Dec 192014
Your crowd is one of the things that shapes you.

Your crowd is one of the things that shapes you.

I can’t remember who said it, but if you want to know what someone is like, look at his five closest friends. If they hang out at the tavern every night and watch football, you can bet the person in question does the same thing.

If the person runs with people who live from paycheck to paycheck, you can almost guarantee it. You know our friend also does. Especially true if our man (gasp) asks his friends for investment advice.

I totally believe this. Which is why I like to hang out with talented people. Writers, musicians, entrepreneurs. It’s likely I’ll catch what they’ve got, or at least pay more attention to those special things I bring to the world.

I think I wrote about it once … matter of fact, I built an entire novel around that concept. But the idea remains the same. Talented people band together even if they’re not involved in a group project, and the end result is greater than the parts.

I’m not even thinking about folks I might want to work with or people who might buy whatever it is I’m pushing. These are folks who can set an example for me, who might encourage me, and especially people I might encourage.

It’s even better if the people I run with are at about the same level as I am, with some who are ahead of me. This isn’t a contest to see who’s the smartest guy around; I’d rather have at least a few folks who can show me a thing or two. Even better if they’re willing to push me.

Hang around with the pros. That’s a good recipe for growth.

Gregg Allman said in his autobiography that if you moved a bunch of random people into a strange town, the musicians will find each other faster than anyone else. I’m finding this is true as I set up shop in this strange town I live in now.

I’m using sites like Meetup to run across other writers and musicians. Going where the people hang out. Getting into networking. As 2015 kicks off one of the #giantsteps I plan to do is hook up with a Toastmasters group. That organization is top-heavy in high-achieving types, just the ones I want to hang with.


Dec 112014
You don't want to know what goes in.

You don’t want to know what goes in.

A few of us get together every week for a jam session and try new and creative ways of screwing up familiar and unfamiliar songs.

And you know what? It’s a lot of fun.

There are four in the core group: a lead guitarist, a rhythm guitarist, a bassist who doubles on piano, and me. We have others, but these are the ones who show up every week.

We also have a few people coming in just to listen. Love ’em. They must be really tolerant or totally deaf, because sometimes what we do sounds pretty bad. Like geese farts on a muggy day? You bet.

We have our moments, but we call that thing we do “making sausage.” You don’t want to know what’s in it and you probably don’t want to watch us make it. Unless you’re brave.

That’s the creative process for you. It’s ugly. You don’t want to watch. It’s embarassing. If you want to project the image that you have your stuff together all the time, you’d avoid doing this at all costs. And you sure don’t want to do this stuff in front of people.

But that’s where we grow. Forget about grabbing the side of the pool at the shallow end and working on the kick, you’re learning to swim by jumping off a boat. But that’s not an apt analogy. A better one would be if there are people in deck chairs watching you struggle to stay afloat, holding signs like 6.4, 5.5 and the like. You’re not going to see any 10.0’s.

Making sausage is one bold act. But it’s an essential part of the creative process, with or without the audience.

Talk to me: What messes are you making this week? Please share.

Dec 042014
Drowning worms or thinking? Yes ...

Drowning worms or thinking? Yes …

I was always the kid getting in trouble in school because whatever was out the window was more interesting than the classroom.

Eventually the teachers got wise and put me in an aisle seat, so things like the back of the cute girl’s head in front of me — or the inside of my eyelids — held more interest.

Of course there’s a semantic difference of opinion here. The teacher said I was daydreaming. I called it thinking. That was my big mistake because the teacher had the power to pass me or flunk me. Of course public education doesn’t promote such things like “thinking,” but that’s a rant for another day.

Years later, in the newsroom I’d be hammering away at the keyboard doing 90 mph, then I’d pause. Stare at the flies doing whatever scandalous things do on the wall when my publisher would come into the newsroom.

“Writer’s block?” he’d ask.

Of course. Anytime a writer stops to collect his thoughts — or gather some more wool — it’s always writer’s block. Didn’t you know?

“Just thinking.”

As I got older the balance shifted. I spent more time doing and less time “thinking” — i.e. imagining what my characters would do next, how to phrase this next passage, what research I need to do, how to synthesize the information I have into something readable. But I still make use of those times to let my mind wander.

Hey, that wandering-mind thing is an important part of the creative process.

When I works, I works hard. When I thinks, I falls asleep.

When I works, I works hard. When I thinks, I falls asleep.

The dream cycles are a big part of this. According to the Creativity Post, Google scientist-in-residence Ray Kurzwell uses that time. He makes sure he gets eight hours of Z’s every night and assigns himself a problem to tackle during that state of repose. Then when he wakes up he’ll stay in bed and let his mind wander for another 20 minutes or so.

Trust me. It does work. I also keep my note pad at bedside, and when I wake up for some reason — like those kidney-tapping times that seem to come up more frequently as I get older — I’ll usually have something to write down. Of course, reading my scrawl in the morning is another matter.

Listen, I’ve come up with entire scenes while asleep. The premise of an entire novel? You bet. If you asked where the idea for my current work came from, I’d have to tell you it came in a dream, like with the guys in the Bible. Ooo-eee-ooo.

Every day, weather permitting, I’ll take my dog out and we’ll walk a good two or three miles. Always carry water for the both of us and some index cards. Usually on these walks I’m not thinking of anything, and that’s when the good stuff pops into my head. I’ll put it down on a card, take it home, put it with other cards and forget about it. Later I’ll sort through those cards and separate the pearls from the stinkers.

I’ll take frequent breaks while working, and spend time doing other things. I hate doing dishes, but that’ a perfect task for break time. I’m (hopefully) fully there, washing that dish and letting my mind run all over the place. Or I’ll notice some weeds growing in the garden and they need to be pulled out. Now, it’s a distraction if I keep thinking about it while I’m working. If I attack it during my break, I’m being strategic. Or at least that’s what I tell myself.

Try this sometime: Keep a note pad next to you. Any time one of those little distractions pops up while you’re working, write it down and forget about it. Hit it on your next break, again be fully into the task and let your mind wander some.

If I’m putting in time at the keyboard because I feel forced to, this shuts off the mind-wandering process. While I keep a deadlines and daily word counts, treating them like they’re cast in stone, neither are hard to hit. I give myself all sorts of margin, and if something in life happens — such as a family emergency like what happened recently — I’m not going to push myself. There’s no need for that.

Doing is good. Scratch that, it’s great. Nothing happens without doing. But without the thought behind it — without the constructive use of downtime the action will be second-rate.