“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon
“Success is what happens in other peoples’ lives while you’re busy making plans.” – L. Britt Ervin
When you listen to successful people talk about how they made it, they usually talk about hard work and overcoming obstacles, making the right connections, trying, failing, trying again, and equal parts luck and labor. What you almost never hear them talk about is finally figuring things out, planning everything, and then succeeding. Usually, they succeeded, and then, if they think about it, they can see how it all fell into place.
Many of us stall out at the planning stage. We feel like if we just had a little more information, if we could just figure out the tricks, and the secrets and the game plan, then we could take a really good crack at being successful, but its hogwash. It’s the success killer. Unless you are embarking on a military invasion or launching a multi-million dollar mass-market product, success comes from doing not from planning.
When I was in college I wanted to be in a band. Starting a band is one of the easiest things in the world to do, especially if you’re at college. I knew hundreds of musicians who all wanted to be in a band but weren’t. Why not? They never said “I’m starting a band. Do you want to be in it?” I said it the first day I moved into the dorm and we had a band up and running before classes started. I didn’t wait to figure it out because it didn’t matter. Starting a band is about deciding and doing not about figuring and planning.
A couple years ago I knew a guy who was making all these plans for how his band would be successful. He was working on the website. He was planning to play at the Palyboy Mansion and have a live webcast that would make them famous, and his band would break big because of all of his plans. At that time his band was just him.
“How many songs do you have written?” I asked.
“If Rick Rubin called you today and said he wants you in the studio next week to cut your record, how many songs could you record?”
The problem is you can’t make a hit out of a song that doesn’t exist no matter how much you plan ahead of time. You can’t figure out a way to make something happen with art without first making the art.
Music was EASY for me. I didn’t have to plan. Punk Rock and New Wave had been around for years so I had no fear that I had to be as good as Rush or Van Halen. I just had to write cool songs and not give a fuck. So I did. Here’s the secret knowledge you need to be in a successful college band in Indiana circa 1988 in case you want to make your own plans:
A) Start a band
B) Write three songs and record a demo
C) Take the demo to every bar in town and book a show
D) Play a dorm dance or two and be different
Not much of a plan, is it? When other people were putting together their plans of how they were going to have a band, we just put our band together and started. When everyone else wanted to sound like R.E.M. our only rule was to never sound like R.E.M. We were all strangers, four very different people who just jumped in and did it and within a few weeks we had gigs. Within a year we were packing local clubs about once a month and ended up playing in front of thousands of people. My band was a hit and we did not plan it. Neither did the other popular bands in town.
But like I said, music was easy and I felt no shame in just going for it before I got good. I knew doing it was how you got good. I did not, however, remember this lesson when I moved into different mediums. Then, I was sure I had to plan it all out. There was something I needed to know and if only I could figure it out, then I could be successful. So I learned and I planned and I figured and I created at a snail’s pace. I wrote and rewrote a screenplay and short stories and I even shot and directed a pretty good pilot for a web series that I ended up not putting on the web for folks to see because I hadn’t figured it all out yet so I waited, of course.
I had to figure out how to get my film financed, I had to figure out how to make everything perfect before getting it out in front of anyone who could say “yes” or “no.” I had to make plans and solve the mystery of it all. But the only mystery was what the hell happened to me and why wasn’t I treating my writing and directing like I treated my band?
It’s simple really. It’s because now, it mattered. I cared how people would react to my stories and my screenplay and web series. I felt like my work wasn’t good enough yet, but someday, with more time and planning, then, I’d be ready and – it was all in my head. Self sabotage. I went from being the guy whose scrappy bar band would not feel intimidated opening for the Stones, to being the guy so worried about failing that he never got his work in front of anyone who could do anything with it.
Earlier this week I posted part one of my series “The Horror Beneath Pale Mountain.” I was planning to wait until the story was done, then I was going to edit and rewrite and polish it. I woke up one morning and said “fuck it, get it out there.” If people like it, I can polish and rewrite it later, or not. If they don’t, then it’ll be a good thing that I didn’t waste any more time on it. I threw out the plan and put my art out there. People showed up, many liked it enough to follow my blog.
Planning to finish your work is very important. Figuring out a time when you can work on it every day is very important. Beyond that, planning and figuring is just waiting for the stars to align and they probably never will. Plan on finishing and releasing a project every two-three weeks, or months even and your likelihood of making a hit will go way, way up. The more chances you give people to say yes to your work, the more likely you are to get that yes.
Thou shalt not plan. Thou shalt do.
So go and do and let me know what you did.
All the best,