Tag Archives: creativity

Wherein Cereal Makes Me A Better Writer

Image by kasiya @ Flickr

Image by kasiya

I just had a funny thought: “I really want a bowl of cereal.  Surely some Lucky Charms will make me a better writer.”

Mostly, I think my brain is craving cereal.  And yet.

When I was a kid, I held the unshakeable belief that a pair of new shoes made me run faster, jump higher, and altogether much cooler.  As if, during the manufacturing process, they put some kind of mojo in between the layers of leather and rubber.  Or perhaps some fairy godmother or wizard on loan from fantasy epics blessed each pair as they rolled by on the conveyor.  Heck, I don’t even know that I had a reason why it was so.  It just was.  Unquestioned.  Pure, iron-clad, unshakeable kid-logic truth.  And when I laced those suckers up–or tightened up the velcro straps (yeah, I was that cool)–the world knew to watch out.

As we age, we lose the strength of our convictions, invariably replacing ours with those on loan from people who feel they know better than us.  Since when is it unnecessary or uncool to believe in ourselves?  Marketing, too, is driven by this idea: use their product, and we’ll be better/sexier/whatever. And, oftentimes, the marketing and products work.  We feel better/sexier/whatever.  But the magic isn’t in whatever doodad they’ve sold us: the magic is in belief.  And so if we can separate belief from money, and remind ourselves that the latter does not beget or validate the former, then we can recapture some of that kid-logic.  Putting on a lucky shirt, a flattering pair of pants, morning affirmations in front of the mirror, and other daily rituals tap into whatever shreds of our childhood remain.

If we believe something enough, does it become true?

When it comes to things like science and politics, absolutely not (despite what various organizations say).

But in the realm of the internal?  For sure.

Internally, belief is a fuel to create all kinds of realities.  It freezes ambiguous intentions into the solid form of truth and helps you figure out what the heck you want.  In the landscape of the mind, if you believe it, writing enough stories will make you successful, that new haircut does make you look better, five minutes a day spent in reflection does make you a better person, cereal does make me a better writer, and new shoes do make the young version of myself run faster.

Quote on Boldness and Actually Starting Something

“Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
‘Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.'”

W. H. Murray. The Scottish Himalayan Expedition. J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, London 1951.

A Subtle Difference In the Way I Write Story Notes

I think I’ve identified which story I’ll be writing next, and have begun fleshing out my notes.  This process allows me to see just how much of the narrative I have figured out and areas that need work.  It was in this process, where I’m still working out who wants what, does what, why, and so forth, that I made an interesting discovery:  everything was couched in terms of “perhaps” and “maybe.”

To my horror (if only my horror had been more horror-like), I saw that I tend to do that fairly often.  Then I deleted all those possiblies, maybes and perhapses, and you know what?  The planning took on a much stronger feel.  It also made me analyze what I’d come up with to determine whether or not it’s any good or if I can do better.  Those “maybes” allow something to sit there on the page, in limbo, neither accepted nor rejected, and so I can never work with the indefinite.  By deleting them and saying, “by golly, this is the way it is,” I’m left to either accept it–and build on it–or come up with something better to replace it.

Writing is a humbling endeavor.  Three books written and I’m still learning all sorts of things.

Pay Yourself First

There’s a very common rule in personal finance that says: Pay Yourself First.  It applies in equal measure to goals.

The thinking behind it, financially speaking, is that we can’t waste what we don’t have.  When we pay ourselves first, we set aside our savings before we pay any other bills or spend any money.  It’s priority.  Then we pay bills.  And if, after paying ourselves first, we don’t have enough money for your bills?  Then we have to work harder to ensure we can (and double check our spending habits).  That simple. We’ll usually work harder to pay bills than we ever would to set extra money aside.

When people wait and pay themselves last, they often don’t end up saving at all because there’s nothing left for the last person in line. Do it first, and succeed. Do it last, and fail.

In many interviews with successful writers, buried within talk of their inspirations and so forth will be some variation on a theme of “I got up early every morning and wrote ten pages”  or “The first thing I did when I came home from work was shut the office door and write 2000 words.”  It varies, but usually it’s there.

They paid themselves first.

For a while, I woke up around 5 in the morning so that I could get my work done before arriving at the office at 9.  I felt that my writing was the most important thing to me, and so I would give it the first hours of the day, before the daily routine sapped my brain power and energy.  I paid myself first, and it worked out.  I might have been tired when I came home, but it was a satisfied, content kind of tired, because I knew I’d already accomplished something that day and there was zero guilt involved in frittering away my evening hours via lazy entertainment.  I’ve since gotten off that cycle and need to return to it (a case of “practice what I preach,” for sure.)

There are ways to apply this to any goal.  Want to learn a foreign language? Go over your materials and practice while drinking your morning coffee.  Starting a new business venture?  Do your research before your day job, or block out inviolate evening time before dinner or after-dinner movies to ensure that you’ll do it.  It’s not even so much the time of day wherein your effort occurs as it is your attitude that’s important.

So many goals start with “One Day…” and stay there.

You’ll never find time.  Extra time does not come knocking at the door.  You make time*.

* Or kidnap it off the street, transport it via unmarked van to your residence, and then drag it in to your office… but the former is usually easier and raises less suspicion with authorities and neighbors

Be Ruthless In Pursuing Your Goals

When it comes to accomplishments, life seems to work against us.  Obstacles will always pop up in our way. Even more so when there are no deadlines and the desire is solely internal, like often happens with creative work.  It’s easy to let it slip another day, another day, and another day.

You must be ruthless in pursuing your goals.  This means two things.

  1. You will have to push past the laziness, the “meh,” the “I already worked 8 hours today and made dinner, what more do you want?”, the “I’ll start tomorrow,” and all the other excuses that will come up when it comes time to get to work.  This is pretty common stuff here.  Stuff that most “x help,” where x is whatever activity you’re trying to do, will talk about and help you beat.
  2. You will have to make sacrifices–and only you can deem what is an acceptable sacrifice and what isn’t.  This could mean cutting your TV time.  Or it could mean not going out with friends.  Or not taking on another commitment during the week.  It’s easy for us to get too involved in too many things and then find that we have no time for ourselves.  To yoink a phrase from Stephen King (with apologies), commitments are like dandelions: if you don’t keep them under control, you’ll soon find your lawn covered in them.  Note that the sacrifices could also be your other projects (see my post, “Murder Your Darlings“).

The hardest part of number 2 is the ability to say “no.”  I don’t enjoy telling friends that I can’t make it on a particular night or have to drop my commitment. But I have to be ruthless in ensuring I have the time necessary to get my work done.

“Isn’t that pretty self-centric?” some might ask.  To which I say: “Absolutely.”  You have to be.  The world will take whatever you give it and ask for more unless you put the brakes on.  Just like we don’t give away all our money so that we can pay rent/mortgage and so forth, don’t give away all your time.  Keep some for yourself and don’t feel guilty about it.

Life will encroach and the excuses will let it.  Stomp out the distractions without pity.  This is even more important at the beginning of any habit/process.  Later on, it’s easier to ease up a bit, but always be on the lookout for those stray commitments that pop up.  Don’t automatically say “yes” to them.

Be ruthless, and you’ll find that your goals are closer than you think.