By Steven Pressfield
Published: February 22, 2017
I’ve quoted Dan Sullivan before and I’m gonna do it again. Do you know him? He’s the founder and CEO of Strategic Coach and one of the great mentors to entrepreneurs in the world. So, in keeping with this series on the Professional Mindset, let me rip off a few more of his ideas for you. (Thanks, Dan!)
Dan tells the story that when he was in the army stationed in Korea, one of his jobs was putting together shows for the troops. Frank Sinatra came over one time. Dan studied him carefully and, as he says,
One of the things I learned was that Frank Sinatra does not move pianos.
Frank has other guys who do that. Frank does only two things, Dan says.
Frank Sinatra sings, and he prepares to sing. That’s it.
Dan has a concept he calls “Unique Ability.” This, he explains, is the entrepreneur’s gift. It’s her singular talent, the one thing that she brings to her business that nobody else can bring.
Steve Jobs had a Unique Ability.
Seth Godin has it.
Shawn has it.
You have it too. In many ways your job as a writer or an artist is to find out what your unique ability is and then organize your day, your month, and your year in such a way that you maximize your time exercising your unique ability and minimize or outsource everything else.
When I was in Israel researching The Lion’s Gate, I interviewed a number of people who had been close to Moshe Dayan, the great Israeli general and Minister of Defense. I heard over and over that Dayan used to say, “I don’t want to do anything that somebody else can do.”
In other words, Dayan brought something unique to the table. No doubt it was hard to define. It was an intangible. Vision, perhaps. Charisma. Whatever it was, he understood it and so did everyone around him.
His soldiers did not want Moshe Dayan to move pianos. If he tried to move a piano, his officers would have tackled him and dragged him off the stage. They wanted Dayan to command, to do what he could do that nobody else could do.
Dan Sullivan, when he speaks of unique ability, is not thinking specifically of writers or artists, he’s thinking of entrepreneurs. He’s thinking of Larry Ellison or Sergey Brin or Steve Jobs. But the concept applies, I believe, more to writers and artists than to anybody.
Stephen King has Unique Ability.
So does Toni Morrison.
And Tom Wolfe and Harper Lee and J.D. Salinger.
Each of them brings something to the party that nobody else can bring.
I read somewhere that we all should find that one thing that we can do better than anyone else in the world. When I first heard that, I thought, “That’s a bit grandiose, isn’t it? What could we possibly do that fifty thousand other people couldn’t do better?”
But I was wrong.
I have something, maybe more than one thing, that I can do better than anyone else in the world. So does my friend Randy and my friend Victoria. So do you.
My friend Mike just showed me a manuscript he’s been working on for five years. The pile of pages was a foot high. Mike’s book had created an entire world, down to the most minute details. He was, in the arena he had envisioned and brought to life, the best in the world. He was Frank Sinatra.
As writers and artists, our unique ability is our voice. Our peculiar, idiosyncratic point of view. Our sense of humor, our sense of irony, our one of a kind vision of the world.
Don’t feel bad if you’re twenty years old or forty years old and you’re saying to yourself, “I don’t know what my unique voice is.”
The truth is we don’t know what our voice is until we sing once, and sing again, and sing again and again.
I’ve said before that I had no idea what books would come out of me until they came, and when they did, I was more surprised by them than anybody.
Our voice is there already.
We were born with it.
Our Muse knows it, even if we (so far) don’t.
We reveal it to ourselves and to the world through work. By following our creative heart and seeing what comes out.
The Professional Mindset is about NOT moving pianos. It’s about finding that unique voice that is ours alone.
Frank Sinatra sings, and he prepares to sing.
Posted in Writing Wednesdays
ADDITIONAL READING » ON WRITING
by Mamet, David
Technically this isn’t a book about writing. It’s about Tinseltown and David Mamet’s love-hate relationship with it. But, along with Mamet’s witty and cantankerous evisceration of show biz, Bambi vs. Godzilla delivers masterly and extremely useful insights on getting movies made, surviving criticism, paying the rent and in general surviving Hollywood while retaining some scrap of sanity and integrity. Mamet is not just any writer. When he takes on a subject, you get it in context succeeding context—commercial, aesthetic, moral, ethical, legal, Talmudic, Tantric and Vedic. It’s like reading Thucydides if he’d loaded his stuff into a ’65 Mustang and split for the Coast.
by Phillips, Larry W.
Papa never actually sat down and wrote a book about writing. Rather, editor Larry Phillips has compiled 140 pages of hard-core Hemingwayisms from the author’s books, stories, and letters. Great material, particularly the fragments of correspondence to Scott Fitzgerald.
by Lukeman, Noah
As an agent and editor, Noah Lukeman read thousands of manuscripts from aspiring writers. He got to where he could tell in the first five pages if a submission was worth his time. In this gem of a book, he tells you the most common mistakes writers make—and how to eradicate them from your manuscript.
by Williams, Nick
A no-nonsense how-to manual and psych-yourself-up kit, for those of us who sometimes need a swift kick in the butt to get us going.
by Steinbeck, John
When he was writing East of Eden, Steinbeck kept a journal—just a few pages each morning, which he’d scribble as a kind of warm-up before turning to the actual manuscript. Fascinating insights into the writer’s life, inside and outside the covers of a book.
by McKee, Robert
I always say that McKee is not only the best teacher of writing I’ve ever seen, but the best teacher of anything. I’ve taken this three-day intensive course twice—and I’ll take it again. Yes, McKee has been spoofed (in the movie Adaptation) and lionized (in a New Yorker profile.) But that’s because he’s the best. Full disclosure: McKee and I are friends. McKee wrote the foreword for The War of Art. McKee teaches this class in cities all over the U.S. and Europe, even as far away as Israel and Singapore.
by McKee, Robert
This is the book that goes with Robert McKee’s Story Seminar. Terrific for writers in all media, but take the “live” McKee first. You’ll get more out of the book if you’ve heard the man deliver his stuff in-person.