There was a big, stubborn rock sitting on my desk this morning.
It took me 15 minutes to move it off, by writing, “Get the ball rolling.”
Rolling the ball off the line is the official way to start a game of football. Once the ball is moving, the game has begun.
We use this phrase at work too, where it means we’ve talked a project to death and must begin the game of creating.
The implication is that it takes a bit of effort to get the ball rolling, but things get easier once momentum is on our side.
Inertia is difficult to overcome — especially if we’re making something new. But once we put in the energy to start, it’s tough to stop.
Fortunately, all it takes to get the ball rolling is a little nudge in the right direction.
It doesn’t have to be new or shiny.
It doesn’t have to be interesting or original.
It doesn’t have to be exciting or controversial.
It doesn’t have to be perfect or polished.
It doesn’t even have to be finished.
That leaves an awful lot of things it could be, and not many excuses why it couldn’t.
Better it be made bad than never to be at all.
And it does have to be made.
Originality is almost as big a curse as perfection.
For millennia creatives have wasted their time trying to “be original.”
Due to the laws of nature, both measurable and imperceptible, nothing can be the same twice.
Nothing is the same. Nothing is original.
Even if it looks roughly the same. Even if we try to make it precisely the same — and we do — we’ll always cock it up somehow, and it’ll be its own, new, slightly different, not perfect thing.
The best creatives learn to do this “stealing like an artist” better than anyone else: taking something you like and doing it your way.
And although imperfect unoriginality might the best we can do.
It’s always a damn sight better than doing nothing.
In 1945, a decorated Captain in the Red Army wrote a letter that destroyed his life.
As the war ended, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s battle with the USSR began.
He spent eight years in the GULAG, writing without pen or paper. After his release, Alek continued writing secretly.
When he published a story about life in the slave camps, Russia made him a famous writer for a while. But then the regime changed its mind and began destroying his work.
Alek wrote feverishly in secret, spreading his words with friends of friends across borders.
In 1970 those words won him a Nobel Prize. Then a year later, the KGB tried to kill him. So Alek smuggled his most dangerous words out of the country and published them worldwide.
The USSR told him he wasn’t Russian anymore and exiled him. But it was too late.
His words had unveiled the brutality of the regime.
And Alek kept writing until the USSR collapsed completely.
Shortly after, he got told he was Russian again and could return. After a little while, he did. And after his death in 2008, The Gulag Archipelago became required reading in Russian schools.
To show words can be very dangerous indeed.
Often, it takes a lot less than we think.
We don’t need a million dollars to be rich.
We don’t need to run an ultra-marathon to be a runner.
Planting one tree is enough to start a forest.
And fifty words are enough to be a writer.
Soon after discovering the monumental Seth Godin, I unsubscribed from his email list and decided never to think of him again.
Not only was it frustrating that some of his blogs were just a couple of lines — not even paragraphs — but it was frustrating that I had written nothing at all.
Writing a daily blog always seemed like the sort of thing I should be doing and yet, for some reason, could never quite manage to do.
Seth’s wonderfully elegant and effortless scrawling reminded me that for all I called myself a writer, I could never do that.
It was magic if I wrote once every six months. And a miracle if it got shipped once a year. Whatever it was that people like that had, I didn’t have it.
I could never do that.
Seven years later and Seth Godin pops up in my life again, talking about The Practice.
And suddenly, it all made sense.
The outcome wasn’t the point; just like ‘enlightenment isn’t the point of meditating.
Don’t write to sell a book. Don’t write to get rich (good luck with that). Don’t write to get famous.
Write every day because that’s what writers do.
All those years spent trying to change into someone worthy of writing every day — a real writer — were just me hiding from myself.
All it took was actually doing it, and all of a sudden, I was.
It wasn’t until I was 27 that I went skinny dipping.
Out in the Bay of Dragons in North Vietnam, my head swimming from Bia Hanoi and cheap rice wine, I finally took my clothes off in front of people I wasn’t about to have sex with.
And we plunged into the dark, star-speckled water, and I was free.
It still took another three years before I had the nerve to show myself to anybody.
I had been holding myself back, fretting about what people would think of me, laying my thoughts bare to the world; worrying what other people would think about what I think.
And whether I would measure up to everyone else writing out there.
But you know what?
Just like that balmy night on Monkey Island, as soon as I took my clothes off, I stopped caring.
It was the easiest, most natural thing in the world.
Whatever it is that you’re hiding inside you, put it out there.
You were born that way.
The more I write, the more I realize how important it is to the soul to write — to create.
To make a mark; a little spark.
To rub my fingers against the fabric of reality and warm it in my favour.
We’re all out here, one of eight billion souls (that we know) trying to figure out Why in our own little way.
What else is life but a reason to share our little spark, our short story, with the rest of the world?
You’re you. And we’re here.
So, start a fire and let the rest of us know.
We’re listening. We want to hear you.
That’s how we make fire.
And that’s how we change the world.
There’s a lot of money to be made in the world of Art.
There’s a lot of poverty to be made as well.
One of the travesties of our childhood is that if you weren’t ‘creative’ then you didn’t get to do creative stuff.
But being human is being creative. It’s not something for ‘creative people.’
People are creative but we get trapped into thinking that what matters is that other people pay for it.
I’m blessed that anyone reads this; I truly am.
But strangely, it wasn’t until I accepted nobody might read it that I was able to start writing it at all.
Nobody knows who said this but I suspect Mark Manson made it up in his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck.
In the story, he asks a prolific author how he managed to write 70 novels.
The author’s answer is simple: 200 shitty words a day.
That’s it. That’s the secret to motivation. The ‘secret’ to creating prolific work — and to success.
Motivation isn’t outside ourselves, it’s something we give to ourselves through doing.
If you want to get motivated, just do something; anything.
It could be as simple as making your bed.
Because when you take that one little step forwards and you’ll create momentum that makes the next step easier.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t even have to be good.
You just have to get it done.
And thanks for reading mine.