The Weekly Re-Motivator: To Business

If I could go back and give my previous self any advice about this whole writing thing, it’d be: treat your writing like a business.

See, I always thought I was the creative sort. And I guess I was, but for pretty much my entire twenties, I thought that creativity was this gift; this mystical, un-pin-down-able thing that I was just lucky to have. Now, I still believe that’s true — to a point — but I’m learning that there’s a lot more to creativity than the occasional kiss from the muse.

Because the problem with thinking that creativity is magic — that some people “just have it”, and others “just don’t” — is that one of two things happen. One: you don’t appreciate it, because, like a pile of cash from a wealthy uncle, it just fell in your lap, so you don’t really know its worth. Or two: if (but actually, when) it deserts you, you have no idea how to get it back. And while the muse may in fact carry a cell phone (she does in my as-yet-unpublished first novel), she certainly doesn’t give out her number.

But creativity isn’t magic. Or at least, it isn’t all magic. Creativity is like that kid who wanders around the neighborhood looking for other kids to play with. He doesn’t call in advance. He doesn’t send you a note to say he’s coming around. He just tools around on his bike looking for places to play and people to hang out with. And if you happen to be out in your yard playing when he shows up? Well, you’ll have the craziest afternoon of playing space baseball and ninja cowboys and Calvinball, until the kid has to go home and you have to go in to eat dinner. But if you aren’t out in your yard? That kid rolls right on by. He won’t knock on your door, he won’t peek in the window to see if you’re waiting for him — he’s got places to be and hell to raise with the other kids who are already outside.

Which is why, if you want to encourage him to visit, you have to spend some time playing in the yard, even when he’s not around.

This seems counter-intuitive. There’s no point playing in the yard by yourself, after all. The fun is in playing with a friend, in tapping into your collective imaginations and adventuring together through the boundless reaches of the imaginations of little kids. Playing by yourself is boring; what’s the fun in doing a backflip off a tree branch if nobody else is around to see it, or in throwing a ball over the house if you have to walk around the back to retrieve it?

But if the neighborhood kid doesn’t see you out there playing already, he isn’t taking time out of his day to see if you want to play. And creativity is just like that: if it doesn’t see you already working, already flexing your creative muscle, it’s not going to waste its time knocking on your brain to see if you want to make something awesome. The muse has places to be, novels and poems and stories and paintings and interpretive dances to inspire.

And that’s why we have to treat writing like a business.

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You don’t do business when you feel like it: business needs doing with consistency, and pretty much all the time, or else the business dries up. When you treat writing like a business, you make time for it every day. You set aside time for it, and you protect that time like a mother bear protecting her young. You do the writing even when you don’t really feel like it, because if you don’t handle your business even when you don’t feel like it, you lose your business.

The unfortunate fact is, we don’t always feel creative. And it can be hard to force ourselves out into the yard to play when we’re just not feeling it.

But if this is a thing that matters — and I would argue that if you’re writing at all, or thinking about writing, then it matters to you at least a little bit — then we have to get out there anyway.

Because if we don’t? Well, the muse has plenty of other house calls she can make.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.

Toddler Life, Chapter 419: We Have Lost Normality

Kids make you insane.

Not necessarily in that gibbering, banging-your-head-against-the-walls, strait-jacket kind of insane (well, maybe in small doses), but in the way that it warps the way you look at the world. The world a parent lives in is not the same world that a normal human lives in. We see things that are invisible to most people. We do things that make normal people scratch their heads in wonder. Our heads are constantly filled with bizarre fuzzy maths that would make the physics department at MIT weep. We tie ourselves in knots to make the world livable for ourselves and the future humans we are tasked with raising to adulthood.

Here are just a few of the strange behaviors that have become totally commonplace for my wife and myself since having kids (we have two, and that’s probably significant as well):

  1. Normal people can drink out of cups, but we can’t. If we have a glass of some beverage, and we leave that beverage unattended for even fifteen seconds, then that beverage will end up spilled on the couch, the carpet, the dog, or possibly the ceiling. The fact that we have cats plays in here, too, because our cats cannot abide an upright glass. So instead we drink out of bottles with lids, all the time, until the kids are asleep.
  2. Normal people lock the bathroom door to poop, but we don’t. I don’t even close the door all the way; I just rest it lightly against the frame. For some reason, the kids never want my attention so much as when I’m trying to drop a deuce; something about the fact that I’m bent over, pants around the ankles, making my offering to the porcelain god brings them scrambling. And here comes that mental math I mentioned: I can lock the door (which will keep them both out) or simply close it (which might keep out the 2-year-old), but then I have to suffer the slings and arrows of a tireless banging on the door to the chorus of “DADDY? DADDY? WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Or, I can give them easy access, and put up with the lesser indignity of relieving myself in front of two future humans while listening to them prattle on about the bug they just saw or the piece of candy they want or why does it smell funny in here? (Generally, the prattle wins out over the banging on the door.)
  3. Normal people can buy just one of something, but we can’t. When we buy treats — and let’s go ahead and establish that a “treat” is anything special that one of them gets that isn’t basic sustenance — we have to buy two. Two bags of popcorn at Target. Two kiddie sundaes at the restaurant (not that we take them out to eat with us, but on that rare occasion…). Two silly little paper hats. Case in point: just this past weekend, we were at the grocery store and saw on the endcap (by the way, the people who design end caps for grocery stores and for Target seriously need to be shot, or at least saddled with a 2-year-old and forced to walk through their own stores) a cute little pair of Minion goggles. You know, the annoying little blobs from that Steve Carrell movie, Despicable Me? Well, my son loves those things, and the goggles were only a couple of bucks, so of course I picked them up. My wife immediately went to pick up a second pair for my daughter. She doesn’t even like the minions, as far as I can tell, but the point is, my son had a thing, so it was gonna be a problem if she didn’t have that thing, too. So we double up, and fill our house with twice as much crap.
  4. Normal people check the thermostat maybe once or twice a day, but I have to check it somewhat more often. This makes me crazy, because the thermostat is not a thing that changes on its own, and I feel like an insane person looking at it as often as I do. But little kids love pushing buttons, both the metaphorical and the literal. Seriously, they had somehow managed to turn on the heat while it was 95 degrees out the other day. Luckily, I caught it before the house or any of us combusted from the heat. Because I check the thermostat more often than your dad does. Every time I walk past the thing, I check it. Very OCD, and I am not even a little OCD.
  5. Normal people know what “no” means, but we don’t. The word “no” means nothing in our house. For two reasons. First of all, it obviously means nothing to the children. My wife and I say it and say it and say it, but they keep asking or doing the thing that had us saying “no” in the first place, so we clearly haven’t taught the meaning of this simplest of words properly. Then, there’s that thing that happens, you know, where you say a word over and over and over in rapid succession and, like a soggy Cheerio, it just kind of disintegrates in your mind? Like the syllables and the letters come apart and the meaning just evaporates? Where do words come from, anyway? What’s a language, for that matter? How are we even able to communicate at all?

There are more, but I have to go check the thermostat.

How about you, dear readers? In what ways have your kids fragmented your reality?

The Weekly Re-Motivator:

Linda’s prompt for Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday this week is “-est”. Usually I like to find a single word or phrase using the prompt, but this week, when I plopped down to think of an -est word, the unusual happened.

Normally, I take the prompt and one of two things happens: either a single word hits me right away and, like the moon drifting across the face of the sun, immediately eclipses any other ideas, or a different moon drifts across the same sun and blocks out everything, and I sit there, unable to think of a single way to interpret the prompt, for hours. But not today. Today my brain is a slowly-spreading pile of gasoline, and the prompt is the casually-tossed cigarette of a black-clad action hero.

Too many words to choose from, so I’m gonna use as many as I can.

Our creativity, like the heavens, is inestimable, full of wonders we can hardly imagine, if we only have the courage to explore it — unfortunately, so many of us never do.

Our forebears in America were compelled to go west; partially out of a dissatisfaction with the way things were, partially for the promise that the unexplored country held. The artist needs more than a little bit of that wanderlust, of that westward yearning; the artist satisfied with where he’s at is an artist who stops pushing his boundaries.

Pushing the boundaries, though? When it goes well, it’s a(n) euphoric love fest. The ideas come fast and fresh, blowing through your hair (or in my case, across your dome) like the top’s down in your mid-life-crisis-mobile. But there’s no guarantee it goes well, as any writer will attest; and when it does go poorly, as inevitably it will, the whole affair can feel like the universe’s cruel jest. Every idea falls flat, every word feels forced; some days it’s all you can do to keep putting one word after the other.

But because it matters to you, you persist. And maybe you ingest some liquid courage or some chemical inspiration to kickstart the process, but one way or another, you keep on pushing your Sisyphesian boulder along. (Lest we forget, momentum matters.) Because you know that if you stop moving, if you bog down and leave the work for another day, one day quickly turns into another, which turns into another, and then, like a fetid pool, your creativity begins to fester, and even the stuff that looked good a few weeks ago begins to rot.

Still, the brain is a muscle much like any other, and a little rest brings it back to full functionality. Invest in a day off here and there, and somehow or other, the muses will wander their way back to the dark corners of your mind and drive your storytelling anew for a few more days. But it’s a foolish artist who relies on the muse too much: her magic is intoxicating and enticing as a desert mirage and just as fleeting.

The better way — the safe way — the only way, in fact, that works for more than a few weeks — is to establish the habit. Work for it. You don’t eat an elephant all in one sitting, you do it a little bit at a time, working day after day, checking your westward expansion by the stars overhead, the words on the page, the story twisting in your gut. Gestating. Improving, getting stronger with time, even if you can’t always tell quite how at the time. You keep writing. You keep pushing. And eventually, maybe, you bring your creation, squalling and covered in phlegm and gore, into the world.

Is this the best way to do it?

Hell if I know.

Writing is nothing if not an experimental flight in an experimental aircraft with an experimental pilot. Each and every element is a test.

But it feels good when it’s working.

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This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.

Fly Away

I’ve had to kill more than a few flies over the past few days.

Part of it, I think, is that the little buggers feel the end of summer coming on, and they’re trying to get indoors before the cooler weather comes. And part of it, of course, owes to the fact that the building I now work in was built in the 70s and shows every sign of it, down to the poor ventilation and the likely hundreds of nests and colonies in the walls. My room is always host to some six-legged creature or other, and this week, it’s been flies.

Which are the hardest things to deal with, it turns out. Mosquitoes you can catch in a closed fist. Bees drone along and then hover in space. But not flies. Flies catapult themselves through the air like UFOs powered by technology that shatters physics.

I remember reading once upon a time that flies have all kinds of extra sensory organs — from their tiny little antennae to the hair-like structures on their legs and body to their 800-faceted eyes — which make them one of nature’s most talented getaway artists. They end up with the reflexes of a cat that can see into the future, so that you’re always just a snap too slow, you always seem to strike the air just behind them. It’s almost as if they can sense that you’re about to swat them, and they leap out of the way.

Turns out, the actual air pressure created by your rapidly descending hands is sufficient to push the little critters out of the way; in other words, the act itself of swatting at the fly increases the fly’s odds of escape. The only way to counteract this is to anticipate where the fly is going to jump to and try clapping your hands at that spot, rather than aiming at the fly itself.

Which is a mug’s game, right? You can’t predict which way a fly is going to jump, any more than you can predict which way a flipped coin will land or which face a tossed die will fall on.

Still, guessing — even guessing wrong — gives you better odds than striking straight at the thing itself.

And there’s metaphors here, aren’t there? Life is a moving target, and all that. And by the time you think you’ve drawn a good bead on something, it’s moved along and you’re swiping at the empty air.

Sure feels like that lately, anyway. Working on this new story, it feels like the real thing — the good stuff, the soft, nougaty center of this idea — is buzzing around my head, lighting here on a bookcase, there on a lamp, occasionally on the skin of my scalp. But every time I try to nail the thing down, it flits away effortlessly, and I can almost hear its tiny, incessant insectoid laughter. And I bang my head away against some weak facsimile of the story I want to write and curse the muse for not dropping any of her glittery inspiration turdlets in my direction.

But then I strike off in a totally new direction; rather than trying to write the story I thought I was writing, I make a hard left and take the story in a new direction, and for a few blessed days at least, I get to bottle the lightning. I trap the fly between my hands and work gleefully while it bangs itself silly trying to escape.

And of course, it does. It escapes again. You can’t hold onto these things any more than you can hold on to a fistful of the ocean.

But you keep grabbing onto it all the same, as long as the story cries out to be told.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be flailing around like an insane person trying to swat this storyfly.

15 years

My brain is brimming with ideas, but I couldn’t find the motivation to write yesterday.

Then I wanted to make it up today, but ended up watching a bit of memorial 9/11 coverage and … well, that took it right out of me.

Just not a lot to say.

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I teach high school, which means that virtually none of my students remember the attacks that have shaped the world they live in. Many of my students weren’t even born yet when it happened. Which makes it all the more important to take time out to remember.

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