That last essay, about the lost art of creative correspondence, struck a chord. I received (counting) five responses. That’s a spike, folks. Is the Maven Game finally going viral?
This is probably the right time to sign with a top newsletter agent at WME or ICM. I’m more than happy to turn over 15 percent of the proceeds if the right representation can take me to the next level: a four-figure mailing list. (If “newsletter agent” isn’t already a thing, it will become a thing shortly.) I’ll try to remember all of you early fans when I’m snorting organic caviar in an Uber helicopter, or whatever the 1% does for kicks nowadays.
Penn and/or Teller appear pretty frequently in my commonplace book and I’ve quoted them here before. What do I care what stage magicians think? Sure, there are obvious parallels between magicians and writers, from the tendency toward distinctive outfits (magician, writer) to the undeniable seediness of each profession as a whole. (No offense, magicians. Offense intended, writers.) More important, the writer and the magician both have a complex craft to master and a jaded audience to win over.
If you’ve seen Penn Jillette recently, whether performing in Vegas or hosting his TV show Fool Us!, you’ll know that he’s lost a good deal of weight since the duo’s heyday on Late Night with David Letterman. I’d already known that becoming a vegan played a role—Penn advocates for Joel Fuhrman’s Eat to Live diet—but I hadn’t realized that he also practices 23-hour (!) intermittent fasting.
For the purposes of this discussion, it doesn’t really matter what your opinion is, of veganism, intermittent fasting, or stage magic. When asked for advice on losing weight, Penn says:
[M]ake it hard. Easy is your enemy. Don’t believe those articles that say, “Just cut your portions down by 20%,” “Skip dessert” or “Cut out sodas.” Yeah, that seems logical. But it doesn’t work for me — I want to lose a pound a day. I want to see the scale go like this [points straight down]. So I went for a radical change in diet—whole-food plant-based, hard-core vegan, vegetables, no processed food, no sugar. And I limited my eating to just an hour a day, so I’m always fasting 23 hours. So do it the hard way. Go all the way.
What Penn is really saying here is that the “easy way” makes sense on the surface but it turns out to be much harder. You never build momentum. It’s like trying to balance on a slow bicycle; you need to get going if you want to stay upright. Some things just aren’t meant to be done in a reasonable or moderate fashion! Easy is hard.
I’ve tried the easy way with my own WIP, Book Into Battle, for a year and a month now. It’s a passion project, nothing commercial. My plan was to work my way through the manuscript on weekends, devoting every weekday to the needs of my writing clients.
The easy way has been anything but.
In retrospect, the easy way has never worked for me in any area of my life. When I’ve gotten results, it’s only been by going to the mattresses. For example, I’ve written previously about my DIY writer’s retreat, when I booked a motel room in the middle of nowhere to spend a week writing short stories, never having written any before. I got a story published in a literary journal only by doing it the hard way. It took vacation days and money I didn’t have to realize my goal. And that’s only one of many examples that come to mind: the hard way delivers. Despite the evidence, however, I continue giving the soft approach the benefit of the doubt. Easy is insidious.
I see it with clients working on their own book proposals and books. The ones who see me as a force-multiplier thrive; the ones who see me as a crutch struggle. The more manageable you try to make the creative process, the less manageable it becomes. Also, you never finish anything.
Penn’s had a tremendous career from his very earliest days as a busker. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he’s always chosen the hard way:
I don’t consider myself special. For anybody, there’s no pride in doing things easy. No one brags about walking up the little grassy slope. They brag about climbing Everest. Decide it’s going to be hard and do it like the other things that are hard in your life. When dieting was compared to something simple, I had no interest. But when someone said, “This is going to be as hard as getting your own theater in Vegas”—then I was interested. That would be something I could be proud of. I don’t respect moderation. In my whole life, I always thought, the easy way is not fun. So the way I lost weight made me proud. Because it was hardcore.
When the writing on a project isn’t working, the tendency is to taper off—no one wants to throw good effort after bad. What if we doubled our efforts instead? Tripled them? My plan is to take a full week away from client work as soon as it becomes feasible and get this manuscript done, imperfectly but once and for all. I’ll get more good work done in a week than I have in a year and a month of trying to make the jump with the rope.