Seth Godin
The Practice

The Practice

Shipping Creative Work

by Seth Godin, 272 pages

Finished on 18th of February
🛒 Buy here
🎧 Listen to the podcast

A hugely successful and prolific creative writes his twentieth bestseller book, this time about how to overcome feeling stuck in a project. Beautiful sentences in short chapters, but is there enough substance to the simple advice to just get going?

🚀 The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. Creative work will be successful if you do keep showing up and don’t quit, because there’s no such thing as Writer’s Block.
  2. It is about offering your ideas to the public in a generous way, improving on known ideas while staying within accepted genres.
  3. We cannot control the outcome, we can only control the process and the practice – and we don’t need to hope for great outcomes, we just need to trust ourselves that we have a shot at it.

🎨 Impressions

Seth Godin has written twenty books, and as far as I know, most of them have become New York Times bestsellers. He is a frequent podcast guest, because he certainly is an interesting person. I have come across him many times, but never read a full book of his. Here and there, one of his daily blog posts, which were often quite insightful.

The bit which drove me to choose this specific book of his vast catalog, was his take on the skill of juggling, as simple as it sounds. He made a point that juggling with balls is a metaphor for life, and this resonated with me. This sounds a bit off, but I think the timing was just right.

The Practice is a short book with just around 250 pages, but it feel like it’s twice as long, and that’s not necessarily meant as a compliment. To be honest, I think it’s quite inflated while paradoxically feeling fairly dense. There are just a handful of good takeaways in this book, but these are explained in a rather odd way, using admittedly beautifully crafted sentences which feel great to read but contain so little substance, you could have done without them. Each sentence is really very pretty – you couldn’t just take any filler words out, they are perfect. The paragraphs though, and the chapters, often bring a shallow feeling with them.

I was oftentimes wondering why these books are apparently so popular. The Practice has just become a NYT bestseller, too. But why? I’d love someone to make the case for its excellence to me. Maybe it’s just going over my head, that’s a likely possibility.

The one big central point he’s making is that for a creative person, and he defines that area quite broadly, there’s no other way than to just get going and keep doing what you’re doing. It’s not in the thinking about the doing, in the planning, or in the talking about it, it’s the actual process. This is a good message, and it’s also great that he actively lives what he preaches. Blogging every single day for decades and having published twenty books. This is a good approach and it hit me at the right time as well. Just get going, don’t worry about imposter syndrome, don’t worry about what others will think, don’t worry about the resulting quality or lack of perfection in the end, just do your work and ship it.

On the other hand, this is far from a revelation. It’s so obvious, does this really require 250 pages? Coming from Seth Godin, who has this guru-type aura emanating from his calm personality, I feel like he’s trying to trick us into believing this to be some larger-than-life truth as opposed to just that simple piece of advice it actually is.

So, what else is there? At times it’s a good little pep talk. Trust yourself, trust in your abilities, trust yourself to create. What stood out for me was the chapter on Writer’s Block. Seth denies its existence, and that’s as hilarious as it is a breath-taking insight. What if it’s true? Maybe it actually is just an excuse or a self-confidence issue which can be resolved by continuing the practice and putting in the work despite it all until something useful comes out of it. Finding Flow or getting kissed by a Muse isn’t something magical, it happens if we continue to do the work. I like that, it’s helpful. It did feel like I’ve heard this before somewhere, though.

I also love how he starts a bunch of chapters with a deep-sounding quote of someone else which always seems a bit off, making you think about it. He then continues and says something like: “This is wrong, and here’s the reason why it’s wrong.” – similarly hilarious! It’s also bold and a bit arrogant at the same time, but I’ll give it to him.

At times he seems to be a bit full of himself. Comes across as if he thinks he’s found the solution to everything, when in fact he just had a bunch of basic insights. It’s my main criticism of the book: It’s just a bunch of short blog posts, some with a smart new way of thinking, most not, but all of them seem like they are smart even when there’s not too much to them. A careful choice of words and well crafted sentences disguise a lack of substance.

Could be that you can better take away a well rounded feeling from the book which might not have been possible without the weak chapters. The few key points are driven home more effectively, maybe. I’m not so sure though.

Another example is the chapter on constraints. Yes, it’s a good observation that a lot of great art was made under constraints. But is that really true that it became great just because of that? What are we supposed to learn here, to apply artificial constraints to everything? Maybe the lesson is that even if there are constraints, just start and keep going. But as you can see, I’ve just put this into one paragraph while the same thing takes twenty pages in his book.

I don’t regret reading it but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone except someone currently stuck in what we call Writer’s Block. It’s a three out of five stars book for me.

🍀 How the Book Changed Me

  • “Do what you love” is weak, “Love what you do” is the new mantra. We don’t always have control over what we need to do, but we can control how we feel about that.
  • Approaching relationships in a generous way by realizing the paradox that nobody owes us anything but we owe others, e.g. those who fed us, taught us, connected us, believed in us, is a recipe for happiness.
  • Talent is a lot less important than skill, because skill is earned and intentional. Working on our skills is possible, on our talents is not.

📔 Highlights

Trust Your Self

[..] the proven truth about creativity: it’s the result of desire—the desire to find a new truth, solve an old problem, or serve someone else.

When you choose to produce creative work, you’re solving a problem. Not just for you, but for those who will encounter what you’ve made.

[Talking about juggling] Practicing how to throw. Getting good at throwing. If you get good enough at throwing, the catching takes care of itself.

Being creative is a choice and creativity is contagious.

Your work is too important to be left to how you feel today. On the other hand, committing to an action can change how we feel. If we act as though we trust the process and do the work, then the feelings will follow. Waiting for a feeling is a luxury we don’t have time for.

If you want to change your story, change your actions first. When we choose to act a certain way, our mind can’t help but rework our narrative to make those actions become coherent. We become what we do.

We do the work, whether we feel like it or not, and then, without warning, flow can arise. Flow is a symptom of the work we’re doing, not the cause of it.

Our passion is simply the work we’ve trusted ourselves to do.

The trap is this: only after we do the difficult work does it become our calling. Only after we trust the process does it become our passion. “Do what you love” is for amateurs. “Love what you do” is the mantra for professionals.

Our commitment to the process is the only alternative to the lottery-mindset of hoping for the good luck of getting picked by the universe.

Decisions are good even if the outcomes aren’t. The same is true for the process of generous creativity. The process is a smart one even if the particular work doesn’t resonate, even if the art doesn’t sell, even if you aren’t happy with the reaction from the critics.

Worse, if you need a guarantee you’re going to win before you begin, you’ll never start. The alternative is to trust the process, to do our work with generosity and intent, and to accept every outcome, the good ones as well as the bad.

Writers write. Runners run. Establish your identity by doing your work.


A scarcity mindset simply creates more scarcity, because you’re isolating yourself from the circle of people who can cheer you on and challenge you to produce more. Instead, we can adopt a mindset of abundance. We can choose to realize that creativity is contagious—if you and I are exchanging our best work, our best work gets better.

Ideas shared are ideas that spread, and ideas that spread change the world.

True learning (as opposed to education) is a voluntary experience that requires tension and discomfort (the persistent feeling of incompetence as we get better at a skill).

Discomfort engages people, keeps them on their toes, makes them curious. Discomfort is the feeling we all get just before change happens.

It’s easy for a self-focus to turn selfish. Saying no too often is a recipe for solipsism, a form of egomania that is just as selfish as the one we were trying to walk away from. Out of balance, a self-trusting no at all costs becomes yet another way to hide.

Hope is not the same as reassurance. Hope is trusting yourself to have a shot to make things better. But we can hope without reassurance. We can hope at the same time that we accept that what we’re working on right now might not work.

Our work exists to change the recipient for the better. That’s at the core of the practice.

The practice is agnostic about the outcome. The practice remains, regardless of the outcome.

Positive people are more likely to enjoy the practice. They’re not wasting any time experiencing failure in advance. Negative artists engage in the practice as well, but they suffer more.

Pessimists might try to insulate themselves from disappointment, but they’re probably preventing themselves from shipping important work instead. If generosity is at the heart of our practice, how does cynicism help us become more generous?

It’s culturally impossible to do important work that will be loved by everyone.

Choose to make work that matters a great deal to someone. Develop an understanding of genre, work to see your audience’s dreams and hopes, and go as far out on the edge as they’re willing to follow. Choose to be peculiar.

That’s part of the practice. To embrace the fact that the audience isn’t wrong, you’re just not right (yet).

Being accepted and admired by your specific audience is another sort of good—and for most of us, this is actually enough. I believe this is the goal of a working creative.

We owe the people who fed us, taught us, connected us, believed in us. We owe the people who expect something from us. But that obligation doesn’t come with a reflexive matching obligation on their part. No one owes us anything.

Gratitude isn’t a problem. But believing we’re owed gratitude is a trap. The feeling of being owed (whether it’s true or not) is toxic.

The Professional

If the problem can be solved, why worry? And if the problem can’t be solved, then worrying will do you no good.

Skill is rarer than talent. Skill is earned. Skill is available to anyone who cares enough.

If you want to get in shape, it’s not difficult. Spend an hour a day running or at the gym. Do that for six months or a year. Done.

When we decide that the change we seek to make is dependent on mass popularity, when we chase a hit, we end up sacrificing our point of view.


Totie Fields wanted every single person in the room to feel what she wanted us to feel. That’s a mistake, of course: you can’t command people to feel what you want them to feel. All we can do is choose the right people, bring them the right work in the right way with the right intent, and then leave it to them to shift their emotional states.

If you’re using any sort of self-control (there’s that “self” word again), then you’re not being authentic. Only a tantrum is authentic. Everything else we do with intention.

No Such Thing As Writer’s Block

This desire for external approval and authority directly undermines your ability to trust yourself, because you’ve handed this trust over to an institution instead.

But writer’s block is invented. So is a fear of spiders, a belief in astrology, or the confidence we feel before giving a speech. We know this because it changes. It changes from person to person and from day to day. It’s a story.

Two questions about your narrative: 1. Is it closely aligned to what’s actually happening in the world? If, for example, you’re constantly worried about something happening, but it never does, it’s probably a miscalculation on your part.

Here’s a simple test. Ask: Do other successful people have this narrative?

Is it working? Is the narrative you use helping you achieve your goals? Because that’s what it’s for.

It’s hard to get blocked when you’re moving. Even if you’re not moving in the direction that you had in mind that morning.

The marathon we see is largely about cooperation, not direct competition. No one is elbowing anyone or sabotaging their efforts. Because the real competition is with your own potential, not with the other runners.

The only difference between the tens of thousands of people who finish the marathon and those that don’t is that the finishers figured out where to put their tired.

Saturday Night Live doesn’t go on at 11:30 p.m. because it’s ready. It goes on because it’s 11:30. We don’t ship because we’re creative. We’re creative because we ship. Take what you get and commit to a process to make it better.

If the practice you’ve developed isn’t getting you what you are after, you can politely walk away from it. If the audience you’ve worked so hard to build trust with is making it clear that your vision doesn’t match theirs, you can move on.

You are not your work. Your work is a series of choices made with generous intent to cause something to happen.

In fact, determination is precisely what’s needed to write poetry or create art. Determination of the will opens the door for us to trust ourselves enough to actually find the words.

This simple Zen instruction helps us understand our work as creatives. To eliminate the externals, to dial down the drama, and to avoid special situations. This is the practice. Simply to chop the wood and carry the water.

Flow is the result of effort. The muse shows up when we do the work. Not the other way around. Set up your tools, turn off the internet, and go back to work.

Genre is a box, a set of boundaries, something the creative person can leverage against. The limits of the genre are the place where you can do your idiosyncratic work.

Begin with genre. Understand it. Master it. Then change it.

There’s plenty of time to make it better later. Right now, your job is to make it.

Build streaks. Do the work every single day. Blog daily. Write daily. Ship daily. Show up daily. Find your streak and maintain it.

Earn Your Skills

It turns out that it’s not training hours or DNA that changes outcomes. It’s our belief in possibility and the support of the culture around us.

The line between an amateur and professional keeps blurring, but for me, the posture of understanding both the pioneers and the state of the art is essential. Skill is earned.

The point is not to copy, but in fact to avoid copying. Our best commercial work reminds people of what they’ve seen before. Creativity doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.

Seek Out Constraints

He didn’t do it to become famous (in fact, he didn’t become famous). And he didn’t do it to change everything. Instead, he did it because this little corner of this little industry was the place he chose to make a difference.

When we begin to distrust our own commitment to the practice, we’re left with nothing but fear.

You are in charge of how you spend your time. In charge of the questions you ask. In charge of the insight that you produce.

As the artist George Ferrandi said, “If you have to ask ‘should I keep going?’ the answer is ‘yes.’”

Where Do Ideas Come From?

Ideas often come while reading a book. Good ideas come from bad ideas, but only if there are enough of them.

Ideas come from nature. Sometimes ideas come from fear but often they come from confidence.


Where is the fuel to keep us going? Anger gets you only so far, and then it destroys you. Jealousy might get you started, but it will fade. Greed seems like a good idea until you discover that it eliminates all of your joy.

The path forward is about curiosity, generosity, and connection. These are the three foundations of art.

Human connection is exponential: it scales as we create it, weaving together culture and possibility where none used to exist. You have everything you need to make magic. You always have.


The magic is that there is no magic. Start where you are. Don’t stop.

How do you feel after reading this?

This helps me assess the quality of my writing and improve it.

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