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Giving up on perfect

At some point in every draft of every novel I’ve ever written, I’ve had to give up on the idea of perfect and get out of my own way.

Like many artists who want their work to be considered good, the words that end up on the page often fail to match—sometimes barely even resemble—the shape of the story that exists in my head.

Such is the nature of the beast.

No reason to fight it. Just the way it is. People aren’t perfect, and neither are the things they create. I’m certainly no exception. I just do the best I can with what I’ve got.

Still, perfect is one of those things that I struggle with. It stops me up from time to time.

Today, as I sat down to write, I finally identified the problem. Not being sick (though I was) or busy (that too) or distracted (guilty), but just being a damned perfectionist and stubborn to boot.

So I kicked perfectionism to the curb. Once I did, the words began to flow faster.

I got out of my own way by giving up on perfect.

Don’t know why this happens, but it’s one of those things that always seems to come at me again from a different angle. As soon as I recognize it, I remember how to get past it. It takes a mindset shift more than anything else. Just being able to accept that rough drafts are rough, and keep typing.

I got 1000 words before lunch, a good pace for me. They might need some polishing, but that’s the best part of writing—you get lots of second chances.

Good music for writing

An impromptu collection of some of my favorite albums to write to.

I’m never at a coffee shop without headphones. Music helps me focus. It’s a reliable way to block out distractions when needed, which is most of the time.

My choices of tracks for writing are instrumental or electronic. Almost none of the songs on these albums have lyrics.

The moods range from rhythmic rock jams to brooding melodic vocals with crooning guitars. Lots of Jazz thrown in and scrambled up the way it should be.

I’ve been listening to these albums for years—they don’t go stale for me.

In no particular order…

Ratatat – Magnifique

Absolutely anything from Ratatat’s playlist makes for good writing music.

Mogwai – Atomic

Mogwai is hit or miss on writing music but I like this one

Chequerboard – The Unfolding

I listened to this album for a month straight.

Jazztronic Playlist on Spotify

This playlist helped me find a bunch of new stuff.

Amon Tobin – Bricolage

Stoney Street. Easy Muffin. Chomp samba! Even the names sound like jazz. Love the names, love Amon Tobin.

David Heinemeier Hansson on Flow State

David Heinemeier Hansson

Tim Ferriss recently interviewed David Heinemeier Hansson, the creator of Ruby on Rails and winner of “world’s biggest endurance race: 24 hours of Le Mans.”

Early in the interview, Tim and David had a fascinating discussion about creative flow state that I had to capture and share with you.

DHH: It’s exciting, it’s a loud car and shaking. There’s the element of danger, you could go off course, you could hit something. But just the closed loop system of improvement was absolutely intoxicating. It was kind of like you just had a bottle of flow. You could just go open your fridge and go ‘I’d like some flow, please. Can you get me into the flow state where you lose track of time and where you just have such a great experience learning and getting better—that’s how I felt the first very many times I got into a race car. I could just switch on flow. Which was something I had discovered in programming a fair amount, but I find at least in programming it was a little more elusive. The best programming sessions I’d have flow, but then I’d also have a fair number of other programming sessions where I wouldn’t have flow. When I stepped into the race car, I just felt like, oh, you turned the ignition and flow comes. And that was just magic.

Tim Ferriss: Why do you think it was more elusive in programming and can you identify any common factors for the sessions that had flow or that didn’t have flow?

DHH: I think part of it with racing was just that the intensity level was at 100% right away. As soon as you stepped into a car you had maximum danger—actually you had more danger in the beginning than you will have later on because it’s more dangerous to drive a car in the track when you don’t know what you were doing than it is later on. Versus with programming I didn’t get flow until I was—I mean, I shouldn’t say that. I didn’t get great consistent flow in the quantities that I’d like to enjoy it before I was actually a fairly well-developed programmer. Because that was when I had enough of an eye for the whole scope of programming to really dive into Oh let’s make this beautiful, Oh, let’s make this as simple as possible. When, in the beginning, I was just focused on, Oh, let’s get this to work. Can the PHP page render? Oh no, I get an error, let me try something else. That was fun. There was glimpses of flow. But the real moments of flow I wouldn’t get until I was much better.

Flow state is what I strive for in writing, and I guess it’s just good to hear that other people also find it elusive at times.

Listen to the whole interview at FourHourWorkWeek.com.