That’s something I observe as a golden principle; you cannot call yourself a writer if you aren’t prepared to sit down and do the work. It might be a part of your identity, it might be your most precious dream, but it is not your reality.
A writer is someone who makes the time to work on their craft. A writer is someone who prioritises it, who makes space for it, who builds it into her schedule. A writer is someone who makes sacrifices for who they want to be and the work they want to do.
The same principle is true for every other passion or pursuit. You aren’t a painter if you don’t paint. You aren’t a programmer if you don’t code. You aren’t a maker if you don’t make. You’re simply someone who is desperately clutching onto a piece of themselves that is either no longer real, or never was to begin with.
I know that sounds harsh; but can you really tell me that it isn’t true? Without doing the work, what evidence do you actually have to support your hypothesis about who you are?
I get it. You’re time poor.
Modern life is full on, busy and exhausting — I believe you. Work is more time consuming and more exhausting than ever, with less meaning and less of a sense of purpose. By the time we make it through the day and reach a place of solace, we’re worn thin and we have so little left to give.
But if you want to pursue your craft, you have to look inwards and try to find the strength to do the work. Otherwise, you’re fooling yourself. You’re pretending to be something. You’re playing emotional and mental dress up.
It comes down to a single rule.
Spend an hour a day working on your craft.
No less, no more.
60 minutes — 60 consecutive minutes, not broken up throughout the day — where you take yourself somewhere in the house, in the garage, in a local wine bar, and just do the thing.
Your output isn’t important. There’s no word count here. No set number of pages you need to read. Your project, whatever the hell it is you’re working on, doesn’t need to be finished in any specific time frame. All that matters is building the practice and making it a priority. Making it something that you do because it deeply, deeply matters to you. Making it something that you don’t, won’t and can’t compromise on.
That hour can be driven by a goal, or it can be shaped by a few notes you scribble throughout the day, or you could just sit the hell down and wing it. None of that is going to make the difference; it’s doing the work that will shift you towards a bias for output, not over emphasising the output as the holy grail.
It’s not about the quality. At all.
When Olga Khazan from The Atlantic interviewed Laura Vanderkam, author of I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time, her takeaway was that quality should never be the first goal.
For writing projects specifically, her advice was to “write fast, edit slow.” She aims to write a chapter every week, and within that week, to write the bulk of the chapter on Monday and Tuesday. That means she’s often pumping out as many as 4,000 words a day. Then, Wednesday and Thursday are for editing, and Friday is a “catch-up” day, a net in case you fall off your productivity high wire earlier. The key is to write a really crappy first draft, then take extra care in rewriting it.
It’s far easier to edit and improve on what’s already there, than it is to iterate on nothing. When you have 100 shitty words, it doesn’t take an impossible level of effort to cut it down and reshape it into 50 great ones. But without the starting point, you’re dead in the water.
If you look at anyone’s creative output, you’ll see the same utterly shit level of quality when they started out, when they worked on their first draft. Your ears don’t know what the word awful means if you haven’t heard Blink-182’s Flyswatter demo, recorded on cassette tape on a boombox in a bedroom, almost a full decade before they sold 50,000,000 records worldwide.
So how do you make the time for it?
Like I said. It comes down to a degree of sacrifice.
We spend an average of 3 hours and 15 minutes on our phones every day.
We watch an average of 3.2 hours of Netflix before we hit the hay.
And we take 26% of our work home.
We’re martyrs to priorities that don’t matter, or that have no business capturing as much of our time and our lives as we currently allow. We give it away freely, and we don’t just do it at the expense of our creativity and our passions, we do it at the expense of our families and loved ones.
Taking back just one hour of that time is an act of rebellion that places us in opposition to the automated subjugation of our tech, productivity and sedation religion.
There are easy ways to attack it. For example, when Netflix asks, “Are you still watching?” you are allowed to say you know what?
I’m going to write. Draw. Hack away at something. I’m going to take this prompt as an act of good faith and good will from a multi-billion dollar company who don’t give a flying fuck-in-a-sack and take a damn break.
For me, my practice happens in the mornings. I usually wake up before daylight, and so before my family are stirring, and I write. I don’t waste time on social media, I don’t check and recheck my emails — I write. And drink copious amounts of coffee. And when my partner’s alarm goes off, I crawl into bed with them and we get to chat about our day ahead and spend a moment together alone, sharing each other’s company.
My practice doesn’t take me away from my family. It takes me away from the time I would normally have spent doomscrolling through some app.
You don’t have to be a productivity machine. But if you want to be a craftsperson, you have to work on your craft.
This isn’t a call to action for the side hustle economy. It’s a call to action for making what matters to you a personal priority. If you can maintain your practice, if you can keep putting an hour a day into the work that matters, you will gather enough evidence to support your statements about who you are.
With the added benefit that you’ll get to fucking enjoy it. You’re not passionate about making something because you’ve been told you are. You’re passionate about it because it lights a fire in your heart and soul. If you give yourself an hour a day to experience that, it will have an immense impact on every other area of your life, where the love and care and energy you have to give will be nurtured by the creativity you have grown and raised inside.
Grit is that ‘extra something’ that separates the most successful people from the rest. It’s the passion, perseverance, and stamina that we must channel in order to stick with our dreams until they become a reality.
— Travis Bradberry
Joan Westenberg is an award winning Australian contemporary writer, angel investor, communicator and creative director. She is the founder of branding and PR firm Studio Self. Her approach to messaging, communication and semiotics has built her reputation as a writer, and she has been named as one of the leading startup voices in Australia by SmartCompany.
Her writing has appeared in The SF Chronicle, Wired, The AFR, The Observer, ABC, Junkee, SBS, Crikey and over 40+ publications. Her regular work can be found on Pizza Party, a blog about creativity, culture and technology. Joan is the creator of Transgenderinclusion.com, an open-source workplace inclusion hack.