As a creator, your experiences matter. What you create over the coming year or years will be born out of how you spend your time. And there are, no doubt, a great many pressures on your time. We are fully into a new decade now, and I did a little experiment at the turn of the year that has helped me understand what to do with my time. I made a list of likes and dislikes of the previous year. What I mean is, I listed the stuff I liked doing in 2010, and also the experiences I didn’t like. I was surprised at how many experiences I liked and how few experiences I didn’t, and I was also surprised at how simple the experiences that meant the most to me actually were. Here’s a snapshot of my list: Experiences I liked: 1. Having a clean house. 2. Walking the dog by the river. 3. Having house guests. 4. The Storyline Conference. 5. Waking up and working on a book. (The list went on like this for a while, maybe twenty or so items on the list.) Experiences I didn’t like: 1. Not going to sleep in my own bed [...]
As I follow the story in Egypt, I’m excited that the people are taking stands for democracy, and taking stands against a ruler who has only given lip service to the ideas of democracy. And yet these things are more complicated than they seem. Here are some perspectives I’ve been pondering as the hourly updates stream in: 1. Mubarak is anything but an honestly elected official, and had anything but democratic plans for his country. And yet, from an American perspective, he was cooperative. We paid Egypt nearly 1.5 billion per year in foreign aid, mostly to build the Egyptian military and serve as an ali in defending (or at least ignoring) Israel. 2. The people do not like Mubarak because of widespread oppression, but also because they saw him as a puppet for American/Israeli interests. 3. The Egyptian people, as a mass, do not like America because of our support for Israel. 4. An honestly elected leader would have trouble gaining mass support while still maintaining a neutral position toward America and Israel. 5. This revolution is not happening because of twitter or facebook (despite the twenty-something mantra that until the internet, nobody could speak to each other) but [...]
I liked this line from the film True Grit: “I do not entertain hypotheticals, the world as it is is vexing enough.” Most of the things we worry about, as creators, never happen. We are not as rejected as we think we are, in fact, our creation has given us a greater community, even if we do have a few critics. And we did not fail as badly as we thought we would, and if we did fail, people hardly noticed. Most of the fears we entertain as creators have to do with hypothetical situations, things that could happen. But this is a waste of valuable creative energy. Most likely, things we think will happen won’t. A creator takes risks, a consumer lives in safety. Are you a creator or consumer? When you are tempted to entertain thoughts of pending doom, ask yourself what real problems you have, not what hypothetical problems you have. Most likely you have very few real problems. Most likely the resistance between you and your creation is in your head. The only thing you really have to do, then, is work. Let the consumers serve on committees about pending earthquakes, about serial killers, about the [...]
So if the work you are creating demands completion before you can find fulfillment, it’s doubtful the creation will be finished, and perhaps more doubtful it will be any good when it’s done. You’ll labor through it, pushing it up a hill like a broken cart. But if you can love the actual work, not the finished product, you’re on to something. If you have a rhythm, if you get up every morning and work for a few hours, and you like the getting up and the work, and you don’t think about how great it will be when it’s done, but rather how great it is every day that you get to get up and do the work, your creation will be tremendous. Don’t think about the finished product. Stop rewarding yourself with something that doesn’t exist, and may never exist. Instead, think about how delightful it is you get to do this, you get to make this, and how delightful it will be to get up and do it again tomorrow.
Caught The Civil Wars at their Portland show las month, just down the street at a renovated funeral home called The Woods. Great, sold out show. I think a lot of us felt like we were seeing them “before” they became huge. They were terrific. Sometimes it’s obvious a band has peaked with their first release, but with The Civil Wars, it feels more obvious their very best will be rolled out year after year. I loved this cryptic cover of You Are My Sunshine. Enjoy The Civil Wars:
Instead of committing to lose weight this year or write that book, simply commit to do the work. Five days a week you are going to write, who cares whether a book comes of it or not. Five days a week you’ll walk two miles, or you’ll cut your carbs down to whatever. If you want to be more grateful this year, then break that down into something you can do, and commit to that. Every Thursday you’ll write somebody a thank-you card. Do you want to be more professional? Commit to shaving every day (Please. Especially if you are in your twenties, because while you think it looks novel and unique, it actually looks like an identity crisis and it’s costing you) and sending your clothes to the dry cleaner once a month. And add to that finish the work you’re supposed to finish. Want to find romance? Commit to asking a girl out once a week (talk to Henry Cloud if you think that’s too much) or, if you’re a girl, put yourself on a dating site on the internet and say yes when you get asked out. Don’t commit to an idea, commit to a tangible act [...]
Last month Tom Hooper released his movie The King’s Speech, written by David Seidler. The film tells the story of King George VI, played by Colin Firth, who took the throne a short time before World War II, before Churchill became Prime Minister and while Hitler was amassing power. England, indeed the free world needed a King, a statesman, and while George VI had moral fortitude, he also had a stammer. He’d be the first king to broadcast his voice widely on the radio, and at a time when all of England would be in need of comfort and resolution. And so the story of The King’s Speech involves George VI and his unlikely friendship with a failed, Australian actor named Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush. Logue is sought out by George IV and his wife to help the soon-to-be King through his oratory problems. A critical scene in the movie takes place near the end, when Logue is walking George VI through the paces of the crowning ceremony. They are alone in Westminster Abbey. George VI is stammering through his lines, gets up from the throne and throws a tantrum, stuttering on about how the people need a [...]
I think half the battle of a creator is in finishing their projects. I wonder how many of the worlds greatest creators never created anything great, because while they may have had the intelligence and even the skill, they weren’t finishers. Finishing is part of the art. A guy I met once ran into Norman Mailer at an airport and asked him what he was working on. Mailer politely declined to answer the question, saying that when he talks about a book too much, it steals his motivation to write it. I agree with Mailer, and I also think it was a brilliant way to get out of answering a question most writers are asked fifty-thousand times a day! Regardless of his intention, it’s true that when we talk about our work, we give ourselves the feeling that we are working on something when truthfully, we aren’t. If you sat down with a pen and paper and counted the hours you’ve been working on your project, would the number be embarrassing? Lets stop talking about our work over coffee with friends. We can talk plenty about it when it’s done.
My two favorite books are Catcher in the Rye and A Moveable Feast. Both are books with elusive plots, which is interesting since I often maintain story is everything, but I confess I rarely read books for story or even content, I read for style. I can hear the critics chiming now style is content…I know, I know, what I mean is I read to see how a writer handled their subject, not to learn about the subject. But that’s hardly what this post is about. This post is about romantic trickery, and how easy it is for a creator to get caught up in the romanticism of a life that hardly exists. The allure of Catcher and Feast rest in the easy lilt of the prose, and perhaps in the subtext that one can be unemployed, ride around in taxi’s, flirt with girls at clubs, smoke pipes in cafes in Paris, drive around with F. Scott Fitzgerald, bet a little on the horses and not have any bad days. I picked up Feast in the airport in Boston. The older, black woman at the counter clutched her heart when I set it on the counter. It’s his best, she [...]