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  • Writer's pictureMichael Thompson

The #1 Skill to Become Prolific

Updated: Nov 4, 2023

I am having trouble figuring out how I want to start this essay today.

I just returned from my morning walk having contemplated how to tackle this subject and I know almost everything I want to say. I know what is important, what examples I’m going to give, and how it has shown up in my life.

So why am I having difficulty figuring out how to start?

Because the most difficult part of any project is the first 5% and the last 5%. Most people know how, why, and what they need to do for that middle 90%, but it never amounts to anything because of the time it takes the start, and the fear it takes to execute.

Every intelligent person will tell you that creative inertia is the number 1 obstacle to completing any project.

Writing a Book.

Starting a Business.

Curating an Exhibition.

All of these are perfect examples of projects that sound like huge endeavors that might be life goals or career landmarks for some people, but that only a very small percentage of people ever actually do.

There is an interview that I always think back to between the authors Stephen King and George R.R. Martin, by all accounts, two of the most famous writers of the past century. They are wrapping up their conversation and King looks over at Martin and says,

“We’re gonna have to wrap this up pretty soon…is there anything you’ve always wanted to ask me?”

Martin chuckles, then leans in and says,

“Yes. There is something that I want to ask you. How the f*** do you write so many books so fast?!”

The answer that King gives is candid, He says.

“The way that I work, I try to get out there and I try to get 6 pages a day…When I’m working I work every day for 3 to 4 hours and I try to get those 6 pages…so if the manuscript is 360 pages long, that's basically 2 months work.”

A quick Google search of how many books Stephen King has written gives the result of At Least 74.

74 books?! Stephen King is 75 years old.

If someone asked me to write even 10 books, it would feel like a massively daunting task. But if someone told me I had to work for 3 hours a day as my full-time job, I would sign on immediately.

If you pull up the Screen Time on your phone right now, I can almost guarantee that the average number you will see is going to be in the 3-4 hour range.

In fact, the average American spends over 7 hours a day looking at a screen.

Would you trade half of your screen time to be as prolific as Stephen King?

The reason that I love this interview so much is that it shows how one of the world’s most famous writers created a method to reduce the creative inertia of his daily work.

King has over 30 books that have become #1 Best-Sellers. But even with a number that absurd, it is less than half of everything he has ever written.

Human beings were designed to create. Creatives in every field have passions, ideas, and interests that they care about. Right now, you have at least 5 ideas that could change your life just sitting in your head.

So why do some people create so much more than others?

Because they have mastered 1 very important skill. The ability to shorten the time between Ideation and Execution.

Work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion. Otherwise known as Parkinson’s Law, we think that deadlines are dates that are implemented to make us rush to complete something, when in fact they are the top culprit behind procrastination.

How many times in school were you given a deadline for a huge paper that was 3 months away and still waited until the final week to complete it?

For some reason, we think that just because we have 3 months to do something, we must use all 3 months to complete it.

This becomes especially problematic when we look at the lives of creative people.

Every creative person will fall into 1 of 3 categories. You either A. Work as an artist, writer, musician, etc. full time.

B. Work a different job/are in school/have other responsibilities and create on the side or

C. Go about your everyday life thinking about creating and never making anything.

The fact is, that unless you are working for someone else, almost every deadline you have will be self-imposed. More likely, you have no deadlines at all and make blanket statements like “I want to be more creative” or “I need to write more” without any idea of what that actually entails.

There is quote from the 2011 Movie “We Bought A Zoo” that you might have heard. The scene is set up with a father telling his two children the story of how he talked to their mom for the first time.

He reminisces on walking past a diner where she was sitting at alone and thinking that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, but that he had never done something like this before. Never talked to a complete stranger.

But that he told himself, all I have to do is be courageous for 20 seconds.

He looks at his children and says,

“You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. Just literally, 20 seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”

He saw the opportunity for something amazing and overcame a little bit of inertia to have the chance to be part of something life-changing. Had he waited, told himself he’d come back later, or resisted those few seconds of courage - she could have been gone forever.

Instead, the time it took for him to see her (Ideation) and talk to her (Execution) was 20 seconds long. Then is when the magic really could happen.
Far too often, that gap becomes something that, when repeated, becomes a habit of non-action.

Great individuals and prolific creatives alike force themselves over that first roadblock so they can do the thing that truly matters to them.

Today, instead of 20 seconds of courage, I want you to try 5 minutes of Effort.

All you have to commit to is 5 minutes, just starting. If you find that wasn't too bad, maybe you want to do more; if not, the commitment was minuscule. Throw it away or delete it if you want afterward. But don't let creative inertia be the thing that stops you today.

Become prolific.

Thanks friends. Talk to you soon.


Michael

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