For the past two months my wife and I have been vagabonding through New Zealand.
Vagabonding is probably the best word for it – the majority of the time we’ve been living out of our backpack and a tiny red hatchback (The Getzya!).
The first weekend here, we rented a car (buses are too expensive and a car would give us more flexibility). Since then, we’ve managed to see more of New Zealand than most New Zealanders (we’re very curious and we don’t waste time).
We started in Auckland in the north (of the north island) and made it all the way to Queenstown in the south (of the south island), stopping along the way to see rocky, windswept coastlines, majestic waterfalls (lots of waterfalls), surreal-looking giant trees, and a never-ending supply of sheep grazing on rolling, green hills.
Our time here has come to an end, but it’s been an incredible ride with just enough misadventures to keep it interesting the whole time.
But the point of this essay isn’t to gush about New Zealand (although, if you have a chance, definitely go visit), nor is it to brag (can you really brag if you’ve been living out of a car?).
The point of this essay is to tell you a story of a couple people whose work has impacted millions (including many reading this, I’d suspect), yet few of us even directly recognize their contribution…
Our last stop in the north island of New Zealand took us to the windy city of Wellington (they call Chicago the windy city in the States – it doesn’t come close to Wellington, where some days the wind could actually knock you over).
While there, we did what we always do in a new city: go for explorative runs, conduct hands-on research of the craft-beer scene and wander wherever we feel compelled to go.
One of those daily wanders led us Weta Digital.
Weta is the company responsible for the visual effects for The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. From makeup, to costumes, to set design, to digital FX – Weta created it all.
Based on the record-setting box-office numbers and gluttony of awards they won, they obviously killed it. They brought Tolken’s Middle Earth to life, convincing the die-hards that a well-produced film could do the books justice, and convincing the masses that some fantasy stories are worth hearing (even if it means sitting down for over 3 hours to do so).
But what’s even more remarkable is that they did all this under seemingly impossible circumstances: Weta hadn’t officially been around for 10 years before Peter Jackson picked them for the project, and they didn’t do just one film, they had to do all 3 at once.
There’s no good reason they should have succeeded, but they did.
Of course, if this is where the story ends, where you close the browser and say got it, you miss the point entirely.
Weta’s story didn’t start with multiple studies, hundreds of employees and this extremely complex, multi-faceted, million-dollar blockbuster project.
It started as an unreasonable idea in the back room of Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger’s cramped flat in 1987.
It started as the kind of idea your peers would tell you to forget about (for your own good, of course), so you can spend more time making time-and-a-half and watching football.
It started as the type of idea that usually goes nowhere, so why waste your time?
It started as an idea that’s for kids and dreamers, not adults.
Lucky for us, Richard and Tonia didn’t care. Instead, they kept doing the odd thing, the childish thing, the unreasonable thing…
With each small project, they pushed the boundaries of their own creativity. They put their blood, sweat and tears into every creation, beyond any reasonable expectation of repayment. And with each new film, they improved, honed and sharpened their skill-set.
They also formed relationships that lasted.
They got their first major film gig in 1989. Their job: to create bizarre-looking muppets for an even more bizarre black comedy. The guy directing was a local to Wellington as well: Peter Jackson.
4 years later, they joined with Peter to expand their film effects company (RT Effects at the time) and formed what is now Weta Digital.
7 years after that, they got their big break: the opportunity to work on The Lord of the Rings.
Since then, they’ve worked on dozens of blockbusters, from Iron Man 3, to District 9 to the new Hobbit movies, and expanded into a total of 5 studios running the gamut of film production (from pre through post production).
There are at least a dozen good lessons to take from this story, but I’ll leave you with just one:
Life is for the unreasonable.
This goes for everyone and everything.
Your existence on this planet, in and of itself, is unreasonable. The chances of you being here, right now, just as you are – they’re so slim as to be non-existent. There is no random chance here.
Yet so many squander this gift by waiting, letting others go first, and favoring the safe and secure bet.
Richard and Tonia didn’t wait. They didn’t let someone else create the studio they dreamt up. And they certainly didn’t favor safety or security.
They were completely unreasonable.
And those who love their work and feel their impact are better off for it.
Of course, you’ve probably never heard of Richard and Tonia, unless you’re a huge LOTR fan. Most of us enjoyed the movies and might recognize a few of the actors and maybe the director - that’s about it.
So what’s in it for them if the masses of people don’t even recognize their contribution?
And what's in it for the rest of us if no one notices what we do?
I’m not sure what Richard or Tonia would say about this (I’ve yet to interview them for In the Trenches), but I know what one of Tolkien's characters would say:
"There may come a time for valor without renown." - Aragorn
Started, finished and shipped at The Sprocket Roaster in Newcastle, Australia. Fuel: double espresso. Soundtrack: Bon Iver
Total writing time: 5 hours
p.s. want an unreasonable way to sell your products or services? Check out my book: The Complete Guide to Pay What You Want Pricing. It might just change the way you approach your business, art and writing forever.
In fact, I must be.
Right now, as I write this blog post, I'm sitting outside a Starbucks in Boise, Idaho...
I'm thousands of miles away from most of my friends and family...
And I'm Homeless and unemployed.
That's right - no job, no predictable income, no home...
And I have no intention of trying to get any of those things back.
Maybe not as crazy as you'd think.
Let me explain...
You might be thinking that being homeless and unemployed is terrible.
After all, that's the scenario presented to us - no job, no home; it means you've lost everything, right? Pretty soon, you're running amok inside a fast food joint demanding breakfast for lunch, even after they stopped serving breakfast...
For some reason, I feel like that's Hollywood's (embellished) take on it. The reality is often much less dramatic.
And in my case, it's actually a little boring.
You see, I didn't lose everything. I made a conscious decision to give up certain things that weren't important to me. To simplify and streamline my life in a way that's congruent with what I want to do and who I want to be. To get rid of excess. To trim the fat, so to speak.
I didn't lose everything.
I have exactly what I need.
And now I have the opportunity to build whatever life I want.
It's a choice most wouldn't be willing to make.
But what good are talents if we keep them buried?
About 6 months ago I put my 2 weeks notice into my employer.
Two weeks ago I sold my car and most of my belongings.
Last week I packed up what remained and shipped it to the West Coast for storage.
This past weekend, I signed out of my unit for the last time and started driving across the country with my fiancee (we get married next month).
I have no conventional job prospects lined up. No massive savings account or trust fund to rely on while I 'get back on my feet.' No escape route if things go south.
I've burned the boat - there's no going back.
No more job. No more house. No more semi-monthly paycheck. No more job title. No more certainty...
In exchange, I get the opportunity to fail.
And that's all I've ever wanted.
Why does the opportunity to fail matter so much?
Because without the possibility of failure, there is no possibility of real success.
And real success is the only thing that matters.
Success means triumph. It means achieving what we set out to achieve. It means growing, expanding and advancing as an individual (and helping others do the same).
But if there's nothing challenging us, no roadblocks on our way to the top, no obstacles along the path, then success is hollow.
I'm sure just about any adult reading this could be the best 1st grade soccer player in the world. But what does that even mean? More importantly, why would it even matter?
The answer, of course, is that it really wouldn't mean anything (and it most certainly wouldn't matter)....
And so we need the prospect of real failure if we want the prospect of real success.
If we want to do something that matters - contrary to the classic expression - failure must be an option.
There's a very simple litmus test to determine if what you're going after has the possibility of real success (and thus real failure).
Does it scare you?
If yes, you're probably doing something that could fail.
Fear is a guidepost.
It let's us know we're headed in the right direction; it means we're doing something outside our comfort zone; it means we're challenging the conventional, safe and certain approach.
If you're fearless, you're probably playing 1st graders in soccer.
And that should be a signal for you to move in a different direction
So here I am in Boise, Idaho, enjoying an iced Americano and thinking about what's next.
Right now, we're on our way to the World Domination Summit 2013 (#wds2013) in Portland, Oregon. We started in Nashville, TN and after several days of cross country travel, we're almost here.
If you're not familiar, WDS is essentially a massive, 3-day conference on entrepreneurship, creativity and creating impact. Obviously, I'm a fan and supporter.
If you're there, shoot me an email and let's connect.
After the conference, my fiancee and I will be traveling up to Seattle to get married. Then we're taking a year long trip around the world. For about 12 months we'll be traveling the southern hemisphere (New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Chile, Peru, etc.).
While this sounds like a year long honeymoon / vacation, it's really not. We're traveling for a year but we'll both be working. We're just not working conventional 9-5 jobs that keep us tied down in a particular geographic location.
Instead, through conscious and calculated decisions (which I mentioned in the beginning of this article), we've created a lifestyle that is sustainable from anywhere in the world.
Believe it or not, this is possible.
Not only is it possible, I think it's necessary for any person hoping to survive in today's economy (a topic for another time).
So how can I sustain myself from anywhere in the world?
Through a number of projects:
Well, I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m going full steam ahead with my publishing company: Insurgent Publishing.
Insurgent Publishing is a boutique, creative publishing platform. That’s a clever way of me saying it’s a very small operation right now that focuses on bringing a specific type of content to a specific group of people, via non-standard methods (beyond simply publishing on Amazon, for example).
So what kind of content are we publishing and who is it for?
Well, if you’re a reader of my blog, you’re already savvy with the style of content I want to publish. Insurgent Publishing focuses on unconventional non-fiction. Like its namesake, it’s all about bringing insurgent ideas (i.e. the types of ideas that don’t fit the one-size-fits-all mainstream status-quo) to the attention of readers.
Some of my favorite books of all time include The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, Poke the Box by Seth Godin and Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. I love these books. I read them several times a year. I’ve probably read each over a dozen times.
But there’s a problem – there aren’t enough mind-blowing books like this in the world.
What makes them unique is their brevity and power; they’re urgent, critical, and they demand action after you read them.
And they don’t fit a specific, conventional mold.
My goal is to find powerful authors (unknowns and well-knowns), creatively collaborate with them in order to break, build and design disruptive ideas, and publish them in beautiful ways for the happy few who want to read them.
Conceptually, I like to think of it like TED talks in book form (and with more depth).
It’s a company that won’t produce content for everyone. But I’m hoping it produces the right content for the right people.
The website isn’t complete yet. It’s taken me about 6 times longer than I expected (which, ironically, I DID expect). I’m hoping to have it up and running this August.
If you enter your email on the home page of the under-construction Insurgent Publishing website right now, you’ll get lifetime discounts on everything we ever publish…(everything - forever).
My way of saying thank you for taking a chance.
*NOTE: if you're a writer, designer or artist and would like to collaborate on a project and get your work published, shoot me an email (tom @ tommorkes.com)
I’m also in the exploration, research and note taking phase of my next book.
I’m hoping to take the same easy to read, urgent style from my book “The Art of Instigating” (get it free by joining the Resistance) and apply it to the topic of “Courage” – what it is, how it works, and how we can cultivate, learn and teach it.
In the book Decisive, by Chip and Dan Heath, we’re given a framework for how decisions work, and how, ultimately, to make better decisions in life. It’s a fascinating and useful book as it helps the reader gain clarity before making a decision. I highly recommend it for those curious about the brain, psychology, and/or marketing – or for people who simply want to make better choices in life.
But it left me wondering: what about the choices in life that are already crystal clear, but the right choice leads you down a path of uncertainty, pain or even death? Or the wrong choice leads you down a path of safety, security or fortune?
How do we make those choices?
While not the entirety of the subject, I consider this an important microcosm of courage as a whole – the ability to make the right choices in life, even if it means sacrificing our comfort, happiness or even our lives.
I hope this gives you a little insight into my thoughts on (one aspect of) the matter.
Would love to hear what you think – and what you’d like me to explore in the book: courage in business, perhaps?
Or possibly courage in writing, art or entrepreneurship? Anything goes – just email me – I’d love to start a conversation.
My podcast In the Trenches may be put on hiatus once I start my international travel.
That’s not to say it’s dead – it would just have to be put on pause. I’m hoping that’s a worst case scenario and the places I travel will allow me the internet access I need to upload and create this type of content. I’m also hoping traveling will expose me to even more awesome people around the world doing great things so I can interview them for the show.
So I’m not sure what will happen with In the Trenches…but if you want it to continue, you should write a review and rate the podcast on iTunes.
The only way this podcast or blog spreads is through word of mouth. Thanks to all those who have spread the word already – and thanks in advance to those who help spread the word in the future.
So, again, please leave a review on iTunes if you want In the Trenches to continue!
I also have a few other (super secret) projects I’m working on with several different people in various fields.
I was just brought on as a project manager for a small, potentially disruptive, startup. Excited to see just how quickly this company can grow and dominate its niche. I hope to share more details after we launch.
I’m in the works with a partner to develop a new online sales platform (apologies for the purposefully vague description). It has the potential to be huge, and I have no doubt we’ll be able to develop it into a successful platform – but it’s going to take some hustle. We’ll be bootstrapping the project using the lean startup approach (i.e. iterative testing until we find a product/market fit). Again, as soon as we have a working product you’ll be the first to hear about it.
I’m also expanding my business consulting services. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re a bootstrapper or a solopreneur looking to make sales (or start making MORE sales), or an author who wants to make money from his or her writing, you should definitely connect with me.
This is limited and I can’t accept everyone.
So shoot me an email and we’ll see if it’s a good fit for both of us (a caveat: I only work with hustlers who are totally committed – fence sitters need not apply).
Along with all this, I’ll continue to write for the Resistance.
Expect the same great writing as always sent directly to your inbox (plus behind the scenes stuff exclusive for subscribers).
While difficult to keep up the pace of multiple quality articles a week, I intend to do it for as long as I’m capable.
And I'll continue to create free and pay what you want content.
If you enjoy my work and want to contribute, the best way is to grab my pay what you want products and treat me to a cup of coffee or something.
Here are a few of my products you might enjoy:
The Gunslinger's Guide to Starting and The Gunslinger's Workbook - Start, finish and ship your project in 30 days or less
Putting on Your Brain Goggles - become more creative instantly
2 Days With Seth Godin - I went to a 2 day seminar/conference w/ Seth Godin. Here's everything we talked about (consider this material gold for entrepreneurs and writers)
Thank you so much for contributing to my creative work.
Well, that’s it for today.
Hope it was enjoyable to read a bit more about me and what I’m up too. More personal than I usually get (and, thus, slightly uncomfortable for me to write), but I hope you enjoyed it.
Leave a comment below to let me know what you think.
And of course...
This is Tom Morkes. If you’re reading this, you ARE the Resistance.
This is the final post in a short series on great work.
To be honest, I originally wrote a short book’s worth of content on this topic.
But right before I hit publish, I decided to scrap everything and get to the heart of what I wanted to say: what great work means at the most fundamental level.
Great work is all about impact.
And sometimes, the best way to make an impact is with fewer words.
In the follow up post, I wanted to dive deeper into this concept of impact – why do some things impact us so powerfully and others don’t?
Love it or hate it, the messages, people, and things we remember are those that draw the line, that take a stand, that never compromise.
Not easily done.
In this final post in the series, I want to talk about a common misunderstanding of great work – the biggest mistake we make in life, actually – and leave you with a final thought on how to create your own great work – this instant if you want.
But first, the misunderstanding…
Is confusing doing great work with getting RECOGNIZED for the great work we do.
These are not the same.
When we set out to do great work, we put our heads down and create. Every now and then we share what we produce: 99% creation, 1% selling.
When we set out to get recognized, we stop creating and start plugging: 1% creation, 99% selling.
As long as we’re doing great work (truly great work), there’s no time to worry about recognition. It may come, it may not. That’s not for you to decide, nor for your great work to dictate.
But isn’t there some way to bridge the gap? Isn’t it possible to create great work that WILL get recognized? Surely, there must be a secret formula out there...
There isn’t one.
There is no 100% guaranteed 10-step model for creating great work that gets recognized. It doesn’t exist.
And anyone who says otherwise is probably selling you something.
The truth is there is no secret formula because it's not a secret and you already know the formula. You’ve known it your entire life, in fact.
It’s just hard to admit you know the formula because once you do it changes everything.
So why isn’t it possible to guarantee your work will be recognized?
You don’t own the reaction to your work.
You can’t control the crowd’s opinion. You can’t dictate the feedback of the audience. You can’t determine the response of the client.
These aren’t for you to control – and trying to force it is either malicious or naïve. In either case, it detracts from your great work.
The reaction shouldn’t concern you because it doesn’t concern you.
You don’t own the reaction to you work, but you do own something much more important:
You own the actions that create your work.
You control the words you put down on paper; you dictate the effort you put into your art; you determine the love, generosity and humility with which you embrace each day and every person you meet.
Your actions are for you to control.
And your actions SHOULD concern you.
In all these empty plans / The ink stains on my hands.
And everyone saves / The best words for the grave.
Are these weary morning tones / I’ll probably save mine too.
[The Airborne Toxic Event]
In every minute of every day is the opportunity to put your mind, body and spirit into doing something worthwhile.
Every action is an opportunity to do something bold.
In every passing moment is the opportunity to change everything.
Want to do great work?
Serve the people closest to you, regardless of their rank, title or following. Put it all on the line for those who need you most, not those you think you need to impress. Speak to those who want to hear from you – ignore the rest.
This is generosity. It doesn’t scale. And it's what really counts, regardless of applause.
The recognition you think you want? It doesn’t matter nearly as much.
Stop saving your best words.
Spend them today on the people who count.
Would love to hear your thoughts...leave a comment below!
New to the blog? Join the Resistance.
In my previous post, I wrote about great work.
Great work is impactful work – the kind that resonates with a person (or a million people) for years to follow.
The sole criteria for determining great work is impact, and that’s specifically and uniquely determined by the person or people experiencing the work.
If you impact just one person, you’ve created great work.
So how do we impact just one person?
In my article on bootstrapping a business, my #2 tip was this: know your why.
But this isn’t a tip just for bootstrappers, it’s for everyone in life who wants to make an impact.
Why do you do what you do?
Why do you create?
Why do you sweat, bleed and suffer everyday over your work?
These are the questions we, the audience, the readers, the experiencers of your work care about. We don’t care what your product or service does until we know why you’re doing it.
“People don’t buy what you do – they buy why you do it.” [Simon Sinek]
Think about it: no one wants to be swindled.
As the consumer, the first thought we have when we encounter another person is if he or she is the real deal, if what they’re offering is legitimate and authentic.
The only way to assuage our fears is by telling us your why.
When we know your why, we’re on board.
If your why is nonexistent or superficial or doesn’t resonate with us, we move on to the next project.
And in a noisy world full of projects, moving onto something other than what’s being offered is very, very easy.
This next step is simple:
Once you know your why, live your why.
If you create art to make people happy, make your happy art every day.
If you take care of those who can’t take care of themselves, take care of them every day.
If you build products that change people’s lives, build life changing products every day.
You might be thinking this is so simple it’s not even worth mentioning.
But living your why cuts both ways...
When you live your why, you can’t cut corners anymore:
You can’t cut ingredients to increase margins.
You can’t cut out the personal interaction to scale your company.
You can’t cut effort to take on more projects at one time.
In the movie Watchmen, the upstanding, idealistic Rorschach is offered a chance to save himself but compromise his integrity in the process.
“Never compromise. Not even in the fact of Armageddon.” [Watchmen]
Maybe we're not superheroes and life's not a movie, but the principle applies:
If you want to do great work, if you want to make an impact, then you need to know and live your why.
And that means never compromising – not even in the face of Armageddon.
Coming up with a brilliant, life-altering idea is what matters.
If you could only come up with that one perfect idea…
It could re-energize you to tackle your project, inspire you to go after your audacious goal, and light your path to success, happiness and contentment.
Of course, this is a myth.
The moment we stop to really think about it, it’s clearly irrational – one idea by itself never changes anything. But we believe it anyway, because as long as we believe it and we haven’t had that spark, that realization, that epiphany, we can justify our current situation and continue to go with the flow.
By waiting for something to happen to us, we abdicate responsibility over our lives and we continue down the path set by others.
For many (for the majority) this is comforting.
So if the life-altering idea is a myth, what is true?
Action is what matters.
Small action taken daily changes everything. Not all at once, of course, but gradually over time.
So the year after you changed your diet, you’re 20lbs lighter – or 20lbs heavier because you ditched the diet and continued down the same path you were on.
Or your commitment to blogging created enough content for you to publish your first book – or it didn’t because you scrapped the writing altogether because no one was paying attention.
Or you finally founded your own company and you’re proud to say you draw your own map – or you have no company because you never actually worked up the courage to quit your comfortable, inoffensive job.
Ideas? They’re a dime a dozen.
A small action today? It’s worth everything.
Each of us has a choice - many choices, actually, every day of our lives.
And every day, every hour, every minute, is the chance to choose - and, therefore, the chance to change.
Who knows, maybe it will come.
Maybe the idea you’re hoping will strike a cord and call you to action will hit you over the head if you wait long enough. Worst case scenario, you continue meandering on your current path, the one set and well trodden by others.
In a second, literally, you can change everything.
This change is a declaration made through action. Even the smallest action changes the status quo – at least your status quo, at this moment, which is the first step toward creating lasting, large-scale change.
This is the harder path, of course - no reason to sugar coat it.
You’re walking down your current path for a reason; switching paths or turning around and walking the opposite way means having to put effort into retracing your steps - and sometimes that feels like a waste. When we turn around, even if it’s for the right reason, it still feels as if we’re losing progress.
But if you’ve been making progress down a path you don’t care for, toward an end you don’t want, turning around is actually the only way to truly make any progress at all.
If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. [C.S. Lewis]
In one moment, in one choice, in one action, you can turn it all around.
The question is: will you?
Have you ever tried writing a book, a blog, or business copy?
If so, you’ve probably experience writers block: the inability to form your ideas into the perfect words, sentences, and paragraphs.
But this type of block isn’t exclusive to writers.
All creative entrepreneurs - from writers, designers, and inventors, to artists, marketers, and entrepreneurs, experience creative block.
Creative block is the inability to satisfactorily form into something tangible the ephemeral ideas in your mind.
Creative block can hit anyone trying to tell the perfect story, build the perfect product, or produce the perfect piece of art.
And if you’ve experienced creative block, you know what an infuriating pain it is and how quickly it can cripple your project.
You also understand one thing only the few brave enough to create understand: Creative block is real.
Creative block is one of the Enemy’s most effective creativity-destroying weapons.
If you’re not careful, the Enemy will use creative block to get you to quit your project prematurely, give up before you even start, or abandon your life’s work althogether.
Don’t give up – there is a way to fight back and overcome creative block, once and for all.
But you must be ready to go to war with yourself and your art.
If you want to conquer fear, don't sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. [Dale Carnegie]
There are ideas in your head - ideas that may be vivid, logical and clear before you sit down to write - but the moment you put pen to paper (fingers on keyboard) they vanish.
You sit down to bring these ideas to life but the ideas fade into nothing.
You stare at the screen desperately, hoping through sheer willpower you’ll be able to form your perfect idea into the perfect sentence…but it’s gone.
The worst part – throughout the day you had no problem at all coming up with great ideas.
But they all came at the most inopportune times.
These brilliant ideas come to you in their lucid entirety while driving, showering, or eating; while mindlessly folding clothes, lifting weights, or going on a long run; while in a conversation, reading a book, or listening to a presentation.
But the moment you need them – sitting in front of the blank screen - they vanish.
It seems like when you don’t need the ideas, the ideas come in waves, but when you need the ideas – when you sit down to write; when getting words on paper is the only thing that counts – the ideas disappear.
There are ways to overcome creative block.
It starts with identifying the reality of the situation: yes, creative block exists…
But only when we care deeply about what we create and how people will perceive it.
If you don’t care about what you write, or you’re not concerned with how it's perceived, you can write freely and unencumbered (think personal journal or email to a close friend).
For those who care about their work and about how it's perceived, overcoming creative block can be a bit trickier.
Fighting back against creative block is hard if we do it through force.
The two most common techniques are:
Both of these techniques are equally ineffective and will wreck you in different ways.
Both are tools of the Enemy.
Both will bury you.
The only way to overcome creative block is through the circumvention of disempowering thoughts, and focused discipline of good habits.
Forcing the right words never works.
When we sit in front of a computer all day, stressing and straining to get the “right” words onto the screen, we begin our descent into the self-perpetuating abyss of wasted time.
If the words don’t come out right the first hour at your computer, they sure won’t come out right by hour five.
They won’t come out right because they can’t: the words you write are never right. They’re also never wrong.
When we focus on creating the perfect sentence, the perfect flow, the perfect tone, style, or theme, we forget what’s ACTUALLY important: the message.
We forget our purpose; we forget our why; we forget the entire concept of art, which is this: art is never right or wrong.
The first and often most effective way to overcome creative block is to forget forcing the right words and begin allowing the wrong words...
People have writer's block not because they can't write, but because they despair of writing eloquently. [Anna Quindlen]
Eventually, once you allow enough of the wrong words, you’ll forget right and wrong altogether and simply create.
Waiting for inspiration is pointless and futile.
Often, when we’re burned out, tired, or simply unmotivated, we rationalize taking off days, weeks, or months so we can reset and recharge.
The thought process: if I’m well rested, if I take some days of to reset my mind, I’ll come back better and stronger. Plus, the best writing is inspired writing, so I must wait until I’m inspired before I write.
This is the Enemy at work.
The Enemy will justify why you should rest and save strength, why taking a break for an indefinite period is essential for creativity, and why avoiding writing is the surest way to clear your mind for more writing.
The Enemy uses creative block to dismantle and destroy your project because it needs you sedated, compromised and passive.
The Enemy’s survival depends on keeping you safely hidden inside the group so as not to expose yourself through your art.
The Enemy fears you as an outlier and uses thoughts of ‘waiting for inspiration’ to cripple your dreams.
Don’t accept this for one second.
Here’s the reality: inspiration comes to those who grind, work, and create.
Inspiration comes to those who allow it to happen through movement, through action, through consistent, repeated behavior.
Inspiration comes to those who are disciplined.
I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o'clock every morning. [William Faulkner]
Sit down and create every day and you will find your inspiration.
When we put our words, ideas, and art out there; when we produce publicly; when we tell everyone who we are and what we’re about, we expose ourselves to the tribe.
And the tribe isn’t always on our side.
This fear of the tribe, of judgment and criticism, keeps many people from starting, finishing, and shipping their great work.
Overcoming creative block really isn’t a secret. It just means doing the work every day.
But you already knew that.
The real question is: do you have the courage to create in spite of these fears?
And that, like everything important in life, is your choice.
Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear. [Mark Twain]
When I was a sophomore in college, I tried to do something I wasn’t sure I could do.
I decided to compete in the Brigade Open Boxing Tournament.
The Brigade Open is an annual event at West Point. It’s a chance for anyone to enter the ring and compete for a title belt. It’s open to all students, but the winners are almost always those on the boxing team.
So entering with very little experience and going up against legitimate national champions probably wasn’t the smartest idea.
I did it anyway.
It had nothing to do with winning - I didn't think I could - but everything to do with at least trying.
I made my commitment several months out from the first scheduled fight of the tournament and got to training.
Every night, after hours of class, drill, intramural sports and homework, I went up to the boxing room, by myself, to hit the heavy bag (like a Nike commercial, but less dramatic).
Every morning, I woke up at 5am to jump rope in sweats. It was exhausting, but the only way I stood a chance was to cut weight.
When the first fight came, I was trembling. I didn't feel ready. Even though I cut weight to be more competitive, my oponent was bigger than me. It seemed, at that moment, I had committed to nothing more than getting my face knocked in.
The bell rang and the fight started.
In the middle of the second round, the referee blew the whistle. A stoppage. The referee was concerned one of the boxers would end up seriously injured.
I won my first fight.
I was pumped.
And then I realized what winning actually entailed.
If I had lost, I could go back to my regular routine. I could have given myself a pat on the back and still walked away proud for trying. I didn't think I could win anyway.
But now, by winning my first match, I had to fight another. And by trying to do something I wasn't sure I could do - and then doing better than I expected - I raised the bar for myself.
Now "who cares if I win or lose," turned into "I might actually be able to do this."
I trained harder.
The next fight came. Once again, I went up against someone who seemed my superior. I felt weak from cutting weight and training - maybe I overtrained. Once again, my chances didn't look good.
I entered the ring, the bell rang, the fight started, and the whistle blew two minutes later. Stoppage.
I won my second fight.
Somehow, against all odds, I would be competing for the championship belt at the finals.
For the first time, I knew there was a chance I could win.
The next fight was filmed by ESPNU with Teddy Atlas and Joe Tessitore commentating (a big deal in the boxing world).
The ring stood in the middle of a giant auditorium, professional spotlights hung from the ceilings, and spectators crowded the bleachers; the bar had been raised.
My fight was moments away.
Unlike my last two opponents, this guy was the real deal; he boxed on the West Point boxing team and was a serious contender for regional and national champion.
The only advice a friend could give me: knock him out in the first round.
He knew what I didn’t want to admit to myself: I wouldn’t last three rounds with this guy.
The fight started.
First round came and went – I landed some heavy hits. No knockout.
The only strategy I had was out the window.
The fallback plan: survive.
The second round tested my resolve and the sturdiness of my face. On more than one occasion the blows should have knocked me out. Somehow, I made it to the end of the round. Bloody, but not broken.
The third round delivered even more devastation. The referee came close to calling it but I wouldn’t stop pressing. I could have hung to the outside of the ring, but I knew that would give a reason to end the fight. Even though I took a beating, I kept pressing. The bell sounded and the fight ended.
I made it to the end of the third round. I finished the fight.
The next day, one of my teachers who watched the fight live sent me this quote in an email:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”Theodore Roosevelt
After the quote he wrote two words:
Anytime I’m nervous, or scared, or uncertain, or worried that something I do might not work, or what I write won’t resonate, or after months and years of passionate commitment my project won’t make it and I’ll be left with nothing…
Anytime I start thinking this way, I remember to keep fighting.
Because it’s better to be in the arena and fail, than a spectator who knows neither victory nor defeat.
I kept fighting.
My tenacity earned me a spot on the boxing team.
I won my first tournament later that year.
One thing Teddy Roosevelt forgot to add: victory tastes better when you’ve known defeat.
And so I urge you, those of you starting something new, doing something important, or chasing your vision quest:
It's not always easy. But it's worth it in the end.
We all have them.
Not just the kind when we sleep, but the more important ones – the ones we have when we’re awake.
They come to us when we’re driving home from work, when we go for a long run, when we reminisce over war stories with an old friend.
These dreams usually spark something deep within us. They excite something dormant; something we didn’t know existed…at least for a moment.
In most cases, as quickly as they come, they go; they pass through us unscathingly, with us no worse (or better) for wear.
Sometimes they come and hit us like a ton of bricks.
That feint twinge of excitement in our gut becomes a blinding vision of what could be…
The image is crystalline; the emotion is palpable; we see everything as if for the first time, with brilliant clarity and gratitude.
The dream isn’t a dream any longer – it becomes something tangible, something that physically moves us.
It scathes us and leaves a mark, for better (or worse).
But even the exhilaration, the rush of an epiphany fades.
And we’re left stuck in traffic, or struggling with an incline, or realizing our stories are mostly embellishment now…
All people experience something like this at some point in their lives. It might not happen with quite the same intensity, but every person experiences moments of understanding, appreciation, and possibility followed by a fall back into reality.
And the majority will go back to work the same way as they did before the dream. They will lay bricks for a day’s wage.
It’s the reasonable thing to do.
It’s the realistic thing to do.
Dreams are silly anyway - real life matters more...
The majority will, but not everyone.
A few will go back to work differently.
Their actions will take on the power of purpose, their goals the strength of intention. They won’t lay bricks for a day’s wage, but to build their own castle.
It’s the unreasonable thing to do.
It’s the unrealistic thing to do.
But dreams matter – sometimes more than real life…
“Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones.” [The Silver Chair]
What will you do with your dreams?
p.s. let us know in the comments what you're working on - and more importantly, why you're working on it. We want to hear!
p.p.s. Subscribe to The Resistance Broadcast and get the help you need to complete your worthwhile project, build your empire, and create your life's work.
Every act of artistic creation (business, blog, book or otherwise) begins in the mind.
They begin as acts of love (we care about our ideas) and defiance (challenging what is with what could be).
But being inside your own mind isn’t a pretty thing. It’s nasty in there; what is right seems wrong; up is down; and every course of action can be rationalized (adding to the frustration).
Struggling with a creative puzzle or wrestling with a conceptual problem is brutal.
It challenges your skill; do you have the ability to bring this vision to life?
It challenges your character; do you have the fortitude – the grit – to take it all the way?
It challenges your belief in yourself; can you keep working toward an elusive goal, even when nothing pans out for weeks, months or years?
Do you really have what it takes to fight these creative battles, day in and day out?
And if the answer is YES to all of those questions, are you sure you’re not just lying to yourself?
These are the internal battles of someone trying to do something new, of someone building something from scratch, of the person creating something unique, not because he was told, but because he chose.
It’s not reserved just for writers (experienced as writers block) or entrepreneurs (experienced as failure to launch), but for every single person who stands up and challenges the group; who leaves the tribal boundaries; who demands self-determination, regardless of the consequences.
It’s a battle waged by artists and inventors; by builders and breakers; by warriors and leaders.
It’s a war fought by those brave enough to question, challenge, and try.
And like any war, there will be casualties: your dreams may not become reality, your goals might not pan out, and your projects might fail.
It’s difficult, it’s unforgiving, and it’s (often) unfair.
When I characterize creation as an act of war, I mean it.
And yet some of us still feel compelled to create, even with this guarantee of discomfort.
Perhaps it’s because we expect the discomfort will fade when we “make it.” And it might.
Or perhaps it’s because we believe the reward at the end will outweigh the pain of the process. And this might be true.
Or perhaps we have no other option because the discomfort of not creating is more painful and terrifying than the possibility of trying and failing. And this is probably the case.
Regardless the reason, the fact that some still want to create, still need to create, is what matters; because these are the people who will create.
Winning the creative war isn’t a matter of how. For the creator, it’s a matter of when.
Oddly enough, that is exactly how you win.
It ain't about how hard you hit, it's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much can you take and keep moving forward? That's how winning is done. [Rocky Balboa]
p.s. are you fighting the creative war right now? Share with us in the comments below what you're creating and where you've found success (or how you've dealt with failure).
This is the 3rd episode of “In the Trenches: The Resistance Broadcast Interview Series” and today I had the honor of interviewing Jeff Goins.
Jeff is a successful blogger, published author, and a self declared writer.
Jeff Started his blog in 2010. In less than 2 years time he grew his readership to an impressive 100,000 people a month.
Jeff has been featured in RELAVANT magazine, Problogger, Copyblogger, Zenhabits.net, and many other publications.
You can find his most recent book Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into your Comfortable Life online and in bookstores around the world.
This interview is a MUST listen. Jeff gives so much great information and has such an amazing perspective on writing, publishing, business and life in general.
If you're a writer (or anything you do involves writing of any sort) you NEED to listen - I promise you won't be disappointed.
You can read more about Jeff Goins at GoinsWriter.com.
I highly suggest you subscribe to his newsletter - it's really great content.
If you liked this interview, share it with everyone you know and reach out to Jeff and thank him!
p.s. leave a comment below and let us know what you're struggling with or where you're having success (writing, business, blog or life related - anything goes).