Master the Mundane

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It’s great to be an author. If you’re an author, you’ve written a book. Thousands, maybe millions of people want to write a book. Only a few do.

Here’s the dirty little secret of becoming an author. If you can read a book, you can probably write a book. You don’t need great writing talent or the biggest brain in the hemisphere. You don’t need a big idea that no one has ever had. All of that’s good news. The bad news is, you must do the work. 

It takes a lot of hard, concentrated work to write a book. You must do that work for a long time, usually a year or more. You’re more likely to write a great book if you master boring tasks you must do.

In 1989, Daniel Chambliss wrote about the making of Olympic swimmers. He coined the phrase, “The mundanity of excellence” to describe how the best swimmers get that way. Sure, they have natural talent. Yes, they have a great work ethic. But there’s more.

The very best of those swimmers, people like Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps, get the most from incredible gifts. But there are lots of other people who have those gifts and don’t become great swimmers. And there are thousands of people without those gifts who become top swimmers. They achieve superlative performance.

That’s what Dan Chambliss wrote about. The way some people get the very most out of the talent they have fascinated him. Here’s how he describes what his research found.

“Superlative performance is really a confluence of dozens of small skills or activities, each one learned or stumbled upon, which have been carefully drilled into habit and then fitted together in a synthesized whole. There is nothing extraordinary or superhuman in any one of these actions; only the fact that they are done consistently and correctly and all together produce excellence.”

If you’re serious about writing a great book, you must master the mundane. You must develop the habits and rituals that help you be productive. You must work at it constantly.

You need the discipline to do the little things over and over with unremitting diligence. You need the physical and mental stamina to keep going on the days when you don’t want to. 

As you work on your book, you should be becoming more productive. You’ll develop the habits, routines, and rituals that help you write more, better stuff. You’ll try things because they work for other people, adjust them so they work for you, and keep going. And, as Chambliss noted, you’ll stumble upon some things that work superbly for you.

So, do you want to be an author? It’s a big achievement. It will take thousands of little things done consistently and repeatedly for a long time. Master the mundane.

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