“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe” — Abraham Lincoln
Fun fact, I’m first cousins with Lincoln, five times removed. True story. On my grandmother’s side. I think a lot of President Lincoln. His principles, his grit, his down-to-earth approach to life. There’s a lot to learn from Lincoln.
Like this quote about sharpening the ax. What’s that all about? Preparation. Great work takes great preparation. It’s just as simple as that.
I know myself well enough to know that I wouldn’t get even half of what I do finished without a solid process and system to help me. Without preparation.
That said, I also know that no process or system would be able to last for me if it didn’t allow some flexibility. Sometimes we don’t stop to consider the acts of self-reflection and study as part of the preparation process, but it is. It very much is.
That’s what I wanted to talk about with this blog post. Creating a writing process, building systems that can do wonders for your efforts, preparation, and as always, how to strike a balance between these different things and the rest of your life.
Let’s dive in.
Take time to prepare, just don’t get lost to it
The real power of Lincoln’s lesson is to learn the careful art and craft of preparation, but also knowing the balance between preparation and action.
You won’t ever hear me put down a solid preparation routine. I’m a huge fan and a big believer in taking twice as much time to prepare as you take to produce, because the simple fact is, the more you prepare the more you’ll be able to produce.
That said, I also firmly believe you can spend too much time preparing and not nearly enough time putting the preparation to work and getting something done. Remember, perfection is a lie, progress is what counts. So, don’t use preparation as an excuse, and don’t let some idea for how something is supposed to look or sound hold you back.
In other words, when you hear the voice of your inner critic whispering in your ear, shut that voice down. Tell it to buzz off and get back to work.
A messy effort beats the heck out of perfect nothingness to show for every day. It’s just that simple. Progress is about effort, about showing up even before you’re ready. Take time to prepare, but know when it becomes a justification for not getting something done and go get it done instead.
Leave some room for growth
Here’s the lesson carefully tucked in between all of this, leave room for your own growth. Figure things out, study what others are sharing, teaching, and showing. But in the end, give your space to grow into the things you love most about their work.
It’s better to be a messy but real version of yourself than a perfect lie and cheap copy of anyone else. Keep that in mind.
When it comes to anything creative, give yourself space to grow. It’s a journey, remember? Writing, creating of any kind, isn’t about staying in the same place. Creativity needs new experiences for nourishment. Your writing needs the sloppiness of life, with all of its imperfections and every ounce of each thing that frustrates you, to go as far as you are fully capable of taking it.
Build a system that works for you
I can share all the advice in the world, and I plan to share as much as I can through these blog posts, but you have to be the one to put them in practice. If you’re like me, that usually means taking the advice but studying it real close and adapting it to what you need.
Even on my best days, you and I are two different types of writers with our own unique experiences, quirks, and approaches to dang near everything. We can, and we should learn from one another. But, in the end, take my advice as far as you can and when you’re ready, make it your own. That’s the real point.
How does this apply here? Take whatever system or approach to writing you like and study it, put it to practice, and every so often, reflect on it. What’s working, what isn’t? Why?
Figure all this out and don’t be afraid to put together several pieces from different systems to make your own. It’ll take you farther.
Your process matters. It’s not just a question of getting things done, but how you do and whether it’s easily repeatable.
If you take nothing else away from this than that, let it sink in deep. It’s not just what you do, but how you do it that counts.
Study the practices of others, learn from them, and build something that works for you. This is your path to success.
Remember, take time to sharpen your axe.