A Statement of Purpose
Hello, True Believers!
I know, I know! Where have I been? More on that next week. The thing is, I'm back. And I apologize. I know most of you are very much used to me blasting your e-mail with updates and sharing fiction on a near weekly basis. Well, it's been nuts, and I'll fill you in on that next week. But it's been a great summer that has rekindled my ability to write and I have to say, brought my focus back. I was able to catch up on much of the backlog of material, and more importantly, I've found my focus.
With that focus come the return to this blog. I do feel this has value. Many of you have shared that you appreciate my thoughts on writing and the process. I'll talk a lot about the work, in pretty nonspecific terms, mostly. The reason for that is that I don't know how much you want to get bogged down with my decision process that led to a character wearing a waistcoat instead of a jacket or why she went left instead of right.
So here's what I want to do:
Share reflections on the process with you. Mostly because it's fun. And I'm pledging to do so in a mature, professional way. This blog is about resolve and writing and getting work done. There will be no whining. No venting of my insecurity. I've proven I can write, and you believe in that and that's enough.
Keeping it brief, for the most part.
Here's what I won't be doing:
Sharing on social media. It's useless and nobody cares.
Posting fiction. I've pared the list of "beta-readers" down and have mined their specific interest in reading the work, so they're going to get work directly via e-mail. If you're not yet in that group and you're reading the blog and have my contact information, feel free to ask. Why am I doing this? I feel that if I'm posting, it puts an undue expectation on you. Many of you are interested in my passion and my process, but let's be honest, reading a 20,000 word story that may not be your thing is a lot to ask. Some of you love reading fight scenes, some of you don't. I may love escapist fiction, but if one of you sent me a nurse romance to read, well... it would take me a while to get to it.
Pursuing publishing, at least for now. I've deleted all references to a pseudonym I set up, I've cancelled all plans for self-publishing, and I will not share any of those plans. The reason? It's a distraction that prevents me from producing work. No work, no publishing. It's that simple.
Okay, so there it is. More to come.
It's nice to be back...
Hello, True Believers!
Okay, so you got my manifesto last week. You're probably wondering what I've been doing with ink and paper all summer, huh?
I'll save you a lot of recent history and just skip ahead to where I am, right now, as a writer. This summer, I was able to take a long vacation, and I actually let myself take it. Now many of you know, I have a pretty intense day job, which I secured after a very intense job hunt while having another very intense day job. Lots of intensity, huh? Now note, I will only make very minimal references to my day job. The reason why is simple. Writing is my release and writing about writing does wonders for my mental health. Those of you who know me professionally know that we have ways of connecting and working that are beyond this blog. Also, I'm not going to muse on the many fascinating topics of my day job. This site is about writing and creativity and their importance to our life balance.
Anyway, so I had this vacation after all this intensity. So what did I do? I sat in my yard and I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. (And I worked out, actually almost kind of getting into shape.) I've never given myself permission to do this. I mean I actually played writer! Mostly because my wonderful spouse said I should, because, simply, she saw how I was the last year and a half. I was kind of a mess going into summer. During this time, which I called my summer sabbatical, I caught up on a ton of this backlog of material I had built up. I finished stories that I've had unfinished for over a year. And it was fun!
So where's the work, Mr. Writer?
Well, it's coming. Don't worry. You see, over the last year or so, I was very creative, I just wasn't very productive. There were lots of ideas, lots of notes, lots of outlines and beats* and breakdowns of scenes. But there weren't a lot of stories happening. The reason was simple. I have a day job (see above), and a family, and the reality was, as creative as I was, I was pretty zapped in my downtime, so all I could do was chase the joy that came from creativity. It was a lot tougher to muster the discipline to write and finish and share.
Chasing that creativity had some good outcomes. First, I came up with some pretty cool ideas. I'm fast becoming the king of escapist fiction, at least in my own mind. This kind of process also comes with a certain amount of frustration. I can't share a story if I don't finish a story. I can't publish what isn't finished. I can't self-publish a project that is an unfinished project. Also, leaving things unfinished makes me all kinds of crazy, which can kill creativity. So I went into this summer just dying to get things done. And that's what I did.
And something happened this summer. Getting these first drafts off my mind gave me some perspective. More importantly, it gave me focus. Back in the spring, I had plans, but I was absolutely putting the cart before the horse. I was putting the cart of the guy behind me before his horse and my horse. But my cart was empty. I mean, I was creating a pseudonym and a Twitter feed and a webpage and all the things I'd need to publish. BUT I HAD NO PRODUCT!!! So this summer, while I was writing, I was able to concentrate purely on story. I forgot publishing, self-publishing, ambition. I let go of that big hurry I was in. There was a lot of self-imposed pressure on me to get something out there with pages and a cover. All that was a distraction form the work, which is really the most important part. This summer, I finally got my priorities right. I wrote, I thought deeply about story and what do you know? The stories got done.
So here's where it's at. This summer I finished four stories. Now I need to work on them some more. And they will trickle your way if you ask for them. I'm also chasing a very new idea that I'm having a lot of fun with. Almost too much fun.
Finally, I'm done rushing into the nonessentials. Yes, I'd love to see the book on the self or be a member of a writer's association or be some kind of somebody with my work. But that only comes with the work getting done. I'm grateful to have settled my mind down, to be focusing on the work, to be getting someone done. And hey, I'm somebody to you, right? I know that, and that's enough. Writing is a joy. Escapist fiction is a blast to write, it's a blast for you to read, and it's enough. I'm tightening up everything. I'm leaving the idea of creating an online presence except to maintain this site to share thoughts about the process. I do this first because it's fun for me, and also because I hope this inspires you to give yourself permission to write and create. It'll be all about the work. Then maybe we'll see if something happens. Honestly I don't know if I need more than what we have here, True Believers. I think this is enough.
So, yeah, I'm writing.
* A "beat" is a common writing technique, where an author distills their outlines and ideas into small scenes, even parts of scenes. It allows one to create a roadmap of the writing and be very efficient with the process. Try it! It's fun and it works!
Hello, True Believers!
Welcome to the future, we just didn't hear it coming.
Many of you are familiar with these occasional blog posts. If reached out to you with all kinds of weird fiction, adventures and at times just to share resources on well-being. I do this in an interest of celebrating our common interests and experiences. I also try to be mindful of not becoming human spam.
Lately I've been contemplating our human need for connection and how we often satisfy this with social media. Right now, I'm taking a semi-permanent break from social media on a personal level. I just wasted too much time on the trivia and nonsense that comes with scrolling along the screen on my phone. The algorithm stinks. I don't see what I want to see. I do wonder how all these good people are doing. Thing is, the algorithm doesn't allow for this any more.
I don't know what the answer is to that. Maybe it's me making a point of reaching out more directly. I do need to do more of that. Heck, part of me thinks we should start celebrating the good old fashioned letter.
For now, I've got this lame website going, and maybe that's the start. Maybe I can use this blog as a focused tool for us to share and exchange ideas besides just hitting the "Like" button (How did that become an option for texting? Do I need a text that reads "Liked: 'That is way cool!'" I mean, I know I keyed that in, just key in "Liked that!" Anyway...)
So.... I'm not sure what this will be. It may just be a link that I send you via e-mail or post on social media while remaining absent for the most part. I guess I envision something akin to the Friday e-mail sent out by one of my favorite champions of the creative life, Austin Kleon. (Yeah, this whole paragraph in hyperlinked...)
Bare minimum, I think I'd like to do what I do in a newsletter I share with people at work where I provide "This Week's List of Cool". It's a nice way to share those things, great and small, that make my life richer and I want to share with you to provide the same.
Also, I encourage you to do the same. Feel free to add feedback or even contact me directly. In this wonderful modern age in which we live, there must be a way we can connect, trade ideas and interact in a meaningful way.
So, here's this week's list of things I found cool (all are hyperlinked):
1) First, for those of you who are interested in the things I share regarding the noble work of education, I highly encourage you to follow me on Twitter: @CauleyMr - twitter.com/CauleyMr
2) Wonderbook - I'm only about ten pages in, but it promises to be a great guide to writing and the creative process. While it has a bent toward imaginative fiction, I think it can be a good tool for reflection for any kind of writing.
3) The Unexplained Podcast
4) The latest episode of "Supernatural"
5) Minty Fresh Thoughts
6) Hot Fuzz - have you not seen this move yet? Come on!
7) Oh, Greg's Frozen Yogurt is open for the season.
Whatever holiday you're celebrating, make it a good one.
Tune in next week!
Happy New Year, True Believers!
Well, here's to an amazing, healthy and happy new year. I actually chose the title of today's post pretty deliberately. It's a paraphrase of Eisenhower's order for D-Day. It always reminds me that the most incredible things can get started by something very simple, if one has the resolve to make these things happen.
So how amazing are you going to make this year? This is the only 2018 you get. How are you going to fill these 52 weeks? Will the world be a better place for your efforts and actions in the following 364 days after today? What will you do to make this time great?
These are the questions I've asked myself in the run up to the new year. As I said in yesterday's post I really don't make resolutions. I set goals, which are pretty non-specific. I do use these questions to guide myself. I think it's important that I remember to be a better person than I was the day before. It's essential that I'm good to the people I work with and live with, all that.
Creatively, I have two goals this year. To finish stuff and to self-publish. Those are the big ones. I still have a big backlog of ideas that I need to wrap up. They're good ideas and I really don't want to abandon them. That being said, I may not finish all of them.
Also, this year, I want to stay focused, but still be open to the new ideas that come from pretty much nowhere. Oleg Castillo was just a name in a writing doodle for months until things just clicked. My goal, however, needs to remain focused on finishing stories. This past year, it was too easy to get distracted, creatively speaking. I mean, I get why it happened. I was successful in landing a new job and executing the transition. The professional learning curve had to take priority. My own creativity was kept alive by the constant daydreaming and brainstorming.
This is, having a bunch of unfinished ideas was making me a little nuts. Hence the goal to finish things.
Self publishing? Well, I have to say, I think that's the way to go with my work. No hustling with publishers or agents. I've been lucky enough to connect with some people who've done it successfully and they've offered good encouragement to do it. It's remarkably easy and I think it might just work. I've got the work. I've got a budget. I've got an artist for the cover lined up. There's a good chance I could start something that's at least self-sustaining and gets my work out as a real product sooner rather than later.
So that's my big share for this New Year's Day. As always, I share with a purpose. I want you to use this information as inspiration. Seriously, you all know me. I'm a bonehead. If I can pull these stunts off, imagine what you can do. If you do one thing in 2018, give yourself permission to be amazing and create stuff.
Does that sound like a plan?
Okay. Let's go...
Hello, True Believers!
Where did this year go? I do enjoy the new year. So much so, that I usually celebrate it three or four times a year. It's great. If this traditional New Year's doesn't take off the way I'd like it to, guess what? I've got the lunar new year in February. If that doesn't work, well, there's Rosh Hashana. I can always throw in a solstice or two if need be. The lesson being is, while it's always good to use these times to reflect, to re-energize, there's always an opportunity to start anew, make a transition and choose to move forward.
So the close of 2017 is as good an excuse as any to reflect a bit. It was a pretty productive year for me, personally, professionally and creatively. My kids kept growing into fantastic young adults. My marriage got stronger. I connected and reconnected with the good people I'm lucky enough to call friends. I scored a dream job. I wrote a ton. What more can a man ask for besides a better Star Wars movie?
During 2017, I was able to share three or four stories with you. Looking back, although that doesn't seem like much, given that it saw me wrap up one job, start another with a TON more responsibility and complexity, and manage to deal with shoulder surgery in the middle of it all, I have to call it a pretty productive year.
As the year comes to a close, I'm feeling very grateful. Things worked out pretty damn well. My friends and family graciously give me too much credit, saying I'm tenacious, positive and have a profound resolve to accomplish things. That may be true, but I only have those qualities because I have those good people with me. These people were in my corner with water, towels, ice, bandages, great advice and mostly, the unfailing belief that I could accomplish these things.
Every new year, I don't make resolutions. I set goals and some of them are more specific than others. Those are coming in a post tomorrow.
One thing I will share with you now is a realization I had about my writing. Years ago, I bought the jdmccauley.com domain for the purpose of promoting my literary fiction. And I cranked a lot of it out. But here's what I find: I keep coming back to genre fiction. I love monsters, jet packs, fist fights and flying saucers. That's what I write. It's fun. I'm pretty good at it. Also, for me, it's pretty easy.
The literary stuff takes a lot of focus, energy and digging deep into that dark well. The genre stuff, it just pops. It's a blast to write. It energizes me, helps me blow off steam and I hope, helps you escape from the day-to-day nonsense and inspire you to be the hero of your day.
So, while the occasional literary story may pop up, my vision for 2018 and beyond is that the J.D. McCauley brand is going to be all fun adventure all the time. Why? Because I haven't really found a compelling answer to the question, "Why not?"
Also, I'm not going to hide behind a pseudonym, either. I need to put my real name onto my work. My whole life all I ever wanted to do was post J.D. McCauley to my writing, no matter what it was. So that's what I intend to do.
More about the goals for 2018 in the next post. But I'll leave you with this. The year will see the return of a classic McCauley character. You may already be a fan. You might even guess his name.
Call him Ivan...
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?
A man who loves to write.