My favourite business books include Jim Collin’s “Good to Great“.  It is easy to read, simple but clear about the hard decisions that differentiate the great companies from the mediocre.  His new book, “Great by Choice” is out now.  Jim Collins is renowned as someone who has intense discipline in his life.  I loved when I found this text he wrote about his own process of writing:

Jim Collins on the Writing Process 

Jim Collins

“When I first embarked on a career that required writing, I devoured dozens of books about the process of writing. I soon realized that each writer has weird tricks and idiosyncratic methods. Some wrote late at night, in the tranquil bubble of solitude created by a sleeping world, while others preferred first morning light. Some cranked out three pages a day, workmanlike, whereas others worked in extended bursts followed by catatonic exhaustion. Some preferred the monastic discipline of facing cinder-block walls, while others preferred soaring views.

I quickly learned that I had to discover my own methods. Most useful, I realized that I have different brains at different times of day. In the morning, I have a creative brain; in the evening, I have a critical brain. If I try to edit in the morning, I’m too creative, and if I try to create in the evening, I’m too critical. So, I go at writing like a two piston machine: create in the morning, edit in the evening, create in the morning, edit in the evening…

Yet all writers seem to agree on one point: writing well is desperately difficult, and it never gets easier. It’s like running: if you push your limits, you can become a faster runner, but you will always suffer. In nonfiction, writing is thinking; if I can’t make the words work, that means I don’t know yet what I think. Sometimes after toiling in a quagmire for dozens (or hundreds) of hours I throw the whole effort into the wastebasket and start with a blank page. When I sheepishly shared this wastebasket strategy with the great management writer Peter Drucker, he made me feel much better when he exclaimed, “Ah, that is immense progress!”

The final months of completing Great by Choice required seven days a week effort, with numerous all-nighters. I had naively hoped after writing Good to Great that perhaps I had learned enough about writing that this work might not require descending deep into the dark cave of despair. Alas, the cave of darkness is the only path to producing the best work; there is no easy path, no shorter path, no path of less suffering. Winston Churchill once said that writing a book goes through five phases. In phase one, it is a novelty or a toy; by phase five, it is a tyrant ruling your life, and just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public. And so, exiting the caving blinking in the sunlight, we’ve killed the monster and hereby fling. We love this book, and have great passion about sharing it with the world—making all the suffering worthwhile.”

My reflections

  • Writing is work.  You have to push through.  Every day.  It doesn’t get easier.
  • I am a different person at different times of the day.  I must use this better.  I start days slowly. I am inspired at midnight through to 3am.
  • Sometimes throwing everything out is progress.  It is not a step backwards.

What do you think?  Do you write?  What daily disciplines do you have?

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One thought on “Jim Collins on the Writing Process

  1. Connor,As a fledgling writer I have been inspired by Steven Pressfield's Do The Work and have adopted the approach of simply that; doing the work. As Mr. Collins suugests we all have to find our place where we are most creative and where we are most critical likely a unique as a fingerprint for any writer.I suppose that since I am new at this there are more ideas that time to write but as time passes developing these good routines will certainly be valuable when the ideas are tougher to develop.Thanks for this post. I have Mr. Collins book on the shelf waiting its turn. I may just move it up in the rotation.

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