“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”
– Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette
“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
– Mark Twain
Writing isn’t a clean process.
In general, attempting to be creative isn’t a clean process. It’s filthy. I wish I could poo diamonds, but — alas — I am not built for such miracles. Instead, I plod and stumble my way through revisions, hacking at mental cobwebs and killing inner demons. Eventually, enough caffeine and wine permitting, I might look down and see something that doesn’t make me gag.
To give you an idea, below are some hand edits of the Introduction to The 4-Hour Chef, which–much improvement later–hit the NYT and WSJ bestseller lists in November of 2012. As I write this, it’s hovering around #180 on Amazon. Keep in mind that the below is after 5-10 drafts:
Download a full-size PDF of my edits here
Even this simple blog post, as one example, was revised and rewritten 14 times. The iteration pays off — it ended up getting 700+ comments. Conversely, one-take wonders usually get burned at the stake, and rightly so.
“Revising,” “iterating” (in start-up speak), “editing”…no matter what you call it, it’s tweaking something bad or mediocre until it finally works. As Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.”
This applies to much more than writing. Ernest would no doubt agree that my first attempt at a blog was shittier than shitty. Here are the “before” pics from 2007. Note that my friend Ramit Sethi and others had equally hideous “rough drafts” of their sites. It’s par for the course…
Here’s the first Apple computer. Ground-breaking, to be sure, but it’s not exactly as sleek as a Ferrari. It didn’t need to be.
How often we self-sabotage in the name of “perfectionism”! Perfectionism may be better than sloth, but it can become a clever hand-waving exercise. “Not yet!” one might say (and I have said often). More research, more preparation, more interviews, more… procrastination. Let’s call it what it often is: a forgiving term for a terrible habit. It’s like calling someone “eccentric” instead of “crazy.”
To create anything remarkable, it takes not one giant leap after perfect prep, but many baby steps in the right direction once you have barely enough to get started.
To start something big, you have to first start something small. From a past interview of mine on the creative process; note the bolded portion:
“I do my best writing between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.. Almost every friend I have who is a consistently productive writer, does their best writing between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. My quota is two crappy pages per day. I keep it really low so I’m not so intimidated that I never get started. I will do the gathering of interviews and research throughout the day. I’ll get all my notes and materials together and then I’ll do the synthesis between 10 p.m. to bed, which is usually 4 or 5 a.m.”
How can you take something you’re putting off and make the first step tiny?
How can you use an easy quota like “two crappy pages per day” to get started?
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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103 Replies to “The Ugly New York Times Bestseller — The Creative Process in Action”
Hey I really appreciate the posts man. Always giving value. Im taking Noah Kagan s course now and it asks what inspires me. I wasnt awake until i read the fourhourworkweek. I always knew i thought differently from everybody else but didnt think others did. You gave me a new paradigm on the world and i really appreciate it
by the way Fuck the haters
Thank you, Antario 🙂
It’s amazing just how long it takes to edit even a short blog post into something that’s not…shit!
For me it usually looks something like this:
Braindump => Something I don’t hate => Something others won’t hate => Something others MIGHT find useful => Something others find useful AND entertaining AND that I hate a little bit because all the ego juice is squeezed out of it.
This creative process, so so grueling to us mortals, is why you’ve gotta admire a dude like Osho. He spoke unrehearsed to an audience every day, and when you read the transcripts of his talks — which is all his books are, transcripts — it reads like an amazingly well thought out, edited work.
There’s irony in that I’m procrastinating from writing at the moment, but…
I find setting a sub-goal for the day also helps. For example, telling yourself, “I will write 100 words within 30 minutes of waking up” or something like that. It’s just another tiny step to get over that bump of beginning each day.
If I’ve got a fragment of something written before midday, the rest of the writing tends to go a lot more smoothly.
That’s exactly what I do without the caveat “within 30 minutes of waking up” because for me that’s too much pressure. I just aim to write 100 words per day and that’s it. Nothing else has worked as well for me.
“caffeine and wine permitting” so appropriate that I should be in front of my computer working on a blog post with a glass of red and a cup of coffee. Writing is re-writing. great post
Thanks for this post. I’ve been trying to perfect my podcast since August and have delayed the release of the 30+ episodes I’ve recorded that were all ready to go in October.
I think there is so much info in the world today that if we arent careful we try to consume it all trying to avoid mistakes and end up never launching.
You can’t learn to ride a bike by reading a book. So I guess I should start recording and publishing daily and take my lump on the road to getting better.
Ron, thank you for sharing this. I, too, am sitting on a bunch of material I’ve prepped for a blog site. It has been 80% there for two months, yet I constantly create reasons (excuses) as why everything isn’t “perfect enough” to just hit publish and go. The graphics are tweaked, the profile needs polishing, blah blah blah.
Tim’s blog and your comments are my motivation for today. Screw it, let’s just get on with it!
Go get it, gents! Be brave and bring those babies to the world. They’ll start out naked and afraid, and you adjust from there 🙂
It’s so much more exciting to launch something that isn’t perfect and rectify it on the fly, based on your *actual* users feedback (instead of what *you think* your users want). You can’t imagine the time I’ve wasted on doing what I thought was needed, just to find out it was the wrong thing once I pushed it out after weeks of “refinement”.
All you need is to define what’s your “good enough” and push out as soon as you get there.
I agree with Ron Story Jr. “You can’t learn to ride a bike by reading a book.” Sometimes you just have to take a leap. You can’t wait for optimal conditions, or let the negative ‘what if’s’ get in the way either. You just have to plow through. I am amazed how organic the process of creating is. Sure, it may feel like a train wreck at the time, but a month, a year from now, it’s obvious how that moment served its purpose.
Thanks Tim. Nice to be reminded that y’all started much, much smaller than you are now. I’ve taken your 2 pages a day and BJ Fogg’s small steps into my own writing challenge. I’m writing weekly on my blog with some pretty fun stakes! Even if no one (but me, repeatedly!) reads it I am learning a ton from writing and iterating. Details here, if you want to take a minute: http://www.robinpzander.com/blog/2013/10/building-the-habit-writing-regularly-for-1-year/
Thanks for sharing so authentically – I’m impressed over and over again with your willingness to share.
That is easy. I want to write a book at some point. I’ll just use “two crappy pages” verbatim!
Something I used in the past was to do only five breaths of meditation a day. Eventually it became 3hours a day when I was 13.
Excellent post! Most people do not realize what goes into creating “epic content” in this day and age, especially where we are trained to expect instant gratification.
I recently finished and self published my 5th book, and I’ve developed a process that works for me, as you have. What I find particularly interesting about the idea of creative processes is that many of us do our best work in the middle of the night, as you indicate.
This is incredibly contrary to ALL the advice provided in the time management and productivity world — telling us we should be in bed by 9pm and get up at 5am to do our writing, etc.
Is “not yet” an endless process? How do you know when enough is enough?
Most of the final drafts I do look like shit given enough time.
Tim, I find this validating for all the bloggers and authors. Whenever I write a post on my blog it takes about 2-3 days to have it finished.
It’s the literature review=>first draft=>grammar revision=>flow=>readability=>links=>h1=>meta tags=>keywords=>title, etc.
Everything needs to be at least decent. And if you put your efforts into it, most of the times it would pay off. Readers are avid detectives when it comes to cheap and rushed jobs.
You called my bluff.
I’m starting the important things again I’ve been putting off until ‘tomorrow’.
Sometimes I forget that I’m allowed to fuck up and ‘iterate’.
Thanks for the kick Tim
“Mientras se gana algo no se pierde nada.”
Oh how I wish the process was cleaner.. but then I guess everyone would write.
My process seems to go:
Have an idea
Ponder for a day or two, brainstorm and take notes
Get excited and decide my idea is amazing!
Try to write my amazing idea down into a blog
End up with utter tripe – terrible sentences, no structure, no sight of what I was actually trying to say…
So I walk away for a while and while I’m doing something completely irrelevant I have a crazy epitome that structures everything..
Then I get to my 20 drafts that lead to a blog I feel quite pleased with.
There are always moments of despair along the way – self-doubt, a desire for perfection, and feeling completely overwhelmed. But the mess always turns into order, and the despair always turns into joy and pride.
I just wish I could skip the despair..
I use “one hour a day” with my business. I know it isn’t a lot, but at least I do something every day, and more than just an hour most days. It keeps the flow going.
There is a very fine balance between making something good enough, and trying to make something perfect. When aiming for perfect, chances are it will never see the light of day. When aiming for good enough, I find I still put in the necessary amount of editing and revision, but my drafts aren’t sitting in wordpress for weeks or months at a time never to be read by another human being.
A first draft is definitely not something to marvel at, but aren’t you too harsh? I still find a lot of good and much potential to craft something I can be proud of. Then again, I have nowhere near the success you do (in my defense, I’ve only been at it for 2 months) so maybe I’ve got it all wrong 😉
This is my favorite kind of post. It’s honest, insightful, and inspiring.
A few small tips that I employ to help the creative process:
1. Nearly 95% of my planning is done prior to even touching the computer. I find that if I am not intentful on my planning or research, I’ll wander aimlessly and drastically reduce my output.
2. After my initial planning and research, I’ll step away from it all and do something physical that doesn’t require much thought. I.e. jogging, weightlifting, housework. By letting the information subconsciously incubate and synthesize, I find that creative ideas come much easier and faster.
3. Just as you said, start small. Write (draw, make, ect) EVERYTHING that first comes to mind, no matter how crappy. The active creative process is really nothing more than a series of revisions until you have (sanefully) reached a comfortable completion point. Strive for perfection, but be comfortable with stopping just before reaching it.
If you’re not a embarrassed by the first version of your product, you launched to late. ~Reid Hoffman
Word. Better for software than books, but still a point worth remembering.
What I find that helps is literally having ‘mind dump’ sessions that allow the cutting room floor to be as messy as ever. But once the final edits are in place… usually a masterpiece is created.
As Tim mentioned in his post. It’s important to work with a system to refine things. If you plan on starting a business you should read Guenter Faltin’s book ‘Brains versus Capital’. It shows you how to create a business model by using different technics. You could say, it shows you to ‘edit’ you idea into a business model.
This advice is ideal for starting anything worthwhile not just a book. Thanks for sharing.
Quick note – thank you for the insightful post. It’s nice to see you’re human after all! (It took me 5 revisions to come up with this comment) 🙂
Thanks for the encouragement and kick in the butt. Great stuff, as always. I need to improve 2 things – not comparing myself to others and edit my posts like crazy (not be satisfied with the first edit or two). Thanks!
Love this article! I love seeing work in their preparatory stages. Da Vinci’s painting Adoration of Magi is my favourite because you get to see into his process! Thanks Tim
Thank You damn much!
Quick question for you, Tim: Do you have friends that help you edit blog posts? Or do you do all the revisions yourself?
Thanks for opening up a bit about your creative process.
Tim, and other writer-folk: Check out rainycafe.com When I’m stuck on starting (which is often, since writing is my daily gig) this site – which plays rain and/or cafe sounds in a loop – gets me started every time without fail.
Also, I’ve had tremendous success using an app for Mac called SelfControl -http://selfcontrolapp.com/. Not only does it lock out distracting websites, but it is the only thing I’ve found that will not allow me go back into the app, and turn it off so as to visit said blocked websites again. It is a jewel for avoiding Facebook, or anything else that distracts you.
Good luck fellow writers! 😉
Perfectionism leads to procrastination and procrastination stops us.
I think we should basically do our best. I’m always convinced that the right way in the middle.
Writing a book is not easy mainly because a human being is ever changing and therefore the feedback on their writing and style may vary even before the end of the book.
It is important to communicate the central message.
From the creative point of view, every opinion is always subjective. It just depends on who exposes it: if a literary critic (who is usually heard) or a reader.
In any case it’s important that the author is satisfied with his work. Apart from the fact that every artist, author, creative director usually always faces his demons of perfectionism. That’s why there are deadlines! to get the work done despite them 😉
I found setting quotas is great for getting anything creative done.
It’s a really hard lesson for most of us creative people to learn.
adding that little word ‘crappy’ to my quotas is golden. It Tricks me into not worrying about the end product until the end.
I was such a perfectionist in the past that I quit almost all my projects before the end because I couldn’t create the grandiose vision I had in mind. And it’s really awful since you have the impression of always working but never having anything to show.
In the last year, I’ve slowly practiced creating complete DRAFTS of something and then incrementally making it better. That saved my life, wallet and sanity. I can thank the 80-20 approach for that, The Lean Startup and a LOT of self-brainwashing, practice and failures.
Neil Strauss call that “Death by Perfect Preparing”. Perfectionism let loose is like a bull in a china shop.
I use voice to text software like Dragon Dictation, because I am a slow ass typer. Sure it needs re-editing, but at least I can just sit there and talk what come into my head and it appears on my computer, then I go back and edit it.
At least it removes one of the frustrations for me, which is the typing part.
Good tip, take the time to set it up properly and get a decent quality noise cancelling microphone and it should be pretty accurate.
To combat procrastination, I first remind myself that time is an irreversible, valuable commodity where I’ll cease to exist – someday. Second, I realize the brain wants to stay in a comfortable homeostasis through “safe” repetitive habits. I’m accepting mistakes are mandatory for progression. Frustration is inevitable, but trial and error is the only way I’ll find *my* technique. So hell to the yeah perfection is subjective! I know that I view, process, and execute information/methods different than my neighbor. Every person has a unique writing style (anything style, really) and no two persons/authors are 100% alike.
So, as a struggling wannabe nerd, I thank Tim Ferriss & 8lb6oz Baby Christmas Jesus for DiSSS (also applied to learn everything else), and the tiniest step I take to improve my writing is to begin with literally like – a paragraph, seriously. If I’m not in the mood I’ll jam to a song then try writing, take off the ear plugs to focus, then get into the swing of it.
as I first started my blog I revised it all the time before I set it online because I wanted it to be perfect… When I finally set it online and thought I was satisfied I still found things (a ton) I wanted to make better in the future. 8 month later I am still finding lots of stuff I need to improve – creativity and writing aren´t things you figure out for a period of time and release them like a simple product and never think about it again – it means improvement and development all the time.
When I want to write something I set the goal for 15 minutes, not more… But once started (even for only 15 minutes) I normally stick to the task a lot longer and get things done, which gives me a good feeling most of the time.
And motivational quotes help to get started like “Be the type of person that when you wake up in the morning and place your feed on the ground – the devil says ‘oh shit, he is up’ “
Sorry gents – I don´t get my feed on the ground 😉 but my feet… oh dear…
Along the same lines, sometimes I’ll use 750words.com to get me going with writing- just a place to sit down and power through 750 words to get the creativity flowing. I use it as a place to write down whatever I’m feeling; sometimes it pertains to something I could blog about, or the occasional creative idea will sprout.
well, i seldom comment here because i fear my comments may not be as useful, but in the spirit of this post well, here i am.
This reminds me a lot of the lean startup model, and the minimum viable product, which makes all the sense in the world, not only for startups, but with life.
I once read a good quote on the subject of perfection being an obstacle. I can’t remember who it is by:
“The great is the enemy of the good.”
Please keep up these great posts Tim.
Tim – this is so short, but amazing! Perfect reminder that even the best writers gotta go through the same old process to make something happen. I am particularly happy about this post as for the next 3 weeks I will be building video courses meaning a lot of script writing.
PS – I’ve just reread the 4hww on the beach in Barcelona. The book looks like a total mess after visiting 15+ countries, but rereading it is always a breath of fresh air. Thanks Buddy!
Thank you so much, Tim, for writing and sharing this. It is just what I (and many others, I’m sure) needed.
I’ve used the site 750words to create a daily writing habit that just crossed the one year mark a week ago. There is a lot of power in building up a small visible chain and then not wanting to break it.
I shared some other thoughts I learned from writing 750 words a day for a year here:
This is cool. Thanks for sharing!
Bird by bird, right Tim? 😉
TIM: Why is the creative process so god damn hard? Why is there no rulebook about it? Why is it all magic and mystery and weirdness and fluffy stuff? It’s crazy, it’s absolutely crazy why we put ourselves through this ridiculousness – it’s quite insane. It is insane. It’s absolute insanity and it’s a goddamn sickness. Every day I hit the computer or notebook it’s like I’m starting a machine running on dirty oil, like swimming in an ocean full of diarrhea (sorry for the terrible analogies).
Anyway thanks for this great post; I love posts on the creative process because it reminds me that the craziness is NORMAL. Also, thank you for that conversation you had with Neil Strauss – that was absolutely fantastic and probably an essential listen for anyone who wants to be a writer.
Great post, it really spoke to me in so many ways. Thank you for sharing. And just a side note I think your hard work and edits paid off with the 4 Hour Chef, I bought a hardcopy and kindle version loved it, saw it on a Lightning deal on Amazon last week and impulsively bought a second copy lol, so hopefully I will be giving it as Christmas gift to someone.
There appears to be a problem purchasing your tv shows in Australia. You get switched from Australian to USA store which then won’t recognise payment method. Is there a way to fix this?
BTW – I referenced you and your work in both post… I will be writing about more details on each book and conducting a four hour chef test as well.
I would love to see you try a hack/experiment:
dunking a basketball
It really strokes the “man ly” ego and most never reach that goal… Thanks Again.
Thanks so much for this post today, the transparency of sharing the edits from The 4 Hour Chef were a great way to have this message hit home. I struggle with the challenge that editing often causes me to question shipping even though I see the value in it — at the same time, not shipping fast enough because of feeling the need to “perfect” something before shipping is the other side of the pendulum. This post really showed me that there’s a need for both, putting in the effort and having the patience for the multiple edits and at the same time to ship something small and possibly unfinished for the sake of creating and getting it out into the world first and revise later.
Your work has been an inspiration to me personally on both these levels.
Thanks for everything you are doing to help us take that journey with you, from your books to your posts to your new tv show — really amazing to see you not just do these things but to experiment and re-invent them while you do it.
BTW — I’m writing this from Chiang Mai,Thailand – where my wife and I have relocated to during the winter. You’ve definitely been an influence (starting way back when I listened to 4HWW) in making this a reality for us, that was one of the first sparks on the idea to build a lifestyle business that could give us the freedom to do that.
Cheese Louise… that is one messy setup. i am a creative person, and often struggle with this. I know that my video edit suite should have well categorised folders, but in reality, it doesn’t happen… especially when you are dealing with projects on the larger side of things.
The tiny steps add up! It took me 29 years to really appreciate this, but now that I understand it, I’ve found a wonderful groove for myself in making tiny, focused efforts to improve my life and be more productive.
Back in August, I started slowly changing/implementing very small, manageable habits to improve my quality of life. While it started out as a way to simply improve my PHYSICAL health, I’ve shifted the focus to include improving my health in other areas, including mental and emotional health.
Part of this process has included me forcing myself to get back into writing music, so I have committed to working on music for 30 consecutive minutes a day, 6 days a week. That’s it–not very much if I want to be prolific, but even the smallest steps lap anyone still sitting down. Most days I rarely go over that 30-minute time frame–sometimes I work for longer–but I always at least get the 30 minutes in, and I use stickK.com to help keep me true to my goal.
After a month of this (and with all the other small changes I’ve been making), I’ve found a significant boost in my creativity and confidence, and I’m happily working on a new project writing music for an Internet radio serial drama.
There’s a quote that helped inspire me in all this (which I’m sure I’m paraphrasing here): “Don’t put something off because you’re overwhelmed by the amount of time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.”
Are you channeling my thoughts? Writing my first full book and it’s kicking my ass! Thanks for the tips and feeling of not being alone. Now back to work…
For me the hardest part of the editing or revision process is being critical enough with my posts. Its so much easier to write a piece of shit and press publish than it is to go through your own stuff. I’ve gotten into the habit of reading my own work aloud before pressing publish (I even surprise myself at the crap that makes it through a couple edits).
I would be really interested in hearing more about your editing process, understandably the initial version is fairly easy to edit but once its a bit more refined how do you keep doing it? Do you have a criteria for choosing what to cut or alter?
I found an old journal and discovered I have been putting off starting my muse for four years!! I’m too overwhelmed to start! I talked to a friend this morning about this very thing, and his advice – start with just 15 minutes of work!
Thanks for the solid advice, Tim!
You should try your hand at writing songs. It’s even worse. I am great at writing music, it comes naturally. But lyrics? Like blood out of a stone.
A journalist once said to me, “Delilah if you write something and think that it is great, then it probably isn’t.” I learnt from this, as I have always strived for the perfect copy, never wanting to let it go. Wasting hours, days, months and even years on various projects, not to mention wasting other people’s time and losing opportunities. It is also so true that this attitude and unhealthy behaviour pattern crosses over to some many other areas of our lives, where we don’t start anything unless we have the perfect conditions around us. What a waste. Thank you Tim and others for sharing your comments and ideas. I am inspired to start writing and finishing at least one book.
This was encouraging.
Thank you Tim
I have seen how important it is to really focus on creating remarkable content.
We don’t consume mediocre music. We love remarkable music.
It’s crazy that almost everything we consume in our life has the standard of remarkable and yet we don’t apply that to our work…at least I don’t.
One of the most helpful pieces of advice I got when writing my (one and only) book: that my goal at first was simply to write a “shitty first draft”. That took a lot of the fear of writing and the pressure to have every sentence perfect out of it.
The second great advice that I applied was that it was necessary to “kill your babies” (the notion that, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work and needs to be cut, no matter how much you personally are attached to a particular piece.
I didn’t see the third oh-so-true quote, which defined writing as “manual labor of the mind” until after I’d handed over the final manuscript to the publisher. If I had understood how true it is, I might never have attempted to write a book at all. (Before starting the book, telling everyone that I was going to write a book, and getting a publisher for it, I had the image of sitting in cafes, sipping coffee, while beautiful sentences stating great insights were flowing effortlessly from my brain through my arm onto the page. Ha! But after committing myself publicly and contractually to it, I couldn’t back out any more once reality hit.)
I came on here looking for Entrepreneurs thoughts on travel, to incorporate business travel experience into our 2014 Entrepreneur LaunchBox.**
But ended up reading for reflection instead.
I read your book years ago, and find I really like the sentiment behind this peace here, oops, I mean piece here.
Or did I? Thanks for sharing your evolution.
(**To answer – What Do The Most Successful Innovators Pack For Biz?)
“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”, another nice quote from Mark Twain.
I’ve never had much problem finding the time to write. Creativity is easy to obtain with a little Yerbe Mate and Red Wine. But editing and re-writing. This may be the worst thing in the world.
Another great and honest post Tim.
Regarding your question of: “How can you take something you’re putting off and make the first step tiny?”
One technique that I find works particularly well is connecting with your End State Energy – how you would feel and be as a person once the task has been completed.
Procrastination usually occurs because the size of the task is such that can overwhelm you, or there are too many unknowns between where you are and where you want to be for your mind to process. What ends up happening as you think about starting the project you get into a stressed out state, causing your body to start producing stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine. Being in these states also diverts blood away from your brain and into your extremities. You might even notice yourself starting to fidget or shaking your legs. We have all experienced how conducive these types of states are for creativity… You sit down to write at 10pm and end up wrestling with yourself for several hours. Finally exhausted, you start to relax and get to something good at 4 or 5am.
Solution: Before starting, take a few moments to mentally create what it would be like once you have accomplished your goal or solved your problem. This should be a positive state and you will feel yourself shift and relax. Now, really step into having that positive experience – see what you would be seeing, hear what you would be saying to your self, and notice where the positive feelings start, as well as how they move through your body.
At this point, ask yourself what is the next smallest step you can take while maintaining your End State? It may and usually is smaller than what you thought it would be. Just writing the first word or sentence and build on top of it bit by bit. If you start to slip out of a positive state, it usually means you are going the wrong way or trying to jump too far a head. Take a step back until it starts to feel right again.
As with everything, people typically force themselves to do things the hard way because they don’t understand how their body actually works. The great thing is that the more you use the approach above, the more you condition yourself and the easier this process becomes.
Creating is still a slow process of iteration, it just doesn’t have to be such a stressful one.
Let me know how it works for you.
This post is just a great reminder. I am a writer and a musician and its amazing how many times I can’t bring myself to begin the creative process. I have to find new ways to break down whatever it is I am doing into reachable goals. The key for me I’ve found is to keep mixing up the goals. On days that the tasks seem really daunting, I make the goal smaller, but I make it. On days I think I have a little more in the tank, I make the goal a bit bigger but still extremely manageable.
Keep up the great work! Love the new show!
Writing is not writing so much as it is rewriting. Re-vision: To resee, recast, reshape, rethink. That’s all we have as writers, the ability to go back and change our minds. Frankly, when it comes down to it, writing is just a lot of hard work. The white collar equivalent of pounding nails…Strong writers know all of this. Weak writers don’t.
Oh, how timely!
I’ve been procrastinating on a guest post I needed to write two weeks ago. Mostly because the owner of the website in question is a highly accomplished individual, and how in the world would I ever write something worthy enough?
Thank you for reminding me that it’s OK to make mistakes, to fine-tune and toss, and re-write and fine-tune again.
I often use your “paralysis by analysis” expression from the Four Hour week (with full credit of course), in my work with people. But as easy it is to apply to others’ work and help them start, it’s much harder to follow your own (well, your learned and internalized) advice.
I have 80% of a first crappy draft. Tomorrow it’ll hopefully get half-way decent, and after 2-3 more iterations I’ll submit it in all it’s imperfect glory.
Thanks for sharing this Tim, I have a tendency to just write posts and publish them without editing, so I definitely fall on the opposite of the extremes spectrum. My writing quality would definitely improve if I were to take a page out of your book I think.
A friend once told me, “What are you waiting for?”
It is so simple and I couldn’t answer because anything come out of me is excuses.
Someone said it is better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.
It isn’t a clean process indeed. But this read was pretty interesting and clear… 🙂 Applies so heavily for people trying to writing personal blogs or journals. Thanks!
… curious if any writers reading the comments have used Dragon Naturally Speaking for writing non-fiction/marketing type stuff? I’m a marcom guy by day who writes in a relaxed voice, which might seem to lend itself to dictation, but I’m constantly editing while writing to produce my best work. In researching Dragon, some have suggested it helps reduce that element of self-editing, but I’ve only found mention of such success with fiction – a completely different beast when compared newsletters, direct mail and marketing collateral. Has anyone used the program for such tasks, and how has has it worked for you? Thanks tons for any and all help! Doc
The hand edits you posted are my #1 reason for procrastination. I’ll do anything to avoid it – usually in the form of trying to make a perfectly good process better or more efficient – when I know the only solution is starting, getting my hands dirty, pushing hard, and getting over the humps.
I hear you on blog revisions. 14 revisions on this short of a post makes me feel a little better about my 20+ on average…
Thanks Tim – timely reminder.
I love these posts about how painful and painstaking the process of writing well usually is. Thanks.
Thanks for this post. I’ve been trying to perfect my podcast since August and have delayed the release of the 30+ episodes I’ve recorded that were all ready to go in October.
Hey, this is an enlightening post.
I went through several revisions designing my blog while outsourcing all the codework to a guy in India. Saved me so much time and it still took a week to get it all done.
I wouldn’t have done that if I hadn’t read the outsourcing chapter in your book. I’m trying to outsource almost everything related to my business and blog such as data entry, sales b2b rep introduction calls, mail list management these days.
I’m 24 and being in command like this really feels…… AMAZING.
Keep up the quality post. Thanks.
I could honestly relate to almost everything in the post. Small steps do lead to great and amazing results. Much of it is due to the compounding of small efforts. A typical example being a client couple of mine wanting a memorable photo shoot. Thy didn’t do the tired & standard beach fare and after much research – did something entirely more awesome – It was in my opinion a heart pumping, pulse racing, ridiculously awesome, style-me-pretty First ever Gros Piton wedding PHOTO-SHOOT!! – “Second tallest mountain in St. Lucia”
I consider myself to be very ambitious, but had to learn the hard way that with great ambition one needs to channel it in the right direction, in the right amount and certainly in the right way to get maximum effect.
Keep doing your thing Tim – Awesome post.
Thanks for sharing the “first draft is shit” philosophy! Definitely feeling that right now.
Any suggestions for the daunting editing/re-working process when you get the first draft back from the editor?
Whats the best way to put your show on Itunes ?
It seems a tricky process I know you can go through an aggregator, PS tried to access your show via UK couldn’t really get it as US ??
Should do an expert on the best martial arts
Tim, You allow me to sleep better at night that is for sure. I am definitely on my first iteration of a shitty blog, and have seen how the beginnings were even shittier then they are now. I just keep forging forward, following my passions, knowing that in the end everything has to turn out better than before. I am glad to have this post as a reminder not to get stuck in the inertia of “perfectionism”
I totally understand where you’re coming from with this. For me the important thing is to start, once writing, it becomes much easier for ideas to flow. Your recent posts have been gratefully received. Today I downloaded the kobo copy of ‘Daily Rituals’ (can’t access Audible in Turkey), which I hope will keep me inspired as I go about writing my first book.
I struggled for a long time to close my first book project. I baby stepped my way to 90%, but couldn`t close it.
I had simply too much distractions and responsibilities during the day to get some serious work done. And I was scared what`s going to happen when I finally publish the book.
I left my normal environment behind and went to Rumania. With not a single distraction I was able to finish my book within a couple of days. Extreme situation, extreme solution.
I have been following this advice and related work on the importance of iteration, it’s rewarding.
Your advice is cool, practical and can be applied for day to day success.
‘Love for your life’
Tim and fellow readers, I’m really curious what content-creators think of producing content with no expectation of pay for their creation.
Should we just create content and just give it away?
This is so true! We got the proof of my husband’s first novel in the mail just before Thanksgiving, and I gave it a final editing pass with those little sticky flags and a red pen. He’s halfway through it right now, and the book’s grown a neon green mohawk of post-its. He finished the first draft five years ago, and it’s been through several professional editors in the time since, not counting the publisher and their people. Needless to say, I feel a lot better having seen your edits, and knowing how many times other people go over their work. And I totally know what you mean by the “hand-waving”. I had to twist his arm to get him to send his book in to the publisher once his pitch got approved. “Just one more pass.” Luckily this upcoming edit is the last one they’ll allow, so no more hand-waving for him.
Thanks for this post and all the shared wisdom over the years. I’m re-reading the 4HWW after a 4-year hiatus and deferred dreams. I’ve finally got the kahones to take control of my life and I’m focusing on what’s most important: travel, writing, spending time with my family, and my muse.
Your lifestyle Bible has been a HUGE inspiration for me over the years. ????? ??zhi
This is very encouraging
I am a student in Canada and english is my second language. When I must write an essay I feel like I have to dredge each word out of me and I procrastinate until the last day. This semester I did not hand in my research peper that was worth 25 % of my final mark. Not because I did not care but because I thought that I need to write it perfect. I was so anxious to see my mistakes! I wish I could read your post earlier!!!
Thank you so much for your work – I such a blogging and therefor don’t . . but wish to .
When I grow up I want to be Tim Ferriss
Very Interesting! regards from Spain
You hit the nail on the head with the “Baby Steps”……Everyone would agree right? But I also believe in “Swinging for the fence”..in other words “Swinging for the Homerun” every once in awhile along the journey. It’s hard to hit a homerun if you only try to “connect with the ball” on every attempt. Besides, all the “Baby Steps” are the building blocks that lead to the Olympic Runner. Great Article! Thanks!
It usually takes me a full day to write a good 1000 word blog post. I use a mixed approach where I write a part of the post and then just keep editing it until I find it good enough. Sometimes I completely rewrite it multiple times. With every edit I re-read the thing, remove unnecessary words, focus on making the flow of the text better and then go on writing the next part. It’s slow, but enjoy the process and I’m always happy with the end result.
Now I tried hacking the process and only working concentrated 15 minutes per day. Unfortunately my last 2300+ word post (about productivity) took three months to complete working on half of the days, but I think it was worth the wait. (the post is here http://mariusandra.com/blog/2014/01/how-to-be-productive/ if you want to check)
Has anyone worked this way and switched to the “write a horrible draft of everything before editing” and can comment on the difference? I’ve been thinking of trying that approach for a while now.
This is a great post, I’ve come back to it several times now. I have been working on a screenplay for several years now and have been 90% finished for several years too. It was shelved before reading this post, because all the final tweaks wore me out and became too daunting, plus you start hating your stuff when you read it too many times. Now I’m fired up to keep tweaking till it gets there, and FINALLY get it out there!
The fact that the creative process isn’t a clean one is what makes it both difficult to master and fascinating at the same time. Love this post!
“To create anything remarkable, it takes not one giant leap after perfect prep, but many baby steps in the right direction once you have barely enough to get started.”
Thanks Tim, really love this quote!
Feeling this. I laugh a little when I track my wordpress draft count. My About page is at over a hundred. I have learnt to take it less seriously enough to be able to hit ‘publish’, or nothing will ever get out there. In the case of the About page, I am learning to see it as a good thing; I started my website without a clear idea of what I was wanting to share, even if I felt I had a clear enough idea at the time. Just getting started and now, all these revisions later, I feel like things are feeling clearer and it coincides with understanding why I am doing what I’m doing. I like that.
Thanks for the nudge. Another example of the just minimal dose and exactly what i need to hear.
Thank you for exposing us to the harsh realities that lead to your success. I think there is this false perception held by many that it magically happens at once or that some people are just incapable of such great feats like the books you’ve written or the people you’ve interviewed in your podcast. Its great to see what the ‘process’ actually looks like. Which is why I’m sure you get asked if people can shadow you for a day haha. You do a world of good by showing people like me what lies behind the curtain of success and that its not as impossible as it looks. Thank you.
Tim, you’ve done a lot for people, sharing what works and what doesn’t work in life, health, all the above. I appreciate all your work, you human guinea pig you, nay, you curious human being you! Looking forward to all’s to come. -p3@c3
I have to say the way you write and tell your story is down right awesome bro!! I’m just starting my first book and your information about life and not wasting the Now and just going for it. That has made me finally get my Thoughts onto paper! Before you know it bro you and I will be sitting down drinking a fresh brew of coffee and sharing insights in life. I’m on my way bro and I’ll never rest until I’m there. Thanks for your guidance that I have gained from your books
This blog entry is obviously dated, but I’m curious if Tim still re-writes a blog 14x? @TF have you ever done data analysis on a marginal return of publishing a blog on draft 3, 4, 5…14 and seen if you get the same number of comments and hits while saving time on edits. I understand perfectionism, but is really worth it?
Hey Tim, I wanted to thank you for your work. I recently took a year off work to embark on a songwriting project, and I turned the “two crappy pages a day” principle into “one crappy song a day.” This and Twyla Tharp’s Creative Habit (which I’m pretty sure I learned about from your podcast as well) kept me writing every day.
I just released my 16-song album (whittled down from the 100+ songs I wrote last year), and I’m immensely proud of it. Thanks again, and keep up the amazing work!