Do the Work!

29 October 2012 · 9 comments

Do the Work! by Steven PressfieldSteven Pressfield’s The War of Art is considered a classic among creative types, including bloggers. This thin book argues that the biggest enemy to productive work is Resistance, which takes the form of self-doubt, procrastination, addiction, distraction, perfectionism, and so on. The War of Art is a call to ignore Resistance and to do the work you’ve been called to do.

In his 2011 book, aptly titled Do the Work!, Pressfield again assaults this monster called Resistance. This time, however, he offers a step-by-step method for slaying the beast.

Before I left for Turkey, I spent a Sunday afternoon reading and taking notes on Do the Work! What emerged was a sort of workflow for accomplishing creative goals:

  • Don’t prepare. Begin. Allow yourself, at most, to read three books related to your subject.
  • Stay primitive. Don’t get fancy. Don’t try to be sophisticated.
  • Swing for the seats. Aim high. Go big or go home.
  • Outline your project on a single piece of legal-size paper. Your entire novel, business idea, or whatever should fit on one page.
  • Use a three-act structure: beginning, middle, end. Start at the end. Climax first. Then beginning. Then middle.
  • Get the idea down. You can polish and rewrite later.
  • Fill in the gaps. Once you have your outline, fill in the blanks. Have 7-8 major “sequences” (equivalent to 7-8 major scenes in a film).
  • Now allow yourself to do research, but only early or late in the day, never during prime working time.
  • Get your shitty first draft done ASAP. Don’t worry about quality. Act, don’t reflect. Momentum is everything. Do not judge yourself or your work at this point.
  • There are two components to writing (or any other act of creation): Acting is putting words on paper (writing) and reflecting is evaluating what’s on paper (editing). Never act and reflect at the same time.
  • Keep working!
  • The most important question is: “What is this about?” Once you have your theme, write it down. Post it. Nothing off-theme goes into the project.
  • Ask yourself what’s missing, then fill that void.
  • The two tests of Resistance are: “How badly do you want it?” and “Why do you want it?” You must be totally committed. You must want it for fun or beauty — or because you have no choice.

Getting work done is no longer a problem for me — though it used to be. If anything, I have the opposite problem: I’ve become a sort of work-a-holic. (Actually, I work like crazy from Monday to Thursday so that I can completely relax Friday through Sunday.)

That said, I love reading books like Do the Work! They show me how other creative types get things done. More than that, they provide added motivation. After I read these sorts of books, I come away energized and ready to do Great Things.

In fact, Do the Work! is one of the reasons More Than Money is up and operational today. If I hadn’t read the book, I’d probably still be trying to come up with the perfect blog name and design. I’d probably still be agonizing over what sorts of things to write about. Instead, I’ve simply begun. I’m doing the work. I can worry about perfectionism later.

Related reading: In a way, this book reminds me of George Leonard’s Mastery, which is the best book I’ve never reviewed. When I talk to people in Real Life, I often say that Mastery is the best book about personal finance I’ve ever read, even though it’s not a book about personal finance. Maybe I’ll get off my butt and review the book for More Than Money.

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