“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:
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.”
I originally wrote this post months ago, but I’ve been too self-conscious to publish it until now. This quote convinced me to put on my big girl pants:
“The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”
- Neil Gaiman University of the Arts Commencement Speech
So, here goes, and I hope it helps at least a few of you.
A few months ago, I had a birthday party.
A dozen friends and I gathered for several days of wonderful sun, beach, and catching up. On the last day, I didn’t get up until 11:30am, knowing full well that the last remaining friends were leaving at 12 noon.
I was afraid of being alone.
Like a child, I hid my head under the covers (literally) and hit snooze until reality couldn’t be postponed any further.
The following is a guest post by Shane Snow, a frequent contributor to Wired and Fast Company. It includes photographs of some fun bookshelves, including yours truly (Tim Ferriss). CLICK ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE.
They say a person’s eyes are “the window to the soul.”
I am not very good at pupil-based soul-reading, but I’ve found that I can learn a lot about a person by the books on his or her shelf. When I go to someone’s house or office for the first time, my favorite thing to do is check out the bookshelf.
Here’s what’s on mine:
(click to enlarge any and all photos in this post)
Storytelling is a powerful force, as I’m a fan of reminding people. Stories—fiction and non—make ideas stick; they change minds and shape us in often subconscious ways. I believe the mind of a well-read person is heavily influenced by the books of her past.
A few weeks ago, I decided to conduct a little experiment.
I emailed a few friends and people I admired and asked them if I could see photographs of their bookshelves (or book stacks or Kindle screens). Just about everybody said, “yes.” The experiment soon metastasized, and I started pestering thought leaders in spaces I followed–tech, advertising, philanthropy–to see what books the innovators cared enough about to allot real estate.
Soon, I had more photos than I knew what to do with. Here are some of my favorites:
A Hungarian psychology professor once wrote to famous creators asking them to be interviewed for a book he was writing. One of the most interesting things about his project was how many people said “no.”
Management writer Peter Drucker: “One of the secrets of productivity (in which I believe whereas I do not believe in creativity) is to have a VERY BIG waste paper basket to take care of ALL invitations such as yours–productivity in my experience consists of NOT doing anything that helps the work of other people but to spend all one’s time on the work the Good Lord has fitted one to do, and to do well.”
Secretary to novelist Saul Bellow: “Mr. Bellow informed me that he remains creative in the second half of life, at least in part, because he does not allow himself to be a part of other people’s ‘studies.’”
Photographer Richard Avedon: “Sorry–too little time left.”
Secretary to composer György Ligeti: “He is creative and, because of this, totally overworked. Therefore, the very reason you wish to study his creative process is also the reason why he (unfortunately) does not have time to help you in this study. He would also like to add that he cannot answer your letter personally because he is trying desperately to finish a Violin Concerto which will be premiered in the Fall…” Read More
I dislike most non-profits because — good intentions aside — they get little or no results.
DonorsChoose, on the other hand, is incredibly effective. In this month’s Vanity Fair, Melinda Gates describes them as “Kickstarter for classrooms.” Here’s her short article, which includes a photo spread by Annie Leibovitz. I make a guest appearance, which was a dream come true.
Here’s why I’m on their advisory board: To me, poor education is the root cause of most of our problems. DonorsChoose (DC) is helping to fix education.
This post launches a competition. If you’ve ever benefited from anything I’ve written, I’d kindly ask you to participate.
The four winners will get flown to dinner with me, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, and DonorsChoose’s founder, Charles Best. Roundtrip economy airfare to/from NYC is covered for all four winners.
At first glance, this post appear to be about martial arts, as it’s written by Ryan Hall.
Ryan is a new friend and a phenom. He’s IBJJF Mundial (world) and No-Gi Mundial champion in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), with more than 300 career victories and 275+ submissions to his credit. Looking past his fight record, this letter and post is about the dangers of hero worship. Whether you aim to lead others or follow the best leaders, there are important lessons here.
Even if you skip the martial arts-specific references, this is worth reading. No time now? Bookmark it and make time later.
Enter Ryan Hall
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1- Table of Contents
3- An Open Letter to the Martial Arts Community
5- My Story
8- Hero Worship and The Martial Arts
9- You May Think You Know Your Coach, But You Probably Don’t
12- Innocence and Trust Capitalized on for Manipulation
15- Martial Arts as a Means of Generating a Cult Following
In 1902, Einstein (far right) formed “The Olympia Academy” with two friends, who met to discuss books about science and philosophy. Three years later, Einstein’s Annus Mirabilis papers vaulted him to international fame.
I’m asked “How do I find a mentor?” all the time.
I’ve never had a good answer. The sad fact is this: people you want as mentors don’t want to view themselves as pro-bono life coaches. So what to do?
First, change the question. Perhaps it’s a cliche to say that when the student is ready, the teacher appears, but it’s a prescription in disguise. Here, the better question is “How do I become an ideal apprentice?”
The best treatment of apprenticeship I’ve ever found is in Mastery, the latest book by Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power. His writing on apprenticeship, mentor cultivation, and in-depth mastery of skills makes Mastery the perfect companion book to The 4-Hour Chef, in my opinion. It’s one of the few books I made time to read cover-to-cover in the last few months.
The below article explores examples of world-class apprentices and how you can emulate them. Once you do that, growth is a foregone conclusion.
Enter Robert Greene
The path to greatness is simple. It’s the path followed by everyone from Renaissance artists to the entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley. In writing my first four books, I immersed myself in the study these types of people–some of most powerful figures in history. Over the course of many hours of thinking, researching and writing on excellence–the last four years of which were dedicated to writing my newest book–I discerned an unmistakable formula for becoming the best… Read More
Dan Gable is a demi-god in the world of wrestling. He’s been called “Sports Figure of the Century” by Sports Illustrated. Why?
As an athlete, he had a 182-1 prep and college record. His single loss, in his final NCAA match, infuriated him. To make up for it, he out-trained the world and won the gold medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics…without surrendering a single point. This is like winning Wimbledon on serves alone.
Most impressive to me, as coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes, he was able to replicate his success. He had a recipe. Here are a few stats from his 21-year career:
21-year record — 355-21-5 (94.4% wins)
Big Ten record — 131-2-1 (98.5% wins)
21 Big Ten Team Titles
45 National Champions
I watched it almost every day in high school, and it kept me fighting through all the various losses in life. Didn’t finish the SAT in time? Watch Dan Gable. Have a guidance counselor laugh while telling me I don’t stand a chance of getting into Princeton? More Dan Gable. Lost my first important judo match in 7 seconds? Watch the Iowa Hawkeyes…again and again and again. Then, return to the same tournament six months later and win.
In life, there are dog fights. You must learn to enjoy them. Few people look forward to banging heads (literally or metaphorically), and therein lies the golden opportunity.
Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. But there are factors inside your control that greatly improve the odds. Being aggressive doesn’t guarantee success, but failing to be aggressive nearly always guarantees failure. In a modern world of political correctness, glad handing, and fear of offending everyone and anyone, the art of the fight is undervalued.
Remember: It’s not the size of the dog in the fight. It’s the size of the fight in the dog.
Update: The 4-Hour Chef is now banned by more than 1,100 bookstores nationwide. T-Minus 10 days to pub date. Let the games begin…
The philosophical school of Stoicism is, I believe, the perfect operating system for thriving in high-stress environments. For entrepreneurs, it’s a godsend.
Both Seneca and Marcus Aurelius have been extensively written about elsewhere. But what of Cato, about whom Dante said, “And what earthly man was more worthy to signify God than Cato?”
One of my favorite anecdotes of Cato is from Plutarch. I quote it often (see “Practical Pessimism“):
“Seeing the lightest and gayest purple was then most in fashion, he would always wear that which was the nearest black; and he would often go out of doors, after his morning meal, without either shoes or tunic; not that he sought vain-glory from such novelties, but he would accustom himself to be ashamed only of what deserves shame, and to despise all other sorts of disgrace.”
The following article was written by Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni. At age 22, Rob Goodman became the speechwriter for Senator Chris Dodd, and then moved on to be the speechwriter for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. At age 26, Jimmy became the youngest-ever Managing Editor of the Huffington Post, reporting directly to Arianna Huffington to help oversee a global, 24/7 newsroom.
Both exemplify the power of Stoicism when applied to a world of modern noise.
Below are the five practical lessons they’ve distilled from Cato’s incredible career and legacy.
Enter Rob and Jimmy
Julius Caesar wanted to end him. George Washington wanted to be him. And for two thousand years, he was a singular subject of plays, poetry, and paintings, with admirers as diverse as Benjamin Franklin, the poet Dante, and the Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius.
Yet, for all that, you’ve probably never heard of him… Read More