Archive for the 'Creativity & innovation' Category

Doing something about my dream every single day.

Thursday, February 8th, 2018

This is hardly a new idea: if something is important to you, make it a priority to do SOMETHING on it every single day.

Your fitness. Your art. The good order of your life. Your relationship. You’ll know.

Jerry Seinfeld talks about it in terms of “Don’t break the chain.” There’s a whole movement for “non-zero days” (launched in this epic Reddit comment, but also glossed usefully here). Whatever approach you take, just make sure you do at least one little thing each day that moves you closer to your dreams.

I’ve been candid here about the struggle that I’ve been through lately. 2017 was a hard, hard year, and now I’m rebooting my life in many different ways. From that vantage point, it’s easy for me to see how I’ve allowed relationship issues, making a living, and all of the other things that have filled my days to keep me away from my real work — writing books.

Writing books is who I really am, regardless of my relationship status or what day job I have. (Note this post from, alas, 2009.) And yet I’ve been treating it as optional, or as something that can come later. Well, enough of that bullshit. Writing my first novel every single day until it is done is as important as anything in my life, and now I’m acting like it.

The picture at the top of the page shows my buddy Austin Kleon‘s hand-drawn calendar to get you going on the Seinfeld model. (You can download it here.) As you can see, this is day 9 for me of writing my novel. Results so far:

  • Getting well synced with the ideas in the story, which I started cooking up in October but set aside as life intervened. (Or, as I allowed life to intervene; I’m working to take full responsibility for my own actions — which this project also helps.)
  • Yesterday and today, I was able to spend longer periods happily pecking away without feeling the need to check social media, read e-mails, and so on. And during those periods, the ideas just flowed, such that now I see much better how different parts of the book — plot points, characters, themes — will play off of each other. Now there are also more little details that will make specific scenes hum. These are reminders, as a writer friend was telling me a while back, that I’m wired such that I will always be full of new ideas. That, in turn, means that I can afford to freely discard stale ideas weighing me down.
  • In general, I just feel better about my progress. Artists create. Writers write. I’m writing. Pow.

What are you working on that deserves a piece of your attention every single day?

Beautiful free images — and an idea for what to do with them.

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

VERY longtime readers of this blog may remember my previous posts on where to find great free images to use for blogging etc.:

This morning I stumbled across a fabulous resource to add to these, courtesy of @tracibrowne:

The beautiful shot by Cayton Heath at the top of this post was one of the first I came across at the first site Traci lists, Unsplash.

Now for the idea of something fun you can do with these: Use a random compelling image as a writing prompt.

I’ve done this many times with the flash fiction in the “Storytime!” category of this blog. For instance, I got the idea for “Sanctum” strictly by looking at the photograph of the church at the head of that post.

I find it’s a good exercise for the creative muscles to build a narrative around what you see in the photo:

  • Who’s in the photo (or just off the frame, or hidden from view)?
  • What’s their story?
  • How did they get there?
  • What’s going to unfold in this setting?

And so on. Then you can challenge yourself to structure your story (or poem, meditation, etc.) in a way that best draws out your ideas.

Please try it and point me to the results!

Sin against the page.

Saturday, November 7th, 2015

You’ll never find your voice and express your truth if you don’t.


The beauty of mise-en-place.

Monday, January 5th, 2015


Anyone who’s been following this blog for a long time may recall my affection for the creative dictum of Chef Fernand Point:

Every morning the cuisinier must start again at zero,
with nothing on the stove.

That is what real cuisine is all about.

This item from NPR complements it nicely, I think:

For A More Ordered Life, Organize Like A Chef

The piece talks about how professional chefs live by the concept of mise-en-place, which guides them to organize everything in their kitchen workstations ruthlessly. Having an ideally-ordered workspace allows chefs to do their grueling work, even at the highest level espoused by Chef Point, without becoming overwhelmed by it.

Thanks to my friend and fellow writer Glenda Burgess for pointing to the NPR piece. She and I have been talking about various ways that we can organize our own writing lives to eliminate clutter and noise and get the real work done — which is what mise-en-place is all about.

What are you doing to organize your workspace and workflow better, here at the start of this new year?

Photo by Don LaVange, used under a Creative Commons license.

Get a running start on 2014.

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

There’s an old saying — I first heard it from Will Smith, if memory serves — that if you stay ready, then you don’t need to get ready.

At the moment, I’m thinking about the contrast between that approach and the many people who will wait until New Year’s Day to launch into their resolutions. You know there are legions of people planning to write a book* in 2014 who are absolutely sure they’re going to start working on it in earnest — 300 words every day! — on January 1. But they’re not laying the groundwork now to support that resolution.

(* In place of “write a book,” insert “start a business,” “get in shape,” “make a career move,” or whatever suits your own life — and appropriately scares you.)

Get Rolling Now

Too many of us deny ourselves a running start on our projects. We dither, waste time with excess research, lose ourselves in the depths of perfectionism, and so on. Especially for creative people (and I’m including, for example, business entrepreneurs), the focus should be on whatever eases the process, yet we often seem to delay progress rather than speed it along.

Probably it ties back to classic psychological issues — fear of failure, fear of success, generalized anxiety, etc. But let’s not waste time teasing those out . . . since that kind of psychologizing tends to be another delay mechanism. Let’s commit, instead, to preaching the message of taking a running start.

Imagine yourself six months or a year or five years from now, when that 2014 resolution has turned into The Great American Novel, your own business, 80 fewer pounds of bodyfat, or whatever it is. Think about how you might share your story of success with someone else, starting with “In hindsight, I gave myself a running start by . . . “

Here are some suggestions for finishing that sentence:

  • . . . adapting a proposal template I found online. I didn’t know how to do a proposal and I was freaking out about it, but that made it much simpler.
  • . . . making a list of the 30 easiest things I could do to get the ball rolling on [Project X]. I just asked for pointers from some friends who had been down the same road, then made a list of all the things that made me think, “Oh, that would be easy enough.” It was a great jump-start for me.
  • . . . clearing out a nice, dedicated workspace for myself to get the work done.
  • . . . lining up a workout buddy and visiting the gym a week ahead of time to talk with the trainers, learn the equipment, and that kind of thing.
  • . . . getting rid of all the junk food in my house the day after Christmas. Just threw it all in a huge garbage bag and carried it out with the torn-up wrapping paper.
  • . . . pulling together all the notes I had made for my novel, organizing them, and re-reading everything. I was able to revise the outline even before New Year’s rolled around.

You get the idea: Jump the gun. Pull your thoughts together now. Start your outline, or expand it. Sketch out some things. Get your materials ready. Edge ahead.

What would you add to the list here? And what are YOU doing to give yourself a running start on 2014?

Commonplace: Shunryu Suzuki on concentration.

Sunday, August 11th, 2013

“In order not to leave any traces, when you do something, you should do it with your whole body and mind; you should be concentrated on what you do. You should do it completely, like a good bonfire. You should not be a smoky fire. You should burn yourselves completely . . . Zen activity is activity which is completely burned out, with nothing remaining but ashes.”

Shunryu Suzuki, Beginner’s Mind (quoted in Katherine Angel, Unmastered)

Enough with the overthinking.

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

For a certain kind of smart person (*points to self*), overthinking is a real problem. You could call it “analysis paralysis,” “getting lost in the weeds,” or simply “neurosis.” Whatever you call it, the effects are the same:

  • Too much time spent thinking things over.
  • Mulling that doesn’t lead to action.
  • Angst.
  • Stuck-ness.

So, here in 2013, what say we give the overthinking a miss?

I have some ideas on how to avoid it — or curtail it when it does arise — but what are your best methods for dealing with overthinking?

Image source.

Creative collaborations that make financial sense.

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

Lately I’ve been soaking in a lot of the material from the Future of Storytelling site. I particularly enjoyed this 12-minute feature on Damian Kulash of the band OK Go.

OK Go has been successful with a 21st-century approach to making music — focusing on their overall creative output and financial returns, rather than obsessing on record sales. In fact, as Kulash explains, they parted ways amicably with their former record label for precisely that reason.

Instead of pursuing chart-topping hits, the band derives revenue from a mix of music sales, touring, and — distinctively — their YouTube-sensation collaborations with car companies and other commercial entities. For Kulash, this isn’t a case of selling out, but rather of pursuing opportunities to do intriguing creative projects that are also financially rewarding.

I especially like what he says toward the end of the video about completing a lot of creative projects — some of which are successful enough to subsidize the others. It’s a portfolio approach to creative endeavor, and it’s not fundamentally different from:

  • Graham Greene alternating between writing the novels he saw as “serious” and those he thought of as “entertainments”
  • Orson Welles and other filmmakers doing the same thing, making crowd-pleasers to give themselves the financing and credibility to make passion projects
  • Farrar Straus and Giroux banking on the success of Tom Wolfe to make it easier to keep books in print for the likes of John McPhee

Since I first watched the Kulash video a couple of days ago, I’ve been thinking about this applies to my own mix of creative and commercial work. I’ll share more results as I have them.

Meanwhile, how might the OK Go approach work for you?



Just for an hour or two.

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

Tell the world to go away.

Focus on the most important thing. Don’t debate with yourself overly about what that is — it’s the one you’ve been putting off, the vital one, the first domino in the row, the big beating heart of your dreams.

For an hour, or a Sunday afternoon, set everything else aside. Turn off the television, ignore your inbox, and block out the noise. Beg off from life’s minutiae. Someone else can be on diaper duty, at least for an afternoon.

Then do that thing. Screw up your courage and do that thing.

Never apologize for doing the most important thing.

Image source.


Sunday, August 12th, 2012

It’s time for me to take in less and crank out more. To that end, I’m weaning myself off of media — at least to a degree — for a little while.

Given what I do for a living, I can’t go on a complete media fast. And I don’t mean to cut myself off from the world. But I’ve found that my ratio of output to intake has been poor. I need to clear my head so that I have more space to think about the work I really need to do — the things that only I can do. (This includes my own writing and my corporate duties.)

It’s also a good time for me to do it, given that the election season is heating up. The more media I consume, the more I have to deal with annoying commercials and tendentious opinions from all sides.

I’m still deciding what I will keep on the menu — and please rest assured that if you contact me (via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) I will respond quickly. But I won’t be doing all the free-range grazing that I usually do. It’s not sustainable, at least in this season of my life.

I’ll keep you posted on my results.

Do you ever go on a media fast? What do you cut out — or what would you?