Tag 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.

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?

Brian and Stormtrooper

To resume, or not to resume? Sell your talent

I stumbled across a couple of really good blog posts about selling your talent recently.  The first post comes from People and Chairs, a great improv comedy blog.  In their post How To Write a Kickass Performer Bio, they talk about how to make a resume/bio stand out from the crowd by including humor and personality in well written sentences, rather than just listing a bunch of stuff you’ve done.  While this post was written specifically for performers, the concept applies to just about any resume or piece of writing that sums up your life’s work and career goals.

The second post was a link at the bottom of the first post, and is even more radical than the first post.  In his post Why Bother Having a Resume, Seth Godin talks about being awesome enough in your work to eschew the resume altogether.  In other words, if you’re really all that, you should be able to prove it your work RIGHT NOW, not just list what you’ve done in the past.  Without a resume, you can show your worth with extraordinary letters of recommendation, well written blogs, or actual physical finished projects. I read this post, and I was like “Yeah!  That’s who I want to be!”  With my own professional resume, I’ve often worried that the employer might think I’m bluffing with my impressive list of expertise.  Worse yet, what if I actually AM bluffing?

I think I’ll combine both of these approaches and start with a more personal prose-based bio, with the goal of becoming resume-free down the road.

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

Career Ideas and Next Steps

I’ve established that I’m no longer content with an Information Technology career.  I suppose it’s possible that a shift in attitude, maybe some utopian working environment, or being surrounded by the right people might change my mind, but I’m fairly certain my next “thing” will be in a completely different field.  So, if not IT, then what?  Here are some possibile career ideas I’m considering.  I haven’t landed on anything yet – just have some ideas floating around in my head.  Forgive me if the categories aren’t consistent.  I’m just brainstorming here.

Oh, and before I get to the list, there’s another big factor I sometimes forget about:  people and relationships.  I need to have both in order to thrive.  I can only work so long in isolation.  I sometimes dream of creative careers that are largely void of human interaction like writing novels in some picturesque hideaway in the woods, but I know I wouldn’t last long in such conditions.  I burn out quickly when I’m shut off from people.  If I’m writing something or brainstorming new ideas, I usually try to find a public place like a coffee shop, just so I can have an occasional conversation between stints of heavy concentration.  This paragraph is really more for my own good, so that when I go back and re-read this, I’ll remember this about me.  So, with this out of the way, here are some new paths I’m considering.

Writing

I do enjoy writing, but could I really make a career out of it?  Do I have the dedication necessary to become one of the successful ones?  I think whatever I do for my next gig, writing will definitely be part of it – either professionally, or as an outlet.  I’ve read about people that are able to make very decent livings from blogging.  I love the idea of the freedom that would come with such a career:  working whenever and wherever I want, being my own boss, maybe traveling with my family while I work, but I do realize that these success stories take time, and only a very small percentage of bloggers ever get to this point.  I know it’s possible, and that’s exciting to me.  Getting there would be tough, but I’m fairly certain I could do it if I put my mind to it.  I might also consider copywriting, depending on the situation.  I’d LOVE to write comedy sketches or sitcom material for a living – I’ll talk more about that, below.  A friend recently suggested writing screenplays.  That’d be a hoot, but I know that market’s super saturated and I don’t think I know the right people yet.

Social Media / Marketing / Advertising

I think I’ve got the right combination of creative and analytical skills to fit somewhere into this. Social media work seems like a really natural fit, as I enjoy the fluid conversations that this advertising medium elicits, and the near-instant measurable results from social media efforts can be very rewarding.  Ideally, if I were to work in this field, I’d love to work as an independent consultant, managing the social media marketing efforts of several small to mid-sized companies.  Again, I don’t have much on my résumé that indicates that I’m qualified to do such work, but I know I have the aptitude.

Humor

Like writing, I want to utilize my sense of humor in any new direction I take.  And by that, I don’t just mean to maintain a sense of humor alongside of my work. I want to make humor a central characteristic of the work I do.  I love making people smile, helping them lift their eyes up out the muck of the hardness of life, bringing levity to otherwise tough situations.  It’s not just a childish game to play on the side.  Laughter is a reflection of the joy for which we were all created.  It eases tensions, breaks down communication barriers, and can help in the process of restoring relationships.  Humor is a part of who we were meant to be, and I take great pleasure in reminding people of this.

I’m currently involved in some comedy sketch writing with a friend, which has been very rewarding.  I dream of being on the writing staff of SNL, Conan O’Brien, or possibly a sitcom.  I don’t know that this is realistic to do with a family, but I think I would be good in that kind of role.  I’m also planning on taking some improv classes in the next month or two.  I’m not sure where that will lead, but I expect it will at the very least help increase my confidence, inspire any writing I do, and encourage me to take more risks in everyday life.  Comedy is just part of who I am.  I’m just now beginning to embrace this and explore possible outcomes, and I’m very excited about the possibilities.

Professional Brainstormer

Can one make a career out of brainstorming?  Because I love to brainstorm.  Is there such a thing as a professional idea-comer-upper?  I think I could do that.  My mind is always “outside of the box.”  Lock me in a room with a group of co-workers, task us with nothing more than listing a bunch of great ideas for eight hours, and I’m a happy man. Does this job exist?

Acting

I’m keeping this one in my back pocket as something I think I could do, but don’t really have much experience with it.  I’m hoping to explore some of my potential here as I take the improv classes.  Maybe voice acting, occasional commercials, or something like that.  Honestly, I’m not sure I have what it takes to act professionally, but it interests me, so I list it here.

Music

I’ve flirted with music as a career since college, but I’ve never put in the time to make a serious go at it.  I play drums in a couple of bands, and have just enough skills to not embarrass myself while singing at the local acoustic coffee house open mic night.  Perhaps something in concert promotion, band management, or even songwriting could work.  I have a feeling that making my musical hobby a career could suck the fun out of it, but I do still think about the possibilities.

I have several more ideas of some possible next steps.  These are just what’s sticking out to me right now as I write.  My biggest concern right now is figuring out how to make a transition.  I’ve waited for years for something to just fall in my lap, and I think I’m now ready to take some proactive steps to make something happen.  I’m just not sure what those steps are.

I’d love to get some feedback from others who’ve successfully made the transition into a new career.  What’d it take for you?  Who or what motivated you to stick with it?  Or maybe you tried and failed – I’d love to hear those stories, too.  What did you learn?  What would you do differently next time?  I’m especially interested in hearing from people with families.  I know, for instance, many people are able to somehow take time off of full-time work and go back to school while raising a family.  How the heck is that even possible?

I really do hope that writing out my thoughts here is helpful to others.  Maybe my words will encourage you to get off your duff and take some first steps.  Maybe you’ll just take comfort knowing that someone else is going through what you’re going through.

Thanks for reading.  Please leave a comment, below.

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.