Jun 282013
pot with potatoes

Sometimes you have to slow-cook your idea.

Funny thing about this creative business. Some ideas are best executed quickly; hit ’em and ship ’em while they’re hot. Others require a lot more time.

Besides telling which project is which, the trick is to let an idea sit for a while without any interference. It’s that watched-pot analogy at work.

Journalists will tell you all about deadlines. I sure can, from all my years of hanging around newsrooms. Most newspaper types navigate a network of these deadlines. We know when an issue is supposed to hit the press and work backward from there. Page designers have a deadline. Editors have several. Photographers have some, and reporters have a few. We always know when we’re getting close to deadline when we hear the managing editor behind us, racking his shotgun. Everything’s time sensitive, no extensions, no grace periods, no manana.

Even in my online freelance work, deadlines are a fact of life. True, some of the steps — page makeup and printing — are gone but a deadline is still a deadline.

Best work I ever did as a jornalist was a series of stories that, I think, got me some award or other. But I went away thinking, if I had just one more day to develop this and one more page to fill, this is really gonna be good.

As important as those deadlines are, they sure get in the way.


Crock pots and microwaves

But some projects don’t lend themselves well to deadlines. They just need time to develop. Rather than throwing them in the microwave you’re dumping them into the crock pot.

I’m thinking about longer, more ambitious works here. Great works of fiction. Outstanding musical compositions. That fantastic sculpture. You start with an idea and … then what?

That’s when it gets good.

If the idea’s not time sensitive, you can dump it in the crock pot. Or better, write it down somewhere. Put it on your long-range to-do list.

Then forget about it.

That’s when the cool stuff happens. The idea starts to grow.

You’re always working on it. Sure you are, only no one knows. Maybe not even yourself. It sits in your subconscious, where all the creatures in the attic have their way with it.

The old-school way is to give this project its very own file folder and add any supporting items or anything pertinent and interesting. Let the whole thing sit, give those creatures something to play with, and pull it out after a good slow roast. Somewhere along the line some sort of structure and a gazillion ideas have sprouted.

(Of course, since we’re trying to keep a paperless office and quit killing so many trees, you can probably figure out a digital version of this. Electrons and disk space can be killed with impunity.)

But this aging thing is why so many writers like to have a time lag between first and second drafts. You hammer out that first draft at a dizzying pace and let it sit for a month or two. Stephen King says he gives it a minimum of six weeks, during which time he works on something else — like a short story. I tend to go with the Biblical time standard of 40 days and 40 nights. That’s close to six weeks.

But that’s when I’ll take the manuscript out of hiding, blow the dust and cobwebs off and attack it with my red editing pen. Or whatever the digital equivalent is these days.

I remember reading something in a high school English class. Some prolific writer of the day — I can’t remember who — said she lets those loose ideas and concepts “roost in my head.” After a sufficient roosting time she’s writing like mad. Off her explanation I’ll assume that’s her first draft; subsequent work takes a lot more time and care than that.

But with that roosting/slow roasting time, I find it’s best to just plain forget about the whole thing.

Just keep it off my mind.

Those attic creatures do their best work when I’m not hanging around trying to supervise.


Would you read “A Bunch Of People In Boulder?”

When King worked on The Stand, he had some 500 single-spaced manuscript pages and realized he’d written himself into a corner. His Superflu survivors were in Boulder, Colorado trying to rebuild a decimated society, then … what? He had no clue.

But this problem — call it a form of writer’s block as if such a thing really exists — threatened to derail his project.

If it wasn’t for that 500-page investment he probably would have quit.

He tried everything to save it, and nothing seemed to work.

He’d take long walks, trying to untangle the mess he’d created.

The Appalachian Trail

Sometimes that idea comes unexpectedly, and you can’t do anything with it right away.

It wasn’t until another long walk “when I was thinking of nothing much at all” that a solution started to take shape — what’s wrong with blowing up half the major characters and sending the rest on a no-chance quest into the enemy’s lair to take their stand?

Not only did this get the story moving and give him a way to end the novel, but it became the theme and the title. Got to admit, “The Stand” sounds a whole lot better than “A Bunch Of People In Boulder.” Which book would you buy?

King says this piece of an idea came so quickly and so unexpectedly he ran home so he could write it all down. He was that afraid of forgetting it.


Memos from the creatures in the attic

It’s stupid how that works. I’m one of those guys who always carries a pen and index cards with me, and those great project-moving ideas always seem to come at me when I can’t get to those tools.

Like when I’m on the bicycle dodging trucks and crazy people.

When I’m hiking up some mountain where I need both hands and maybe a flashlight.

When I’m in the shower or swinging that weed whacker around in my front yard or (ewwww!) cleaning out my refrigerator.

When I’m talking to someone and it would be impolite to stop everything while I jot that idea down.

When I’m not thinking about it.

That’s when those creatures are manically working. Their timing may be inconvenient, but I’ll take their memos anyway.

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Talk to me: Do those great project-moving ideas come to you when you’re not thinking about them? What do you do when that happens? Share in the comments.


Jun 212013

Every time I hear the words “awesome” or “amazing” my eyeballs have this reflex action. They have this irresistable urge to slide up into my skull. I mean, those words are used so much they mean absolutely nothing now.

That said, I’m into awesomeness these days. I’m talking about Jaw-dropping slap-your-pappy stuff. I mean don’t-be-fooled-by-imitations awesomeness.

Dictionary.com defines awesomeneess as “inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration or fear; causing or inducing awe.”

OK, now we’re cooking. That’s the definition I’m after.

But watch out. An alternative definition from that same source is “very impressive.” Sorry folks. That’s weak.

For the sake of the argument, let’s dispense with the alternative definition because it dilutes the real meaning of awesomeness.

Real awesomeness is hard to get to. There’s a lot of roadblocks and tree stumps in the way. To get to it you need a four-wheel drive, preferably with a bulldozer and maybe an Army tank running in front of you.
But that’s the way to get to awesomeness. But it’s not natural.

I like how Seth Godin explains it. “Confronted with the gap between your vision of perfect and the reality of what you created, the easiest path is no path. Shrug. Admit defeat. Hit delete.”

Been there. Done that. Until all this stuff kept bugging me, that is. Just wouldn’t go away. Tried to kill it and nothing would die.

My first attempts at writing, back when I was a little shaver, were pretty bad. And after I came back from my decade-long layoff and picked up the pen again, my work again was pretty bad. Forget about words that sing; my phrases merely passed gas.

But I have to go through all that mess to get to awesomeness. Again. I could say I already did my hitch, back in the 1980s, and that’s partially true.
It may be a shorter turnaround now, but I have to go through it a second time. Being a slow learner (raises hand) has little to do with that.

Getting to awesomeness is a lot easier when you find people who are already at that stage, watch what they do and learn from that. It’s kind of like having an older brother. From watching, you learn what pitfalls to avoid — i.e. learning those things that would make Mom snatch you bald. An older sibling is like having your personal crash-test dummy (thanks, Rick).

Back in my earlier journalism career I sat at the feet of a few seen-it-all editors. Today, I follow certain folks in person and online and learn from them.

Awesomeness is my goal. I mean the real awesomeness. The kind of stuff that’d make your glass eye drop out.

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Jun 202013

Got this story from Passive Writer, meaning it came from elsewhere. No matter; it’s a good story. Seems this writer says he’s 52, just published his first novel, and people ask him about it all the time.

Hey, aren’t you a little old for this, gramps?

I’d take that question a little personally myself, considering I have three years on him. I’m old enough for the senior’s special at Denny’s, can you believe that? (Why can’t cool places like Guitar Center or Half Moon Outfitters offer seniors’ discounts? I mean Denny’s, how lame is that?)

But I’m just getting started. Just discovering my zone, just finding out how cool I really am.

Or something.

I know I’m too old for those cute 22-year-olds at the local college. Too old (and too short) for an NBA career. Too old to understand rap, and too old to text one-handed while doing 90 on the freeway with a carload of 22-year-old girls from the college.

Funny, that’s about all I can think of.

I’m not too old to start stuff. Or finish stuff. Or too old to make you laugh, think or cry.

Not too old to get into the arena.

I’ll be there, no doubt. I’m the one with the flames painted on my walker.

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Here’s the story that started this mad bit of free association: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/ThePassiveVoice/~3/0TepOtjAtTk/

Jun 192013

I thought this was kind of interesting. Found it on Quora.

This great quote came from a conversation between Albert Einstein and music educator/historian Shinichi Suzuki, who founded the Suzuki method of teaching music:

“The theory of relativity occurred to me by intuition, and music is the driving force behind this intuition. My parents had me study the violin from the time I was six. My new discovery is the result of musical perception”

~Shinichi Suzuki, 1969, from ‘Nurtured by Love: A New Approach to Education.”

So you thought you were just a ne’er-do-well because you’re up playing that guitar at 3 a.m.? Guess again.

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Jun 172013

Ii know about the writing/editing dichotomy, but Kristen Lamb lays it out here in amusing fashion.

Write like Kirk and edit like Spock, or is it the other way around? Can’t remember …

Write FAST and Furious! Learning to Outrun “The Spock Brain” http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2013/06/17/write-fast-and-furious-learning-to-outrun-the-spock-brain

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Jun 172013

So I’m not the most patient person around. I’m one of those guys who repeatedly punches the elevator button in the belief it’ll get here faster. It does work, doesn’t it?

But in this online writing thing there’s no elevator button, and even if there was it wouldn’t make a lick of difference anyway.


Hear them chirruping? Me too.

I’ve been posting in this blog for about a year now, and have 266 entries at last count. For a good while I’ve had five posts a week, and even had some set up to go in automatically when I was on the hiking trail. According to the metrics I’m doing everything right; using good search engine optimization practices, bumping stuff onto social media, commenting on other blogs. I even ran my site through a diagnostics service (Hubspot) to make sure I’m doing everything right. So far, everything’s copacetic.

But still, crickets.

Now, I can tell you I don’t really care that much how many people read my stuff. I say that to myself anyway, but I know better. I could say I’m not worried, but you know I’m completely full of it.

I’m not all goofy about manically checking my readership numbers 15 times a day. Maybe three or four times a day for me? For one of those crazy writers who, as a species, needs constant validation, that’s really self-controlled on my part. But then I really shouldn’t check my numbers at all because it’ll make me crazy.

Same thing with my ebook sales. Again no knockout numbers, and checking them doesn’t change that fact. The only thing it changes is my attitude.

Man, it’s hard to keep going when the numbers are not there. I’m like, why do I keep writing when nobody’s listening? It’s like that brain teaser about the tree falling in a forest.

“If writing is solely about being published you’ll stop writing,” Paul Angone recently said in a blog called The Write Practice. “Success can’t be the motivator.”

True enough. If I kept thinking about those numbers I’d have quit long ago. Maybe I shouldn’t check them at all.

Maybe I should stay ignorant but happy.

Stephanie Chandler got into blogging some time ago. She knows her way around marketing the writing, and she said it takes a good while to build traction. It’s a long-term commitment. “Plan for the marathon,” she says in an interview with Joanna Penn. “Watch less TV and blog more.”

Chandler doesn’t care all that much about how her books sell. It’s more about opportunities that come from the work. “It’s hard to make a living off a single book. Keep writing. Keep going.”

About blogging, Chandler says this:

“It is hard, it’s frustrating, but it really is worth it. As you put in the time, it’ll pay off. Smaller wins become bigger wins.”

Smaller wins? Like actually finishing something? So far, so good.

Obviously I’m not into deferred gratification. For that I need to be patient, and it’s not something you’d find in my skill set.

The thing that keeps me going here, I think, is that I’m providing some sort of value. I really believe this. And someone, somewhere might pick up on this and read it. Maybe it’s a message-in-a-bottle thing, but I honestly believe that stuff.

Shoot, there’s the possibility that the person who plucked my bottled message may a) be able to read it without being hopelessly puzzled and b) rethink what he’s doing. If the person reads one of these blog entries, decides to grow a pair and start creating something amazing rather than thinking about it, that’s fine by me. More than fine.

Google Analytics doesn’t keep track of that kind of numbers. Neither do I. Nor could I. But those are the numbers that keep me going.

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Jun 122013

My companion blog ‘Baling Wire and Duct Tape,’ dormant for almost a year, comes back up with news of another Google service getting the ax, and some ways to make up for the loss. No, I’m not talking about Google Reader, either. But I’ll miss Google SMS just as much.


Let’s say you wanted the weather forecast. Key in “weather 29406” — or whatever your Zip code is to get the forecast for the next few days. Within minutes it would come back, and you’d know whether to cancel that picnic.

That’s the service that felt the nip of the executioner’s ax. Suddenly. Quietly. Not even a whimper. Google-watchers were so busy with Reader that they didn’t notice anything else …

Check it out in Baling Wire and Duct Tape.


Jun 042013

(Is “grabbable” an actual word?)

Anyway, the free period for this ebook ends Wednesday, so might as well download it and save a few bucks.

I swiped the graphic straight from the Amazon page, so it may or may not do something if you click on it. Probably not.

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Jun 042013
Smile, you son of a !!!!!

The sea creatures on the Internet are not this docile. Whatever you do, don’t bleed in the water.

A little off the regular program here, but this does merit attention. An old scam around PayPal is making the rounds again and a pair of emails made it into two of my mailboxes.

Unfortunately the perp isn’t real intelligent, so it was easy to sniff this out.

Upshot, if you get email from someone claiming to be from PayPal, approach with caution. And if there’s an attached document, nuke it with extreme prejudice.

Here’s the story.

Here are some cautions that are good to remember.

Safe surfing, y’all. And watch out for the sharks.

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