Artist Sol LeWitt’s Productivity Advice: Create More by Focusing on the Work Itself
This short movie contains many F-bombs but offers valid productivity advice:
The movie’s text is an F-bombed version of a letter from Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse, who struggled with self-doubt:
Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping,…Stop it and just DO!…
Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool. Make your own, your own world. If you fear, make it work for you – draw & paint your fear and anxiety…
You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty. Then you will be able to DO!…
Try to do some BAD work – the worst you can think of and see what happens but mainly relax and let everything go to hell – you are not responsible for the world – you are only responsible for your work – so DO IT. And don’t think that your work has to conform to any preconceived form, idea or flavor. It can be anything you want it to be…
I know that you (or anyone) can only work so much and the rest of the time you are left with your thoughts. But when you work or before your work you have to empty you [sic] mind and concentrate on what you are doing. After you do something it is done and that’s that. After a while you can see some are better than others but also you can see what direction you are going. I’m sure you know all that. You also must know that you don’t have to justify your work – not even to yourself.
Here’s an excerpt from The 7 Secrets of the Prolific” on the importance of focusing on internal rewards:
Perfectionists tend to dwell on questions like these: Will my book sell quickly? Will it sell a million copies? Will it earn me a million dollars? Will it receive a wonderful review from the Times? The reality is that very few books achieve those levels of success, and success at that level is often a crapshoot, anyway. (You could write a fabulous book, and it might not sell. Or, it could sell, but get dreadful reviews from clueless reviewers.) So these preoccupations are not just grandiose distractions, but dangerous in that they set you up for likely huge disappointment.
Please note that I have nothing against ambitious goals – in fact, I’m all for them. The problem is when you set them without planning for them, or being willing to make the necessary investments and sacrifices. Someone determined to write a best-seller, for instance, can greatly increase his odds of doing so by writing to a popular formula, doing shrewd networking, and investing a lot in marketing and promotion. Whether you’re willing to do those things or not – and I’m not saying they’re bad, although most people who abstractly want to write best sellers turn out not to want to do them – you need to get clear on not only your motives and goals, but your strategy.
Another problem with ambitious goals is that, even when you do everything right, there’s a good chance they’ll fail. (That’s why they’re “ambitious.”) And if you’re prey to another perfectionist trait, overidentification with your work, that can be devastating. But it you approach such a goal nonperfectionistically then you’ll probably achieve plenty – and have lots of fun doing it – even if you don’t achieve stratospheric heights of success.
Most of us, perfectionist or not, love stories of improbable or outrageous success, like J.K. Rowling rising from welfare to billionairedom. But to make your happiness and self-esteem dependent on such an outcome – or even a far lesser one, or any external reward or outcome at all, really – is risky in the extreme. Far better to do what most prolific writers do, and enjoy the external rewards when they come, but derive most of your satisfaction from the act of writing and the creativity-centered lifestyle you build around it.
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