The Weekly Re-Motivator: If-Then

What if life were like the movies? Or like books, or video games, or music?

What if life were like stories?

Let me back up. At one time in my life, I entertained the possibility of becoming a computer programmer. It made sense of a sort: I’m decent with computers, certainly I use computers a lot, and I’m kind of fascinated with what computers are able to do. I don’t, unfortunately, have the meticulous, detail-oriented mind that programming calls for. Still, I learned a few things about programming, one of which is the if-then parameter, which is the cornerstone of programming.

If this thing happens, then do this other thing. If this condition is met, proceed with the program.

It’s simple but critical. And it’s there in our stories, too. If you see a gun in the first act, then you expect to see that gun fired in the third act. If the main character starts off as kind of a jerk, then he will have some change of heart by the end. If this character is afraid of flying, then you can bet the farm he’ll have to get on a plane before the story runs its course.

But those are big if-thens. They are everywhere in stories. If the character has that extra drink, then you know he’s going to do something extra-stupid before the night is out. If she leaves a MacGuffin at home when she goes out, then that will be the very night she NEEDED the MacGuffin. If John McClane takes off his shoes, then the writers will be sure to make him tromp across broken glass.

You can predict what’s going to happen in stories, then, by paying attention to the little things characters do.

Wouldn’t it be nice if life were the same way?

If I wear this tie, the boss will recognize that I’m going the extra mile and give me a promotion. If I put in this time at the gym, I’ll end up with the body I always dreamed of. If I have a good breakfast, the rest of the day will go great.

Life is never so convenient. We prepare, we plan, we make adjustments on the fly, and life still blindsides us. There are no guarantees, there are no simple straight lines from the actions we take to the consequences we make.

Which could be disheartening, really. I mean, right now, I’m living my life in the hopes that: If I sink in all this time working on my writing and my novels, then I’ll get published and make tons and tons of money. But that isn’t a guarantee. It might not even be likely. Likewise, If I’m diligent about exercising, then I’ll enjoy a long, healthy life. But nope, that’s not automatic either. My books might never be published. I might get smacked by a bus tomorrow, or contract some horrible long-debilitating cancer that cripples me.

Life, to summarize, is a crap shoot.

So why try, right?

If the if-thens you set out have no bearing on the world at all, then what’s the point of planning, of trying? Damn, that’s dark and reductionist. And too often, I think — especially in this country — we think too much in that rigid if-then way. If I do this thing, spend this money, invest this time, then I expect these results. And if I can’t be guaranteed, then I’m not doing it.

We need to adjust our if-thens.

If I sink in this time working on my writing and my novels, Then maybe I can learn something about myself, entertain myself, and maybe possibly entertain a few other people, too. If I focus on my health, then I can improve the quality of the time I have, I can get stronger physically and mentally, I can do things I might not otherwise have been able to do.

Sometimes I look at life as a long con, where you keep your eyes on the distant prize and keep working toward that. The spire in the distance, the North Star that keeps you oriented.

But I think just as important is keeping focused on the immediate, the things you can count on, the real-life stuff that life throws at your feet.

Life doesn’t care about our big plans. Life owes us nothing. Best we can do is make the best we can out of the things we spend our time on.

And make sure we’re focused on the right if-thens.

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.


The Weekly Re-Motivator: Childish Energy

Child, Cool, Dress, Fun, Hero, Red, Feeling, Kid, Boy

Tap, tap, tap.

It’s six AM on a Saturday, and my 4-year old is tapping on my forehead.

“Daddy, it’s Friday o’clock. It’s time to wake up.”

I grumble and open one eye at him. “Friday isn’t a number, Sprout. Time has to be a number.”

He thinks about this and says, “Dad, it’s Saturday o’clock.” Which is closer to correct.

I pull the sheet over my head. He climbs up on the bed and jumps on me. Why? Because he’s awake, the sun is coming up, and he’s ready to start his day of watching cartoons, eating fruit, drinking chocolate milk, running around in the yard, tormenting his little sister, chasing the cats, coloring on the walls, and all the other things he has to do. His schedule is a giant blank slate, but he runs from one thing to the next like he’s trying to stretch out time by moving close to the speed of light.

Seriously. He runs everywhere. To the kitchen. To the bathroom. Up the stairs to his room. To the car. After the dog. In circles around the coffee table. Everywhere. And, to shamelessly reminisce upon my post from a couple weeks ago, he does nothing halfway. With every task, every diversion, he throws himself into it like … well, like a 4-year-old hurling himself into a bouncy house.

He’s that kid that adults see and think, I wish I had that kind of energy. Imagine what we could get done! But the fact is, we do have that kind of energy, we’ve just forgotten how to channel it. We work at jobs that wear us out physically or mentally or emotionally or all of the above. We come home from those jobs tired, wanting nothing more than to collapse on the couch and watch The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or whatever Netflix show is binge-worthy this week. And it’s all we can do to haul ourselves into bed a few hours later to steal a few hours of blessed sleep before it’s time to do it all again. We don’t have energy because our momentum sucks.

We watch TV because it’s that time of day. We heave ourselves out of bed after hitting the snooze button three times because we can’t put it off any longer.

Meanwhile, my son has seemingly endless reserves of energy because he’s always moving. He doesn’t rest because he just got done coloring or because he just wants to sit down for a minute after a hard day. He rests because he has to. He’ll run fifteen laps around the playground, then come to me and say, “daddy, I’m tired, I need to take a break.” And he does. For about two minutes. Then he’s up and running for the slides again. In fact, I can hardly ever capture a decent picture of him because he is always in motion.

He doesn’t even touch the *ground*.


He has an urgency to everything he does that I wish I could recreate. He does everything in his life like he knows it won’t last forever.

And we can too, if we let ourselves.

Momentum matters.

We come home and watch TV for hours because our momentum sucks. We drag ass and sleep in and laze around on the weekend because we feel like we need the rest to muster ourselves for another week at work. But that’s only true if we view the movement, the activity, the doing of things as an obstacle in our day.

But these things are not the obstacles in our day. They are the stuff of the day itself. They are the stuff of life. Your job. Playing with the kids. Going to the store. Cleaning the house. This is life. And if it wears us out, well, okay, maybe that’s what happens. But energy is transformative. The more you spend, the more you seem to have.

It’s why I feel like I can get more done on a day when I run than on a day when I don’t. It’s why I feel like I need to write for an hour after I push through grading a whole stack of papers. The days I feel like I can’t get anything done are the days where I just never got started and can’t break out of the funk of the negative momentum.

So, back to my son tapping on my forehead.

Six AM on a Saturday. I’d rather be sleeping. But I’m coming downstairs. Making him breakfast. Taking time out to write a little bit while he chases the cats around.

And now, I think I’m going to go chase him around the yard a little bit.

You know, fill up the tank a little.

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.

The Weekly Re-Motivator: Never Ask a Word Guy to Math Something

The prompt for the week is “no.” Not “no” as in, “no, don’t eat that piece of chalk” or “no, don’t dump milk all over your baby sister,” but “no.” as in short for number.

Which is a dangerous topic for me, because I’m like that guy who does a few oil changes on his own car and then decides he’s capable of fine-tuning the engine, or the one who successfully builds an IKEA side table and then tries to build his own back porch complete with gazebo. I know a little bit about numbers, and I’m kind of fascinated, but I haven’t taken any math classes since high school.

Mathematics, Formula, Physics, School, Mathematical

Nevertheless, you can count anything, right? And numbers matter, don’t they? There’s the old bit about needing ten thousand hours of experience to get “good” at something that I heard somewhere. If that’s true, how long should I expect to have to plug away at this writing thing?


I aim for an hour of writing a day. That’s theoretically 365 hours a year, which means it’s likely to take … ugh … something like 28 years to log 10,000 hours that way. But I only do my capital-W project-related writing on weekdays. So make it more like 37 years.


But surely, I can count writing on the blarg toward those hours, too, yeah? Well, I’m not as regular there (needs me some blogging fiber, which is a joke that only somebody over thirty could appreciate), but maybe I can claim about two-three hours per week. Which reclaims the years I had to add to make up for the weekend. So we’re back at 28 years.

But wait, do those 10,000 hours have to be dedicated to becoming better at the thing, or can they just be hours spent doing the thing?

If it’s just the doing and not the actively trying to improve that matters, then I logged a heck of a lot of hours writing assignments in college and high school. Has to be enough to get that 28 years down to 26.

And then I wrote a cough-splutter fantasy novella in high school (180 pages in number-two pencil on college-ruled paper, now that was dedication), not to mention a bunch of crappy stories. (These are all lost to the mists of time now, which may in fact be evidence of a benevolent God.) Let’s be generous and give me another two years. 24.

Oh, and there were the plays I wrote a few years back. Hard to quantify that time because I worked when the mood struck me, but surely it’s good for another couple if not trio of years. I’m liking the optimistic feel here, so call it 21 years.

Which is maybe not so bad.

But wait again! With a mental task such as writing, surely time spent planning and plotting and pondering my stories counts. I think it’s safe, then, to double my time over the past two years and bump the timer down to 19 years.

And if time plotting and pondering counts, then surely time reading writing advice counts — that’s learning after all. But at that rate, if reading counts, it’s impossible to argue that reading stories that have inspired me to write wouldn’t count.

And then the floodgates open. Reading has got to be good for at least 5,000 hours of my life, and that’s a conservative estimate, to be sure. And that means I’m just a thousand hours or so short of Mastering Writing Forever.

Geometry, Mathematics, Cube, Hexahedron, Body

Which is nonsense, of course.

Measuring these things is a mug’s game. It’s like asking how many birds are in flight right this moment in the world. Surely it’s a question with an answer. A correct answer, even — one that could theoretically be measured. But it’s a nonsense question just the same, because the means for measuring such a thing simply don’t exist. And you can no more measure the actual productive time you’ve spent in an endeavor than you can measure all the people in the world whose eyes are closed. The information is there, but we can’t know it.

And that means we can’t live in fear or doubt or frustration at the information. There’s no finish line. There’s no ticker-tape parade when you reach 10,000 hours of practice, or 5,000, or 1,000, or five. All we can do is keep plugging away, keep practicing, keep doing.

Math may be an intrinsic part of everything, but these things we do are much, much bigger than math.

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.


The Weekly Re-Motivator: Nothing Halfway

There’s a mantra I regularly preach, scream, whisper, write, and otherwise fling at my soccer team: Nothing Easy. I’m sure it’s not original to me, though I can’t say I got it from anybody outside of my own skull. I like it — and I encourage my players to repeat it, internalize it, live it — because it can be taken several ways and it works several different ways.

First, the external: the other team wants the victory just as badly as you do. They owe you nothing, and they’ll give you nothing, so don’t make it easy for them. Control the ball so you don’t give them any easy turnovers. Get good position so you don’t give them any easy passes. Mesh on defense so you don’t concede any easy shots. Nothing easy.

Then, the internal: in soccer, more often than a lot of players would like to admit, speed beats talent. Hustle and hunger beats technical know-how. You might have the best touch, the most precise passes, the most devastating shot, but if you can’t beat the other man to the ball, all that skill goes for a big fat goose egg. So, you have to play hard from the opening whistle. Fight for every ball. Run on every play like it’s the one they’re going to break away and score on. Nothing easy.

Point is, if you play easy — if you give the match a halfway effort — you’re giving the opposition an advantage in every phase of the game. Which means, you’re putting victory that much farther away (if not entirely out of reach).

Well, soccer season is almost over, and I’m sitting here really analyzing my writing process, because I’m in a transitional time. I’m almost done with the final (for now) edit of the novel, which means it’s time to start considering what I’m going to dedicate my writing time to next. That means setting new goals, planning a schedule, determining how I’m going to approach the project.

In all this analysis, I realized that, among other things I haven’t been doing in my writing of late was writing short fiction — those 1000-word-or-so stories that I was pretty religious about posting for a long time, those little pressure-release valves for the creative energies I was bottling up while I worked within the confines of the overarching Project. So last night I embraced the prompt and wrote one. And I’ll admit — it may not have been my best work, but what was different about it — what worked about it — was the approach. I didn’t fine-tune the idea to death. I didn’t plot it out meticulously before I put keys to board. I didn’t sit back and wait for it to be perfect before taking my shot (much like the protagonist in the tale). I leaned into the uncertainty and I wrote it full-steam ahead.

I haven’t written like that in a while. I’ve tried out some new approaches (and liked them a lot, to be fair!), honed my craft, become a bit more exacting in terms of how I build stories. But what I realized is, that approach has me operating at half capacity. Throwing myself halfway into the work, keeping one foot on the edge of the pool as I dunk my toes in and test the water. It keeps me from making as many mistakes along the way, but it also keeps me so focused on the road that I forget to enjoy the view along the way.

Like my soccer team working easy in a match, making things easy for the opposition, I’m working halfway and making it easy to get distracted, easy not to finish, easy to pretend I’m working when really I’m just hiding behind excuses.

Now, the only absolute is that there are no absolutes. I’m not going to say that there’s not a time for the methodical, measured, relaxed, easy approach. Sometimes if you rush the work, you make foolish errors that cost you. But if you embrace the easy approach too much — if you work halfway all the time — well, first of all you never get anything done, and second, you don’t make the mistakes that make the work interesting.

When it comes to writing, you have to throw yourself into it the way you’d run out into the road after your kid. You have to give yourself over to it like jumping out of a plane. You can’t keep one foot on solid ground while you let the other foot acclimate. You can’t do it halfway.

Combat Diver, Special Forces, Sonderkommando, Frogmen

So the mantra for my writing — for a while, at least, until I think of a new one — is: Nothing Halfway.

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.

Lucky Bastard, or A Glitch in the Matrix

No re-motivator this week, because holy carp am I tapped out. Long week at school. Long week at the novel-writing game. Wife is hella sick. No time to muse on creativity and motivation and inspiration and the darkly wonderful things that happen in the writer’s lizard brain.

But, dude. You guys. GUYS.

I am thirty-something years old, and I have never in my life found a four-leaf clover. And there were times that I looked. I can distinctly remember a younger, high-school aged or maybe even collegiate version of myself spending entire minutes in weedy fields searching for one.

Never happened.

Then, today, this:20160326_185018.jpg

That’s totally my hand; you can tell by the horrible cuticles. I was gobsmacked. We hopped out of the car after a long day visiting with family, and I happened to glance down at my feet, and there it was.

But wait. WAIT.

Not even an hour later, I’d been to the grocery store and come back, and I was reflecting on how strange it was that I should find a four-leaf cloverin my own front yard. I glanced at my feet as I stepped over a totally different patch of clover. And I glanced again.



But yes way. A second four-leaf clover.

You guys.

Either I’m really, really lucky, or my front yard is a glitch in the matrix.

*skitters off to wait for Morpheus to unplug me*

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.