Sep 202013

I tell you, it just won’t work. Stupid idea.

You look at last night’s great idea in the morning light, and you discover something.

That great idea of yours is really bad.

More than that, try terrible.

Beyond terrible, it totally stinks out the joint.

Even if it wasn’t so bad, it’s totally unworkable.

It’ll never fly, Orville.

You’re crazy. Just totally off-the-road crazy for even thinking of such things.

Sound familiar?

If it doesn’t, it’s probably been a long time since you had a great idea. Maybe you never had one. Maybe you accidentally found this blog while looking for TMZ or something. Close your browser tab right now and forget you ever saw this. For your convenience I included a link.

For the rest of you, this whole terrible idea rings a bell. If Italian food always tastes better the second day, great ideas do not.

That’s normal. You just woke up this thing called Resistance, and it’s out there playing mind games on you. Per normal.

Seth Godin brought this idea to the forefront, like he so often does. Seth is one of those backward-thinking types who spots trends before they happen, maybe sees some of the future and flips all our preconceived notions up on their pointy little heads. I like Seth, and I consider his blog required reading.

If it’s a great idea, there’s a definitely WT* factor to it. There has to be.

You may not understand it.

Other people certainly won’t understand it.

Whole institutions may think you’re crazy. So crazy, in fact, that they may have an institution in mind just for you.

Even logic, or at least your understanding of it, might tell you you’re full of it. Again.

Good morning, Resistance. Nice to see you again. Or not.

This early resistance shows up in self-doubts and maybe a few shiny objects to get your mind off that great new thing. Its goal is to knock it out of your mind before you even begin.

Then this great idea never ever sees the light of day, or more likely someone else will pick up on it and grab all the glory. Someone who doesn’t care how bad this new idea smells.

This great idea can be anything. An idea for a novel. A new piece of music. A new kind of rocket fuel. A new kind of hammer. A new business idea.

It’ll stink. Really.

It won’t work.

That could mean the whole idea really does stink. But then again, it might be so amazing that those mind games kick in and you’ll tell yourself it stinks.

It’s only after you get started, after you got a little skin in the game, when you find out which answer is the correct one.

So sit down with that idea. Start something. Without telling anyone. Do it on your own time. You can always dump the whole thing later because it’s really really bad.

Or you can push on and finish that amazing thing.

(Note: In computerese, * is a wildcard character you use when you’re searching for something. I referred to the WT* factor earlier. Substitute any letter or combination thereof for the *. Use your own imagination; I’m not going to help you here.)

# # #

What say you? Do you stop when you realize how terrible the idea is, or do you push on regardless? Share in the comments.


Shameless Plug: Creativity and manic depression often travel in pairs. If you’ve noticed, check out my companion blog “Good Morning, Manic Depression (Are you going to behave yourself today?).”

Sep 162013

These are the notes I used to plan an entire blog. Plotter or pantser?

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

What kind of question is that? It just fills the mind up with all sorts of imagery.

When you’re my age, you can remember what a “pantser” was. That’s the big guy in junior high school who, usually with some cohorts, would steal your pants in school (while you’re wearing them) and leave you in the boy’s room. You’ll get your pants back, eventually, but until then you either wait it out or take the chance at public ridicule. A pantser may mean something else to the GenXers and Millennials, but that’s a pantser.

But among writers, a pantser means something else. That’s the person who throws together a draft without a real plan. Stream of consciousness stuff. Flying by the seat of your pants, hence the name.

A plotter, on the other hand, has a plan. Everything’s outlined. All the details are mapped out, every jot and tittle figured out beforehand.

I recently had an online conversation with another writer. He told me about some ebook that helps you to plan your novel to the nth degree. It’s all there, very structured. All you have to do is write your way from station to station. He likes to use this method, therefore he’s a plotter/planner.

The pantser, well, it’s different. He’ll create his characters on the fly, and they’ll drive the plot wherever they take it. If he has a general idea of where he wants to take this narrative, his characters can overrule it any time they want.

Man, those are some strong characters. I wish I could create my fictional characters with so much depth that they can hijack the story line like that.

The musician who works strictly from charts is a planner. I understand Paul Simon was the ultimate planner. When he and Art Garfunkel recorded their album Bridge Over Troubled Water, harmonica great Charlie McCoy helped out on some of the songs. He said Simon was really hard to work with. He spent something like eight hours to record a four-bar passage.. Constantly fiddling around. No wonder Simon and Garfunkel broke up.

Jazz saxophonist Eric Dolphy went the other way. Every time he recorded a song, it sounded different. It’s interesting listening to the two takes of Ornette Coleman’s collective improvisation Free Jazz. Some of the guys — trumpeters Freddie Hubbard and Don Cherry — stuck pretty much with the same ideas in both takes. Dolphy? Complete differences in tempo, complete differences in everything.

At the end of his album Last Date (recorded shortly before he died so suddenly in Berlin) he got off the line that expressed his whole philosophy. When you hear music, he said, it’s gone in the air. You can never recapture it.

Definitely a pantser.

To use a musical stereotype, plotters play classical. Pantsers play jazz. Or putting it another way, plotters do best work in the studio. Pantsers prefer a live setting.


Striking a balance

It’s that whole left brain/right brain continuum, explained in a different way. Plotters use the left side, so it follows pantsers are the ones in their right minds.

OK, bad joke, right?

So which one’s right?


Am I a plotter or a pantser?


I probably land in that same gray area that most of us do. Somewhere in between the two poles, though it’s hard to tell exactly where I lean.

I’ve said before that I’m a planner. Everything’s outlined. I’ll mind-map a whole project, build my lists but free-associate my way through it. I have a starting point, a finishing point and specific steps in between.

Then I’ll just ignore the whole thing. I’ll end up at my predetermined ending point, I think, but I might just take a whole different route to get there. Rip my GPS off the dash, pitch it out the window and go.

Mapping out my day I’ll write down every step, all the things I want to do. Plan out the whole enchilada with a series of @next-actions as prescribed in David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Then again, I’ll take this plan and totally ignore it.


Planning vs. doing

For me, planning is an exercise in futility. Really a nice way to avoid getting something done. But that’s just me; your mileage may vary depending on your personality type. I find I do better if I just set out maybe three goals for the day and just toward those.

An occupational hazard of being a pantser.

I joke that my pantser part is from having a bad short-term memory. In music I’ll play a song and literally can not remember what I did in rehearsal. In a way that’s freeing — all I need is the chord structure and an ending point — but if I record something I’ll remember it and keep doing it roughly that same way. I really find that kind of restrictive.

I got the planning part honestly. Dad’s an engineer, where everything is put down on a blueprint and field-tested. He once mapped out the layout for part of the back yard — roses on one side, cactus on the other. Different kinds of soil for the two sections. Everything drawn out on a scratch pad. I can’t swear to it, but I think he had an environmental impact report in there somewhere.

Funny thing, it took him several years to do the actual work. I think Mom — who is more of a pantser — gave him the push he needed to get going.

I’m really interested in Steven Pressfield’s Foolscap method of plotting. He plans the whole novel out on a single sheet of legal paper, on one side. Later with the character profiles. Just the briefest of outlines, no real character studies. That single page serves as his notes. Now, Pressfield is a real do-the-work kind of guy, interested in just starting and finishing, hang all the preliminary stuff that prevents you from starting.

When writing this 1,000-ish-word post, I have notes. Given the size of the piece, all these notes are on one side of an index card. A condensed, heavily-altered version of the Foolscap method.

On my current fiction project I have an outline, but it’s not cast in stone. I’ll write a section, notice the narrative takes me someplace else, and veer off that way. As long as I end where I want to, I’m happy.

There are some downsides to both. A pure plotter won’t see the opportunities that come up in midstream, and even if he did he won’t go there. The project sometime ends up sterile, with little life to it.

A pure pantser takes you ’round the mountain, down a few rabbit trails and stops every once in a while to … squirrel!

There’s room for both, but it’s safe to say everyone leans one way or another.


# # #


What say you? Are you a plotter or a pantser? Have you ever pantsed someone or been pantsed in junior high school? Share your thoughts in the comments.


Sep 082013

Just like I normally do, I picked up an idea and ran with it. I’m just that way.

For about a year I kept this blog “creative&dangerous,” which covers much of the creative process and urges the reader to get off his butt and do something. But one thing that many creative types share is an undecided brain that can’t decide where it wants to be today. It’s a physiological thing, so just getting over it isn’t a real answer.

I’ve covered my share of bipolar topics here because of this strange correlation, true or not, between creativity and manic depression (or “bipolar” for the politically correct among you). But this isn’t really a bipolar blog, and I don’t care to hijack it for yet another rabbit hole.

Anyway, Mom told me about a friend of hers who deals with this mess, and wanted me to send a link to creative&dangerous.

H’mm, I thought. I have some articles scattered here and there on the topic, and one would have to do some real digging to find them. Why not put together something that has this theme and is hopefully easier to navigate?

That’s why this blog. Mom did it. She gave me the idea. Blame her. Or maybe thank her.

Check out the new blog, “Good Morning Manic Depression (Are You Going To Behave Yourself Today?) at — it’s so new I’m still playing with the bubble wrap.

# # #

Sep 062013
guy with bullhorn

Put that bullhorn down and do the work already!

A quick way to kill a project is to announce you’re going to do it. That’s when the whole thing of asking permission really kicks in.

I’m a little slow to learn this. I usually have about a gajillion plans, all ambitious and maybe some even have value. And I’ll announce them to friends and other people prematurely, like in the planning stages.

Wow, look at me. Look how busy I am! That’s the underlying message, and it’s every bit as dangerous as the thing we say in the Solid South: “Hey, y’all, watch this!”

With my last ebook, I included a sample chapter of another project that I’m working on.

Big mistake.

Immediately, the whole thing started to die. Can’t put my finger on it, but all the crap that usually comes up to derail me happened.

It wasn’t until recently that I started back with the project, jamming out 2,000 words per day on average. I’m back on track, after I stopped talking about it and maybe everyone forgot my premature announcements. And no, I’m not going to tell you the nature of the project. You’ll see it when I ship it.

See, it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission, and announcing a project is a version of asking for that permission.

Really. I’m asking permission to actually do the work. In the early stages I’m asking folks to bug off while I work.

Another mistake.

As soon as I announce a project, that ol’ debbil Resistance starts bugging me again. Understand, Resistance comes from within and from without. Might as well take the latter out of the equation; there’s enough Resistance to knock me off the track. Why do I have to invite more of the same?

I’m recently discovering something:

When I don’t ask for permission, the work gets done.

Kind of a crazy thing when you think about it, but I find it’s true. Profound, maybe. Don’t completely know how or why that works, but it does. That’s good enough for me.


Great projects, greater mistakes

I like how the late Robert Townsend put it in Up The Organization (written in 1970). If you have a great plan to, say, eliminate air pollution in every state for almost zero cost, the way to kill the project dead is to announce it. Better to just do the job, state by state without telling anyone.

Yeah, you might have to worry about a) staying alive and b) staying out of jail. Those things could be important.

But you’re doing the work without any real resistance except for that which sits in your head. That’s plenty, thank you.

But the job gets done because you didn’t ask for permission. Maybe later, you might need to ask for forgiveness. Isn’t that better?


Working with accountability

OK, I can see the need to announce your plan, somewhat. That would be to one person who you trust with your life and is simpatico with your idea. Let that person keep you on task. But that’s all the announcement you’ll need.

Do the work. Quietly. Without fanfare. Worry about the ramifications later. Just doing the work gives you enough to worry about.

When doing something great, tell no one else. Just get it done. Then toot your own horn a bit, maybe send someone a bill for services rendered, and announce it at that time.

“Look at what I did” is a whole lot more productive than “here’s what I’m going to do; y’all with me?”

It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

# # #

[What say you? Does any of this make sense? Have you had better success when you do something first and announce it later? Share your thoughts in the comments below.]

Note: Any links to books are through my affiliate Amazon account. I get a commission on all sales. Just thought I’d let you know.