What Is It Exactly That You Do All Day?


It’s hard to understand how artists tolerate the Hollywood system. Work for years and years but basically get nothing done. Or work on projects that get killed. Or push and push (fake it until you make it) for years in ‘development’ until something finally gets enough heat to be greenlight.

Look at the IMDB pages of most producers, writers, filmmakers and actors and it’s not uncommon to see maybe five projects over a ten-year career (and often times much less). If you really love making films, how can you make so few of them?

It makes you wonder what the hell they do all day.

The answer of course is complicated. It’s a broken system built for a world where making movies was much much more expensive. And the politics and culture that grew out of that system basically broke a whole generation of artists (with a few exceptions) and wasted many years of energy and effort. At the same time, people there also don’t work very hard.

If the answer to the question “What do they do all day” was actually “work, really work” there is no way the projects would take so long.

The reality is that this is not limited to Hollywood. We are all guilty of this, whatever it is we happen to do.

When people say things take a long time, usually they are just taking for granted a whole lot of waiting around and wasting time. They equate spending time on something with “working” and also seem to assume that time is an infinite resource. There are no deadlines, no urgency, no desire to ship and move on.

Jerry Seinfeld once told a young comic that the secret to his success was a big calendar he kept on his wall. Each day, if he wrote, he allowed himself to put a big X across that date on the calendar. After a few weeks, there would be a long string of days in a row of writing. What kept him going was a sense of duty to protect and not break that chain.

I’m no genius but I have managed to do 3 books in 2 and half years plus a lot of other things. When people ask how? I’m always confused.

I worked on them every day is the answer.

I certainly have my own problems. I need to slow down and proofread better, for example. Sometimes I take for granted that my audience shares my assumptions though I have yet to actually explain them. But I pardon myself that errors of initiative and execution are better than sloth or timidity.

Ugh! The amount of time people waste because of dysfunctional relationships, because of their own dysfunctions which draw them to those relationships. The energy they waste on fad diets and gear and figuring out how various unnecessary technologies work. The resources and creativity that seeps out telling people (or themselves) stories about themselves or projecting an image to the world.

Talking about your art, no matter how it may feel, is not the same as practicing it. Yet they focus on marketing, when they should focus on making their stuff better. They live in a hard or difficult city (like New York–which living in can feel like a job) and think that’s what makes them special.

And then they wonder why they don’t get to do more of what they love. Or why their book, movie or startup is slow going.

Again. don’t waste time on phone calls, on lunch meetings, on chattering about what you’re working on. Skip the video games and Facebook chat and ‘going away to write’. Just work.

No one should ever wonder what it is that you do all day. It should emanate loudly and clearly from what you produce. It should be obvious that you care about craft. That you get stuff done because you put more into it than everyone else.

There are the other types out there. Your Robert Caro’s and Vincent Bugliosi’s, guys who spend years and years on big projects–but it’s also clear that they worked every single day on their epic masterpieces. (Caro actually shows up everyday in a suit to his private office) If we are being honest, is that what your project is? Is that how you are? Really?

That’s why you didn’t update your blog for but twice this year? Why you had to take a sabbatical from work but you still haven’t release that album yet? Is that why your thesis isn’t finished yet?

Or are you really just dicking around?

Only you know the answer. Only you know if you’re pretending–in love with the narrative of you, the author, writer, musician, actor, executive, investor, designer–or actually doing it. Only you know if you really have or want to turn pro.