Pop quiz: what do Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Arnold Schwarzenegger have in common? If you said ‘being Austrian,’ you only get half a mark, smartarse.
There’s a famous quote from Mozart about his method of composing that goes:
‘Provided I am not disturbed, my subject enlarges itself, becomes methodized and defined, and the whole, though it be long, stands almost finished and complete in my mind, so that I can survey it, like a fine picture or a beautiful statue, at a glance.’
Intuitively it might make sense that a man who started intensively studying music – under his famously dictatorial music-teacher father – at the age of three might actually be able to sit down and think out something like Symphony No. 41 without even needing a quill. But here’s the thing: it isn’t true. That quote comes from a letter that was supposedly written by Mozart but was actually a forgery. Mozart rewrote his music just as much as anyone else does, with the possible exception of T-Pain. What I’m saying is, you might be able to write Take Your Shirt Off in one sitting, but putting together a genuine work of genius is another thing entirely.
Consider also: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s early training. He didn’t walk into a gym and start doing the ridiculous multi-set arms/chest/back split that everyone associates with him and wants to try. According to his book, The Education Of A Bodybuilder, he started out by training in the woods:
‘We did chin-ups on the branches of trees. We held each other’s legs and did handstand push-ups. Leg raises, sit-ups, twists, and squats were all included in a simple routine to get our bodies tuned and ready for the gym.’
Afterwards, he got stuck in the army, and so he’d get up at 5am and work out next to his tank, hammering his muscles with as many different exercises as he could. Was he doing everything exactly right, or following the advice you’d get from most personal trainers today? Probably not, but it started him along the path that would eventually lead to him successfully air-arm-wrestling Carl Weathers. If he’d sat around debating time under tension and forced reps before he did any press-ups, he’d never have done any press-ups.
Here’s the point: nothing you do is going to be perfect the first time. If you’re waiting for the perfect lightning bolt of inspiration to strike, it isn’t going to happen. If you’re hoping that someone will eventually create a workout perfectly tailored to your body type, stop hoping. If you’re expecting science to one day agree on the single diet that’s more effective than anything else ever devised in the history of the planet, you probably don’t understand how science works.
Depressing? No. Because here’s the good news: you can start anything you want to, right now, with the tools you have available. You might not know all the characters’ motivations for your novel, but once you start writing the plot outline you’ll see where things need tightening up. You might not know the perfect set/rep scheme for your fitness ambitions, but doing 20 pressups is better than doing no pressups, and will give you a better base for whatever else you start doing further down the line. You might not know the perfect macronutrient ratios for your body type and activity level, but you know that crisps are bad. You can experiment with the other things afterwards – once you’ve started your book, workout regime, diet, or other masterpiece, you’ll start to see what’s wrong, what works, what needs to be tweaked. Whatever you want to do, you know how to start: everything else is just details.
Do what Arnold and Amadeus did. Start now: fix it later.
HOMEWORK: Pick a project you’ve been avoiding, and pick the simplest possible step you can do today that starts it. Throw out your fizzy drinks, do some squats in the living room, start typing the book. Don’t join a gym; don’t order another book about plot structure. Do something that starts right now. Otherwise, you won’t be able to fix it later – there’ll be nothing there to fix.