Hello, True Believers!
Thank you for joining me for an early evening coffee. The sunset right now is gorgeous. White gold light streaming between the branches of the trees. Bird are singing. Life is good.
I didn't have a load of creative output this week. I'm working sort of diligently trying to keyboard some rough drafts so I can share them with you. Right now, there's a pretty big backlog of material. Basically I need about a year off so I can get it all done. Not gonna happen.
As you know, I do try to enjoy what I call creative cross training, which results in what I think is a good problem for a writer to have, which is more ideas and material than he knows what to do with (with which he does not not know what to do, for you sticklers).
This week was more about writer work, than actual writing. I'm far enough ahead in my work on The Assassin's Table, I can afford to take a three month break from it if I need to, so I haven't worked on it much for the past couple of weeks aside form keeping up with my bi-monthly posts. So no worries with that one, I'll keep you in magical dielselpunk madness for quite a while.
For now, I'm kind of officially taking a break from doing any of the more serious writing I've been working on here and there. I dunno, maybe it's the approaching summer, the recent viewing of "Captain America: Civil War" (see it), watching "Wynonna Earp" on SyFy (watch it) or enjoying Richard Kadrey's Sandman Slim (read it). Lately, I'm just in the mood for fun.
This week, I just let my imagination rock, going through old notes for all kinds of craziness. There's an Ivan adventure or two just begging to get done. Some classic steampunk fun with the crew of the Mullen, which might take up a chunk of my summer as I wrap those up (Seriously, how do I not write a story called "Revenge of the Squid Queen"?). And then there's... well, there's a surprise in the works for, oh... 2018, let's say.
I mean, hey, I love wallowing in the misery that is the human condition as much as the next guy. And I think I'm pretty good at it. But I'm also really good at setting up and delivering some top notch vampire execution scenes, swordfights, submarine chases and werewolf fights. Again, this is called fun.
So, I'd best get busy so I can fill your summer with all kinds of pdfs for your beach reading.
Your creative resource for the week? Tommy Keene, ladies and gents. Listen to it, know it, love it. He's incredible.
Thanks for reading!
Hello, True Believers!
Sorry I'm a day late with this week's entry. Life got busy yesterday.
Today, I wanted to talk about how I'm coping with my notebook addiction. Because it actually did lead to something of a problem with my writing. Probably a good problem, but a problem nonetheless.
Here's the deal. I'm not paid to write. I can't do what Don DeLillo does which is sit down every morning and just be a freaking genius. And even when he's not being a genius, he can grind away and make something amazing because he has the time and energy to devote to his art. Yeah, yeah, I ain't Don DeLillo by a long shot for a buttload of reasons. But you get the point.
However, I am able to stay productive by following the muse. I've always been lucky with my creative life. As long as I can remember I could make up pictures that became stories. This eventually distilled into a habit of being able to take ideas and make them into narratives. In adulthood, this all happens in stolen moments, thirty minutes in the morning, forty-five minutes at the end of the day. If I'm lucky, like today, I might be able to invest a few hours getting some stuff done.
And I have a ton of stuff. Why? Well, following the excitement means just that. The thing about writing is that the idea is the excitement. The writing of it can often be a lot of damn work. Since writing lives on either side of that joke called reality, sometimes after doing a lot of damn work all damn day, I don't want to come home and do more damn work. I may be an adult, but I'm a freaking immature adult who likes to have fun. And I don't have a Harley to tear up the road, so I need to content myself with whatever story carries the rush of relief that helps me tap into that joy that all of us need to experience on a daily basis.
Part of how I do this is to keep feeding my notebook addiction. This allows me to follow ideas, start things without finishing things and saving ideas as they come. Ideas come at random and I need to get them going or they get lost. Thing is... I have a ton of ideas. They're all worth pursuing, too. More than I could dedicate to one notebook if I am to give them the space they need.
But here's what happened. I had way too many projects to keep track of. So here's what I did. You guessed it, the solution involved a notebook. I took a good one, a real good one and I listed all the projects I'm working on, their status, what they needed, where I can go with them and then leaving space for some thoughts about each project. I cannot tell you how therapeutic this was. Seriously, I was like a Jack Russell terrier, spazzing and sniffing my way between so much creative stimulus and channels it became paralyzing. I had so many ideas and starts and I was getting nothing done.
So, when I finished this project, I found that I had, no kidding, eighteen distinct projects. Two novels, two novellas, fourteen short stories. One that I had forgotten about completely until today, it was just lost in the morass. Some are already drafted. Some are started and waiting completion of a first draft. Some just needed to get keyed in and shared with all of you (There's like four of you who read this, right?). Literary reflections on life, fictionalized memoirs of moments, steampunk, post-apocalyptic adventure, stuff for grown ups, stuff for kids, and a very cool Ivan the Destroyer adventure.
When it comes to Joe Time, I don't like organization. Mostly because my job is just one long effort of organizing mine and a few dozen other people's lives. Deep down I'm a jazzman who just wants to riff on his life. Still, a little organization can go a long way to productivity. I've buttoned up two short stories this week, one of which is worth sharing, but I need to sit on it a bit. So now I'm down to sixteen projects. I'd best get to work.
Hey, what are you working on?
Hi, my name is Joe and I am addicted to notebooks.
It's a compulsive behavior. I see a good notebook and I need to have it, to try and fill it. My friends and family are happy to feed this habit with Monsieurs and Moleskines, Leuchtterms and Deniks. I receive them as gifts at random, get home and run to my room and look at them. Notebooks with great binding and high quality paper, an elastic band to keep them closed, a fabric bookmark to hold my place. There are stories in there because that thing and I have connected on an intimate level. I know what must be done and I know the cost it will have on my life, career and family. It's wrong and I just don't care.
I know I am crazy because they call to me, sirens sitting on my bookshelf. The ghost story, the remembering of an early mass, the rise of a submarine, a guy building a birdbath with his grandson, all these scenes that ache in my head, trying to come out, filling my empty moments. It must be wrong to have work in seven or eight or nine notebooks at the same time each one has developed a feel in my head, each has something of a theme that I feel compelled to respect. I wallow in my shame, knowing that it's nuts to start each day staring at the array of them in the darkness of the morning, trying to determine which creative thread I will follow, which will then be the theme for my day. Will today be a day to trip through my perpetual twelve year old imagination and describe a sword fight so well that my martial arts brothers will visualize how incredible it is, or will I try to finish that chapter of that novel which I will deny exists to anyone who asks, or perhaps that red notebook needs to record that dream of a waterfall and a a conversation with a friend long since forgotten?
There is a sensation so satisfying that it must be a forbidden thing. It's that feeling when I that notebook slides into my jacket packet with one of my favorite pens strapped to it. Later, when I should be doing something important, like investing in my family or following a lead to further my career, I hide somewhere and roll up my sleeves and indulge in that sensation where I hold the notebook in my left hand and the pen in my right and just let things happen, barking at my wife when she makes an unreasonable demand like coming to the table for dinner or running one of the kids to the emergency room.
I try to blame the notebook, but I know it's me. It's my own addiction. I know it's wrong, but like the drugstore cowboy I do it because I like it. Simple as that. I must live with the agony that is now my open shame.
My name is Joe and I have a serious notebook problem.
I will leave you with this week's creative resource. The trailer to a documentary by an extraordinary young lady. It speaks for itself. I want you to keep this on your radar.
Why do we win, True Believers? Because it's Saturday and we made it!
Today's creative resource is an easy one to access. Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee!
This is a project of Jerry Seinfeld, a guy who's lived a pretty creative life. You might know his work. He puts out about six or ten of these each year where he takes a ride in a classic car with an extremely funny person. Mostly he spends time with comedians and writers. This is a great creative resource because they essentially hang out, have coffee and talk about the work of comedy. They're very funny, but they are also very mindful conversations about the work it took for them not just to become successful, but just to get good at what they do.
Specifically, I linked to Jerry's visit with Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, giants of the funny world. I like this one for several reasons. These men were pioneers in the early days of television comedy. They also made some of the funniest films of all time. They've been good friends longer than many of us have been alive. Both in their eighties, they are sharp as hell. For this episode they invited Jerry to join them for their weekly dinner together where they watch a great comic film and discuss the craft of what they do. It's pretty great. If the weather is as crummy near you as it is here in the Chicago area, you can spend a lot of time making your way through each of the seasons.
My reflection in writing this week is a simple one. I need to get to work. You too.
Greetings and happy Passover, True Believers!
Arright, so let me just say that I'm pretty ripped up about this while Prince thing. If you grew up int he '80's and you were paying attention, you were listening to Prince. Not just the easy stuff like "1999" or "Purple Rain", but the stuff that came out on either end of those amazing records. Growing up in that era, we definitely defined ourselves by the music we listened to. It think it's safe to say that most people who knew me back then were unsure what to do with this hyper-intense Springsteen/U2/Who/Prince freak. The Prince part being the most surprising to most. The funny thing was, us Prince freaks had a way of finding each other and bonding over the incredible melodies and forbidden themes of his work. We were better for knowing each other. I remember a kid I went to high school with, based on one conversation we had about Prince's music, showing up at school the next day with a copy of "Controversy" for me. Why? He somehow had an extra and since I didn't have it, I should. That's what Prince's genius did - it brought people together. The world is less for his not being in it.
Okay, so enough, let's get into today's ramblings.
First, here's a great resource - Creative Confidants. It's my new favorite podcast. Jason and Joel are two working writers who talk about the creative process with a complete lack of touchy feelie b.s. They talk about their work with honesty and speak frankly about the successes, but mostly the frustrations of the creative process and how to work through them. And they swear a lot, which is always fun to listen to. Check it out. Lots of fun.
So what's been going on for me, creatively? Well, I hope you're enjoying the latest installment of The Assassin's Table, which I posted last night. And actually, this novel in progress has been taking less of my attention lately. Not to worry, steampunk fans, I will keep posting for the foreseeable future. My notebook is easily four months ahead of the website, so I could take a very long break and still keep you knee deep in adventures.
I may take a bit of a break in the creation of sword fights and wizardry in an alternate world dominated by airships and submarines. The book is in really good shape, so that's not why. It's been fun to see how the narrative is coming together. It really started as an exercise in negative capability, I just wrote what felt fun and kept trying to answer the question, "What's next?" with every sitting. Over time, it became clear I needed to spend more time thinking about the structure of the narrative and taking more steps to develop the narrative and plot.
Those of you who have reached out, I really appreciate that you're enjoying it. It's turning into an extended piece of exposition and I like to think I'm weaving new characters in all the time while weaving them into the overall narrative. There's some way cool stuff coming, and if you think it's getting outlandish, well, you ain't seen nothing yet.
Lately, though there's been an itch I've found myself needing to scratch. I have two novel length projects sitting in notebooks, and it may be time to start keying those in and seeing what you think of them. Very serious works, one that's still very much in progress, another thing that I just kept writing with no clear idea of what it is and where it's going. I still don't. I only have an idea of what I'm trying to do and to share more than that would, I think, kill the idea, so I'm just going to have to get to work and ask you what you think.
You see, my creative process is pretty schizophrenic. I never know what I'll be in the mood to write when I get up in the morning, so for about the last year, to keep myself from getting locked in, I just give myself permission to write whatever the muse tells me to write. If it's a story about a guy hard at work in a Kansas field, then that's what I write. If it's a scene with a beautiful gypsy princess confronting an aging wizard who may or may not have been her mentor at one time, then that's what I write. Sometimes it's a poem where I reflect on the nature of honesty in friendship. Then again, after writing so seriously, maybe a guy driving a jeep with his huge dog in a post-apocalyptic world populated with cannibals, zombie bikers and Godzilla sized monsters is the thing to write (I really should get back to that one).
Having the process be like this this is definitely good for my imagination and my mental health (really). But it does break a cardinal rule of writing, thank you Neil Gaiman. I have a LOT of unfinished stuff. This is partly why I decided to publicly put The Assassin's Table out there. I need to finish one of these long form pieces, and this one's the most fun. These other pieces I'm working on, well, they're kind of deep, kind of dark, and really more in keeping with my ambitions as a writer. But the muse if fickle, and I'm the product of my tastes. I love deep literary work most of all and I love producing my short fiction that touches on these deeper themes. But I also like a ripping yarn, because, well, who doesn't, and if those yarns come easily, then why not brighten my day with a bit of adventure?
So maybe today's post is all about permission. Give yourself permission to create whatever you're in the mood to create. Don't feel like you need to be locked into a specialty. Tired of knitting socks? Knit a sweater. Tired of painting the moon? Go ahead and paint a bird profile if you're good at it and you enjoy it (that's actually what an artist pal of mine does - those bird paintings are amazing! Sadly, I lost mine in one of my moves int he late '90s).
This week, the work that's gone into my notebooks (I've got about eight going right now) has been more serious stuff like "Posts", which I've included on the site today. Who knows, maybe I'll wake up feeling jovial and have some fun writing about that guy and his dog.
There's writing to do. And you? Are you recording that song on your four track? Are you tossing clay on the wheel? Have you picked up the camera today? If not, close your dang computer and get to it!
I'd like to start with today's resource, a post from the amazing Brain Pickings website, specifically a portion of a talk from Alan Watts, titled What Would You Do If Money was No Object?
I like this talk, mostly because Alan Watts was a genius and anything he had to share was worth listening to. He was an incredibly deep thinker and his ideas on being human, truly human, in contemporary society are very hard to follow. But if you have the stamina to do a good close read of his work, you'll be better for having your world rocked him.
Now, I do enjoy reading a lot of inspirational stuff on writing, creativity and well being. Much of it is pretty good, but over and over I keep running into this theme that if you love what you do, the money will follow. And I don't think that's true. Not entirely and not as simplistically as it's often presented. Let me explain, because this concept doesn't need to be as cynical as it seems at first glance.
To a degree, this idea of going ahead and following your passion with no regard to the bills, the rent, the risk and fear of losing everything is sound. Very sound. Honestly, I think if I was 24 and I had the kind of creative output I have now at 49, I just might have had a chance to quit my job and make it as a writer. Reality, right now is really holding back much of my creative output. At this point I have at least three novels, two novellas and about fifteen short stories in various states of incompletion that if I had the time and the money to just sit and write, would probably be on shelves right now and we'd be listening for my name on Monday's announcement for the Pulitzer Prize. Maybe I'd get the satisfaction of making this my reality if I quit my job and trusted that the money would follow. But like most people, there's bills to pay and college to fund and while I like to think I'm a courageous guy, I'm not willing to gamble my kids' education, shelter and food on my pipe dream.
Collective jaws must be dropping upon reading this, because I've never been an advocate for letting reality get in the way of your dream. And I never will be. What I am saying is this, although the facile, self-helpy idea of following your passion and letting your dream come to fruition sounds easy, the reality is those very few who have been able to do this are just that, very, very very few. J.K. Rowling was dead broke and the Harry Potter thing happened. That's inspiring and wonderful and she is one person on a planet of six billion. Look at that ratio: 1:6,000,000,000. I'm a big fan of well-being psychology, I'm not a fan of self-help psychology. Don't quit your day job until Steven Spielberg has written the check for the rights to your story. Even then, wait a year. Until then quit the enabling thoughts and the dreamy dreams. AND GET TO WORK!!!
By work, I don't mean your job. Just get to work. Take the camera tot he park, take your tools and bend some steel in your workshop, sit by the window with your watercolors, pick up the pen or the laptop and GO CREATE!!!! Make something, channel that passion into your gift, then hone that gift until you surprise yourself with how freaking incredible it is. And join the list of amazing creators who kept their day jobs. Because you can.
Don't stop there.
Make it, finesse it, polish it, build a body of work and then make some money at it. Look at that link above, that's more the reality. People who worked hard at their art and paid their bills with work that sometimes they actually enjoyed (Wallace Stevens actually found his work as an insurance executive almost as fulfilling as his poetry). You can love your job and still create. And you can hate your job and still create. But I will say this, if creating is what you'd rather be doing, then you better dang well be sure to make that opportunity happen. Submit to the journals, send the portfolio to agents, hell, stage your own art show. Get the work out there, even if it means starting a blog that only your closest friends and family follow, sometimes.
To date, I've made $320 from my writing. The money doesn't inspire, nor does it fuel what I try to do with my work. But I do like it and I want to make more. And I will. And I'm going to keep kicking butt at my day job until I do make a living from my art. I'm okay with that because this also keeps my focus where it needs to be, on creating and growing as a writer. I don't have to worry about critics, agents, sales or signing tours. It's me and the notebook every day. I have complete artistic freedom, which is something many writers don't have.
So basically, this long post boils down to the words of the great Casey Kasem. "Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars."
Now go make something. The world is waiting for your next gift.
I've decided to make this site, jdmccauley.com, the central hub for all my creative work. The literary work, the fun stuff, the adventures all have a home here and you can use this as your central navigation point.
Also, I want to use this blog more regularly, once a week at most, to share the thoughts and discussions on creativity that many of you have told me you enjoy. I tried to translate a lot of that to the updates on Steampunk a Go-Go, but the site and the postings haven't really lent to discussion and reflection on the process of writing.
So why do this? Well, a couple of reasons. Selfishly, if a writer is going to do anything with their work, it needs to be shared, and this is the swiftest, easiest way to get the work into the hands of my friends and family. Secondly, if one is going to do anything with their work, it's my understanding that a brand website is essential, so why not start that right now?
But mostly, I hope that this site serves as a place to visit, get inspired, check out some of the cool links I'll share and information I have to give. Give yourself a break, a distraction, think about cool things and ideally add some zest to your life.
The main inspiration for this came form Austin Kleon, whose work I really admire. In his book, Show Your Work, he stresses all of the above, but really stresses the importance of using that brand website as a place to give back, even just a little bit. Use it to enrich the lives of others, not just self-promote.
Again, I don't want to be human spam, so you can expect these posts to come up once a week at most. I plan on posting each Saturday. This should work out well with the creative schedule. Fans of The Assassin's Table can still expect your bi-monthly posts on Friday nights (it's really my favorite thing to do after a long week). We'll talk writing, creativity, martial arts. I'll keep the posts focused on the challenges of the week and how that applies to some creative concept you can bring into your own endeavor as well as life in general.
Much of being successful creatively - success defined as producing coherent work that's worthy, not necessarily best selling - applies directly to habits that benefit our well being. Much of the latest research and resources on well-being will be embedded in my blog posts.
So there it is. Look for updates staring this Saturday. Until then, pick up a pen, or a pencil, a lumps of clay or piece of steel. Write, form, dream, make something no one made before because you haven't made it until right now.
Here we go!
A man who loves to write.