writer and domestic dude

Small Frequent Steps or Why the Turtle Really Does Beat the Hare

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a practice. –Aristotle

Creativity books abound. Most of them aren’t as transformative as they promise (shocker). I was attracted to Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind because it seemed grounded. At least I’ve long since recognized if I can sustain patterns of continuity and clarity, I’m freer to fly. There are many inspiring takeaways throughout. An excellent one comes from Gretchen Rubin, founder of the Happiness Project.

“We tend to overestimate what we can do in a short period, and underestimate what we can do over a long period, provided we work slowly and consistently. Anthony Trollope, the nineteenth-century writer who managed to be a prolific novelist while also revolutionizing the British postal system, observed, ‘A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.’ Over the long run, the unglamorous habit of frequency fosters both productivity and creativity.”

I’ve noticed it in any number of my successful writer friends. There are many ways to be talented as a writer–or any artist for that matter. Some are fast. Some slow. Those who “get it done” day in and day out, year in and year out even in the face of a blur of rejections, cultural pressures, and life “getting in the way.” In the words of Harry Crews, “sit your ass down at least three hours a day” even if much or little comes.

Here’s the “bottom” line: the successful ones in all artistic industries and pursuits are those who endure. imgresVERY few are those Orpheus-like, flash-in-the-pans that tend to strike our romantic fancy. The turtle does beat the hare. Now a lot goes with that, granted. Like the mere fact that you want to keep at it must mean you’re good. Well yes, maybe. Or at least good enough. Just like with those “Outliers” who put in their 10,000 hours. They don’t put in five hours a day every day because they suck. On the other hand, if a talent comes super easy, you’re not as likely to put as much time into achieving great mastery.

1. Grinders are Courageous

This is the differential that no one understands who doesn’t “do it.” This is why book reviewers should probably write books themselves. Not because you have to be a murderer to “understand” murder—just as authors don’t have to “do” what their characters do for them to fully render them. But because one of the great unheralded aspects of creativity is the fundamental courage to get out there in front of people and make it public.

2. Grinders are Consistent

It’s “easy” to have a single great night as any professional athlete or aesthete. But bringing it day in and day out—not just for six days or weeks or even months but for years on end distinguishes between the average and those we view as extraordinary.

3. Grinders are Present

Simple as that. They show up, which is half the battle. In a way, they can’t be ignored. You can only be ignored if you aren’t there in the first place. Like dead flash-in-the-pans.

Are you a grinder? That should be your goal more than fretting over your talent skill-set.

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