Jul 312012

When I got involved with National Novel Writers Month a couple of years ago, I started paying attention to how many words I wrote every day. Then I started publicizing that.

In all my social media, I put up daily dispatches of how I did, whether good, bad or ugly. This public posting helped keep me accountable. I’ve kept that habit, and when I mention my daily writing goal (1,000 words) in this blog, it’s my way of staying accountable.

Try going public with the small, daily goals. You might find it becomes a habit.


Jul 302012

How do you do your work? In front of people? With doors locked? Wrapped in barbed wire?
Sitting on a rock overlooking the ocean? Right there in the middle of the freeway? With a box? With a fox?

So how do I get my stuff done? It’s complicated. The process is probably the most individual thing about creativity. Hemingway liked to write standing up, most likely with a drink close by. Victor Hugo dealt with writer’s block by in the nude (that’s a visual for you) and with nothing in the room except himself, a pen and some paper. I also like to work standing up, with the stereo pushing some heavy jazz near the threshhold of pain.

The process is so individual that most of the how-to advice becomes useless. How you work is how you work, and it’s as much a part of you as your fingerprints.



Jul 282012

Ernest Hemingway sat down with George Plimpton (yeah, that George Plimpton) in the 1950s for what was probably the definitive interview of an artist. Hemingway discusseed why he rewrote so much, and gave a rare insider’s view of the creative process for the Paris Review. It’s a long piece, but well worth your time. http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4825/the-art-of-fiction-no-21-ernest-hemingway ###

Jul 272012

I have this recurring nightmare.

I’m doing the stuff I do, writing, playing music, using my gifts and even impressing myself sometimes. Then the drape is torn off and I’m exposed as a gigantic fraud.

A humbug. A wannabe. Someone who has no business hanging around even the back row of the creative’s hiring hall. Get out of the penthouse, boy. Get your, uhh, self back in the servants’ quarters where you belong.

I tried explaining this to my shrink some years ago and couldn’t get her to understand my nightmare. Maybe I didn’t explain myself well. She chalked it up as a self-image issue (I plead guilty), but she wasn’t real experienced at working with those creative types who are wired bass-ackwards.

From hanging around other creatives, I’m coming to the conclusion this nightmare is an occupational hazard. We are, in our minds, walking a tightrope. We’re one typo, one dangled participle, one blown cue, one dissonant skronk away from exposure.

Stephen King tells about this nightmare in The Stand. His character, a singer named Larry Underwood, has That Dream where he goes on stage with his band for their biggest show ever, and the mics are welded to their stands, nine feet high. Nothing he could do to budge those microphones, to make the equipment usable. The audience (with some truly bizarre characters in the front row) boos Underwood off the stage before he could sing a note.

Now, that’s one weird dream. It’s enough to make a guy swear off spicy food. But if you’re creative and serious about it, you’ve probably had a variation of this dream.

Now, that’s subconscious stuff. But in our waking moments, we’re still our own worst critics. That Dream haunts us in our waking hours; truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Even in my finest moment in journalism (something about a major AP award), I wasn’t all that impressed. I remember thinking, not a half bad piece of reporting. Now if I had one more day to research and some more space to write, it might actually be pretty good.

When my old band recorded a demo CD, we all listened to it the first time and wondered if a shotgun blast to the guts would really be as painful as people say. All of us found fault with our own performances. Never mind what the other folks listening to it may think, we know better. And we’re frauds; the con is on.

I’m not even talking about those times when we feel stuck before the breakthrough, but this is an overall feeling we get pretty regularly. Even applause does nothing to dispell this feeling — do they not know?

Carole King spent years as one of the best songwriters around, and in the early 1970s she put together an album of her own, Tapestry. Probably one of the greatest albums ever recorded. But she spent the aftermath wondering what she was doing in the penthouse. Does the audience not know?

I wish I had answers to this. Whoever does is either full of it or he deserves the Nobel Prize.    

I guess the best way to cope with this is for me to remind myself that it’s just a bunch of bad self-talk, a product of my own goofy imagination. As far as reality goes, the audience probably won’t notice the flaws, and if they do, so what? Still, I feel like I’m just baffling ’em with … well, you know.

In the meantime I keep at my work, even if it’s just for the practice. Finish it, ship it, take my chances. If I’m a fraud today, maybe I’ll be less of a fraud tomorrow.


Jul 262012

Jazz great John Coltrane had such facility on his instrument and such advanced harmonic thinking that Lee Konitz, one of his contemporaries, suggested Trane practiced 10 hours a day.

Bassist/composer Charles Mingus took his practice a different way. As he progressed he spent less of his practice time actually playing his instrument and more time listening to others play. His reasoning was that physical practice existed mostly to a) build up his stamina, b) improve his facility and speed, and c) increase his muscle memory. Writers may not spend more than a few hours actually putting stuff down on paper or disk, but the best ones read everything in sight.

Your practice should include time when you’re actually doing your work, and immersion time studying the work of artists you admire. Both count as practice; the trick is to find your ratio and to be consistent about it.


Jul 252012

A favorite objection for not creating is the interference caused by the normal everyday world.

Everything from working the “real” day job to keeping the bills paid, the kids fed and the spouse happy will pressure the artist, and the idea of suspending the dream seems a viable alternative (interesting we always say “putting it on hold,” never “giving it up”).

Before considering that step, keep in mind that using your gift may be the safe harbor, the one bit of sanity in a crazy world.


Jul 242012

While planning my day, I’ve started taking notice of the most difficult thing on my list. What’s the one thing that, given the choice between doing that or having a battery acid enema, I’d really have to think it over?

While some productivity experts suggest starting your day with something easy, maybe I need to start mine by directly attacking that hairball of a task. Complete the one thing I’m most afraid of before starting anything else.

I like the thinking behind this. If I start with that unwanted thing, I know my day will only get better.


Jul 232012

If I go into a project without any fear, it usually means I’m not stretching myself. I’m treading on old ground, and the only concern is whether I’ll stay awake while working.

If I’m pushing the envelope, I can tell. My hands feel like they’ve lost all strength, and I can’t work up enough saliva to keep my throat wet. I am, literally, scared spitless.

Fear just naturally comes with creativity.