Death by a thousand strokes
Whenever you come into contact with an immerse and impactful piece of work, the towering obelisk, the frescoes on the ceiling, the sculptures, the works of art, the architectural marvel, the music, films and books that draw us in deep into new and exotic locales, it is easy to be so impressed, so moved by these works that we are both inspired and intimidated. We feel the stirring within, that innate desire to go on and create our own masterpiece. We also feel the fear. How can we attempt such? How will we ever pull off creating something so great? Where would we even begin.
For each of us, the masterpiece is different. It could be picking up a new habit, or learning a new skill, or making something, an event, a painting, an EP, a book. But at its core, they are all the same. It is an undertaking that will demand time and effort.
We know that the road to getting things done is not without its twists, turns and difficulties. So, in our minds, to get started, we have to carve out this block of time. The perfect Saturday evening to sit down and work through our idea, and really get it going. We fantasize about the one perfect stretch of time and space that would arise to really work on it and get it done.
But things never happen that way, right? Life is just too unpredictable, and there is enough that pops up daily to stop us. A new project pops up, a family crisis arises that we have to handle. In that way, we keep plodding along, putting out our fires and getting busy with the business of living. At the back of our mind, the thought lingers, on the thing we need to be doing…
Even worse, let’s say things do go that way. You successfully carve out the time to work on that big idea or dream of yours, and what happens? You squander the time. You play around, you get distracted, you find an excuse. Making the time is one thing, doing the actual work is another.
There is a better way.
The idioms that a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step, and that the way to dispose of an elephant is to eat is one bite at a time offer the clue. When you stop looking at your project as this immense thing, and begin to understand that with consistent small actions, you can tackle it. You can hack your doubts to death with a thousand cuts and bring your work to life by a thousand strokes, applied over a long time.
Sure, creative work demands large stretches of time, to think and to tinker our ways to answers. But don’t let that metastasize into an excuse that stops you. Adopt the long-haul attitude also. Embrace the little time you can get. Maybe you can steal 15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour or two here and there to work on this project that is so important to you. Take them. Work within those constraints.
10 minutes might be all you need to outline your project and note down some quick execution steps. Then when you get another bit of time, you can work on those first steps you outlined, and then the next steps and so on. The idea is to begin where you are, and work with what you’ve got.
This does a couple of things
When you work in spurts like this, you are able to savor the process more, and let creative ideas percolate and evolve over period of times between the sessions. The slow burn can help you birth a deeper, more nuanced work than trying to hack through it all at once.
You focus on building the habit of working on something consistently. You can move your attention from quality. You are not worried about getting it right all at once, you are concerned with showing up. You won’t always be at your best, you might not always be inspired. But you can commit to making something small consistently, and then over time, you gain volume, and out of that volume, you can curate something great.
And when you do get that magical block of time — a day, a weekend, a month to really dig in, it would be easier not waste it, because you have cultivated the habit of working on it consistently.
You focus on acting and creating in whatever pockets you can find them, until your creative obstacles collapse in a constant barrage of strikes, and your creation, your masterpiece emerges over a thousand strokes.