Saturday, October 26, 2013

Starting Small

So in our last episode, I had a conversation with an old friend.  
I suggested to him that it almost doesn't matter where he begins his quest to get his life back on track.  Just start somewhere, anywhere, and GO.  Start building momentum before too much inertia sets in.  Believe me, I know… the longer you wait, the harder it gets to push forward.  I also pointed out that things will likely get worse for him if he doesn't step up and take some action now.
He didn't disagree, but still didn't where to begin.  I suggested he start small and build from there.  We worked out a plan and so far (weeks later) it seems to be going pretty well for him.
Here’s what I suggested:
  1. Get some kind of notebook.  I suggested a small memo pad so he could carry it around with him.
  2. Create a daily to do list.  Nothing big, just a few items you want to get done and don’t want to forget. Shoot for five to ten items a day.  Check them off when completed… doing so gives you that little feeling of accomplishment you need right now.
  3. After having worked with daily to dos for a week or so, create a list of weekly goals... just two or three, remember, we’re starting small here.  Goals are bigger than individual tasks.  Take your weekly goals, break them down into daily goals and create your to do list from there. Easy example: you have a weekly goal of thoroughly cleaning and organizing your kitchen. Day one, clean out that messy cabinet under the sink (you know the one I mean, I have one too).  Day two: tackle that junk drawer (again, me too).  I bet you don’t need half that stuff you've been hoarding.
Now you've gotten a few things done.  You might actually have a sense of pride and accomplishment.  What now?  
Easy.  Keep thinking bigger, which will lead to doing bigger.  
Tackle a bigger project, one that will require more resources, more planning and more time.  Got that kitchen organized?  Now tackle the whole house.  Use the same strategy of breaking that beast down into bite-sized chunks.  Plan it, gather what you need and go for it.

You needed a few wins and now you have them.  You have momentum. Keep it going.  Keep shooting for bigger wins and above all, keep moving forward.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Do Something

I got a call from an old friend a couple weeks ago.  While we probably don’t talk as often as we should, we always seem to be able to pick up right where we left off.  Something was different about this conversation, though. He seemed a little down, which was uncharacteristic of his usual upbeat demeanor.  Finally I called him on it.
“So what’s going on?” I said.
He paused for a moment, then, “Nothing, really.”
“Nothing, really?”  I paused. “Don’t bullshit me, man.  I've known you for twenty-five years.”
He let out a long sigh, then started telling me what was really going on.
He was considering leaving his job of fifteen years.  He said he could handle the unsatisfying drudgery (and had for years), but now he had a supervisor, who from the sound of it, was pretty much a textbook sociopath.  His relationship had degenerated into constant arguments and backbiting.
“I just go home and drink beer and watch TV,” he said.  Then after a pause: “I’m starting to hate my life.”
His words hung there for a moment.  I know there was a subtext of help me out here, buddy.

I’ve fallen into similar funks myself and the way out of it always comes down to this:
Take action.
Do something.
Do anything.  It almost doesn't matter what.
The point is to take action and show this gray mood who’s boss.  You take control of a little piece of your life.  You feel like you've accomplished something.  In the battle of your day, you've secured a beachhead from the enemy, even if it’s a little one.
The key is to keep going, gain momentum and take back more territory from your enemy.  Make sure you get a win (even a little) everyday.  Soon the wins will get bigger and start to build on one another.
That, my friends, is how you start to turn things around.

Next time, I’ll get into a more detail on what I suggested to my friend.

Monday, October 7, 2013

I Have No Voice And I Must Write

I’m a writer.
My passion is to write top-notch fiction and nonfiction and inspire others through that.  I have no doubt that I’ll make my mark as a writer… yes, I’ve made some good progress in that regard, but I still have a long way to go.  I’ve worked out a very detailed five-year plan, with interim goals all along the way.  Many of those goals involve publication… given that I am self-published, it’s all up to me.  I’m not dependent on the vagaries and whims of Random House or Simon and Schuster.  Simply, I write the book, edit, format, create the cover and upload to Amazon.  Simple as that.  Yes, I do have plans to do both print and audio books in the not too distant future, but that is neither here or now.
I really dig the idea of controlling my own destiny, but there are pitfalls… one of them is the ongoing challenge of marketing.  Fortunately, my full-time job is in the wonderful world of digital marketing, so I have something of an advantage there.
The other hazard is that my future as a writer is, obviously, dependent on the quantity and quality of my output.  I have confidence in the quality of my work, but I struggle with quantity at times, especially recently.
Yes, it’s true.  I lost my voice.  I had the dreaded writer’s block, the enemy of authorial aspirations, the killer of literary dreams throughout history. Not being one to curl up into a ball and give up, I decided enough was enough.  Time to fight this thing.

One of my favorite writers is the acerbic genius Harlan Ellison.  He is probably best known as the writer of most people’s favorite classic Star Trek episode, “City On the Edge of Forever”.  You know, the one where McCoy goes back in time and… well, if you haven’t seen it, I don’t want to spoil it for you.  But it’s awesome (I also highly recommend his story “Jeffty is Five”)..
Anyway, Ellison is an incredibly prolific author.  His output over the years rivals that of many small publishing houses.  He published a story in 1967 entitled “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”.  The title resonated with me somewhat in my writer’s block addled state.  Somewhat.  I fiddled with the wording a bit and came up with the title of this little missive… “I Have No Voice and I Must Write”.  Perfect.  
I really felt as if I had lost my writing voice.  Where words once tumbled out of me faster than I could commit them to paper, I had gotten to the point where I could hardly scratch out a decent paragraph.
I suppose there were a variety of reasons this happened, all of them conspiring to bring my literary output to a crashing halt.  Ultimately, none of them mattered.  In the end, I chose to let them crush my momentum.  Now it was up to me to get back up to speed.
I’ll be honest, I spun my wheels for a little while.  There was a start and stop project or two (I promise to get back to you, love story with a twist ending), the odd blog post here and there, but still, I struggled.
So I had an epiphany one night.  Actually, a few epiphanies (if you’re guessing I didn’t sleep well that night, you would be correct).  I came up with a plan and did a little attitude adjustment for good measure.
PROJECT: Just Write Something, You Pansy!!
I vowed to not let a day pass that I didn’t write something.  Anything.  It’s actually pretty easy when you think about it.  Here’s how it goes:
You write (or in my case, type) just one word.  Like this:
See how easy that is?  Now go for two words:
quick brown
Got it?  Now for the main event… finish that sentence:
fox jumped over the lazy dog.
Look at you… you just wrote an entire sentence, you stud (or studette, as the case may be).  Nobody said it had to be original or even good.  It just had to be words.  More to the point, you just chose to write, rather than be in the thrall of the word-sucking demon known as writer’s block.  Go you!  Take a moment and pat yourself on the back.  You’ve earned it.
Keep doing that, every single day, and you’ll soon be well on your way to actually writing all the time.
Now that you’ve pretty much made writer’s block your bitch, it’s time for the good stuff.  Let’s alter your attitude a bit.
PROJECT: Dammit, Jim, I’m a Writer, Not  An Editor.
My problem was that I kept judging each and every sentence, word, punctuation mark and letter I wrote, as I wrote them.  Yes, one wants to put out quality work, but one has to actually have output to judge, right?  There is a time for that… it’s called the revision stage.  I put the editor part of my brain on hold and just spilled out as many words as I could.  Upon going back to edit later, I was met with a pleasant surprise: I did a pretty good job.  Granted, I had to do some tweaking here and there, but I was overall pretty pleased with myself.
So guess what?  Being human, I’m not perfect, nor is my writing.  And that’s okay.  Part of my full-time job is to be an editor, so I have that covered pretty well.
I write for a lot of reasons,  I won’t bore you people with the full list as it is lengthy, but I had to remind myself of my litany of whys.  I write to have a brighter future.  I write to inspire others.  I write for therapy (yes, writing can be most therapeutic).  Etc. Etc.
This past weekend, someone I’ve known all my life shared that he felt “worthless”.  That cut me right to the core.  Part of the reason I write is, as above, to inspire others.  If I can keep one person from feeling that way, I have succeeded.  

I know I don’t have all the answers when it comes to beating writer’s block.  This is just what has worked for me.  The point is that I proved I can beat it and I can beat it again if necessary.
And guess what?  So can you.