Creativity (& Life) Can Be A Messy Process

I love a good movie about the creative genius. They struggle, hit the EUREKA! moment, and then ride away into the sunset of fame and fortune.

It feels so neat and tidy, like the way creativity should work. But we all know that’s how things go in the rarest of cases and usually after long intervals of frustration.

I’ve written about being okay with okay, then maybe becoming great, and I’d even go as far as to say this is true about anything you want to do in life. It’s just not going to go as planned. Even when you are a world renowned author.

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 favor, 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 a bit of chapter one:

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

We nearly lost Frodo, Aragorn, and the White City.

In her book Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, JRR Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the InklingsDiana Pavlac Glyer reminds us that creativity is messy and that keeping that in mind is helpful:

The fact is, creativity itself is a messy business. We want to think of it as linear and efficient, but in actuality, it is full of false starts, dead ends, long hours, setbacks, discouragement, and frustrations. Knowing that it works this way can help us be more patient with our own untidy processes.

If you’ve run into a roadblock and are beginning to consider that you are not creative, please remember that it’s not linear. It’s not easy. It’s full of long hours, setbacks and struggle of all sorts.

But keep moving. Do the next thing. Focus on the process not what your work is now. Judge it when you are done, then do it better next time, and the next.

The quotations contained in this blog regarding The Lord of the Rings were taken from  Tolkien: A Biography pages 210-211 by Humphrey Carpenter.

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An Ode To Stickin’ Around

Man in striped apron paints canvases in Bardolino
Eddy Klaus, Unsplash.com

I’ve been married for about thirteen years, been at the same company for nearly twelve, and pursuing the same art (writing) for twelve.

This may seem long or short depending on your perspective. All of those years in those areas of life have not been meadows filled with daffodils, but through the grace of God, mountains of encouragement from my writerly and non-writerly friends, I’ve stuck with them.

Recently, I wrote about how I haven’t been writing. How I’ve been uninspired and if I’m honest I felt that I wouldn’t miss much if I stopped. This would not be true but it’s how I felt.

This feeling has occurred multiple times with my art. But because of an awesome community and this nagging in my mind that just won’t go away I keep huffing and puffing along.

The reason I started writing again is twofold. One, because I want to publish a work of fiction. I have two books that I’ve been attempting to ship for a combined eight years. The second is because recently, I looked back at what has happened through the ups and downs of twelve years of chasing my craft.

I was astonished at their cumulative weight

Reading that list may have made you feel gross, like I was boasting, and I apologize. But what I wanted you to take away was that all of those mile markers happened because I stuck around.

There were failed starts, massive struggle, five kids being born (zero upon negative-infinity-absolute-zero hours of sleep) and all the while managing a full time job, and making sure that my wife and I have a strong marriage.

I wish life could be straightforward. I learn something, improve, and then move onto the next thing. But what I’ve come to understand is that sticking around for a while, staying in the game, and being downright stubbornly consistent can offer an opportunity to build a foundation then a first and second story and so on.

Are you thinking of stopping your art? I’d encourage you to keep working.

Who knows where you’ll be in twelve years?

Are You Waiting For Perfect?

A man in boots sits on a ledge in front of plate glass windows
Brooke Cagel – Unsplash

There have been many changes in my life recently, great ones. They’ve kept me busy.

A new home. A new town, a promotion to a dream job, and a new child. Amazing provisions for which I am unequivocally grateful.

Through it all, I waited. For the perfect post to begin my blog again. I searched for the perfect subject line, moving content, the best beginning, but I wrote nothing at all.

An email hit my inbox a few weeks ago from illustrator/writer Jessica Abel author of Growing Gills and my personal favorite Out on the Wire (which has an amazing podcast by the way). The title went like this – If you are waiting for conditions to be perfect, you’ll die waiting.

Distractions, both good and bad, are everywhere.

She said this in her email:

And it’s easy to look at all those things (any distraction in life) and despair, to think there’s no way you’ll ever get a handle on it all. You might be right. But here’s the big secret to having a sustainable creative life.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO.

You can CHOOSE your work even if everything else in your life isn’t dialed in.

You have a right and a responsibility to your creative work.

We’re imperfect people with imperfect schedules. Why would I think shaking the rust off would mean anything more than an okay post with mediocre passion for it?

It’s time now to move. For action.

I truly hoped to start blogging again with something amazing, but this is what you get. A resolve to not wait and a commitment to write. Also, an admission that I let the beast of perfection win for a while.

But no more.

In what area of your life are you waiting for perfect?

 

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?

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.

Typewriter 2

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.