Writers Talk About Writing
Why Being Relentless is a Good Writing Strategy
I can't remember who told me about Jonathan Mann but I'm grateful for the tip. I don't spend enough time on the Internet to have accidentally stumbled across this guy who has been writing a song a day for the last four-plus years.
Mann began writing music when he was 12 but claims he didn't produce anything worthwhile until he was 16. He went to college where he not only taught himself how to record but where he also wrote and starred in a rock opera. Then he started writing online music videos and then he travelled to Europe for an artist's residency.
Shortly after returning home, he started writing a song day. That effort began on Jan 1, 2009. As of today, he's written, recorded and posted more than 1,574 songs. Oh, and he has no plans to stop.
If you want to see and hear some of his work, go have a look and listen. (My faves? “Duet with Siri,” and “Come Live with Me in Brooklyn.”)
But I don't care whether or not you like his music. Here's the thing about Jonathan: He's relentlessly productive.
Of his own work, he says that 20 percent sucks and 70 percent is mediocre. I think those are pretty fair numbers — ones I'd even use to describe my own writing. But here's the rest of the formula that Jonathan reveals. Some 10 percent of his work is awesome.
Would you write daily for the odds of producing something awesome every 10 days? You should!
Says Jonathan: "One of the biggest benefits is just practice. If you want to get better at something, the more you do it, the better you get. The more you make, the more good stuff you write by virtue of pure statistics."
When it comes to writing, I think being relentlessly productive works for five reasons:
1) You learn to do something even when you don't feel up to it. When I heard Jonathan produced a song on the same day he had a root canal and another on the same day he had food poisoning, I briefly felt bad for having taken a week off when I had a stroke... Seriously, though, there are few good reasons for not producing. If you're willing to challenge yourself, you'll be astonished by what you can achieve.
2) You learn how "creativity" and "inspiration" are essentially irrelevant to productivity. I've always subscribed to the Peter de Vries dictum, "I write when I'm inspired, and I see to it that I'm inspired at nine o'clock every morning."
3) You achieve some of the benefits of compound interest. Did you know that doubling one penny every day over 30 days will give you $5.36 million dollars? While the same is not entirely true of writing, I will tell you that if you write 250 words (the length of a not very long email) every day, you will have 91,250 words by the end of a year. And that's more than enough for a book.
4) You will remember the tricks and techniques of writing. As part of one of my contracts for a client, I do a little bit of WordPress work. I need detailed notes about much of this, however, because I do the work so irregularly. If you write daily (and by that I mean five days per week) you won't need notes and you won't have to rely on your memory. Instead, your brain and your hands will remember what to do.
5) You won't be "precious" about your writing. True artists know it's pointless to spend a lot of time evaluating the merits of their own work. Instead, they just keep producing. Think of people like: Paul McCartney, Alice Munro, Daniel Day-Lewis. All recognized for their achievement. All continuing to produce.
The dictionary definition of relentless is: "steady and persistent; unremitting."
Be relentless with your writing. Just like Jonathan Mann is with his music.