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.

Writer Excuse Bingo

Hello, and welcome to your Friday.

I thought we’d play a game today. I remember being in elementary school and enjoying fifth grade where we’d have some sort of ball-tossing game where we sat on top of our desks, and I thought it was the coolest and transgressive thing. No idea what the game involved, something about catching it and saying something positive, but it was a good way to kill the five minutes before the dismissal bell rang. And I do wish we as adults had more opportunities to bring games into our work, even if that work IS gaming.

Part of my job, maybe half of it, comes from the interaction and conversations between the writer and me as an intermediary, either as part of a company’s project, or as a freelancer helping someone prepare a manuscript for whatever it is they want to do with it. There’s a structure and a rhythm to it, the back and forth of ideas being generated, words getting put together and there’s that palpable sense of a writer pushing into new territory. It’s hopeful, it’s encouraging, it’s my favorite part of working with writers.

What I don’t like, what I hate pretty much the same way I hate clowns and stealth mayonnaise (that’s mayo you suddenly discover on your burger even if you know you said ‘No mayo’), are the truckload of excuses writers seem to carry in their pockets next to their business cards. And what I still don’t fathom – a lot of writers are as quick with excuses as they are with their intention or hope to write a new thing.

Yes, full disclosure, I make excuses too. I lose a lot of time to mental illness, I lose a lot of time to other responsibilities. There are days I don’t want to work, just like there are days I’m jazzed to work, but things seem to conspire against me. But that doesn’t make the excuse “okay”. To my mind, that doesn’t speak very highly of your want to do a thing, whether that’s create a book or get a haircut or teach your dog a jig, if you regularly put out an excuse.

And let’s take  a minute to distinguish between legitimate issues and excuses. That time you straight-up broke your hand? Yeah, you’re not in any shape to produce anything. The whole day you lost waiting for jury duty, or tending to sick kids or that time you ate bad mushrooms? Understandable. But really, honest and for true, how many times are you going to trot out the “I don’t wanna” before you have to sit down and evaluate whether or not your heart is actually invested in something?

To that end, I came up with this Bingo Card.

Feel free to make this big enough to be played with shotglasses

Feel free to make this big enough to be played with shotglasses

 

It covers a pretty full (but by no means complete) list of excuses ranging from “You gotta understand…” (No, no I don’t.) to “I’ve just been so busy lately…” (I’m glad you’re active, but you said writing was important to you.)

Do I hate writers? No. I hate excuses. I hate the reasons that get inflated to be firebreaks and the small gaps that grow into canyons that later erode belief in yourself, interest in an idea and the discipline to follow it through. This triangle:

this one

this one

is something we’ll come back to probably next week, because it’s a great tool for recognizing where you think you are on a project, where you actually are, and where you think you’re supposed to be.

So, play some Bingo. Spend some honesty-time chasing down why you make the excuses. Here are some great questions to ask yourself.

  1. Am I afraid of failing at doing this thing?
  2. Am I afraid of succeeding at doing this thing?
  3. Am I afraid I will be ridiculed for doing this thing?
  4. Am I afraid that I will never be successful (based on how I determine success) at doing this thing?
  5. Do I confuse being busy with being productive?
  6. Do I confuse being busy with being successful?
  7. What am I running from by not doing this thing?
  8. Am I making excuses because I’ve got something I don’t want to admit to myself or others?
  9. If I believed in myself more, if I believed myself “good enough” or “smart enough” or “talented” or whatever, would I stop making excuses?
  10. Are other people affected by my excuses? And if so, does that bother me, motivate me to change or reinforce the excuses?
  11. If I did 1% more than I’m doing now (regarding the project), would that be difficult?
  12. Am I making unreasonable demands and expectations on myself by thinking the way I do and/or making excuses?

If these questions get you to think, great. If they get you to try and change your habits, even better. If they start a conversation and that leads to finished work, all the better.

It’s worth pointing out that this stuff isn’t personal. This isn’t where I say a writer has to be a certain gender, age, race, color, size, persuasion, complexion or whatever. This isn’t where I say if you’re making excuses that YOU as a person are a failure or a waste of carbon molecules. This is where I want you to look, I mean really examine, your thinking and your behavior in and around your creative process. YOU aren’t the problem, the excuses are. So nuke them. It’s the only way to be sure.

As to how you nuke excuses? Effort. Doing stuff. Doing stuff without concern for judgment and without the assumption that any response you get will be negative, because you don’t know what the response will be. If you’re dying, just absolutely aching to get that negative response, then it’s simple: keep making the excuses and not creating stuff. Anything you do that isn’t an excuse is an improvement and warrants some sort of response that isn’t all together damning.

Now, go, play Bingo. Nuke excuses. Art, art even though it’s hard, art because it’s hard, art because you have a burning passion to produce something and share it with others.

Have a great weekend, happy writing.

Here’s the link to your own Bingo chart.