Parc del Laberint d’Horta, Barcelona (Photo: Marcel Germain)
Big successes often seem like foregone conclusions.
In reality, most entrepreneurs (read: creators) who appear to have unique genius suffer through the same frustration as the masses of unknowns. They simply test and persist a few steps further.
Richard Branson will tell you this of his Virgin empire.
Tony Hsieh of Zappo’s shares similar stories.
Steve Martin can prove that it applies to anything creative, not just business.
Below is a piece of paper from 2005 I recently unearthed while purging books and folders from my house.
It reflects a complete failure–protracted over weeks–to find a good title for what later became The 4-Hour Workweek (4HWW). Most of the ideas are horrible beyond belief, and it wasn’t until I tested a few variations using Google AdWords that we decided on “The 4-Hour Workweek,” which I still disliked on multiple levels.
Here are two pages of frustrated attempts, two pages of dozens (click to enlarge, then click again)…
Let me know which title is your favorite ridiculous option. “This Sucks,” perhaps?
But, moving on, what of 4HWW writing itself?
I’m pleased to report that the writing flowed like a crystal clear stream. Perhaps a torrent of genius. Sometimes–how should I put this–I amazed even myself.
Oh, wait a second, I lapsed into fiction. Back to reality: the writing, for the most part, made me want to Hemingway myself. On good days, I’d settle for the impulse to slam my own head in a car door.
I tossed the first four chapters I wrote and almost gave up on multiple occasions. Futility was the brain soup du jour. Draft, doubt self, panic, hate self, throw out draft–rinse and repeat.
To give you an idea of how many rewrites it took to get right, here are two early draft pages of a sample chapter. Far from the worst I produced, but still far from polished (click to enlarge, then click again):
It changed only when I started viewing each chapter as a magazine article: strong enough to be a stand-alone piece, including a clear opening or “lede”, a clear middle with case studies, and a punctuated end with lessons learned.
From that mindset, a few trial runs, I developed a chapter template that involved starting with a dialogue or anecdote (even if it was scrapped later) and moving through the above steps to a resource-rich “Tools and Tricks.” I needed a repeatable process. To sit down to “write a book” was just too overwhelming, even with a table of contents as a blueprint.
If you plan on any creative undertaking, whether business, writing, or art, I strongly recommend the book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. If you spend a lot of time working alone and get trapped in your head, it’s required reading.
It saved my sanity and has done the same for several friends who’ve gone from “I want to quit” to New York Times bestsellers.
Most miraculous successes are nothing of the sort.
Those on front lines, the people who seem to jump into the limelight from nowhere, experience the same plodding frustration and trial-and-error as the rest of the world.
They differ in that they don’t expect luck to help them, nor good fortune to save them. As James Cameron would say: “Hope is not a strategy. Luck is not a factor. Fear is not an option.”
James might also tell you that the best creators are like ducks. They appear to glide along serenely on the surface. Beneath the surface, however, they’re kicking like a motherf*cker.
Keep calm and carry on.
Odds and Ends: NYC Launch Party Highlights!
The following video was shot and edited by the incredibly talented Michael Gebben.
The NYC launch event was an all-around huge success. Sadly, NYC weather decided to serve the coldest day of the entire season, and an unexpected mandatory coat check (due to fire hazard potential) backed up the line and left more than a few people freezing for far too long. This led some people to abandon ship, including many of my closest friends and family. I did my best to take notes, learn from it, and make amends.
For positives, the event helped raise almost $10,000 for DonorsChoose.org, it was a total blast, and I’m planning a summer party in NYC with a slightly smaller crowd.
I hope you enjoy the video:
Tim Ferriss 4-Hour Body Launch Par-tay New York City! from GEBBS on Vimeo.
And for those wondering, the song in the video is “I Want It All” by Copperview.
UPDATE: Many thanks to Maggie J. for all the fantastic pictures she took at the party. You can see all 937 photos she took here.
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.
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381 Replies to “Feeling Stuck? Read This…”
Anyone had any stomach aches from this diet. I didn’t really eat too much bad carbs or sugar beforehand and have been on this diet to a T for over a week. Last friday, I had some organic pumpkin soup with a tin of shredded chicken breast. The serving was quite large and i found the soup had potato in it. An hour later I had strong aches in the top of my stomach and hours later (5 or 6) sharp pains in my lower ab. A good nights rest and it was okay the next morning if not a little minor tinge in the stomach. This was my cheap day and I had scrambled eggs on turkish bread with baked beans and coffee with milk. Felt a little uncomfortable afterwards but nothing like friday night. Grazed throughout the day and then had a massive feast of indian at night and my stomach went crazy again. This morning (sun) it seems okay and I went back to poached eggs and spinach for beaky with a small coffee with almond milk. Okay so far but could this diet be making me a little sensitive to starch?
Looks great. Less food and regular excercise is the way forward.
Read your book 4 hour work week.
It was awesome – completely inspirational.
Thanks for writing it.
To you continued success.
Tim – did you ever test out the chelation suppository treatment/method as mentioned in the book? I’d be interested in your findings as I’m looking at that treatment and could use a product recommendation.
Thanks in advance,
I am on the sixth day of the 4HB and I LOVE,LOVE,LOVE it. I have tried every diet imaginable and even hypnosis to get rid of my cravings for sweets. I have lost 5 pounds in 5 days on the 4HB and am not craving sweets at all. In fact, I get sick at the thought of all those forbidden foods.
Thank you, Thank you, Thank you-The 4HB has saved my life!
Questions for Tim or anyone else who can help.
I have been on the low carb diet for 2 weeks now (lost 3 kgs) and have been eating chicken, beef, eggs, veges, nuts, beans and a little coffee with oat milk (tiny bit).
I guessed my BMI as 20% body fat. Losing 3 kgs I assume is fat and a bit of muscle.
I am now going onto Tim’s Geek to Freak… following his workout routine.
Questions I have:
Times workout on P187 says nothing about number of sets or reps. I am guessing based on information near that section, it would 1 set of each using a 5/5 cadence, aiming to have total failure at around 10 reps.
There is also nothing about diet, so I am staying on the same low carb diet but with a shake with fruit prior to gym and then a meal with 1/2 cup of brown rice after the gym. Nothing different on non workout days. Is this okay or should I be adding something?
Would adding rolled oats with honey for breaky be okay? I gym after 5pm.
What about on non workout days?
“40 Years In A Cubicle: Tastes Like Chicken”
I agree. Classic.
Good stuff man! Gonna check out that book you recommended, been a bit stuck on the writing lately, cheers!
Hey, will a smart person please tell me why tim said that the china study- in linking animal protein to cancer- was not quite right?
Thanks so much for this post! I am finally deleting it from my inbox, but I kept it there because I found it so inspirational. It is so comforting to hear that everyone struggles when trying to achieve something different, especially to hear it from someone like Tim. I have been moved by this and appreciate that you are humble enough to share your struggles.
Thanks for the advice on credit repair on all of this blog. The things i would advice people is usually to give up the mentality that they can buy at this moment and pay out later. Like a society most of us tend to do this for many issues. This includes trips, furniture, plus items we really want to have. However, you’ll want to separate the wants out of the needs. While you’re working to boost your credit score you have to make some trade-offs. For example you are able to shop online to economize or you can visit second hand outlets instead of expensive department stores regarding clothing.
You probably get this all the time but can I ask who made your shirt and where can I get one? very real and inspiring.. I really want one! Thanks!
Great post mate. And a super like for your t-shirt.
Your suggestion about Bird by Bird was helpful in 2010 when I read the book for the first time. My take away was to put all the voices in a bottle and like the child don’t think about the monumental load but complete each small task as you go. However, I’m at the point when she’s trying on dresses and her companion tells her that she doesn’t have the luxury of time to choose a dress. I don’t know if I can work under this kind of pressure when I’m supposed to produce some kind of euphoric experience for the reader. How do you share the Holy Spirit in writing? Especially for Billy? How do you tell the reader to feel something that not a lot of people get?