I heard a lot of great stuff at WDS, but one of my favorite bits came from author Scott Berkun. He spoke about the "inspiring story cycle" (though I am not sure that's exactly what he called it) and about how we look for the feel-good story or the inspirational message before we get motivated to sit down to work. And when we do sit down, we feel like the work doesn't "feel-good" or seem "inspirational" and so we figure it's time to hear another story. It can go on and on.
Scott nailed the point home and talked about how when you're sitting at your desk and you find yourself thinking "this isn't fun," that's when you really start working. That's when you're finally writing your own inspiring story.
I found myself nodding along. I have totally done this. I have spent a lot of time consuming instead of creating. Browsing other peoples' blogs. Looking at other peoples' images. Reading other peoples' stories. I have found myself valuing the already completed work of others more than the in-progress work of my own.
We all contribute. No matter what you're doing: getting an education, raising kids, handing insurance claims, writing books, trying cases, building bridges, making sense of spreadsheets, teaching students, growing veggies, managing financial operations, building wells in Africa, you're contributing.
And we all consume. All day, everyday, we consume. There is nothing wrong with taking in information. There's nothing wrong with fist-pumping at someone else's inspiring story. Or tearing up over someone else's breakthough. It's part of the process and certainly not a bad thing.
But the trick when you're trying to do something different, is to pay attention to the ratio. Am I spending three hours looking at other peoples' work and only one hour on my own? Can I flip that equation? Three hours for me, just one hour for others?
When it's time to crank something out, I have learned (through practice) that "work" happens in my own head. Work is not something that comes to me. Lightning doesn't strike. The lightbulb doesn't go off. I go to the work. I chase the lightning down. And I flip the lights on and off until they stay lit.
If you're struggling to get your own shop going or your own blog running or your own business idea off the ground, reading about other people stories is only inspiring to a point. Eventually you have to turn it off and sit at a desk and hammer it out. You have to embrace that not as enjoyable part because that's the part when it's actually happening.
The best example I can think of is writing. We hear all the time that if you want to be a good writer you have to read a lot. (I totally think this is true.) Reading provides access to new ideas. It helps you figure out what you like and don't like. It can help you narrow in a bit on your own style.
But you know what really makes a good writer? Someone who writes.
I love NaNoWriMo, November's National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write 50,000 words in one month. So, basically to write a book in 30 days. The non-profit organization exists to help turn people (nearly 600,000 last year) into novelists by encouraging them to, you guessed it, write.
It's not easy. The more you read during that month the less you're writing. The more you're worried about everyone else the less you're writing. The more you're caught up in your own fear, the less you're writing. The more you're thinking "hmmm, this doesn't feel fun," the less you're writing.
There is really only one way to write 50,000 words in one month: Write them.
You want to make stuff? Make it. You want to write stuff? Write it. You want to do something different? Do it. Get in and be inspired, but then GET OUT. And then get to work.
Since writing this post, I created Get To Work Book! It's a day planner + goal setting workbook that is designed to help you take your big goals turn them into something real. Learn more and shop the brand here.
Other posts you might enjoy:
- on motivation
- how I tackle huge projects.
- how I keep my daily tasks organized.
- why I set goals
- the difference between goals and to-do list items.
- tips for success with long-term projects
- more thoughts on "balance."
- creative books I always return to.