Tuesday, February 16, 2016

So Many Choices... So Little Mind



Here’s some news you can use —

Our good friends in the field of neuroscience have proven that the brain’s most productive time is within the first two hours of waking up.

Ah yes, smug pessimists, you’re right about this one — it’s all downhill from here.

But optimists, take heart! Applied wisely, this could be the best news you’ve heard all day.

First off, let’s explore why this is so.

Well, in not-so-super-scientific terms, your brain gets tired. 

And what makes it tired? Three things really —

Decision. Decisions. Decisions.

Okay, that looks like only one thing. But it turns out that mental energy is drained away with every choice you make — especially those that involve willpower. At a certain point your grey matter thinks nothing matters... “Like whatever, Dude. Whatever.”

The actual super-scientific term for this is called decision fatigue. And it explains why a health-conscious person will refuse that tempting bowl of donutty frosted fun first thing in the morning, yet gleefully scarf down two or three at noon.

But is this fact of life only helpful for those trying to avoid donuts?

Nope.

Arming yourself with this insight can actually help you reach your creative goals. Here’s how:

1. Eliminate unnecessary life decisions... like that pesky morning fashion dilemma. Trust me, if your closet contains only black mock turtlenecks (Steve Jobs) or gray t-shirts (Mark Zuckerberg), you’ll free up your mind for more important choices. And if you want to really go full throttle with decision elimination, you can ditto successful CEOs Alexa Von Tobel and Leo Widrich by eating the same meals each and every day as well.

2. If you spend the first two hours of your day watching YouTube videos of cats wedging themselves into teeny tiny boxes, you might want to rethink the way you start your morning.  Remember that those first two hours are 120 minutes of golden creative opportunity.

3. Creative endeavors require willpower. That is, for most of us they’re optional activities so a decision must be made daily — as in, “Will I write something today, or not?” And we all know what happens when you leave this decision until evening...Yep, you’re glazed and confused from eating ALL the donuts, and you’ve got no words in the file.

So, make the decision ahead of time. In fact, build a habit such as “Every day at (pick your favorite time) I write for X number of minutes or Y number of words.” And voila! That was just one decision, and you’ve already made it! So, if you stick to this plan, you won’t ever need to decide again — leaving your brain freed up for other important choices like...


Do I want the chocolate frosting or vanilla?


PROMPT: Give your brain a choice break and start building creative habits. For a kick-start in habit formation, check out Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives.


By the way, I am guiltily aware that one of your decisions today was spent on choosing to read this blog. For that, I am grateful.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Happy New Year!



Yes, I know. This baby New Year is already 28 days old and cutting teeth. What’s more, I’ve read a recent article suggesting that most of you have given up on your writing resolutions by now.

Now that’s just sad.

So maybe it’s time to regroup and give yourself a restart.

An awesome theme song might help...

You Gotta Be by Des'ree, Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You), or Always Look on the Bright Side of Life by Monty Python are all excellent choices. However, I do NOT recommend Waiting Around to Die by Townes Van Zandt, or Beck’s Loser for obvious reasons.

A Statement of Awesomeness comes in handy, too...

Something like Writing for the Wide Screen in 2016, Novels, Art, and Caffeine for 2016, or I’m a Creating Machine in 2016 could be just the ticket to set your wonderful wheels in motion. 

Personally, I’m Plotting for Dopamine in 2016. Clearly I find it hard to resist wordplay that combines my love of both writing and psychology. And yes, I am well aware that I’m the only one chuckling right now. But I do digress...

Please note that if your 2015 Statement of Awesomeness was... well, awesome, then there’s certainly no shame in It’s What I REALLY mean in 2016!

So let’s restart this New Year the right way right now!

Here are FIVE TIPS to make the awesome part guaranteed: 
  1. Say YES to RESOLUTIONS! Even though New Year's resolutions get a bum rap, our friends in the Journal of Clinical Psychology note that those who make them are actually 10 times more likely to successfully change their behavior than those who do not.
  2. ACTION is your friend. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Get action. Do things; be sane; don’t fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action.” While his words should not be confused with the post-Teddy phrase “get some action”... his sentiments remain spot on. ACTION, whether you're taking it or getting it, is always a good thing.
  3. FINISH! Vow to finish something this year... and this something can be ANYTHING... even an anything as humble as a haiku. Just finish it. And while you’re finishing, remember this as well – DONE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT. If the last line of that haiku has one extra syllable that you just can't seem to shed — I do not care, mon frère. Call it done, grin, and move on.
  4. Then there’s the first cousin of DONE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT, affectionately known as LATE IS BETTER THAN NEVER... just like this post... ahem. See, it’s true.
  5. Finally, if you can remember only one of all the tips I’ve mentioned, please let it be this one — STAY IN THE GAME. It doesn’t matter what we’re talking about here – resolutions, goals, dreams, desires, or life in general and specifically – STAY IN THE GAME. It’s always worth the ride.
Bonus Tip: Through it all, BE NICE TO YOURSELF. And if you happen to get to a point where you’re spouting a bunch of F words like failure, frustration, or face-plant, remember that a new year can begin on any given day at any given moment —

even this one right now.

PROMPT: Art is not just what we do. Art is who we are.

Yes, my friend, your LIFE is a work of art —

so, make it a good one.


And here’s a little extra motivation that cracks me up and never gets old.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Update



It’s been exactly nine months since my last post, and I thought it was high time for an update.

Because nine months is a fabulous wedge of time, isn't it? After all, it’s the exact portion of a year that can morph a good idea into something squalling on its own.

So, it may come as no surprise to you that I've used the time to create a brand spanking new revision of a novel I've been toying with for years. And unlike human offspring who tend to hang around for a couple of decades, that baby was itching to leave the nest before the ink was dry. And so, I sent it out the first chance I got, right?

Nope.

First, I had it read by a couple of people with blood-red pens and hearts the size of raisins. Trust me, you need these folks. At this stage of the game they are far more helpful to you and your manuscript than the ones with hearts the size of Texas who dot their i’s with daisies.

After this set of suggestions was considered, and I had gone through the draft yet another time, I was then on the hunt for good listeners.

You can usually spot good listeners by their large ears and thoughtful expressions. However, this method is not fool-proof. For example, cats and jackasses are NOT good listeners. Behind that cat’s thoughtful expression is just a headful of notions about canned food and plots that may or may not involve your murder should it ever figure out how to work the can's pull-tab on its own. And jackasses…

Well, they’re jackasses.

Anyway, after finding a great batch of listeners who were willing to meet for a boatload of sessions, I read that whole dang novel OUT LOUD. I can’t really overemphasize the importance of this step. You will not believe how many little errors you’ll catch if you use it. It seems that the brain reading silently loves to patch things up as it hums along, but give it a voice and wow! You’ll find yourself wondering how you could have possibly missed that obvious mistake in your first 147 read-throughs.  

Finally, when that was all said (OUT LOUD) and done, the novel was ready to send off into the great big world where it will eventually receive its YES or NO.

Pop quiz time!

What do you do when you've completed and submitted your manuscript?

A. Check email, snail mail, and voice mail 317 times a day and look like this—


B. Get on with your next novel and look like this—




Well, I don’t know about you, but I chose option B. 

And so, I’m already knee-deep into chapter two of novel two — that’s the good news.

The bad news is that blog posts will continue to be on a pretty random cycle from here on out.


And now for an update on the home front:

Midway through the novel revision, my dear, sweet, elderly office mate abandoned the project (and life as we know it). Those were tough days indeed, and alas, he is still missed.

R.I.P

However, on a lighter note, I have since been blessed with two new colleagues. And while they do have actual names, and perhaps titles, I've dubbed them Thing 1 and Thing 2. I’m guessing you can see why…



 Obviously, they are a work in progress.


Aren't we all?


PROMPT: I’m placing bets that you have a mossy old manuscript stashed somewhere. Well, today is the day to dig it out and dust it off!

Oh, and don’t forget that it’s International Moment of Laughter Day (go ahead and Google if you must). This is sure to give you a jump-start on the celebration.


I think that's how we should all handle rejection letters, don’t you?

Monday, July 14, 2014

New Directions



The big question is whether you are going to be able to say
 a hearty yes to your adventure.
—Joseph Campbell


I've just returned from a grand adventure, and it was absolutely fabulous!

But here’s the rub —

Adventure invites change.

And it is up to us to decide whether we allow that change to work its magic.

Well, I say bring it on!


Thus, for a while I’ll be exploring some new paths…

just to say a hearty YES to more of my adventure.

So, I’ll be taking a sabbatical of sorts from the good ship Elbow.


Until we sail again…

Au revoir!


PROMPT:
Waste not your Hour…
— Omar Khayyam


And as always — 

Write on!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Just a Word


Ah, Oxford!

I’m pretty sure that it’s is where geeky people go when they die (well, at least that’s my plan).

I mean, what’s not heavenly about a collection of 38 colleges in a beautiful setting?

And then, of course, it includes the mega-nerd bonus…



Yep, that’s Logic Lane.

Anyway, for over a century All Souls (ahem, geeky souls… see above) College of Oxford had a very special test to help them choose which student would receive a 7-year fellowship.

It was an exam created to bring the most brilliant minds to their metaphorical knees 

The one-word essay.

Students seated for this task would have an envelope placed into their trembling hands. Within that envelope (gulp!) was a single white card. And on that card (gasp!) was just one word.

The students would then be asked to write coherently, creatively, and brilliantly about that word for three solid hours.

Each year, THE WORD was a closely guarded secret that everyone wanted to know. In fact, THE WORD held such allure that even the townsfolk couldn't wait to find out. 

Crowds would gather outside the exam hall just so they could be the first ones to roll THE WORD off their tongues. Americans, think Black Friday and a Talking Elmo special  yeah, it was THAT big.

Alas, that is all part of the past now. It was a sad day in 2010 when All Souls College discontinued the practice. Apparently they ran out of words

These days, the students write essays about the classics, politics, and philosophy. As for the townsfolk  they remain in front of their tellies, never missing the latest advert for Talking Elmo.

But to think, for over a century that essay actually determined the future of a whole lot of… well… souls.

Never underestimate the power…

of just one word.


PROMPT: Take your own All Souls College exam to test your mettle today. Here are a few of the famous last words used over the years: POSSESSIONS, MERCY, STYLE, NOVELTY, WATER, MIRACLES. Pick one and go!