May 112015
 
I generate garbage for a living,. These are my first drafts for 2015, and the year's not half over yet.

I generate garbage for a living,. These are my first drafts for 2015, and the year’s not half over yet.

By my own estimation it’s around 512 pages, but I’m not gonna bother to count them. It’s thicker than a ream of paper, and at least a few trees sacrificed themselves for my work.

Or something.

It’s uncut, with nothing between brain and paper except an old typewriter. Much of it is stream of consciousness, with an outline being thrown together after the fact. The whole thing took 40 days and at least two cans of Cuban coffee.

It’s terrible, but all first drafts are. Hemingway called all first drafts — including his own — something that I will not repeat in a family venue such as this.

No third party reads my first drafts and lives. But that’s the creative process.

If you listen to the uncut version of your favorite jazz album you’ll probably hear multiple takes, false starts, train wrecks, conversations with the sound guy, and the leader screaming at one of his sidemen. Pharoah’s Dance, the 20-minute opening cut on Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew album, has something like 19 edits. There are a couple of places where you can hear the splices. But it’s an amazing album, essential listening.

Every time you fumble through a song the first time, every blog post you write, every porch you build or every piece of software you create is gonna have issues. Big ones. You’ll end up throwing half of it out and totally rebuilding the other half.

Then you hope you threw out the right half.

It’s a necessary step in the creative process.

The next step is to let it sit a good while. Detach myself from the project and do something else. Forget it’s there. Then on July 1 I’ll pull it out of the box, read through it, go through a few red pens and try to pull something out of it. Kind of like finding the pony in the mountain of horse flop.

Diamonds come out of coal. Oil comes primarily from dead things. Art comes from the aforementioned pile.

You need to create the garbage before you can dig out the good stuff.

The garbage comes first.

#endit#

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Click on Mr. Zip to get started.

May 112015
 
Word count: 102,365. Half of them may live.;

Word count: 102,365. Half of them may live. The typewriter is even older than I am.

Trust me. It’ll be pretty bad.

It’ll sit in cold storage for 40 days and 40 nights, and will come out July 1. Then I’m gonna bleed all over it with a red pen.

Half of it will get thrown out, and the other half totally rewritten. But that’s the nature of the business.

There’s a story in there somewhere.

#endit#

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.

#endit#

May 092014
 

 

That's me doodling on a large scale, whiteboards and all. Don’t let the boss catch … oh, I am the boss.

That’s me doodling on a large scale, whiteboards and all. Don’t let the boss catch … oh, I’m the boss.

Employers are funny. They say they want creativity in the workplace, but it’s usually nothing but lip service. Most don’t want to see the stuff that goes with creative thinking in the office or on company time.

That means no staring out the window, no screwing off, no bugging the other workers. Look busy. Productivity is how all things are measured in the workaday world, and all except the most visionary of owners/stockholders want to see the good productivity numbers right now.

Kate Taylor of Entrepreneur.com laid out a few ideas for someone to exercise that creative streak, even someone who works for someone else and draws a regular paycheck.

  • She advocates shaking things up, breaking the routine. Now, the cool thing about this is it can be done at home. Even if it’s singing in the shower — she said that, not me — can be enough to move things around. I’ve heard other ideas like taking a different route to work or keeping a journal in the morning. Larger shake-ups can include hanging with a different bunch of people.
  • Embrace your weirdness: Uh, I have no idea what she’s talking about. Maybe it’s my thing for index cards or ability to tune out a conversation because my mind is galloping elsewhere? Hey, if you’re creative you’re probably weird anyway. I guess if you can’t lick ‘em, join ‘em.
  • Doodling: Remember Sergio Aragones of Mad Magazine? He drew all those cartoons in the margins of almost every page, and those may have been the funniest thing about the publication. It seems Steve Jobs was quite the doodler, and of course Leonardo da Vinci. I have two 4×4 whiteboards I can go crazy on, plus those index cards. Don’t try it on that sales report at work, though. I mean, there are some limits.
  • Analyzing those ideas: Ever hear of “Creatalitics?” Neither have I until I read Taylor’s article. For me it’s taking that goofy idea I picked up on one of my walks and picking it apart. Is it doable? Is it worth doing? Inject a little bit of that logic in there; right brain gives way to left brain just like a relief pitcher in the seventh inning. Incorporate that step with a little doodling — like a mind map — to double your fun.
  • Goof off: This is another one of those don’t-try-it-at-work things, unless you can get away with that. But even if you’re working stupid long hours on the job you can chisel out a little time to do this at home. Act the fool. Paint something on your garage wall. Break out the Play-Doh.

If your employer decides exercising creative thinking and having fun on the job is important (I don’t mean company bowling tournaments which only happen off the clock), go for it. If not, pick your spots.

#endit#

Talk to me: How does your employer handle your creative streak? Please share in the comments.

Apr 252014
 
Some areas are as I remembered it.

Some areas are as I remembered them.

I’ve written about how overrated, how capricious, how crazy the Muse is. She shows up when she wants and does what she pleases. She’s a tease, gives you all sorts of promises and most likely will slam the door in your face.

Can’t live with her, can’t live without her.

While most of the time I check in at my work desk at 9 a.m. and dare her to show up, every once in a while I have to think about currying her favor. Romancing the stone. Spending a little time in private, tramping around in nature, just the Muse and I.

Where's a pair of wire cutters when you need one?

Where’s a pair of wire cutters when you need one?

Right behind my new home is a great wilderness park. It’s not as great as it once was, because it’s managed by the flood control district and the main access road is paved. Much of this park is fenced off. There are many species of tree that didn’t used to be there; they’re not indigenous to the area. It’s a cottonwood forest, plain and simple. What are palm trees doing out there?

Regardless, it’s still great. If I close my eyes and forgive the warts it’s still a dandy place to hang out with the Muse.

I’d just arrived in town Wednesday, all fatigued and jet-lagged and brain dead. Only by sheer will did I make it to my new home. But Thursday morning I was up, hiking boots on, pounding out a few miles on that paved road. Just chilling out and taking it all in. just me, a camera phone, a note pad and my observations.

  • Noticed the alterations in the plant life and asked a fellow hiker about it. She pointed out another stand of trees that was deliberately being kept in its natural state. Note: No palm trees.
  • Noticed the warmth of the quasi-desert area. Felt the dry heat. Saw how quickly my sweat evaporated.
  • Noticed the damage from the most recent fire, maybe about a year ago. Some charred trees, but the real and/or fake foliage is coming back nicely now. That area gets hit by fires every few years; drought + Santa Ana winds = a potential mess. Some of the trees in my back yard bear the scars of fires past.
  • Noticed the old city dump, closed and capped. I remember going there a few times to dump off some large items, including a burned-out fence from a previous fire.
  • Noticed how close Mt. Rubidoux really is. It turns out I stopped just a little short of it this time. At some point I plan to hike over there from the house, climb that sucker and be back in time for cornflakes.
  • Noticed I now have a few things to write about.

Doesn’t matter what sort of relationship you have with the Muse. It can be a real love-hate thing like the one I have, but getting out always helps jump-start the process. It’s even better if it’s in a natural area. If you’re one of those unfortunates who doesn’t have access to one, a faux natural area will do for now.

I’ll be back, ready for more miles. Just the Muse and I.

With my lunch, a note pad and camera phone.

And a pair of wire cutters. Got to do something about that fence.

Talk to me: Do you have a favorite place where you can feed your creative self? Describe it in the comments.

##endit##

 

Mar 052014
 
Let 'em finish already!

Let ’em finish already!

There’s a road sign I often see in South Carolina. It’s posted wherever there’s a road project, and it admonishes drivers to watch their air speed. I guess law enforcement takes this stuff seriously:

LET ‘EM WORK – LET ‘EM LIVE

Because I’m so easily amused I usually read that out loud when I pass one of those signs.

However, as proof positive that I’m so easily amused, I’ll add my own punchline:

LET ‘EM FINISH

That’s because road crews — or more correctly the political entities that control them — are not always that good about completing a project.

Of course I know absolutely nothing about that. Of course I always finish what I start. Of course I’m lying like an old hound dog in the sun.

I’ve already written about my multiple uncompleted projects. Their name is legion for there are many. But talking to other creative types — especially those with more than one talent — should make me feel better. At least I’m not the worst kiddy in this schoolhouse.

But this finishing stuff. That’s so cool. A rush. Even better than having another brilliant idea. But getting to that completion point is just too much like work.

LET ‘EM FINISH ALREADY

Jessica Baverstock wrote about this idea-versus-completion notion in Write To Done. There’s a real high attached to having a great idea. It’s that inspiration, kind of like being one of The Chosen. It’s that shiny object, and you know about those.

LET ‘EM FINISH, OK?

As I write this post I’m winding down my large fiction project. Now I’m down to fixing some formatting that got lost when transferring files (plus I’m checking for continuity), but I’m close. Really close. I should have this fixing done tonight (Tuesday) so I can upload the whole mess into Smashwords and Createspace tomorrow.

It’s soup yet.

Maybe.

You’d think my overly critical, analytical and verbose brain would get the hint by now. It’s lost this battle, so it might as well stand down.

But it won’t.

It’s that Resistance thing again. My most effective personal form of resistance is that yakking brain telling me that my immensely stupid idea will never work. the whole concept blows and my execution makes a bad thing worse. Why don’t I shuck the whole thing and go fishing instead?

This happens even at this late stage. Especially at this late stage.

WANNA LET ‘EM FINISH?

I’m particularly susceptible to this idea addiction. I know, talking about my predispositions can be a dandy excuse for screwing off, but bear with me here. According to Clifton’s StrengthsFinder, my five core strengths are:

  • Strategic: Long on thinking, especially in developing an idea. Short on actually finishing something.
  • Learner and Input: Separate strengths, but similar results. Great for research and storing information, short on actually finishing something.
  • Ideation: Lots of ideas. Unfortunately, finishing something is not one of them.
  • Self-assurance: This is the only thing that saves my butt here. It means I’m stubborn and always right. But I have to complete something to prove it.

LET ‘EM STINKIN’ FINISH

Baverstock suggests trading one addiction for another; in this case completion for ideas. Which makes sense, kinda sorta.

Here’s the thing, though. She outlines eight steps to make this swap, but there’s nothing particularly original or useful in the first six. Number seven, though, gets pretty good:

Breathe in the jubilant high of completion. In other words, LET ‘EM FINISH

But see, none of this means jack until I actually complete something.

Something like a 600-word blog post. That’s a gateway drug.

If I can carry that completion high over to the next project I might even finish that one too.

The progression continues as long as I let it. Maybe at some point I get to where I’m finishing 125,000-word novels. Hey, stranger things have happened.

LET ‘EM #&%@!! FINISH

-endit-

 

Talk to me: Do you find this completion idea true? Any experiences to bear this out? Please share.

everything-siggy-workingsize

 

 

 

Dec 272013
 
I didn't burn this one. 'Bout time.

I didn’t burn this one. ‘Bout time I shipped it.

Okay. I lied. I said I wasn’t going to post anything until Jan. 2.

So sue me.

That’s all right. This one’s worth it.

Part I of my new fiction work, B.I.C. Cartel is now live. Just uploaded it a few minutes ago.

It’s so new Amazon hasn’t reviewed it yet to see if it advocates world conquest (of course it does).

It’s so new there isn’t even a link available on Amazon yet.

It’s so new I’m still playing with the bubble wrap.

Here’s the deal. I wanted to have Part I perpetually free on Amazon and they won’t let me. Minimum price they allow is 99 cents. Ooo-kayyy. I guess I’ll live.

Here’s the link to the Amazon author page; by then the link might be up. Or not. Feel free to browse, though.

But if you go to my site on Gumroad, you will find it for free. Well, kinda sorta free. It’s a pay-what-you-want, so technically it’s still free. Of course, you know I won’t turn down … (Eric, shaddap!)

Take that, Amazon. Tick me off like that …

It’ll be in .mobi format for the Kindle because Parts II and III will also be released by that fine retail outlet. Want to keep things consistent. Scheduling so far:

Part II – Feb. 2, 2014 – Through Amazon.

Part III – March 3, 2014 – through Amazon.

Full version – March 4, 2014 – through multiple ebook outlets.

Printed version: Still working on that one. Will be through CreateSpace, but you never know. Also working on a deluxe edition. but that’s a maybe.

Oh, yeah. Check out the B.I.C. Cartel website while you’re up and about.

Thanks, y’all.

— Eric

 

Oct 222013
 
When that thing breaks, all sorts of things happen.

When that thing breaks, all sorts of things happen.

Yesterday was the day from Hell.

Five hours’ sleep, so I was cranky.

Lots of creative work that day, so my brain was fried.

Bike out of commission, so a lot of walking.

Finished up some for-pay work, so I’m drained.

Feeling every one of my 29 years. Or something. Couldn’t even tell good lies.

Snivel.

So when I got home for the nightly writing session on a longer project, forget it.

I’d been going 1,500 to 4,000 words every day for several weeks straight. Nice average.

But last night?

Started without really being interested. Sick of the project. Sick of writing.

OK, so it was time to write, but it’s sort of like taking those meds. Don’t want to, but have to. This is going to be my absolute minimum, 250 words. For me, 250 means not really showing up. A token appearance, like when the President hops from one inauguration party to another. Hello, shake a couple of hands, pose for another picture, see ya.

Cranked on the computer, vision in a fog, fingers hurting, head hurting, everything hurting. Even 250 was gonna hurt.

Then wrote.

Don’t have any idea how it happened, but something did.

The Muse dropped by to say howdy.

Logged 1,500 words, or 1,250 more than I intended. Even roughed out some notes for today, about 100 words’ worth. Only total fatigue forced me to stop.

I got it just from showing up.

* * *

This is a long way of saying that’s what happens. Thoroughly uninspired, you show up anyway.

Then something happens.

The dam breaks.

All the time I’ve had this blog — and long before — I’ve been writing about just showing up for work. But to see it happen for real, live and in person, it still amazes me.

Sitting around waiting for inspiration is a crock.

The artist or writer who needs to feel inspired is a wanna-be. A never-was.

Inspiration shows up when you do. And if that crazy lady doesn’t visit, you’ve still got something. Something is always better than nothing.

(Wrote these lines with maybe a sip of coffee in me. Just got up from a hard sleep. Medication hasn’t kicked in yet.)

# # #

What say you? Have you ever seen what happens when that dam breaks like that? Isn’t it fun? Please share your experiences.

 

Aug 192013
 

Can’t remember how it goes.

Is it cluttered desk = cluttered mind, or empty desk = empty mind?

I’m betting on the latter.

Actually, Albert Einstein said that, and based on the photographic evidence he knows a little something about that.

albert einstein's desk

Albert Einstein’s desk, as seen shortly after he died. It’s really not as bad as I expected; he must have been expecting company.

My old work desk at the newspaper office was definitely pure clutter. Open file folders all over the place. Papers and photos in random piles. Notebooks. Two loose-leaf phone directories of all my sources. Coffee cup. Ashtray (newsrooms used to have such anachronisms back then). Maybe even a computer in there somewhere. My boss (the publisher, not the managing editor) was a real clean freak and kept after me to clean up the mess. Of course, she never wrote a word in her life, which may or may not have anything to do with that. The managing editor, my rival in well-sculpted desktops, decided I was a blood relative.

I think it took some newsroom prankster (maybe the publisher) to drop a broad hint. Something like cordoning off the area with yellow police tape. I took enough of the hint to clean things up a bit, and everyone thought I’d resigned or something. Until I mentioned an amazing discovery:

“Hey, guys, look. I found a desk.”

Now, there were rumors that after the desktop had its massive deep cleaning, everyone saw what I really look like and begged me to start piling papers on the desk again. Of course, that’s just vicious rumor.

Surprisingly enough, everything else was well organized. My physical files — those I wasn’t working on — were stored away in a drawer, alphabetized. I even kept a database of photos, mug shots of all the regular newsmakers. The database — actually an alphabetized text document — directed me to the right envelope where I kept the proper negatives and contact sheets.

 

Junk science

OK. Long anecdote. But I saw an article about clean vs. messy desks. Seems your work environment has a lot to do with your creativity and ability to make decisions. And while everyone’s different, the messy desk wins out in most arguments.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota decided to take a look at a long-established principle of human honesty and productivity — keep your work area clean and you will be more likely to work your tail off, stay honest, be generous with your coworkers, and on and on … a messy work environment, the research suggested, can bring out a person’s creativity and lead to the birth of bold, new ideas. In other words, a less- than-perfect work environment can make a person more likely to think out of the box, or at least above the horizon of those neat people in the office.

Yeah, that seeing-above-the-horizon idea makes sense. Just being able to see over my desk is hard enough.

At Disneyland years ago, one tour walked you through the administrative section and Walt Disney’s office. I’m sure it was a mock-up; who can work when a bunch of tourists from Ohio stare at you through a big sheet of glass?

My desk is a wreck, but my computer screen is orderly. Note: No icons.

Disney actually had two offices. One was tidy, forbidding-looking, intimidation dripping from the walls. That was his public office where he’d greet visitors or maybe air out a recalcitrant worker.

His other office, to put it charitably, was a wreck. It was more man cave than office, but that was where he did his actual work. He might have even had an electric fence up to keep the janitors out, but that’s conjecture.

I’ve seen pictures of Albert Einstein at his work, and his desk … well, it was about as well-ordered as his hair.

Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who singlehandedly saved the game of baseball after the 1919 World Series gambling scandal (admittedly with draconian tactics), also keopt a scary-looking desk. Piles everywhere.

But he knew where everything was — all of us messy-desk aficianados say the same thing. Longtime manager Leo Durocher, a frequent visitor to Landis’ office on sime disciplinary matter or other, vouched for that in his autobiography. If you lied to the Judge, he’d reach into one of those piles without even looking, and pluck out the very document that nails your hide to the wall.

The grand tour, if you dare

OK. That’s historical stuff; let’s get to the here and now. My own work desk is in a relative state of disorder, though not as bad as it once was. And like Judge Landis, I know exactly where everything is.

  • Reference works on the top shelf, with a pair of Bose speakers serving as bookends.
  • Office supplies on a hanging shelf to the left.
  • Files, stereo and pencil cup to the right.
  • Random stuff to the left of the computer: Sunglasses, flashlight, dry-erase markers, last week’s mail, an 11/16-inch socket from my tool drawer, a wadded-up bandanna for erasing my white boards, decommissioned cell phones, another rolled-up bandanna to rest my wrist on when using the computer mouse, which was on the desk last time I looked.
  • File drawer is fairly orderly, but don’t ask about the open cubbyhole on top of that. It seems some creature has taken up residence there. Not sure what it is, but it has glowing red eyes and only comes out at night.

But my computer screen is fairly clear. No icons — I hate them anyway. One terminal window to open programs, because I don’t use drop-down menus very much either. A couple of open documents. Some notes elsewhere on the screen, in another terminal window.

Very orderly. Or not.

Forced adaptability

Of course I’m going to have my hypothosis, even though there’s nothing scientific about it. But a messy desk may force you to adapt, to think your way around corners, to come up with something amazing even if conditions say you should go back to bed. OK, maybe I’m justifying my own bad behavior, so take that into consideration.

Here’s my challenge. Grab a bunch of random papers and kitsch, and dump it on your desk. Rent a front-end loader if you have to. Slap a couple of HAZMAT decals on the pile to keep everything in sync with government regulations. See if that helps with your creativity.

If it doesn’t work, you can always light a match and get rid of the piles with no lapse in continuity.

# # #

What say you? Can you still see over your desk? Let’s talk about it in the comments.