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Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

“The Office is Closed”

By Steven Pressfield | Published: August 27, 2014

This blog can get kinda hardcore at times, I know. The posts can seem relentlessly insistent on hard work, self-discipline, and so forth.

John Steinbeck. "Let the well fill up overnight."

Today let’s talk about the other side.

Let’s talk about when the writing day is over.

I’m a big believer in “the office is closed.” What I mean is that, when the day’s work is done, I turn the switch off completely. I close the factory door and get the hell out of Dodge.

This is not laziness or exasperation or fatigue. It’s a conscious, goal-oriented decision based upon a very specific conception of reality.

In this conception there exist two levels upon which we work. In the first level we operate consciously and with deliberate intent. We apply will. We invoke talent. We labor.

On the second level, we don’t do a damn thing. We consign the endeavor to our unconscious (or to the Muse, if you prefer.) We very deliberately hand off our enterprise to these invisible mysterious forces.

Let the goddess take over. She wants to. It’s her job. And she’s a lot smarter than we are.

That’s what I mean by “the office is closed.”

The best thing you and I can do at the end of the writing day is to stash our work gloves in our locker, hang our leather apron on a hook, and head for the workshop door. If we’ve truly put in our hours today, we know it. We have done enough. It won’t help to keep at it like a dog worrying a bone.

I forgot who said this (I think it was John Steinbeck in Journal of a Novel):

Let the well fill up again overnight.

That’s it exactly. Someone asked Steinbeck on another occasion if he ever stretched himself at the end of a working day. He replied with an emphatic no. The phrase he used was that to keep working when you were tired was “the falsest kind of economy.” You might eke out an extra paragraph or two tonight, but you’ll pay tomorrow.

Here’s how I judge it in my own day. I work till I start making mistakes. When I find myself misspelling words and generating typos, I take that as a sign. That’s the factory whistle. The shift is over. Grab your lunch pail and hang up your boots.

Let’s get the f*%k outa here. (more…)

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

The Sphere of Self-Reinforcement

By Steven Pressfield | Published: August 20, 2014

The last two Wednesday posts, Process and Spot and The Game of Numbers, have been about the mental game of writing. Specifically, they’ve been about self-reinforcement.

Can you strive here and keep believing?

This is a subject they don’t teach at Harvard.

What exactly is self-reinforcement?

It’s not just patting yourself on the back or telling yourself, “Good work, kemo sabe” (one of my own favorite me-to-me phrases). In the two examples above, we’re talking about self-reinforcement for actions we’ve takenĀ that have not produced results and that may not for a long time to come.

This, of course, is the most important kind of self-reinforcement. It’s self-reinforcement at the Ph.D. level. It’s professional self-reinforcement.

Let’s review, from last week’s post, Nick Murray’s concept of “the game of numbers.” Nick is a guru to financial advisors, i.e. the investment professionals that you or I might hire to help us take care of our money, to be sure we have enough to get our kids through college or to see ourselves and our spouse through a possibly-multi-decade retirement.

According to Nick, the most important skill a financial advisor needs is the ability to “prospect,” that is, to make cold approaches seeking clients. This is a helluva daunting chore. It elicits in most individuals profound, monumental, excruciating Resistance. Many financial planners fail simply because they can’t make themselves prospect or keep prospecting.

Nick Murray’s answer: make X approaches a day, rain or shine, and evaluate your success only by the fact that you made the approaches, not whether they produced immediate results.

If you keep prospecting, says Nick, the Law of Large Numbers infallibly kicks in. It may take 500 calls to get one client. It may take a thousand. But if you keep grinding, you will get the clients. The law permits of no exceptions.

Your job, Mr. or Ms. Financial Advisor, is to keep believing. And keep making approaches.

And you, Mr. or Ms. Writer, your job is to keep doing your pages. And keep believing.

Which brings us back to self-reinforcement.

How do we keep believing?

What keeps us from quitting?

Let me make a non-overstatement:

Self-reinforcement is more important than talent. (more…)

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

“The Game of Numbers”

By Steven Pressfield | Published: August 13, 2014

Last week we were talking about Rory McIlroy’s “trigger words” from his victory in the British Open a few weeks ago—”process” and “spot.” We were saying that the principle behind these concepts was equally applicable to writing and to entrepreneurship.

My copy of "The Game of Numbers"

What is that principle?

It’s the idea of detaching yourself emotionally from the ultimate outcome of any enterprise (“I gonna win the Nobel Prize!” “I’m going to humiliate myself in the eyes of everyone I love!”) and focusing instead upon one simple, controllable object (“I’m going to sit down this day and work for three hours.”)

I want to introduce you to a book that articulates this concept better than any I’ve ever read.

It’s called The Game of Numbers by Nick Murray.

(Full disclosure: Nick has become a great friend and I’m a huge fan of all his work. Second full disclosure: Nick’s book costs forty bucks.)

The Game of Numbers is not about writing. It’s about “prospecting.”

Nick Murray is a guru and mentor to financial advisors. He writes a popular newsletter, as well as magazine articles and books. “Prospecting,” in the sense that Nick employs the term, means looking for clients. Cold-calling. It means approaching strangers and asking for their business.

Know that, for the purposes of this book, there are only two states of being [for a financial advisor]: prospecting and avoiding prospecting.

Is this starting to ring a bell? Hint: where Nick uses the word “prospecting,” substitute “writing.”

This is not a how-to book. It’s a how-to-not-stop book. Or, if you prefer, it’s not about prospecting; it’s about the fear of prospecting. And how to defeat that fear.

What I call Resistance, Nick calls Avoidance. There’s no difference between the two. (more…)

Posted in Writing Wednesdays
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