Nov 112015
Let's see ... working at the computer. While on the phone. While listening to something. Good luck with that.

Let’s see … working at the computer. While on the phone. While listening to something. Good luck with that.

I think it was in the 1980s or 90s when McDonalds tried to expand its dinner menu. With pizza.

Many fast food aficionados were waiting in line for that first slice. Myself? Not so much, but that’s only because I’m something of a downer.

“Well,” I remember saying, “That’ll be two things it can’t do.”

When people talk of multitasking these days, I still think about McDonalds pizza. (If all this is making you hungry, you can still get McDonalds pizza in West Virginia and in Ohio.)

When people mention multitasking, I flash back to Mickey D’s pizza abortion. Trying to do too many things usually means nothing gets done. At least not well.

Is this what your brain becomes after multitasking enough?

Is this what your brain becomes after multitasking enough?

But in the day-job world, they like multitaskers. If you can do many things at once, so much the better. With today’s uncertain economy, employers want the workers to take on more tasks to offset labor costs and replace a few people. Without the bump in pay, of course.

If you’re the creative/artistic type, multitasking is also a big deal. So many irons in the fire, and we may be more prone to squirrel-chasing than the average person.

Here’s the deal. You’re really not multitasking. You’re switching back and forth from one task to another. You’re switching from email to writing, from Facebook to playing music, from taking that robo-call to getting back to work.

Okay. So what? Maybe this article from Fast Company gives you a clue:

“We found about 82 percent of all interrupted work is resumed on the same day. But here’s the bad news — it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.”

Wow. That’s almost a half hour. Per switch. Considering the number of switches you’re asked to do in a day, how does anything get done?

It’s official. You interrupt me, I charge you for a half hour at my going rate. Time and a half for ticking me off.

Think a 9-to-5 boss will go for that?

How about that robo-caller?

Applications …

So how do I cope with those interruptions? I share my favorite method in my email newsletter, plus I have a whole bunch of linkage and further reading.

View the latest issue here. If you like what you see, subscribe there.


Jul 312015

I’m here. Now what?

It’s really weird how it happens. I’m on top of the mountain and things never look the same/

It’s always fun nailing a big goal or finishing that huge project, but then I have no idea what I’m supposed to do next.

My own career track — and later my frelance pattern — runs something like this:

1) Work like a deranged beaver toward some goal.

2) Achieve said goal.

3) Decompress.

4) Holy crap, this job suddenly got difficult and I can’t stay interested.

5) Not giving a rip.

6) Career change just to keep me interested in something.

Maybe I’m not the most stable person around, but a Harvard Business Review piece suggests it’s not just me:

“High-stress situations and the adrenaline rush they produce can be addictive. When the constant sense of urgency we’ve adapted to comes to an abrupt halt, we experience withdrawal.”

Okay, so I’m an adrenaline junkie. Tell me something new.

But again, I’m not the only crazy fool around here. A 30-year-old Michael Jordan did this in ’93 when he abruptly retired from basketball. He wanted to try his hand at baseball (and the tabloids suggested he had other reasons for quitting) but he’d already established himself as the best baller known to man. So what’s a guy like that do next?

HBR suggests things like gearing down a little to restock the pond, finding a fresh new project or being a mentor.

I don’t have a real answer here. Best thing I can think of is to do it again. While I was doing final draft on my most recent fiction work I was already scribbling out scenarios for the next one. Fifteen days after hitting Publish I was pounding on the typewriter for yet another first draft. So I had 15 days to decompress, semi-sorta outline, prewrite some scenes and maybe take a day or two off. Oh yes, and do a little something to celebrate and mark the occasion. Can’t forget that. But get ready to hit that next project.

How about you? Any suggestions or ideas? Please share.

Jun 202015

You might have noticed some changes with this site. Like maybe it took you a while to find it.

Then, the name change. And if you care about such things, the Web addy is also different.

Let’s attack these in order. I am getting rid of the domain name because it’s really kind of redundant. Why not just put the blog under my main website and let the subdomains fall where they may?

Then there’s the whole name change. As soon as I got the domain I regretted it. I mean it rolls off the tongue like ground glass. The Creativity Wars sounds much better and it’s a lot more descriptive.

Because it’s really a war out there.

You vs. Resistance.

You vs. you.

But we’ll discuss that more.

Jun 192015

Nut graf: Ornette Coleman faced a lot of obstacles on the way to becoming a jazz giant.

"Ornette Coleman" by Geert Vandepoele - Ornette Coleman. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -"Ornette Coleman" by Geert Vandepoele - Ornette Coleman. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Ornette Coleman (photo by Geert Vandepoele. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

The first time I heard the late Ornette Coleman play, I knew it was the drugs. His, not mine.

I mean, just what is this guy thinking of?

In truth, the album I listened to was fairly tame by Coleman’s standards. These were some early recordings on a barely-legit reissue, and he had Don Cherry on trumpet and different folks on bass and drums. But this stuff was still a lot crazier than I was used to.

My interest piqued, I got his groundbreaking album Free Jazz and put it on. Might as well go in all the way, right?

My first listening to Free Jazz, it sounded like a completely disconnected skronkfest. Coleman on alto, Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet, Don Cherry and Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Charlie Haden and Scott LeFaro on bass, Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins on drums. All playing together, more or less. The whole thing sounded like a coal truck slamming into a circus train.

Facing opposition

But that was Coleman’s early career track. In the late 50s he was making a name for himself, but I will not relate some of these names in a family venue such as this. Word was that he couldn’t play. At the time Miles Davis said that “psychologically, the man is all screwed up inside,” Many other jazz players gave him similarly glowing reviews, but composer Leonard Bernstein really liked what he was doing.

He’d always run into resistance. The Associated Press related this story after Coleman’s recent death:

One incident remained deeply ingrained in his memory: The night circa 1950 when the saxophonist was playing with an R&B band at a Louisiana road house and his solo stopped the dancers in their tracks. Coleman was dragged outside the club, roughed up and his horn was thrown over a cliff.

“One guy kicked me in my stomach … and said, ‘You can’t play like that!’ He didn’t even know what I was doing. I decided to take my beatings until I can establish where people can say, ‘Oh don’t beat him, listen.'”

Just listen. Pay attention. Real art looks and sounds totally out there at first, but it might develop some clarity after a second or third viewing/listening.

Coleman saw the connection betwen Free Jazz and a Jackson Pollock painting.

Coleman saw the connection between Free Jazz and a Jackson Pollock painting.

So that’s what I did with Free Jazz. I put it on again, this time with headphones. Coleman, Cherry, LeFaro and Higgins were on one stereo channel while Dolphy, Hubbard, Haden and Blackwell were on the other. With the stereo effect I started to get the idea. Not just two musicians crossing swords or playing off one another, but two full bands. Yet aided by the stereo separation I noticed they were indeed playing together.

Influences and developing voice

When Coleman was first coming up he developed an ear for bebop.  “Charlie Parker was the main man,” he said in an interview, ‘Oh man, what kind of music is that?’ And I thought I’m going to play that.”

But when he got to where he could play Parker’s stuff backward and forward, it was time to move on. To develop his own voice. I’ll bet all creatives go through that phase. I know I did.

But even with our own voices we still have our influences. When I meet a new musician or writer my first question usually is “who do you love?” That’s Eric-ese for “what are your influences?”

As out there as Coleman got, you could still hear his early influences: Texas blues. But he didn’t stop there, and he didn’t stop after he found real success. He kept growing. Experimenting with new song forms. Trying different lineups (the London Symphony Orchestra for Skies Of America), even learning new instruments.

Coleman will be missed. He didn’t just leave a legacy of revolutionary music, but by example he left some real actionable truths of the creative process.


May 222015

Nut graf: I already know I’m not as good as the masters, but does it really matter?

I can't compare myself with somebody else until I've been through his trash.

I can’t compare myself with somebody else until I’ve been through his trash.

Of course I fall into the trap of comparing myself to others. It’s an occupational disease that any creator in good standing can tell you about.

There’s always going to be someone who can kick my tail. I get that. I’ll never be as good as John Steinbeck or Miles Davis. It’s just not in the cards even with those extra aces I keep in my shirt pocket.

But someone called this to my attention. Self-comparison isn’t a fair fight anyway. I can compare myself to the other writer or musician across town, but I haven’t surfed his dumpster lately.

Any creator who enjoys even a bit of success is going to generate a lot of hot garbage. Might even have a commercial account with the local waste haulers for all I know.

Let’s say you went back in time and you’re in Havana or Key West or wherever Ernest Hemingway was working. You see his trash can and, looking both ways — ratting through someone’s garbage late at night looks pretty suspicious — and you go through it.

What would you find?

Besides the whiskey bottles and cigarette butts you’ll find pages and pages of handwritten or typed work. This is a real find, right? You read through them and realize you could do better than that. Maybe the whiskey bottles are a clue here.

What you see on the open market is the best of Hemingway’s best. Many drafts. Much fine tuning. Polished beyond polished. Even his worst published work is awe-inspiring. But the stuff in his dumpster? Not so much.

Kind of changes the equation, huh?

That’s the fallacy of self-comparison. I only see my rival’s or virtual mentor’s best work.

With mine, I see all of it. The good, the bad, the butt-ugly.

For my own reasons I like to work the old-school way. On paper for the first drafts. I keep them in a 12″x12″ box, and not quite halfway through 2015 I filled it halfway up. That’s a lot o’trash.

My current work took up more than a ream of paper, and it’s all going to get thrown out anyway. Or saved in that box as a visual reminder of how much written BS I can truly generate.

All of it is fixable. Each time I rewrite the quality improves by a couple of degrees. As far as the first drafts go, though, they’re totally experimental and I don’t have to admit to doing them.

The truth is that I know I’m not in the same league as these guys.

What’s equally true is that it doesn’t matter. What matters is doing the things that fall within my own strengths, and knowing the great ones are every bit as capable of turning out terrible stuff as I am.

May 112015
I generate garbage for a living,. These are my first drafts for 2015, and the year's not half over yet.

I generate garbage for a living,. These are my first drafts for 2015, and the year’s not half over yet.

By my own estimation it’s around 512 pages, but I’m not gonna bother to count them. It’s thicker than a ream of paper, and at least a few trees sacrificed themselves for my work.

Or something.

It’s uncut, with nothing between brain and paper except an old typewriter. Much of it is stream of consciousness, with an outline being thrown together after the fact. The whole thing took 40 days and at least two cans of Cuban coffee.

It’s terrible, but all first drafts are. Hemingway called all first drafts — including his own — something that I will not repeat in a family venue such as this.

No third party reads my first drafts and lives. But that’s the creative process.

If you listen to the uncut version of your favorite jazz album you’ll probably hear multiple takes, false starts, train wrecks, conversations with the sound guy, and the leader screaming at one of his sidemen. Pharoah’s Dance, the 20-minute opening cut on Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew album, has something like 19 edits. There are a couple of places where you can hear the splices. But it’s an amazing album, essential listening.

Every time you fumble through a song the first time, every blog post you write, every porch you build or every piece of software you create is gonna have issues. Big ones. You’ll end up throwing half of it out and totally rebuilding the other half.

Then you hope you threw out the right half.

It’s a necessary step in the creative process.

The next step is to let it sit a good while. Detach myself from the project and do something else. Forget it’s there. Then on July 1 I’ll pull it out of the box, read through it, go through a few red pens and try to pull something out of it. Kind of like finding the pony in the mountain of horse flop.

Diamonds come out of coal. Oil comes primarily from dead things. Art comes from the aforementioned pile.

You need to create the garbage before you can dig out the good stuff.

The garbage comes first.


Get some goodies & bonus material:

Click on Mr. Zip to get started.

Click on Mr. Zip to get started.

May 112015
Word count: 102,365. Half of them may live.;

Word count: 102,365. Half of them may live. The typewriter is even older than I am.

Trust me. It’ll be pretty bad.

It’ll sit in cold storage for 40 days and 40 nights, and will come out July 1. Then I’m gonna bleed all over it with a red pen.

Half of it will get thrown out, and the other half totally rewritten. But that’s the nature of the business.

There’s a story in there somewhere.


Apr 132015

Nut graf: Find your own stinkin’ secret sauce.

How I do it doesn't make any difference.

How I do it doesn’t make any difference.

I got into a conversation with a fellow writer, and we were comparing projects. She’s working on a screenplay and I’m drafting out a novel.

Then she asked me about my work habits. Like, how do I get the stuff down?

It’s a question all writers ask. All creators, in fact. We’re all comparing ourselves with others, or at least looking for that secret sauce. Find whatever it is that boosts productivity, improves your work, makes you fit, trim and attractive to the opposite sex.

Here’s my writing practice, in case you’re interested:

– Banging the stuff out on paper, on a vintage typewriter, standing up.
– Throwing the completed pages in a box.
– Forgetting about those completed pages. At least that’s the theory.
– Outlining as I go, developing characters as I go.
– I leave a wide margin on the right hand side of the page for markup, and this is used after I finish with the draft. Theoretically.

“Who don’t you use a computer?” my friend asked “Wouldn’t it be easier?”

Uhh, yeah. It would. But somehow I get a better connection to my work when I bang it out like that. Maybe it’s me, but the only way I can get an even better connection is by writing it out longhand.

Besides, you can’t slap a computer. For me, the act of writing is very physical. Violent, even. It’s noisy, bloody, messy. But that’s personal.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend anyone do it this way. In fact, when I talk about methods, ignore everything I say. Find your own stinkin’ secret sauce.

How I do it doesn’t matter. Creativity is like the snowflake. There are plenty of creative people and projects out there, but they’re all different. To each his own, and whatever works works.

Right now I’m at 31,500 words, or 157 pages. Most of it will be thrown out, but that’s part of the process too. But again, how I do it doesn’t matter.

I try not to get too bogged down in tools and methods. My emphasis is on getting the stuff out, particularly in a first draft. Your first try at playing a new song is equally messy. You slop your way through it any way you can, whether it’s by playing to a YouTube video or trying it out on stage with people watching. How you do it doesn’t matter anyway.

I’ll admit, though, I did my preliminary tool-gathering before I started writing. A new ribbon, which took all my online resources to find. Two reams of cheap copy paper. Another 300-pack of index cards. A brand-new composition notebook. Binder clips, rubber bands, blue high-lighters, staples and all that junk. Storage boxes to throw my drafts in after I’m done with them. A spreadsheet to track my progress.

Now, if I couldn’t find a ribbon, for example, it should not make a lick of difference. There are other tools at my disposal. Pens, pencils, legal pads, computer, Libre Office, emacs, Scrivener.

But again, that doesn’t matter. Working on the project, moving the needle every day and completing it are the only things worth talking about.

# # #

Mar 062015

This is from John E. Branzell, who posted this on the 48days web site. Profound stuff:

“My brain has become accustomed to the less than spectacular.​Can a man be born again​, I ask after he is done with his first career as a paramedic​, firefighter​, & dispatch​er​.​  Can ​I​ rise again to re-create from​ ​the ashes of ​complacency … I long to try​,  maybe I can fly​.  ​If I shoot for the moon maybe ​I will at least hit the stop sign​.”

Read the rest at