The artist’s perspective on money
I spent the morning of New Years Day with two artists talking about money. They asked questions about the meaning of money, and I tried to supply the answers as best I could.
I waxed poetic about the importance of accumulating a small surplus every month, however tiny, which could add up, over time, to something significant.
They declared themselves indifferent to money, and I believe them.
One of their questions stunned me:
“What’s the point of even trying to save small amounts of money monthly if you don’t have something big, like a million dollars, to invest?” they asked. “Isn’t it just a waste of effort?”
Since they’d never had extra money – and they felt that if they tried to save now it wouldn’t add up to much at all – they figured it wasn’t worth even trying to generate a surplus on a monthly basis.
After I lifted my jaw off the floor I tried to persuade them that small sums today add up to big sums in the future through the magic of compound interest. I spluttered something inarticulate about “money generates money,” and probably failed to make any headway at all in trying to make them see my point.
In my own way in the last year I’ve been making the same mistake they make, I just didn’t realize it.
Bird by Bird
One of the best books I read last year was Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott.
Lamott’s advice to prospective writers is to focus, every single day, on producing some kind of written work.
Many days, perhaps most days she argues, every writer (even the greats!) feel inadequate to the task of producing anything remotely worth reading. Writers as a rule are distracted people, full of self-loathing, or conversely, wracked by narcissism, all of which gets in the way of producing decent written material.
Lamott’s refrain is to force yourself, through habit, to produce something every day, however paltry it seems. “Just 300 words a day,” she urges, if that’s all you can manage. “Write a shitty first draft,” she pushes, it hardly matters what it’s about. Just start. And then keep going.
Lamott tells the story of her 10 year-old brother who procrastinated for three months on a major grade-school ornithology project. Dejected and daunted by the looming deadline, he froze in panic the night before it was due. Lamott describes how her father put his arm around his brother and gave him the key piece of advice on writing, and life -“Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
What does this have to do with my conversation with the artists?
Lamott says writers have to produce a written surplus, however tiny, every day. But I’ve been frozen by the enormity of my project.
The money guy’s perspective on art
My New Years Resolution is to finally write the book(s) that has been dancing around in my head for the past few years.
I realize that the problem with writing my book, however, is the same one my artist friends have. If I can’t be sure the whole finished product will be awesome and successful and read by tons of people – the literary-publishing equivalent of a million dollars invested – then what’s the point of even trying to write it?
I mean, why even start?
So, uh, naturally, I didn’t write it in 2013.
I’m a finance guy, so I guess I needed to see the absurdity of my non-starter attitude put into money terms by these artists.
Maybe Anne Lamott’s analogy can help you too.
So whether your New Year’s resolution is to save more money, or lose some weight, or build that life-size replica of the Pyramid of Giza you’ve always wanted in your backyard, I invite you to join me.
I’m going to do my best to produce a small surplus on the book every day, and not get daunted by the enormity of the whole task.
“Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
 They may make a short video of my answers. We shall see.
 I haven’t reviewed the book on this site because the topic is – as the title implies – writing, which doesn’t fit my finance theme. But if you want to read about the process of writing – then wow this is a good one.
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