May 122013

You wouldn’t think so at first glance, but the whole creative process will drain you.

I have no idea why. From a scientific/medical standpoint you’re using tons of glucose in the brain for writing, playing music, painting, flat-out creating. Glucose equals energy, so maybe that whole thing makes sense after all.

Sometimes I think doing something physical like lumping steel or tossing around tree limbs is more restful. I really think so, especially now.

Think about this. The body, even a frequently-abused 55-year-old body like mine, can still hack some pretty intensive physical things. I can still stand on my feet all day, do construction and landscaping work, run around a bunch of trucks — yes, even toss tree limbs like I did last summer. Eight hours worth? Bah. ‘Tain’t nothing. I can do that in my sleep.

Even a relatively old guy like me can still handle all the physical stuff I used to, even though it takes a bit longer to recycle and I have a new appreciation for aspirin.

But writing? After about four or five hours I’m spent. Gone. Wiped out. From there my agenda is simple: Locate recliner. Fall in it butt first. Put feet up. Decompress.

By comparison, it takes about eight or 10 hours on the Appalachian Trail (not that Appalachian Trail, Mark Sanford!) to wipe me out like that.

Completion and the ‘twit’ shout

Web content, like the kind I write for clients, isn’t that intensive. But longer projects, where I put in much careful thought and dump pieces of my soul onto the page or on the thumb drive, gets mentally exhausting.

I usually write standing up. But Friday night, as I cranked out the last 2103 words on the draft of my latest ebook, I had to sit down. With feet up, and the laptop on, well, my lap.

And finished that first draft.

As soon as it was done, I had to holler it out in celebration. Went to Twitter, my favorite hollering grounds (which explains the use of #hashtags here). Here’s what I posted:

Nailed it. Finished 1st draft “Will Work For Exposure.” #wordcount today 2,103. Total 25,028. #amwriting
(12:08am Saturday)

Understand, #wordcount and #amwriting are actual Twitter groups, and the hashtags put my posts squarely into those audiences.

A few minutes later I posted:

Vision blurry. Brain blurry. Face blurry. Fingertips blurry. Butt blurry, too. This #amwriting thing is sure hard work.
(12:37am Saturday)

There’s a joke that goes along with that. Almost 30 years ago my editor Charlie Hand swore that he could tell when I was getting tired. My face would melt. It’d be dripping onto my shirt.

Must’ve been some good drugs back then, Charlie.

Anyway, that was Friday night, a terrifying two-hour writing session. I had my coffee next to me, some granola bars, a few other snacks. What’s amazing was that my bladder (always an issue when you’re in your mid-50s) was cooperating with me, even with the coffee. Finished up shortly after midnight.

Time for bed? Forget it. My brain was still whirling. Finished my coffee (an espresso blend that resembles road tar), had another granola bar, read for a few hours, wrote in my journal. I think I settled into my rack a little after 4 a.m.

So I wasn’t worth a darn Saturday. A friend and I planned to do a landscaping estimate that day, but he was sick and I was essentially out of commission. Oh well.

A few weeks ago I ran a lengthy writing session. Didn’t bother to check the time but I know it was at least four hours. I know I logged 8,000 words, which doubled my old per-day record. I did that standing up, and I sure felt it the next day. Neck was all stiff. Shoulders felt like they were installed backwards. Elbow felt like an alligator was biting it. Oh, yes, and I had to scrape my face off the keyboard again.

So I was borderline useless Saturday. More or less recovered today, though taking it kind of easy. A couple of short articles for a client. Writing this blog post. Low-impact stuff.

Editing is easier, if you don’t mind murdering your darlings

Bright and early tomorrow I’ll take the wraps off that long project and read through it to see exactly how bad it is. And it’ll be plenty bad; all first drafts are guaranteed to stink out the joint. Guy Kawasaki, a prolific writer, likens the first draft to puking all over the page.

But, just like throwing up is exhausting (try it sometime if you don’t believe me), getting that first draft down is a real bear. Editing and rewriting are much easier. The hard work — getting everything on the page — is done. Editing is tough enough (Stephen King calls editing out that phrase you loved when you wrote it “murdering your darlings”) but the heavy stuff is completed.

Onward with the project, once I get over the blurriness.

# # #

Mar 142013

It’s so easy to get sidetracked these days, what with all this cool stuff online. Facebook. Twitter. Google Plus. Building a platform. WordPress. RSS news feeds (my favorite online time-waster). Email. The list goes on and on.

I’ve taken steps to limit my dependence on these online trinkets. I shut off all push notifications and email alerts on my phone, forcing me to check maybe twice a day. I don’t mess with Facebook much, though I’m hot and heavy with Twitter. About the only thing I waste a lot of time with is that infernal news feed. Hate it. Hate it. Love it.

I don’t want to miss anything. But in doing so, I miss a lot of opportunities to actually get to work and get stuff done.

# # #

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.

Jan 042013

I’d written about peak hours before, and I guess it must be a hot topic in some circles. Folks are always trying to squeeze more productivity out of their days, and playing with the body clock seems to be the favorite way of doing this.

More sleep? Less sleep? Uninterrupted or multiphasic sleep?

Start your day doing little, easy-to-do things or tackle that big job you’d rather not think about first?

Is it true that if you burn the candle at both ends you get more light?

Is my brain really more creative when I’m tired? And why won’t my brain shut up at night?

Everyone’s got an opinion there.

I found this infographic from HealthCentral (and some other perspectives by Ridiculously Efficient) a few days ago, and it’s interesting. I’ve pasted it here so you can have a look at it, and myself being one who keeps his opinions to himself (why is my nose growing?) I’ll have some observations here.

Accomplish more in a day by synchronizing your cicardian rhythms

One of the things that caught my attention is the assertion that most people keep a similar natural timeline — like about 80 or 90 percent. This suggests most so-called night people are that way by choice.

I noticed this because I’d always gravitated toward night work. I did a lot of nightside reporting back in the day, spent a lot of late nights playing music, and even most of my so-called day jobs (cab driving, casino work) were at night. But was it me, or was there some other attraction?

OK. Maybe the pay was better, the boss more easygoing, the clientele livelier and the girls prettier at night. But as I got older, I found myself going more toward days. Most of the time (except those times my overactive brain keeps going) I’m usually in bed by 11, like an old fart. Even New Years Eve — a time when most people are out howling — I struggled to keep my eyes open while waiting for the ball to drop. 2013 almost started without me. Man, did I feel ancient.

I’ve also noticed how, on this infographic timeline, the creative process kicks in at around 8 p.m. This in itself is interesting. Fatigue seems to kick-start the process, according to HealthCentral.

I do see evidence of this. At around 8-ish I’ve usually had dinner, my computer is shut down, and I’m chilled out in the recliner, some heavy jazz playing on the Bose, and my mind goes all over the landscape. I usually spend that time with a clipboard in my lap, slamming down ideas as fast as I get them. That’s also when I write my crappiest but most imaginative first drafts and do my wildest brainstorming. Sometimes my bipolar brain won’t shut up, so I gearing down and getting to bed at a decent time is an issue. This does cut into my beauty (!) sleep.

A couple of other things I noticed:

  • A person is more easily distracted from about noon to 4 p.m. (For me, true.)
  • A power nap at 2-ish is good for the body. Maybe it’s encroaching geezerhood, but I find I do this more often than not.
  • But while the brain is easily distracted in the early afternoon, hand-eye coordination peaks around 3-ish. Interesting.
  • Cognition is at its best in the late morning. (For me, also true.)
  • A hot shower is recommended in the morning, because it’ll warm the body and make you more alert. That’s the claim, anyway. I do know my body thinks it’s a Ford because it doesn’t start well when it’s cold.
  • Email sent out before 9 a.m. is most likely to be read. I do have to challenge this, but that’s because very little of my correspondence stays within the Eastern Standard Time zone.
  • For social media junkies, 8 a.m. tweets are the most upbeat and those sent out in the late afternoon are most likely to be retweeted. Facebook status messages sent out at 8 p.m. are the most “liked” (again not accounting for time zones), and a person who builds his whole day around a social media schedule is probably addicted.

Or something.

This whole thing is interesting, but probably not a be-all end-all. Will my habits change because of this infographic? Of course not. I’m not even sure if this infographic is based on hard science or wishful thinking, and even if it was hard science we’ve all got our own peak times anyway.

I think my own biggest take-home is how the brain runs rampant when the body’s tired, but that’s something I’ve suspected anyway.



Sep 192012

While you do much of your work in private, successes and goals don’t need to be. Now it’s easy to put your large and small triumphs out there; just takes a couple of seconds to post it on your favorite social media.

I’m ready. As soon as I reach today’s goal it’s going up on Twitter, Facebook and probably LinkedIn (love that Hootsuite online tool). How about something like this: @creativedanger Wrote and posted my week’s worth of 3-graffs blog entries. On a roll. #amwriting

Get brave. Sprout some guts. Do something dangerous. Meet your daily goal and let everybody know. I find these dispatches get likes and/or retweets, which is always a bonus.


Jul 312012

When I got involved with National Novel Writers Month a couple of years ago, I started paying attention to how many words I wrote every day. Then I started publicizing that.

In all my social media, I put up daily dispatches of how I did, whether good, bad or ugly. This public posting helped keep me accountable. I’ve kept that habit, and when I mention my daily writing goal (1,000 words) in this blog, it’s my way of staying accountable.

Try going public with the small, daily goals. You might find it becomes a habit.


Jun 262012

While the Facebooks and Twitters are good for announcing what you had for lunch (please don’t!) or that cool viral video you saw, these social media tools are good for building some accountability.

Right now. Get on your favorite social media site. Announce your new project, your goal for the day, (like a word count if you’re a writer) and hit Send. Then get to work. After you’re done, announce whether you met your goal. Be honest here; post both your successes and your failures.

You’ll probably find someone who is watching and pulling for you.