How much do I want to read more? 7/10
It might seem presumptuous to write a timeless book or to create a timeless piece of art, but the analysis is actually quite interesting.
To go over instant gratification, to think "long-term".
To be conscious how much effort, sweat, and blood a piece of art might take.
To figure out nothing powerful can be made without powerful reasons.
[quote, James Altucher]
“I said this about Ryan Holiday’s last book, but I’ll say this now about this book. This is his best book. This will be a perennial seller. Everything in here is so true and it is a guide to creativity in the real world.”
[quote, James Frey]
“Every artist aspires to create timeless, lasting work and this book is a study on what it takes to do just that. Ryan Holiday has written a brilliant, inspiring guide to ignoring the trends of the day to focus on what matters and what will lead to real impact. If you want to write, produce, or build something amazing, read this book.”
[quote, Austin Kleon]
“In a shortsighted culture obsessed with virality, it’s refreshing to read a book concerned with vitality. How do we make and release creative works that have a better chance of taking on a life of their own when they’re out in the world? Once again, Ryan Holiday proves to be a writer worth stealing from.”
People claim to want to do something that matters, yet they measure themselves against things that don’t, and track their progress not in years but in microseconds. They want to make something timeless, but they focus instead on immediate payoffs and instant gratification.
A Better Way, a New Model
The brilliance of it is that perennial sellers—big or small—not only refuse to die or fade into oblivion; they grow stronger with each passing day.
A Decade? A Century? That’s Impossible!
Yet, too often, the approach of the average creator is to hope to get lucky. On top of that, we focus on all the wrong metrics for measuring our success and, in the process, actually diminish our chances for longevity.
Part I - THE CREATIVE PROCESS: From the Mindset to the Making to the Magic
[quote, Cyril Connolly]
The more books we read, the clearer it becomes that the true function of a writer is to produce a masterpiece and that no other task is of any consequence.
over the long term, all the marketing in the world won’t matter if the product hasn’t been made right.
The Work Is What Matters
“People [who are] thinking about things other than making the best product never make the best product.”
“The best way to increase a startup’s growth rate is to make the product so good people recommend it to their friends.”
Clearly that doesn’t just happen. Instead, it must be the highest priority of the creators—they must see this as their calling.
They have to learn to ignore distractions. Above all, they have to want to produce meaningful work—which, I can say from experience, is often not the goal of people in the creative space.
The fact is, many people approach their work with polluted intentions. They want the benefits of creative expression, but they desire it without any of the difficulty involved. They want the magic without learning the techniques and the formula.
Ideas Are Not Enough
“Writers write. You don’t wait to get hired on something to write.”
While many dream perennial-selling dreams, they think that the wanting—instead of the work—is what matters.
There are millions of notebooks and Evernote folders packed with ideas, floating out there in the digital ether or languishing on dusty bookshelves. The difference between a great work and an idea for a great work is all the sweat, time, effort, and agony that go into engaging that idea and turning it into something real.
I’ve met with no shortage of smart, accomplished people who, I’ve realized, don’t actually want to write a book despite what they say. They want to have a book.
The hard part is not the dream or the idea; it’s the doing. It is the driving need that determines one’s chances. You must have a reason—a purpose—for why you want the outcome and why you’re willing to do the work to get it. That purpose can be almost anything, but it has to be there.
Because there is a truth that has gone unsaid for too long. Because you’ve burned the bridges behind you. Because your family depends on it. Because the world will be better for it. Because the old way is broken. Because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime moment. Because it will help a lot of people. Because you want to capture something meaningful. Because the excitement you feel cannot be contained.
Sitting down at the computer or with a notepad and committing to pour yourself onto it is a scary proposition. But anyone who has done it can tell you that the process is also exhilarating.
It’s exhilarating because you are giving something to the world. You are connecting with other people. You are solving a problem for other people.
What Will You Sacrifice?
Elon Musk has compared starting a company to “eating glass and staring into the abyss of death.”
“the music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs.” And then he quipped, “There’s also a negative side.”
“You should only be a writer,” I said, “if you can’t not be a writer.”
From sacrifice comes meaning. From struggle comes purpose.
In the course of creating your work, you are going to be forced to ask yourself: What am I willing to sacrifice in order to do it?
A willingness to trade off something—time, comfort, easy money, recognition—lies at the heart of every great work.
If it didn’t, everyone would do it.
It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Art is the kind of marathon where you cross the finish line and instead of getting a medal placed around your neck, the volunteers roughly grab you by the shoulders and walk you over to the starting line of another marathon.
This is why I asked you about your motivation. This is why intent has such a large impact on your ability to persevere and survive. Because you will be tested. Not once, but repeatedly.
The existential crisis where we’ll have to ask ourselves: Is this even worth it anymore? And it won’t be the desire to get rich or famous that drives us out of that valley of despair—it will need to be something deeper and more meaningful.
Great Things Are Timeless and Take Time
If making money is all you care about, and making it sooner is preferable to later, then a perennial seller is not the path for you.
“Focus on the things that don’t change.”
[quote, Larry Page]
“Even if you fail at your ambitious thing, it’s very hard to fail completely. That’s the thing people don’t get.”
Short Term vs. Long Term
“If you focus on near-term growth above everything else,” he has written, “you miss the most important question you should be asking: Will this business still be around a decade from now?”
Lucas’s most profound source material was the work of a then relatively obscure mythologist named Joseph Campbell and his concept of a “hero’s journey.”
Despite the trendy special effects, the story of Luke Skywalker is rooted in the same epic principles of Gilgamesh, of Homer, even the story of Jesus Christ. Lucas has referred to Campbell as “my Yoda” for the way he helped him tell “an old myth in a new way.” When you think about it, it’s those epic themes of humanity that are left when the newness of the special effects falls away. Why else would fifteen-year-olds—who weren’t even born when the second set of three movies was made, let alone the original trilogy—still be wowed by these films?
Creativity Is Not a Divine Act. It Is Not a Lightning Strike.
While creativity can seem like magic, like every magic trick there is a method behind it.
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
The creator often starts with a hazy intuition of where he or she is going, but breakthrough innovations rarely resemble the seed idea or vision. This is because creative ideas, by their very nature, evolve over time, reflecting the colliding of seemingly disparate ideas. The best we can do is sit down and create something, anything, and let the process organically unfold. Tolerating ambiguity, frustration, and changes in the grand plan and being open to new experiences are essential to creative work. Indeed, they are what makes creativity work.”
What the poet John Keats called “negative capability”—the holding of multiple contradictory ideas in your head at the same time—is an essential phase of creativity: the part where your mind is a whirl of ideas. You have to be able to tolerate this and then refine your idea like mad until it gets better.
The Drawdown Period
In the way that a good wine must be aged, or that we let meat marinate for hours in spices and sauce, an idea must be given space to develop.
Just as we take a big breath before we dive underwater, we need to grab some air before we bury ourselves in a creative pursuit.
Test Early, Test Often
Understand, the book didn’t become a reality because I’d been given the gift of clarity from my subconscious. On the contrary, that was just when the real work began.
I pivoted to a book against ego instead of writing a defense of humility.
Creative people naturally produce false positives. Ideas that they think are good but aren’t. Ideas that other people have already had. Mediocre ideas that contain buried within them the seeds of much better ideas.
The key is to catch them early. And the only way to do that is by doing the work at least partly in front of an audience. A book should be an article before it’s a book, and a dinner conversation before it’s an article. See how things go before going all in.
The proper approach is to have a clear idea of what you’re trying to accomplish, so you can parse the constructive criticism you need from the notes you need to ignore.
Creating is often a solitary experience. Yet work made entirely in isolation is usually doomed to remain lonely.
You don’t have to be a genius to make genius—you just have to have small moments of brilliance and edit out the boring stuff.
How can I give people a sample of what I’m thinking? How does the idea resonate in conversation? What does an online audience think of it? What does a poll of your friends reveal?
Forget going off into some cave.
[quote, Robert Evans]
“Getting into action generates inspiration. Don’t cop out waiting for inspiration to get you back into action. It won’t!”
The Question Almost No One Asks
“Find your niche and scratch it!”
Successfully finding and “scratching” a niche requires asking and answering a question that very few creators seem to do: Who is this thing for?
“having no specific user in mind” is one of the eighteen major mistakes that kills startups: “A surprising number of founders seem willing to assume that someone—they’re not sure exactly who—will want what they’re building.
The absence of an intended audience is not just a commercial problem. It is an artistic one.
[quote, Toby Litt]
“bad writing is almost always a love poem addressed by the self to the self.”
The best way I’ve found to avoid missing your target—any target—entirely is to identify a proxy from the outset, someone who represents your ideal audience, who you then think about constantly throughout the creative process.
Stephen King believes that “every novelist has a single ideal reader” so that at various points in the process he can ask, “What will think about this?”
Kurt Vonnegut joked that you have to “write to please just one person.
[quote, John Steinbeck]
“Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death, and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person—and write to that one.”