Inspiration Is Bunk

What does it take to do great work? Whether we’re talking about writing a novel or building a successful company, the answer is the same: Focus and persistence. Being in the right place at the right time (a.k.a., luck) helps, but inspiration has little to do with it. It’s mundane plodding that wins the day.

“I think inspiration is nonsense, actually,” famed author Salman Rushdie told interviewer Max Miller for

Writing, he says, requires deep attention – definitely not inspiration. Concentrate on your characters, he advises, live in their world and tell their story. Stick with it until you finish.

“Every so often, I mean like one day in 20 or something, you will have a day when the work seems to just flow out of you and you feel lucky,” Rushdie says. “I wish there were more of those days, but most of the time it’s a lot slower and more exploratory and it’s more a process of discovering what you have to do than just simply have it arrive like a flame over your head.”

You can develop skills of concentration, which is something that strengthens over time (unlike, say, energy level). That’s good news not just for artists, but for careerists and entrepreneurs.

Fail, fail, fail … until you succeed. That’s the story of art and technology, of social progress and individual success – in every walk of life. Keep your focus. Concentrate intensely. Be persistent and never give up

Simply keeping one foot in front of another is how many walked their way to fortune. “A surprisingly large number of people have made fortunes because … they just have unbelievable focus on accomplishing what they sent out to do,” says Peter Bernstein, co-editor of All the Money in the World (Knopf, 2007), a book about the richest people in America.

As you slowly propel yourself forward with your art, business, or life, what’s the most important thing to keep in mind? “No. 1: Don’t look back,” Harold Hamm, the 13th child of sharecroppers who made himself an oil billionaire, told Bloomberg Businessweek. “You can never get good direction from looking backwards. Just know that you’re going to make mistakes. Learn to survive those errors and hope they’re not so critical that you can’t survive them. Learn and go on.”

The key is to move forward, forward, forward. “Persistence is everything,” Hamm says. “Very few people have the persistence that they need to achieve the great things. I can’t say hardly enough about that. It’s so important to have persistence to see something through.”

Wouldn’t Mr. Rushdie agree?

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