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

INTJs and the Continuing Theme of Fear

I’ve been published!

No, not my fiction. Still cruising the streets of Rejectionville there.

But friend, author, writing coach, mom, and all-around-Wonder Woman, Lauren Sapala, asked that I write an article for her popular website.

**PSSST** If so inclined, please support Lauren by buying a copy of her highly-rated book…

Lauren is an INFJ on the popular MBTI inventory (a lot of acronyms, I know). If you’re not familiar with Meyers-Briggs Type Indicators, start here. The system is based on the work of Carl Jung and is essentially a psychological framework that explains why we tend to think and behave in the ways we do.

A portion of Lauren’s audience have a similar personality makeup to her INFJ-ness, but are off by a single letter; oh what a difference a single letter can make.

You see, like me, these people are INTJs. We’re very close to INFJs on a lot of things, but when it comes to making decisions, we tend to favor cold, hard logic above personal concerns. To be clear, there should be no bias as to which is better than the other. It’s just a scale on which most of us tend toward one side more often than not.

Anyway, please check out the article if you’re interested in what it’s like to try and write fiction, essentially emotion realized, yet continually wrestle with the tendency to keep feelings bottled up. To fight to finish our work while contending with an amazing ability to convince ourselves that the odds are against us.

I learned a lot about myself writing that piece. I hope you find it useful as well.

-Phillip

Contemplating Fear

“Our greatest growth spurts happen when we are children risking and daring and falling down and embarrassing ourselves.” – Steve Chandler, Time Warrior

If you met me in person, you’d realize that I don’t have a lot to say. It’s not that the thoughts aren’t there. It’s just that they won’t come out of my mouth. Typically, it’s because you’re not interested in whatever’s on my mind, or more aptly put, I don’t believe you’re interested in whatever’s on my mind.

I might be right. I might be wrong. But you know what usually happens? People think I’m boring. People think I’m shy. People think I’m arrogant.

Of course I think those things about myself some of the time, and some of the time, I am being those things (*gasp*). Still, I don’t want to be boring. I don’t want to be shy. I don’t want to be arrogant.

It’s just the comfortable actions and reactions of an introvert.

Yesterday’s post was an example of me attempting to face this particular fear. I had several moments of indecision about the title of that story, because I’m normally not one to curse or be “crude” in polite company (outside of stubbing my toe on one of Angus’s toys for umpteenth time — then I’ll make the saltiest sailor blush).

This post is a continuation of facing that fear, admitting that I felt ambivalent over the post. I believed that title illustrated the levity with which the characters viewed the subject. Not sure if that came across, but I was willing to take the risk.

I’m human. No shining example of propriety. I often find things funny that some people find abhorrent or offensive, and others have laughed at things that I find wrong. That’s just the nature of humor. Who can explain it?

I’m learning that to be a good writer, I have to stop worrying about being appropriate. It kills the creative mind and it’s a losing battle — in the end, there is no final arbiter outside of your own mind regarding appropriateness. You have to accept that you may upset those whose opinions you value. It’s the only way to move forward. Ask anyone who’s ever done anything worth a damn and I’d bet dollars to donuts that they didn’t operate on fear.

You can be nice. You can even try to explain yourself if it matters that much to you. But don’t regret making that decision. Don’t stop facing down those fears.

In other news: Game of Thrones is back for its seventh season. My amazing wife had surprise GoT-themed cookies baked for me. I’ll post pictures this week. The sad feeling of destroying such beautiful things was quickly replaced by lots of “mmmms.”

Also, it’s an odd thing, watching a television show based on a series of books, in which neither has reached its end. Paths have diverged here and there based on character emphasis, character choices, and character deaths. I’d be lying if I said I was through waiting for George and his publisher to put out the next book, but I’m as anxious as anyone.

-Phillip

* Image courtesy of Max Pixel

Shortcuts = Long Delays

We had an insightful speaker today at my writer group’s monthly meeting: Joe Ide, author of the acclaimed IQ.

I’m definitely picking up his books for a couple of reasons:

  • If he writes a story as well as he tells one, I’m already sold. The guy is full of charm and has an eye for telling details that really hook you in.
  • His two greatest influences are Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Elmore Leonard. Given the fact that I’m in the middle of reading and absorbing Elmore’s western stories, I’ll take that as a slap-you-in-the-face sign.

He instructed his captive audience that there are no shortcuts to true greatness and that if you’re not going to try to be the best that you can be in such a competitive field, you’re just wasting your time. Despite his success, Joe still writes close to eight hours a day, seven days a week.

Good reminders.

A Saturday morning well spent.

-Phillip

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

Your Imagination: The Original Frenemy

“Situations—even “dramatic” situations like bankruptcy, divorce, death and economic recession—cannot directly cause a feeling of any kind until the brain interprets and creates a story about said situation.”

 

Steve Chandler, Time Warrior

As a writer, I find my imagination is a true frenemy. He lacks a conscience. He can spin a hell of yarn but he cares not for the consequences. He says he’s there to do a job, and by God, he’s going to do it.

When he’s cooperative, I love the guy. He’s inspiring. He’s fascinating. He’s turning left when I expect him to swing right.

But like any bullshitter, there are times when you just want him to tell the truth or go away. Stop trying to scare me. Stop trying to goad me into thinking that I’m making a horrible mistake or that I’m just no good. We all know you’re convincing, Mr. Imagination. We all know you’ve figured out exactly which buttons to press.

Please, just get back to pressing other people’s buttons so they’ll keep reading your stories. Use your powers for good, for heaven’s sake!

-Phillip

One Part Humility, One Part Hubris

“…please remember this: excessive pride is a familiar sin, but a man may just as easily frustrate the will of God through excessive humility.” – Cuthbert from Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth

One of the difficult things for a published (or hopeful) author to square, at least this author, is the need for humility with the need for hubris. We feel like we have something to say, so we say it. We have to assume someone will care about what we say, otherwise we’d never publish, and it may even be reason enough to keep some of us from ever writing at all.

But we also need to be aware of our shortcomings. We can’t allow arrogance to get in the way of what we want to say. We could end up sabotaging the very message we’re so intent on communicating. We could forgo learning a new trick because we think we know them all.

So we have to strike a balance. If you’re like me, cycling between arrogance and abasement is a daily occurrence and I’m usually tottering over the edge one way or the other before I realize I need a course correction.

Most everyone reading this is a writer, well versed in conflict. How do you deal with this?

– 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

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