There Is No That

There Is No That

Note from Chase: a friend sent me the article below. I didn’t even get all the way through reading it the first time before I reached out to the author to ask to republish it here on The Sparkline. Myke Cole is a writer; he knows what the work is… enjoy.

It’s 2013 on a Sat­urday night, and I’m alone in my apart­ment, in front of my laptop.

I can’t shake the feeling that there’s some amazing party, filled with fas­ci­nating people, some­where nearby. Artists and intel­lec­tuals and adven­turers, all mixing and charging the air with sto­ries. I wasn’t invited.

It’s a familiar feeling, one that took root in ado­les­cence and never left me. These are the wages of growing up a nerd. I fig­ured it out for the most part, but there’s always the lin­gering tracery of social anx­iety, echoes of years spent strug­gling to make friends, to date, to find a rhythm in a world that seemed built to embrace others.

Even now, I spend my life with one foot rooted in two very dif­ferent social cir­cles (the gen­er­ally con­ser­v­a­tive realm of military/law enforce­ment, and the relent­lessly mav­erick cul­ture of spec­u­la­tive fic­tion), and rarely feel fully at ease in either.

I think it’s that feeling that, at least in part, drove me to write. My sub­con­scious con­jured an image of a fab­u­lous party, filled with other writers and pub­lishing types. A place where I could walk in the door to a chorus of cheers, the “Norm” moment, where guard could be let down com­pletely, where there was only shared vocab­u­lary and a fluid ease that would make the jit­ters go away. There was a social circle that would be the payout for all the rejec­tion and worry and sweat equity I poured into my books. When I talked about it with my brother, I simply described it as “that.” I wanted to have “that.”

All I had to do was get a book deal. I would break out of the world I knew and set up in some secret corner of the social fabric, a back­stage pass to the world of writers that I just *knew* was out there, even though I had never seen it before.

Rereading this, it’s ridicu­lous, embar­rassing even. But it’s true. Some part of me believed it, and I’m grateful it did, because it was a pow­erful moti­vator to lock on and put down the blood needed to get where I wanted to go.

I have a friend, a former Navy SEAL who later par­layed his sin­gular fear­less­ness into a social life the likes of which would make Hugh Hefner blush. Once I became a pro writer and moved to New York City, he railed at me to join the party. He held up the fic­tional char­acter of Hank Moody as his vision of the writing life, was so dis­ap­pointed that wasn’t what I was doing.

But by then, I was already learning the truth.

There is no party. Not beyond the hour or two at a con or pub­lishing event where you get to show off for a shining moment, bask in the acco­lades for a few min­utes, fan boy gush face to face over someone whose work you admire but never hoped to meet.

And then it’s over, and you’re left with the work.

I met the other pro writers. I met the actors and pub­lishing pros and poets and painters and new media pio­neers. I got to see their secret faces, the ones I knew they didn’t show the audi­ences at panels and during inter­views. They looked pretty much the same. Pretty much like mine.

They were busy people, raising chil­dren and keeping their home fires burning. They were working and wor­rying and trying to build a career. The inter­na­tional book tours that looked so glam­orous were exhausting treks where they lived on unhealthy restau­rant food, got entirely too little sleep and missed their fam­i­lies like crazy.

And there was always the work, hov­ering over their head like the sword of Damo­cles. The relent­less feeling that no matter what it was you were doing, if it wasn’t writing, then it was slacking.

In the end, I was the same person. I had books to write, I had pro­mo­tion to do, but nothing else had really changed. I came to slowly realize that the reward for the work was the work itself, the knowl­edge that it’s a thing well done, a thing that is hard to do. A thing you wanted and strived for and made happen.

I wish someone had said that to the younger me, the aspiring pro, warned him that the mag­ical world of the artist that he’d been pic­turing wasn’t real. I wish someone had told me that it was the work, that the highs would be brief and bright and over, and then it was the grind.

I wish they had told me, because there will be times when the grind itself must be the thing that drives you. You have to love the effort divorced from the result. It’s a tough con­cept to wrap your head around, but you need to.

The magical world of the artist isn’t real… it’s just work. Make it Good.
  or copy + Facebook

I struggle to do it all the time, but when I manage it, it sees me through the inevitable stretches where inspi­ra­tion is faint and dis­tant, where there is nothing to be done but do your time at the key­board. I’ve often said that “I hate writing, I love having written,” but the truth is that I’m starting to move past it. Not always, but in fits and starts. There are moments when I’ll be head down in a story and come up for air only the realize that for once I wasn’t thinking about what other people would think of it, I was lost in trying to make it perfect.

And that’s sublime.

Because writing is your job, and this job has a night shift, and a weekend shift. It’s mer­ci­less, and your boss is a tyrant. Your cus­tomers are fickle, demanding. If you let them down, they will eat you alive.

I wish someone had told me, so now I’m telling you.

It’s the work. That’s all there is. There is no That. The party you imagine is hap­pening. It’s full of gor­geous and fas­ci­nating people.

But it’s not the artists. Not the ones who are changing the world with what they create. They’re busy. They’re tucking in their kids, they’re taking the clean dishes out of the washer and stacking them neatly in the cab­inet. They’re putting the mail on the counter with a sticky note reminding them to take it to the post office tomorrow.

And then they’re tip­toeing into their offices and firing up their lap­tops, or heading into their studio and con­fronting the canvas. It’s Sat­urday night and it’s late.

And they’re working.

The work

You have to learn to love the effort divorced from the result.
  or copy + Facebook

Myke Cole is a writer… he’s also worked in Coun­tert­er­rorism, Cyber War­fare and Fed­eral Law Enforce­ment, but let’s stick to the writing. His latest fiction series, Shadow Opps, is like “Black Hawk Down” meets the “X-Men.”

Photo credit: Lewis Hines
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  • FellowHQ

    I loved every word of this. Never read anything else you’ve written, or indeed heard of you, but this is just all so raw and true and honest. And right. Like they say, with this lifestyle comes freedom – the complete freedom to work whichever 18 hours of the day you wish.

  • Mohammad Khan

    What heresy!
    There are two beaches, one off the coast of Gibraltar and the other in Koh Phangan, where there are mansion — mansions I tell ya — only for artists – writers, painters, designers – everyone who creates stuff. I hear writers who have a book deal have a helipad for the quick getaway. Workshops are full. People swim to their massive conference halls to attend. Some drown, such is the mad rush. The painters paint, sign autographs and postulate on human thought itself…allll day. The writers write, sign autographs and drive yachts… aallll day.
    Don’t your dare take that way.
    Nonsense. Heresy. This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    • Christopher Knight

      That’s precisely because their work relies on that facade they put up. Without their precious connections, all-too-political alliances, and incessant smugness, they would be left with work that falls far below the standards of any true working artist/author. Those people exist for the same reason politicians exist: each of them is scratching each other’s backs.

      You probably meant this all to point out how bad those authors/writers are, not to actually criticize the author, but I felt it was important to put that out there.

  • writeahead

    Ah! I needed this today. Lately it’s felt like there has been a lot of grind with few results. But although we remain focused on the results we want to help our customers achieve, I can never forget the joy of the journey. Thanks for this.

  • AJ Juliani

    As a version of the “younger you” I thank you for writing this (and for the Fizzle guys for posting). More importantly though…I think what you’ve touched on is loving the grind.

    I’m a teacher, and what I’ve constantly tried to get across to my students is that success is more about enjoying what you do…even when the work is hard -then anything else.

    The past few years I’ve run a “20% Project (just like Google)” in my class where I give them 20% of class time to do work they love and make something they are proud of. What they’ve found (and I’ve witnessed) is how much harder this work is than our typical English class.

    I’ll share this article with them, if only to show them that the artists, writers, and innovators they look up to are still on the grind. Thank you.

  • Robert Stover

    This…”You have to learn to love the effort divorced from the result”

    Makes an interesting paradox for copywriters who live and die by the results they produce.

    Yes, they must enjoy the work, but their real work is producing results or they won’t be working long.

  • Kevin Bradberry

    Amen. The grind I’m searching for is the one that makes me lose track of time and come out of the stupor feeling fulfilled.

  • Roger Williams

    I love the grind! The problem is that the grind itself can hold you back, too. The Dip, by Seth Godin, didn’t really help me figure out how to know WHEN to persevere or when to move on. Myke Cole clearly succeeded. Will too, everyone else who grinds?

  • Brooke McAlary

    4:37am and I’m trying to convince myself that yes, it’s OK to doze off again, there’s nothing too important that needs doing this morning. Suddenly, PING, an email from Fizzle and here I am, at my desk with my cup of tea and a fire in my belly.

    Thanks so much for posting this and for continuing to encourage us to simply show up and do the damn work. It makes a difference.

    • Brooke McAlary

      Naturally, Murphy’s ridiculous f—–g Law means both of my kids wake up not 9 minutes later. So the work? It gets done amidst Peppa Pig and toast and morning hugs.

      • Rachel Speal

        Ha- that is SO typical. It’s almost as if kids can sense when you want to get work done…

  • Seth Overly

    Incredible, refreshing, and honest. Thank you for these words.

  • David Gregory

    You Guys have been on fire lately! Love this post. Especially the end….

    “It’s the work. That’s all there is. There is no That. The party you imagine is hap­pening. It’s full of gor­geous and fas­ci­nating people.

    But it’s not the artists. Not the ones who are changing the world with what they create. They’re busy. They’re tucking in their kids, they’re taking the clean dishes out of the washer and stacking them neatly in the cab­inet. They’re putting the mail on the counter with a sticky note reminding them to take it to the post office tomorrow.

    And then they’re tip­toeing into their offices and firing up their lap­tops, or heading into their studio and con­fronting the canvas. It’s Sat­urday night and it’s late.

    And they’re working.”

    Man, that’s beautiful!


  • kimanzi constable

    So true, very well written and exactly how a lot of us feel.

  • Carolyn Mycue

    “There is no That” Yes, Yes, and YES! The unmatched bliss of unquestioning surrender in service to the apathetic word.

  • Richard

    This should be a standard course for anyone wanting to “go-pro” with any skill and moving beyond a hobby. No one tells you that when starting a business you will actually have to run a business and potentially spend less time doing the thing you started you business for – your craft.
    The simplicity of getting the job done is a great reward.

  • Chere Harbridge

    I love this! So timely, too, because the one phrase that keeps coming to me as I try to figure this all out is…..’let go of the outcome’……not that easy! So good to have read this right now, thanks so much!

  • Miisa Mink

    I call this: pick a hill you like climbing. Thank you for sharing.

  • Terr of twotravelingtwits

    Absolutely loved it. What an amazing voice. It is the kind of voice that takes me right out of my own head and into the story. I will be searching for Myke’s books. I would also like to thank him for his service to his country. I am a proud brat and family member to those past and current giving of themselves to keep us safe. It is just when I begin to give up on my writing that something swings me back around. Thank you.

  • John Krygiel

    Awesome reminder Myke! As humans, we have a tendency to always want/strive for “just a little more” or “when I get to this level, XYZ will be different and glamorous.” But as you said, the greatest reward lies in doing your best on your work and knowing that you accomplished something. Cheers!

  • Mike McGinty

    Thanks for articulating thoughts that have been swimming in my head for a long time. As an advertising/marketing copywriter for the past 20 years, I can verify that there is no That. When I started writing “for myself” rather than for clients, I took lots of classes and joined some writing groups. What I heard, overwhelmingly, is that there is only one true, sustainable, pure source of motivation for writing: the writing itself. Money, fame, recognition…if these are the things you’re reaching for by putting words to paper, you’re in for a rude awakening. It works in the jaded world of advertising too: You have to love the process and do it for the doing, or you’ll be weeded out of the game either by others or by your own exhausted and demoralized self. Thanks again!

  • Bree Brouwer


  • David Brogan

    Re: There Is No That

    This is It
    and I am It
    and You are It
    and so is That
    and He is It
    and She is It
    and It is It
    and That is That
    – James Broughton

    Great article. Thanks!

  • Miabella

    Very inspiring on a Monday morning. Thank you. :-)

  • Sarah Mae

    One of the best I’ve read. Thank you.

  • Kris Camealy

    Best article ever. Wow. Thank you for this!!

  • mojobone


  • Practicality

    I was linked here from Brent Ozar (definitely from the engineering side of the world) as a example of how much writing is exactly the same as what we do. I thought you might enjoy hearing that the rest of the world feels the same way about their line of work. We all have to reach the point where we realize that it’s about enjoying the process.

  • Paul Doran

    We have control over our efforts alone, and never the fruits of our labour. The work is the prayer.

  • Njama Braasch

    “You have to love the effort divorced from the result.”
    Amen to that. I would say this is the secret to everlasting happiness.

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Stagnation Stages (FS072)

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