In 2018, Corey McComb had a beautiful fiancé, a reputable job, and a semi-rockstar background as a guitar player. It looked like the American Dream but his dream was on the verge of turning into a nightmare.
Working as a full-time copywriter, hustling in his free time and trying to build an audience was becoming too much. But how could it be? Everywhere Corey looked, people were more successful, being more productive, making more money …
He felt like he was falling behind. Corey was on the hedonic treadmill and the speed was increasing day by day. He was close to falling off when he realised something.
“I’m competing with robots.”
Corey always wanted more and better. But he was losing sight of why.
Why did he always want to feel productive?
Why do we always want to feel productive?
For thousands of years, we’ve lived in tribes. Our survival depended on being important to the community. So it’s in us. But that doesn’t matter as much anymore now. So why are we still like this? Is it in our genes? Or are there other factors at play?
That’s what Corey explores in his book Productivity is for Robots in the hope to show you how to reconnect with yourself, recalibrate your creativity and find flow.
When writing is more important than anything else
On 1 January 2019, Corey started writing. He had been playing with the idea for his book for about six months, and it was consuming him — he thought about it day and night.
Despite his already busy schedule, he found time to work on his book in the early morning. He would rise at 5 am, brew a coffee (or two) and write for two to three hours.
It wasn’t so difficult to stick to it. His wife was always there to support him and “when you’re living with a book inside of you, the pain of not writing is bigger than the pain of writing.”
“Getting older is just you and your friends each saying how busy you are and promising to hang out when things slow down, over and over, until you die.”Corey McComb – Productivity is for Robots
About halfway through the book, Corey left his all-consuming job. More time to write now, you’d think. But Corey went travelling and got married! In between cocktails on a Bali beach, late nights in La La land and hiking in Canada, he wrote some more pages until he finally finished the first draft in June 2020.
This draft took as long as it did because of his busy days and his dedication to the content. He thought it wouldn’t make sense to write about productivity and creativity if he hadn’t practised and explored the ideas himself.
After the first draft, another six months went by before the book was published. See, Corey wasn’t entirely happy. The book was good but not great. And he needed it to be the best possible.
He sent it to editors and beta-readers before and after rewriting big chunks of the book. Productivity is for Robots needed to be ready to live a life of its own. Much like raising a child: if you do a good job raising them, you know they’ll be safe on their own later — you won’t need to look after them anymore.
“If it’s good enough, it’ll find its place in the world,” Corey thought. Besides, he didn’t feel like using this as a springboard for some kind of business, and he didn’t want to spend too much time selling it. He wanted to focus on writing more books. Maybe one per year.
Finding structure in the chaos
When Corey decided to write his book in January 2019, he told some friends about it. He showed them the outline and asked for feedback. Having made his intentions “semi-public”, there was no way back.
He started organising his book into three topics with ten chapters each. By means of Ryan Holiday’s notecard system, Corey linked research to stories, creating the backbone of his book.
Once in the writing phase, he wrote two to three hours per day. First, in the early morning and then mid-morning after quitting his job. Two to three hours per day is enough. Anywhere beyond that is seldom productive. And sometimes, he would take a day off because, you see, he’s not a robot.
Corey’s writing secrets
- He wrote most of the book to one Wes Montgomery album, but he edited in silence.
- Coffee helped him through more than a few writing sessions.
- He found courage by lying to himself about how long the writing process was going to take.
- More in his atomic essay at the bottom of this page.
- Don’t let the surroundings influence your writing mood. Learn to write anywhere, anytime.
- Have fun. Don’t be scared.
- Find the things only you can do — your “Wabi Sabi”.
- Trust the daily process. You’ll get there.
And finally, the biggest secret:
You can only produce good quality for two or three hours per day. Look at your activity as what it is: when you sit down at your computer, you’re typing.
Writing is something you do all day. When you walk, when you cook, when you just daydream. In those few hours with your computer, type. Transfer words from your mind to the screen; don’t waste time researching or editing.
A step closer to his mountain
Your mountain is your big goal. Don’t be afraid of the size, just keep moving. And whatever you do, just make sure your decisions get you closer to it.
After completing his first book, Corey didn’t sit still. He moved on to pastures new, located a bit closer to his mountain. His next project is a series of short stories. As Corey is the best at making words look more beautiful than they are, I’m looking forward to it. Here’s an example:
Like he did with Productivity is for Robots, Corey will test ideas and snippets via his newsletter and Medium. He wants to spend more time building an audience and writing in public. He wants you to be part of the process.
Moving on to this new challenge, he’s going to make changes that will save him time. He’ll do more research beforehand and he’ll send his draft to his editor as soon as possible to receive early feedback.
His goal is to publish before the end of the year. And his ultimate goal as a writer? Creating a style that is as recognisable as Hemingway or Russian fiction.
What do you think? Will he make it?