What Did I Just Watch – Now You See Me 2

The other night I watched/survived an airing of Now You See Me 2, and it left such an impression on me that days later, I find myself blogging about it. It … well, it wasn’t very good. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Yeah, I’ll give a rewrite version, but we need to back up and cover some craftwork first. So that means it’s storytime.

Like a lot of kids, I thought magic was cool. Blackstone Jr, Harry Anderson, various magician tv shows of the mid-80s, they made magic special, a kind of happy thing that was interesting and well-executed. As a kid, this was really very ooh and ahh material, and I admit, I was a sucker for card tricks and sleight of hand.

As I got older, and it became cooler to dislike more things, I still watched those specials with David Copperfield and his blousy nearly Goldblum-ish shirt and holding these over-produced get-to-the-trick specials that were interesting, but I didn’t quite feel the same way. I think there was too much patter, too much preamble, and I’m fuzzy now on how the tricks were shot for television, if the camerawork was part of the gimmick or if a camera guy thought it would be a great idea to show everything from a weird angle.

Older still, I learned that magic got co-opted by the pick-up artist movement, and it was simultaneously relegated to “parlor tricks to make panties disappear” (not my quote, I heard that about a decade ago and it’s stuck around my brain) and part of the then-beta-now-cuck stuff that not-real-men do that prevents them from getting laid. Magic wasn’t ooh and ahh anymore it was a means to an end. I am ashamed that for many years I wrote it off. I wish I learned some.

This brings me to Now You See Me (the first one). It’s a heist movie with magicians. At least, that’s the premise sold via frenetically caffeinated, stylized trailers. And I watched it. I vaguely liked it. It was an enjoyable way to pass 90 minutes. In this fiction, 4 magicians each have a specialty and are brought together because nebulous reasons to ruin a corrupt wealthy guy all while the FBI does just above the possible minimum amount of effort to think about catching them.

Now here come spoilers.

Except that the FBI guy trying to catch them is in on it, and not only wants them to succeed, but also wants to introduce them to a shadowy organization of magicians who do “real” magic. (Since it’s never explained, I like to think of them as people who just have a D&D player’s guide and a lot of material components).

Now because Hollywood so often confuses sequel expansion with new idea generation, there’s naturally a Now You See Me 2, and if you thought the first movie was a stylized, under-explained, jittery, poorly written mess, you’re in luck, because they’ve doubled down on all that while expanding the world building and adding more characters (side note: I like Daniel Radcliffe as a bad guy, he should do that more often.)

A quick summary of the sequel: Because of what happened in the first movie, the magician characters are on the lam, and a new bad guy wants them to one more job or else they’ll be killed, and of course in the end, the magicians turn the magical tables on all the villains (because every villain from the first is back due to reasons) and then the shadowy organization shows back up to introduce them to “real” magic, even though that’s what you’re told was going to happen at the end of the first movie, but I guess it hasn’t yet even though the concept in the first Act is that they’ve been working with the shadowy organzation all film. I guess they never got around to showing them real magic. Dick move, shadow organization, dick move.

Let’s talk about the good stuff in the films, because there is some:

  • Actually talented actors (Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Daniel Radcliffe, Mark Ruffalo) give less talented actors (James Franco’s brother, Lex Luthor/Mark Zuckerberg who isn’t Michael Cera, disposable female character, Woody “I’m just here because I get to wear a hat and something something hemp and vegan” Harrelson) plenty of opportunity to improve their craft while collecting what I imagine are lovely paychecks.
  • Occasionally you get flashes that the characters deliver dialogue that seems maybe like a person could say it, maybe.
  • The CGI for the tricks isn’t atrocious. It’s not subtle, but it’s not an affront to eyeballs.
Let’s roll out SOME of the bad, because I had to prioritize this stuff:
  • Stylized shots do not necessarily make for good shots. Framing us from the top-down and then turning the top-down into a left-right is confusing.
  • The movie thinks hyponotism involves grabbing or slapping people then talking at their faces.
  • Making one character talk immediately after another character does not underscore either of their points
  • Mark Ruffalo is the only character across two films with anything resembling a character arc, but don’t worry, it’s completely neutered in the last 10 minutes of the second movie by a photograph and Morgan Freeman dressed like a pimp from a 70s tv show.
  • The female actor changes from the first to the second movie, but again don’t worry, because in the first ten minutes of the second movie, she just says she’s the new team member and everyone agrees.
  • The magic goes from you-could-conceivably-learn-and-do-this to don’t-question-the-CGI-or-how-they-know-how-to-do-this pretty quickly
  • Don’t question when they had time to plan an orchestrate the con/heist/bad guy capture, just know they are always in on it from the very beginning and there’s no actual danger ever. EVER.
 No character arcs, no stakes to the plot, no danger to characters, unclear villain motivations … yeah sounds ripe for a rewrite.
Step 1 – We’re making 1 story, not 2. If there’s going to be a series later, that’s fine. But right now, we’re gonna take this heap of applesauce and make something better from it.
Step 2 – Everyone needs something to do that is tailored to them and that something has a reward that matters to the character.
Step 3 – Any magical elements serve the story’s plot and structure, rather than being 90 minutes where people watch CGI scenes
Step 4 – There’s actual challenge and risk in the story.
Step 5 – The world building is more than ceremonial or perfunctory.
Here we go …
The Characters:
Danny, Magician Number 1, his specialty is escapes. He’s a good kid from a good family, but he tells everyone a convoluted BS tale about foster homes and youth detention centers. He has heard about The Eye, an almost Masonic order of magicians who revere magic in its classical purest forms. He’s ambitious and sincere.
Jack, Magician Number 2, his specialty is card tricks. A street hustler, he fleeces tourists in games of three card monte. Whereas Danny talks about a bad upbringing, Jack had one, although at his core, he’s sweet, sensitive, and wants very badly to be accepted. He heard about The Eye on one of his only good memories as a child, going to a magic show and talking to the magician backstage, just after he tried to pick his pocket.
Lady, Magician Number 3, her specialty is platform and stage magic. She’s used to big crowds and middling success. She can start strong, but fails to hold attention. Instead of playing up her sex appeal outside of her stagecraft, we play up her disillusionment with magic – it’s getting boring and she’s tired of prop work. She’s been researching The Eye after noticing its iconography appear on older stage props.
Woody, Magician Number 4, his specialty is mentalism and comedy magic. A failed stand-up, he transitioned to mentalism because he was unoriginal on stage, but had a knack for reading people. He’s intuitive and empathetic, but totally skeptical that The Eye is a thing. He just wants magic to be a thing that people do.
Carl, the Villain, he’s a ruthless megalomaniac CEO, fleecing people through shell corporations for decades. He puts on a facade for the cameras, that he’s altruistic, charming, and friendly, but in reality he’s willing to kill to get ahead. Flipping that switch is creepy and never played for laughs. He’s a monster in a TV-personality costume. He’s currently stockpiling medications for cancer and AIDS so he can jack up the prices.
Ruffalo, the Cop/Fed, the agent/detective who gets assigned to Carl’s protection detail. He encounters the magicians and tries to stop them. He’s not in on it. He’s not stupid, this is never played as comedy relief, he’s at best a secondary antagonist.

Our film starts with Danny, in breathless voiceover, “You need to tie me up tighter than that.” We open on him on stage, an Elks lodge, a room trapped in the 1970s with men and cigar smoke to match. They’re unimpressed and barely paying attention. It’s a mostly silent crowd as Danny moves through his routine, finally disappearing behind a curtain and reappearing with the ropes tied in balloon animal shapes. Crickets, no one applauds. We cut to Danny loading his beat up car and snatching the envelope of cash out of a drunk Elk’s hand. It starts to rain, and the car stalls. The sound of rain hitting the pavement intensifies, and we cut to …

Jack, running. We see his legs churning, we see him navigating busy streets of pedestrians and cars pulling out of alleys and side streets. He’s running from the cops, a large smile on his face. He loses two of the cop pursuers and takes a seat in a grubby pizzeria counting his large stack of twenties and tens. It’s a good take. Just when he’s about caught his breath, he looks out the window and sees two more cops heading his way. Time to run again. He starts saying “Oh shi…” and we cut to…

Lady, saying “It’s not everyday you see a woman saw herself in half is it?” She’s in her pajamas, rehearsing her act in her apartment. She narrates each part of the trick: stand here, move arm up, no higher, turn, tap box, catching herself in the mirror time and again to correct her posture. She’s trying really hard. Over her shoulder and out of focus we see a table littered with sketches and plans and models of different set pieces. There’s a dressmaker’s dummy with a half-finished outfit pinned up. Over time, Lady grows dissatisfied with her rehearsals, and flops down on the couch (which a few seconds ago doubled as her stage) to watch TV. She channel surfs before catching an interview and we cut to …

Woody, on set, making Jimmy Fallon or some other easily amused jabroni in a suit laugh. There are two people flanking the host’s desk and Woody is making snap deductions about them, before running them through a simple card trick that gets enormous applause. We track him back post-interview to the green room, where he loots the craft services table and then ducks out quickly. The rear stage door opens and when a famous celebrity gets mobbed, he slips through unnoticed. He walks in the rain, collar upturned, out of frame.

Back to Danny, who’s unloading his car into a garage, his mother’s. She’s standing there, watching him lug case after case, and they’re talking about how it went. Danny is upset because no one appreciated the work he put in, and his mom mentions that at least the paycheck was good. Danny opens the envelope to find out he’s been somewhat stiffed – he was expecting twenties and got ones. His mother consoles him and Danny heads up to bed. 

His room is a trove of magic glory. Posters of stage acts (and this is where set design can create all new acts not just Copperfield, Penn and Teller, Houdini) and line the walls, and his bookcase is a library of autobiographies and how-tos. He flops down on the bed, sighing. his mother passes by the door saying she’s going to bed, he says good night, then goes to bed himself.

We cut to the next morning. Jack is at it again, setting up his monte stand at the entrance to a city park. He’s drawn a large crowd, with Danny, Lady, and Woody making their way into it, staggered among the rows. Danny pushes his way to the front to become the mark. Jack starts his patter, and Lady yells from four rows back whichever answer is correct. Danny yells back that he knows, which flusters Jack, who resorts to palming cards and deliberately cheating, but only in a way that another magician would know. Danny catches onto this, and ends up cleaning out Jack’s wallet. He breaks away from the game, several hundred dollars richer. Except that to break away from the game, he’s gotta pass back through the crowd, and this gives us a chance to watch each of our four musicians bump, sneak, and lift the wallet. Ultimately, it ends up being dropped and picked up by Ruffalo, who breaks up the monte game and arrests Jack. 

Feeling bad his bilking, Danny sets about freeing Jack, and enlists Lady and Woody to join him. They spring Jack, but not before Jack swipes a folder off Ruffalo’s desk, and overhears something about Carl being a bad guy with a lot of money. 

The wheels are then in motion for the four magicians to collaborate on a heist of Carl. They begin with surveillance, and by combining Woody’s mesmerism and Jack’s natural charm, they get a quick tour of the “civilian” levels (let’s also give Jack a phone number or two). Danny tries his hand, and gets a few floors higher, but ultimately falls short of the prize as well. Lady gets all the way to inner office’s front door, but is stopped by a variety of countermeasures.

The result is that the team must rely on al their talents: escapes, card tricks, platform magic, and mesmerism to breach the inner office, only to find that the best “loot” is a few vague memos explaining pricing policy. However, this celebration is short-lived because just as the team goes to make their escape, in walks Carl to catch them. Cue Ruffalo’s return, and all four magicians in handcuffs. 

At least until mid0interrigation, Danny escapes, Jack palms the key, Woody convinces the officer to let him go, and Lady disappears behind a table only to re-emerge several feet away, locking Ruffalo in his own interrogation room. This commits Ruffalo to catching them, but also plants the seed that these four magicians have an interest in doing something about Carl. 

Danny spends his time at home, rehearsing the same tricks that they used in the Carl heist when his mother starts coughing. Turns out mom has been hiding an illness, and now the meds are too expensive. This clicks things into place, and Danny calls the magicians to finish what they started. 

Which they’d do, if Carl hadn’t counted on them coming back, and ratcheted up security. Not just Ruffalo, but greater countermeasures and more armed guards. The office is a fortress. The team aborts one attempt and is nearly caught by Ruffalo. They console themselves and Lady makes a passing comment that Danny would have done better if he hypnotized the guard. Jack tells Lady she’d have done better if she had palmed the keys. And that’s when they realize they need to learn each other’s craft to have a better chance. 

So they practice. On the street, in broad daylight and in their individual gigs. Think of it like a protracted montage. It starts off shaky, but they all start showing proficiency in other magical aptitudes. Excited to share this news, they reconvene and that’s when we all learn they have a shared interest in The Eye. 

Feeling well armed and unified, they go after Carl. And after several near-misses, they pull off the job, and get into the office, finding Carl’s documents saying he’s been adjusting prices and withholding medications. Except Carl was counting on them getting that far, and holds them at gun point. Ruffalo arrives and hears everyone out, which leads to Carl getting impatient and Ruffalo revealing that he’s been recording the story the whole time, because breaking and entering is bad, but it’s not tampering with people’s health kind of bad. Carl takes a shot at Ruffalo, who fires back. Ruffalo makes the arrest of the wounded Carl, and goes to thank the the magicians, only to find them all absent – they disappeared. 

One week later (we’re told by the graphics department), the magicians are casually chatting when Ruffalo pulls up on them. They get suspicious and nervous but he thanks them and hands them a stack of cold case files, all rich business types thought to be hurting the little guy, but nothing could be proven, and maybe they had some magic to spare. The foursome agrees, and just before we go to credits, Danny’s phone rings. He gets a single image as a text message, that of an address and a blinking eye. 

Okay, I think this quick rewrite works. It’s not perfect, I bet I could ratchet up the tension, but this post is already running long. Thanks for checking out my little patch job on a movie that so annoyed me I had to write myself angry notes on my phone until this blogpost came together.

 

Happy creating.

Filling Your Notebooks

My brother and I aren’t very big gift people. Sure, we’ll spend money on other people, but for ourselves and each other, we don’t really go for it. For years we’d skip each other’s birthdays or christmases, maybe making a token effort if a parent or someone else prodded us with guilt.

That changed a bit in the last few years, as our financial situations and personal situations evolved. My brother moved away and got an amazing job with stable income. I got clean and sober and treated. It’s two different kinds of stability, I guess.

But we started giving a shit about gifts, when budgets (mostly mine) could stand it. Now it wasn’t just “hey I got you a gift card” it’s “I got you this one gift card for this one thing that I know you value because your time is precious to you.” We don’t make a big show of trying to do that gift thing that maybe happens near you – there’s a great big production made of showing off how much you can afford or how much you know the person values it, as if the being seen giving this gift is more important than the why you gave the gift.

This year was a slightly better year than expected financially. I can’t say it was the best, but I ended the year with a few checks that got me a bit of cushion during the holiday season. I wanted to get my brother something nice, so my mom and I pooled some resources to get him a few housewares and some fun stuff.

What he got me was a complete set of moleskine notebooks. Here they are on the desk beside me as I write this post.

Probably one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.

Now if you’ll notice, there’s still plastic wrap on two of them. And up until about two minutes before I started writing this post, there was plastic wrap on a third.

It meant a lot to me that he got me notebooks. That on some level it was him recognizing that I do a lot of thinking and writing and notation, so notebooks are a perfect gift. I really appreciate these gifts.

I appreciate them so much, I feel like I don’t have ideas worthy enough to put in them. As though I haven’t earned the privilege and honor to use these pieces of paper because none of what I have done to date is “good enough” to be immortalized in these little notebooks.

Sure, I’ll save it to one of a dozen thumb drives or a portable hard drive or Dropbox like it’s no big thing, but there’s … something suddenly more concrete about writing it down in a notebook. That’s what I want to talk about a little today.

Initially, I didn’t unwrap these things because I was too busy telling everyone how much they meant to me, that it was just really nice to carry them around in my bag. That it was one of those elusive “Writer Bucket List” items where I got to carry a moleskine.

And after I think everyone got sick of me saying I was grateful, the shock of it set in. And up until about 5 minutes ago, I couldn’t express that shock beyond just saying that I didn’t think I had an idea good enough to go in them.

See, the other issue I have with them is that they’re finite. There are only so many pages to each notebook. Space in them is precious. The digital stuff, that’s practically infinite, because I can Ctrl+N a new document out of the ether and because the content in a document disappears when I tap the Backspace. That digital space seems infinite.

It’s in that gap, in that difference, that the paralysis lives. We see it in other places: people who say they’re going to pursue a resolution or a lifestyle change versus those who do the work or in politicians who make campaign promises and then upon election act wholly different.

We all possess the ability to talk a big game and make these big plans, but when we have to act on it (hell, even our language speaks to it in an aggressive way, when push comes to shove), there’s not just the inertia of activity to overcome, but there’s this whole ocean of doubt – is my idea good enough, am I going to get rejected, is this going to fail, am I wasting my time and energy, will it matter, do I matter?

So here these notebooks sit. Only one of them has any info in it. One of the smallest ones has four addresses written in it – all possible places to eat. I could have done that on my phone, so why did I write that down, but I can’t crack into the larger books?

Because the little notebook is about the size of the post-it notes I often write things down on. It doesn’t have the same weight (psychologically) that the bigger books do. It’s practically disposable, and I’m sure if I left it in my jeans pocket and it went through the wash, it would be disposed of.

Maybe for you, you don’t have these notebooks. Maybe you don’t have a stack of physical products in actual shrink wrap. Maybe you come at this from another direction – maybe for you, the act of typing your idea up and saving it as a file has more heft to it than the scribbling you do in that little notebook you keep tucked somewhat away. Either way, an idea becomes more real when it is made more concrete.

One of the toughest things we can do as a creative is make the idea (something intangible, it lives in our heads and dreams and we can describe it, but it’s hard to share exactly and precisely) into something tangible. But we have to do it. We have to find a way to do it.

But, you ask, having read the 1024 words that precede this one, what about those questions of doubt and possible future rejection? What if I type my MS up and it gets rejected, what if you write down an idea in that notebook and it doesn’t pan out, haven’t we both wasted time and stuff?

There are two  points lurking under the water here.

a) That you’re saying your time is wasted if you do a thing and it’s not perfectly received, and you need to know how a thing is going to be received before you do it

b) That if the idea gets rejected then you’re a failure, so writing it down hastens defining/discovering/confirming that you’re a failure

Look how precarious that is. Look how they’re both points about control – In (a) you need to control the future so that you can control how you spend your time and effort and in (b) you need to control how you’re thought of or labeled by other people.

All because of writing something down! That’s how we got to these two points.

I can name on one hand the number of people I’ll show the contents of these notebooks to. They’re not going public, I have a blog and Twitter for that. Now, yes, maybe later, an idea from a notebook will make its way to some other medium where other people will see it, but as the notebook, not so much.

You cannot control how other people perceive your efforts, and naturally, yes, you don’t want your first draft to set the standard for how we regard later drafts (though isn’t it interesting we treat first impressions of people so seriously?), but you can’t make the people like you to such a degree that they’ll never have a bad thought of you – you’re not in charge of them and their thinking. The best you can do is be you, and be the kind of you that makes you feel best while inspiring others to feel and be their best, all while everyone is doing the stuff that makes them feel good and inspires others to go do stuff too.

We all live with, we’ve all adopted, this notion that we’re seconds away, one tweet, one draft, one email, one pause, one word away from another human finding out that we’re undeserving of their love and help and attention and respect because of what we do, who we are, who/what we love. We all have this feeling, and we all perpetuate this idea that we’re the only one who has this feeling, that it’s unique to us.

It’s not. It might not always take the same form with every person, but the feeling isn’t just yours. This one version is bespoke to you for a variety of reasons, but we’re all there.

We are who we are, and we’re never undeserving of love and respect and care and attention and help. No matter what we make, who we love, where we go, how we are, what stuff we do. We might not all agree on things, we might present each other with differing points of view or ideas that don’t fit neatly with other ideas, but we’re all capable of existing in a world where there are multiple people and multiple ideas. I checked.

So open your notebooks. Write down that stuff. Make the transition, one step at a time, to doing something more than worrying about whether or not you’re good enough. Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll all find new reasons to keep thinking we’re going to be revealed as impostors later, but for right now, let’s just take a few seconds to take some steps forward.

Here’s mine.

I think that’s a pretty good start, don’t you?

Happy creating. One step at a time.

Why You Need To Promote Your Own Stuff

Would you believe this is the third attempt at an opening? Or maybe that I’ve already tried everything from imagining a conversation to a start with some fire like this was a Killer Mike mixtape, and nothing so far has seemed to capture that intersection between why I feel you need to understand this and how I think you can and should approach it?

Okay, here we go.

If there’s a Family Feud big board of topics that come up in my conversations with writers, one of the top three answers on the board has to be “I’m not very good at marketing, I don’t want to market my stuff, and why do I have to market it

Yeah, I know. That’s three things all by itself, but let’s just assume this is a really wide Family Feud board, and maybe Steve Harvey is shot in IMAX or something. (don’t picture that or googling it, please)

What I’m going to talk about now is that I think if you’ve ever said that trio of ideas, I think what this all boils down to is this – you don’t want to take the risk of promoting a thing and getting either no response or worse, a backlash.  We can dress that up with the notion that you don’t know how to do it, or that you don’t have money to spend on it, but I’ve talked to people who do know how to do it, and I’ve talked to people who have the money, and it comes down plain and simple to that fear of rejection.

So let’s take a second and point out that it’s entirely okay to be afraid of the possibility of rejection or the ignoring of your efforts. That’s a thing that can happen. But there’s an equal chance of it being not-rejected or not-ignored. Because you haven’t done the thing yet, there’s a 50/50 shot. Them’s good odds, honestly.

But oh no, you’re saying from whatever seat you’re in while you read this, you need there to be this one kind of response in order to be worth the trouble and effort. It’s not enough just to get 1 sale, you need 100 sales, or 1000 views, or 16 reviews or whatever. There’s some hurdle to jump, some hoop to pass through, some point you have to surpass in order to give yourself the permission to entertain the idea that you’ve succeeded.

Applesauce. Horsefeathers.

The nice thing about setting up those hoops is that it gives you something to point to when you don’t achieve it, and it becomes something a bit more concrete every time you fail, so that you get to stay in that bubble where you’re not good enough and can’t-ever-be-so-long-as-X-or-Y-or-Z-is-a-thing. Rather than loosening up on the self-imposed mandate that you need to hit some particular target to justify yourself, you double down, and that ratchets up all the pressure and tension on the situation. Which, and I don’t know if you know this, isn’t actually conducive to you being in a headspace where you can produce at the level necessary to reach the target. The notion that “pressure bursts pipes and makes diamonds” (which is a mixed metaphor) is great when you want to be known for pressuring yourself in order to produce, rather than getting yourself known for what you produce.

Too often we assume the worst is going to happen, particularly when something is more out of our control than in our control. And audiences are very much out of our control. We can’t make people act a certain way forever, we can’t make everyone conform, we can’t accurately predict the vastness of potential in response and its degrees.

This isn’t to say we have to be desperately grateful for every .000001 of every percent of every metric, as if we’re only good enough to warrant getting that much. You’re not. You deserve whole numbers. You deserve actual recognition. But that’s gotta start from within yourself and then radiate outward so that it can come back to you at all.

Being “bad” at marketing and promotion is something you can improve. Write more tweets, learn how to take 140 characters and get your idea across. Write readable blogposts. Learn 2 format, newb. If you’re writing ads, you can practice your salescopy. These are all skills that you can improve, with practice. Which means investing the time, and then following that up with money AFTER you feel more comfortable doing it – there’s loads of free ways to promote yourself and what you’re doing, so long as you’re willing to put that pressure building gotta-hit-this-one-target stuff to one side.

Marketing is as much about setting up expectations (in others) as it is about managing your own. When you write the copy, the tweet, the blog post, the whatever, going into it with the idea that “like everyone I know is gonna see this and love it, and then I’m gonna get like all the supporters and people will finally bring me what’s mine!” is a recipe for frustration when you realize that out of all the infinite possible responses you could get, you’ve set a very narrow gaze on this one particular one, and likely this one particular one requires a lot of other factors to align and move in specific ways and times. Basically, you’ve tried to control so much of the uncontrollable and unknown that you’re ensuring more frustration than success if it doesn’t go how you want.

Let’s talk about success. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that part of success is defined on your own terms, and that chasing other people’s definitions often keeps people from reaching their goals while mistakenly enforcing some notion that they’re “humble and hungry.” So let’s make it clear here – your success comes on your own terms. You don’t have to meet someone else’s criteria in order to be happy, because it is not your job to please them.

Other people can have their metrics and their ideas of success, and they can go apply them to their own efforts. Maybe their metrics and barometers are great, and by all means, you’re free to employ them if you like, but you’re not beholden to them.

Managing your own expectations means not only assuming the worst is going to happen. Expectations aren’t just two extremes, and I urge you to stop and take a deep breath before you go do a thing where expectations are involved – Are you assuming total failure? How high is the bar set? Take responsibility for your expectations.

And in that responsibility, I tell you to go one further. You’re the best resource to talk about your creation, because it came from you. In addition to being able to talk about what it is, you can also talk about the process, the emotions, and the decisions you experienced while you made it. When you rely on other people to talk about your stuff (like when you put your eggs in that basket where you expect a publisher to do the heavy lifting of making people aware of your book, but we’ll get there in the next paragraph), any information they have is secondhand – you’re the primary source, and if you’re truly proud of what you’ve made, why wouldn’t you want to talk about? (This is where, again, I point to expectations assuming failure and then point back to that 50/50 earlier)

There’s nothing wrong with having other people assist you in getting the word out about what you’re doing. It’s super helpful to you. It builds bridges, it makes connections, it strengthens networks. It helps create and direct the flow of positive information.

This is your creation, whatever it is, and you need to get out in front with it. Show it the hell off. Even if you don’t want to make it about you because you’re worried that who you are is somehow a disincentive to enjoy what you’ve made (and frankly I’m not sure if that says something about your ego or your work’s quality), make it about the work. What it is, what it means to you, what you are trying to do with it, all that good stuff. Put the focus where you want it to be. You get to the control that.

Several writers I’ve spoken to in the last eight months have talked to me about when they make it “big” (meaning: get traditionally published), they’ll be really relieved that they won’t have to do anything other than just write the books. I’m going to put on my Managing Editor of a successful publisher hat (shout-out to ParvusPress! airhorns! other celebratory sounds you can imagine!) and tell you straight –

A creator has to work even after the creation is made.

There are blog tours, there are interviews, there’s tweets to make, there’s people to email, there’s a lot of work that the author does. This is in addition to what happens on the publishing end, which is setting up all those things AND doing promotional stuff to aid the author in having a product that generate sales so that people earn paychecks. (You’re following @ParvusPress on Twitter, right? I’m just asking)

Maybe you’ve heard this before: If you want the rewards or results, you gotta do the work.

Marketing is no different, and everyone from Big-Fancy-Author-Number-Three to mid-list-Author-Eleven to random-creative-who-publishes-slash-fiction-about-Law-and-Order has to do SOMETHING (or more likely multiple somethings) so that people know that there’s something in the world they should check out.

It might not be easy, but it’s doable. And if you do it often enough, you’ll get better at it. Yeah, you’re gonna make mistakes, but it is through our mistakes that we can figure out what to improve so we can see better results.

You gotta do the work. And I believe in your ability to do it.

 

Happy creating.

Of Curses And The Nature Of Creating

So, it’s 2017. We’re about to face another monster of a year. Who knows what could happen. Meteor strikes. Twitter hashtags. Various grocery stores running out of ginger ale. It sounds like anarchy ahead. All the more reason to be creative and declare ourselves creators … but we’ll get there,

I used to think I was cursed. Not by some old lady on the outskirts of my town (why do old ladies always live on the edges of towns? Do they get better cell phone reception?), because I have always done my best to be nice to old ladies (in case they turn out to be the cursing type).

Instead, I assumed it was a vengeful former relationship breaking out the altar and making with the incantations. That’s probably incredibly presumptive and short-sighted of me, but when I look back at my life I measure it by the relationships I was in, and the work I was doing.

And for a long time, I wasn’t doing a lot of work. I worked, I did stuff, but I had this habit of looking over at what my friends were doing. They were doing big things, with big names, big money, and big ambitions. It made me feel about four inches tall. It made me feel inferior. I still struggle with a lot of those feelings, on the days when my body doesn’t want to cooperate and I’m asleep on a couch by 2pm because I just can’t keep myself upright.

I had to be cursed, or so I thought, because I was working, admittedly not very regularly or hard, but I wasn’t getting the same rewards as people who were working concurrent to me. Where was my success, I’d ask myself. Why am I not good enough to have enough money to buy things and be famous and be a big deal? What am I not doing that they’re doing?

And the answer was the work. (Hint: The answer is almost always doing to the work.) I wasn’t doing the work.

See, I thought I was cursed because that’s easier than admitting I wasn’t working efficiently, honestly, or productively. It’s easier to blame something outside ourselves than look at what we’re doing and assess our efforts as falling short. No one wants to stew in that marinade of self-defeating applesauce, so we just … don’t look at it. Like the dust bunnies under the bed.

When I say “working efficiently” I mean working in the best manner possible, playing to my strengths and my best understanding of HOW I work. That means writing in the mornings, and meetings with people in the afternoons, because it’s just enough social interaction to take the edge off my fight against loneliness, while also leaving me freed up to put words on pages and things.

When I say “working honestly” I mean working in a way that is accurate to what and how I’m feeling. Even before my heart started to want to kill me, even before I was aware of what I ultimately doing, I spent far too long trying to be like those friends of mine who I imagined swam in McDuck-ian money vaults because they were asked to write book after book, script after script, game after game. I was trying to be them to get their success, and then when it didn’t arrive for me, I spent a lot of time complaining and perpetuating that wish-cycle while looking longingly out the window at the invisible strands of success that wafted by my door like a cartoon dog tracking scents. I wasn’t being honest with myself. Those other people, whomever they might be, they’re not me. They have their own lives, their own issues, their own stories. Me trying to be like them isn’t going to make me have their successes. I have to be me, we all have to be ourselves, and we all have to live out our own stories, using and infusing them into our creativity. We must be honest with ourselves, not so that we can perpetuate some idea that we all suck, but rather that we have a package of skills and talents and feelings worth sharing, unlike everyone else’s.

When I say “working productively” I mean actually working, putting in that time and energy to make stuff. I spend and spent a lot of time hastily writing little piddly bits of text, a few lines at most, then I would say ‘I’ve written today, that’s enough’, just so I could go move on to something else. I’d flit and float through things working in these little chunks where I never really got up to a working speed and never really broke and efforting sweat. And that, dear friends, is some bullshit on a croissant. Think of this – you want to go to the gym to get into better shape. So you get some workout clothes, you find a gym you like, and you walk in. You even get on the treadmill and take a whopping three or four steps on it, before leaving for the day. That’s not working out. That’s not putting in enough effort and energy to help you reach your goal, which is what you have to do if you want that goal as badly as you say you do. For me, that means not just doing the work I have in front of me, but also going out and looking for more work opportunities. It’s not just about a few steps on the treadmill, I gotta get a-runnin’.

If there’s a curse in all this, it’s self-inflicted, and that’s the hardest part to stomach. I brought my lack of success on myself, and I perpetuate it every time I don’t put the time into the work. Success isn’t going to get dropshipped to my door just because I’m in the phone book (are phone books still a thing?), success is the result of effort done mindfully and skillfully, with a subset of that success often being financial gains.

Creativity is more than just a thing you occasionally bump into or catch a snapshot of. We tell ourselves that so we can perpetuate the idea that it’s hard to be creative, or that we’re supposed to struggle, or that we’re not good enough to succeed, etc etc. Creativity is always there, always a surging river, and we’re always able to ride it.

If I can ask you one thing, it’s this: I don’t want you to keep holding yourself back. You don’t have to struggle in order to be a “legit” artist or creative. The “starving” doesn’t make your work better. The idea that you’re not good enough to succeed at making a thing because of who or what or how you are is bullshit.

You’re you, and that’s fucking great.

So let’s be us. You be you, I’ll be me. And let’s make stuff. Let’s not anchor ourselves to the fearful ideas that we have to be this-cool-to-do-the-thing, and let’s put aside the curses and “supposed to”s that we’ve dragged along on this ride so far.

Let’s go make stuff. Make it when it’s tough, make it when it’s scary, make it when you’re scared. Make it when the world seems like it’s 140 characters away from global hellscape. Make it because you have the ability to express yourself. Make it because you deserve to have your voice, your idea, your passion, your created thing, out into the world.

Because you’re you, and that’s fucking great.

 

It’s not just Happy Writing anymore, it’s Happy Creating.  I’ll see you soon. Don’t give up.