for and hour; I write for an hour or however long it takes to hit my word count. That’s my schedule. It’s my sacred rhythm. Unless the surf is up or woman invites me back to bed, there are no exceptions.
Prolific creators all stick to a schedule. A schedule gives you control over your time and attention. Every day is Groundhog day.
Set a Target
A target gives you something to aim for, a destination to arrive at.
- I write 1000 words a day.
- Matthew Monroe took 25 pictures a day until be became an amazing photographer.
A target helps you stop judging your work. It takes your emotions out of it. It gives you an objective to measure. You hit it or you didn’t. It allows you to focus on what you can control and forget about what you can’t.
It also gives you a sense of progress and accomplishment. When you hit a target day after day, you teach yourself that your words have power, and you learn to honor your commitments. Even if everything you produce for the day is absolute crap, at least you hit your target. You get a little victory for the day.
With each little victory, you gain momentum. You go from being an immovable object to an unstoppable force. Over a long enough timeline, you reach escape velocity.
Make a Get Done List
You have a thousand things you could do every day. But there only a small handful worth doing. To-do leaves you open to the possibility that it may not happen. Get done means makes it more likely to happen.
Ryder Caroll uses a simple 3-question filter to determine his list.
- Is this vital?
- Is it necessary?
- What would happen if I didn’t do this?
You’ll be amazed how much shorter your list gets and how much more you’ll get done.
Set an Intention
I don’t mean an intention the in the new-age gift shop type of way. I mean something you intend to actually fucking do.
I intend to make a dent in the chapter of this book.
I intend to nail this measure in the piece I’m learning to play.
The difference between your intention and your get done list is simple. The get done list increases the likelihood of realizing your intention. If you have a thousand words on your get done list, it’s more like you’ll make a dent in the chapter of the book you’re writing.
Do The Work
Put pen to paper, brush to canvas, take out your instrument. Shut the door, and start.
- Write shitty first sentences and shitty first drafts.
- Play cacophonous and chaotic sounds on your instrument.
- Litter the canvas.
The work isn’t something you do when you feel like it. You don’t skip it because you’re not in the mood. You don’t wait for inspiration to strike. Doing the work means you’re acting in anticipation of inspiration.
The people who make their art a habit are the ones who become prolific and successful creators. The ones who make their art when they feel like it remain amateurs. Waiting until you’re in the mood is a bit like waiting to die.
Make It a Habit
Every creative expression is the result of action. Every action is the result of a habit. Habits are the foundation of every prolific creator’s body of work. Over a long enough timeline, habits become default behaviors.
They go from an item on your to-do list to something you don’t have to think about. If you can change your behavior, you can become a prolific creator. If you want to become prolific, start by making your art a habit.
Work Like a Mechanic and Think Like an Artist
The process for a prolific creator is mechanical, routine and predictable. You know what you’re going to do, when you’re going to do it, and how long it will take. But, you have no idea what the results will be.
Develop a Signature
Every artist has a voice, a style, a signature. It’s in their DNA, waiting to be expressed, to emerge, sing, and resonate with the people you can change and the hearts you can touch.
But this signature gets buried by the expectations of society, and the people who blindly defend the status quo.
To uncover anything that’s buried, you have to dig, excavate, and make more art until you’re not who the world expects you to be, but who you are destined to be.
You can’t do this in one fell swoop. This kind of resonance is years in the making. It takes practice, patience, persistence, commitment and consistency. It happens brick by brick, one drop of paint on the canvas after another until you uncover that thing that nobody else could have done but you. It’s unmistakable.
Focus on the Process
Outcomes are out of our control. Process is not.
- You control whether or not you write. But you can’t control how the readers respond.
- You can’t control how the movie does at the box office. But you can control how you show up on a movie set.
If you want to be prolific, you have to be process-oriented. When you’re attached to outcome, that’s hard to do.
Have Non-Negotiable Parts
Every artist under the sun has non-negotiable parts of what they do. Fred Rogers wouldn’t allow networks to show advertisements to kids (even if it would have increased his income).
There are a few non-negotiable parts of being a prolific creator:
- Uninterrupted creation time
- Effort without immediate reward
- Persistence and grit
Tom Brady didn’t get 4th string to the best decision Bob Kraft ever made without a few non-negotiable parts.
If you want to get paid like a rockstar you have to play like one before you are.
If you’re prolific, you’ll have bad days when:
- The writing feels like it’s coming out the wrong end.
- The actors can’t seem to nail their scenes.
- The music sounds like shit.
I have bad days. I wake up with a hangover. A customer service person has pissed me off. A jackass I’ve never met sends me a scathing email. People won’t leave me alone.
As writer Dani Shapiro says, “It’s one stitch in the tapestry of days.” The best thing about being prolific is that bad days don’t matter all that much. You’ll be back at it again tomorrow.
Measure Your Progress
It’s useful to measure your progress. But if you measure your progress based on outcomes, you’ll believe you aren’t making any. Being prolific changes the way you measure your progress. You shift your measurement to metrics you can control.
- 90 minutes of interrupted creation
- 1000 words
- 30 minutes of deliberate practice
If you measure progress in the right way, you’ll still be heading to where you want to be tomorrow, a year from now and 10 years from now. You might even have some interesting detours along the way.
This is part of a series about how to become a more prolific creator. You can download the entire book for free here.