In Feb I read a few books, and all of them were quality. Here's a quick review on each, all highly recommended:
Red Notice - Bill Browder. This one surprised me. Started off as a business memoir, turned into a political thriller, finished as a human rights campaign. Real page turner. And shocking that it’s a true story.
Forty Rules of Love - Elif Shafak. I loved this book, couldn’t put it down. Really clever writing, with a book within a book, along with plenty of lessons and learnings to soak in and absorb. I particularly enjoyed her push to explore the depths of old scriptures, rather than reading at face value.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo - Christy Lefteri. A moving fiction read about a family’s journey from Syria to England, and the impact trauma has on us at the deepest level.
The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho. A short tale with many philosophical lessons intertwined into it, with the core addressing why people don’t achieve what they truly want in life. I like his writing style a lot - clear and concise.
Where the Crawdads Sing - Delia Owens. Another page turner that explores themes of loneliness, rejection, hope and survival, all with a captivating story and a great twist at the end. I hear it’s being made into a film!
I write. Then I delete it all.
I write again. Then I delete it again.
I stand up, sit down. Go for a walk. Make a coffee. Read a random article.
I take a break.
I then try again.
I write. Then I delete it all.
I take a step forward, then two steps back.
Waiting for a giant leap with persistence.
I read on average one or two books a month.
Some I finish, most I don't. Even more I skim.
90% of the books on my shelf, I'm ashamed to say, were read on the toilet.
Apparently the reason for this misgiving.
More recently, I’ve flipped this switch to carve out time in my day to just read.
I’m not sure how, as an author, I’ve never appreciated or cherished this time. There’s nothing more magical than words strung together to make beautiful sentences, to then combine them into powerful messages that educate, inspire, and/or entertain.
I can’t say I'll stop reading on the toilet. But I can say I’ve definitely made that time the minority!
The boat is rocking violently over the unforgiving waves. We’re all sea sick, miles away from the shore; all wearing black and yellow suits with large cylinders on our backs.
Every one of us is filled with dread. Once the anchor is laid down, we will take a leap of faith from air to ocean. A dive into a new world.
It’s time. We start queueing at the edge of the boat. One by one, we jump. There’s a rope to hold onto, but only space for a few.
The waves are taller than ever. My buoyancy is off. I shout to the head of the crew, Sarah, “I’m struggling to stay afloat!” The weight of everything is pulling me under. I’m a strong swimmer, but this is a real test.
My legs are paddling hard, yet with each wave I swallow a gulp of water. I grab the rope; it’s of no use. Most of my crew have put their mouthpiece on and started their descent.
I’m panicking, desperately trying to string a few words to Sarah. It’s pointless. She orders, “Stop trying to stay afloat and go under. Your buoyancy will auto-regulate, and there will be no more waves to fight. You can’t win this battle.”
Begrudgingly, I admit defeat. So I put my mouthpiece in and let go.
A minute later, I’m in a new world; crystal clear waters with beautiful coral reefs and schools of fish everywhere in sight.
I take it all in. The insanity of a few minutes earlier now all forgotten.
It’s the end of January, which means it’s a month of daily blogging. Here’s seven learnings:
The gong strikes. It’s midnight. The lady in the caged cubicle by the gates shouts out the next number on her list:
“Ticket number 2405”.
It was time to meet the gatekeeper. Admission was individual; everyone in line had been scored.
One thought dominated: “Have I lived up to the mark?”
It’d been a long voyage to the gate. A car ride, two planes, and a long, 62 mile vertical elevator.
I had to get to the other side.
The gatekeeper pulled out a paper scroll. It was stained and ancient, with a paleness that made it see-through.
I read it reverse:
“2405 is not ready yet, he has more to do before he is admitted to our land”.
My heart sank because I knew what was coming.
“You must go back. Turn around and take the blue and green elevator. You have done a lot, but you have missed some specific elements required for your unique admission”.
Deep down I wasn’t surprised. I was kidding myself I was ready, when I’d yet to find the singular focus needed to get to the other side.
If you’ve been telling yourself you’re not a creative, stop.
Truth is, we’re all creatives to a degree. It’s our conditioning that determines the degree of its expression.
Think back to when you were a child. You were probably creating some pretty cool things: whether it be messy (yet strangely artistic) drawings, something interesting out of playdough, or even, fort-like sand castles on the beach.
What happens as we trawl through life is that school, society and work beats it out of us. It tells us to stop creating. It tells us to stop thinking out of the box.
Perhaps more accurately, it just removes any opportunity to be creative.
But here’s a way to turn the childhood lights on again: start coming up with ideas daily and write them down.
It can be about anything. For example:
Or, what may be most apt: turn the way you do your next piece of work upside down. If there's a set way you normally work on a project, try coming up with ways to rewrite the rules.
You might just surprise yourself. Those people you think of as 'more creative' are probably the ones who've spent more time turning these lights back on.
(PS. I’m half way through the 30 day 'minimalist' challenge with my fiancé - today the goal is to get rid of 16 things! Check it out here to learn more.)
After I brush my teeth, I stumble into the kitchen to have a glass of water and put the kettle on.
As the kettle’s boiling, I put two tablespoons of coffee beans in the grinder, and assemble my Aeropress. The morning brew is set.
I then go to the sofa where my laptop lies. A journal sits on top of it, so I write for a few lines, before switching on my laptop.
Next, I play either some binaural beats, or some work from Chopin.
Then I do the work. It starts with writing here.
Each signal is a precursor for the next.
Each signal primes the brain for what’s to come.
These are my short stack of things I do in the morning to fire the brain up. It’s nothing sexy. It’s about 5-7 minutes from start to finish.
But it works, and I can do it everyday. That’s what matters.
Find your stack of signals.
A website can always be more intuitive.
A blog can always have better writing.
A spreadsheet can always have better formulas.
A product can always have less bugs.
But no one will know if the project is still pending, or in drafts.
Knowing a bit more information, having a bit more time, or in other words, waiting for a clearing, is futile.
Nothing needs to be flawless.
In the quest for perfectionism, procrastination rears its ugly head. Because sharpening your pencils for the fifth time isn’t going to make your drawing any better. It's sharp, you're ready. Now go.
200 crappy words a day.
That’s all it takes to move the needle forward in your writing.
I’m often asked the best ways to start writing, and then, how to improve it.
My answer is always the same: 200 crappy words a day.
I can’t remember where I originally heard it from. A quick Google search points to a story told by Mark Manson about a prolific writer who’d created 70+ novels. That amount of output is no mean feat. His answer to the method behind the madness was simple: 200 crappy words a day.
What happens is always something special. By lowering the barrier to ‘crappy’, you take away all expectations. All you need to do is write.
It also takes away the fear of bad writing. The hardest bit about writing isn’t writing. It’s sitting down to do it daily without fear. Fear of writing something you won’t like. Yet, it’s in this writing of 200 crappy words you always stumble across a few golden sentences, a ground breaking idea, and if you’re lucky, flow state to keep you writing for 1000+ words.
I always think to the best creative geniuses of our past, and their courage to ship daily. Tupac Shakur comes to mind. In the space of five years, he created a dozen albums (and in total produced somewhere around 700-900 songs), eight films, music videos and even two books of poetry – all by the age of 25. Mind boggling.
Tupac’s best work changed the face of the music industry. But what we forget is that he also had clunkers and flops. Bad songs that no one remembers, or lyrics that don’t make any sense.
Yet the real question is: would songs like California Love, Dear Mama and Ambitions Az A Ridah have come without these flops?
Probably not. The presence of the remarkable often renders the rest irrelevant.
That’s why 200 crappy words a day works. Because it gives you permission to produce bad writing. It also gives you permission to stop at 200 (I’m now at 339).
What will happen over the days and weeks is you’ll get a bit better each time, and most importantly, you’ll find your authentic voice.
Write 200 crappy words a day from the heart and watch the magic unfold.
A year ago I joined a workshop with one aim: to ship creative work everyday.
For the duration of the 100 days, I wrote everyday and hit publish in a designated community platform.
It became a habit, until it didn’t.
At day 101 something unexpected happened. The workshop finished and I didn’t see a reason to write.
So much for 21 days to build a habit.
For the remainder of the year, I wrote in a few ways:
As I was reflecting on 2020, it really hit me. I missed writing. I’d published a book in May but didn’t build on the momentum. In fact, I wrote a plan for book #2 in July, but didn’t act on it.
Introspection, no action.
However, I did let that plan marinate, and further developed it a few times. Around October time I said to myself, I’ll work on it in the New Year at some point.
Then Christmas came and I wanted a new book to read. I always feel that books call out to you when the time is right. I’d read Steven Pressfield’s War of Art a couple of years ago, yet I only remember one word: Resistance.
The Resistance, he describes, is the voice / being in your head that tells you not to create and hit publish. As I read it, I knew all these months I’d been kidding myself.
While I’d written some of my best work in the second half of 2020 (I’ll link some at the bottom here), I’d not worked on my craft by writing everyday.
I started the book at 8am on Christmas Day. By 11am I’d written 1500 words of my next book.
I was back in the game.
From the 25th to the 31st I’d punched out 15,000 words.
I realised on the 31st just how good proper writing made me feel. The flow I get into can only be replicated by the void I reach when training at my absolute hardest in the gym - but even that is fleeting.
So I made a promise.
No matter what project I’m working on - whether it be writing a book, report or article, I’m going to write and hit publish everyday here.
Because here there’s no agenda. It’s my form of practice. An opportunity to show up everyday and perfect my craft as a writer.
I’m going to talk about topics I enjoy, ideas I’m exploring, and observations I’ve made. From writing, creativity, transformation, entrepreneurship and high performance, I’ll be sharing my two cents on each throughout.
If it sparks a change in thinking for you, then that’s a bonus.
I’m excited to share this journey with you.
Welcome to my blog!
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