Beginning to write is incredibly intimidating. After decades of consuming books and magazines, blogs and newspapers, it feels like every topic has been covered in depth and detail. Most art evokes a similar feeling. Walking through a museum, knowing there are thousands of others filled with paintings and sculptures, we convince ourselves that creativity would flow easily if such original work hadn’t preceded us. New technology and innovation invites novel approaches and fresh applications, but even with the same, worn out tools, there’s far more opportunity than we admit.
It’s impossible to avoid the influences that lead to new creations. When it comes to reading, few have affected me as much as Tim Ferriss’s books. His writing would best be categorized as ‘self-help’, though he’s added a modern, optimization tilt that makes the reader feel like they’re squeezing the last drops out of life rather than fighting to return to normalcy. His books and podcast cover effectiveness, personal health, and successful habits. The modern king of the field has to be Tony Robbins, having built the genre through his own books, infomercials, and speaking tours. By almost any measurable statistic, he’s been a giant of guidance. He’s taught people to overcome fears and phobias, organize their finances, and build meaningful relationships. There are clear differences between the two. Ferriss made his name with The 4-Hour Workweek, a guide to automating your life with different conveniences of modern life. Robbins pushes his readers to attend to their own goals and obstacles to get the most from themselves. After enough attention to both, and particularly listening to the two chatting, it’s obvious they’re coming from a similar place.
Ten years since The 4 Hour Work Week was published, Ferriss has managed to succeed in writing about efficiency, physical health, food preparation, and daily habits. He wasn’t the first to enter these fields, and he certainly won’t be the last. Yet, so many others seem to crumble under the idea that someone has beaten them to the punch. There have been titans in each space, detailing very similar ideas, but not exactly the same and obviously not covering every detail. His unwillingness to settle for the work of others has been as insightful as any of the workouts or recipes he discusses.
Instead of looking at other works with a sense of awe and reverence, I’ve begun to appreciate the finality of art. A painting has depth and meaning in every shape and brushstroke, ideas that extend from obvious to abstract, but all contained within the dimensions of the canvas. To expand these ideas and apply them to other aspects of life is not only possible but welcome. Books and podcasts have the same finality. There are never enough examples, never a similar enough anecdote allowing me to turn around and know exactly what to do. I would love to have Tim Ferriss analyze my life and give personalized feedback each step of the way, but that’s not what he offers. Instead, he puts forth principles that can be applied to my unique decisions, principles which I combine with the ideas of other influencers, from parents and friends to movies and writers.
I like to think of my writing as sitting somewhere within the ‘self-help’ genre, not prescribing anything too specific but hopefully offering opinions on the decisions that have brought happiness to my own life. It’s been tempting to label my work as an imitation of others, a meager attempt to capitalize on the success of the genre. More loudly, though, is the voice that shouts out about my own unique perspective. I know there are plenty of great writers, but more so I know my exact thoughts have yet to be described.
So my hope for anyone looking to create, write, build, or record is to begin with exactly those you are afraid of imitating. Research their work and their life, what brought them to success and how wide their creations extend. Even the greats had to start somewhere, but maybe more important, they had to end. And that’s where you come in.