#39 How do you get better at anything?
A musing on my writing journey so far
What if life is an intricate calligraphy whose beauty we can only admire when completed? How do we know that we are pushing ourselves to the next level, even if the whole picture isn't drawn yet?
Here are some reflections on my writing journey so far that you can apply to anything you are trying to learn.
1- Heart first, then brain.
2- Balance both right and left brains.
3- Learn just enough to climb and descend Mt. Stupid.
4- Tell the fucking world about it.
5- Practice, practice, practice.
🙏 Sunday Gratitude
This one goes out to Tarek Omran who suggested this topic, AND helped me edit and proofread it. Thank you! Thanks for everything you do to inspire people all over the world. It is a pleasure to know you and work with you.
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Ok so here are the 5 musings I’ve had while learning how to become better at anything new.
1- Choose something that your heart wants to learn, then use your brain to learn it.
I am writing this post while on a retreat. Why? Because this nourishes me. It fills my heart with joy, and that's where you want to be with anything you set your mind to get better at.
First, heart: You are unstoppable when you come at something with your heart.
The reason why I’ve been consistent with this blog every Sunday is that it comes from a very real place within me that I continue to access and lean into. Your heart is a waterfall of gumption. It's psychic gasoline for your soul to erupt into the volcano that it is meant to be.
The novel that I'm writing really came out of a huge heart experience: A man who shared his story with me in such a way it released my own pain. That moment is what put me on this daunting road of wanting to write a novel. It made me want to share it with the world, because I know it'll touch the hearts of those who read it.
But the heart only holds the passion, which is useless without a practical methodical way of manifesting your heart’s desire. When I started writing, I realized that beyond knowing that I want to write a novel, I knew nothing!
It would have been a heartbreaking moment, if it wasn’t for a little method and structure. Guess who's really good at that?
Enter brain. Break down the heart vision, and get methodical.
The conversation between me and my brain went a little like this:
Me: “Shit, the heart wants us to write a novel, and we know nothing about that.”
Brain: “ Oh I get that. Writing is very satisfying for us. It would be cool if we can even get paid to do that one day. Let’s figure this out. No problem. We got this, but it will take sometime. Let me do some research and contemplation.
…Ok got it. Here are your steps to starting your writing career.
First, we need to make time and space to write. How will we fit writing into our schedule? What habits can we stack this on?
Second, we need to learn about writing. How do we do that? How do we know that our writing is getting better? Where do we start?
Third, we need to understand the publishing industry. Who do we know that has published a book before? How does the industry work? What podcasts can we listen to about this?
Fourth, we will break down the novel into 4 parts, and we will only focus on the first part for now, since otherwise we may get demotivated.”
Not sure why my brain sounds like Chat GPT. But my point is this…
The way I use my brain to stay motivated and continue growing in my writing, is to continuously break down my heart’s desire into logical steps. Where the heart demands action, the brain is capable of actually doing the actions.
"Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul.
If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas.
For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.
Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing;"
Kahlil Gibran, On Reason and Passion, The Prophet
That you may sing, my dear.
2- Use both your Right and Left Brains
Once I was in brain mode, I realized that the writer within me has two sub-modes with my brain. Right brain activities are creative but self indulgent, and left brain activities are methodical but monotonous. Figure out how to use both to find rocket fuel for whatever it is that you are trying to learn.
The right brain works well right after I wake up. ☀️🎻
I drink a cup of coffee and sit down with the muse, and she whispers sweet nothings into my ear while an imaginary violin dangles in the background to an angelic chorus that descends on my desk from the heavens.
I used this right brain mode to get to know my characters, to feel their emotions and to freely explore the world I am building. They always surprise me, and i love this mode, because I never know what will come up!
My left brain, however, works at night. 🌜🧐
It is a dirty mechanic that has greasy hands and is skeptical of everything and everyone. It does not believe in God or Angels, it only believes in the reader, logic, structure, and ultimately - beats me up on my grammar and spelling. He's an asshole, but he's my asshole, and he'll make sure the novel gets the care it deserves.
What do your right brain and left brain represent in your line of work or creative endeavor?
Some questions to consider:
If you are more left brained or methodical in your approach (jobs such as doctor, analyst, scientist, investor, accountant, manger, etc.):
Do you have open time on your calendar to think about issues creatively?
Do you have a morning routine that is not bombarded by ideas?
Do you have time to mull over ideas while taking a walk or in a new environment?
If you are more right-brained (freelance designers, Creatives, writers, producers, shamans, etc.) then you might want to:
Can you learn about story structures or learn how to read music?
Can you learn more about business and how it works, do market research look at numbers?
Can you take a finance course and learn about balance sheets and estimate what you need?
Below is quote from the legendary Quincy Jones about how using his left brain took him to the next level. (However for most of us working logical jobs, your right creative brain may be the one that needs more airtime.)
“Once I learned how to properly notate music, or sync music to picture when I began film scoring or produce compelling live shows using scientific methods, I was able to take my artistry to the next level. Learning how to sharpen my left brain has been largely influential in how I’ve approached every creative endeavor.”
Once you learn to balance both of them, mad inspiration will meet the sanity of structure and you will become a “creative genius” at what you do.
3- Immerse yourself in knowledge with the goal of getting over Mt Stupid.
Ok here is a big secret that helps me with almost anything: I only learn as much as I need to learn to get to the next milestone.
When I first started writing, I didn't know what I didn't know. I liked some of my journal entries and saw the potential behind them, but I didn't know why I liked them or what made them good.
Let me stop here and explain the Nobel winning theory: The Dunning Kruger Effect.
The Dunning-Kruger effect effect occurs when a person’s lack of knowledge and skills in a certain area cause them to overestimate their own competence. By contrast, this effect also causes those who excel in a given area to think the task is simple for everyone, and underestimate their relative abilities as well.
Three years ago I was at the know nothing phase.
I knew nothing about writing fiction.
I decided to learn about writing which was very intimidating for me. I always enjoyed it but never had any kind of formal training for it. As a matter of fact, English as a class in high school was not my forte. I hated most of the novels and poems that we studied and did not feel engaged with literature.
I started learning by watching Masterclass. I cancelled my Netflix subscription and delved into all the content on Masterclass instead.
It was an easy way to start climbing the Mountain of Stupid.
Pretty quickly, I got to the peak of the mountain of stupidity.
So after watching all these masterclasses, taking notes and learning about dramatic writing, dialogue, character development and world building I felt completely accomplished and posted my Gumption flag on top of mount stupid.
Then comes the valley of despair.
This happened to me as I started trying to weave more of my knowledge into the novel and realized how ill equipped I actually was. All these heroes of mine clouded my thoughts with theirs, and I struggled for a time to find my voice.
As I wrote more I started to find myself picking the tools that made more sense to me. But more importantly, as I read more I started to realize how each author broke the rules in their unique way. I stopped reading about writing and dove deeper into more fiction novels. I read Dostoyevsky, Murukami, and balanced that with contemporary writers (I'll share my list in another post soon).
That freed me to write outside of the rules but it also slammed me straight into the valley of despair: Will I ever be like them? Can I ever get that good?
I had done enough on my own, I needed people's validation to get me into the slope of enlightenment.
So I started this blog.
4- Tell the fucking world!
Sometimes we need tell the world things in order for them to happen. In the same way that we ceremoniously announce events such as weddings, births, inaugurations, deaths and so on, telling the world about what we are trying to get better at, makes it all more real .
I started this blog in 2021 to announce to the world (50 of my friends and family members) that I am writing a novel. It is March 2023 as I write this and my novel is not done yet but you are here reading this and that is psychic gasoline for me to go on and deliver on this promise.
So first we promise ourselves, but then we promise other people to make sure we do not get distracted. This is part of the process. We sometimes want to keep our steps hidden away until we are perfect, because that is what we are told we need to be.
The truth is, our internal states are a mess of trauma, pain, beauty, love, and confusion. We have deep seated needs and neon lights shimmering in the deep ocean of our minds where ideas come together.
We do not know where our wildest thoughts come from.
All we do know is that these ideas become actions and these actions become our destiny.
When you feel connected to your destiny, you shift gears into Gumption.
So if you want to become better at something, show people how it looks like while it is coming together. Don't share the creation, but share your process - aka your thoughts.
a) Remind you of your humanity and shatter your illusion of perfection
b) Help your audience connect with you more.
c) Help you find the validation you need early on in a project before your inner perfectionist kills it.
I did this with the blog, and those of you that are here from the start have seen some of my early Frankensteins of experimentation. (No shame!)
Those shitty articles are the reason why I know that this is a good one. The poor audio quality of our first Gumpcast episode, made me recognize how far we've come. The cringy pilot chapters I posted of the novel, make me realize how strong my writing skills have developed.
“We all love things that other people think are garbage. You have to have the courage to keep loving your garbage, because what makes us unique is the diversity and breadth of our influences, the unique ways in which we mix up the parts of culture others have deemed “high” and the “low.”
When you find things you genuinely enjoy, don’t let anyone else make you feel bad about it. Don’t feel guilty about the pleasure you take in the things you enjoy. Celebrate them.”
5- Practice, Practice, Practice!
Everything is a practice.
Everything you do takes you a step further on your path.
One step right or one step left may not steer you off the trail, but a thousand will.
This metaphor works for habits as well, they are automatic just like walking, and the more you practice anything the more it grows exponentially.
So you are always practicing. Smoking is a practice, eating fast food is a practice but also meditation, prayer and exercise can be your practice.
The basic idea here is that if you want to get better at something, you basically have to do it everyday. Yes! Everyday! No questions asked.
You are doing things automatically everyday anyways, but what does your current practice look like? Are your practices taking you towards the vision your higher self has? Or is it steering you to a place of illness and hate?
Reading articles like this one is a practice, but to start taking action on what you've learned, is a different practice.
Start small and practice everyday!
Take yourself seriously and you will find a well of Gumption that will keep you growing and learning.
I hope these thoughts carry you into whatever it is that you are learning.
See you next Sunday,