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

 

 

 

Nov 052013
 

 

Punch this bad boy and get started with that novel.

Punch this bad boy and get started with that novel.

NaNoWriMo started this month without me.

That’s National Novel Writing Month, a community-driven exercise in fast writing. The whole objective is to produce a steaming 50,000-word pile of hot garbage in a month.

Some writers love it while others hate it. The emphasis is on putting words down on paper, roughly 1,667 per day, with quality taking a back seat to output.

In other words, fairly standard first-draft material. As in bad. As in all-you-can-eat $1.99 seafood buffet kind of bad.

That doesn’t matter, though. You’re throwing your thoughts down as fast as they come, and that’s good practice for a writer. First drafts are usually done with the door closed, and maybe eyes closed too.

I get a kick out of writers who go into NaNoWriMo as if it’s some sort of challenge. And it is. If you’re not used to writing you’ll find this akin to a death march. It’s hard work, but it gets easier as you develop the habit of writing every day.

Since I started charting my output on August 14, here’s what I’m logging:

  • In August I laid down 27,301 words in that partial month. That’s 18 days. Projecting it out over 31 days, that’s 47,018. Close, but just missing it.
  • September: 57,551. Average: 1,918 words per day.
  • October: 50,233. Average: 1,620 words per day.

My high output since I started charting was 4,317 on August 31, and I had two other 4,000+ word days. Six days I threw down more than 3,000 words. These still pale against my all-time high word-count day of more than 8,000. I think I was quite manic at the time, but that’s another story. But trust me, I wasn’t worth a darn for a day after that. Shoulders hurt, back hurt, neck hurt, everything hurt.

For those two and a half months, plus the first few days of November I have 138,042 words down. Now, these word counts don’t include the day-to-day Web writing that supports me, nor does it include blog posts. This is all the evening writing that goes into a couple of fiction works in various stages of completion.

So, yeah, I can pull it off.

I entered once before, and nailed it. That was a few years ago, and the whole thing is ready to publish. Second and third drafts completed. Only reason I’m waiting is because the timing is not quite right. I’m being strategic here; want to get a few other things out before publishing this work.

I won’t be in NaNoWriMo this year. My two fiction works are past the first-draft phase. One is in second draft and the other sits in the post-first-draft crock pot for 40 days and 40 nights. That’s enough projects for me right now. I’d rather not mess with another first draft what with this heavy editing; the earliest I can really attack a new project is in February, after Part One of B.I.C. Cartel hits Amazon.

For people like me, Rochelle Melander of The Write Now! Coach suggests rolling your own NaNoWriMo. Who says it has to be in November? Sure, it won’t be as social, but it’ll work. Shoot, with a U-Build-It version you can set your own goals, write any genre or even do your second draft.

I like NaNoWriMo’s emphasis on writing quickly. You don’t have time to agonize over every word; you’re just throwing them down. It’s good practice for first drafts, which are great if you don’t mind jamming out a whole bunch of barely comprehensible words. All good writing starts with really bad stuff anyway.

Forget editing on the fly at this point; just get the words out.

Here’s the thing, though. I’ve heard of people finishing their 50,000 words and submitting the work right away. Hoping an agent or publisher will love it, or self-pubbing the thing through Amazon. Except first drafts read exactly like first drafts. If you’re a pantser you’re taking the narrative wherever it goes and there’s not a whole lot of thought about the characters. Even plotters have a rough time getting a readable first draft, but the odds are a little better.

Here’s what Joe Bunting of The Write Practice says about it:

“It’s silly for you to submit your NaNoWriMo novel to an agent or publisher on December 1. Please don’t do it. This is a shortcut and your novel is worth more than that.”

In my own first drafts I’ll have some parts that are fully formed. Others are nothing but skeletal notes. But none of it is publishable.

Another aspect of NaNoWriMo is the social one. Most towns have a so-called write-in, where people get together to pound stuff out as a group and talk about writing. The NaNoWriMo site also has forums where you can talk about writing some more.

Me, I’d rather write than talk about it. I may post my word count on Twitter, but that’s about all.

Then you have the people who only write during NaNoWriMo. Which is fine if you’re a hobbyist, but a pro is out there every day. I mean both are writers, but a professional has a whole different attitude about the process and the result.

That said, there’s plenty of support along the way. Besides the NaNoWriMo site, writer Mur Lafferty is putting out a series of short podcasts to walk you through the process. Even if you’re not participating, these are good to check out anyway.

Anyway, if you like the idea of NaNoWriMo, you can still get in. Go for it. It’s a learning experience. You find out how to tell your internal editor to put a sock in it. You develop the habit — hopefully — of writing every day. You learn what first drafts really look like, and if you have the cojones for it you’ll edit that mess.

OK, so what do you do with that steaming pile of literary excrement? I take a page from Stephen King here, and it’s become my practice. Set it aside for a period of time. He suggests six weeks, which is right in line with my 40 days and 40 nights. Then take it out, read it, scribble all over it with a red pen (or however you do that on the computer) and take your time with the rewrite. Call it 40 days for that too. The third draft is where you polish it up for publication.

But if you have a story in your head, don’t tell me about it. Go to the NaNoWriMo website, create an account and start work. Get it out of your head and onto paper where it belongs.

Who says it has to be good?

# # #

What say you? Are you going for NaNoWriMo this year? Can you slam down all that verbiage in a month? Please share in the comments.

* * *

LATE ADD: A couple of conversations on Twitter:

 

creativedangercreativedanger: Will peel the wrapping off the draft of my first novel, BIC Cartel today. 100,000 words of first-draft slop. Wheee! #amwriting10:21am, Oct 27 from txt

WCWritingTipsWCWritingTips: @creativedangerHahaha! It can only get better from here! What are you writing about?10:51am, Oct 27 from Web
creativedangercreativedanger: @WCWritingTips WC, it’s about a whole bunch of hot steaming mess. Fiction about some creative types who swear they’re never good enough.5:24pm, Nov 05 from HootSuite

 * * *

… and this one’s great …
creativedanger

creativedanger: 2nd draft: Where you pick through a barn full of horse dung & look for the pony. #amwriting12:46am, Oct 25 from txt

BenLeighHobsonBenLeighHobson: @creativedanger@JannaKaixer I like that you didn’t go for the ole diamond in the rough. Even your diamonds are ponies!5:07pm, Oct 26 from Twitter for iPhone
creativedangercreativedanger: @BenLeighHobsonYou’re right about the diamonds in the rough. need to remind myself of that. Thanks.5:16pm, Nov 05 from HootSuite

# # #

 

Sep 062013
 
guy with bullhorn

Put that bullhorn down and do the work already!

A quick way to kill a project is to announce you’re going to do it. That’s when the whole thing of asking permission really kicks in.

I’m a little slow to learn this. I usually have about a gajillion plans, all ambitious and maybe some even have value. And I’ll announce them to friends and other people prematurely, like in the planning stages.

Wow, look at me. Look how busy I am! That’s the underlying message, and it’s every bit as dangerous as the thing we say in the Solid South: “Hey, y’all, watch this!”

With my last ebook, I included a sample chapter of another project that I’m working on.

Big mistake.

Immediately, the whole thing started to die. Can’t put my finger on it, but all the crap that usually comes up to derail me happened.

It wasn’t until recently that I started back with the project, jamming out 2,000 words per day on average. I’m back on track, after I stopped talking about it and maybe everyone forgot my premature announcements. And no, I’m not going to tell you the nature of the project. You’ll see it when I ship it.

See, it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission, and announcing a project is a version of asking for that permission.

Really. I’m asking permission to actually do the work. In the early stages I’m asking folks to bug off while I work.

Another mistake.

As soon as I announce a project, that ol’ debbil Resistance starts bugging me again. Understand, Resistance comes from within and from without. Might as well take the latter out of the equation; there’s enough Resistance to knock me off the track. Why do I have to invite more of the same?

I’m recently discovering something:

When I don’t ask for permission, the work gets done.

Kind of a crazy thing when you think about it, but I find it’s true. Profound, maybe. Don’t completely know how or why that works, but it does. That’s good enough for me.

 

Great projects, greater mistakes

I like how the late Robert Townsend put it in Up The Organization (written in 1970). If you have a great plan to, say, eliminate air pollution in every state for almost zero cost, the way to kill the project dead is to announce it. Better to just do the job, state by state without telling anyone.

Yeah, you might have to worry about a) staying alive and b) staying out of jail. Those things could be important.

But you’re doing the work without any real resistance except for that which sits in your head. That’s plenty, thank you.

But the job gets done because you didn’t ask for permission. Maybe later, you might need to ask for forgiveness. Isn’t that better?

 

Working with accountability

OK, I can see the need to announce your plan, somewhat. That would be to one person who you trust with your life and is simpatico with your idea. Let that person keep you on task. But that’s all the announcement you’ll need.

Do the work. Quietly. Without fanfare. Worry about the ramifications later. Just doing the work gives you enough to worry about.

When doing something great, tell no one else. Just get it done. Then toot your own horn a bit, maybe send someone a bill for services rendered, and announce it at that time.

“Look at what I did” is a whole lot more productive than “here’s what I’m going to do; y’all with me?”

It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

# # #

[What say you? Does any of this make sense? Have you had better success when you do something first and announce it later? Share your thoughts in the comments below.]

Note: Any links to books are through my affiliate Amazon account. I get a commission on all sales. Just thought I’d let you know.

 

Aug 072013
 

Stop me if you’ve lived this before.

My personal bucket list is insanely full. I feel like Roy Scheider in the movie Jaws when he told Robert Shaw, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Like the shark hunters, I tend to take on a whole lot more than I can actually do.

But then, that’s part of this creativity thing. I want to do everything, and in more than one discipline.

Some of the items on my bucket list (2013 version) are more viable than others, and some are pure fantasy:

  • Write and self-publish some fiction.
  • Pitch and land some freelance magazine work.
  • Be in a position where I can phase out my relatively low-paying Web content writing.
  • Land some local (or not) freelance clients.
  • Start a podcast based on the principles laid out in creative&dangerous.
  • Start coaching, again based on this blog.
  • Start a mastermind group, again based on the same idea as the last two items.
  • Build a telecourse, another creative&dangerous-based project.
  • Get the ebook writing on a reliable paying basis, enough to cover my simple financial needs all by themselves.
  • Assemble a new, custom Linux system from scratch, built from my own specifications.
  • Record a full-length album built from my own musical ideas.
  • Learn and master the tenor saxophone.
  • Through-hike the Appalachian Trail.
  • Make a four-corners trip around the United States, driving and camping my way across, stopping at any place that sounds interesting.
  • Pee in all 50 states. (For the record, I’m about halfway there.)
  • Tame my bipolar illness to the point I’m almost functional most of the time.

Wow. That’s a lot of stuff.

No wonder I feel so overwhelmed, and I bring that on myself.

But here’s the thing. God willing and the crick don’t rise, I have time. Based on my age, health and heredity, I’ll have about 20 years to do this. I don’t expect to start losing my marbles until I’m about 75 or so (just shut up).

 

Batting averages and the Mendoza Line

But this bucket list is extensive to the point where I’ve stopped sharing these ambitions with my parents. In fact, I hope they’re not reading this now. They’ll think I’m even more dysfunctional than I already am.

See, of these 16 items, I’ve accomplished none of them. If this was baseball, I’m batting .000.

However, I’m close enough to accomplishing two of them. Close enough to call it soup yet. Batting average: .125, well below the Mendoza Line.

I’ve actually started two others, for a batting average of .250. That’s enough to land me a seat on the bench even though I’ll get splinters in my butt.

OK, that’s the stuff I’ve started. Of the rest, I’ve done enough to get my feet wet on three and roughed out a game plan on another six.

But these don’t count. These nine are still in the dreaming phase, though it’s a little more fine-tuned. I haven’t committed anything, though. With those nine I’m still taking my brains out and playing with them, or whatever metaphor you choose to insert here.

Improvement breeds improvement

To be honest, it hasn’t been but a year or so that I actually got around to completing stuff. To wit: Completing an ebook, starting a blog that has an actual theme, taking a short hike on the Appalachian Trail, finishing a first draft on some fiction without getting so disgusted with my work that I burn the manuscript in a trash barrel.

If you asked me if I intentionally completed anything before that, I’d have to sit down and think about it real hard.

That’s an improvement anyway. Baby steps, man. Baby steps.

I mentioned the four items I’ve actually started and the fact I’m close enough to completion on two of them to almost call them done.

Maybe in the last couple of years I’ve sprouted a sufficient enough pair (don’t ask) to actually see things through.

But still, most of this bucket list is still dreaming.

The power of just starting

OK, I’m almost done with the self-absorbed crap. I’ve wasted about 675 words on that.

Here’s the thing. Assuming I’m at least reasonably functional, a major key to realizing any of these dreams is in taking action.

That’s it. Just starting.

Plus, realizing that whatever I do isn’t going to be perfect no matter how long I tinker with it, but that’s another post for another day.

  • Just. Start.
  • Develop some realism of what I can and can’t do, and what dreams are serious enough for me to expend some effort to complete them.
  • Don’t try to start everything at once or nothing will get done. Stick some aside in a queue, revisit them once a year, finish one action item at a time and holler next.
  • Have maybe two active items from the bucket list, one in the works and one on deck. Two, not four like I’m doing now, and just plain start. I’ve got time.

The last few principles are kind of like the Dave Ramsey method of wiping out your debts. Start with the smallest, easiest one, build your confidence and momentum, and work from there. While I like giant steps as much as the next fella, save those for when you can smell the finish line. You’ll need them then because those last few steps can get pretty hairy. Until then, baby steps are sufficient.

start button

Starting is the biggest part of the battle. (Photo by Eric Pulsifer)

That idea of just starting isn’t exactly new, but it’s important nonetheless. David Allen, he of Getting Things Done, teaches this. For each project in your system, designate something — anything — as a Next Action. It could be as insignificant as making a phone call, but let’s get this thing rolling. Start on your Next Action.

Starting is the biggest part of the battle.

Maybe my time frame still lacks some realism, but by just starting — and completing — an arbitrary two in a year it won’t take long to nail this list.

Don’t want to put too much pressure on, though. None of these are exactly time sensitive, and even if they were, blowing a deadline won’t kill me. I mean, in another 50 years I’m not gonna notice the difference anyway.

With very few exceptions, these listed items are for fun. I can only see one that’s an absolute must-do and it’s started and ongoing. Because it’s ongoing and more a process than a goal, I didn’t include that on my two-per-year list. I may have one or two others that are almost must-dos, but they’re probably not as crucial as I try to make them.

Maybe that’s another key to finishing stuff. It’s supposed to be fun and/or profitable. Preferably both.

 

Sometimes you have to let something go

Just for grins, let’s add one more principle:

  • I mentioned revisiting the list every year or so. If an item has been sitting there way too long, it probably means I don’t have enough fire in my belly to start or finish it. Either start today and ship it, or let it go. Something about getting off the pot.

Maybe pick it up later if I still have any desire for it, but get it out of the queue. Right now. But that’s hard. To my (warped) way of thinking, abandoning something is tantamount to quitting, of admitting defeat. I’m just not wired that way. Real men don’t quit. If you think finishing something is hard, try letting it go. You’ll see what I mean.

On my list, one sat there for 40 years. Fortunately, it’s one of the two that’s nearing completion. Five others were on the list for a decade, but a couple are still doable and/or worth doing. Three more sat on the list five years ago. OK, so maybe I’m not real good at eating my own dog food, but you get the idea.

Save the unformed dreams for later. Barring the unforeseen, there’s still time.

# # #

What say you? How are you on starting stuff? How about finishing once you start? Can you take unrealistic dreams out of your bucket without feeling like a quitter? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

Jun 282013
 
pot with potatoes

Sometimes you have to slow-cook your idea.

Funny thing about this creative business. Some ideas are best executed quickly; hit ’em and ship ’em while they’re hot. Others require a lot more time.

Besides telling which project is which, the trick is to let an idea sit for a while without any interference. It’s that watched-pot analogy at work.

Journalists will tell you all about deadlines. I sure can, from all my years of hanging around newsrooms. Most newspaper types navigate a network of these deadlines. We know when an issue is supposed to hit the press and work backward from there. Page designers have a deadline. Editors have several. Photographers have some, and reporters have a few. We always know when we’re getting close to deadline when we hear the managing editor behind us, racking his shotgun. Everything’s time sensitive, no extensions, no grace periods, no manana.

Even in my online freelance work, deadlines are a fact of life. True, some of the steps — page makeup and printing — are gone but a deadline is still a deadline.

Best work I ever did as a jornalist was a series of stories that, I think, got me some award or other. But I went away thinking, if I had just one more day to develop this and one more page to fill, this is really gonna be good.

As important as those deadlines are, they sure get in the way.

 

Crock pots and microwaves

But some projects don’t lend themselves well to deadlines. They just need time to develop. Rather than throwing them in the microwave you’re dumping them into the crock pot.

I’m thinking about longer, more ambitious works here. Great works of fiction. Outstanding musical compositions. That fantastic sculpture. You start with an idea and … then what?

That’s when it gets good.

If the idea’s not time sensitive, you can dump it in the crock pot. Or better, write it down somewhere. Put it on your long-range to-do list.

Then forget about it.

That’s when the cool stuff happens. The idea starts to grow.

You’re always working on it. Sure you are, only no one knows. Maybe not even yourself. It sits in your subconscious, where all the creatures in the attic have their way with it.

The old-school way is to give this project its very own file folder and add any supporting items or anything pertinent and interesting. Let the whole thing sit, give those creatures something to play with, and pull it out after a good slow roast. Somewhere along the line some sort of structure and a gazillion ideas have sprouted.

(Of course, since we’re trying to keep a paperless office and quit killing so many trees, you can probably figure out a digital version of this. Electrons and disk space can be killed with impunity.)

But this aging thing is why so many writers like to have a time lag between first and second drafts. You hammer out that first draft at a dizzying pace and let it sit for a month or two. Stephen King says he gives it a minimum of six weeks, during which time he works on something else — like a short story. I tend to go with the Biblical time standard of 40 days and 40 nights. That’s close to six weeks.

But that’s when I’ll take the manuscript out of hiding, blow the dust and cobwebs off and attack it with my red editing pen. Or whatever the digital equivalent is these days.

I remember reading something in a high school English class. Some prolific writer of the day — I can’t remember who — said she lets those loose ideas and concepts “roost in my head.” After a sufficient roosting time she’s writing like mad. Off her explanation I’ll assume that’s her first draft; subsequent work takes a lot more time and care than that.

But with that roosting/slow roasting time, I find it’s best to just plain forget about the whole thing.

Just keep it off my mind.

Those attic creatures do their best work when I’m not hanging around trying to supervise.

 

Would you read “A Bunch Of People In Boulder?”

When King worked on The Stand, he had some 500 single-spaced manuscript pages and realized he’d written himself into a corner. His Superflu survivors were in Boulder, Colorado trying to rebuild a decimated society, then … what? He had no clue.

But this problem — call it a form of writer’s block as if such a thing really exists — threatened to derail his project.

If it wasn’t for that 500-page investment he probably would have quit.

He tried everything to save it, and nothing seemed to work.

He’d take long walks, trying to untangle the mess he’d created.

The Appalachian Trail

Sometimes that idea comes unexpectedly, and you can’t do anything with it right away.

It wasn’t until another long walk “when I was thinking of nothing much at all” that a solution started to take shape — what’s wrong with blowing up half the major characters and sending the rest on a no-chance quest into the enemy’s lair to take their stand?

Not only did this get the story moving and give him a way to end the novel, but it became the theme and the title. Got to admit, “The Stand” sounds a whole lot better than “A Bunch Of People In Boulder.” Which book would you buy?

King says this piece of an idea came so quickly and so unexpectedly he ran home so he could write it all down. He was that afraid of forgetting it.

 

Memos from the creatures in the attic

It’s stupid how that works. I’m one of those guys who always carries a pen and index cards with me, and those great project-moving ideas always seem to come at me when I can’t get to those tools.

Like when I’m on the bicycle dodging trucks and crazy people.

When I’m hiking up some mountain where I need both hands and maybe a flashlight.

When I’m in the shower or swinging that weed whacker around in my front yard or (ewwww!) cleaning out my refrigerator.

When I’m talking to someone and it would be impolite to stop everything while I jot that idea down.

When I’m not thinking about it.

That’s when those creatures are manically working. Their timing may be inconvenient, but I’ll take their memos anyway.

# # #

Talk to me: Do those great project-moving ideas come to you when you’re not thinking about them? What do you do when that happens? Share in the comments.

 

Jun 172013
 

Ii know about the writing/editing dichotomy, but Kristen Lamb lays it out here in amusing fashion.

Write like Kirk and edit like Spock, or is it the other way around? Can’t remember …

Write FAST and Furious! Learning to Outrun “The Spock Brain” http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2013/06/17/write-fast-and-furious-learning-to-outrun-the-spock-brain

# # #

May 212013
 

I’m going to cheat here. This is a little more than 3 paragraphs this time. But it’ll be useful stuff anyway. Bear with me …

My biggest juggling act involves those 168 hours I’m given per week. Yeah, that same number you and everyone else gets; this is one of the few aspects of life that’s actually fair. But it’s still on me to decide how to use that:

• Sleeping: 49 hours — seven per night.
• Part-time job: 18 hours.
• Other, part-time work in landscaping: 8-10 hours.
• Client work: 20-25 hours.
• Time with friends: 12 hours. These people are like family, so that’s important.

OK, that’s about 114 hours, and it’s probably similar to how your own week looks. That leaves 54 hours, a little more than what most people spend at work.

Then crank in the usual chunks of time every day (eating, eliminating, hunting for my brain in the morning). That nibbles into the 54 hours, and probably more than I like to think. That could even be as much as 14 hours, leaving me 40.

I try to dedicate 20 hours for project writing; ebooks, fiction, blogs. But that varies depending on whatever time sucks and rabbit holes look attractive along the way. Screwing off on the Internet. Reading (though that’s educational). Contemplating my navel (is that educational?). You get the idea.

Hey, this is important stuff. Reverse-engineering your week is a great way to determine whether you really have enough time for this creative stuff.

How’d you do? Let’s talk about it.

# # # 

May 132013
 

[intro] You can’t tell by looking, but this creative&dangerous blog has been wildly successful in the year I’ve had it up.

OK, so you won’t see that in the usual metrics. Readership and ad revenue (what’s that) are flat, and sometimes I can even hear the joint echoing when I post new material. How could I say anything about being successful?

I’ll explain.

One of the biggest reasons I started this blog was to keep myself accountable. If I shared what I was doing, maybe I’d run out of excuses and actually use my gifts. that’s all. But if others find the same thing happening with themselves, then let’s talk and compare notes. But … it’s working.

Even though I can talk a pretty good game, I’m noticing my walk is starting to catch up with it so they almost match. Instead of me writing about turning pro, butt in chair and getting stuff done, I’ve actually got my butt in the chair, getting stuff done just like a real pro.

After 50-plus years of not getting stuff done, I can look over the past 12 months and point to at least three fairly significant things I’ve completed. And if I stay on track with my schedule, on July 1 you can make it four.

And that’s scary.

Tossing out the lines of BS from an ivory tower is easy. Any fool can do it, and a Google search will unearth those types by the thousands.

Reporting from the battle lines is less safe. All kinds of bad stuff happens out there. You run the risk of having your butt shot off.

So about this creative&dangerous thing. Expect a few changes in the content. While I’ll still bring up the theoretical stuff that ties in with creativity, there will be less of it. There will be less reporting from the ivory tower and more from the battlefield.

Y’all OK with that? You sure you won’t miss the overabundance of theoretical stuff?

Theory is fine, but I want to show you the danger. Maybe put it right there in front of you.

Stick around. You’ll see a new category called “@ work” and that’s the practical stuff. Tales from the front.

Enjoy.

* * *

After letting it sit for a few days, I tore the wrapper off my recently-completed first draft and read through it this morning.

Just what I expected. It’s bad.

burning paper

Too bad USB drives don’t burn as easily as paper. Or do they?

I mean all-you-can-eat-99-cent-seafood-buffet kind of bad. Worse than that, even. It’s horrible. It’s so bad that I even began to wish I was a drinker, just so I’d have a valid excuse for writing such swill.

Burning my work did occur to me, and I might have done it had I typed my work out on my old Underwood typewriter. But I’m told USB drives don’t burn as readily as paper, and they release some pretty nasty stuff into the atmosphere.

It was so bad I considered burning the USB drive anyway, just to see exactly how toxic the fumes are.

Here’s the good news: I’m on the right track.

So I have this el crappo manuscript on a USB drive I dare not burn. But I have so many brain cells invested in this thing. I have so many experiences that may go to waste if I kill the project. I have so much I need to say that I have little choice but to continue.

Sigh.

Might as well hold my nose, hold my mud and edit the stupid thing.

But it’s nice to know I’m on the right track.

# # #

Apr 192013
 

Sometimes being underwhelmed can be overwhelming.

I know, that sounds like one of those ooo-eee-ooo Zen statements in that it makes no sense (what is the sound of one hand clapping?) but think about it for a minute. Not only does it make sense, but it’s also true. 

laptop

Mr. Computer …?

While the obvious scenario is the guy with a doctorate degree working as a barista at your favorite coffee shop, that’s not exactly what I’m thinking about here.

A blogger/podcaster named Joel Boggess tells of a meeting with a journalism professor who seemed to have the dream job. Two, actually. She taught jorunalism at one college campus and introductory writing at another. She was trained for it, the jobs served her well in the past, and she got to dispense what she knew to a new generation of writers and journalists. What’s not to like?

Except this job was killing her. Maybe not physically, but it was sucking the oxygen out of her fire.

She was caught up in the busy-work of the educational world. She was grading all these papers from aspiring writers, getting buried in all the paperwork. Maybe even thinking she was wasting her time.

Her dream turned into a nightmare.

Ever have that happen? Where you get that so-called dream job and come to realize, I’m in the wrong business?

 

sledgehammer

… Meet Mr. Hammer.

I knew this guy back in California who went through something like that. He was a teacher but knew he wanted to be a lawyer. A real intelligent man, well-educated, opinionated, my kind of person. He continued teaching while he went to school, did the all-night study sessions (they tell me law school is tough), drank a lot of Jolt Cola and ate a lot of cold pizza from the fridge — just like a real college student. He finished law school, passed the bar, hooked on with a fairly prestigious law firm in town.

He’d arrived. He was in his dream job.

Or not.

I don’t know all the specifics, but I know he stayed with the law firm less than a year.

Understand, I don’t know much about the legal business except what I’ve read in John Grisham novels (and occasional conversations with some attorneys I knew). But I’m told that life with a legal firm makes law school look like basket-weaving classes. The pay’s great but the hours stink. If you put in 80 hours a week, you’re a slacker.

Anyway, a year later this man was back in teaching. Last I looked he still had his bar certificate, but he hadn’t used it.

Was he overwhelmed by the legal business, or underwhelmed? Again, don’t know. Probably both, and yes, that’s possible.

Not long ago I wrote something (actually for my own amusement but I might use it for a fiction project sometime in the future) about a gifted artist who worked on the fringes of his ability. Painting billboards and signs by day, watching his beloved Los Angeles Angels get their butts handed to them on TV by night. I must warn you it’s a first draft. so it’s going to be pretty bad. Here’s a sample anyway:

“C’mon, Sal-mon,” he mumbled at the screen. Robert loved that TV; had the largest screen they made. You could really tell whether the centerfielder was spitting tobacco juice or sunflower seeds out there. You could see the sweat on Tim Salmon’s neck as he waited for the pitch. “Two guys on, two out. That’s why they’re paying you the big bucks.”

He was finishing up his potato salad; the meatball sub was already gurgling around in his ample gut. A cold Heineken sat on the table next to his recliner.

He’d rigged that big-screen TV to play the sound through his stereo and a pair of tall speakers. This home-entertainment system set him back a small stack of C-notes, but it was worth it.

“Strike one,” he snapped. “C’mon, ump. That was at least a foot outside. The catcher had to jump for it, in case you haven’t noticed.”

He’d rearranged his apartment living room to make room for that monster TV. For years he had a 17-incher that you had to huddle up to if you wanted to see anything. Now he could tell if the pitcher was touching the ball up with sandpaper before winding up, as Robert suspected.

To make room for the television, he had to move a bunch of stuff in his bedroom closet. He had his easel there, some well-used drop cloths, his paints and brushes. Some turpentine. Some linseed oil. All the stuff had to be moved.

Haven’t had time, he reasoned. Running a business is rough, takes a lot more hours than you’d spend working for the man. Got to go out and hustle. Find some customers. Show his work on his Geocities web site. Make estimates. Do the work, and hope the customer is going to pay sometime this year or next. I paint signs and billboards all day, he thought. Why do I need to smell more paint when I get home?

“Strike two. C’mon, Sal-mon. You can’t hit the ball with the bat on your shoulder. Let’s do something, man.”

Times like this, he wondered if he made the right choice, sticking his art supplies in the closet.

Robert always had the gift for art, though he didn’t know it for a long time … (snip)

…Sal-mon struck out on a fastball that dropped at the last instant and bounced off home plate. Had to have been that sandpaper pitch. The million-dollar man looked bad on that one, though there was no way anybody could have hit it and the ump would have called it a strike anyway. The inning was over, and the Angels went to the first of a line of arsonists from the bullpen. Four innings to go, but this game was over.

Robert drained his Heineken and closed his eyes at the thought of the late-inning onslaught. Shut the TV off, he told himself. You won’t miss much. Drag some paints out. Get it all out of your system and onto the canvas.

Forget it, he reminded himself. I paint enough all day long.

Bummer, isn’t it? Robert’s working on the fringes, but he’s pretty underwhelmed. Good thing he’s not real, huh?

As you probably suspected by now, I love to write. Have done it off and on since I was a little shaver. Spent years in newsrooms, and now I make my daily bread writing online.

Here’s the catch, though. Despite the stuff that passes for reporting these days, there’s nothing really imaginative about journalism. Get the facts, write ’em down quickly, hammer your story together with the most important information first, then the less important. Writing to a template they call the inverted pyramid. At best, the reporter for a daily writes a first draft, gives it a fast read-through and calls it done. Hate to say it, but it’s chimp work. Nifty little turns of phrase are verboten unless you’re lucky/good enough to get a regular column. Writing news stories was a drag, but since I had a regular column I was able to scratch that itch at least a little.

Web content writing, well, that’s basically journalism 2.0. It’s not exactly something to fall in love with. I write most of my Web content under a different name, because it’s quick-and-dirty work I wouldn’t want to show in my clips. True, it pays the bills, but that’s about all. It’s writing, kinda sorta. (This nonexistent person even has its own email address

I love to write. Allegedly, this web-content stuff is writing. But I don’t love it. It’s pretty underwhelming stuff. If it was the only writing I did, I’d feel like a) drop-kicking the computer through a window and b) cutting off every one of my fingers with a pair of rusty tin snips.

OK, I know I have to make a living, keep a roof over my head, keep the lights on, keep the cat in Meow Mix. So how do I cope?

I have my other outlets for writing. Although the amount of copy I’ve posted has dwindled somewhat in recent weeks (yeah yeah yeah), this blog is still my outlet. My testing lab. I get to go wild, chase a few literary squirrels, write stuff I care about. My ebooks (two out, one on the way) are my outlet. I have a lot of fun doing those. Plus some of my day’s warm-up writing exercises, plus some of the extemporaneous things I do off a prompt for my writing group, plus playing with fiction.

But here’s the question: Will these pursuits put beans on the table?

Probably not. Although I certainly won’t mind if my blog makes everybody forget Seth Godin or my longer projects out-potter Harry Potter, I certainly won’t mind. But the chances of that happening make a Powerball ticket look like a clearheaded blue-chip investment by comparison.

But these side projects keep me sane, and help me scratch that itch. Once that oh-so-important business is taken care of, I can concentrate on the real world of making a living without wishing I was out herding sheep instead.

As far as that journalism professor, I understand she quit her jobs. Don’t know what she’s doing now, but I hope she’s not a barista. Unless, of course, she’s doing what she loves on the side. 

# # #

 

Apr 062013
 
jumping from a perfectly good airplane

Looking for a safer, less stressful occupation has occurred to me.

I almost quit last week.

Seriously. Much as I love to write, I almost threw in the towel and started checking the want ads again.

Since I’ve spent maybe 12 of the last 15 years working for myself, I’m probably terminally unemployable. I’m not known for being a pliable employee who will shut up and just follow orders. I’m not a good fit in job situations like that, and there are not many sheep-herding gigs in Charleston.

But there I was again, wondering what I was doing wasting my life with this writing thing. Isn’t it time I grew up, became a responsible contributing member of society and all that malarkey?

I’ll admit, I’m subject to these mood swings. This week everything’s aces, next week it’s a black hole. That’s just part of the package I tote with me. Yeah, I know there’s medication for people like me, but that’s not the real issue here.

I’ve mentioned before that this creativity thing is a tough business. You’re more subject to what other people think than, say, someone who lives in a cubicle. As soon as you put your stuff out on the market, folks are going to judge it — and by implication, you.

Anyway, I had kind of a cold streak this past couple of weeks where my biggest client kept sending my work back for a rewrite. It’s all fixable, and I know in my heart that if I don’t get it right the first time I’ll nail it on the rewrite. That’s what my heart says, anyway. That’s also what my work habits and track record say.

But it’s my yakking brain that tells me different. It’ll even throw a little Aristotlean logic at me just to give it a sense of authority. The work stinks. I did the work. Ergo I stink.

I tell you, a guy can only take so much of this stuff. It’ll crack the shell of even a tougher-than-thou type such as myself.

Is there a cubicle I can hide in?

How ’bout those sheep?

(Note: That’s as far as I went on this post on Tuesday. I put this aside and picked it up Saturday. Note the timing here. While I usually don’t explain how I do stuff, it’s really part of the story. Pay attention.)

Strap on the helmet and ram something

That was last week. This week, unpredictably (or not), I’m back on a roll.

On Thursday, I stood up at my terminal and blasted out a whole bunch of copy. I didn’t count it, but my own best estimate based off previous and current word counts puts it at nearly 8,000 words. Totally amazed. That’s at one stretch, pulling myself away from the terminal every so often to untangle a fuzzy thought or test out some phrasing. But 8,000. That’s twice my previous record.

OK, so what happened here?

I could take the easy way out and say it’s the medication kicking in, or some really good espresso, or something like that. But it’s a crock. It’s just strapping on my helmet, ramming that brick wall and moving forward again.

The creative life is full of roadblocks. All look big from where I stand. All look like they’re built like brick outhouses, all with solid materials, good mortar, strands of razor wire on top. Many are tough enough for me to say, why don’t I just chuck it all and find something easier? Something like skydiving or defusing bombs for a living?

I like the way Steven Pressfield describes these roadblocks. He calls them “resistance,” and many of them come from outside. That would be the day job that gets in the way, the needy spouse who thinks you’ve spent enough time doing your thing.

But most of that resistance is from within. It’s those feelings of inadequacy. When you know you’re not good enough. When all your stuff comes back to you covered in red ink, and you take it all to heart. When you’d rather drink, do drugs, drive real fast, get into another weird relationship or watch soap operas all day instead of doing your work.

This resistance thing is pretty predictable, though. It always gets heavier when you near the finish line. It gets heavier when you’re about to hit a new level. When you think you’ve plateaued and resting on your laurels — or again, giving up the whole thing — feels like an option, there’s that next level right in front of you. Dare you go there?

But is it sustainable?

After that marathon, scary-productive writing session I began to feel it. My neck felt wrenched, and my back and shoulder felt like they were installed backwards. Despite the obvious physical discomfort, the mental surge continues. Today, I’m jamming along a mile a minute with this essay. Just an hour ago, with my writing group, we all wrote short essays off a pair of writing prompts. The group leader gave us all a couple of photos and told us to write something from that. Both of mine, even I thought they were pretty good.

Will this productive period last?

My history says no. Sheer logic says no; nothing like this is sustainable. My neck and shoulder and back all say it better not or they’ll haunt me.

So, the question: Is this sustainable?

The short, snappy (and true) answer is this: Who knows? Who cares?

While I’m there, I might as well enjoy it.

# # #