Let’s Confer

In between putting out work fires, I’ve been attending a conference all day. They’re a good opportunity to catch up on the latest technologies, network with other professionals, and most importantly, pick up all that vendor swag (all right! another novelty USB flash drive!)

An event like this also reminds me to throw off the chains of the tyrannical computer screen and participate. Observe everything around me. After all, being a writer isn’t just about pressing keys or scribbling symbols.

-Phillip

* Image courtesy of freegreatpicture.com

Are You a Unicorn?

I’m a unicorn. I say this to people all the time. I am a total unicorn—you wouldn’t know I existed unless you saw me, that’s really the deal.

 

Crews, Terry. “Terry Crews on Doomfist, Battlefield 1 with Snoop Dogg, and building high-end PCs” Interview by Joe Donnelly. PC Gamer

Between acting professionally and running a fashion and furniture design company, staying in shape and bonding with his son over computer games, you can’t say Terry Crews isn’t ambitious.

I don’t know where he finds these hidden slivers of time in the day. Actually, I do know where he finds the time. He decides what’s important and makes the time. But that’s a bit of a side-trip from my main point here.

When Terry talks about being a unicorn, he’s acknowledging his diverse hobbies and influences. I can only imagine how much this gumbo of sensations and experiences contribute to each area of interest. With his planter filled with so many different seeds, they can’t help but cross-pollinate and bloom new and exciting things.

That’s something I try to take into account with my life. Whenever I feel myself growing comfortable and resistant to something new, that’s a pretty loud signal I need to indulge in new knowledge. Something completely outside of my wheelhouse.

My goal is to become the most magicalest, rainbowiest unicorn there is!


* Terry Crews image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Categories: Me

Tell Your Fears to Go Eat Mud. Play BTFI.

Has the increased level of attention in the years since the show came on made you feel like more of a perfectionist in your writing? Is it more challenging to write now?

 

Yes! And that doesn’t necessarily just revolve around the show. Although the show may, indeed, be part of it. The books have been enormously successful. I think I’m now in 47 languages, which is pretty astonishing. My earlier work was always translated but, boy I’m being translated now into languages I’ve never heard of, in every corner of the globe. The books have been nominated for many major awards and they get prominent reviews. That’s great, but it also brings with it a certain pressure. Instead of just writing a story, there’s this little guy in the back of my mind saying: “No, it has to be great! It has to be great! You’re writing one of the great fantasies of all time! Is that sentence great? Is this decision great?” When I started in 1991, I was just trying to write the best story I could. I didn’t think this will be a landmark thing for all time. The fact that this has gotten all this favorable attention and praise, wonderful reviews, award nominations, it does increase the pressure to do it again.

 

Martin, George R. R. “George R. R. Martin on the One Game of Thrones Change He ‘Argued Against’.” Interview by Daniel D’Addario. Time Magazine Online

*cue Queen song*

As I painfully typed my first few minutes of fiction this morning, I thought of poor George. I know, I know. Who has any pity left for a man sitting atop a mountain of cash built on a multimillion-dollar brand?

But for just a moment, try to imagine the pressure he talks about here. I feel a weight every time I begin writing, hoping that I get things right. If I had George’s level of obligations to an already tempestuous fan base, I’m pretty sure I’d crack right in half. Literally. Somehow defying everything we know about reality, my body was just split in two.

This brought me two very conflicting thoughts: Why am I working so hard to create something that would exponentially increase the pressure on my writing? And the much more logical second thought; Wow, you really think you’re going to create something as wildly successful as George? Better go back and read that post on humility and hubris

I realized I carry on because the possibility of making a living while doing what I love really exists. It’s tangible. People do it every day. They all got there in different ways, but I’ll tell you one thing they didn’t do — stop writing.

If George were to ask me for advice, because, you know, he’s always seeking advice from writers still seeking a clue, I’d tell him to start practicing what Benjamin and Rosamund Zander refer to as “playing BTFI (Beyond The F*** It).”

“…our universe is alive with sparks. We have at our fingertips an infinite capacity’ to light a spark of possibility’. Passion, rather than fear, is the igniting force. Abundance, rather than scarcity, is the context.

 

The Art of Possibility by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander,

Maybe my advice is just what he needs. The best advice, I’ve found, comes from those removed from our situation and limited viewpoint. From those who are able to see things with a more objective eye.

BTFI doesn’t come easy, but as I work on practicing it every day, I find it kicks in after a few minutes of writing. And when I look back at the words I’ve written, I realize that they’re not half as bad as I thought they would be, because I told all of those expectations, all of those imaginary, lingering faces of disapproval, to go eat mud.

-Phillip

*Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

Perception and the Manster Wheel

“…perception is what drives human behavior. We behave based on how we perceive things—not based on how things really “are.”

– Steve Chandler, Time Warrior

1 = 20.

Sometimes.

As I was running on the treadmill this morning, it struck me that unless the odometer is broken, one mile always feels like twenty. I’m constantly looking down, watching the accumulated distance increase slowly by 1/100th of a mile, trying desperately not to mix sweat with tears.

When I use the manster (man + hamster) wheel, it’s on my gym days when the treadmill is more convenient to knock off a quick mile run at the end of my weights routine. The other days when I’m just running, I prefer to do so beneath the hazy streetlights of predawn.

It’s during those outdoor excursions that I’m surprised every time my phone tells me I’ve hit one mile.

“Wow, already?”

So what’s the deal? I’m doing the same amount of work here. In fact, I typically run flat at the gym but I hit several inclines along the sidewalk path.

It seems apparent that I’m not working with reality here, but with how I perceive it.

It’s an hour in the dentist’s office vs. an hour of good conversation with friends.

It’s a Monday vs. a Sunday.

It’s abstruse, polysyllabic, figure-of-speech comparisons of one thing to another vs. pithy similes.

I’m not claiming this to be some brilliant insight, but I find it helpful to remind myself that in the end, I have some level of control over how I process these inputs. Sometimes it’s easy to change your perception, but I would say that most of the time, it’s very difficult and requires work.

When I sit down to write, it’s usually after several minutes of hand-wringing and yelling at myself to just get started (only in my head — don’t need another concerned-neighbors-calling-the-cops incident).

The writing always starts slowly. A word here. A deletion there. A peek at my watch.

“It’s only been a minute!?”

But then I remind myself to just keep putting down words and at some indeterminable point in time, I catch something — A glimmer of a thought. What might be tracks, but I need to follow them to be certain.

Before I know it, my 25-minute timer beeps loudly (Pomodoro technique is brilliant). I quickly shut it up and continue my train of thought before I take a break.

Again, the world’s not spinning faster and physics hasn’t been turned on its head.

It’s perception.

My advice for you today: Get off the manster wheel and hit the trails.

-Phillip

This Is Where It’s At

You can get with this, or you can get with that.
You can get with this, or you can get with that.
You can get with this, or you can get with that.

I think you’ll get with this, for this is where it’s at.

 

The Choice is Yours by Black Sheep

You ever experience those times where you have everything planned out and your finger is on the button, then someone pulls a Joker from the deck and changes everything?

Yesterday morning, my mind was clear and the workweek was coming to a comfortable close. I finally wrapped up a months-long study of novel structure and was ready to get back to writing my own stuff. I’ve been feeling more confident, more excited than ever to start putting everything I’ve learned to work.

Then I find out we have a leaky air conditioner which has caused some major water damage to our downstairs flooring. On the bright side, we’re renters. On the not-so-bright-side, we do live in the house and that means we now have to deal with the headache of scheduling contractors and insurance folk, figuring out the living situation in case we have to move into a hotel for a week, what are we going to do with the cat, oh boy this month is not bearing out as expected, just hand me the cyanide pills, blah.

Alright, it’s not that bad. But it’s enough to get my mind thinking about too many things when I had spent the week cleaning it out for story work.

But I woke up this morning, hit the gym to force myself to focus on something physical, came home and brewed the coffee, and sat down with my laptop. I set the timer on my Timex for twenty-five minutes, and got to work. The first couple of minutes were spent in monkey-mind mode. Then came the flow. Pure flow.

Before I knew it, the timer went off and I smiled at the output on the screen. I stretched my legs a bit and prepared for another sprint.

I had made a choice.

I could get with this, or I could get with that.

I chose this.

Because this is where it’s at.

-Phillip

Busy Being Busy

It’s hard to find anything to say about life without immersing yourself in the world, but it’s also just about impossible to figure out what it might be, or how best to say it, without getting the hell out of it again. – Kreider, Tim (2012, June 30). The ‘Busy’ Trap. The New York Times.

Last night, I spent thirty minutes trying to get through three paragraphs of a National Geographic piece on the hardships of widows in the world. I was tired. Emails buzzed my work phone every five minutes. Angus was prying at my fingers so that I would come and play cars.

Of course, he then started bugging mom who was trying to get some cross-stitching done for a friend’s birthday present and had been dealing with him all day while I’d been in the office (dealing with children of a different sort). I reluctantly put down the magazine, hid my phone, and as tired as I was, fully engaged myself with Angus and his cars.

The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.

As I wrapped a flexible, rubber Mr. Bean action figure around the top of a toy ambulance and pushed him toward Angus Hospital, my brain began to boil over. Potential characters, settings, and plots based on those three paragraphs I’d read popped out faster than I could grab my phone and record them.H

Of course Angus protested while I furiously tapped out the thoughts, but then I put down my phone and made sure Mr. Bean’s pal, the six-inch rubber iguana, made it to surgery on time.

I was reminded that disconnecting is precious. Not just to create good memories me and my son, as in this instance, but for being creative. The National Geographic magazine isn’t going anywhere. I won’t receive my walking papers the next morning because I failed to read a work email after business hours. As for being tired? I’m pretty sure that’s a synonym for parenting.

-Phillip

Struggling to Give Good Things Power

“Suffering is sometimes cleansing,” said the man. His clothes were casual, but expensive. “It can purify.”

 

“It can also fuck you up,” said Shadow.

 

– Neil Gaiman, American Gods

I love it when the brain takes two completely different sources of input and creates something new.

I just wrapped up my initial round of studying Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (one of five novels I’ve decided to really break down and hopefully gain insight as to why it resonated with me and other people, and also why it didn’t resonate with some). I’ll try not to spoil anything, but the central concept is that things only hold great power if we believe in them. I’ll leave the universal truth of this up to theologians and philosophers, but the idea is a simple one and I believe it to be true on at least some level. I’ve seen thoughts have a large influence on actions, both with myself and with others. The whole movement behind “positive thinking” is testament to this creed.

But as useful as positive thinking can be, that’s only one part of the equation. Next comes the action.

“My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” – 1 John 3:18, Holy Bible (King James Version)

Joe Rogan and Jocko Willink believe struggle is an imperative of mankind. Without it, we’re never truly human.

It’s so easy to give power to the bad things these days. How do we ensure that the things we become don’t harm us or others?

How do we give good things power?

Is a person you know suffering with depression or grieving? We’re so busy. We can send a text or make a quick phone call and leave it at that. That fits into the ten-minute time slot you have between meetings today. Then you can feel the lingering guilt the rest of the week over your token sympathy.

Or you can postpone the “me” time you had planned for Saturday and invite them over for their favorite meal, play a board game, and remind them of the good in life. Even better, you can ask them what they most need right now and do that thing for them — iron their clothes, clean their kitchen, and so on.

What about deciding what you’re going to put in your body? You can pick up that $5 cheeseburger combo meal on the way home from work and burp the night away.

Or you can take the extra time to stop at the market and pick up some fresh spinach, a few other vegetables, maybe some salmon if you’re omnivorously inclined, and spend the evening preparing a meal that your body will not hate you for.

All this isn’t to say we should always and only be struggling in life. After all, the point of struggling is the celebration of overcoming. Of knowing that you earned your place.

But it’s probably a good idea to keep a running tally of the things you’ve achieved of which you’re most proud and remember the scar-inducing battles you fought along the way. It’s also good to remind ourselves that not all struggles are large and visible. Most of them, in my experience, are quiet and personal.

Please, join me in the struggle to give the good things power.

-Phillip

In No Hurry

“He was in no hurry.” – Neil Gaiman, American Gods

The ribs are marinating. The cobbler’s been baked. I think we’re ready for today! I just wrapped up my initial outline of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (appropriately enough). The idea of time, and what we do with it, weighs heavily on my mind this morning. Make the most of your days.

For those in the States, Happy 4th of July.

For those elsewhere, please, find something to celebrate.

-Phillip

Busy Day

Lots of preparing for tomorrow’s Fourth of July festivities. Finally settling down for the evening and watching the final episode of GLOW. What a great show. As a child of the 80s, every aspect perfectly captures the look and feel of a time that looms large in my memory banks. Even if you don’t have the same twinge of nostalgia, it’s still well produced. If you have a Netflix, I recommend checking it out.

See you all tomorrow!

-Phillip