Hello, Friends and Family,
Many of you have probably noticed that I haven't posted much on this site, specifically. This is because most of the energy has gone into the creation and posting of some fun pulp adventure that I've posted on Stempunk a-Go-Go.
This relates directly to my plans for the year, which is to finish this backlog of material I've been talking about all year. Much of this backlog is the escapist fiction that I've been sharing because, well, I think we can all use a break.
There is a lot of more serious work that I'll be shaing this year. The memories in fiction that I've alluded to earlier will be shared at some point, as will two or three other more serious pieces that I'm still trying to wrap up in my notebooks.
My goal for 2017 is not to publish or to search for an agent or an editor. This year needs to be all about finsihing the work. Last year was a real explosion of creativity. Looking back, I finished first drafts of about nine stories as well as starting at least five more, in addition to the composing of a number of chapters in the yound adult novel. That's a good year of writing, especialy for a guy with a day job.
The funny thing, most of these stories were surprises. Two thirds fo them didn't exist before I wrote them. This year starts with me wanting to get these drafts keyed into the computer and shared with you. There are also some things I need to finish.
Right now, its all about the joyful escape that my imagination can give you. My kids are loving this stuff, and for right now, them and you are all the audience I need.
I want 2017 to be your year. Make it something wonderful. Create amazing things and share them with people you care about. Dream and find a way to squeeze your dream into your reality. Fail miserably, trash it and then make a thing of astounding beauty form that failure. Get your hands dirty.
Thanks for reading.
"Shall we know fire? Shall we know dragons? And shall they know us?"
Hey, there, True Beleivers!
I have to say, I love this time of year, and not just because I get to bank some serious vacation time and play writer. There is something about this week between Christmas and New Year's that causes me to reflect more deeply, the think about the year that was and make plans for what I need to do to make the coming year what I want it to be.
One goal I have to to make this blog more about you, my collection of True Believers who actually read what I have to share, not just like it on social media without a glance.
Just so you're aware, I use that term, True Believers, without a hint of sarcasm. A friend of mine once pointed out to me, that there is no halfway with Joe McCauley. You're either all in and will take a bullet for the big guy, or you'll dedicate your life to eradicating my destructive influence upon society. I don't know what it is about me that makes me such a polarizing influence. Maybe that's a blind spot I should figure out. Maybe not.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I knwo you're out there. Sometimes we connect via text, or e-mail or social media. Sometimes we actually try something completely modern and see each other in real space and real time. But let me assure you right now that I appreciate having each and every one of you with me on this journey. I think this blog has become something of a mass message to you all and I want to make sure this is meaningful to you.
So in the spirit of this goodness, during this reflective week, I want to make sure I share a resource for you each day, along with some minor goals I have for this holiday break of mine.
So, first, I highly recommend a book I'm reading right now. Search Inside Yourself by Chade-Meng Tan. Meng was a big guy at Google who was part of creating the positive work culture embedded in that company. Unhappy with the state of his life, he discovered mindfulness meditation and emotional intelligence as his gateway to being happier, more balanced, a better person.
Many of you are aware that I'm a big fan of this kind of philosophy and have read deeply on the subject. Yes, that's right, it's taken a lot of work for me to be the barely functioning mess who connects with you on a regular basis. However, even though I've proabbaly read most of what Meng cites in his bibliography, I find his book to be an excellent summary on the topic. It's good as an introduction to the topic, or as a very deep refresher, which I'm finding very enjoyable.
Now, if you've shiey away for this kind of material before, I don't blame you. I'm not a fan of touchy feely oversharing or crystal gazing new age superstition. If you fall into this camp, I thing Meng's work might be good for you. He approaches the ideas as jsut pragmatic cognitive behavioral choices we can make in the moment. You can approach it as part of a meditative practice you may want to start in 2017, or as a common sense way to navigate the world of work, life in general or whatever your journey has for you. It's readable. It's funny. It's good. You'll finfish it in short order.
That's today's resource. I have no idea what tomorrow's will be. I also plan on discussing one of my goals for 2017. Hint, it's about the music!
Greetings, True Believers!
First, you're going to get a double dose of me today. I will be posting on the Steampunk a-Go-Go website later today. More on that in a bit.
I trust everyone had a good Thanksgiving weekend. Mine was great. It's been a long time since I had an extended amount of guilt free time to reflect on what's truly important. I actually took the time to reach out to reach out directly to those closest to me and let them all know how grateful I am for them. And I'd like to take this moment to thank all of you who tune into this site and my other ones to support my modest efforts at being an actively creative human being. Thank you, True Believers.
Today's theme is duality, because, as many of you know, I am constantly torn between two creative paths with my writing. That hasn't changed, really. I've written extensively on that in previous posts, so instead of the process, I'll spend some time with the work.
The serious work lately has focused on what I'm calling "memories in fiction". These passages are not memoir, they're not autobiography. They are, however what's coming out of me, the stories burning to find their way to paper. Part of it may be that lately, by accident, I seem to have spent a lot of time reading some pretty good memoirs. This year's Pulitzer Prize winner, Barbarian Days by William Finnegan, and also one of the best books I've read in years, Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen, which if you haven't read, you really need to. Also, I stumbled on an interesting collection of essays on craft by Mary Karr called The Art of Memoir. Interestingly, it was that last work that solidified the fact that I am not writing a memoir by any means. There are part of the process of writing memoir that are not going to be part of my process, partly because I don't think they're necessary for what I'm trying to do, but partly because I don't have the patience to undertake things like sharing them with all the persons depicted int he stories to check them for accuracy. (Here's the thing, I'm the youngest of a big family. There ain't none of us with an accurate memory of the madness of our collectively created experience.) The material is weighty and if it ain't accurate, I try to make it true.
While all this is going on, I'll find myself in an interesting cycle that pays off creatively. The memory in fiction can be a really tough thing to write. To be honest with the material means reflecting deeply, facing some of those inner demons and those memories that while not tragic (to me), are emotionally taxing to explore. So one of the things I do to recharge the batteries is enjoy things like comics like The Amazing Screw on Head, Hellboy or some of those great Marvel and DC shows on Netflix. Then what happens is I haven't realized it, but then I get this flash that says, "I can do that!" and the next story is here. And that is exactly what happened over this weekend. I'll be sharing that on the Steampunk website today.
So that's what's up, True Believers. Thanks for reading and, really, keep an eye on that steampunk site. Good stuff is happening.
Hello, True Believers!
So, I think for the next few weeks, I'm going to share some more detailed insights into what I do with my creative process. I've always tried to speak more globally, but I thought I would get into some of the nuts and molts of my madness. Why? Well, I guess because I've found myself just making vague applications to thinks like needlework, pottery and photography. The creative outlet I understand is writing. So it's probably best if I stick to that and leave the application of inspiration to your own art to you.
I haven't been sharing with my usual volume for the last few months. I am sorry about that. I don't know why I'm sorry, but I feel sorry. I know that some of you really look forward to those posts and I guess I feel badly that I'm not able to find the time to share work more consistently. It is my sincere hope to get these past parts of "The Case of the Soggy Carpet" up on www.steampunkago-go.com very soon.
The challenge for getting work posted as efficiently as I had int he past has to do with my actual process. It's slowed things down, but I do think it's resulted in better writing.
Classically, as a youth who had no ambition and no money, who lived int his fantasy world of being a writer, I had a consistent process. I wrote a longhand draft, I typed it up and I hid it from the world. I kept that up for a very long time until about ten years ago or so, when I was full bore writing the Ivan adventures like crazy. I found that the only way to keep up with my ideas was to compose at the keyboard, like a real writer.
This changed when I started writing more serious work. This came out of my experience at work, which had me staring at a screen for hours of the day. I would just get tired of looking at the blue light shining in my face. The pleasure of writing came when I picked up a good pen, had a good notebook and let the ideas happen.
I'll be honest, writing in longhand is a lot of work. It requires this deep focus, this coordination between your fingers and your imagination. It's visual, it's tactile, it's cognitive. All this happens at once and can frankly be kind of exhausting. Then there's the effort that comes later when it's time to key in that first draft.
Thing is, this is effort well spent. Mainly because it's very, very satisfying. There really is nothing like writing with a good pen, with good ink and a good piece of quality paper in a good notebook. Maybe my friends with a talent for sketching can share thoughts on a similar experience.
It gets challenging, because as we go through life, we only have so much energy to devote to so many things. If you haven't read it, you might want to check out the great book, The Power of Full Engagement, which posits that the secret to success in work and life isn't really time management, but management of the energy you have to dedicate to your many endeavors. I've found this to be a good guiding principle which I've used to my benefit. I make this work by making sure that whatever I'm undertaking, I only do so when I have the energy to give that task my full focus and effort. There's no grinding through and getting burned out. I do it when I feel ready and full. Thus whatever I'm doing, it's done well and done completely.
So, after a long week at work, doing what I do, which often entails hours of staring at a screen, when it's time for me to take time to recharge and indulge in my creative work, which helps me recharge, if it comes between writing a new story longhand and keyboarding a second draft, guess which one sounds like more fun?
So I appreciate your patience as the new work trickles out to you. What I've described above hopefully explains why. And please don't misunderstand, sharing this work with you is important. I know there is that handful of true believers who want to see what happens next. And I fully understand that in many ways, I keep you all in suspense at the caprice of my creativity, especially when I take you about a third of the way into an adventure novel and then I just stop because I can't force the writing mojo. Thank you for your support and patience, True Beleivers.
Okay, that might be enough rumination for the day. I hope this has been worth reading for you. It does me good to know you're there.
There's more to come in the near future. The topics will include:
1) The Dichotomy of Serious and Escapist fiction in my work
3) Plans (if any) for publishing
4) Dealing with the creative dearth of ideas while having limited time
5) Dealing with a backlog of material
Thanks for reading...
Hey there, True Believers!
If you want to cut right to it, just go to the "Ivan the Destroyer" tab on this site. Otherwise, keep reading.
Well, I can't think of anything more horrifying than the Cubs' performance in the World Series right now, the exception being the current low in political discourse with the presidential election.
As far a baseball goes, as a lifelong White Sox fan, I've been mostly indifferent to the recent Cubs mania. All I have to say is this, if the Cubs don't manage to get their act together and at least force a game seven, well... Cub's fans, I hope that now you can see that then they will truly be a team that does not deserve you. 'Nuff said on that point.
Okay, but you're not tuning in to hear my limited opinion on the great American pass time, You're here to read new work in time for Halloween.
Here's the problem. I don't have any. I know, I know... It's just... I love writing, I hate keyboarding. It's also been kind of a weird October, lemme tell ya. Writing-wise, I haven't put a lot of effort toward the genre work. Lately, I've been mining stories I'm calling memories in fiction. Not really memoir, but more autobiographical impressions. I call them fiction because I do know that memory is fallible. Also, for the sake of narrative I do take certain liberties with the facts in order to preserve the feelings or themes of the work. It's deep stuff and tough stuff to write, but that's what's coming out of me and onto the page.
That being said, you do have some fun stuff to look forward to in the future. It was my sincere hope to crank out the entire text of "The Case of the Soggy Carpet", but it's turning out to be a long one and I have about 7,000 words left. There's a couple steampunk adventures just sitting in notebooks right now, but they're out of sequence with the overarching narrative, so I need to do some more writing to get them ready for sharing (bad news, "Wolves of Edinburgh" is toast - it's just not getting written any time soon). There's also a new protagonist, Sorcha Finney whom I've pretty much fallen in love with. In early '17, you will too. At at some point, I will hunker down and write "Ivan v the Almighty Canvas". That one promises to be very cool.
Yeah, but, Joe, what the hell are we doing for Halloween?
Does anything say Halloween like an Ivan the Destroyer story dump?
That's right, True Believers, sitting on the "Happy Halloween" tab on the Ivan website are 13 Ivan stories. Some new, some very, very old. Including some gems I haven't shared in years. "Ivan and the Dwellers" and the classic original serial text of the novelette Ivan and the Borneo Bigfoot". If you haven't read that one, you'll love it. I wanted to include the classic, "Ivan and the Trick or Treater" but, sorry, I lost that one.
But act quickly, True Believers! The stories will be up only for the next few hours. At 8:00 p.m. Central Standard Time, I will delete the page and put the stories in storage for a while.
So... enjoy and please let me know how you like the work. It means a lot to me.
Greetings, True Believers!
Yes, it's been too long. Still, these things happen. The school year starts, and I kind of disappear for a while. The writing slows down. Even though it's a daily practice for me, I may write as little as 50 words a day instead of my goal of 400-500 words (that's about two full pages in my notebook). Still, the projects are very much alive.
My apologies for not posting as much work on Steampunk-a-Go-Go. It was an awful tease, just setting that first chunk with no follow up. There will be more to come very soon. As you know, August is a busy time for me, and honestly my work tasks involve so much keyboarding and analysis of things on a computer screen, when my time is finally my own, the last thing I like to do is more screen time. Nonetheless, I'm going to need to suck it up and deliver the goods out of respect for your loyalty, True Believers.
Okay a few updates before I get to my pep talk for all of you.
As much as I desire to be a more serious author, I have to admit that lately, my love of good old pulp fiction, comic book fun has just taken over my mind these last few months. The subgenres I've been working in just fuel my imagination. There's just something about the melange of technology, tradition and innovation in steampunk that just makes it all a joy to write. You own't ever see bee walking around wearing goggles, a top hat with a door in it and a kilt, but hey... I'm hearing steampunk is huge in Northern Europe. I'm happy to be huge in the Belelux nations. Once I finally get the self-publishing project underway, the Euro to dollar conversion should be pretty solid.
Right now I'm working on finding the balance of being fully engaged with my family and profession while finding time to be genuinely productive with my work. At the same time, I'm suffering through a serious backlog of material and fighting to get ideas on paper.
Which leads to today's lesson and the power of focus and discipline within a context of fun.
Look, your art needs to be a source of joy for you. Whether it's a way of exorcising the agonies of your own human condition, a way to find those moments of flow or just escape for those few minutes a day, it's got to be fun. However, the work has to get done. You need to sit at the wheel and fire up the kiln. You need to keep the saws sharp and rev up the router. It's one thing to admire the moon setting, it's another to be the one tow set the f-stop properly and share what you saw in a way the enriches the lives of anyone who sees what you were able to capture.
The only way to do the work is to do the work. That takes discipline and focus. Sometimes it's just as simple as what I did last week. I woke up on Sunday, grabbed the notebook and said to myself that it was the day to finish the first draft of "Revenge of the Squid Queen" (Seriously, how could I resist that title when it pooped into my head a few years ago?). I'll be honest, there were other things I wanted to do that were more easily accessible fun (Season 2 of Daredevil for example). But I knew that if I didn't buckle down and get it done, the aggravation of not getting it done was going to screw with my head all day.
Funny thing, somehow in all that bite-the-bullet and act like a writer thing, three hours went by, two thousand words got inked and some seriously fun things hit the page, all in time for lunch. Sometimes, even if the joy seems elusive, like a good workout, you just need to make yourself do it.
So what am I making myself do? Well, you may have noticed a tab on Steampunk a Go-Go called "Sorcha Finney". Look for that brand new story arc soon. Not talking about it. Just gonna write it. I will deliver the entirety of "The Case of the Soggy Carpet" before Halloween. I can't promise my usual new Ivan story in time for Halloween, but I will finally finish something especially for the greatest holiday of the year.
So, that's your takeaway for the day. Get off the internet and open up Scrivener. Put on some music and prep your canvas. Sit in the park with your sketch pad or your notebook. The oak won't sand itself and that clay only stays good for so long. Sometimes you need to make yourself sit and do it, but it's always worthwhile.
So let's get to it.
Hello, True Believers!
Today's post is all about a common road block we can encounter in our creative life. The idea of the perfect place for creative practice, and what that looks like, as well as what to do when you don't have one.
Now, I wear my creative endeavors on my sleeve for a reason, and it's not the selfish need for reinforcement and praise, though that really is a nice byproduct. I do this to help support all those people in my life who tell me over and over again that they'd love to do something, be it paint or write or take up photography. It's so easy to talk yourself out of taking the risk of putting words on a page, scenes on a canvas. What I try to do is show you that it can be done. You can build a satisfying, creative life that will enhance your life as a whole, make you a better person, help you bring joy to those around you.
I mean, come on, I just wrote a story about a guy fighting a fifty foot chicken, do you really think anything you make is going to be sillier than that? Be brave.
Many of you know I'm a big fan of Austin Kleon's work. Each week he publishes a very nice newsletter that's high on nice content, low on self-promotion. Recently, he wrote about the idea of the Bliss Station, that special place that you must keep sacred as your own. A special room or part of a room or separate location where you get to disconnect form the world and make something new. It's a great article, so use that link above and read it.
That bliss station looks different for different people. Pottery and woodworking really require some kind of station to work with your materials, access your tools and fashion something. For photographers that I know, it's about being in the darkroom or at the computer and seeing if the moment that was seen through the lens is captured on the paper or the screen.
So what if you don't have that space? Austin's article has a nice perspective that's very aligned with my own creative practice, which I'd like to share today.
I always dream of having that ultimate writer's desk that looks out on my yard, has tons of inspiring pictures, knick-knacks, whatever. A place i can walk in, blast music and get down to work.
But I ain't got it. Not like that. My place is portable. Simply, it's the 5"x 8" notebook that's become my go to writing tool. My artistic indulgence is a high quality line notebook, regardless of price, and an affordable fountain pen. Really, there's nothing like the feel of letting ink fly from a fountain pen on good paper. The great thing about this combination, is that it naturally lends itself, with the addition of a rubber band, to a nice kit that I can take with me wherever I go. I never know when I'm going to have a few minutes, so I always keep one handy.
Black & Red notebook and Lamy Safari Simple Moleskine notebook and a nice
fountain pen Kaweco Sport fountain pen
That's the notebook for "The Just sitting in the yard...creating.
"Half Moon Hotel Stories"
Since I don't really have the space, I really let the notebook be the space. I guess I'm lucky in that I'm usually able to work on multiple projects at once, depending on which one is exciting me at the time. I can put a story down for a few days or a few weeks, and pick up pretty much where I left off. It's an act of artistic discipline and concentration, and for some reason, that seems to be part of my gift. More about my schizophrenic process another time. The big take away is to know that there are ways it can be done.
So really, those times with the notebook, that's my version of the bliss station that Austin Kleon talks about. My practice is about stealing moments and getting that 500 words a day on paper. It's about giving myself permission, while I'm hanging in the yard waiting for burgers to cook on the grill, or waiting in the car to pick the kids up from practice, to feel the fun, the excitement of creating.
So really, you don't need a studio or an office. If you have one, great, keep it, don't ever give it up. However, if you don't, you really can take a few simple tools and enrich your life with them.
The key is to:
1) Make them easy to access. My kits are just laying on the bookshelf under my nightstand. I make a choice every morning about what I'm excited about and I being it with.
2) Bring them with you. Really, people won't ask why you have a notebook in you hand or on the front seat of your car. Remember, everyone's wrapped up in their own stuff. They don't care that your personal path to Nirvana is right there. Just bring it with you. There's nothing more frustrating, I can tell you, than having a kick-ass idea and not having a way to get it down in some kind of real form.
3) Create! Scratch that pencil on the page. Make the sentences. Build the stanzas. Draw the view in front of you or the movie in your head. Just give yourself permission to do it. You deserve to feel the rush of creativity. You want to do, so do it.
4) Create wherever you are. Like hanging at the pool? Create there. Riding on the commuter train? Create. People are running late for a meeting? Grab the notebook and create. You don't have to finish it right then and there. But a little progress is still progress. Inches at a time, your thing will happen.
Okay, True Believers, I hope your inspired to go make something, and can see that it's easier than you think. There's no perfect time, so go ahead and do it now.
Maybe I should take my own advice...
Good day, True Believers!
This week's post sees a return to a discussion of the creative process in everyday life and will be free of references to the fact that we're about to become a fascist state ruled by private interests where everyone who ever expressed a dissenting opinion on the side of tolerance, peace and decency will be sent to relocation camps in an effort to create a eugenically engineered America that never existed. Nope, won't go there.
I digress. I've had some hard earned time off from work the last couple of weeks where I've had a chance to reflect a lot on my work, what I want to accomplish with my one month, one year and five year plans, creatively speaking.
Funny thing, I'd been waiting for this time off for quite some time and I really envisioned it as a chance to indulge in my writer's fantasy: up at five, writing furiously, meditating, walking, building stuff around the house, writing more, sharing buckets of work. Finishing about ten of the eighteen projects I've got laying around. I had the time coming. I had the ideas. I had the technology. And exactly nothing got done for almost a week.
It was amazing to watch from the inside, sort of an internal car accident, y'know? It was the result of a combination of just not being able to give myself permission to write in that actual moment of having pen to paper coupled with an inability to focus my moods and energies to any one project for a length of more than a few minutes.
What caused the block? It took some time, but I figured it out. Much of it was focus. Again, an overabundance of ideas is a good problem for a writer to have. But it can be maddening, trying to work on one thing when you feel the calling of another thing. Then you kind of reflect a moment on all that work you're dying to share and it just gets nuts. Another part of it was that I was just plain tired of working on The Assassin's Table, which was the center of my planned time off. Now fans of this work don't have to fret - I still have a few chapters to key in and keep up my semi-weekly postings. But I did, for the sake of the greater creative good, need to give myself to stop working on anything new for a bit. I'm pretty confident that I'll be able to dive back in pretty easily - the rest of the book is laid out and outlined.
Thing is, I was very torn as to what to work on. Part of the block had its roots in this negative voice deep inside that kept mocking me for writing these fairy stories with sword fights. Not when there's real stuff to write. Not when there's a deep literary novel worming its way through my brain, something I could brag about and admit to working on. (Really try telling someone you're writing a fantasy steampunk novel for young adults, photograph the look on their face and post it in the comments section. You'll see why I play those cards close to my chest.) Dealing with this dichotomy is pretty weird. I do think that my more serious work is worthy. But the joy I get from writing the greasy kid stuff, well... that's a whole different, more freewheeling kind of high.
One thing I found helpful to focus myself in this process was a re-read of The Artist's Way. A few of you may recall, I really dove into this book a couple of years ago. I'm less likely to call this a self-help book. It's more of a good pragmatic manual of exercises that can really help one identify why your creative work is important and finding the inner triggers of what may be stopping you in an effort to overcome them. I'll be honest, the book does take a few turns toward to spiritual, which didn't work for me, but that's just me. The core of the book is very good and I'd recommend you get a copy and spend some time with it.
So in this reflective process, I found I had to do a couple things. First, I stopped letting myself feed my notebook addiction. Too many notebooks was part of what killed my focus. I had to then give up two of the projects for the foreseeable future. One I totally abandoned - tore up the notebook, tossed int he trash and poured coffee grounds all over it. The other got shelved indefinitely.
Then I got pragmatic. Sure, I could just focus on cranking out a novel in a month, James Patterson style. But at what cost? Ignoring my kids, my wife and all the domestic responsibilities from making the bed to painting the kitchen. That wasn't going to work. Having creative endeavors in your life is about balance. If you tip the balance to just the creativity, well, that ain't balance, is it?
Then I remembered, you guessed it, something Neil Gaiman said. In an interview or an essay, he mentioned how Terry Pratchett wrote his first book The Colour of Magic by making sure he wrote 400 words a day. That's about 45 minutes worth of focused effort, which boils down to just about one printed page. Do that every day for a year and you've got a novel. Not bad, huh?
So I've ended up giving myself permission to keep with that, regardless of the project, literary or steampunk, serious or science fiction, memoir of a misspent life or adventure with jet powered motorcycles. Each morning, I link a notebook up with a fountain pen and just tell myself that today, I'm writing something. The front and back of a page in my notebook is anywhere from 350-500 words, depending on the notebook's structure. I make sure I stay true to the spirit of the project and my only requirement of myself is to make it way cool. Inches at a time, the work will come together. It's better to write 200-500 words than to be stuck.
I'm lucky in that if I have a gift, it's being able to pick up the narrative wherever I've left off, even if I haven't touched it in a year. Also, I'm lucky in that I can focus on writing wherever I am, pretty much. Sometimes that's in the yard having coffee or in my living room. I can write while waiting to pick the kids up from their activities or waiting for the chicken to cook on the grill. It's part gift, part habit, I guess.
So, I hope by sharing this, you've got some insights you can take to your your own expressive life. One thing I tell people over and over is that a thing doesn't need to be big to have an impact. Feeling blocked or stuck? Well, you're in good company. Have faith that it's not that the ideas are gone, they're just hiding or resting and will show up in good time.
Time isn't always a gift. It's what we do with that time. I'm doing my best to use it well and I do have a goal of sharing some new work before my vacations over. 500 words at a time, I'm getting there.
Finally, I want to thank you all, True Believers, and you know who you are. I know you're out there and that your support is steadfast. I am truly grateful for that. Your presence really keeps my going. We create to share our art, and I'm glad for all of you.
Okay, that was a lot of writing about writing. I think it's time we all get busy and make something, don't you think?
"Angry words won't stop the fight
Two wrongs won't make it right
A new heart is what I need..."
Hello, True Believers,
It's been a tough week in our nation, so this post will be a little more reflective, not preachy, yet something of a call to action with a focus on your creative life.
I've done a lot of thinking about the events of this week, and felt a need to speak to it, while still staying true to the spirit of this blog. It is not my intention to ever be political here, nor do I think this should be a pulpit where I get to hammer my opinions like the nut uncle ranting at the barbeque. It was always my intention for this blog to share insights into the creative process, inspire you to make art and appreciate the art around you more.
The week began with the loss of one of our greatest, Elie Wiesel. I think we need to start with his example. We must bear witness to the events this week. No sane person can see the things that happened this week and not think for a moment that what happened is a direct result of the faulty thinking that leads to polarization, that prevents openness and a real examination of the root problems that we as a nation must address, person by person, starting with ourselves. What passes for political debate right now, be it about guns, race, the role of law enforcement, the hidden poison of bias, is no more than a breakdown in the importance of critical thinking. It's not that we're not asking the right questions, it's that we're not asking questions. We are not bearing witness because we're not stopping to think and reflect and, most importantly, bring our higher selves to the discussion.
That's where art comes in. I believe that fully. Wiesel used the power of literature to share his experience and bear witness. Picasso poured everything he had into "Guernica", his greatest work, intended to bear witness to the suffering of his people. James Baldwin wrote deeply about being black in modern America.
I remember a friend of the teenaged me telling me about this little band from Ireland that was singing a lot about what was going on in the world. I bought that album and listened to it about ten times in a row. It's important for art to generate emotion, anger and outrage. It's important for art to take time to call us to action, to call us to sane action.
But more importantly, art is what brings us together as human beings. What made Wiesel's work so powerful was his ability to connect with the natural confusion a child experiences as he grows up. "Guernica" is an amazing work of shape, nuance and form. Baldwin writes beautifully as a human being in a way that shares the anger of his own experience in a way that helps us understand that experience. U2 used melody, passion and a knack for the poetic to get us to pay attention to what's going on around us. That is the power of art.
When you express yourself, by building a bookshelf, by writing a song or a play or a story, by painting or sculpting an image, what you're really doing is tapping into the universal connection that we all share as human beings. Even if you're bad at it, you're trying to bring yourself in touch with something higher, something we all share. If there's something we really need to do right now, it is to find that mutual connection we all share as members of humanity.
Art, your art, has the power to do that. Use it to connect with someone. Make it the bridge, or at least the stepping stone, to connecting with someone you might not like that much. Art is where we communicate that we all wish to avoid suffering and find happiness, every single one of us.
The smallest step makes a difference, word by word, brushstroke by brushstroke, note by note. Be brave.
If we don't, who will?
"Take this heart, and let it break..."
G'day, True Believers!
I'll admit it, I have felt a bit like human spam lately. It's my sincere hope that I'm not getting on your nerves with all that sharing that's been going on this week. I work with the understanding that by being part of the True Believer network, you're all in as far as updates and checking out the new work. If not, well, there's a spam filter on your server for a reason.
Before I get to this week's resource, the bullet journal, I thought I'd just share some reflections. This is a pretty exciting time for me creatively. It's a time of year when work is a little less intense, though there still is a ton to do, but my after hours time is still very much my own. Thus, I'm able to put a lot of energy into some creative projects. Right now, it's all about getting stuff done. For the last year or so, I've been able to just follow the collective energy of ideas, writing down what I was int he mood to write down, letting this disciplined daydreaming go where it liked. This has left me with a pretty good problem for a writer to have - a dearth of ideas to work on.
This is however, a double edged sword in some ways. Let's be honest, a work doesn't get published if it's not finished. It also can be quite maddening to have so much incomplete work out there. You see, writing is obsessive work. You get an idea, you see where its going and then it gets rolling and suddenly it all becomes an chore of energy and time management to get it done. It took me a while to figure this out as a writer, mostly back when the Ivan stories were flying out of my head like crazy. I'd get an idea, I'd outline it, I'd roll with it and sometimes work for six hours straight, ignoring family and sometimes work because it almost hurt to have this idea in my head. Yes, this meant a nice creative output, but there were some obvious downsides to it. Also, this is what let to the creative crash where the Ivan stories really stopped coming for a couple years. All for no freaking money whatsoever.
Since then, I think I've struck a nice balance of finding efficient ways to get work done, feed the muse, follow all these irrational tricks that keep me creative but still invested in my family and my profession. I'll admit, this is much more rewarding. Right now I have to tools and processes in place to ensure a decent creative output without sacrificing any of those essential elements of my life.
Part of that balance is getting this stuff done. At this time, counting all novels, novellas, short stories, fictionalized memoirs on my docket, I have about fourteen separate projects going on. Yep. That's a lot to organize, prioritize and finish. And the ideas keep coming.
As much as I enjoy the rush that comes with exploring these new ideas and writing the comic book in my head, things were getting a little crazy-making, which led to my realization that my creative discipline needs to be more disciplined. I need to get this stuff finished. Summer's a good time to do that. For me, there are a few short weeks where the workload is less intense, there's a chunk of vacation time in there. However, without focus and a more disciplined plan to get things done, well... it's easy to spin my creative wheels.
Which brings me to this months creative resource. The bullet journal. I stumbled upon this thing earlier in the week, and the timing could not have been better. Right now at work, I'm preparing for a new role that while it has the same title, has a series of tasks that are totally different. I was really getting keyed up thinking about how to wrap my head around everything. When I found this information about the bullet journal, well, it just started to click for me. This tool is elegant, cost effective and hands on. All things I really, really like.
We live in a great age where there are so many productivity tools and apps out there. Everything from Google Calendar to Trello to others too numerous to mention. The bullet journal is a really elegant system to plan out and deal with your daily punch list in a really efficient way. It's been around for a while. I'll be honest, most of the YouTube videos you see out there seem to be guided toward twentysomething hipsters trying to keep track of when to meet Marie for hot chocolate. However, the links I sent are more workplace based. I'm going to give this a go mostly because at work I use Outlook and its quickly becoming a monster where I still don't feel like I have a good grasp on my role in a holistic sense like I used to.
Before adapting it for work, I decided to beta-test it on my creative and home life. So far the early results are encouraging. Setting up the journal took less than an hour, then once I had the structure, I spent a good two hours of complete flow where I set a calendar for all the projects, balancing the grunt work of typing in drafts with the driven work of structured effort on the novel projects as well as banking time for the free flow of new ideas.
The nice thing about the bullet journal I'm finding is that is provides a good tool taking things from the macro-level to the micro level without losing essential focus on either.
And, hey, in a world dominated by electronics and connectivity, how cool is it to run around with a high quality notebook and a pen?
Okay, True Believers, that's it for this week. Here's a tip of the coffee mug to say summer is here, enjoy it. Get outside, even if its just being in the yard with your sketch pad. Make, make, make. If you don't, there's no guarantee that anyone else will.