It’s not the pencil but the practice

I’d read and bookmarked this bit from one of Seth Godin’s downloads many years back.

Stephen King, one of the most beloved, famous and bestselling authors ever, often goes to writer’s conferences. After he talks for a little bit, he asks, “Any questions?”

Inevitably, someone raises their hand—I’m paraphrasing here—and says, “Mr King, you are one of the most beloved, famous, and bestselling authors ever. What kind of pencil do you use to write your books?” It’s almost as if knowing what kind of pencil Stephen King uses will help them be more like Stephen King.”

Like Seth, I too think that asking “where do you get all your good ideas?” or “what pencil or pen do you use to write?” is lame and often the wrong question. The right question is, “What’s your process like for coming up with ideas?”

And they’ll happily tell you all the things that you don’t want to hear, including this 5-step process:

  1. Commit to sitting down and doing the work
  2. Ideas will come, don’t worry or wait for them
  3. Get started instead of judging your ideas
  4. Once you’ve produced enough ideas, curate, select, or censor them
  5. Ship it or take it to your market and engage (not for feedback but to understand what resonates with your audience and do more of it later)

If you notice, there isn’t any mention of the tools or source of ideas but of showing up and getting the work in even at the expense of failing often. And that’s the golden rule that Seth has been expounding on for the past few decades:

The rule is simple: the person who fails the most will win. If I fail more than you do, I will win. Because to keep failing, you’ve got to be good enough to keep playing. So, if you fail cataclysmically and never play again, you only fail once. But if you are always there shipping, putting your work into the world, creating and starting things, you will learn endless things. You will learn to see more accurately; you will learn the difference between a good idea and a bad idea, and, most of all, you will keep producing.

The writing instruments are trivialities over the two aspects that matter the most — putting in the work and shipping it.

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