Writing

We are constantly adjusting our expectations in the backs of our minds. We analyse the results of previous games we’ve played to ensure that the expectations we set aren’t going to bring us grief. We reflect on our greatest successes and our most painful failures to inform which games we’ll opt into playing in the future. Our entire perception of the world is shaped by what we expect of it, and how it surprises us. But for all of these expectations we set, how many can we honestly say are conscious?

Each time we get in a car, do we consciously set the expectation that every traffic light we approach will turn green? Of course not. Still, most of us assume this will be the case.

What if one day we roll up to a traffic light and it just doesn’t turn green? For whatever reason the light, which has always acted as we expected it to, just didn’t. Most of us, despite the fact that the light staying red is causing us no real harm and will be resolved within minutes, would experience a negative emotional outcome which is far more intense than it has reason to be. We become frustrated and upset not just because we’re now a whole three minutes late to brunch, but because we were not prepared for our assumptions about the light to be challenged. This resistance, as it pertains to meaningful pursuits, is what we must seek to avoid if we are to protect our ability to foster long-term practice.

Assumptions are the expectations we set unconsciously, and assumptions surrounding our pursuits are dangerous because when proven wrong, they can lead to the kinds of crushing emotional outcomes that make us want to quit.

We don’t run out of time, we simply fail to seize enough of it.

That big project you’ve been meaning to get around to for weeks isn’t finished for one of two reasons:

Either It’s not as important as you think it is;

Or you’re scared.

Both are entirely valid, but it’s important to know the difference.

If it’s not that important, kill it. Then find something that is.

But if you’re scared… It’s probably an indicator that you’re onto something special.

You’ll never be rid of the the fear involved with doing important things. But you can dance with it.

Thank it for turning up. Be grateful that it’s alerted you to the importance of the task at hand. Then send it on it’s way.

You’ve got more time than you think you do.

Get to work.

It’s fascinating how quickly originality devolves.

Cliches are cliches for a reason. At their core is something pure and magical – they’ve just been done to death.

Nobody wants to hear another poem about a rose or song about crying in the rain.

… Unless you can find a way to do so with unique specificity.

There’s nothing interesting about a man reading a paper on a park bench.

But there’s everything interesting about a man reading a paper on a park bench if he smells distinctly of leeks and there’s a squirrel eating his shoe.

The devil (and the beauty) is in the details.

When people get lucky breaks, it’s easy to dismiss as pure chance. They were just in the right place at the right time… right?

But what if there was an art to being in the right places at the right times?

What if it took hard work and determination to put yourself in positions where your chances of a lucky break increase?

What if you could cultivate serendipity?

Jason Roberts thinks you can.

He believes that luck is governed by a pretty simple formula;

Luck = Doing x Telling

What does this mean?

It means that if you start doing something, you’re going to get better at it. You’ll continue to get better at it the more you do it and after you’ve done it for a long while, and got pretty good, your chances of having a lucky break get better also.

The other side of the equation is telling, and it’s as simple as you think it is. The more you tell people about what you’re doing, the better your odds are that someone is going to swoop in with a serendipitous offer or opportunity.

If you want your project to take off, Roberts suggests you focus on maximising your luck by doing more and telling more people about what you’re doing.

Copyright © 2010 Jason C. Roberts

The shaded rectangles in the above diagram represent what Roberts calls your luck surface area.

The more surface area you have, the more likely you are to succeed (or get lucky).

Doing without telling might lead to isolated genius, but it’s no way to sell your album.

And telling everyone what you’re doing even though you’re doing nothing at all is the trademark of a perpetual procrastinator.

Doing and telling are each necessary because they magnify one another.

Figure out which you do more often, and work on the other.

Here’s a few things I’m pretty convinced are true;

  1. There is a constant war being fought for the attention of our digital selves which is having dramatic adverse effects on people’s happiness, especially amongst digital natives who have never known a world without digital media;

  2. Activities practiced regularly which reward participants for consistent time investment over many years are essential to a meaningful life;

  3. The instant dopaminergic gratifications available through social media and the 24-hour news cycle are training us against investing time into activities which generate meaning over time;

  4. Therefore, it is necessary to reframe the benefits of investing time and energy into skills and activities which create meaning and value over time for those who don’t understand this intuitively.

Deadlines are awesome.

They force you to focus on accomplishing a clear goal within a specific time, and usually do a good job of motivating you to get across the line.

But some of us (me) enjoy capitalising on this pressure so much that we get reliant on it.

This becomes a problem when longer term tasks show up – because they’re not the kinds of things you can smash out in an all-nighter.

Some things require slow, gradual, meaningful work.

When we can’t rely on sweet deadline pressure to get that work done, we need to employ other means.

For me, it’s games.

I’ll create a finite set of rules which govern the rate, pace and quality of the work I’ve got to do, break it into parts and sprinkle rewards along the way to encourage victory.

This blog is a prime example of that kind of game.

I’ve posted here every day for 6 months as of today (minus one day where my scheduling was out and I scheduled a post for three days in the future – thanks to who noticed).

That would never have been possible if I hadn’t set out goals, expectations and rewards for myself along the way which turned half a year’s worth of writing into daily, bite sized chunks.

Take care of your goals. Treat them well. And when you’re not progressing in their direction, find out why – then design something special and have some fun.

A typical school library houses roughly 8000 books, which coincidentally is about the same amount of books a new kindle can store.

That’s strange, isn’t it? That there exists a waterproof device capable of cataloguing the majority of human history, and it weighs less than a pancake. Let that soak for a second.

Image result for kindle paperwhite

If you loaded up a kindle to the brim and dedicated your life to reading a book on it every day until you’d finished them all, it’d keep you occupied for 21 years.

When you then consider that these 8000 titles would equate to only 0.008% of the 100 million or so books penned throughout history, it’s easy for your mind to wander into the incomprehensibility of the literary abyss.

This number doesn’t even include the 500 million newspapers sold every year, or the 840 million WordPress blog posts.

We are so saturated with information that sheer scale of what we will never be able to ingest is overwhelming.

Acknowledging this fact, accepting it, and attempting to filter through the noise anyway is all we can do.

There is too much available to justify reading anything which fails to captivate your attention. Feel no shame in reading twenty books four pages at a time, whenever you feel like it.

Get to work on your Tsundoku. Filter well friends, and enjoy.

Today I agreed to the terms of a big project with a mentor I value greatly.

We discussed objectives, expectations and a timeline. We scheduled meetings and identified the research I need to complete before starting.

I was warned not to work too hard over Christmas (a holiday I don’t care for), lest I spoil it for myself.

And at by end of our conversation we had a agreement;

On February 18th 2020 I will deliver the first 5000 words of a creative non-fiction text accompanied by a book proposal.

Exactly how this will go, at this point, is impossible to tell.

While the prospect a full length book is daunting, but there is no doubt in my mind that I can get the work done. What’s up for debate is whether or not it’ll be any good.

If it is, 2020 could shape up to be a year to remember. If not, there’ll be a whole lot of learning which gets done.

Either way, the possibility that I could be on the path to authorship as early as February excites my every fibre.

Watch this space. Big things are inbound.

In a letter to his daughter of 15 after her enrolment in high school, the great F.Scott Fitzgerald heralded some poignant advice to writers;

“Nobody ever became a writer just by wanting to be one. If you have anything to say, anything you feel nobody has ever said before, you have got to feel it so desperately that you will find some way to say it that nobody has ever found before, so that the thing you have to say and the way of saying it blend as one matter—as indissolubly as if they were conceived together.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

He argues that brilliant writing is original in both form and theme.

It’s not enough to have a story worth telling, nor is it enough to have mastered the technicalities of the craft.

The best storytellers find a way to execute both.

It’s not easy. But as Fitzgerald himself said later on in the same letter to his daughter,

“Nothing any good isn’t hard”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

When the quantity of work required to achieve a planned outcome increases disproportionately to the resources you have available to achieve said outcomes, you have scope creep.

Scope creep is entirely common and can be absolutely paralysing, but is totally avoidable.

Scope Creep is often a product of poor planning.

Before commencing any project, you should have a clear list of specific tasks which need to be completed in order to achieve the outcome you’re working towards.

The specificity and tangibility of these tasks is directly related to how difficult it will be for scope to creep.

Vague goals generate vague tasks which lead to not much getting done.

Vagueness is the enemy of progress. Which is why we all have a friend who is still writing that ‘thing’ they have been working on and adapting for years. I have been that friend. In many ways, I still am that friend. But I’m working on it.

More specifically, I’m working on setting goals which are strategic, time sensitive, achievable and meaningful.