Let’s Get Okay With Just Okay. Then Maybe We Can Be Great.

I have in my mind a perfect morning routine. It goes like this.

I wake up, spend some time praying and reading, I work out, then write five hundred words – all before leaving for work.

That is it. Simple and perfect.

But I have a newborn. And four other kids. And other life demands.

Recently, I spent some time looking for a perfect beginning to restart my blog. I soon realized that I was rusty and I wasn’t up to the bar I envisioned. Could the same be true for a morning routine?

I read this article about productivity measurements between night owls and early birds and thought, maybe I am a night owl! Maybe that’s it. There may be science behind this, but in all honesty, I was searching for an excuse, or an attempt to find perfection.

I don’t expect this from my art. Why would I ever expect this from my routine?

In her book, The Creative Habit Twyla Tharp explains that it is important to build habit into creativity. That is the biggest hurdle to a morning routine. For Twyla Tharp, the biggest hurdle is getting out of bed at 5 to get to the gym by 530. After she gets into a cab in New York City she knows she’s on her way to a creative routine-filled day.

The difficulty I have with building a routine is that I want my efforts to result in perfect. If I am going to wake, write something, and hope it impacts the world in some way, I don’t want effort after effort to not punch through the ceiling of creative mediocrity.

Here’s what Jessica Abel says about that in her article on perfectionism:

You have to be able to live with the discomfort of knowing what you want to be able to do, and not being able to do it (YET!) and putting it out there anyway.

Authors and artists David Bayles and Ted Orland Put it this way in their book Art and Fear:

Making art provides uncomfortably accurate feedback about the gap that inevitably exists between what you intended to do, and what you did.

And goes on to say:

Your job is to learn to work on your art.

This brings us back to the title. Can you be okay with just okay when you are getting in shape? When you lose one pound instead of the goal of five that you set?

This is the part of pursuing art that I am trying to understand. I know there is a way through, where blogs like this will cease and I’ll present you, dear reader, with something of more substance.

Until then, let’s not give up. Let’s battle through the mediocrity to something great in our work, in our routines, and in our lives.

Why Small Moments Are The Most Important Ones

Last year I signed up for a 10K run. Immediately thereafter, I was hit with a flood of panic. The run was less than two months away and I had not even jogged in six months.

In my mind I knew I would fail. But I decided to try anyway.

After I crossed the finish line, I slowed down to a walking pace and smiled. I could not believe I finished. I beat my target time and never walked. It was a feeling I won’t soon forget.

After the moment passed, I wondered, how did I do it? How did I go from not running for months to completing my longest distance in years?A man against the setting sun

The truth is, I didn’t get up and believe I was going to run a 10K on my first day of training. I mapped out a one mile run and began. After time, I throttled things up a bit and soon, I covered four to five miles in a single exercise.

This principle of starting where you can, right now, and battling back the fear is applicable to running and the writing of books. For my novels, I focus on a the current chapter, not the entire length of a book.

These small moments – days with mile runs and weeks with two thousand words – are the moments that matter in the end. Any grand, front stage moments start here in a state of quiet progress, day after day, with a target date in mind.

As I headed out for training runs this weekend in preparation for my 10K in a two weeks I was reminded of the power of a single writing session compounded one hundred times. The yield is a book.

Don’t forget about the every day. Don’t forget about the small moments of writing time. Put them together. You’ll be glad to did in a few months.


The Biggest Myth Non-Writers Believe About Writers

Before I started writing I thought writers were mysterious beings that heard a song that the rest of the world could not hear. These creatures, I thought, disappear for six months only to reappear with a book that was perfect, required no editing, and had the power to enrapture a generation.

The reality? It doesn’t work that way.


Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction and I am in the middle of Creativity Inc., by Ed Catmul with Amy Wallace. It’s about leadership more than anything else but in it Mr. Catmul details some of the creative processes that Pixar Animation and Disney Animation implement to create and develop their stories.

Up is one of my favorite Pixar movies and I was shocked to discover that it’s first draft looked nothing like the finished product. Mr. Catmul explains that the bird and the title Up are the only two things that survived the first iteration of the story. The first draft was about two boys that lived in a castle in the sky.

Even Pixar’s first drafts are bad.

The process of writing a book is a lot like this. Once a first draft is done, there is a mountain of refining that takes place. The idea is usually hidden in the drivel but only through careful counsel and thoughtful consideration on the writers’ behalf can the non-fiction book be rounded into form or the fiction story be shaped into a coherent, compelling tale.

Perhaps the biggest mystery is not how writers do it but how they persevere when others may not be able to see the vision of their story.

I don’t know what possessed me to start writing. Maybe it was my Grandma Evenhouse who always had books around and stories to tell. It could have been the allure of Lowry’s Book and More in my hometown or maybe it was the college professor that told me I could be a writer, out of the blue, or the encouraging email or comment about a recent blog post, but I find myself among writers now and even call myself one.

If you are a writer and your ideas don’t come out right or you are stuck, don’t worry. Great stories take time to shape. You have to try to poke holes in them, let it fall on the page without editing, and then build it back up or mold it into something new.

If you’ve ever thought of writing, and still maintain that desire, I challenge you to start now, with the advanced knowledge that the road will be hard and perseverance is your only guide through.

What To Do When Life Happens To Your Book

No matter how fool proof our daily word count goals or writing plans are, life will eventually have something to say about them. There will be a cold, a job loss, a move, a season of melancholy. Something will happen to stop progress.

Maybe you are stopped now?

Photo Credit: shumpei_sano_exp3 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: shumpei_sano_exp3 via Compfight cc

I know when a significant life event happens to me I curl inward. I read more, try to get time by myself, and journal. These are all good things. But you know what I don’t do? Keep writing!

I like to be serious about my work but I am no drill sergeant. But the fact of the matter is that I’ve stopped writing before because of something challenging that I knew was coming. If I’m honest, a hand full of times I’ve simply thrown in the towel instead of rising to meet it a challenging time in my schedule.

I view the routine interruption as a disruption rather than an opportunity to show my commitment the craft.

But how do you show commitment to your body of work when something interrupts your schedule? You prepare in advance.

Just like a dieter running into a tempting cupcake, we need to be ready when life events occur and say that we will not give up ahead of time. (Granted some we cannot prepare for and we need a break. It’s just that simple.)

Make up your mind right now. You won’t stop because of that wedding, job change, or move. You’ll be ready to write no matter what.

Meet the challenging time head on. Circle it in your calendar and don’t allow a life hiccup to derail you.

How Committed Are You To Your Book?

Have you ever been intimidated by another writer? Not their presence or their writing, but their commitment to the craft? It happened to me yesterday.

I picked up the last book in a series – The Books of Beginning – titled The Black Reckoning by John Stephens at the library. I like to read the author bio in the back of books to see what else they have written and get to know them a little. This ritual proved crushing.

I wish I never picked up his book nor turned to the back flap.

I was shocked by what I read.

The Black Reckoning

On the dust jacket, it mentioned, casually, that John Stephens woke up at 4AM to write the Emerald Atlas (the first book in this series) before leaving for work each day. Wait. What?



Imagine with me for a second if you could do this. Take that, multiply by seven, add another five hours for a writing night or long afternoon and that’s twenty hours of writing each week. How much could you write? How fast could you finish?

My first thought is that 4AM is impossible. I have two children that wake up through the night. But what if I could make it work for a week? A month? That would give me eighty hours of writing time.

I know this is probably not sustainable, but it makes me think. How dedicated am I to my books, blog, or any other area of my life? I want the easy path but I know I must choose the most difficult one at times.

How much time do you dedicate to writing? Is it enough? If you need more time, what could you cut out of your life to recapture the lost time?

How To Always Have Something To Write About

Do you have that writer friend that is an amazing blogger, short story writer, or novelist? Yeah, I’ve disowned that person too.

I am in awe of the constant do-er, the everdayer, the consummate professional who always seems to have something to write about.

I struggled with this for a while as I reviewed my plan for my blog re-launch. How will I be able to sustain a pace and not give up like the pros?

Photo Credit: kpkelly53 via Compfight cc

A few months ago, I started seeking out the top echelon of successful bloggers and platform builders. I found a lot of people I admire. You know what else I found out? They all knew each other.

Part of this should not have been a surprise. Once you reach a certain level of anything you want to be with people who have done the same thing. If you play a sport for two decades and want to grow, you can’t do so playing with a first timer. You have to compete with those at your level.

But this was not the main take away from this search. The real point was that they were all conversing about similar topics. And they talked amongst each other on one another’s blog or podcast or Vlog. They endorse each other’s books and attend each other’s book launch.

This gave me a huge nugget of insight. Conversation. This is what blogging, or any art, is about. Interaction, digging deeper into subjects, and then coming away with a response is all part of being an artist. Suddenly I found myself furiously writing down responses or ideas that sprung to mind when I interacted with them.

This is the key to blogging. You want to be a novelist? Read books about authors, by your favorite authors, and write about them. Your answer could be what you’ve learned, things you’d do differently, or ideas for books you may have. Stuff your head full of this material.

Art is not expression in a vacuum. It’s reciprocal.

So get in the conversation. Part of it is listening well. The other part is responding. If you do this, you’ll never run out of things to say.

Why You Should Treat Your Book Like A Part-Time Job

Have you ever woke up and thought, I’ll just go into work late today? We all have. But we get up anyway. Its work and we need to go. Our family and our mortgage depend on us.

A few weeks ago I got up at 5am to work on my book. I did this for a week. My life, much like yours is stuffed full and this was quite a feat. Then a vacation came and I stopped. It’s been a few weeks since and I’ve yet to get up early again.

Photo Credit: fireboat895 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: fireboat895 via Compfight cc

There is a huge problem with this lack of consistent effort. This is my dream, and that’s not reason enough to wake early? I decided to sit myself down, much like any manager would, and have talk about the importance of punctuality. Do I care enough about writing to do it full time? The answer was a quick yes. It is my dream. I knew I needed to challenge myself in the way I thought about my work and maybe you do too.

If we wrote like we were punching a clock, we might be more successful at putting our time in. After all, could you imagine telling your boss, ‘I was just a bit too tired from doing yard work yesterday, so I thought I’d just come in later’? If that doesn’t work for you, maybe you volunteer at your church, or a charity or museum. Can you imagine telling the people who count on you that you didn’t show up because you wanted a few extra hours of sleep? Or that your got carried away in your Netflix queue again?

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying sleep or recreation is unimportant. We all need more sleep than we get on an average night and it’s okay to stop and recharge. My point is to ask the serious question about your craft. Is this worth it? Is it my dream? If so, why don’t we pick it up, dust it off, and place it on a higher shelf of importance?

I finished this blog at 5:37am. It matters to me.

Does it matter to you?

How To Not Be Intimidated By The First (or Blank) Page Ever Again

Have you ever perused a gallery of half finished art? How about watched an unedited movie? Bought a book that has no ending?

Of course not. All of those things would be a waste of time. But this is what we do with our books. When we start, we think they are already on display and worry over every word.

We fret over the first line as if once it’s typed it’ll cure and we can never change it again. And then our book dies because of unfair expectation. But does it have to be like this?

Photo Credit: zetson via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: zetson via Compfight cc

Perfection on the first try is a myth. Or if it is perfect the first time it’s because the individual put in constant hours of play and practice out of the public eye. They tested new methods or perfected one and seemingly burst onto the scene.

But our pages, as well as a lump of clay or canvas, are places to grow and learn. They are what software developers call a sandbox. A place to test. A place to see what happens.

While it’s easier said than done to separate ourselves from our work like a software developer does, we’re doing the same thing and just need to change our mindset.

When you say to yourself that you’re creating a piece of art the pressure to be prefect shoots through the roof. What if you just call it a project or a product? Will this make your work cliché or a business rather than an expression of who you are?

I say do whatever you have to do to keep going. I trick myself all of the time to see where my latest project will go.

Put it this way, if you are backpacking across the Appalachian Trail mile marker one is not the place to gauge whether or not you are a professional hiker. If you stop there, you’d miss the bad weather and a possible bear encounter, sure, but also the views, other people who can share in your journey, and the joy of the distant finish.

So writer, don’t put too much pressure on yourself at the beginning. Writing is hard work as it is. Before you struggle to perfect the backstroke, there came the thrill and joy of just swimming. So just jump in and enjoy it.

The Best Way to Fail at Writing a Book

It happens often. Mostly when I am struggling with my novel and I read a magnificent work of fiction. I drop the book, my arms fall to my sides, and I stare at the ceiling knowing for certain that I will never lossy-page1-1024px-Moods,_President_Lyndon_B._Johnson,_Secretary_of_Defense_Robert_McNamara_in_Cabinet_Room_meeting_-_NARA_-_192612.tifbe that good.

Many of my writer friends have shared this same thought. We compare ourselves daily and when we read a gold trimmed version of our favorite classic we are overcome. I get the feeling you, dear writer, may also struggle with this.

Part of the problem is what I bring to the table. I was not educated in Oxford nor was I a war correspondent for the Toronto Star during the Spanish Civil War. My life experiences are dull in comparison. But this is not the problem. The problem is that I consider even for a moment that someone else’s life is better than the one I am living now. I forget that everyone has a tale, whether tragic or otherwise, to tell.

C.S. Lewis wrote C.S. Lewis Stories. Hemingway wrote the way only Hemingway could. I bring Bob Evenhouse’ experiences and thus tell a story the only way I know how. This is what I must remember. I must reach into myself and write out of who I am, just like you must do the same.

The world of literature would be boring if bookshelves were stuffed only with novels about Harry Potter or Baker Street.

Write your story.



Re-Vision Not Redraft

Lowry’s Books and More in Three Rivers Michigan is my favorite bookstore in the entire world. This is not because it is in my hometown, though that was convenient growing up, but because you can get lost in it. Imagine the wand shop in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets but with endless scores of books.Bookshelf 2

While there last weekend, I picked up a book by Isaac and Janet Asimov – How to Enjoy Writing: A Book of Aid and Comfort. The cover is atrociously outdated but the content rich and filling.

One porting discusses the thrill of the revision process. Isaac explained that while writing a letter on his word processor the word ‘revision’ (alteration, correction) was hyphened to the next line and became re-vision meaning, to see anew.

This part of the book has been cemented in my mind while I consider revising one of novels. Not simply to redraft and revise which sounds arduous and monotonous but to see it anew. I write for the thrill of the thing not to bore myself out of my mind.

I plan to use this approach on my next draft. Ask what ifs of each scene and each chapter. Take a different road for a bit and see where that takes my characters.

This stirs excitement. I suppose writing is all how you look at it, just like anything in life. On my next draft, I am going to look at my book anew and have fun playing with it and, in other words, take joy in the process.

How about you? How do you see your books anew during your editing process?