Jul 162013
 

I ran across this interview that a couple of high school kids somehow got for their school radio station, a chat with the great Louis Armstrong. By then Satchmo was in the business 50 years, already had several careers as a jazz trumpeter and as a singer, and achieved more than most musicians could ever fantasize.

But even after years of playing and working with the same eight notes in the musical scale all that time, he still held to his practice regimen.

“Even if I have two, three days off, you still have to play that horn,” Satchmo said. “You have to keep up those chops. I have to warm up every day for at least an hour.”

John Coltrane, one of the greatest ever on tenor sax, practiced at least eight hours a day, at leadt according to a guesstimate from one of his contemporaries. And when jazz pianist Bud Powell was incarcerated he found some chalk, drew a keyboard on his cell wall, and practiced on that.

Doesn’t matter what your art is, you probably have specific things you do for practice.

Some writers free-associate on paper, putting down anything that pops into their heads, and keeping the pen moving is the only real objective. Daily journal writing is what this ink-stained wretch calls practice. Whatever it is, my practice is done in longhand while the coffee is brewing. It’s part brain dump and part playtime, where I can experiment with stuff without worrying about it being readable.

Practice. That’s the time to try those phrases kicking around in your head. Time to see how that melody sounds against the chords you keep hearing. It’s when you develop your muscle memory, build up some physical stamina, fine-tune your eye and ear. Become even more familiar with your tools. Absolutely essential.

My phrases may come out all tortured and my logic twists all over the place during practice, but that’s fine. Satchmo’s and Trane’s practice sessions were probably more skronkfest than those burnished tones you expect from a musical genius, but that’s also fine.

Practice is absolutely essential, but it’s also playtime. It’s supposed to be fun.

# # #

 

Nov 022012
 

Somebody ought to take the hosswhip to me. Seriously.

I’ve got enough on my plate right now. Digging up some clients and getting ready to do this freelancing thing full time. A couple of stories on my editorial calendar. Building this blog. Working on an ebook, which I expect to be out in a couple of weeks. Getting my daily 1,500 words in.

Plus there’s that thing called life, y’all might have heard rumors about that.

Last thing I need is to take on another assignment, now that I already have a pantload. So why did I sign up for NaNoWriMo?

To the non-writer, that’s National Novel Writing Month. The game plan is to (literally) puke up a 50,000-word novel in one month.

Now, understand, I said nothing about quality here. The best anyone could do in such a compressed time frame is to write a first draft. A really bad first draft, but that’s a redundant statement. A general rule in all art forms is that first drafts stink.

Am I crazy? (I already know the answer to that one, so all y’all in the peanut gallery can hold your peace, thank you very much.)

While NaNoWriMo is built for the person who has a story locked up inside him and needs to bring it out, it’s the daily discipline of banging out 1,667 words that’s so crucial.

For a writer, or for any creative person, the biggest aspect of the job is just doing something. If you write, you’re a writer. If you don’t, you’re not. Sitting around waiting for inspiration isn’t writing; it’s screwing off.

While I do have an under-development story rattling around in my brain, again the value of NaNoWriMo is in standing at my terminal and getting the stuff down. Sitting with my composition book and getting more words down. Every day. Whether inspired or not. Again, because that is what I do.

It’s really training. At some point your workouts become much more intense than what you’d in real life. Like the marathon runner who logs more than 100 miles in a week to prepare for a 26-mile course. Like the astronaut who sits in the simulator running through all these out-of-left-field scenarios he’ll probably never encounter on the job. Getting down to actual performance time the stamina’s built up and the daily slog becomes, well, like a walk in the park by comparison.

So if I spend a month writing a reasonably purposeful 3,167 words a day, that habit becomes ingrained and settling back to a more normal 1,500 — or even 2,000 — becomes more manageable.

However, writing something like:

All work and no play makes Eric a dull boy.
all work Nd no Play makes Eric a dull Boy.
All eork and no play m akes eric a DULL BOY.
Al l work & n o play makes Eric a djll boy.
ALL work a nd no play majes Eric  du ll boy …

… while it’s inspired stuff, this really isn’t part of my daily word count.

If you’ve got a story in your head and are interested in getting it on paper, give NaNoWriMo a whirl. Even if you don’t have the story idea yet, the practice will do nothing but good.

###

Oct 262012
 

There’s something about that trail that attracts hardy souls and adventurous types.

I heard her long before I saw her, mostly because sound — especially when it’s a war cry — carries well in the mountains.

But as I talked to the 60-ish black lady with the tattoo on her forearm and a headband around her close-cropped white hair, I began to realize what I was doing up there on Sassafrass Mountain.

Sure, it was a time of refreshing, some bonding with my two friends who are closer than brothers, of good clean manly fun, of testing our mettle against some seriously uncompromising terrain.

But it turns out my reason for being on that Appalachian Trail hike was to hear the war cry near the summit of Sassafrass Mountain.

To talk to people like the two Canadians we ran across near Three Forks, about five miles into our trek. They were heading due south, just a sniff away from the trail’s end — and from the culmination of a longtime dream. They started hiking the AT in 1993, when I was still in Arizona and my two hiking buddies were still in their 20s.

Among hiking circles, everyone knows what the AT is. The big’un. The mother of all hikes. Stretching from Mount Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain, Georgia, this trail takes 2,184 miles. Little of it is on flat ground.

Check this. If your idea of training for the AT is to walk along some hiking trail near you, even with a full pack on, it may not be enough to get you through this hike. Even a 10-mile trip over the Cooper River Bridge in Charleston isn’t enough. Sure there’s incline, but all the pavement is there. It’s relatively smooth. There are no switchbacks on the bridge.

A mile is a mile on the bridge, but it’s a whole different animal on the trail. We usually logged a mile in about 15-20 minutes fully loaded in training, but on the trail that same mile took closer to an hour.

If you think you’re pretty big stuff, take about 10 miles or so on the AT. Start anywhere, but just do 10. It’ll humble you quickly.

Maybe it’s the scenery or the challenge, but The Trail sees plenty of visitors anyway. Some just make it a day hike along part of it. Others will section-hike, starting at one end and finishing at the other, a few days at a time. Other real hardy (and independently wealthy) souls will do the whole thing at one whack, “through-hiking” the trail. If that’s your goal, expect to take at least six months off for this.

Starters and finishers

The three of us — me, Derek, and John — started our first section hike at the southern terminus. When will we finish? No one knows. I may be on a walker when we hit Maine, but we do plan to finish this thing somehow. But there’s no rush.

Derek takes a precarious rest stop.

Our new Canadian friends took 19 years to complete their hike. When we talked to them, they were going at a goodish clip of 15 miles per day and planned to hit the Springer Mountain summit in time for lunch.

“We’ll probably open that bottle of wine we packed,” said one of the hikers, patting his backpack.

Since starting their adventure as younger men, they continued to meet once or twice a year at whatever point they left the trail, strap on their backpacks, grab their trekking poles, and go cut some trail. Most of the time anyway. For about a four-year stretch, they didn’t make it to the trail. Family matters, work, that little thing we call life kept getting in the way. Which, I’m sure, will make that wine extra heady at trail’s end.

“We’re thinking about through-hiking it next,” one Canadian told me. “But we’re still trying to wrap our heads around this.”

War cries from the turtle snail clan

I finally see the shouting lady a couple of hundred yards ahead of me, making her halting way up the mountain to where the front-running Derek (the mo-sheen, we call him) was taking a breather. Clearly pooped, she leans her pack against a rock to take some weight off. She considers a couple of miles to be a good day.

Outfitted with his trekking poles, John’s ready for the trail.

“I’m of the turtle clan,” she says, citing some Native American — Hopi? — lore. “But now it seems like a snail.”

No worries. Never mind what the doctors say. She has arthritis, wears a brace on one ankle, and the doc told her that hiking the AT was one of those things she should never attempt. But she’s hiking for her own reasons.

“I’m a healer,” she says. She does have that New Agey look and bearing about her; her tattoo is of some spiritual motif and she has religious items in her pack. She swears she generates enough electrical energy to destroy a cell phone. “But now I’m healing me. I keep looking off from this mountain and I say, that’s my past.”

It’s clearly a tough go for her. She decided her pack was too heavy to make the climb up Sasafrass Mountain (elevation 3,336 feet), so she gave some of her food to some other hikers.

But she made it this far, and we talked with the summit within sight.

“You’ll hear me shouting when I get there,” she says.

To the members of my hiking party she’s pretty zingy, from way out in deep left field someplace. But we have to share a unanimous “good for her.” She’s on the trail, beating some odds, achieving a dream.

Just like our two Canadian friends.

Or just like John, Derek, and myself.

Sure, life happens. We have jobs and/or businesses, and sometimes we have an uneasy truce with our work lives. We have expectations to meet, promises to keep. John and Derek both have wives who would probably never join us on the trail. This is, for us, extracurricular activity. The boys’ night out.

For more photos, check out The Column

But for Derek, who grew up in northern California and went to high school in Twentynine Palms in the desert, this is something he’s always wanted to do. And John, well-educated with a good job in hospice care, well, this is also something on his bucket list.

I still think I look like I walked in from the set of Deliverance here.

I first heard of the AT when in my early 20s, and it immediately went on my list as something I had to do before I got too decrepit. A couple of years ago, my friend Rick Moore invited me to join his group for a section hike, and I had to beg off due to a foot injury.

But the Trail grew larger in my mind, so the three of us began training and planning for the hike.

Even though life happens and often it’s a series of busted dreams, there’s no reason for me to give this one up.

Postscript

The trail kicked our butts. Basing our projections on our training runs, we expected to hit 37 miles in four days. Didn’t even come close.

Epic fail, right?

Wrong.

We’ll be back up there in six months, better trained, better equipped, and a whole lot more humble.

“I think that’s the biggest thing,” the shuttle driver told us as he took us back to our vehicle. “I think (many hikers) overextend themselves.”

He knows a little something about this. He’s driven an AT shuttle vehicle for 23 years, picking up hikers who fall short of their goal and take them to their vehicles — just like us. It’s a living.

He hears hikers say it’s easy to hit 20 miles per day right from the jump, and he believes it’s all a bunch of hogwash.

“Your system needs to adjust to this,” he said. “Through-hikers don’t start feeling right until they hit Neels or Unicoi gap (both past the 30-mile mark), then they get their legs and they’re gone. You don’t eat right on the trail. You don’t sleep right. And if your training is just running on the beach … ”

Gee, suddenly I don’t feel like such a wussy.

Get right down to it, even with the blown expectations, our hike was a success. We went out there and did it. We nibbled at it. We want to continue, hopefully for a bigger bite next time.

We came back with a better idea of how to approach the trail next time. Better training. Strip down our pack weights. Plan around water sources. Come back with a new respect for the big’un.

The epic fail would be if I wrote the whole thing off and never attempted to act on such a consarn idiotic idea again. If I gave up and settled back on the couch.

But I’m just not wired like that.

I’d rather listen to my own instincts than to reason any old day.

Catch me and my friends again in about six months. We’ll have some more trail grime to clean off and some more stories to tell you.

###

(If you’re new around here — or not — you might want to subscribe by mail or by RSS. A Kindle option will be available soon, too.)

 

Oct 192012
 

Some things are demanding or complex enough to require a person's best.

There are probably times during your day when you operate at peak efficiency, and others when you’re probably better off taking a nap. The good news is, these times are usually predictable.

There’s even better news on this front: These peak times will evolve as you develop personal habits. I’ll get into that part later.

The whole trick here is to find those peak times, and to my knowledge there’s no real test to determine what those are. As far as I know, there’s no substitute for the good old-fashioned trial-and-error method. That, and running an audit of yourself.

Once you know your peaks and valleys, you can plan your day somewhat. If you’re self-employed, this knowledge is huge. If you have one of those day jobs where you have some control over your work flow, this is still good stuff to know. If you have one of those on-the-line jobs where you make grommets all day, it’s still good information.

If you have a day job and are exercising those creative muscles by building something for yourself in your off hours, this knowledge will be like gold.

What I found out: Some surprises

I did this audit recently, and came up with a few surprises. I have two peak periods a day where I’m really smokin’ and dealin’ — but those peaks are several hours apart. Which means if I was working for someone else full time and need to be at my best for the whole time, a split shift is the thing. But no single employer deserves that much from me.

My peak periods run from about 9 a.m. to noon, and from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Each of these periods is followed by a three-hour stretch where I start to wear down but am still good.

But from 3 to about 5 p.m., forget it. I’m useless. Anything requiring brain power takes considerable effort.

Gee, maybe that explains why I was such a strong starter but not a great finisher on my former day job. Getting toward the end of the shift I was sucking on fumes. If that job required any brains, it would have been worse than it already was.

I’m still trying to figure out how the morning thing got into the picture. Like, how did this longtime night person manage to operate in a halfway intelligent manner in the mornings? I’m getting ahead of myself, though. I’ll get to it; just let me lay my story out right.

Trust me. That monkey mind will get ya.

I’m writing this at 9:30 a.m., right there in my wheelhouse. My peak periods are reserved for writing and brainstorming; the real high-impact stuff. A problem is that my mind is so active during these stretches that I’m particularly susceptible to distractions. Especially in the morning session, when I top-load most of my work, I use a timer to keep me focused. Otherwise, monkey mind takes over.

I use my declining periods for some editing, pitching some work, research and work-related correspondence. I try to put the most important stuff toward the front of this time while I still have something.

From 3 to 6 p.m. I’ve shut work down. Forget it. I’m borderline useless. No writing or editing then, otherwise I’ll make a mess of things. Save that for reading, some correspondence, some social media. As I get older I’ve come to appreciate a good nap, and that’s the time for me to do it.

Although I always thought my chunked-up day was because I’m a max-effort kind of guy, after talking to other creative types I find two separate peak periods in a day isn’t all that unusual. It’s like the brain and body catch that second wind. Even when I try to push against my personal tide and try to get stuff done during my useless period, I still perk up in the evening. The only real difficulty here (besides the monkey mind) is that I need to bring things to a hard stop; otherwise I’ll go past midnight. This old guy needs his sleep.

Using the chunks instead of blowing them

OK, so you have a day job and maybe you’ve identified two peak periods in your day. Give one to your employer because that’s the right thing to do. Put your more intensive work into that time slot, and use non-peak times for the more mundane tasks. But if your employer demands both of your peak periods, he’s stealing.

If that other peak time is in the evening, use it for the stuff that demands your best. Write that novel. Work over the chord changes of “Giant Steps.” Build that Next Big Thing. The declining time is still good for engagement, social stuff, and anything that requires you to be present.

Appendix: Peak times will evolve

I find it interesting how my peak times adjusted over the years. I’ve always been a night person; I even sought the midnight-to-8 shift whenever possible. Mornings were for other people. I just don’t do mornings, and anyone who called me before noon usually caught an earful of naked hostility.

What happened?

I’d like to think I’ve matured, but that’s not likely (no future in that anyway). More than likely it was that aforementioned day job. I had to hit the ground running at 7:30 a.m. each day, no fiddling around. That, I think, trained me to those hours.

Some further reading

OK. I’ll admit falling asleep is an issue for me, especially when my mind is in overdrive. I noted it on Twitter the other night:

* * *

Ugh. Still up. #amwriting at 12:30 a.m., BDT. That’s #Bipolar Daylight Time for the uninitiated around here. #brainshutup

* * *

Gets rough around here sometimes.

Liisa Kyle, Ph.D and Lisa Rothstein, those outrageously multitalented ladies at davincidilemma.com, came out with a blog post about things to do when you can’t sleep, and it’s really interesting. Kyle, who wrote the piece, suggests our current model of falling down and sleeping for eight hours is a fairly recent phenomenon. She cites a BBC piece as evidence.

It seems the normal sleep pattern until the 20th Century was to fall asleep for about four hours, get up for an hour or two, then go back to sleep for another four. The straight eight started to catch on the late 17th Century, and pretty much took over by 1920. You could say increased industrialization and shift work more than contributed to this change.

###

 

 

Sep 282012
 

Yes I'm assigning homework, and yes that's a creepy photo.

If you have the time to listen, this podcast I checked out the other day is well worth it.

Writer Jeff Goins, who keeps a blog on writing and the creative process, covers a whole lot of ground here. Self-declaration. Working with a cantankerous and demanding Muse. Starting something instead of just thinking about it.

This podcast is of a nearly 50-minute interview between Goins and Erik Fisher, who produces the Beyond The To Do List blog and podcast series. A happy discovery for me; I’d never heard of Fisher until just a few days ago.

Let’s put it this way. If you don’t have at least one workable idea coming out of this podcast, forget it. There ain’t no hope for you.

The more I think about it, the more I realize Jeff is probably my brother from another mother. You heard it here first.

Listen to or download the podcast. Check out Jeff. Make those two things your weekend homework assignment. There may be a quiz later.

###

Sep 282012
 

The process is more than just the means of achieving a result.

I have this goofy tendency to think way ahead of things. I’m a big-picture guy, and sometimes it rubs people the wrong way.

When I took a job at a railroad yard some years ago, my role was a fairly small one in the scheme of things. I dealt with truckers coming in and going out of the yard. What they did while on the property, I had no clue. All I knew was that they came in with a shipping container, left without one, and there was a train parked thereabouts.

So I had a tour of the yard. I picked our load planner’s brain. I asked a gazillion questions of our crane operators. I bugged the crap out of my boss, and I’m sure my caffeinated personality didn’t help my cause. To this day he’s probably glad he’s rid of me. But with each question I understood better what I was supposed to do.

I think best with the big picture in mind. Hang the process, give me results instead.

My one-time shrink once suggested I look more to the process and enjoy that. Results will come, she said. The whole thing sounded so Eastern with a high ooo-eee-ooo factor, so it was quite natural that I thought she was full of it. I’m just not wired that way.

As a writer I always had my eye on the finished product and on the deadline. The steps I took were merely the means toward an end. I didn’t have time to enjoy what I was doing.

Now hear this: Getting my stuff down on paper is fun. Taking a totally random germ of an idea and building it into something workable is a real kick in the pants. Talking to folks to gather the info I need is enjoyable. Shuffling through my arsenal of words to find The One that conveys the exact meaning I want, that’s fun too.

Isn’t it always a blast when you come up with that nice turn of a phrase, one that expresses everything you need to say in just a few words? Even if that masterful wording gets up snipped out in the final edit (always done with weeping and gnashing of teeth), it’s still a great feeling.

I remember this guitarist I used to work with. Guy was a musical genius but had some serious social deficiencies. He told me in a rare lucid moment that he had Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a form of autism, and I totally believe that. He’d go a whole gig without saying a word. But watching him play was something else.

He’d stand there with his guitar clutched to his chest, wringing out flurries of notes and chords, all correct within the context of the song but challenging you at the same time. He’d make faces as his mind worked through the song, and his eyes would be fixed on a spot on the ceiling. If somebody came in with a high-powered weapon and began mowing down everybody in the place I’m sure the guitarist wouldn’t notice.

I’d come to realize, this guy was in love with the process. He’s making music because that’s what he does, like that’s the whole of his existence. Because of this love (and probably the Asperger’s) he was able to do his work with an otherworldly singleness of purpose.

When I first discovered I could write, and later when I realized I could play music, I loved the process. Any moment I could spare, I practiced.

But after a measure of success (in my world, “success” was partly from knowing people were actually willing to pay me for doing something I loved) I loved the results.

Only the process, i.e. my imagination, could conjure up a vision like this.

The process? Ahh, it was there. It was still important. However, it was a means to the result. Results are always wonderful, but like some nasty redheaded seductress in a little black dress, the results took my eye off the process, of just doing my work and enjoying it.

(Now, wasn’t it fun conjuring up that seductress? I tell you, if it wasn’t for the creative process she wouldn’t exist.)

###

Sep 072012
 

 

I’m old enough to remember watching Fred Sanford fight. It was always good for a laugh, and even decades after his doppelganger Redd Foxx’s passing, it’s still funny. It’s still seen in male-bonding situations everywhere.

But it’s more than just humor there. Foxx’ pugilistic methods are those of a guy who has all the right moves, has good reflexes, maybe even a good left-right combination. But his opponent is perfectly safe. He may get pneumonia from all that fanning, but that’s about all.

Ol’ Fred’s boxing is aimless. He’s just beating the air.

All art, including comedy, imitates life. The things we creatives do to accomplish our work are taken right from life.

Without a sense of purpose, my work is little more than wildly swinging in random directions. If I hit my target, it’s accidental.

Here’s the thing, though. My purposes may change over time, or even according to the project. When I first started writing, my purpose was to make sure I could really do it, that it wasn’t a mirage.

Later I wrote for practice. I still do that, but over the years I found some other purposes.

For a long time I wrote to make a living, to shake up the status quo, to maybe gain adulation and some awards. I wanted folks to think, man, that Eric is some kind of journalist.

But let’s back up a minute. There’s that purpose thing again.

I think one of the reasons I put all writing on hold in the late 1990s was because I got mixed up on purposes. I wrote to keep food on the table, and it’s not one of the easier/more effective ways to make a living. Are you kidding? Driving a taxi or working in a factory is much easier, and the pay is better. Journalism became a job. I felt like I’d lost all other sense of purpose.

I was beating the air again. Trying to make it interesting. Turning a cool phrase, not for anything related to the story I was telling, but to show off. Launching the Fred Sanford knockout punch, fanning the breeze.

But as far as the other things that come from doing my work — the joy, the fun, the sense of sharing something important, of telling a story that no one had ever told in that way before — those things were not there.

Purpose is important in what the artist does. He need not tell others what this purpose is; some things are best left inside. And it’s worthless to cast a judgement on what the artist’s purpose is. As long as he knows, that’s all that is needed. Besides, if creativity is done for the wrong reasons, the results will show this eventually.

A few years ago I picked up my pen again and scratched out my first uncertain lines in a decade. I had no idea what was going to happen. I wanted to make sure I could still do it; that was enough purpose for me then. Again, making sure I didn’t lose too much.

After my old editor saw some of my work online and told me I still had my fastball, other purposes started to fall into place. I can rattle off a few right now, in just the time it takes to type them out:

I write for fun.

I write to share.

I write because I love to tell stories.

I write to encourage other people.

I write because I can.

I write because if I didn’t, that tiger that lives inside would shred my innards.

I write because I must.

I also write to explore a personal issue, to get it all out, to have a nice healthy purge all over the page. For me, that’s crucial even though I’m the only one who is ever going to read it. Keeping a journal is something I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone.

And, oh yes, I do write to improve my bottom line. I won’t discount that, as I’ve gone on record here urging creatives to seek whatever remuneration the work is worth. But if that’s the only reason I do my work, that’s an awfully thin purpose.

You can bet Thomas Edison wasn’t thinking future profits down the road when he assembled the first light bulb. Rather than thinking about what his creation might do for the per-share price of ConEd, he might have been thinking he won’t have to run to the store to pick up more candles. Or more likely, he had that idea that was there, like a burr in the saddle, and he wanted to do something about it.

I write because it was a gift given to me before I was even born, and it’s my responsibility to use it wisely. It’s not like it’s something I own, but I’m holding it in trust.

Man, that’s a heavy purpose.

###

Aug 102012
 

It was pure slop, but you know I planned it that way. Honest.

I got into an online discussion with some other writers about plotting a story vs. merely letting it run organically. There’s a lot to be said for both methods.

The creative process gets real interesting sometimes. Fiction writers will tell you about those times when the characters in a story conspire to burn the author’s original outline and take over the whole story on their own.

Musicians will start on something, and no one is sure where it ends up. Other artists say the same thing about their work.

Even someone starting a business will use his research and plan things out, while making things up as he goes. From there it’s just a matter of proportion — how much was planned and how much wasn’t?

When I was a kid, my parents had a pool table and we worked out many a blood challenge there. We had an ironclad no-slop rule. If you pocketed a ball on pure luck at our table, you were supposed to say, “I planned it like that.” Whether the shot was allowed depended on how shameless a liar you were.

The planned/unplanned mix varies. Bandleader Charles Mingus said that as long as everybody starts together and ends together, everything else was wide open. Contrast Jimmie Lunceford, frequently reviled in jazz circles for his over-trained over-rehearsed over-standardized band of “trained seals.” OK, so he liked everything just so. Both Lunceford and Mingus had their fan bases and a sound that defined them.

I read this blog post by a writer I “met” on Linkedin, and he’s planning out a new novel. He already has an idea how many chapters he’ll have, plus word counts for each part. Of course, the story line is already figured out and the characters developed.

He hasn’t started the first draft yet, and he knows all that stuff.

Other writers will fly almost totally blind through the first draft. I mean the starting point is already determined. Might even know how it ends (whether the main characters are still alive, whether the protagonist gets the girl). Other than that, it’s all quicksand.

I’m somewhere between those two, though leaning more toward the improvisational side. I’ll put together the barest of outlines — my starting point, how I want to finish, and maybe a couple of steps in between. Fill in the blanks as I go, and at some point step back and tighten up my outline. Plotting on the fly.

I’ve had those moments where my characters take on a life of their own and hijack the story line while I stand there at the keyboard sucking my thumb. A little rough for the OCD-riddled control freak in me, but I actually love it when that happens. The only real work then is to keep up with the characters and ride herd, and the end result is much more alive than I could have done on my own.

I was the same way when interviewing. I would have an objective and a couple of main questions, then free-associate a few more just seconds before the interview. But when talking, I may use a few — or none or all — of my prearranged questions, and go with the flow of the conversation. It all depends.

Preparation is part of the process. One needs to know the general direction he is going, and know his tools. For a writer it’s in the vocabulary, grammar, and just plain knowing how to lay out a story. For a musician, the tools include his facility on the instrument, music theory, and his knowledge of dynamics. The better you know your tools the better you’ll perform, no question there.

But knowing the fluidity of real life helps temper all that knowledge, makes the process fun and gives the product a life you never knew it had.

###

(How appropriate: I started to write this post on one subject, but one short paragraph took it another direction. But that’s fine; what I ended up with became a living example of the subject matter while my original post remains on my hard drive, ready for another day.)

Jul 162012
 

I’ve heard that it takes anywhere from 21 to 45 days (depending on which source you cite) for a daily activity to become a habit. While I don’t feel like quibbling over the actual day count, let’s just say something done daily will become a habit over time.

Writers may develop a habit by banging out a predetermined word count every day. For me, that’s 1,000 words, or four pages. Musicians do their daily practice, as does any creator. On the other hand, if I lean on an excuse to avoid doing my work long enough (pick one: Don’t have enough time, have a family to feed, have a full time job, don’t have the right equipment), that also develops into a habit.

Habits tend to stay with you a long time, so choose them with care.

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