Sunday, May 16, 2010

The New Thing Part 2 is coming in 2 days

Let's summarise where I'm at:

While working through my issues with writing last year, I realised that I wanted writing to fit into my life, rather than dominate it. And that led to me discovering something about the New Thing: By choosing to write less, I'm writing more.

The most obvious thing I've done is limit myself to working on two things at any one time.(*). That means I'm getting more done partially because I'm stopping myself from spreading my attention too thinly. If my life gets busy, then I drop down to one thing. And if my life gets super-stressful then I'm fine about simply spending between zero to 20 minutes a day just playing around with ideas.
* 'Thing' can mean a writing project, but it can also mean 
some big project to do with another aspect of my life.
Changing how I feel about writing has also been a big part of writing more. I've gone from freaking out to seeing writing as an opportunity to work on things that excite me. This means, for instance, I'll be doing something like cleaning the toilet or washing the shower curtains, and I'll suddenly (perhaps 'reasonably') get enthusiastic to write - right now.

Basically, the way I procrastinate has flipped polarities, and I like it.

Less obviously, I've decided to non-exclusively date a whole bunch of different stories and ideas. I'm fine with trying a few out, explore what they're like, and realising that it's okay to quit them. That's something The Dip (by Seth Godin) talked about. Most relevant to the New Thing was Seth's idea that it doesn't matter which project I'm working on (or what I've quit) as long as I'm still trying to make progress in writing. As Seth says, to illustrate this, "You can write a book, but what you're really trying to create is an audience for your books."

So, if I'm writing something and it turns out to be boring, or going nowhere,  I can abandon it for a new New Thing.(*) Still means I'm trying to be a writer. Quitting lots of things lets me to figure out which are the very few things that are worth pursuing.
* But I have to be clear about why I'm quitting, 
and certain that what I'm writing isn't worth 
continuing at this point.

What I'm hoping is lots of exploring and quitting will help me find the projects I'm really excited about. From there, I can decide to either finish them - or simply pushing through to a point where they've taken 'a step forward' and, from there, make a decision about whether it's worth finishing them.

Hopefully that enthusiasm will focus my efforts (writing less) and make it fun to sit down and create (writing more).

So the question becomes: What excites me?

The 4 Hour Work Week has a useful section where it talks about not getting overwhelmed by efforts to "find your passion", but instead simply to do things you're excited by (a goal I find much more tangible and do-able). And Jenni linked me to a post by Derek Sivers that I think summarises the points that both this book and The Dip are making: No more yes. It's either HELL YEAH! or no. In Derek's words:
When deciding whether to commit to something, if I feel anything less than, “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!” - then my answer is no.
When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to really throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say “HELL YEAH!”
I haven't come up with a rule or a principle defining what excites me.(*) Instead, I'm going to consciously explore a bunch of different projects in order to find the ones I can say HELL YEAH! too. (I believe the capitalisation is important, for some reason.)
* Because this principle would be something 
tautological like 'I'm excited about 
the things that excite me'.

In two days time, I'll kick off that discussion about what those projects could be. While I'm not sure what I want to work on next, I do know some general stuff I know about what my next New Things will be like ...
The New Thing will be easy to spread: I'll do my best to ensure that my idea has a clear hook that makes it easy to spread with other people. I'd also like it to have an audience (and in this sense, 'audience' simply means that people want to tell other people about my idea). 

The New Thing will be short: I want to do things that are achievable in 2 to 3 months. If it's a big project (something that'll take a year or more to complete) then I will have to break it down into 3 month chunks, work on it, and then consider whether to opt out or not. Related to that, I'll be monitoring each New Thing closely to make sure it takes a step forward once every three to six months, as per the Pixar talk. 

The New Thing will be optional: Working on a script, exploring an idea does not oblige me to commit to finishing it. As per The Dip, I don't need to commit; I can quit. But once I commit, I cannot quit.

So, what's the upshot of all this?

I'm trying to make writing, creating, and working on my goals fit into my life by putting limits around how much I do. I'm trying to choose what to do next based on enthusiasm and what I think'll be good for me. I'm prepared to start and drop a whole bunch of stuff in order to find the good things I want to do next. And I'm prepared for that philosophy to make my creative efforts a bit scattershot. 

The point is that I'm consciously taking on less, feeling less stressed as a result, and enjoying what I'm doing more. Tomorrow, we get ready to talk about what comes next.

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