Giving Up – You have ten minutes to enjoy it


I play correspondence chess with my son. I have been playing chess for thirty-five years. He has known the game for fourteen years, has been playing in earnest for the better part of the last year. A few weeks ago he beat me clean. That doesn’t happen very often.

My son is a passionate chef. He discovered this passion at the end of his teen years and now is hot on the trail of culinary mastery, making great headway and still in his early twenties. Meanwhile we play chess, and though I win the vast majority of our games he continually comes back for more. We were discussing this fact, and his developing career, and my own efforts at completing my latest novel, and at one point he said in passing, “I’m a strong believer in persistence.” This disclosure was an epiphany. It’s not that I was surprised to realize that persistence is an important aspect of success, but that I hadn’t put the emphasis on persistence in my life that it really deserves.

This revelation was all the more powerful because I realized this young man, my son the chef, had already surpassed me in his understanding of what it takes to be great at what a person does. His persistence has manifested in work schedules that would make most of us faint.  Twelve and fourteen days straight, double shifts. Cooking, cleaning, prepping. Learning. Now, I do not advocate the necessity of long and endless days of work in order to succeed. Each objective requires the time it requires and nothing more. The kitchen takes long hours. If you can’t stand the heat . . . well, you know what they say.


This brings us to the issue at hand. Many artists spend only a few hours per day working on their craft. Time is only one factor in the equation. It is the regular and continuous engagement with your art, persistence, that yields results. You have ten minutes of giving up after any one failure. After that you have to get back to work. You have to persist.

One needs only to read the endless accounts of artists of various kinds who nearly gave up on their success, but through sheer will stuck with it until things suddenly changed. Story after story, book after book, painting after painting, song after song these people worked and championed themselves endlessly until their day came. If that seems like too much to ask, well, if you can’t stand the heat.

There is a magical equation to finding your success after all. The spell of persistence creates an energy and momentum that brings those who are loyal to it into the result they seek. It is a mindless incantation, a dogged meditation on commitment to attaining the results we seek. Persistence is revision of our art, revision of our selves, revision of our attitude, and of our efforts to do what needs to be done to keep going. Not mindless in the sense of thoughtlessness, but in the sense of not stopping to take account of the effort we are making to reach our goal. We must not think at all about the time we are committing (and if you recall last post we discussed time as a tool to assure we are committing in the first place). Put your mind only to the work at hand, and persist.

Some painters use the same canvas again and again, white-washing the latest image and painting a new one over it. This is done in pursuit of improving technique – a persistence in learning what works and what does not. Similarly, photographers take hundreds, even thousands of pictures to find the handful that the rest of the world sits up to notice. Nothing about the creative life is one-and-done. We need to persist in our persistence. It’s time to get stubborn.

So what is your commitment to success? Do you have a plan for persistence?


One Simple Tool Guaranteed to Improve Your Discipline

It is said that anyone can do something for 20 minutes (thank you WMT – you know who you are) and if that’s true then we’re all in good shape when it comes to finding the discipline for daily creative effort.  But discipline takes more than agreeing we could do something for a short time – it takes doing it.

There is a tool we all have right now that virtually guarantees that each and every one of us can apply ourselves for a solid span of time even in the face of our underwhelming enthusiasm.

Before we reflect on this useful tool, however, it helps to recognize why we resist doing the work our creative lives demand of us in the first place.  One reason we lack discipline is because of the fear of wasted time.  By now we all pretty much agree that art is hard work.  From short stories to poems to painting to song-writing we all fear, at least from time to time, that we’re wasting our lives by kidding ourselves about our creative talent.  And while there is a whole other discussion to be had about why that thinking is wrong-headed, the fact of the matter is that it exists and we have to overcome it.

Probably the second biggest reason we resist sitting down and getting to work is laziness.  Most of us already have jobs that suck up a better portion of our lives, and to add even more focused time and energy onto other projects can feel like one endless pile of chores.  Easy enough, then, to overlook the reward of completing a project when the journey of a thousand miles is still only ten miles in.

What we’re really struggling with, however, is one of the great themes of creative expression – time and the inferred (and impending) end of it.  When we think about time in terms of the finite, as in the end of our lives, it’s easy to forget that the art we create is permanent, as much as anything is permanent, and the associated feelings of isolation and despair don’t help us when our doubts persist.  But the effort of art is worthwhile, and fortunately for us there is a tool we can use to make everything all better.

I was recently introduced to a very simple device that has revolutionized my productivity, and it’s something readily available to us almost anywhere we go: a timer.

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Now hear this – the timer is our friend!  Once the timer is set things begin looking up.  With time counting down we need only bear with our task for long enough to allow the timer to do its thing, for ten minutes, twenty, or an hour.  If you think this sounds silly just try it.  Try anything, but if your idea isn’t working better than mine then do it.  Chances are your twenty minute experiment will double before you actually stop.  Some of you might tune out the timer or, finding yourselves interrupted by the annoying alarm, may even toss the thing across the room and keep going.  In any case I wager you’ll discover, as did I, that the timer is invaluable for getting started, and that’s all we really need.  Once we get past the initial resistance to starting the seas open before us and the sailing can commence.

Try this: set your timer for twenty minutes and get to work.  As soon as you’re done come back here and tell us about the experience.  Did you go longer?  Were you satisfied that it helped get you into your chair and working?  Was it a complete failure?

Let us know!