Feb 122013
 

Oh crap! I’ve up and thought myself into a corner. A fine mess I’ve gotten myself into now.

That great thunderbolt of discovery? It’s gone now. In my mind, the fun’s over. Now it’s up to me to make this thing work. Can I quit now and have another idea instead?

Some creators drop an idea at the first bite of reality. I’ve done that. I’ll take those manic ideas over the thought of a long slog anytime. But now the realization hits, I’ve made a commitment to at least make an effort, and it’s uphill now. It’s go time. To steal a phrase, quitting now would make me “all hat and no cattle.”

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Feb 052013
 

(Backgrounder: I’ve never been a great finisher. I’m one of those guys with a million plans and not a lot of anything to show for it. Lately I’ve been able to finish a couple of things, and man, does it feel good. In this week’s 3 Graffs, I’ll share a few things I’ve learned about finishing.)

I thought I’d try something different with my two recent ebooks. I didn’t announce them to anybody until a few days before release.

A big failing is to announce as soon as the idea comes up. But when I consider I had another four or five projects kicking around in various stages of incubation (actually thrashing) at the time, my announce/complete ratio would put me in flake territory again if I put the word out prematurely.

A project doesn’t really start until I announce it, and I shouldn’t announce it until I’ve counted the cost to determine if it’s doable and worth doing.

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Jan 182013
 

Stepping out of the comfort zone puts you squarely in the combat zone.

It’s that classic scene in just about every war movie you’ve ever seen, to the point of cliche. You’ve got a bunch of green recruits cowering in a foxhole with all this artillery going off in the background.

To make a proper war movie this foxhole crowd is a cross section of America. Got the Italian guy. Got the Pole from Chicago, a black, a Navajo, a Southerner, maybe even a surfer dude from California. They’re all there in one crowded foxhole with the gunnery sergent/den mother.

Finally one of them speaks up. “Sarge, I’m s-s-scared.”

Picture this. The salty old Gunny, with all the gunk on his face and greenery on his helmet, speaks up without taking the unlit cigar from his mouth.

“So you’re scared?” he askes in those tones that could only come from Brooklyn (told you this was a cliche). A pause as he shifts his cigar to the other side of his mouth a la Clint Eastwood. “Kid, I’m scared too. I’m always scared.”

There it is.

My better instincts tell me he’s just dumping a lot of snow on his troops, trying to boost morale, but that’s probably not the case. Forgetting it’s a movie for a minute, the Gunny knows there’s a lot at stake. There’s a war going on, and the losers don’t live to tell about it. But in the movies, the worst that could happen is the Gunny gets panned for overacting, the movie tanks at the box office, and he plays nothing but commanding officers in war movies for the rest of his life. Or something.

Leaving the movie and going into real life, there’s a lot to be scared of when you create something. Especially because you’re going out on a limb with nothing but your judgment holding you up.

Every time I write a blog post, I get scared. What if no one reads it? What if people do read it and think it stinks? What if I tick off half my readership? What if they call BS on me in the comments section?

What if I just hear the chirruping of crickets?

Monsters in the closet and laughing manuscripts

There’s that fear of rejection. Every time I submit a piece there’s that misgiving. The editor doesn’t like it. It stinks. Or I’m just barking up the wrong tree and it will take an extensive rewrite to make it passable for my client’s purposes.

I have one of those on my terminal right now, an article I wrote that completely missed what the editor was thinking (mind reading is not one of my strengths) and I’m just staring at it now. It came back to me with a ton of annotations. When I pick at it, I know in my heart it’ll be every bit as bad as the original. It’s just a small, 500-word article for a website with a limited audience, but I can’t get rid of the feeling that my whole career hangs in the balance here. Never mind any past success, never mind the other, better-paying stories I’m pitching right now, this is the article that sits on my screen laughing at me and telling me what a hack I truly am.

Even when things go well, there are still enough fears to disturb me. What if this post you’re reading goes viral, millions read it and subscribe to this blog? What if they expect more of the same on my next post? What if that’s the absolute best I can do and any future efforts get compared to it? What if I fall flat?

I don’t have any stats to back me up, but the creative landscape is littered with the corpses of artists who were an overnight success and couldn’t sustain it. That second novel, that second album was a bunch of garbage and no one bought it. Career over.

Elizabeth Gilbert can tell you about it. In a highly-recommended TED talk a couple of years ago she spoke of the “freakish success” of her book, “Eat Pray Love.”

“People treat me like I’m doomed,” she said. “Doomed.” The success of that book forced her to recalibrate how she looks at things. What if she can’t sustain her career?

“It’s exceedingly likely my greatest success is behind me,” she said. And she wasn’t quite 40 when she wrote that monster bestseller.

Shoot, it’s enough to make a creative want to pour Jack Daniels over his Wheaties in the morning.

By the way, I highly recommend checking out Gilbert’s talk. You can grab it here. I’ve saved it on my cell phone, and when I get to questioning the course of my life and mission I’ll play it.

Out of the foxhole

When you’re creating, you’re going places where you’ve never been before. You’re stepping out of your foxhole and going someplace where you just may get your butt shot off. There’s really no neutral zone; you’re either in your comfort zone or in the combat zone.

If you tote around a lot of fear and anxiety there’s a lot of stuff to feed it.

Let me be blunt here. If you write, if you play music, if you stake a lot of pride and capital on an idea of yours, there’s nothing safe about it. If you’re honest about it, you’re scared spitless half the time.

Years ago, my shrink tried to lay a little cognitive therapy on me, urging me to change my thinking a bit. Part of it is asking myself in the face of fear, what is the worst that can happen?

Dunno. I have a lot of imagination. It’s probably the worst question to ask a person with a creative mind.

Even with all that, I try to soldier on. I try to laugh outwardly at these fears. On my writing.com bio page, I list my hobbies: Reading, music, hiking, collecting rejection slips. I’ve posted photos of my rejections pile on this blog. I tell myself it’s just a part of writing, I shouldn’t take any of this personally, that it happens to the best of ’em. Sometimes I actually believe this.

Then get back to work like a real professional and test the bounds of gravity some more.

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Jun 302012
 

I’m not big on dreams myself. Most of mine I can’t remember or decipher, and there are probably some that are best left forgotten.

But I’ve had good ideas come up during my sleep cycles, and I’ve taken to writing them down on the note pad I keep at bedside. Some of these ideas still looked pretty good the next morning, after I’ve had coffee and located my brain.

While I’m not big on dreams, I’ve learned to pay attention to the subconscious, those guys in the back shop who work so hard at assembling ideas and coming up with some new ones while I sleep. It’s worthwhile to capture everything that bubbles up from the subconscious; you never know what may be That Idea.

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Jun 292012
 

If Edison laid down on the job, the light bulb would still have been invented ... by someone else.

“If (these guys) didn’t do their work, it still would have been accomplished. Only Joe Smoe might have invented the light bulb, Joe Sixpack might have created the airplane, and Joe Lunchmeat might have written The Godfather.”

* * *

“They stole my idea!”

I’m sure you’ve heard that one, and probably enough times to know what it actually means.

Every time something brilliant comes down the pike, you know someone will say he had the idea first and someone stole it. Right out from under him, just snatched it right from his brain or something. Or he didn’t have the a) chance, b) money or c) backing to pull it off.

Try d): Didn’t have the vision or the motivation or the ‘nads necessary to make it work.

Who is the person who would utter such a lament?

I can guarantee you, this is the person who doesn’t get ideas very often, and when he does he’s clueless what to do with it.

One of the hard truths about the creative’s life is that ideas are cheap.

Really.

This bears repeating: Ideas are cheap.

And if you’re creative, you learn these ideas are like buses. Another will be along directly. A true creative never has a shortage of ideas; more often than not he’ll have more of them than he has time to execute them. He has to decide, which ones are worth the effort?

It’s like fishing. Some ideas are keepers. Others may put up more of a fight than you are able and/or willing to handle. And some are not developed enough and should be thrown back. Maybe you’ll catch it later, or maybe someone else will. It does not matter.

But that is indeed the way things are. Ideas are not exclusive. Among minds, they’re public domain. If you don’t pick it up and do something with it, someone else will.

Things will get done whether you decide to show up for work or not. That’s how things work in the great scheme of things. While you’re out playing with the squirrels your brilliant idea will be given to someone else, and it’ll become real at some point — only without your participation, without your fingerprints. Then you might say someone stole your idea.

That’s nonsense. By default you threw it back.

An idea is intrinsically worthless until someone can catch it and has the gumption and the ability to develop it. To make it into reality. A whole bunch of folks may have conceived the idea of the incandescent light bulb, but it took an Edison to pull it off. More than a few tried to be the first to get a flying machine off the ground, to reach the South Pole, to design an operating system that would put computers into the hands of the masses. Several people might have had the idea to write the mother of all Mafia novels, but a relative unknown named Mario Puzo finally penned The Godfather — and triggered a whole franchise in the process, with sequels and everything.

But the funny thing is, if Edison or the Wright Brothers or Roald Amundsen or Mario Puzo didn’t do their work, it still would have been accomplished. Only Joe Smoe might have invented the light bulb, Joe Sixpack might have created the airplane, and Joe Lunchmeat might have written The Godfather.

Grab that idea. Assess it. If you can’t make it real, throw it back. Someone else will do something with it; applaud his success.

But if you can, pick it up. Run with it. Move it from the idea stage to the physical stage. Write that novel that’s bouncing around in your head. Compose that song you keep hearing. Invent that email reader that also checks your morning news, gives you your daily schedule and brews your morning coffee. Create that life-changing Android app. Develop that business plan and hang up your shingle.

Then you can claim it.

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As I was getting ready to post, this article by Anne Wayman (About Freelance Writing) slipped across my transom. And yes, it shows how plentiful these ideas are. Check out her comments section to see how folks cope with the mental flood.

And while you’re about it, leave a comment here.