Some people equate being highly prolific writers and researchers with producing dross. They prefer to constantly refine and perfect The One Idea they have. Perhaps because they think their idea is so special. Perhaps because they think they’ll never have another idea again. Either way, we believe that the best way to improve is to be unashamedly and un-apologetically productive – writing lots, failing lots, picking yourself up, writing more and improving.
With that in mind, this is our writing manifesto. The 5 things that guide us everything we do. The 5 reasons why you should keep writing.
1. Being prolific matters more than raw talent
There is scientific evidence to prove that in general, people aren’t born geniuses and that productivity is far more of an indicator of success than age or experience.
In fact, research recently published looks at the work of over 2,800 of the world’s top physicists and found a direct correlation between the scientists that wrote lots of papers and produced lots of work with the ones who had the biggest breakthroughs and accumulated the most prizes.
In short, just because you’re young doesn’t mean you can’t succeed and just because you’re old doesn’t mean you’re over the hill. Productivity, not age is the most important factor in achieving success.
“On average, creative geniuses aren’t qualitatively better in their fields than their peers, they simply produce a greater volume of work which gives them more variation and a higher chance of originality.”
– Prof. Dean Simonton, University of California.
2. ‘Great works’ in any field don’t just pop into existence – they’re the result of graft
Creative people often think that other creative types have it far easier. That others do things so much quicker, so much better. That they are more naturally gifted than me. That their ideas just come to them.
Whilst there are always going to be people who can dash off a book in a week, learn to play virtuoso violin before they’re 5 or paint a masterpiece over their lunch break, in general, talent and success is forged by deliberate, directed practice – through being highly prolific. For example:
- Alexander Dumas might have achieved huge fame with The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Christo – but he also wrote another 275 novels (6 every year of his working life). Most of which are unknown.
- Picasso’s oeuvre includes over 12,000 drawings, 1,800 paintings, 2,800 ceramics and 1,200 sculptures – but only a fraction are actually famous.
- Whilst Thomas Edison came up with life-changing inventions like the lightbulb, he filed for 2,300 patents over his lifetime, the majority of which were duds.
- Before they had found any fame, The Beatles had already performed over 1,200 gigs together – most bands today don’t play 1,200 times in their entire career.
- Even ‘gifted’ geniuses like Mozart grafted for 10 years before he produced anything close to becoming popular – in fact, science proves that most big name composers struggle for over 10 years before reaching fame.
“The most predictable path to quality is quantity – but many people fail to achieve originality because they develop one or two ideas – then obsessively refine them trying to reach some kind of perfection.”
– Adam Grant, author Originals, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
3. Ideas are great but systems are better
It’s amazing and exciting to have ideas constantly whirling around in your bonce but highly original thinkers have more than just whirling ideas. They have structure, dedication and persistence and they have a system to help them get those ideas out of their head and into the world.
So, if you want to actually produce anything, you’ll need to pay attention to the unsexy stuff – the structure, the schedules and the routines you need to do the work.
You’ll also need to surround yourself with the right people – folks you can learn from and people who you trust to give you honest, constructive feedback. Your mum might be one in a million but a critical friend she might not always make. That’s lovely dear, I’m so proud of you. And so on…
It’s okay to feel intimidated by your big, scary and hairy idea, but if you want to make that thing and bring it to life, you’ll need to find the system and tools that help you tackle it in a way that suits you.
“Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.”
– Ira Glass, producer, This American Life.
4. Your first attempts at anything are going to be the most conventional – but you WILL improve
When you’re a creative person with an original mind, you normally like and admire creative things.
You like reading interesting books, you like watching great films, you love great music, you appreciate good design.
But when you start off, frankly, your work will probably stink. It probably won’t be that original.
You’ll be disappointed that the stuff you’re writing doesn’t live up to your high expectations.
Unfortunately, that’s where a lot of people quit. But a big part of the creative process is to get over that hump, stick with it until your stuff doesn’t stink anymore.
You have to keep producing because science proves that your first ideas will always be your most conventional.
Never compare your first draft to the highly polished published work of someone you admire. Always remember they had a shonky draft at some point – just like you.
“Original thinkers will come up with ideas that are strange mutations, dead ends and utter failures. The cost is worthwhile because they also generate a larger pool of ideas – especially novel ideas.”
– Prof. Robert Sutton, Stanford University
5. You are the last person to know whether you’re any good anyway – so keep going
We know that what stops people is getting stuck: stuck on the one project you can’t make work, stuck in a mindset comparing yourself to other people, stuck in a mental rut which means you tend to do anything other that write.
When you are down a deep dark hole of writing procrastination, the one thing to remember is that you are perhaps the worst placed of anyone to say whether your work is good or bad. Research proves this is is true – so you may as well keep going and be prolific.
Research tells us that very often, the ideas that people believe are the worst are actually their best and vice verca. The only way to ever tell if your work has merit (or not) is to publish and keep publishing. Show it to your audience, and keep showing it to your audience until they tell you.
“Not everybody will get it. People will misinterpret you and what you do. They might even call you names. So get comfortable with being misunderstood, disparaged, or ignored – the trick is to be too busy doing your work to care.”
– Austin Kleon, author Steal Like an Artist.
So, there you have it. It’s our writing manifesto of sorts – it guides everything we do and it’s behind everything we build.