Haruki Murakami is one of the most celebrated authors of our time. He is also a man of tremendous focus and discipline. He wakes up at 4 a.m. and writes for 5 or so hours. Every single day.
Kurt Vonnegut would wake up at 5:30 a.m. work until 8 a.m., eat breakfast, and then work a couple more hours.
J.M. Coetzee, the 2003 Nobel Prize Laureate, supposedly spends at least one hour at his desk, every morning, without fail.
Franz Kafka, one of the most influential writers of the past century, would work each night from 11 p.m. until early in the morning.
Maya Angelou used to write every morning from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.
One of the most prevalent myths is that to do creative work, one must feel inspired. It’s not true.
We can always work, whether we feel inspired or not.
It’s all about developing a routine.
The Power of Daily Habits
A lot has been written about the importance of developing daily habits that help you achieve success.
The idea is not to think. When the creative process becomes automatic, we don’t waste precious time or mental energy deciding whether or not we should work.
We just do the work.
The same way a smoker doesn’t consciously decide when to light the next cigarette, the creative individual can develop a daily routine that enables them to do the work in such an automatic way that they don’t even have to think about inspiration.
The Funny Thing About Desperation
I often think of desperation as inspiration’s doppelgänger. The evil twin of inspiration often makes its appearance when we are under pressure to get the work done, either because of a deadline or because we must pay the bills somehow.
When we are most desperate, we become most creative.
This is something that every writer can attest to.
But this doesn’t happen because desperation inspires us somehow, it happens because we can’t afford to even think about feeling inspired or motivated.
When it’s “do or die,” people tend to do because they stop asking themselves the question of whether or not they can.
Well, habits work in similar ways. It becomes a subconscious process because we kept doing the work (a mentally frustrating experience) so often that our brain simply decides to turn it into a mental reflex to spare itself from discomfort.
I Write Two Articles Before Everyone Else Wakes Up
I don’t even think about it. I wake up, get out of bed, make myself a cup of coffee, and sit at my desk to work.
It’s become an instinct, a reflex.
Creative work is still work. You can’t sit around, waiting to feel inspired.
This myth has to go.
The only way to feel inspired is to go through a huge volume of work, to put in the hours, to show up, again and again and again.
Obviously, the goal is to do great work, but you have to give yourself permission to do the work even when you don’t feel like it.
Truth be told, I can’t tell anymore between what comes easy and what I have to struggle to write. Most days, it’s such a subconscious process that I don’t even think about it.
That’s how powerful habits are. That’s how routines and systems can change your inner game.
Having a clear schedule forces you to deliver. A clear schedule is a promise you make to yourself.
It’s All About Mental Clarity
Sometimes I have a lot of work to do, and I skip working out for a couple of weeks.
Whenever I step back into the gym, I am kind of confused. I do not have a clear workout schedule, and it feels like I am at least 50 IQ points dumber.
I am so confused that I don’t know what machines to use, what muscle groups to train. I just walk around the gym, dazed and confused as a mouse caught in a trap.
But when I do have a clear schedule, and I have this list of exercises, then it all becomes easy.
When you know what you have to do, for how long, then it’s just a matter of doing the work.
You don’t need to feel inspired, you don’t need motivation.
People struggle with creative work because they think it somehow works differently.
A system means having a list of tasks that need to be completed during a set period.
That’s all it takes.
If you don’t have a system, you need to rely on inspiration. You need to feel like doing it because this gives you clarity.
I know I have to work, I have to write my articles when I wake up. This is the system. The time at my disposal is to be used for this task alone.
I don’t even have to rely on will-power.
The same way a list of exercises you must do at a gym gives you mental clarity, having a system in place (complete with a micro-deadline and micro-goals) gives you enough mental clarity that you don’t even need inspiration anymore.
Stop waiting for inspiration to find you and set a clear daily schedule that allows you to develop the habits you need to do the work.
This is the difference between professionals and amateurs. Professionals have a system, have developed habits that allowed them to reach subconscious mastery of their skills. They don’t think about doing the work, they just do the work out of habit.
Amateurs wait until they feel inspired, amateurs need to summon the willpower to do the work, they leave mental clarity to luck.