Published on 29 Jul 2020.
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Trick yourself into starting

At university, I did a joint honours degree in philosophy and computer science, and spent a lot of it really sucking at the computer science part of it. My tutor at the time gave me a wonderful bit of advice. I’d heard it before but had never taken it to heart. It was: sucking at something is the first step at being sorta good at something.

Dude, sucking at something is the first step towards being sort of ...

It sounds like motivational poster trite. But it’s right: you gotta suck before you get good. And I do think that as a piece of advice, it’s super motivating. It reminds you that everyone sucked one.

The Nike slogan Just Do It aims at the same idea — leave behind all excuses, and just get going. Just start.

Starting is often the hardest part.

I’ve been trying to run more regularly throughout lockdown. I’ve been using the Nike Run Club app to track my runs, and they have audio coaching, which is hugely motivating. The coached sessions teach you that being a good runner is not about being a fast runner or having perfect form or running x times a week. It’s just about coming back again and putting in the miles — even if that means running easier. Coach Bennett has a great phrase that he ends his runs with, which encapsulates this: see you on another starting line.

Another example: the YouTuber Mike Boyd has an amazing channel where he documents the process of mastering new skills. I (of course) love this as a concept, because specialisation is for insects. His catchphrase, which he begins every video with, is: Day 1, Hour 0. It’s such a great line. I want it on a tshirt. Everyone starts somewhere…

Earlier this year, I wrote and produced a limited edition book of essays. It’s called VANISH. I’d really wanted to write a book for a while.

The healthy way to write a book is to set a routine, sit down regularly and write consistently, every single day for a long period of time.

But that requires some level of self-motivation. I didn’t have that.

So I tricked myself by finding some external motivation. Instead of starting by writing the book, I started by selling it before it was written.

I did this by crowdfunding it on Kickstarter. I’ve written more about the process of crowdfunding a book on Kickstarter here, including the mistakes I made in my campaign.

The great thing about crowdfunding a book is that you only need to figure out what you want to write about. You don’t have to actually write about any of it. You also don’t have to worry about proof reading, layout, physical production, etc — there’s thousands of companies that will help you with that, so you can figure it out down the line.

The only thing you need to do is figure out what to write about.

So let’s look at the steps I took to get my book finished.

Step One: Figure out what to write about.

Super easy. I already had this in mind: I wanted to write a bunch of non-fiction short essays on magic theory, philosophy and art history. There are all things I’m interested in. I just needed something to unify all that, and came up with tying it all to things vanishing.

Step Two: Put it on Kickstarter.

This was still super easy. I just had to write some marketing blurb about my book (that I hadn’t started writing), make a Photoshop mockup of what it might look like, and film a minute long video talking about it. The video was hardest: I kept procrastinating filming myself, and then when I did shot so many takes trying to get it just right — but in the end I got it out there.

I was also tricking myself here using an external motivator. Kickstarter has a campaign called Make 100, where creators are encouraged to make and crowdfund 100 of any one thing. The deadline for submitting Make 100 projects was the end of January.

Of course, my project went live on January 28th.

Step Three: Write the book

Oh DAMN now it gets real well I’ve now been collecting people’s money for the last month and it’s been surprisingly veery successful and everyone is talking about me writing a book and now the money has hit my account and WOW a lot of people have paid me REAL ACTUAL MONEY. for something I haven’t yet written and the weeks drag on and I still haven’t got more than three thousand words written and now there’s a global pandemic and all the coffee shops I used to sit in to write are closed and Hey Google how long is the average non-fiction book? and work has gotten super busy and I have surges of inspiration late at night so stay up writing and scribbling notes everywhere and rearranging chapters and Would you mind proof-reading another section? It won’t take long I promise and I still haven’t found a printing company I trust and here’s the Google Docs link and can I afford to get them made in hardback and let me just wait til my InDesign trial has finished installing and…

Like I said, this isn’t the healthy way to get stuff done. But hey, it works.

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