Category Archives: Writing

In Which I Want To Be Creative But Don’t Do Creative Things

A few of you have noticed that I haven’t been blogging lately.  Thanks to those that have taken

asleep at the keyboard

When creative slumps attack

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:

  1. Be a better person
  2. Quit my job and starve my family until I hit my stride and strike it rich as a sitcom writer

There!  I made it all the way to the end of a new post!  I shall reward myself with a cookie.

Perfectionism vs Progress

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?

Distractions

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?

Overcoming fear of rejection by communicating desires

No Sale

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.

Speak Up

Speak up and overcome your fear of rejection

Speak up!

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.

Brian and Stormtrooper

Setting goals and living beyond the compliment

“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:

I did it.
OR
I’m doing it.

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?

Brian and Stormtrooper

Overwhelmed? Take small steps and stay focused.

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.

Brian and Stormtrooper

Sitcom writing – What I’m up to

I started roughing out some ideas for sitcoms yesterday.  That felt really good.  I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately for inspiration, and have especially enjoyed the Nerdist Writer’s Panel with Ben Blacker where writers of popular TV Shows (and sometimes websites, magazines, etc.) sit down and talk about the writing and production process.  It’s been very fascinating and inspirational to me.  It takes some of the mystery out of entertainment writing, and reinforces for me that successful writers are real people with the same kinds of fears and frustrations that I have.

Sitcom writing really appeals to me.  It incorporates most of the elements of what I am looking for in a new career, and would be a constant challenge that would keep me fresh.  I’d love to hear from readers who’ve had any experience with broadcast television writing.  Even if you weren’t the writer, have you met or known any?  Maybe worked on a set?  Have you done a pitch or written a spec script?  Maybe you submitted something and got rejected?  I’d love to hear any of those stories.

Oh, and other podcasts that I’ve enjoyed recently, for your listening pleasure:  The Pod F TompkastThe Dead Authors Podcast, The Thrilling Adventure Hour, The Truth, and Comedy Bang Bang.  Enjoy!

Brian and Stormtrooper

Flossing, valleys, and beheading snakes – making the transition to a creative career

One night last week, I flossed my teeth.  And that’s when I knew that things were about to change.  Stick with me, it’ll make sense in a bit.

We all understand about valleys and mountains in life.  Some of us are better at managing our time in the valleys, while others might need reminders that the valley isn’t permanent, and that there are roads that lead to higher ground.  For the last year or two, I’ve been in a bit of a valley.  I’ve known all my life that I’m capable of greatness, but I’ve struggled with the execution, the discipline, the hard work needed to rise up and do something truly great.  I’m most comfortable in the valley, where there’s less chance for failure, and where falling down doesn’t hurt as much, as I’m already pretty close to the ground.  That’s not to say I haven’t had some success, and achieved some level of greatness in many areas in my life.  It’s just that many (maybe most?) of these successes have come fairly easily to me.  I don’t know when it happened, but at some point, I stopped working hard, stopped pursuing excellence, and settled for the mediocre.  It’s a comfortable, yet miserable existence.  I was made for better than this, and I know it.

So, I’m in this valley.  I feel stuck.  I’m 40 as of October 2012, and my résumé seems to indicate that I’m a fairly competent Information Technology professional, though I have no real passion for it.  I’m thankful to be working and providing for my family, but there are many other things I’d rather being doing as a career.  I sort of fell into this track back in the late 90’s, and really enjoyed it for the first several years.  I learned what made computers tick, solved difficult technical problems, and impressed others with my knowledge.  Then, at some point, the honeymoon was over, and I realized that I wanted out.  I wanted a career that made more use of the creative side of my brain before it atrophied.  BUT, I was the sole bread-winner in a family of six, and I didn’t want my wife or kids to worry about food or shelter while I “found myself,” so I stuck it out, tried to make the best of it.  I stayed in the same position at a small liberal arts college in rural Southern Illinois for over 10 years.  I really liked the people there, but grew less and less fond of the work I was doing.

Finally, I decided to take a risk and started looking for a new position in St. Louis (an hour commute each way).  Although I’d resigned myself to continuing on in a technical role, I thought that perhaps a change of scenery would help me.  Of course, it didn’t.  I mean, there were certainly bright spots, like getting to work in the marketing office for an upstart toy company, sharing offices and other resources with Build-A-Bear.  There, I had some great opportunities to exercise the creative side of my brain from time to time:  regular brainstorming sessions, occasional creative writing projects, sitting in on design walk-throughs for virtual world game development, but I was still in a largely technical role.  I worked in two other roles in St. Louis before returning to work for a local company in town as an IT Manager.

This valley is made up of more than just career woes.  I start things and don’t finish them.  I had an amazing opportunity to do some writing for a travel website this summer.  I wrote a couple of articles, and had 2-3 more assignments to go before I just stopped.  I got scared of failure or something, and just stopped responding to the editor.  I leave projects untouched all over our house.  Simple stuff, like changing out a light fixture in the bathroom to slightly bigger projects like leaving a hallway half painted for two years.  I get overwhelmed, and rather than do just a little something to attack a problem, I give in to fear or apathy, and find the path of least resistance.

Back to flossing.  I was standing in front of the mirror, evaluating myself.  What had I become?  Would I always be like this?  Was escape from the mundane even possible for me?  Did I deserve to ask such questions?  Shouldn’t I just be content with what I have and stop complaining?  I mean, there are plenty of people around me who are struggling to find ANY kind gainful employment, and I’m whining about some perceived lack of pleasure for eight hours of my blessed life.  I concluded that I could at least try to change direction.  I could chose to work hard.  I could take baby steps.  I could stop giving up and conceding.  I could begin to crawl out of this valley of OH MY GOSH IT’S PROBABLY BEEN A YEAR SINCE I FLOSSED MY TEETH WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU BRIAN!!!

So, I flossed.  It was something.  It was a small step, yes, but I felt like Neville Longbottom flying through the air and slashing the head off Voldemort’s snake.  Plaque and apathy be damned, I’m climbing back up out of this stupid valley.