Derek Sivers

Programmer, writer, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.

Saying no to everything else

Steven Pressfield had called himself an author for years, but he’d never actually finished a book. He just went through life feeling smug, feeling better than those regular schmucks, because he thought of himself as an author.

But the psychological pain of not producing kept building until he couldn’t stand it anymore. He decided to finally beat that devil he calls “The Resistance”.

He created a situation with no escape. Rented a cabin with only a typewriter, and shut off all other options.

“I had a book in mind and I had decided I would finish it or kill myself. I could not run away again, or let people down again, or let myself down again. This was it, do or die.”

“I didn’t talk to anybody during [that year]. I didn’t hang out. I had no TV, no radio, no music. No sex, no sports. I didn’t read the newspaper. I just worked.”

After an incredibly difficult year of wrestling with those inner demons and avoiding all temptations, he did it. He finished his first book. It wasn’t a success, but it didn’t matter. He had finally beat The Resistance. He went on to write many successful novels.

He told this story in the great book “Turning Pro”, the third in his series of little books about the creative struggle, including “The War of Art” and “Do the Work”. Read all three.

When I read it in 2012, my own psychological pain of not producing had built up to an unbearable level. I had loudly announced Muckwork, my brilliant new business idea, in 2008, but never finished making it. I had loudly announced Songtest, a free open song contest idea, in 2009, but never finished making it.

I started many times, but each time decided to chase some other distraction that didn’t put my ass on the line, instead. There are always more emails to answer, always more things to learn, and always more people with enticing requests for me to help them achieve their dreams. (Each one swearing it’ll be just an hour of my time, tops.)

To make it worse, I was living in distracting Singapore, surrounded by so many interesting people. And with a short flight I could be in 16 countries for under $200.

So I decided to do my version of the Steven Pressfield cabin. I moved to New Zealand. I shut off all other options. Time to finish what I started.

Except for better or for worse, I still answer my email. I still get a hundred requests a week, but now it’s easier to say no to all of them, since I’m not local.

It’s not the nicest mantra, saying “no”, “no”, “no” all day, but it is a reminder of why I’m here.

I’m posting this now because a few people have asked why I say no to all requests, so I hope this helps explain.

But also this makes it a follow-up to my popular “Hell Yeah or No” post. There’s another level beyond that. It’s saying yes to one thing, and no to absolutely everything else.