The wind was howling, 20 - 30 miles per hour winds were the norm. It was January 2015. Specifically, I was in Cullenstown, County Wexford, Southeast Ireland, in a little apartment attached to a larger house owned by an Irish family. The village had about 15 houses in it, and it was a 20 minute drive from then nearest town with a grocery store. Ireland is just that rural.
I took this picture by walking across the street from my apartment.
I had just finished writing my first book, How to Sell Your Art Online: How to Live a Creative, Successful Life On Your Own Terms. I breathed a big sigh of relief.
Despite the fact that I have written nearly 1,000 blog posts, I never considered myself a writer. My wife thinks this is funny, because in high school I kept endless pages of journals, filled with poems, short stories, script ideas, and personal writings. I also have an unfinished fiction novel sitting on my external hard drive. But I still never thought of myself as a writer because I’d never been paid specifically to write before.
So when it came time to finish the book that I’d been paid to write, I was worried. I felt like I could make the deadline, but I was worried about it being good. Was I going to flop?
This kind of doubt happens to me frequently. Creative projects are fraught with doubt. There’s nothing like taking a little piece of yourself, pouring it onto a page, and then serving it up to others to reject or love. That mental noise is tough, and it sometimes drowns out the real voice.
I often tell people that I finished the book in a month while sitting in an apartment next to the ocean in Ireland, and while that is true, it's not the entire story.
The story of the book starts nearly two years previous while I was sitting in the audience attending the World Domination Summit. I realized that nearly all of the speakers had written books. I love speaking and performing in public, so I realized that writing a book was a key to more speaking gigs. I quickly outlined the book while sitting there in the audience.
Over the next few months, I “worked” on the book. I’d write a few pages and stop. I’d adapt some blog posts and then stop. I “got serious” and started researching other books in my niche and became so intimidated that I stopped writing altogether.
Later I ran into a friend who asked me about the progress on my book. I told her that I’d stalled out. She introduced me to a friend who was excited about the concept of the book and emailed an introduction to his agent. It turns out the agent’s wife is a painter, so he was into the concept and he held my hand through the proposal writing process.
Three months later I had a signed book contract. I couldn’t procrastinate anymore. I had to get the writing done and the first draft had to be done by the end of January because I had other projects coming up.
There’s nothing like a deadline to get it done.
Earlier in my career at a software startup, I had discovered the practice of time blocking. Originally I started adding time to my calendar so that I could finish projects I was interested in before people started booking me for tedious meetings. Then I discovered that blocking time out to do important tasks was the only way to get them done - as long as I actually did them when the time came. :)
I decided that I’d implement the same time-blocking strategy while I was in Ireland--8 AM to 12:00 Noon every day was writing time. I wasn’t allowed to work on anything else in that time period. The rest of the business, and all of the touristy stuff had to wait until I had done my writing for the day.
I finished about 65,000 words in a month of half-days, Monday through Friday. Probably about 80 hours total. I also saw four castles and miles of the Irish coast while I was there. It was an amazing time to be there because it was the off season and there were few tourists.
I don’t think its actually possible to write a book in a month. Not a fully complete book. Perhaps some writers can do it. I’m not one of them.
Just to recap, to write just my first draft in a month, I:
- spent 6 months starting and stopping
- quit because I was too intimidated
- got a nice shove from an enthusiastic friend
- had support from an established book agent
- spent 3 months writing a book proposal
- waited until I had a month to go on the first draft deadline
- spent 80 hours writing
But you CAN get a first draft done. Since writing the book, I’ve kept the time blocking practice, and I write most mornings. I’ve written another 50,000 words in the last year.
I’m sharing all of this with you because its important to acknowledge that when we see people doing stuff that we think is exceptionally quick or powerful, its easy to become deflated. But the reality is that we have no concept of how long someone has been working on something. Most of the great works of art throughout history did not happen in the short time span that they’re credited with.
Don’t let exaggerated stories suck away all of your enthusiasm for your projects. Most great projects take years of work beneath the soil before they bloom and bear fruit.
Cory Huff is the founder of The Abundant Artist, where he helps artists quit their day jobs by learning how to sell their art. His book How to Sell Your Art Online: Living a Creative, Successful Life on Your Own Terms will be published by Harper Collins on June 28, and is available for pre-order now. He is also hosting The Abundant Artist Conference in Portland, Oregon on July 1 & 2, 2016.