Jake James

The Skill of Writing (First Draft)

My girlfriend is a voracious reader. I knew others read more than me, but I thought I read a fair amount. But after dating her, I realize I've got to do better. There's a book that's been sitting on my shelf for a while that is on my must-read list, The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. We've been talking about it, and she finally started reading it. I'm a bit jealous because I'm still working on the Washington biography by Chernow.

Anyways, she's only like 40 pages into it and she has told me its beautifully written and it got me thinking about how amazing writers are. Here I am in the beginning of this personal website and blogging out into the ether, knowing the lack of skill I have. And then there's people like Mann who can churn out beautiful prose time and time again. To me, writers are like musicians. There's a full spectrum of skill and even just a little proficiency is impressive. But the truly skilled ones are the ones that make me proud of humanity. Maybe that's what art does for us as a species. It exposes our potentials.

But back to writing. As I had this thought, it made me think of Stephen King and something I think he said about writing. Essentially, to get good, you have to do it A LOT. It doesn't happen naturally. And I think that pertains to just about any skill. Some are born perhaps more naturally inclined or find the thing that they're obsessed about early in life, but regardless, it takes practice, repetition, and consistency.

Most people don't have the patience to stick with something consistently over many years to become great at it. But I've come to learn, that's what it takes. And no matter what the endeavor is, that's what you have to do. Decide, do, repeat, consistently, for a long, long time. Knowing this gives me hope, but it also makes me feel lazy and regretful for the time I've wasted on this earth having not dedicated myself to any skill where I can produce something of value to the world. It doesn't make me feel good about myself. I know I need to change that, and there's only one way to do it. Pick something, practice, become skilled, and add something of value to the world.

Of course, it doesn't have to be writing or something from the traditional arts. I often have this thought when I see programmers putting out great products, like what Herman has done with this blog platform. And the stuff that DHH puts out like Omakub, along with his partner Jason Fried. And of course, the stuff that Derek Sivers puts out. And there's so many more wonderful technologists that I run across, in thanks to platforms like this and finding other's incredibly interesting websites, like this one by Brad Woods I found completely by random. I just found it yesterday and can't even remember what led me to it.

And then not to mention all the electricians, carpenters, plumbers, doctors, scientists, lawyers, accountants and so many other people that provide valuable services to the world. I often think about the corpsman I worked with in the Navy and what a noble profession that is. But here I go, I'm trailing off topic, but my point is that it takes practice and skill to become good at something. And we all are here with the same opportunities to become good at whatever we want. The challenge is to make the decision on what you want to become good at, and then committing yourself to it. This is the challenge I've been dealing with for quite some time now, and I fear time is running out.