Write Poorly. Fail often.

Write poorly until you can write well. Fail until you can succeed. Start with what is easy and work to what is hard. I would like to take a look at what it like to write poorly, why it matters and how you can apply writing poorly to other areas of life.

I love when Seth Godin talks about the “myth” of writer’s block. He says that we can always write poorly. He says “If failure is not an option, neither is success.” We may have days where we don’t feel writing, where we don’t write anything good. The hard days set us up to be able to write well. Eventually, we get better. Consistency and 1% improvements are the key. I’m working on a 30 day writing challenge where I post on my blog every day. Some days I write well, other days I don’t. No matter what, I’m learning and getting better at writing. James Clear argues that “habits are the compound interest of self-improvement”.

Here is an amazing story from James Clear about British cycling. By the early 2000s, their performance was poor in comparison with other teams. The last gold medal they won was back in 1908, and they had never won the Tour De France (the race of all races in cycling). A popular manufacturer for the national teams refused to sell them bicycles because they were afraid that it would hurt sales if other teams saw the British team riding their bikes. Then enters Dave Brailsford. His philosophy is the “aggregation of marginal gains”. A 1% improvement in as many areas as possible. They used biofeedback sensors to adjust training, slightly lighter tires, a better seat and had outdoor riders wear lighter indoor riding gear. But, then they did some things you wouldn’t expect. They tested massage gels to see which would cause faster muscle recovery, taught the riders how to wash their hands properly to reduce the risk of sickness, they tested which pillow led to the best night’s sleep for each rider and brought that with them wherever they went. Brailsford predicted that if they did all these little improvements, they could win the Tour De France in the next 5 years. He was wrong. They won it in two years, again the third year with a different rider and after a one-year break they won it two more times. At that point, 4 out of the last 5 Tour De France races went to British cyclists which was unheard of. But, that was only the tip of the iceberg. At the Olympics in London in 2012, they won 70% of the gold medals available for cycling. 1% improvements over time have huge impacts.

There was a photography professor at the University of Florida who split his photography students into two groups. The “quality” group and the “quantity” group. The “quality” group only needed to produce one photo, but it had to be their absolute best work. The “quantity” group needed to produce a lot of pictures, but it didn’t matter how good they are. While the quantity group was busy experimenting, playing with different camera settings and taking pictures they would come across a great photo. The quality group was too busy studying what makes a perfect photo and theorizing about how it would work that they only produced a mediocre photo for their “best work”. I love how James Clear puts it: “In the beginning,”… “The most important thing is to just shut up and put your reps in.” The more reps you put in, the more you can do. Consistency is key. Optimize for the first two minutes of your habit.

Go forth and fail! Write poorly until you can write well, make 1% changes and change the world by putting in your reps. Make the first two minutes automatic. If you want to learn more about habits, James Clear has an excellent talk that gives a great introduction to habit formation and wrote a book called Atomic Habits that gives even more great information. I have read a lot of books, but this book has improved my life more than most. I highly recommend reading it and following the action steps.

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