Jun 302012

I’m not big on dreams myself. Most of mine I can’t remember or decipher, and there are probably some that are best left forgotten.

But I’ve had good ideas come up during my sleep cycles, and I’ve taken to writing them down on the note pad I keep at bedside. Some of these ideas still looked pretty good the next morning, after I’ve had coffee and located my brain.

While I’m not big on dreams, I’ve learned to pay attention to the subconscious, those guys in the back shop who work so hard at assembling ideas and coming up with some new ones while I sleep. It’s worthwhile to capture everything that bubbles up from the subconscious; you never know what may be That Idea.


Jun 292012

If Edison laid down on the job, the light bulb would still have been invented ... by someone else.

“If (these guys) didn’t do their work, it still would have been accomplished. Only Joe Smoe might have invented the light bulb, Joe Sixpack might have created the airplane, and Joe Lunchmeat might have written The Godfather.”

* * *

“They stole my idea!”

I’m sure you’ve heard that one, and probably enough times to know what it actually means.

Every time something brilliant comes down the pike, you know someone will say he had the idea first and someone stole it. Right out from under him, just snatched it right from his brain or something. Or he didn’t have the a) chance, b) money or c) backing to pull it off.

Try d): Didn’t have the vision or the motivation or the ‘nads necessary to make it work.

Who is the person who would utter such a lament?

I can guarantee you, this is the person who doesn’t get ideas very often, and when he does he’s clueless what to do with it.

One of the hard truths about the creative’s life is that ideas are cheap.


This bears repeating: Ideas are cheap.

And if you’re creative, you learn these ideas are like buses. Another will be along directly. A true creative never has a shortage of ideas; more often than not he’ll have more of them than he has time to execute them. He has to decide, which ones are worth the effort?

It’s like fishing. Some ideas are keepers. Others may put up more of a fight than you are able and/or willing to handle. And some are not developed enough and should be thrown back. Maybe you’ll catch it later, or maybe someone else will. It does not matter.

But that is indeed the way things are. Ideas are not exclusive. Among minds, they’re public domain. If you don’t pick it up and do something with it, someone else will.

Things will get done whether you decide to show up for work or not. That’s how things work in the great scheme of things. While you’re out playing with the squirrels your brilliant idea will be given to someone else, and it’ll become real at some point — only without your participation, without your fingerprints. Then you might say someone stole your idea.

That’s nonsense. By default you threw it back.

An idea is intrinsically worthless until someone can catch it and has the gumption and the ability to develop it. To make it into reality. A whole bunch of folks may have conceived the idea of the incandescent light bulb, but it took an Edison to pull it off. More than a few tried to be the first to get a flying machine off the ground, to reach the South Pole, to design an operating system that would put computers into the hands of the masses. Several people might have had the idea to write the mother of all Mafia novels, but a relative unknown named Mario Puzo finally penned The Godfather — and triggered a whole franchise in the process, with sequels and everything.

But the funny thing is, if Edison or the Wright Brothers or Roald Amundsen or Mario Puzo didn’t do their work, it still would have been accomplished. Only Joe Smoe might have invented the light bulb, Joe Sixpack might have created the airplane, and Joe Lunchmeat might have written The Godfather.

Grab that idea. Assess it. If you can’t make it real, throw it back. Someone else will do something with it; applaud his success.

But if you can, pick it up. Run with it. Move it from the idea stage to the physical stage. Write that novel that’s bouncing around in your head. Compose that song you keep hearing. Invent that email reader that also checks your morning news, gives you your daily schedule and brews your morning coffee. Create that life-changing Android app. Develop that business plan and hang up your shingle.

Then you can claim it.


As I was getting ready to post, this article by Anne Wayman (About Freelance Writing) slipped across my transom. And yes, it shows how plentiful these ideas are. Check out her comments section to see how folks cope with the mental flood.

And while you’re about it, leave a comment here.


Jun 282012

Despite the fact I’m not real social about my work I finally bit the bullet and hooked up with a writing group through meetup.com. Good bunch of people, but my attendance usually depends on whether I’m working that day.

You’ll find all types at writer’s groups, ranging from the old pros to the wannabes. That may have been why I was so slow to take this step; I love being surrounded by old pros, but wasn’t too sure about hanging with the rookies.

But in a group setting, you take some and you give some. Got to have the flow going both ways. Learn from those who have been there, and encourage those who haven’t.


(Note to self: Consider eating my own dog food here.)

Jun 272012

While most people would just nod and roll their eyes when you mention your next project, it’s good to have a fellow creative to help keep you on point.

Pick a friend or three from among your network, preferably someone who is at your own level of professionalism but that’s not completely necessary. Offer a real deal here — keep me accountable and I’ll do the same for you. Better still, assemble an accountability team. Include at least one who will tell you point-blank when you’re being a total slacker about your work. Tact is not required here.

Iron really does sharpen iron, but the tools (file, etc.) often have some rough edges.


Jun 262012

While the Facebooks and Twitters are good for announcing what you had for lunch (please don’t!) or that cool viral video you saw, these social media tools are good for building some accountability.

Right now. Get on your favorite social media site. Announce your new project, your goal for the day, (like a word count if you’re a writer) and hit Send. Then get to work. After you’re done, announce whether you met your goal. Be honest here; post both your successes and your failures.

You’ll probably find someone who is watching and pulling for you.


Jun 252012

Today, feel free to create garbage.

Seriously. Every great work of art starts out looking ugly. Even Mozart, who was considered such a natural (in Amadeus, the antagonist Antonio Salieri was shocked at how musically perfect his rival’s rough drafts were), had his time where his work wasn’t very good. Granted, he was awfully young then, but that’s when he was learning his craft.

Write, draw, create, wad it up and work on your left-handed hook shot into the trash can. As you continue with that process, you’ll get better — even if at first it’s just your hook shot. That’s a promise.


Jun 232012

A couple of friends and I were talking about operating within your so-called sweet spot yesterday, and this came to mind.

So what’s this sweet spot? It’s a little hard to describe it, but you know it when you’re in it. It’s that special feeling you get in your hands when you hit a golf ball right on the screws. When you lay down that bowling ball so silently and smoothly, just by the sound you know you’ve thrown down something special.

It’s not just being in the zone. This is even more special than that.

A few years ago I wrote a piece on Duke Ellington, and as I wrote it, I had his Live At Newport album playing. And I was listening to tenor sax player Paul Gonsalves’ incredible solo in one of the oldest songs in Duke’s book, “Diminuendo And Crescendo In Blue.”

“It’s one of those moments that every human being should experience. It’s crunch time, and you’re called to perform at something — a job, dealing with family, facing the outside world. And you’re performing at a level that you didn’t know you had and you don’t remember how you did it. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar described one of those moments during the closing seconds of a playoff game when he was at the baseline, in the corner, those seconds ticking away. Abdul-Jabbar said time just slowed down for him, kind of like you’re watching the world in slow motion. A teammate got him the ball, Kareem put up the hook shot, it went right in, and immediately the world went back to real time. I’m sure it was that kind of moment for Duke Ellington and his band.”

There’s no doubt Gonsalves was in his sweet spot then, and so was the Duke.

And you know what? Reading over that paragraph, I think perhaps I was operating in mine when I wrote it.

For the curious (and those who dig the Duke), here’s a link to the original piece.

For more on the sweet spot, check out Max Lucado’s Cure For The Common Life.



Jun 232012

In his book On Writing, Stephen King told of his son taking saxophone lessons. The youngster was seven at the time, really liked hearing Clarence Clemons of Bruce Springsteen’s band, and wanted to sound like him. But this didn’t last, and King knew the boy’s ambitions were taking a dogleg left.

“Owen mastered the scales and the scores,” King wrote. “Nothing wrong with his memory, his lungs, or his hand-eye coordination — but we never heard him taking off, surprising himself with something new, blissing himself out … if there’s no joy in it, it’s just no good. It’s best to go on to some other area, where the deposits of talent may be richer and the fun quotient higher.”

Creating is hard work. You really will sweat it out, and you may feel drained after a long session at the computer or at your instrument. But if you’re not having fun with it, you may be at the wrong address.


Jun 222012

“Good morning, bipolar. Are you going to behave yourself today?”

Creation is usually a lonely business, best done when no one is around to bug you while you’re working. By it’s very nature it’s easy to go into isolation when you’re in full creative flight.

This isn’t such a good thing if you are prone to any of a variety of mental illnesses floating around. Depression, bipolar, all that stuff seems to grip a person by the throat when he’s by himself and the doors are locked.

I recently read a short piece by Julie Fast, a writer/coach who knows a little something about bipolar disorder. She lives it, she fights every day to even get to where she can function, and she’s in-your-face honest about it. She knows what she can and can’t do with her illness, and she works within her limitations. One of her books, Get It Done When You’re Depressed, occupies a place of honor on my desktop bookshelf by the dictionary, thesaurus, Writer’s Market, and Stephen King’s On Writing. Its pages are well-thumbed, high-lighted, annotated and coffee-stained.

What is it about these creatives?

A thing about artists and mental illness: I’m not sure why the two seem to go together. Maybe the same gene produces both. Maybe artists are just naturally more sensitive to problems of the brain and spirit. Maybe it’s a byproduct of living a life that’s just out of the mainstream. And maybe artists, writers, musicians and entrepreneurs are just more self-absorbed than the average person. This is all conjecture, and I’m not qualified to do more than voice my opinion. All I know is that I wake up every morning and say: “Good morning, bipolar. Are you going to behave yourself today?”

Julie knows she can’t function worth a flip when she’s isolated. So she does much of her writing in public. Drops in at a coffee shop or library, even in a noisy karaoke club, and does her work. “I outline in noise and write in quiet,” she recently said in her blog in response to a reader who wrote about self-isolation. “I’m writing this in Starbucks.”

I know this goes against the grain. We artists like to do at least the first stages of our work in privacy. It’s what Stephen King calls writing with the door closed, and writing with the door open. First drafts are done solo. Later, you’re feeling more social and will welcome comments, ideas, suggestions.

Most creatives are funny about working in public. I never like to show anyone my works in progress. Most people may not even know I have works in progress ’cause I’m sure not going to tell them. But I have to kick that door open sometime, if for no other reason than my own sanity. Yeah, that could be important.

My own practice

A couple of years ago I started writing for a few Web sites, and put out a lot of work. Most of it was hack work; nothing I’d want to show in a portfolio and all of it was under another name. But I made the mistake of doing the whole thing at home. I had a broadband Internet connection, I had a coffee maker in my office and a bowl of snacks nearby. I could work long stretches, only getting up to visit the bathroom or raid the fridge.

A funny thing happened.

I started another one of those nifty death spirals. Eat only when I think about it, which wasn’t often. Take a shower whenever … well, whenever I can’t stand myself any more. Shave when I itch and not before. My friends helped me shortstop this spiral, though. A couple of times a week I’d go out and hike about six miles with a buddy. I’d get text messages — Eric, is everything OK? You’re not living in your head again, are you?

That’s the kind of friend everyone needs, artist or not. But especially if you are.

Today, my practice is a little different. I got rid of the broadband connection. If I need the Internet so bad at home, I can always go online using my Android phone. But I do my closed-door writing in the morning. That’s when I generate blog posts, work on some articles, brainstorm things out, and pick away at this novel I’m playing with. All done standing up; that helps me focus. And unlike the stereotyped freelancer who works in striped pajamas and bunny slippers, I’m fully dressed for work. Even the shoes.

But at the most my closed-door session runs three hours. That’s all the isolation I can handle. After that it’s road time. Get on the bike. Ride to the college library or Starbucks. Do my online stuff. The library is more private because I work in one of the carrells, so I can get a lot done but it’s still isolating. Starbucks is better because I’m out among ’em, I can make phone calls from where I sit, and I like their dark roast. It tastes like someone dropped a cigar butt in the pot, but that’s just the way I like my coffee.

But you get the idea. I’m out there, in public, hammering away at the keyboard, slugging down strong coffee, saying hello to people, seeing something of the world.

Counter-productive? In some ways, yes. But I’ll take that trade-off, and I’m learning to do my work under less than ideal conditions — which they all are.


Late add: Here’s another story on the subject, through Mediabistro. I’m actually surprised I shared it now; the temptation was to sit on it and use it as fodder for more posts. I might still do so, but I’m into sharing today.