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?

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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.

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.

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.

Graduates

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.

Books I Read in 2015

Four years ago, my friend Matthew Landrum told me he aims to read a book a week. I thought I would give it a try.

Since that time (2011) I’ve read 123 books. In 2015 I read 24.

Old BooksThat may seem like a lot or a little but that is not the point of this post. The point is that since 2011 I’ve had three more kids, written several hundred blog posts, started a writers conference, was asked to speak at another, and written several short stories and blogs for other sites.

Those accomplishments are also not the point. The point is that a simple routine helped me read a book roughly every two weeks for five years without even noticing it. It took work, but more like simple play than steely determination.

It’s amazing what a slow plodding pace can accomplish.

If there is something you want to do, don’t burn yourself out. Build longevity and go after a pace that integrates with your life.

Here’s my list of books I read in 2015. If you have a list or if you have a book you love that I should read, please post in the comments section below.

King Arthur and His Knights – Roger Lancelyn Green

Food A Love Story – Jim Gaffigan

Someday, Someday, Maybe -Lauren Graham

The Heart of the Sea – The Tragedy of the Whale Ship Essex – Nathaniel Philbrick

The Martian – Andy Weir

Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban – JK Rowling

Murder at the Vicarage – Agatha Christie

You Are A Writer – Jeff Goins

The Razer’s Edge – W. Somerset Maugham

The Art of Work – Jeff Goins

The War of Art – Steven Pressfield

Do Over – Jon Acuff

Nemesis – Agatha Christie

Mr. Hockey – My Story – Gordie Howe

Quitter – Jon Acuff

The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway

The In Between – Jeff Goins

The Back Reckoning – John Stephens

A Cup of Dust – Susie Finkbeiner

The 15 Success Traits of Pro Bloggers – Jonathan Milligan

Ashfall – Mike Mullin

Turing Pro – Steven Pressfield

Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut

Hin Einsami Frelsarin – Agnar Artuvertin (with Translations from the Faroese by Matthew Landrum).

Make 2016 a great year!

Overcome The Uninspired Feeling Once And For All

One of my favorite writers is Steven Pressfield.

Though I don’t know him personally, he’s taught me many truths through his books. Not cute, fun truths, but tough in-your-face ones.

If I sit back and survey the times that I’ve stopped writing it’s not because I didn’t love the ride but it was because I was either uninspired or lazy.

What have I done!?
Photo Credit: miguelavg via Compfight cc

It was during a time when I did not consider what was at stake when I merely skipping a days’ word count, that I picked up his book The War of Art.

Mr. Pressfield taught me that I wasn’t simply taking a break, I was sacrificing my dream of writing every time I took a pass.

The truth is, I’d like it to be easy. I’d like a clean cut trail exactly where I want to go with my books.

I type.
Books are published.
Simple as that.

But any successful writer, no matter if you view their work as drivel or snobbish, has overcome the uninspired feeling and done the one sure fire action toward a publishing career.

They wrote when their schedules told them they should be writing.

They are professionals about their books.

How about you?

Do you dream of the easy lottery book contract worth millions?

Or are you writing, and saving the day dreams for when the days’ work is done?

Why You Should Keep Writing Despite A Full House

On Saturday, my daughter Emily was born. It was surreal. One moment I was sitting there, the next I was staring down at this helpless little creature with chestnut hair and deep blue eyes.

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If I am honest I wondered how my wife and I were going to get through another baby. Not that we don’t love them, we absolutely do, but four is a high number. The responsibility, the balancing of time between kids, money. Oh yes. Money.

I decided I should take a step back from my writing to make room for Emily and the morsels of sleep I’ll need.

But then I changed my mind.

Here’s why.

My children are getting older and they watch me closer than ever before. How I love their mother, the jokes I tell, the way I treat an inexperienced waiter, how patient I am in traffic. But also what I love and the passions I chase.

So I am going to keep writing because I love them. I will keep planning and dreaming and taking action because they are watching me and I want to be a good example.

What You, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Edgar Allan Poe Have in Common

Despite the fact that we seem to think otherwise, we have the same amount of time in a week as the greats, one hundred and sixty eight hours.

We may have more distractions today, but they had cholera and diphtheria.

Often we blame the lack of time for not getting things done, but I’d like to argue that we have all the time we need, if we use it appropriately.

This past week I decided to sit down and parcel out my time. I was determined to prove to myself that my writing projects were suffering because of my lack of time and not lack of commitment. So I made an Excel spreadsheet.

After I divided up everything, spending time with my wife and kids, eating, and the occasional shower and teeth brushing, I had 1.75 hours left in each week day. I have weekends but sometimes we are traveling or out of town. I used weekdays because I wanted time I could count on to create a solid schedule.

At first I was depressed. How can I have that little? Life is busy and full and I love it, but that was a punch to the gut.

Then I added it up. 8.75 hours.

I sat back. I have ample time to write 3 blog posts, and work on my books. Add in the occasional free weekend and that time rises to 11.25 without using an afternoon or two.

So I failed. I wanted to prove to myself that I did not have sufficient time to write. Now, I realize I have all the time I need just like every writer before me. It’s up to me to use it well.

Do you have things that suck your time away that don’t match the goals you have for your life?

Why I Purposely Never Finish Anything In One Sitting

Based on the title you may envision a half-finished dinner or a neglected Netflix queue but that’s not what I intended. I’m referring to my writing projects of course.

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Some of my best writing is my Second Writing. It’s the writing I do while I am not at my keyboard. I put something on the page, wrestle with it for a bit, then get up and head to work, to rake leaves, etc. More often than not, when I return, I have the answers or clarity I was seeking.

This is one of the best benefits of having a solid writing schedule. I have a draft session then a polish session. When it doesn’t come out right I find it’s worse to force it. There is nothing more disheartening than deleting a plot point that took hours to put together.

I first heard of this method while reading Stephen King’s book On Writing. If you are a writer and have not read it you have too, it’s a prerequisite. In his memoir/writing advice book, Mr. King says that he needs to have proper distance from a piece after it’s finished to be able to come back with a proper perspective. This allows him to kill his darlings and be certain of it.

This is how I blog. I come back to it (if I don’t accidentally hit post) and then finish. It’s how I’m doing the query letter for my fantasy novel now. I want to give my words enough time to settle. Then I can evaluate them objectively.

Do you plow through your projects or do you give them time to percolate?

Part-Time Novel Update – My new publishing schedule will be Monday, Wednesday, Friday. I’m slowing things down as baby number four arrives in a few weeks. I also hope to provide better content. Thank you in advance for sticking with me.

Why The Hard Road Is The Best Road To Take

I recently spoke at a writer’s conference about blogging. After I was finished there were a lot of questions on how to get a blog started, where to look for inspiration, and how to get an audience around your idea.

The real question behind each of these questions?

How can I do that easily

Photo Credit: huskyte77 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: huskyte77 via Compfight cc

Easy and now are two products of our current culture that I’ve come to realize are untrue. You can have easy mac and cheese and you can buy that car now. But that easy mac will clog your arteries and that car payment will follow you around like a bad smell for years.

The hard truth about anything worthwhile is that it takes time, sweat and blood, and patience.

Writing a novel takes years. Starting a business requires a lot of forethought, testing, and saving.

If you long for easy, maybe it is time to look for something else to do.

If you want to stick with your book, I can share this truth with you. That it can indeed get easier. But you must get out there and act now.

Don’t wait for the perfect writing space or that special writing time or that muse to wake from their drunken stupor to inspire us.

Believe it or not but blogging can be fun and not some drag on our writing time if you do it often and have a plan. It can take time to get there but just like the satisfaction that comes after purchasing a car with money saved and finishing a book after months or years, it is euphoric. The feeling also lasts.

This is why I keep coming back. If I can finish a blog in twenty minutes (like this one) I want to do it again. It is satisfying and easy now. But it required work to get here like a well thought out plan and some passion for the craft.

The next time you find yourself looking for the quick fix keep this thought with you.

Anything worthwhile is usually difficult but the tough road is worth all the effort in the end.