Writing Small things are chiseled

One Hundred Mondays

I have a superpower, and like most superpowers, it’s not actually a superpower, but only a habit that I do 10% better than most humans. I chisel.

Let’s say there’s this big project I want to complete. It’s not a big project; it’s immense. I’ve never done it before, and I’ve no actual idea how to achieve it. This happens more than I am willing to admit.

But I really want to do it. This hypothetical project is not only immense, but it has an immense return on investment. Writing a book. Working at my dream company. Speaking at that one conference. The completion of this immense project has intrinsic value to me, which is why I’m so fired up to start.

Chiseling is not required in the first few weeks of this project because I am fired up and full of forward momentum. Outlines, ideas, drafts of things, loudly spoken next steps. Yeah, you’ve seen this human before. They are gesticulating wildly, wide-eyed, and working hard to build an army of the willing to join them on this endeavor.

You nod. Half-grin. And repeat to yourself the idea that everyone is already thinking as this fired-up human spins their impressive tale, “How long is this going to last?”

You’re right. The half-life of enthusiasm is a function of the perceived value of the project divided by the unbridled enthusiasm of the human. The moment the enthusiasm fades, the likelihood of the project’s completion significantly fades.

You’re right. We humans are well known equally for our initial high enthusiasm followed by our subsequent predictable shrugs and half-empty response, “Yeah, I’m still working on that. I’ll have an update shortly.”

There is no update.

You’re not working on it.

This project is done.

This is when I chisel.

Project Enthusiasm Honeymoon Window

A serial enthusiastic project starter, I am intimately aware of the Project Enthusiasm Honeymoon Window™. This is a period of time that starts at idea conception and ends when the project becomes hard.

No amount of energy makes the project less hard. I’ve now stared at this effort from multiple angles, I’ve reviewed the idea in my head endlessly, and I’ve reviewed it with you five times. You are tired of talking with me about it.

The challenge with closing the Honeymoon Window is that the perceived total complexity of the project is at its highest. As I’ve never done this before, I can’t think how to get from Point A to Point B, so I internally despair. How am I going to do this? This appears impossible. This is impossible.

So I chisel.

I find the minimal viable next step, and I do it. It’s not hard, it’s not lengthy, it’s just a step that obviously fits into the project. It makes sense, so I do it. Completely. If I’ve done it wrong, I attempt it again. And again. And again, until I believe it’s complete. It’s finished.

Then I do the next thing.

Is this the right next thing? I don’t know. Does this fit into a grand strategy? No. Is there an actual strategy in play? Not really.

So I do the next thing. And the next. And the next.

It is around this time that those watching my incessant chiseling start to notice. They see my small, potentially misdirected efforts and inquire, “Wait, are you still doing this?” This is the moment. This is the moment that weeds out 90% of the humans. It’s the judgment of someone you trust indirectly saying, “Wait, are you still wasting your time?”

My superpower is a combination of my ability to ignore this question and move on to the next thing. I am equal parts stubborn and tenacious.

The Return on Investment

Starting tomorrow, I’m posting three writing prompts to a mailing list every Monday. I’m doing this for one hundred Mondays, which means I’m writing three hundred prompts. You can sign up for these prompts right now.

I explain the rationale for this project on the site. The short version is that I recently pivoted my answer to the frequent question, “How do you write a book? from “Write one hundred words a day” to “Here are three customized prompts to get you started.” The reaction to this offer buoyed me to suggest this approach to larger and larger audiences, which was received with increasingly disproportionate enthusiasm.

Now, there’s a newsletter.

You’re likely reading this piece because you believe I have leadership wisdom to share with you. I do. You’re soaking in it. Right now. One of your most important leadership muscles to develop is your writing ability, not because you need to publish your words to the world but because, as a leader, you need to deconstruct how you think. Writing teaches you how you think.

If you choose to join me on the writing adventure, you will ignore most of these prompts. They won’t speak to you. Infrequently, one will. You’ll write a paragraph or two, and that’s it. Maybe you’ll share it with someone, but probably not. Finally, one prompt will anchor itself in your brain, and until you write your response, you won’t be able to sleep.

Every single act in the prior paragraph is purposeful writing practice. Even ignoring the prompts. The simple act of deciding whether the words do or do not speak to you. Reading is an essential part of writing. It is ideas like this that I intend to sprinkle into my weekly updates.

But here’s the secret. While I am enthusiastic about helping you learn about being a better writer, this is just another chisel. I’m up to something. I’m not going to tell you because while I know the broad vision, 300 hundred prompts over 100 Mondays will change my vision and make it better.

Until then, let’s chisel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

5 Responses

  1. Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Angela Duckworth “The most dazzling human achievements are the aggregate of countless individual elements, each of which is in a sense ordinary.”

  2. Waider 4 months ago

    At the risk of being “that guy”, why Substack? They have a fairly public problem with their handling of questionable content and have demonstrated no inclination to address this problem meaningfully because it’s a money tree for them.

  3. keithpeter 3 months ago

    The pattern here actually fits teaching quite well. Student teachers often benefit from learning how to spot a sensible next step from where they are now. Don’t worry too much about the whole programme.

  4. I feel inspired. Took a deep breath.

  5. Mason 3 months ago

    Any chance we can encourage you to use something other than Substack? I don’t read anything on that site due to their…problematic problems. Just wanted to mention it but either way, good luck with the chiseling!