Matt Damon and Ben Affleck wrote Good Will Hunting when they were in their twenties.
I remember watching the movie back in 2000 and thinking about how crazy it was that these two guys turned an idea into an Oscar-winning movie. How the hell did they do that?
Watching Good Will Hunting made me want to make things. I quickly realized, however, that making things is hard work.
We all get to enjoy the fruits of other people’s labor: the movies, music, gadgets, and books that define our culture and make us think and feel.
But we rarely get a behind-the-scenes look into how those things were created. And without that inside look into the process, many of us are left feeling that making things is either easy or insanely difficult.
The truth is that it’s both.
That’s why I loved a recent podcast with former Grantland guru Bill Simmons and writer/actor Aziz Ansari. They were talking about Aziz’s new Netflix showMaster of None, which I consider a masterclass in humor, drama, creativity, and social commentary.
The part of the interview that hit home for me was when Bill and Aziz talked about the writing process.
Aziz Ansari: “If I’m writing I have to leave my phone at home and go to a cafe where I don’t know the WiFi password. Because what happens when I’m writing is I’ll hit a point where I don’t know where to go. In those moments I’ll think, “Maybe I’ll check my email or check the New York Times real quick and then I’ll go back to [the writing].”
But when I don’t have my phone or the internet, I hit that moment and I’m forced to stay in it. And when you stay in it, you can come out. You’ll end up with an idea. But that idea is gone when you take a break to see what texts you’ve got.”
When I hear stuff like this, I’m reminded of what it takes to do good work. Sure, it requires at least a modicum of talent and skill. But those are table stakes. There are millions of people out there with talent and skill who’ll never finish creating the thing they started. (And many, many more who will never even start.)
To do good work—whether you’re writing code, editing a screenplay, running a gym, or managing a team—requires that you treat the work with respect. It requires that you sit your ass down, remove all distractions, dive in, and push through the moments where you feel stuck or hopeless.
It’s taken me over a decade to figure out that the work will never create itself. That in order for it to exist I must first breathe life into it.
It’s worth it.
PS – Thanks to my little brother Austin for recommending the Simmons/Ansari interview to me. Also, if you want to dive deeper into how I plan my schedule and eliminate distraction, check out these two articles: