Come for the adorable monkey puppet. Stay for the vehicular homicide cover-up.
Come for the adorable monkey puppet. Stay for the vehicular homicide cover-up.
Well, I’ve been writing . . . rap lyrics. This is the culmination of a month or so of collaborating with my writing partner. We’re working on more stuff, so this is just a start. We’ll publish under the name “Very Good Listeners,” so keep an eye out for that. It was a fun process – the back and forth edits, giving each other notes, recording the audio (we have some work to do on that), and filming / editing the video.
Without further ado, our xmas cookie rap video, “Brodazzle”
A few of you have noticed that I haven’t been blogging lately. Thanks to those that have taken
the time to say something. I’m encouraged, knowing that I have some sort of audience. It’s not that I don’t want to be creative, it’s just all of the hard work of DOING creative that gets in the way.
I guess you could say I’m in a bit of a creative slump. I relate to Dan Harmon, creator of the sitcom “Community,” who recently blogged about the need for an outside stressor to motivate him in his creative writing pursuits: ” . . . if nobody’s waiting to hear from you, why say anything, if you’re not saying anything, nobody’s listening, slipping you deeper and deeper into a creative coma.”
Dear reader, please don’t think I’m calling you “nobody” or dismissing you as not worth writing for. It’s just that you don’t give me a paycheck. You don’t fire me if I let a deadline slip a few days or months. I’ve made myself the promise that “I’ll write a little something every day” countless times, but it’s just not working. I always peter out. Even though I dream of one day quitting my day job to write funny stuff professionally, I apparently don’t have enough internal motivation to take the small steps necessary to make that happen.
Interestingly, in some areas of my life, I have incredible willpower, and can just pull myself up by my bootstraps and make big changes without requiring external pressure. Eating, for instance. I’ve let myself go a few times, and have put on 20-30 extra pounds. When I decide it’s time, I can instantly start eating better and shed the pounds at will. I can resist desserts and high calorie temptations on my own without any special diet or food overlord. Why don’t I have this kind of self-control when I comes to creative pursuits?
So, writers and creatives, I could use your input here. What keeps you in the game? What tricks have you learned to keep you on task? So far the only ideas I’ve got are:
There! I made it all the way to the end of a new post! I shall reward myself with a cookie.
I’m not a big fan of requests to support your local business/band/artist/whatever. That’s not to say I DON’T support these entities. I just don’t care for marketing strategies that employ “support your local” pleas. There should be a reason besides proximity that compels my support. What do you have to offer that is excellent? If you can’t compete on price, is there something else you provide that will earn my loyalty? Better service? A stream of new and exciting material to engage your fan base?
Are you striving for excellence in your craft?
The mom and pop tire shop down the street gets my business even though their prices are a few dollars higher than Wal-Mart. The owner treats customers fairly, pumps up my kids’ bike tires with a smile, and doesn’t make me feel stupid when I forget to have my tires rotated. I get my coffee beans from the local coffee shop because their beans are more freshly roasted than the Starbuck’s from the grocery store and they don’t cost any more. I listen to a friend’s local radio show because he just runs an excellent show. He introduces fans to new music and provides interesting backstories many of the artists and songs.
Similarly, if you have aspirations to do something bigger and better than your current gig, start being excellent now. Don’t wait until you’ve “arrived” to bring your best to the table. Even if you’re bagging groceries or flipping burgers, there is room to go beyond what is required and do excellent work. Give people a reason to appreciate your work beyond sentimentality.
I have a tendency to guard myself against failure by taking protective measures. I over-prepare for new tasks. When my son asked me to paint his bike, I spent two days googling “how to paint a bike,” pored over every article, developed opinions on competing methods, and read reviews of different brands of spray paint before I had even picked up a piece of sandpaper. And in the end, the bike looked about as good as every other dad-who-doesn’t-know-what-he’s-doing paint job. This self-protective tendency stems from perfectionism. My desire to know all the variables, plan every detail, and avoid bumps in the road often keeps me from making any progress.
So, recently, I’ve been taking small steps toward my goals, even though I can’t see the complete path. Last weekend I took my very first improv comedy class at the St. Louis Comedy Connection. It’s one piece of the puzzle in my goal to create Brian 2.0. There was nothing particularly revolutionary or life changing in the content of the class, but it was ACTION. I wasn’t just watching youtube clips, listening to podcasts, reading comedy books, or researching improv – I was actually doing it. We learned about the about the concept of “Yes. And . . . ” where we force ourselves to agree with our scene partners and build on each other’s choices, rather than forcing our pre-conceived notions of where the scene should go. I need more improvisation in more aspects of my life: Taking more risks, learning from mistakes, facing my fears, acting before the plan is complete, and pushing through the terrifying moments.
I’ve also begun working on a sitcom pilot idea with my writing partner. It’s something neither of us have done before, but we’re sticking our necks out there and learning as we go. We don’t have hours and hours each day to dedicate to it, so our brainstorming and writing times are done in really short bursts. Again, though, it’s action, and it feels great. Our current goal is to have a script done in time for a sitcom pilot script contest, which is helping us stay focused and pace ourselves accordingly. We’re probably making a lot of mistakes, and our writing times aren’t very efficient, but we are making progress and learning.
What are you putting off for fear of failure? Is the desire for perfection keeping you from progress?
One of my favorite author-bloggers, Kelly Barnhill recently wrote a great post about the antics of her son and his friends entitled If those boys would stand still for five minutes, they’d write a damn good novel. Based on their conversations, I think I’d get along handsomely with these young men: “Okay, fine. We all speak fluent Wolf.” “Toe jam is just the nice way of saying toe poop. No one likes to believe that their toes can poop, but they do all the time.“ “We have to stop Dr. Nimblenuts and his atomic EXPLODING ANTS!” If I could only capture that kind of wild creativity in my own writing!
But it wasn’t so much the boys’ dialogue that struck me as much as Kelly’s summary question, “What’s distracting you from your writing today?” My answer came quickly, as I’ve been in a distractible state lately. Like Kelly, I have been enjoying the distractions, so I’m reluctant to move on and do the work that I know I need to do. I have the goal of writing a sample sitcom script, and I’ve been “researching.” I’ve read how-to books and articles, watched (too?) many sitcom episodes for inspiration, listened to several hours of Ben Blacker’s Nerdist Writers Panel podcast, downloaded script writing software, read scripts from Community, 30 Rock, and Parks and Recreation – everything but write my own sitcom script. All of these activities are important and justifiable, but they’re all ancillary, and it’s time for me to buck up, face my fears, and start writing that script!
I’ll close with the same question Kelly asked, but slightly broader. What’s distracting you from your goals today? What excuses are you making to yourself? Are you stuck in preparation mode, afraid to take the next steps?
When living in Detroit in the mid-nineties, we had a very strange experience with a door-to-door salesman. We opened the door, and there stood a VERY enthusiastic young man with a bottle of citrus spray cleaner and a rag. He animatedly (including some dance moves) jumped into his presentation: “I have this amazing new cleaner that will clean anything! Let me show you!” He proceeded to spray and wipe dirty surfaces within arm’s reach – our front door, a window, the corroded metal hand railing, and even my shoes. He showed us that his cleaner was non-toxic by spraying some in his mouth. He interjected his pitch with plenty of finger snaps, winks, high fives, and entertaining gimmickry. And you know what? The stuff worked! We probably would have bought a bottle, but when it came time to wrap up his pitch, he just smiled wide and said “Well, thanks for your time! Have a nice day!” He never asked for the sale! He just danced his way to the next house on the block, fingers snapping to the tune in his head.
We stood there, semi-stunned, wondering if we had narrowly escaped a porch mugging. More than likely, though, despite his confident exterior, he just lacked the nerve to commit and ask for the sale. Maybe he was afraid of rejection. Maybe he wanted us to beg him to come back. I don’t know. He didn’t follow through, and he lost the sale.
I still struggle with communicating my desires. I assume the people around me, especially those closest to me, will be able to read my mind, or know me well enough to know what I want without me having to actually say it. I’m often afraid that speaking my mind will lead to rejection, humiliation, or some form of demotion. This mentality can lead to some really damaging thoughts: “Nobody understands me. Things will never change. I’m stuck in this situation, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ll just mope about until the skies part and drop opportunity in my lap.” Like the spray cleaner salesman, I dance around and hint about my inner desires, but rarely truly express them in a way that lets people know I’m serious about making a change.
Are you keeping your desires and passions squashed down deep inside? Is the “real you” ready to burst out, but only if the right moment presents itself? If you’re serious about changing your circumstances, get serious about saying so. Don’t let your fear of rejection keep you from speaking up.
“Nice job!” “I like what you said.” “That was really entertaining.” “You’re really good at that.” Compliments are great. They can help motivate us as we move toward our goals, but they can also be stumbling blocks if we let them.
Picture a runner who has a goal of running a 4 minute mile. He trains every day, pushing himself a little bit further every time he goes for a run. He consistently wins every race, but that’s not his goal. His goal is the 4 minute mile. After one particularly great race, in which he sets a personal best of 4:10, and the fans go crazy: “That was amazing!” His coach adds “Best running I’ve ever seen.” Even his parents chime in: “We’re so proud of you! Way to go!” At this point, the runner can react in two ways:
It’s especially easy for people engaged in creative pursuits to settle for the “I did it” when we receive compliments. Even in writing this little blog, I’m tempted to relax and take my eyes of the goal when people tell me “I like your blog,” or “That post described exactly how I feel, too,” or “You’re a great writer.” Picture me with hands behind my head, elbows out, leaning back in a leather executive chair with a stupid-wide grin plastered on my face. (Deep sigh) . . . “Yep, I’ve arrived. My complimenters speak the truth.”
But we must press on, or the little milestones mean nothing. The Sirens’ complimentary song is beautiful and tempting, providing temporary comfort, but it is death to our goals. Instead, we must take the compliments in stride, and keep at it until we’ve reached our destination. And once we’ve done so, then we must set new goals or risk stagnation.
How about you? What do you do with compliments? Are you able to use them to motivate you toward your goals, or have they become a stumbling block to you?
I’m choosing to push through my tendency to be overwhelmed by big things. I’m choosing to take baby steps. Today, I read an article on making SEO improvements on my WordPress blog. I collected 10 more jokes to add to my list of 50 for an exercise from a comedy writing book. It’s taken me over a week to make that list, but I didn’t let that discourage me. I just proceeded with the task in small bites until it was done. And right now, I’m keeping a promise to myself to post at least one blog entry a day this week, and I’m doing it with only 40 minutes left in the day. These daily little tasks are keeping me focused. I’m less and less overwhelmed every time I take just five minutes to work toward my goal of transitioning into a new career.
So what steps have you taken today? What little things have you done to work toward whatever big goal that looms overhead? Do something. Anything. Is your house a disaster and you can’t see a way out of it? Go put 10 things away. Is there a project at work that terrifies you? Dive in, take a break, then dive in again. Need to talk to your teenager, but you’re scared about how they’ll react? Talk with them about something they love first, then slowly work your way into the deeper stuff. You don’t have to have everything figured out before you take action. Stop making excuses to yourself and act.
This is my biggest question right now regarding changing careers: How do I transition from a good paying secure job where I have marketable expertise into a totally new career field and still make ends meet? I know that there are success stories out there, and I’d like to hear more of them. I have 4 kids still at home, one preparing for college, and I’m the sole bread winner in the family. There’s not a lot of wiggle room for me to take any kind of financial hit while shifting into a new career. For now, I’m taking baby steps, like writing this blog, brainstorming creative ideas on the side, reading a lot from experts in fields that I’m interested in, which is probably the path on which I need to continue.
I’d love some feedback here. Do you have success/failure stories about making a really big transition? What helped? What didn’t? Who were your influences? What kind of support network did you have?