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."
'm actually a few days in to my thousand word a day experiment, and it has now occurred to me that the first day's writing probably should have been about what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. Better late than never.
I listened to good interview with Chris Guillebeau, and he said that he sets his daily writing minimum at a thousand words. Stephen King prescribes the same amount to start, and then recommends graduating to two thousand words eventually. Up until now I haven't had a daily writing minimum-I just write whenever inspiration strikes me, or if it hasn't stricken, Sunday or Wednesday nights.
I consider myself to be serious about blogging, but my writing output doesn't really support that consideration. How serious can I be about something that I don't even do every day?
Well, the mission started off decently. This was one case in which I set a lofty goal and fell short, however I could have done significantly worse. My original plan called for a full week's worth of studying, that is with an undetermined break day (6 days reading and studying total). Life and laziness got in my way, however. Due to a combination of my ever-changing life here in Zhengzhou and a lack of motivation I did 4 days of reading in and 3 of vocabulary review. In each sitting I read 2-3 articles though, so I probably broke even as far as articles go.
The Week's Results
All in all, not a horrible week. This week's outcome indicates to me that I'm not going to start strong and fizzle out as I have a lot of improvement I can make. Let's break it down a little bit.
What Didn't Work Last Week: Marathon Media