I have this friend—and I hope he’s reading this, so he can know I make fun of him on the internet—who has spent the last eight years thinking of, reading and talking about building an online presence. When we get to talking, I feel like I’m being examined on my efficiency in platform-building. He asks me about my KPIs, conversion rates, SEO, and many other things too.

I tell him that my goal is to create something that people care about first and worry about all those other things later down the road. And then we argue, usually for about an hour because a) I’m doing it wrong, and b) he has no platform to speak of.

I don’t mind. Our friendship evolved through means of an unending argument. Besides, things we agree on make poor conversation.

J, this one is for you.

J’s problem, when it comes to online platform building, is the assumption that knowing how to do things well, will make them any easier. I sympathize because, for the longest time, I suffered from the same thing when it came to writing. I’ve read too many books about what makes a good book. And I’ve workshopped, beta-read, and critiqued so many manuscripts that I became a better editor than I was a writer. 

Nowadays, every few sentences I write, an inner voice goes Oh, no, no, this won’t do. You need to do better than that.

Anyway, the thing both me and J fell for is known as the GI Joe fallacy. I assume you know GI Joe. He also had this famous epithet, “Now you know. And knowing is half the battle.”

On the surface, it’s hard to disagree. We thrive on information. More is better.

Unfortunately, in practice, knowing is not even one-tenth of the battle. Knowing about football hardly makes you a good player. You need to put the hours of practice in. 

Knowing doesn’t make you happier or more capable, either. It only makes you realize how far you still have to go. For some people—the bloodyminded sort—that’s good motivation. For others, it discourages practice. And so they learn more just to wise-ass around, like I do when editing people’s stories.

The effort necessary to become good at something is brutal and unforgiving, and no amount of reading, watching YouTube videos, or having conversations with other armchair experts, will ever make up for the lack of practice.

There’s nothing glorious or impressive about being good—just hard work.

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