Jan 022015
 
Without that creative outlet, who knows what will happen?

Without that creative outlet, who knows what will happen?

I found this post in Buffer Open, a site put together by a pretty decent Web service. Call it a primer of the creative process.

You may already know most of this stuff, but it’s a good way to start the year. The writer, Kevan Lee, lays out the following 17 ideas here. The comments are my own:

1. You’re as creative as anyone: What I create is the sum of my life and experiences, good and bad. I try to use everything in my writing and music, and hopefully it puts my own unique spin on things. I think the prerequisite to creativity is living a life.

2. Never underestimate the value of a creative outlet: Musicians gotta play, writers gotta write, and entrepreneurs gotta start a new business. Without these outlets, I get into a lot of hey-y’all-watch-this moments. Scary.

3. Make time for creativity. The same time. Every day: I have my evenings for that. Start at six, shut down at 10 to make dinner. My dog stands guard at the door during that time to warn me of intruders.

4. Embrace constraints: A job? A family? Crappy computer? The only creative time available is 15 minutes reclining in the head? Just finding the time/tools to get going takes creativity.

5. Trying and failing is better than never trying at all: I won’t even know if the idea is any good unless I take an honest whack at it. It takes me a while to know whether the story line is the bomb or is just gonna bomb until I’ve read through the completed first draft.

6. Be prepared to toss your best ideas: For each blog post I write, I have two or three that will never see the light of day and those are flat-out brilliant. I have several book projects in me that won’t work now. I can find them on my computer and I can revisit them later. Some, again, will never be written. That’s okay too.

7. Soak up all the influence you can: I’m a big reader because that’s what writers do. Maybe some ideas — even word usage or ways to turn a phrase — might stick to my brain.

8. Collect what inspires you: That’s why I love biographies. According to my Goodreads log I’ve read a few good ones: Steve Jobs (Walter Isaacson), American Sniper (Chris Kyle), Unbroken (Laura Hillenbrand), My Cross To Bear (Gregg Allman), everything by Steven Pressfield. Currently reading: Wild (Cheryl Strayed).

9. Creativity is about making connections: I try to seek out peers, other writers and musicians, entrepreneurs and r&d types. I still need to connect up with a few movers and shakers. But it’s better to connect with these people because I enjoy their company rather than just a career move.

10. Others will be better than you. And that’s a good thing: They tell me life really stinks when you’re at the top. Even as ambitious as I am, I hope I never find out. It’s like running out of goals. Bad thing. Besides …

11. Surround yourself with greatness: If you can, include the people from #10. If I can’t hang out with them in person, I’ll study their work. Some of it will rub off on me.

12. Create without thinking: That one’s for me because I’m an overthinker. But some of my best work is almost stream of consciousness. It’s also terrible, but that’s why I edit.

13. It’s okay to create alone: Even though so many people pay lip service to creativity, it scares many of them. They won’t be on board with me. But that’s fine with me.

14. Start something today: While it’s still called “today.”

15. You’ll love the rush when you ship it: I published my first novel standing up at a table in a McDonalds in Charleston SC. I know I did a happy dance as soon as I hit “submit” and everyone moved away from my table. I didn’t care.

16. Go big with your goals: Of course, cracking the bestseller list is always good, but it depends too much on other people. So shipping two novels and two nonfiction ebooks in 2015 looks pretty good.

17. Create what you enjoy: I moved away from writing crappy web content for questionable sites because, although they were paying me fairly well, I hated it. I think creating what I enjoy will be my theme for 2015.

Thoughts, anyone?

#endit#

May 152014
 

rest-1103330-mTom Morkes, my online doppleganger (only without the cool haircut), suggests a way to jump-start your creativity — have more adventures.

Now, Tom is on the same page as I. We’re both big on the just-start-something school of thought. He’s had his share of adventures himself. I guess jumping out of choppers and doing a hitch in Iraq does qualify as adventures.

Of course we have guys in the creative realm who can say the same thing. Hemingway had plenty of them. Journalist Ernie Pyle did his best-known work on the battlefield. George Plimpton faced very large Detroit Lions in an exhibition football game.

It makes sense to have these adventures. Supposedly they make you smarter. That’s what was discovered about German lab rats; the more things like slides and hidden doors in their habitat the more their brains developed. Adventures also help your memory, it seems.

But I discovered something else. A good adventure, even one that doesn’t come off as planned, can help you to sprout a pair. I think I wrote about this once. I got back from an Appalachian Trail hike and parked myself in my living room. Didn’t even unpack my backpack. It probably smelled up the joint. But I sat, legal pad in hand and wrote. The entire first draft of a manuscript, in fact. And I published the stupid thing; first thing I ever really completed and shipped.

See, that hike didn’t go so well. To put it bluntly, it was a gigantic cluster. One of my buddies got dehydrated and we had to shut things down early. But hey, I’m out there doing stuff instead of just talking about it. That just kind of spilled over into my other work, and I think the tone of this blog changed a bit right about then.

Now, none of this says anything about whether adventures indicate you’re smart. Withess Plimpton; going up against the Lions front four or going into the ring with boxer Archie Moore can’t be too brainy. Even with the adventures there are limits.

I’ve had my share of adventures. Many were good and became fodder for future writing. Others were borderline manic.

OK. Let’s be honest. Just say full-blown 24-karat manic. We’re talking about long-distance-moves-with-a-new-romantic-entanglement kind of manic. But you know what? Even those totally insane adventures had their upsides.

They did make me smarter. I think. Maybe even smart enough to not repeat that same mistake, though I couldn’t swear to that. But again, these manic adventures helped round me out and give me at least some settings and/or plot lines for fiction writing.

It’s probably not necessary to go on these extreme crash-test-dummy hey-y’all-watch-this adventures to reap some benefits. While changing routes to work may be too small a step and abruptly quitting work to herd sheep is too extreme, you can catch a nice middle somewhere. Whatever it is, it has to be a real break in your routine.

According to Morkes, these adventures have to involve you in a big way. They have to be yours, not someone else’s. You’re the lead character, the protagonist. Going off on someone else’s adventure doesn’t count.

These adventures have to be vivid enough that you can easily remember them. Is discovering a new coffee shop at that level? Maybe, if the espresso is absolutely phenomenal. That’s borderline. Jumping out of a perfectly good airplane is something I’d remember.

But then, yeah, there’s always that nice middle.

#endit#

Talk to me: Had any adventures lately? Please share.

Shameless plug: The deluxe edition of B.I.C. Cartel is out now. That one has some added (nonfiction) material that picks up some ideas from the story and unpacks them:

  • Does your mentor have to be alive?
  • What does The Muse look like with her gown torn off?

Grab the Kindle version or get the .pdf (on a pay-as-you-want) from Gumroad.

Apr 112014
 

(This column came from a Creativity Post article listing some of the things ridiculously creative people do. It’s good stuff, and it’s one of those things that gives me a bunch of ideas for this blog. Which is about time; I’m getting tired of plugging my book and I really need to provide some fresh material.)

I got a bit of a surprise when I read about some of the things creative people do. The successful ones don’t live in their heads.

Wha’?

You mean it’s not an artist’s prerogative to retreat into the netherworld of the mind? You mean it’s not a good place to hang out?

Apparently not.

Man, it’s fun bouncing around in my own head. Nobody bothers me. There’s always something to do. It’s my playground, a three-ring circus all by itself. It’s more fun than a barrel of multiple personalities.

It’s safe. Maybe that’s where the issue lies.

See, all the front end work goes on inside my head. I’m tossing ideas around. Deconstructing songs. Building plot lines. Developing characters for my fiction.

But here’s the thing, according to the Creativity Post: Real creatives don’t do that. At least not all the time.

Zoinks!

Like they used to say, it’s a nice place to visit but I sure don’t want to live there. Does that make sense?

Creation happens on the inside. Planning happens on the inside.

But doing something with it happens on the outside.

I get a more rounded picture of what I’m trying to do when I go outside my head. Somehow my work is more accessible. It’s shared like it should be, not locked up in the attic with my old baseball cards and Aunt Ethel’s ghost.

Besides, it’s really unsafe inside my head. Especially mine. I won’t go into details here, but it’s nice to know there’s medication for that.

What’s most important to me is that all the action occurs outside my head. My ideas sprout wings instead of just little nubs.

I can’t finish stuff inside my head. I sure can’t ship anything from there either. That’s a good enough reason for me to not spend so much time there.

-endit-

Feb 212014
 
It's what's inside that counts.

It’s what’s inside that counts.

So I’m getting ready to publish B.I.C Cartel. I mean the full version, and not just the wimpy ol’ part-by-part release. I mean the whole thing.

I get asked this a lot: What’s that like?

Best answer I can give is to let the characters tell it. Karen Watts is getting ready to publish her first novel “Desert Secrets” on Amazon. Her friends are there to help her, to cheer her on and to keep her from bonking out at a late stage. You can check out the dialogue and all the encouraging words here.

I sure hope the publishing process isn’t nearly that hard for me, but you can bet it will. It’s all good news, though. I’m committed to this thing (or maybe I should be committed). Provided I don’t find a handy excuse Part III and the full version of B.I.C. Cartel comes out March 3.

-endit-

Dec 122013
 
Elizabeth Gilbert discusses the Muse in a 2009 talk.

Elizabeth Gilbert discusses the Muse in a 2009 talk.

I’ve mentioned Elizabeth Gilbert in this space before. She’s the author of Eat Pray Love, and she gave a killer TED talk on having a genius instead of being one.

I ran across an interview with her in Copyblogger a couple of days ago. This came after she enjoyed success with another book, disabusing her personal fear that her best work was behind her at 40. I guess you can call this interview Elizabeth Gilbert 2.0.

Here, she gets more into her actual creative process and less on operating with (or without) the Muse. But since she so eloquently covered that topic in her talk, there shouldn’t be a problem with that.

By the way, if you missed her Ted talk, you’re probably in the wrong place. Go check out Buzzfeed or something. Just leave me alone.

She operates a little differently than I do. While I concentrate on doing something with my craft every day, she dedicates large blocks of time to her writing and will take time off (primarily for research) between projects. But like me, she says it’s a long slog from idea to finished product. It’s that three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust approach rather than going for the big play.

I notice she’s not all gaga over tools; she uses a mini-laptop and Microsoft Word (I’d rather gargle razor blades) to get her work done. Other than that, she’s as goofy over index cards as I am.

But that’s majoring in the minors here. I did pick up some nuggets I can use and don’t mind sharing:

  • Writer’s block really does exist, but it’s symptomatic of something deeper. Like fear. Or perfectionism. Or narcissism. Or the urge to pour Jack Daniels over your Wheaties. Or a whole variety of physical and/or mental ailments.
  • She battles these blocked moments by going easy on herself. Definitely worth listening to, *ahem*Eric*ahem*.
  • She tries to cooperate with her project rather than fight it. Collaboration. Don’t know how successful she is with that, but based on her body of work it appears to be working.
  • Perfectionism is an enemy, and something that is fraught with rabbit holes (oh, how I’ve noticed). She figures her work doesn’t have to be 100% to ship her work; 90 percent is plenty good enough.
  • She clears the decks before starting. Tells her friends they might not see her for a while. Deep-cleans the house. Maybe moves into another house that’s already clean. But she gets that front end stuff done, and there’s something ritualistic about the whole thing.

Hey, check out the interview for yourself. And take a look at her writing area. Very cool; much cooler than my own. Could stand a little more natural light, though.

# # #

Update: Completed the second draft of B.I.C. Cartel on Wednesday, and started on the third draft Thursday. Coming along. Part I should be out on schedule, with a Dec. 31 release date. This also means I’ll hit my goal of four ebooks in 2013.

.

Mar 112013
 

[Backgrounder: I never seem to have enough time, which is stupid when I think about it. Everyone gets the same 168 hours per week to get stuff done. Or look at it this way, that’s 336 Gilligan’s Islands. But how I use that time is critical. Although I don’t watch TV — probably the biggest time-suck of them all — there are plenty of ways I fritter away that valuable time. Might as well use it for something, like creating something significant, right? This week, let’s explore my favorite ways of squandering time. If this cuts a little too close to the bone, welcome to the club.]

When working my main job of content creation, I’m expected to do some research. That’s fine. I kinda need to know a little something about a subject before I can write about it.

But I have this bad habit. I tend to do a lot more research than I need. Like, a lot! To give you an idea, for my next ebook I have a list of 38 references to check. That’s insane! At which point does all this research become too much? Probably at the point where I’m so busy researching I don’t get around to doing the job, yes?

For me, research becomes a dodge. It’s much easier than actually doing something amazing, of creating something awesome. It’s a form of procrastination, of being an incurable perfectionist. Busy work without getting down to business. To get anywhere, I have to ship my work sometime.

# # #

Feb 202013
 

I’m a terrible perfectionist. It’s one of my failings. A project isn’t done in my mind until, well, it’s perfect. Which is impossible. If I waited until something was perfect it’d never get done.

With that in mind, I look at my project again. Sure it’s not perfect. But is it good enough to ship? That takes a lot of faith, and maybe that’s the only thing that makes this project ready to send out. Or not. Maybe it’s just plain good enough.

This is liberating stuff. I’ve had clients accept first drafts (which as a rule are crappy) as good enough to run. The more I sit on a project, the less likely I’m actually going to complete it — even if it’s already good enough.

###

Feb 012013
 

I have this ritual I observe when I do something significant. I crank up my phone’s mp3 player and cue up John Coltrane’s Giant Steps.

I did that again today as I uploaded my newest ebook into Amazon. I was doing this in a Starbucks (home of free wireless Internet) so I put my headphones in, put the song on, and enjoyed my victory.

This also means putting something up on the usual social media channels, all with the hashtag #giantsteps. I’m celebrating, and I don’t mind folks celebrating with me.

Hey, this is big stuff in my world. I’ve beaten my enemy, including myself. I’ve put one right in the face of resistance, soldiered on, taken the bull by the horns, completed something, shipped something.

#giantsteps has become my rallying shout.

For this writer, these #giantsteps moments are rare. I save them for shipping a large project such as an ebook, for pitching an article, for completing something. Those are moments to be savored.

In my daily journal I also have several questions I ask myself. What four victories can I claim for the day? What am I most thankful for? What giant step did I take?

On those really bad days when that bipolar stuff starts giving me a bunch of trouble, I might fudge on the four victories. Getting out of the house when I’d rather isolate can be one of the four, but then I have to use my imagination to come up with three others.

Days like that, I’m totally at a loss to answer the question about giant steps, so I’ll leave it blank. I’m not going to fudge on that, so the Trane isn’t heard around the house that day.

Sometimes you gotta take those #giantsteps.

Depending on where you are in your creative life this could mean getting up and writing 500 or even 250 words. It might be submitting a story. It might mean blowing the dust balls off your guitar and playing a few chords. It might be making that sales call, or sending out a proposal for your new business.

Small steps can push-start your project

Even one action that pushes a larger process along — that “next action” in GTD parlance — can qualify. The further along you are in your creative development, the more likely you’re going to be a hard grader. Doing my daily word count barely even qualfies as one of the four victories, let alone that rarefied territory of #giantsteps. Shoot, that’s just a day’s work most of the time.

But even small actions can take that hashtag. Making a phone call I’d been dreading even though I know it starts something I need to do is a giant step. It’s not the size of the action, but the size of the project that it drives.

It’s going public with a project, knowing it’s a small action — how long does it take to send out a tweet? — but it commits you to completing your work. It’s telling a friend that you plan to hike the Appalachian Trail or lose weight or get out of debt or quit smoking, knowing full well that your friend will hold you to your word and tell you you’re being a flake if you don’t follow through.

It’s that moment when you shift from an ahhh-what-the-heck-maybe-I’ll-try-it attitude to one where you know you’re all in with something. That’s when things happen.

What I’ve noticed is that noodling an idea, Thinking about a project, or planning it out doesn’t count either. There’s no commitment there. I’m a real planner, with mind maps drawn out on my office white boards and on legal pads everywhere, but all those mean nothing until I take that action step. Victories are reserved for action, and #giantsteps even more so.

Here’s my rationale: While planning is critical stuff, sometimes you’ve got to pull the trigger.

Sometimes you gotta take those #giantsteps.

Then, celebrate. Build a personal ritual around it. Put it up on Twitter and share it. Feel free to use the #giantsteps hashtag.

So what giant steps are you taking? What do you do to celebrate?

###

My ebook, “Meditations I: Brain candy from creative & dangerous” will go live on Amazon once it clears review in a day or two. It’ll be free for a few days, so that will be a good time to grab it. If you like it, tell me. Or better, tell Amazon.

If you’re stuck for a victory song and you like the one I shared, grab Coltrane’s Giant Steps album at Amazon. Full disclosure: This is an affiliate link and I get a commission on it, but I love the album.

Aug 292012
 

One of the cardinal rules of writing is that your first draft will be an unholy mess. Bet the hacienda on that. And the first time musicians get together they’ll produce a lot of disconnected skronks.

This will improve over time, but it’ll never be perfect.

The cool thing is that your audience doesn’t expect perfection. If your humanness shows up in the work, that’s fine. Your audience just expects a product — with your name and your fingerprints on it.

###

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.

###

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.