The One Thing I Never Mind Cleaning Up

If you have children you have no choice: Your house will get messy. I have four of them. It’s difficult to keep order when there are four tornadoes living in your small home and each one decides to unload a different tub of toys.

But there is one mess I never mind picking up.

One that, instead of frustration, brings joy.

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Clara at one and a half

Books. I have thousands of them.

We have books in every room of our dwelling: in the kids’ room, in my bedroom, in the living room, basement, kitchen, and in a drawer in the bathroom.

Some of these paper and glue treasures are borrowed from the library. Some have been rescued from the discard/free bin in front of Lowry’s Books & More. Others were acquired at a library book sale, a friend’s book signing, inherited from our parents, purchased by impulse or because of college requirement.

My wife and I didn’t have a conversation about it but somehow books ended up on the bottom of our bookshelves, easily accessible to crawling babies and toddlers. Its almost as if the shelves are begging to be cleared off with one sweep of the arm. This occurs daily and is almost always followed by one of their smiles of immense satisfaction like you and I would have after a hard day of spring cleaning.

But my kids don’t just make messes with books.

Before they could even read I’ve found each one of my children in a room by themselves, by their own volition, flipping through a book. A pile lay all around and they sift through their favorites, looking at the pictures and occasionally making up the words using incoherent babble.

Here’s a few of the books my children have settled on recently.

Emily, my youngest and a proud eighteen months old, goes for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon. It’s on my night stand. I admire the dense plotting at the end of this unfinished novel and she points to random words and emits screeches. Cute screeches.

Bobby, my third child a robust three and a half, carries armfuls, yes, armfuls of Spider-Man and Star Wars books around the house. His favorite is anything with black Spider-Man. He clarifies it is when he has the symbiote suit on not Venom. There’s a difference.

Clara, my second, a joyful five and a half, is currently learning how to read. I marvel at her willingness to trudge through books fit for second graders. She is eager to learn and is already reading astonishingly well. She loves the Finding Dory book a #2 reader she recently picked up from the library.

June, my oldest at seven and a half and most advanced reader, loves Elephant and Piggy Books, Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel, and the Princess in Black series. I marvel at her confidence and vocabulary. Life goes so fast.

Some say books belong on shelves. A home is neat and tidy that way.

I am happy that our books rarely are.

How does your family incorporate books into daily life?

Resistance, Chuck Close, & The Work Behind Our Art

Several months ago I felt creatively empty and faced a deadline. The horrible reality behind this toxic pairing is that I want to be a published author and meeting this deadline would cause this dream to come true.

Have you ever been in this place? It’s very different from procrastination and similar to writers block. But the source of the emptiness – that was what I was after. I wanted to be through this barrier, or resistance as Steven Pressfield labels it, once and for all.

I decided to wade deep into the exhaustion. I was surprised by the answer I found.

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Photo Credit: cellar_door_films via Compfight cc
During a sermon a few weeks ago my pastor mentioned the artist Chuck Close. I’d never heard of him before (being more obsessed with writers) so I looked him up. My interest  piqued when a quote from him was offered.

It went like this:

Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us show up and get to work. Every great idea I’ve ever had grew out of work itself – Chuck Close on Notes to Younger Self.

He delivers it in this youtube clip. I highly recommend you watch it below.

The showing up and getting to work is the hardest part of any endeavor that asks us to deliver our best self. Raising kids, doing quality work at our jobs, or finishing a chapter in a book.

The simple and troublesome answer to my emptiness, was to get up and put the time in.

After many hours and much word worrying, I turned in my first draft. Then my second four days after I received my revisions. I received an approval from the editor just days ago. The chapter I wrote will be included in a book to be released this autumn.

I don’t know where you are in your writing, painting, or parenting journey. I don’t pretend to have answers to make you feel warm and fuzzy nor to ensure you that everything will be perfect on the other side.

The point is, I showed up and gave myself a chance for success to happen. If you’re stuck in the pit of blackness maybe meeting a tiny goal, like writing for ten minutes a day, is all that is required?

I assure you the odds of success or getting through the turmoil with all of your limbs will improve immeasurably.

Been struggling or made it to a finish line? Share your story or celebrate your victory in the comments section below.

Steve Martin, 14 Years, And Becoming A Wildly Famous Writer

In my last post, I listed books I read in 2016. Born Standing Up was one of my favorites. I was familiar with Mr. Martin‘s stand up and a few of his movies, but not much else.

Come to find out, he’s been successful as a comedian, actor, musician, and author. It’s like he’s mastered the art of perfecting whatever he chooses to throw his energy towards.

I picked up Born Standing Up because I wanted to see if I could learn something, anything, that could help me in my own creative journey.

Here’s what I found out.

When you think about Mr. Martin and all he has accomplished, it’s easy to forget about the backstage. To forget about all of the work that went into making him such a success. In Born Standing Up, Mr. Martin got straight to the point (page one first sentence) about how long it took him to become a great comedian:

I did stand-up comedy for eighteen years. Ten of those years were spent learning, four years were spent refining, and four were spent in wild success.  – Steve Martin from Born Standing Up

If we apply this to writing, it becomes less about getting published as fast as possible and more about learning the craft, sending off drafts, and learning that process. It’s not about how to write but about how to navigate the paperwork, research, heartache, and anxiety a project cycle can bring.

In my own writing journey this process, idea-to-submission, has been equally as important as the mechanics of writing.

Do you start out thinking your idea is amazing and end up in the Dark Night of the Soul?

What do you do when you get bored?

How do you persist when all the voices in your head make you think your story is a mistake?

These are different questions than, “Did I just use that semi-colon correctly?” and ones that every creative must face and learn to overcome.

What’s your process? Share below.

Books I Read In 2016

Here’s a list of books I read in 2016. I started keeping track in 2011 after a conversation with my friend Matthew Landrum. I try to complete two to three books each month. You can find previous lists here:

2011       2012       2013       2014       2015

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If you found a “must read” book last year please share in the comments. Also, if you’ve read any of these let me know your thoughts. Here’s to a prosperous 2017.

Down and Out In Paris and London by George Orwell

Do The Work by Steven Pressfield

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmul with Amy Wallace

Living Forward – Michael Hyatt & Daniel Harkavy

The Art of Nonconformity by Chris Guillebeau

Russian Fairy Tales  Translation by Gillian Avery

Show Your Work by Austin Kleon

Unseen Footprints by Sheridan Voysey

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

Resilient: Your Invitation to a Jesus- Shaped Life by  Sheridan Voysey

Nobody Wants To Read Your Sh*t by Steven Pressfield

Baudolino by Umberto Echo

Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon

Tolkien The Authorized Biography by Humphrey Carpenter

Raymie Nightingale by Kate Dicamillo

Ressurection Year by Sheridan Voysey

Show Your Work by Austin Kleon

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

The Pug List by Allison Hodgson

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman.

A Big Lie About Writing And What To Do About It

Years ago I believed a lie about writing. Today you might believe that same wretched tale spun by Stephen King and other writers that reside on the level of master writer. This falsehood can dash the hopes of the beginner and cause those waist deep in their novels to give up.

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What is this deceitful thought?

That writers are born.

Consider this sentence written to a publisher from someone considered to be one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century – “It has lost my favour, and I have no idea what to do with it.”

Who was this writer? JRR Tolkien. What was he talking about? The Lord of the Rings, after working on it for months. He also said this after aching over chapter one:

“it is difficult to find anything new in that world.”

Incredible, no?

Today, if you are dealing with writer’s block or stuck in the middle of your story don’t believe the lie that writers are born. Writing is hard. That is the true problem. Our books are deep work yet must be born in the midst of life where we juggle our paying jobs, family, and writing dreams.

Often we have to dig to understand what is blocking our path. This might require journaling it out, discussing our struggle over coffee with a friend, or quiet reflection for an hour.

Maybe you need to further invest in your creative energy so you have more to give when you show up to the page. It might be time to work on another story for a week or two. It could be a busy time of year so you have to throttle back to two hundred words a day.

Whatever challenge is blocking you from a more fulfilling writer’s life, face it and then get creative. I am sure there is a way over it.

The quotations contained in this blog were taken from a charming little book Tolkien: A Biography pages 210-211 by Humphrey Carpenter.

The lie I mentioned about is from Stephen King’s On Writing which I highly recommend. Except the lying bit of course.

3 Questions with novelist Aric Davis

Jot: The GR Writers Mini-Conference

Aric DavisARIC DAVIS is the author of seven books: From Ashes Rise: A Novel of Michigan, Nickel Plated, A Good and Useful Hurt, The Black Death: A Dead Man Novella, Rough Men, Breaking Point, The Fort and Tunnel Vision. He is married with one daughter and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he worked for sixteen years as a body piercer; he now writes full time. A punk rock aficionado, Davis does anything he can to increase awareness of a good band. He likes weather cold enough to need a sweatshirt but not a coat, and friends who wear their hearts on their sleeves. In addition to reading and writing, he also enjoys roller coasters, hockey, and a good cigar. All of Aric’s books are available on Amazon.com.

Aric will be interviewed as part of the next Jot Writers’ Conference (9.9.16). I (Andy)…

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Why I’ve Decided To Not Learn Anything New This Month

My inbox is full each day. It’s true for almost all of us. It’s also true that this is my fault, I signed up for most of these newsletters and let’s be clear I enjoy the content, for the most part.

I spend a lot of time tending my email garden. I also spent a lot of time reading books on creativity, how to become a better author, and the latest tips and tricks of blogging/email marketing.

But these actions are coiling the spring. I am learning. And there comes a point where the learning needs to end and action needs to start.

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Don’t get me wrong. I understand the benefits of being a life long learner and consider myself one. However, if you are cold, there is a huge difference between learning how to build a fire, and actually making one.

My life, much like yours, is crowded. There is only so much time in a week. And it’s time I started using what I have learned.

So I am putting the books away.

I am clicking on the delete or archive button and not opening that email.

Because July is dedicated to action.

To forward movement.

To getting out there and getting my hands dirtier than they’ve been this year.

After all, this is the intension of learning is it not?

To act.

To go.

To grow.

How To Finish Your Writing Projects

Last week I listened to a podcast about creativity. In it writer Jeff Goins and Dr. Keith Sawyer discuss how creative people function and the contents of Dr. Sawyer’s book Zig Zag. One idea they mentioned was that writing or creativity does not have to be perfect. But there should be movement from one project to another.

Besides fear, this is one of the main issues I have with writing. Battling the urge to make a billion tweaks until it reaches perfection versus sending out projects before they are finished is a weekly struggle.

I forget that having a process means that some of my writing will work and some will fail and whatever form of failure I feel is not a reflection of me. Finishing anything – a book, a blog post, a book proposal – is an opportunity to learn how to write better.

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The trouble is that I thought any writing process needed to be straightforward and I have difficulty with linear thinking.

From what I can understand, my mind works sorta like a game of soccer, but played by four and five year olds. It’s scrambly, often working in the wrong direction in a tangle of limbs, sometimes picking flowers, and other moments forgetting the rules entirely.

I decided it was high time to focus. To understand how to get this mind of mine to move through a project from start to finish.

I tried the one project method and ended up bored. I wanted to jump to the next thing as soon as I was stuck. I realized if my methodology incorporated bouncing from project to project then I’d better develop a plan.

Here it is – Finishing is the most important thing.

I devised a Finishing Plan and began using it on my blog and a non-fiction e-book I finished last month. It’s been working great. Here is what it is.

1. Finish a draft. Could take a day, weeks, months, or even years. But finish it. Don’t edit. Write the chapters out of order then fill in the cracks, jump to another idea, then circle back, whatever. Just get it out. Did I mention don’t edit?

2. Edit. I print off what I’ve written (or make a separate edit file electronically) and challenge everything. Make notes, scribble in the margins, destroy darlings, and rewrite. Then get it to a friend or editor for more edits. Then I make the necessary changes.

3. Polish. Add the fonts you love, the appropriate artwork, and anything else you may need to dress up the piece.

4. Send it. Post it, query it, submit it to a journal. Just get it out there, and then move to the next project.

5. Circle back and consider what worked or what didn’t and do more of what did.

This system may seem bare and basic but life is complicated. I also tend to hold onto projects too long and need to get them out there and this process allows me to do that.

Reader, what system do you use? How do you keep moving to the next stage or next project? I’d love to hear from you.

Why Do You Pursue The Creative Life?

If I told you I was going to pursue a job that offered virtually no money, could occasionally feel like mental torture, and have the ability to ruin me emotionally for days on end, but I’d be happy, what would you think?

Writing is more than that but it feels like a grey-sky filled plod from time to time. Then after struggling in the dark you see a ray a sunshine, for a minute, and its enough to keep going.

Recently I’ve has two big wins in the writing realm. I’ll share more on them in later posts but I cannot help the fact that writing looks more like the pie chart below (borrowed from Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work)

So, why do I keep writing?

Artist WayThat is an excellent question. For me, I guess I enjoy it. Yes, even the torture.

I’m not a Navy Seal or professional athlete but I think I get them now more than I did before writing got difficult. It’s not about the trials its about what comes after. And for me that pay off is worth the effort in the end.

How about you? Why do you write or pursue your dream?

Goal Setting For the Time-Starved Writer

Early on in my marriage, my wife would laugh at me when I listed my goals for the evening.

Read 40 pages of a book, watch a movie, go for a run, do all of our laundry, wash the dishes, and maybe rearrange a bedroom or two. Then have some friends over for dinner once we are done.

Seriously. I could get a out of hand.

Courtesy Unsplash

 

Nearly eleven years later I am better at adjusting my expectations, but still have difficulty setting daily goals. I now have four kids and an ever-growing mound of responsibilities.

What I struggled with, and what I am guess you do from time to time, is wanting immediate results. And when they don’t happen on my schedule, having a good attitude and trying again tomorrow.

If you are a writer, or a creative of any sort, this desire for immediate results can mean frustration and angst and a mercurial mood that can ruin or severly strain your relationships.

I’ve found one of the best ways to avoid feeling like a failure and actually accomplishing my daily goals is to make them realistic and remind myself that I am working for the long haul, neither of which is easy.

So my encouragement to you is to do what you can today. Don’t worry if you cannot finish all of your goals. Stay in the game, even if the movement is subtle.

Above all remember you are writing not for today, but for a year from now, when you will finish your book.