I have a whole book written that you'll probably never see. A third of a novel that I'll finish by the end of the year, but may never publish. Pages of rap lyrics I've written. Over fifty finished blog posts that will never see the light of day. Forty videos of me talking to the camera about the kind of stuff I write about it. Hours of travel footage from cool places like Iceland.
All that work, is, in a sense, thrown away. Some of it just never came together properly (like the Iceland footage), but a lot of it is quite good. Some of that stuff I created KNOWING that it would be thrown away, like the forty videos. Every night I make another one. I used to just delete them, but now I save them on a hard drive so that I'll have a record of my thoughts.
Why do I create work just to throw it away? Well, it's a hack. The more work I do, the more positive outliers I'll have. Let's say that I'm a slightly above average writer. In a week, I'll write seven posts. If I were to rate them on a scale from 1 to 10, I'd say that the distribution looks like this: 3 5 5 7 7 8 9. The average of those is 6.5, which sounds about right to me. So if I were to sit down twice a week, write a post and publish it, maybe I'd average a 7 (because probably if I wrote a 3 I would either skip the week or write something else). However, by writing seven posts a week, my published average goes up to an 8.5, because I only publish the 8 and 9.
Besides the simple mathematical bump in quality, I can also take bigger risks. I now have a huge backlog of 8+ posts, so I feel no pressure to write something good. That lets me occasionally take a shot at something amazing, one of those posts that willl either be a three or a ten, depending on how well I can capture the idea and put it on paper. The sheer volume of writing I'm doing teaches me and makes me a better writer, as does shooting for these tough-to-write posts.
I'll never be able to move my average writing to much higher than an eight, but I think that if I continue to improve, I can increase my published articles to an average of 9.5. Even if I didn't get any better, I've noticed that I'm averaging probably around 2.5 8+ articles per week, so eventually I'll stockpile so many that I can just publish the 9+ articles. So, actually, by throwing away work, I'm massively increasing the perceived quality of my output. This is really powerful.
As for the videos, I figure that I'll make about sixty of them before I show anyone any of them. Then I'm going to go around San Francisco, so that I have nice backdrops, and rerecord videos on some of the topics that I most liked talking about. Then when I travel to other countries I'm going to record a video every day about new topics. Eventually I'll start posting one or two of those a week. Even though I'm not good at making these video blogs, I'll still be able to start out at a 7+ average quality, and eventually move it up to 9+. Just by throwing away work.
Throwing away work like this really makes you feel amazing. As soon as I started throwing away work I could feel the velocity of my improvement speed up, and now I feel like I'm working with jet fuel. Slowly increasing quality of work, much faster learning, much better results for my readers. It's a beautiful thing.
Photo is a weird Picasso sculpture. Not saying he should have thrown it away... but not saying it's a Picasso 9+, either.
Sports work the same way, but this concept of 'throwing your work away' is more readily accepted because your "output", the thing you share with the world, comes in the form of a competition. Every day I train is "thrown away" in the sense that I don't get any recognition, I don't beat anyone, I don't even have a metric as to how I much I improved that day (i.e. does the fact that I did dozen 400m repeats at a 90 second pace mean that my Ironman marathon time is going to improve by 1 second, or 15 minutes, or at all) but I know that if I do enough 'throw away' work, and I do it with enough consistency & conscious effort (making sure to keep each 400 at or below 90 seconds, for example) the improvement in the quality of my output will be inevitable.
It continues to amaze me how powerful rephrasings of age old adages like "practice makes perfect" can be. It's like going to church and hearing a sermon about how you should love people and being floored by it...and simultaneously disappointed that you are so struck by a message that after trying to your whole life, you still haven't fully integrated into your everyday thought processes.
And I agree about the perceived quality of your work. I've read every post you've written in the 6+ years of this blog and the bar in the past couple months has been noticeably higher. I find myself refraining from leaving a "this is the best post you've ever written" kind of comment, because I've learned that the next one will be of similar, or even superior quality...plus "good post" kind of comments don't add much to the discussion.
Dude, somewhere I read difference between professional photographer and novice is that professional shows only top 10% of their photos. In other words, throws away 90% of their work. I started applying this principle to my photography but didn't apply it to every area of my life.
After reading your post, I decided to go clean up my writings on the web starting with reviews on Amazon. Deleted bunch of reviews that people voted not helpful. It bumped up my rankings a bit. (Good thing Amazon's algorithm takes in account of quality of reviews).
It sucks to delete those reviews, but should I really have badly written reviews with my name on it.
Thanks for the great post!
'Pages of rap lyrics I've writen'
This would have been a 7.5, but you lose 0.5 for lack of proof reading. ;)
this is very useful as i am beginning my journey of a writer, hopefully out there i will succeed in some way some how.
This is a very useful and motivating insight, Tynan.
Do you also have a strong need for perfection?
How do you handle the adversity of recognizing that what you're creating doesn't meet your expectations? That it's somehow harder than you thought?
Thx for sharing.
wow, I don't know how you continuously post things that answer questions that I have recently been pondering about
Wow, very nice work Tynan. I'm not sure immediately how this applies to me, but I'll be thinking about it over the next few days.
Great insight - directly addressing something so difficult to do, yet often lurking below the surface of our consciousness.
Seems to me a side insight - and I think you've said this earlier - is to work toward FINISHED output, rather than just dabbling or "doing stuff." The act of completing something (as much as possible) and then deciding not to publish, feels very different than just puttering around all afternoon without ever achieving something that looks "done."
I'm always amazed at just how much happens in a year. At the end of each year, grateful for a gimme topic to write about, I sit down to write this post. And each time my first thought is, "Yeah, but not that much happened this year." Then I go through my archive for the year and look at the titles of my posts, and I realize that the previous year's farewell post seems to have been forever ago, and that tons has happened since then.
Some quick highlights of the year:
1. I bought an island with nine great friends. I've already written about this ad naseum, but it's one of those ridiculous life goals that you hope might actually come true, worry that it might be too farfetched, and then is every bit as good as you had hoped when realized. I'm really grateful to all of the people bought in and trusted me to make it happen, and for the sellers who were great to work with. This upcoming year is going to be an exciting one for the island.
2. We made some huge progress on Sett. We opened it up to the public and now have over 4500 blogs hosted, growing at a steady 10% per week. We're still in our infancy, but I'm really proud of the platform we've built, and I'm humbled every day by the great blog posts people host with us. Even if your only interaction with Sett has been reading my blog, you've been a part of the process, and I'm grateful for that.
Got a good question from a reader about sleep. One of my goals is to sleep less than 8 hours/night
Hello, and thanks for inviting your blog visitors to email you directly. I just came across your site today, and got some good reading out of your "top stories" list. What compelled me to write, though, was a trend I noticed on some of your "goals" posts: sleeping less than 8 hours per night.
It caught my attention, because at first glance it looks counter-intuitive. Yet I understand exactly what you mean.
Cut. Return to monologue later. Get to the askin':
How is it working out for you?