Now that I’ve broken free of “must read all the books in my queue”…
I’ve been revisiting a lot of my favorites for a second or third time.
I’m rereading Brandon Sanderson’s entire Mistborn series, and last week I also reread Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic.
She shares a story about Herman Melville complaining to Nathanial Hawthorne about not finding time to write his book about the whale.
He was “so pulled hither and thither by circumstances:”
He longed for a big, wide-open stretch of time in which to create (he called it “the calm, the coolness, the silent grass-growing mood in which a man ought always to compose”), but that sort of luxuriousness simply did not exist for him.
He was broke, he was stressed, and he could not find the hours to write in peace.
I love comparing Melville’s agony over not having the perfect environment to author Agatha Christie.
In the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, her story of creative resilience in any environment is delightful:
“I suppose I was enjoying myself so much in ordinary living that writing was a task which I performed in spells and bursts. I never had a definite place which was my room or where I retired specially to write.”
This caused her endless trouble with journalists, who inevitably wanted to photograph the author at her desk.
But there was no such place.
“All I needed was a steady table and a typewriter,” she wrote. “A marble-topped bedroom washstand table made a good place to write; the dining-room table between meals was also suitable.”
“Many friends have said to me, ‘I never know when you write your books, because I’ve never seen you writing, or even seen you go away to write.’ I must behave rather as dogs do when they retire with a bone; they depart in a secretive manner and you do not see them again for an odd half hour.”
Rather than requiring the perfect writing environment to create, she instead developed the ability to write and create whenever, wherever.
Bringing it back to Big Magic:
I do not know of any creative soul who does not dream of calm, cool, grass-growing days in which to work without interruption. Somehow, though, nobody ever seems to achieve it….
Even the most successful creative people I know complain that they never seem to get all the hours they need in order to engage in dreamy, pressure-free, creative exploration.
And then Holmes drives the point home: our boy Herman eventually got over his need for a stress-free, focused existence:
Melville never got that kind of environment, for instance.
But he still somehow managed to write Moby-Dick, anyhow.
The Question: Are you waiting for the perfect conditions that don’t exist?
Perfect doesn’t exist.
We can waste months or years hoping for a delusional future in which we get to operate in a perfectly serene environment in which we have no constraints…
Or we can get really good at working in the muck that is reality: finding time to work on our important projects despite the world burning down around us.
We’re not doing ourselves any favors by waiting around.
When I signed my book deal for Level Up Your Life in 2014, I spent six months not writing because “my schedule was too busy.”
I convinced myself I needed large uninterrupted blocks of time and a clear schedule. I just needed to get a few more projects done. I needed to have empty days. Then I could start.
Eventually I realized I was never going to find the time to write.
I had to make the time to write.
3 months of later, I had my first crappy draft done. Eventually, it became a book I’m pretty proud of.
As Hemingway once said, “The first draft of anything is shit,” so the sooner we make something shitty, the sooner we can get to work on making it better.
What’s something you’re waiting for the perfect conditions to work on..when you know deep down those conditions will never happen?
PS: Here’s a fun oral history of the famous theme song from maybe the greatest video game series of all time, The Legend of Zelda.
Having just completed The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (170 hours, yikes!), this podcast is a perfect companion.
(hat tip to my friend Ali for sending this my way!)