Impatience of the Momentary

I don’t like work. I think it’s safe to say that most people feel the same way. Generally it’s not the work itself that I oppose, but rather the time spent on it. I’m impatient, especially when I picture the intent or idea so clearly in my mind. I don’t want to wait, and I don’t want to risk having it come out differently than I’ve imagined.

The thing is, I know my first efforts are weak. I understand that any attempt to shortcut or rush a project—whatever that may be—degrades the end results, and quite probably makes the outlay of the time I did put into it rather pointless.

Part of the problem is a lack of appreciation for the process itself. In gaming terms, leveling up a character in a roleplaying game is often considered grinding—as if efforts to strengthen the character is work, boring work, and it’s only done to get to the end levels. This is in a game, something that should be fun throughout.

Finding enjoyment in the activity makes a significant difference. Back in art school, my mindset evolved from trying to create a finished piece to simply doing—painting (or drawing, etc.) for the sake of painting. It was not a mindless activity, but the goal shifted from an end-thing to a momentary experience.

I’ve found it harder to fall into this mindset when it comes to writing, though every once in a while, when words just seem to flow, I edge nearer to it. It’s quite possible that my writing habits keep me from this sense of process—I edit while I write, trying to hone words and sentences as I write them. I feel the effort, the work, and while it’s not quite a slog it isn’t really a game, either.

Of course, it also depends on what I’m writing—blog posts (like this one here) are more work than play; stories that I can’t get out of my head come much closer to an enjoyable process.

But when I struggle more than flow, I still find ways to appreciate it—or at least the gains. I anticipate the end results, and see them after the fact. Repeat this often enough and I begin to train my mind, like a Pavlovian experiment, to equate this kind of work with finished pieces (and possibly even lubricate future efforts). Along the way, I’m more aware of what I’m doing (sometimes agonizingly so), and that awareness allows me to see the flaws more clearly. This awareness also sticks in my mind, helping me see patterns I fall into, and traps I can attempt to avoid.

Ultimately, though, I need to learn how to relish these moments, to find enjoyment in all acts of writing, and bring out the game of each effort. I’m confident the secret lies in the process. I should explore other ways of working on this craft, or other environments, maybe give myself different challenges, or push my writing style in various directions. Shaking it up is good. What it boils down to is that I—and you—should enjoy what we choose to do, or choose to do something else.

What’s Your Resolution?

It’s the start of the new year and so I thought I should write the obligatory “new years resolution” post. We all do it, right? We resolve to write more, or to watch less TV (or browse less Facebook). Maybe you’ve set out big goals—start a novel, finish one, get an agent?

My wife wrote out a list of fifty-two goals—not specifically to achieve one a week, and most are small, very achievable actions or changes. She’s a very organized person.

So, new year, new resolutions?

I’ll pass.

I’ve never been a fan of big resolutions, and certainly not centered around New Years. For me, new years is such an arbitrary line in the sand. While much of the world follows the Gregorian calendar, it’s no more than an agreed upon system. New years day? It’s really no more or less important than any other day circling the sun. Yeah yeah, we need a system to function, for society to be on the same page, to have at least one socially acceptable “get loaded” day (not counting conventions)—but why New Years? Why not winter solstice, or the spring equinox—those both seem like ideal points of change. Why not your birthday?

I should point out that I have a personal reason for seeing this as arbitrary—my birthday happens to fall on the fifth of January. To me, this is the start of the new year, not the first. Start a new diet on the first? No way—I have a nice dinner and dessert (okay, desserts) planned just a handful of days later. And from a little before Christmas through (and perhaps slightly past) my birthday, I’m in holiday mode—the last thing I want to do is mess up my fun by trying to have less of it.

My bigger objection, though, is the idea of a resolution—your realization that something needs changing so significantly that you have to force yourself to do it. If the need is really there, you should not wait until the new year to make it, nor for your birthday, or even the coming Monday. Do it now. Stop reading this blog and go do it. It’s okay, really—go do your thing. Need to work on your health or weight? Go take a walk, and make the next meal a better one. Do some writing over lunch, or before going to bed, and maybe even first thing in the morning. Skip TV this evening—it’s the same junk that’s always running anyway (you can always catch it later with Netflix or elsewhere).

I’ll fess up to the fact that I don’t always follow this same advice. I mull over ideas; I get excited about something and don’t end up executing it; I know there’s plenty of things I could improve and end up kicking that can down the road a bit. I have goals, some of which I’m actively working on and others I will…soon. But I started a new diet in the middle of October, with both Halloween and a vacation just ahead of it (I’m still on it, by the way, even with the small hiccups of Thanksgiving, Christmas, my birthday as well as a few others). When I first jumped into my exercise phase, it was the middle of May—that was almost five years ago, and I’m still active. I started writing my first novel on the first of April (no joke!), after spending a month or so cleaning up a year’s worth of notes. It took me another eight months to finish writing it, but I did, along with maybe ten or so short stories along the way.

I’m also deadline-oriented—I have to be with the work I do if I want to keep clients happy. It also helps when writing for anthologies and ensuring you get something done before they close to submissions.

There are reasons why you aren’t doing what you think you should be doing—rarely do those distractions or habits go away just because of a resolution. Correct them if they’re a problem, and if they aren’t find a way to embrace them in a controlled, healthy way. Adjust your goals, refine your expectations, and don’t wait for some arbitrary time to make the big changes.

And now, with this out of the way, it’s time for some World of Warcraft—I have goals to work on after all.


Last month I had made up my mind to not accept any new projects for a while. I wanted a break. It had been a rough summer and I was burnt out. I had a few obligations I was wrapping up and then I just wanted to step back and read a book. Then, as happens, I got an offer I could not refuse, so I’m actually now busier than ever. It’s a good thing—a great thing, really, but I realize I still need to re-evaluate stuff. It has me thinking a lot about how to do this creative life thing long term, how to take on a good amount of work while keeping my balance.

There is this romanticised image of the dedicated artist that I’ve held up as my ideal: the creative individual sacrificing everything for their art. Times past when I got a huge ASAP project I put everything else in my life on hold while I dove in and swam up stream to the finish. But I think if I’m going to make this be a long term thing in my life, I have to make the time to take the dog for a walk to the park. To help my kid with his homework. To be present for my partner (who takes a good deal of the load at home when I have a heavy project bearing down). I need to make sure I’m getting enough sleep. Plus, I signed up for another marathon, so I need to make sure I am getting the necessary exercise to prepare for that. I have wondered if things like training for a marathon are luxuries (ha ha) I can no longer afford, but I’ve learned how much I need those physical outlets for my mental health, so I’m keeping them on the table.

If it’s not obvious by now, I am a work-a-holic, more comfortable with a task than with socializing. So I need to pay special attention to taking care of my friendships and my loved ones. The other night, we went to dinner and a movie with friends and it was hard for me to turn off the radio station in the back of my head, telling me I shouldn’t be there, that I should be at home working. My online life is reduced to retweeting an occasional thing of interest and liking a few status updates. I miss my online life. It’s a balancing act I’m still figuring out.

Something else I’m working on: letting go of my fear of failure, the horror that I won’t be good enough. Here’s an interview with comic writer Kelly Sue Deconnick that’s worth listening to for a lot of reasons, but one of them is that right in the middle of it (at 33:24 minutes in to be precise), she says this about deadlines: “the month is going to come regardless of if you are ready, and sometimes you will not get it as all-together as you hoped, but you move on and do better next time.” That really gave me pause. It reminded me of something that artist Donato Giancola told us at the Illustrations Masters Class this past spring, something I’m paraphrasing, but it was along the lines of: “Occasionally, I have turned in less than top quality work. I am not proud of that. But it happens. You then keep working so that next time is better.” Those two comments made an impression on me, not as an excuse to do less than stellar work, but as a reminder that sometimes you are on your game, sometimes you are not, and you don’t let that keep you from moving forward.

So that’s what I’m trying to do. Work hard. Keep breathing. Find the right balance. Take care of my loved ones. Be a bit more gentle with myself. Stuff like that. I hope this all makes sense—I am writing it on my lunch break before I dive back into that offer I could not refuse.

So here, if you’re interested, a few people who have said it a bit more eloquently:  Lillian Cohen-Moore discusses how to deal with burn out. Then, Damian Walters-Grintalis talks about writing when you are broken and John Nakamura Remy talk about how he learned to stop worrying and love his goals. Finally, Amy Sundburg discusses priorities and social media.

Okay, that’s all. Time to get back to work.

Time is Your Currency – Spend it Well

There’s a common expectation that you should give time and attention to everything else but yourself. That you are a better person through self sacrifice. God, community, family—all of these things should come before yourself (or, in this case, your projects).

I say: not so fast.

Time is a commodity we all trade in, giving it away for various reasons. Some of these reasons are quite valid—most of us need to work to live, we have families that are important to us, or we engage in social or community activities for the betterment of the world around us. But we need to take care when getting involved with outside projects (commitments, activities, etc.)—will they become significant time sinks?

You don’t get this time back. What you use is gone. It is the most valuable currency you hold, and you have no option but to spend it—it can’t be saved.

Of course you can time manage—in a way it’s a form of savings, but it would be hypocritical of me to talk in depth about this subject. Time management is not really my forte. In reality I’m a time thief—I steal my time from other activities (as I write this my lunch is getting cold). Rarely do I watch TV without my laptop or iPad out (do you really need your full attention to watch The Voice? It’s not as if I’m watching So You Think You Can Dance). This practice can be productive even if inefficient.

However, your real gains will come from self discipline and self respect.

Self discipline comes in the form of knowing your priorities and sticking to them. Avoid activities that do not achieve your goals—browsing Facebook, playing World of Warcraft—when you have more important tasks at hand. This is doubly important when you are trying to work on a personal project—blow off your employer’s time if you must, but not your own. Find the best times to do the things you want to do and make sure you don’t do anything else during that time. If this is writing (or other repetitive tasks), do this regularly. Make it a habit. And make sure this time is priority time for you—schedule other activities around this. If you often have conflicts, find a different time slot. It takes discipline to make this work.

It also takes self respect. Certainly you need to respect yourself and your time, believing in your abilities enough to make these kinds of priorities. But respect also comes into play when deciding which outside projects to take on. How do you value your time? Will this other project benefit you—financially, experience-wise, exposure-wise—more so than your own work? Are you sacrificing time from your own creative efforts by taking on something else?

To me, this last one is the biggest consideration.

I do take on outside projects—when they are something I believe in. My involvement here at BookLife Now is essentially an outside project, or at least not within my primary creative efforts. Same goes for a Kickstarter project I’m involved with (I volunteered my professional skills). There’s little to no financial gains here. And the exposure gains are minimal (don’t buy into doing work for exposure—your best exposure will come from working on your own projects, and building your own brand). I do these things because I believe in them, I feel I have something to bring to the table, and I appreciate the sense of accomplishment they give when they succeed. But I try my best to ensure that what I take on doesn’t eat too much of my own time. Giving up TV? Fine. Giving up gaming? Sure. Giving up writing time? Not if I can help it.

Be smart, be selective, respect your own creative efforts and time—and maybe even try out that time management thing. But remember that your time is your own—spend it wisely. You can’t save it up, but maybe you can steal a bit from yourself.