What’s Happening in 2017

Hello everyone.

The blog is on hiatus right now.

For the past two years I’ve used this blog to talk about…

  • Story Structure
  • Creativity
  • Novel Writing
  • Health/Inspiration/Motivation

Now it’s time for me to bring all that research to bear on my own novel. Book 1 of my fantasy series, Turtle Island, is still in the works.

I’ve been working with a professional developmental editor for the past 8 months. My novel is coming along, and in the meantime I’m getting a crash course in writing from someone who does what I want to do – someone who deals in words for a living. Most importantly, I’m getting direct feedback on my writing. Which is scary, and painful, and exactly what I need.

I still plan to have the novel published on Amazon in 2017. But because this is my first time going through the process, it’s hard for me to judge exactly what month I’ll be able to publish.

My blog hasn’t slowed to a halt because I don’t care about writing anymore; it’s just that, I’m trying to stop talking about writing and do the damn thing.

When I do re-start the blog, I’m actually considering doing it in the form of a podcast. In my podcast I plan to break down famous novels, especially fantasy trilogies and series like…The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman, Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin and The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss. The podcast will be the result of some intense reading and studying I’ve done in preparation for my own fantasy trilogy. Because how better to learn than by taking notes from the greats?

 

But the podcast is not right now. Right now I’m in radio silence mode. Working my day job, day dreaming about writing during my day job, and coming home every evening to write.

So that’s where I’m at. When I’m back here next, I’ll be carrying a basket of good news.

 

Fear is the Mind-Killer

Dune by Frank Herbert

I found my “2017 New Year Credo” hiding in an old science fiction novel. It startled me last week like a stray cat on my doorstep, and now I’ve decided to take it in and make it mine.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

-From the novel Dune by Frank Herbert

Every time I publish something into the universe, I score a victory in the creative arena. Fear is the six-armed ogre who obliterates me by freezing me into inaction.

If I say, “I’ll create tomorrow,” then I lose. If I say, “I’ll improve my skills before I publish,” then I lose. Choosing not to enter the contest is the most popular way to lose. But I know what I’m capable of. And I know that all of my scary excuses are really just white bedsheets with eye holes cut in ’em.

There’s only one way to win in the creative arena. It’s time-tested, it’s simple, and it’s solid as a cinder block: Call it good. Publish it. Move on to the next.

Stand Up Comedians: Monday, August 17th

The problem with everyday life is that it’s so damned predictable. We know exactly what the day will bring before it even begins. We know the answers to the questions before we ask them. The world is full of mystery and magic but most days we don’t see any of that.

When danger happens, when thrill happens, when things crash, when people cry, when people get lost, when the wild weather sweeps across the plains – that’s when we see magic in the world. That’s the point where stories begin.

I’ve been on a stand up comedy kick. I love listening to stand up comedians because they never say what you think they’re going to say. They are unpredictable. They get bored quick with simple normal life. They see a scenario or a situation from multiple angles. It’s not easy to pull some shit over on a comedian, because they question everything. They don’t take anything at face value. They’re busy deducing, extrapolating, imagining. They’re quirky. They laugh a lot. What’s not to love?

Of course I love comedians, and not just because they’re funny. But because they’re writers underneath it all. They’re artists who deal in words and phrases and stories. They make a living by turning creative ideas into package-able products, finding an audience, and delivering their magic night after night.

But the best thing about comedians? They don’t take anything too seriously. They don’t get hung up easily. They don’t get offended easily. They see humor in everything, and don’t take themselves too seriously.

These are things that I often appreciate about writers too. How they bring fresh perspective, how quirky they are, and often funny too in their own way.

Someone who deals in words and language, day in and day out, appreciates how fluid meaning really is. They appreciate alternate meanings, different points of view, and a well delivered phrase.

I’ve heard that stand up comedy is a uniquely American thing at its roots. And also that Mark Twain was the first original stand up comedian, because of how much he performed his readings in front of an audience. And obviously for his snapping wit, which is still entertaining all these years later.

If that’s true, then it means that writers and comedians (Americans at least, and maybe others too) all share a common ancestor.

I don’t know how comedians do what they do, but I’m thankful for what they bring to the world.

As for me, I’ll do everyone a favor by sticking to writing, and staying well away from the stage.

How to Develop Your Ideas: The Million-Dollar-Skill: Tuesday, August 4th

In yesterday’s post, I busted a common writing myth.

I said that, “Writing is the easy part of the Writing Process. The true currency of the writing ecosystem is not the hard work of writing itself, like many believe, the million-dollar-skill is IDEA DEVELOPMENT.”

Unfortunately there is no easy way to turn your idea into a fully formed story. There is no failproof process. Scientists know surprisingly little about the “magic” of the brain. For all of our advancements, nobody knows exactly how the mind or consciousness works, which means we’re still pretty clueless about how ideas come to be.

BUT, fortunately for you and me, many bold and badass creative human beings have paved the road to success. We can pick and choose from their tactics. We can learn lessons instantly that it took them years of trail and error to determine. We can borrow their methods, and we can certainly borrow inspiration from the ones who came before us.

A true artist is a sort of magician. They take a concept, like a seed, and transform it into a finished product. It’s that process that we want to study and emulate.

So here is a list of methods and tricks that I’ve come across in my research. These are things I’ve tried myself to implement, and have had some bit of success with:

  • Composition Notebooks – Screenwriters, Novelists, and writers of all type talk about this method. They keep a specific notebook or a specific journal that is dedicated to a single project. Whenever they have an idea related to that project, they jot it down. Keeping all of the notes in one place helps to build momentum. Some writers will fill entire an entire notebook of ideas and ramblings, before attempting to shape those ideas into a workable outline.
  • Notecards – A lot of times we just need a cue, a stimulus, or some sort of outside prodding, in order to get the ideas flowing. Good ideas are often born out of associating two seemingly unrelated things. Many authors talk about using this process: take a bunch of notecards, on each notecard write a single word or phrase, it could be a person, a place, a thing, an event, an object, anything… The idea is to keep the cards simple. Once you have a whole lot of them, you can mix them all up and start experimenting. Let your mind run wild with the random associations that the note cards bring to mind.
  • Follow Author Neil Gaiman’s Advice – including some fantastic prompt questions to get your worker bees humming.
  • Dream Journals – Many authors write in the morning, when the world of dream is still fresh. Once the “real day” begins, and you start dealing with bills, chores, errands, work, the creative mind tends to get buried under these responsibilities. Dreams are truly the stuff of stories: they are Scary, Crazy, Sensational, Sexy, Colorful, Unusual, Unbound by the Laws of Physics, or the Usual Restraints of the Ego. The more you recrod your dreams, the more you’ll begin to remember them. It’s not uncommon for even the most serious, respectable of authors to credit their success to a random, run of the mill dream.
  • Ray Bradbury’s ListsI wrote a post about this method not too long ago. It’s a great way to get the idea muscle working.
  • Become an Idea Machine – James Altucher has built a career around the practice of being healthy and coming up with ideas. If you are looking for inspiration, I HIGHLY recomend the daily podcast by James and his wife Claudia, “Ask Altucher“, or reading James’ blogposts. Here is one of his most popular posts – all about how you can become an idea machine.
  • Study Story Structure – The Art of Story is truly fascinating. There are so many good books and authors out there. Here are a few that have inspired me. These kind of books are SO important, because they give aspiring authors a framework to work within. They really teach you how to transform your little baby ideas into full-fledged, gripping, masterful stories. Check out…
  1. Super Structure by James Scott Bell
  2. Story by Robert McKee
  3. Story Structure by William Bernhardt.

So there you go. Hopefully these are some helpful resources for how to come up with ideas, and how to turn those ideas into real life stories. I really, really hope they are as useful for you as they were for me.

In my opinion, this aspect of the writing process (IDEA DEVELOPMENT), is much more difficult, much more magical, and much more fascinating than the actual “sitting down and writing” part of the process.

If you know of any other good tips, please let me know, I’m always on the hunt.

Love Your Ideas: Friday, July 17th

“Where do you get your ideas?” It’s the question that successful creatives get asked over and over and over again.

The author Neil Gaiman says that his ideas come from out of nowhere. “I make them up. Out of my head.”

The problem is, that’s not a very satisfying answer for the aspiring writer who want to know, “how can I find some million dollar ideas?”

Gaiman suggests asking yourself some questions, and following those questions down the rabbit hole. Personally I really like these prompts:

  • What if…?
  • If only…
  • I wonder what…
  • Wouldn’t it be interesting if…
  • If this goes on…
  • What if I engineered a tree that sprouted dollar bills?
  • What if I woke up with wings?
  • What if someone gave me the secret book that explained, in detail, the truth of all conspiracies and historical secrets – the truth about all religions, leaders, wars, and kingdoms?
  • If only I could have a conversation with my great, great, great grandfather…
  • I wonder what toys do when people aren’t around?
  • Wouldn’t it be interesting if the global currency was a system of smiles and hugs?
  • If this goes on, and humans finally replace ourselves with robots, then what’s in line to replace the robots?

In Gaiman’s article, he says,

“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.”

I found this quote very telling. And it goes back to my idea the importance of habits. Authors and creatives like Neil Gaiman have been developing ideas for so long that the process has become second nature.

They have the same amount of ideas as anyone, but they are more aware, more tuned into the process. They’ve got a notepad on them at all times, or (like one author I heard recently) they dictate speech into their phones while they’re waiting around at the bus stop.

An idea can be a person or a place or an image, from which you start and begin to build. The single idea itself is only a jumping off point. When you combine one idea with another, then you’re off to a good start. But the magic really happens in the development, the fleshing out of the idea – which is a process that takes work. It takes brainstorming, writing and re-writing, constantly turning the object over in your hands to view it from all sides. This is the point where the author gets their hands dirty.

To creatives, ideas are cherished, loved and nurtured. The nurturing and development is what turns those seeds into saplings, and those saplings into forests, into entire ecosystems and solar systems. Now the reader, or the listener, or the casual observer, can come inside to this new world and have a look around, play for a while, even connect emotionally and get involved and become changed themselves by the idea. And that’s magic at it’s finest.

The Casey Niestat Creation Hierarchy: Friday, July 3rd

I believe in the gospel of “make stuff.” Every human soul is like a character in a video game. We have the potential to be wimpy, selfish versions of ourselves. OR we can become a stronger, super version of ourselves. We can be baby Mario, Super Duper Mario, or somewhere along the spectrum in between.

I believe that creativity is a legitimate measure of the well-being of our souls. Here’s why:

  • It’s impossible to create in an artistic arena that doesn’t inspire you
  • Therefore, creativity always comes straight from your core, is always pure
  • Therefore, creativity makes you more like yourself
  • Therefore, your life is less dominated by fear and more propelled by joy. (In the sports world they say, “he’s playing to win, instead of playing not to lose”)
  • Creation, like Joy and Happiness, is contagious. So by creating and becoming more like yourself, you naturally make the world a better place. A single flame can light a thousand candles.

 

Screen Shot 2015-07-04 at 10.39.21 AM

 

I’m a huge fan of Casey Niestat’s Vlogs. My wife and I watch them every morning while we eat breakfast.

Casey also believes in the gospel of make stuff.

What I find interesting about this hierarchy is that it moves along an axis from selfishness to selflessness (from few –> many).

  1. In the beginning you make stuff for your own enjoyment
  2. In the second tier you start to bring happiness to others
  3. And in the third tier, you’re now bestowing the gift of creation itself

Also known as,

  1. You’re a fisherman
  2. Others see you and are inspired to fish too
  3. You give them the lightest strongest lures, teach them the knots, show them the spots. And now they can feed themselves.

Casey’s Hierarchy ideas have got me running wild through a jungle of spinoff analogies:

First and foremost it reminds me of Joseph Campbell’s hero journey. How the hero always moves from selfish intentions to the point where he would sacrifice his own well-being for the greater good that he believes in.

Next, I always liked the idea that, if God created the world, then the best way for his people to become “like god”, would be for them to become creators themselves.

Finally, it makes me think of Stephen King, who has passed through all of three of those tiers. He wrote. Then he wrote really good stuff. Then he wrote “On Writing“, the ultimate book about the writing process. So that now King has inspired a whole generation of writers in his wake.

***

Whew. That’s all for now.

Happy Weekend everyone. And don’t forget to Make More Stuff!

Publishing Revolution: Wednesday, July 1st

I haven’t yet broken into the self-publishing world, but I really love what the whole movement stands for.

Amazon and the global marketplace. Kindle and Ebooks. Shopping online. Anyone can be an author. Anyone can be a reader. Writers talking directly to readers. Writers publishing a LOT of work quickly. Readers consuming more and more. Specialized genres and niches. Stories easily translated to other languages and cultures. Listening to Audiobooks. Renting books on Kindle Unlimited. Podcasts and Meetups and Facebook groups and Nanowrimo and all of it.

What Youtube did for movies, what the Ipod did for music, and what Amazon is doing for publishing – all of these changes are good because they make it easier for artists to reach consumers.

Any innovation that encourages creativity is a good thing in my book. Everyone has weird quirks and interests, and now thanks to the internet we can connect to other people who are just as crazy as we are!

I like to follow authors who are real people. The experience shouldn’t stop once I finish the book. I also expect to to find them on facebook and twitter, and read what else they have to say on their blogs or newsletters. When I find somebody I really like, I devour their content as fast as they can put it out.

I listen to self-publishing podcasts every day. I’m sure I’ve tried them all, but new ones keep popping up.

What annoys me is when I hear people still arguing about “traditional publishing” versus “self publishing.” And asking those silly questions like, “is self publishing legitimate?” or “I still need the validation of a traditional publisher.”

Those debates are downright silly. They’re played out. The new generation doesn’t care about who published what or where it came from. The new generation has a natural talent for sifting through a lot of bullshit and finding the good stuff. Anything is possible for the new generation. We want it faster, sharper, transparent, no BS, democratic, respectful, well-intended… and we want it all immediately.

 

How to Fight Fear: Monday, June 29th

There’s only so much you can say about writing. I feel silly talking on and on about it. There’s only one rule when it comes to the game of writing – one rule, one revelation, one credo – which is, to get better you have to keep writing. Write every day. A little bit more and a little bit more.

It’s not complicated. Like all profound truths it’s shockingly simple. But “simple” does not equate to “easy”.

When talking about artists and creatives, I often hear this topic brought up:

People are afraid to make the big leap toward being an artist because the waterfall rush of fear and insecurity is so goddamn overpowering. The roar of doubt is deafening. Right when you’re about to begin a project, (write the first word, record the first video, sing the first note) – that’s when the doubt hits you like a wrecking ball. And then you start to back-pedal:

“What if I give it my all and I still fail… what then?”

“What if people laugh at me?”

“There are so many experts out there, how can I ever hope to compete?”

“I don’t have time for this. I need to buckle down and provide for my family.”

There is no easy response to these fears. If you finally do come out of the closet and call yourself an artist, you’ll have to grow some tough skin. Your friends won’t understand. You’ll make new friends who do understand. Even you won’t understand. The risk is greater than it was before, the risk of failure hangs over your head. Therefore the potential reward is infinitely greater. You’ve created a thrilling twist in the plot scheme of your life. Now people are watching, interested, glued to their seats, awaiting the outcome.

Your excuses are lame. Every excuse you can make has already been overcome by somebody in your exact same position. The choice is yours and yours alone. That’s the brilliant and equally scary part about all of this.

I know it sounds a little “out there”.

Writing for me is a daily exercise in pushing myself “out there,” instead of remaining down here in my comfy, insulated little world.

I’m the worst of all offenders and doubters and procrastinators. The only reason to keep these writing blogs going is to keep trying to talk some sense into myself.

But I believe with my whole heart that YOU are powerful and beautiful and limitless. I believe that I am too. That’s what we have in common. And we have to keep creating. Really there is no other option. There is only the next day, the next project, the next step forward. There is only right now and what you choose to do with it.

I’m All Jazzed Up!: Thursday, June 25th

I’m excited to share my new short stories. I’ll post them to the blog next week on July 1st.

The first one is called “Mr. Green.” It’s a really short spy/crime type scene that I imagine being the opening scene of a television show or a movie.

The second story is the one I’ve really been putting a lot of time into. It’s called “The King’s Puzzle.” It involves riddles and wizards and treasure and I hope it’ll be fun. I’m submitting it to a short story contest in mid-July, but I’m trying to finish it by July 1 so that I can post it to the blog sooner than later.

These past couple months I’ve gotten into a good habit of just writing a little bit of fiction each day. When I first started writing these stories, I would spend weeks planning and plotting (which mostly just means feeling stuck and not writing anything). Now I’m doing better with producing something each day. Even if I don’t know where it’s going, just the act of writing helps me come up with ideas. This shouldn’t have surprised me at all, since I’ve always used writing as a way of sorting my thoughts.

The most encouraging part of this blog/story project so far is that I’m developing the habit of producing and being creative on a daily basis. I’m frustrated because I want to do more, I want to write novels and publish them on Amazon. I want to hire an editor because I know that’s a really important step in a writer’s development. I want to write better rounded short stories with more kick to them. I have so many ideas for my website, for my novels, for a podcast that I want to start… But I can’t get too far ahead of myself. Right all that matters is write, write, write – build up my stories and try and improve every month.

It’s encouraging to see all of the posts and stories pile up, even though it’s only been a few months.

I’m super excited to send out my newsletter at the beginning of July where I talk more about how things are going.

I guess this Thursday I’m just feeling really grateful. The comments on the blog really fire me up. I love interacting with other readers and writers and creatives.

For everyone who has given my stuff a chance, thank you big time. I hope this is just the beginning of a really long and wild journey.

Trickster Brain: Wednesday, June 24th

Sometimes you have to trick yourself into being creative.

Our best ideas come after we’ve let our guards down, or when our responsible adult minds are looking the other way. Ideas arrive to us by way of magical carrier pigeons right before we fall asleep, while sitting on the airplane gazing out the little window, while pulling weeds or sitting in class or taking out the trash.

We all have a list of “shit that needs to get done today that should’ve been done yesterday.” But in the shower you aren’t expected to deal with that list, at least for that short time, and your idea mind suddenly has some breathing room.

I tricked myself into creativity earlier this week. I was having a miserable time trying to write. I had been working hard on a short story and falling behind my schedule. It was my second bad day in a row (and the guilt is always worse than the original mistake itself). Finally I gave up. I thought, “I’m not going to do this today. It’s no fun anyway. I’ll take the day off and tomorrow I’ll come back to it.” I decided to go outside and read a book instead, and I instantly felt lighter after letting myself off the hook.

Suddenly it was like I had turned a valve, because ideas started coming to me while I was reading. I grabbed my phone to make some notes because I didn’t want to forget my ideas, and before long I was writing.

Once the pressure was off, the fun snuck in.

It was a good trick. But my Ego is an intelligent little shrew, and he surely won’t fall for that one again. I’ll have to come up with something new when he isn’t looking.

Sometimes writing on my phone is better, because it feels less threatening than staring at the MacBook. Sometimes writing in the park helps. Sometimes I play guitar for a few minutes and then jump into it. I don’t know, I’m just a beginner. But my goal is for this year is, every week and every month, increase the minutes throughout each day where I’m capable of accessing that creative mind. Maybe one day I’ll be able turn it off and on without a hiccup. But, for now, I’m not above resorting to tricks.