Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dump your Grand Brilliant Scheme

Last month I blogged about my participation in the February Album Writing Month challenge at On the 9th day of the challenge, I observed that four out of five people who signed up hadn't written a single song, a startlingly high percentage of no-shows. At the end of the challenge, 19 days later, only a few more people had ventured past the starting line. The month ended with more than 77% of members missing in action, less than 23% actively participating.

Every time I run through these sobering numbers, I have to emphasize that signing up for the FAWM challenge was completely voluntary, and the great majority signed up after February 1st. So this wasn't a situation where someone thought it was a good idea a few months ago and then forgot all about it. People who signed up knew they had to get started pretty much right away.

The good news is that there was a surge of activity toward the end of the month, and almost half of those who actually got started ended up being declared "winners" because they'd posted at least 14 songs.

The grim news from FAWM's statistics: If you don't get started sooner, you aren't likely to get started later.

(It's even worse than the stats look. Most of the improvement in FAWM's averages came from people who joined late in the month with an immediate burst of activity, not from people switching into gear after sitting idle.)

Putting things off is a habit that gains momentum. It's a pattern that gets harder and harder to break.

Be honest with yourself today: If you still haven't taken the first step in your Grand Brilliant Scheme, you probably will never take that step. Your Grand Brilliant Scheme is already as good as dead. It's inexorably being sucked into that black hole, and you don't have the leverage to pull it back out.

There's a good reason to be brutally honest. Opportunity is knocking: an opportunity to do something much less Grand and much less Brilliant than your Grand Brilliant Scheme. But this new opportunity has a trump card: It's something you can take action on. Something you can actually get started on today. In other words, it's real.

Take that new opportunity, however modest it may seem, and let your long-postponed G.B.S. spiral into its black hole.

We all have a bad habit of discounting the value of today's immediate opportunities, and exaggerating the value of things that are out of our reach. We also overstate the value of ideas and take for granted the value that comes from action. There are plenty of great ideas — but the only ideas that matter are the ones you can actually do something with.

New rule of thumb: If you can't start on something today, it's not a creative project; it's just a daydream. It's fine to have daydreams — but your creative life should be filled with action, not just a fantasy of maybe someday.

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