Making it Matter—P4

6 steps to creating something that matters:

Create carefully: This is the internet age, the time that means you can write something, and less than 5 minutes later, publicize it so that anyone in the world can see it.This may seem like a dream come true to the masses, but is it really? It used to be a rigorous process to publish (and not only in the writing sense) anything at all. You couldn’t record music in your home, you didn’t just walk into the museum and hang your painting on the wall next to Van Gogh’s (of course you can’t do that today either), you couldn’t bind together pages by hand, call them a book, and start selling it to the entire country. The standards were high. Creating took time, patience, and lots of hard work. Getting published by a publishing house meant months of revisions, discussion, communication, and sometimes scrapping your entire piece and starting over (this is a great article about that process with someone famous.).

Now, getting published is as easy as making something and posting it for the world to see—and before long, you’re a sensation. The standards seem to be considerably lower now; but are they really?

Years ago, consuming art was a commitment. If you wanted to read a book, you had to buy it from a bookstore, or at the very least, request it from the library. Sometimes you had to wait, while they ordered it and it came in. In almost every case, there were less books (pun *relatively* intended), making the ones that you did acquire highly valuable. Getting a book was like finding an oasis in the desert.

Now, the commitment level for art intake is minimal, at most. I have access to most books or articles (or as many other written works as you can think of) on my computer. I can read them whenever I want, pull them up and comment on them, expressing my opinions. It is instant gratification, instant satisfaction. I don’t have to wait for anything—if I want a hard copy of a book, Amazon will ship it to me, guaranteed delivery in two days. I have whatever I want.

This may seem nice, but underneath the cream cheese frosting, the carrot cake has a bitter twist. The old fashioned high standards were set by experts in the field, as they moderated content and searched for good value. Now the standards are set by… Me. And you. And your uncle, and my neighbor, and the man who cleans the gum off the sidewalk. We decide what we want (we always did that), we decide if it’s good or not (we always did that), and we decide that it’s not worth it to keep reading (we didn’t exactly always do that). People used to read books even if they weren’t the best, because it was all they could get their hands on. Now, we can get our hands on whatever we want. There is no limit to the literature that we can access, and so if we don’t like you, or we think someone else wrote a better book about it, we’re done with you. We have rocketed the standards to out of the atmosphere, because in becoming more eclectic, and having access to whatever we want, we’ve become literary snobs.

So create carefully; make your writing good, make it the best. Do your research, your homework, edit carefully, ask intelligent opinions and experts in the field. Because we’re a tough crowd to please, and we want the best. And if you don’t deliver, we’re clicking the next link we see, and moving on.

 

Making it Matter—P1

6 steps to creating something that matters:

Create by passion: If you are passionate about what you’re making, it will matter. If you’re passionate about coffee, become a specialist and learn to create the best cup of coffee you can. If you’re passionate about carpentry, practice, tirelessly and endlessly until your reputation precedes you and people can’t stop talking about your work. If business is your passion, never stop researching, learning, innovating, growing. Often it isn’t the passion alone that brings the meaning—it’s the repeated practicing, learning, and growth, over and over and over again.

What’s even better is, that if something is your passion, you don’t lose it. Don’t confuse losing it with the burn outs, dry outs, and disillusionment that come with creativity. Low spells happen to everyone; without them, we’d have no fuel. In the dark times, in the low times, in the hard times, keep track of them—how you feel, what you see, what it’s like.

Then, when you wake up one morning and the passion has woken up too, create with the hard times in mind. The depth of feeling and emotion is what gives art the extra fuel, what brings it from good to great. And your passion is what makes it matter; first to you, then to others.

 

Writing Through Writers Block

Writing about how writing through writers block is all good and well when the tank is full and the brain is buzzing—enter writers block, and writing is impossible. None of the ideas take root for longer than a sentence, and every sentence looks flat and colorless. Grinding out one sentence after the next feels like punishment for a crime you didn’t want to commit, and the longer you spend laboring over words, the less you can think of to say. It’s a vicious cycle.

Most good writers say that the best way to break writers block is to write through it. I’ve said it myself, on days when I wasn’t experiencing the dread sensation. But days like today, it’s difficult to take that advice. Terribly difficult. It feels like every word on the page is awful. And it doesn’t make sense, and the jokes aren’t funny, and the witty insights that are usually so good just sound like I tried too hard.

But, even though writing through writers block is so hard, and so awful, there is good news. It doesn’t last forever. And you can always edit.

Because maybe tomorrow, when your brain isn’t slogging under the weight of ill-clarity, and you look at your work again, you’ll see that it wasn’t as terribly awful as you thought, and without that word that’s clogging things up over there, and that other phrase that’s in the way there, it could be really not too bad, maybe might even be good!

Jim Beam—Part 2

See yesterday to understand today.

… People are usually partial to their own. Therefore, in asserting superiority or quality, it’s wisest to start from the bottom, and let other people make the discovery that what you have is great. This is an aspect of humility. It’s not self-degrading, or sloppy; it quietly recognizes quality, and lets everyone come alongside at his own chosen pace. And while you pay attention to other people, and don’t aggrandize ourself, soon they’ll be more willing to listen to what you have to say in return.

What does this have to do with writing? In writing, there are choices: You can write with little or no opinion or feeling, keeping your offensive line so far back it’s almost invisible. You can write with extreme opinion, guns blazing before you wake up in the morning, and long after you’ve gone to sleep at night.

There is a middle ground; one that embraces the value of having opinions, without making them paramount or prisoner. Blunt, badgering dogmatism that’s not backed up well rarely convinces anyone—then, neither does lackadaisical laissez-faire. Have good reasons for your opinions (awards, global recognition, multiple experiences and certifications), but be kind about them. Don’t pin people to the wall until they agree with you, and if you don’t agree or care about something, don’t malign those who do. People will listen and endure those who are well-educated geniuses, authorities, and wealthy, even if they are belligerent, malicious, and despicable; but people will respect someone who is kind.

Bolstering your image with sarcasm, dogmatism, and pedantry doesn’t work in the long run. Not only do you lose respect (if you even had it to begin with), you lose the possibility of mutual care and relationship (not necessary in many occupations, but always nice). Respect, you can live without; lots of people do. It’s a lot harder to live without friends.

Write with humility, earn yourself respect. Don’t make claims that aren’t supported—have reasons for what you say. And next time you read (hear) someone claiming that “My ______ is the best,” think about Jim Beam and his award and smile silently, because you know that just saying it doesn’t make it true, but you don’t have to fight it.

*Note: there is a difference between opinion and belief.

Jim Beam and Writing—Part 1

There’s a billboard in Chicago that  millions of people see daily. It’s on the entire side of a several story tall building, located at the on ramp for the interstate in and out of Chicago.  It’s for Jim Beam’s bourbon. It’s simple: on the right side side is a bottle of Jim Beam’s. On the left, in large cream-colored letters against the dark background, it claims, “The best in the world.” And near the phrase is a seal from the contest or convention (the light turned green before I could read it) that chose it as the best.

Without the seal, the words would be mere conjecture. Someone, somewhere, picked up the glass, took a sip (or a swish, or a taste, or a swig), slammed the glass on the counter, splashing little droplets everywhere (classy whiskey drinkers everywhere shudder), and said,

“This is the best d*** whiskey in the world!”

But that wouldn’t actually mean anything to anyone besides him. To make a statement that bold that means something, it must be backed up by more than solitary opinion. If you call your horse the fastest—it needs to have won gold in every race since it started running. If Grandma June ‘makes the best chocolate cake in Missouri,’ everyone in Missouri must agree. And when your clothing label is more durable than all the other leading brands, go ahead and tell people. But only if it’s been tested to be absolutely true.

It’s a quick way to lose your credibility—because everyone has “the best” cake recipe, the “most durable” clothing, the “fastest horse” (or car, or train, or internet speed). If you are quick to make claims about your product (animal, clothing, recipe) being better than everyone else’s, no one automatically believes you. They are instead instantly on guard, thinking of their own amazing thing. It’s not to say that yours isn’t wonderful—but people are usually partial to their own.

Come back tomorrow to see why it matters in writing.

 

Advertising

As a self-published author, ideas for marketing and advertising are always welcome. Self-marketing is a struggle; networking is hard in a small circle.

Continuing the effort to publicize, I stumbled across this page. The ideas are fresh, creative, and intriguing—exactly what I want my advertising work to look like. As the contest to promote continues, I am reminded continually of how key consistency is. It’s about doing, doing, and re-doing something. We’re creatures of habit; finally, after multiple repetitions (seeing the same add four dozen times), we may remember it.

Don’t lose heart in your marketing and advertising. The struggle is real, but it is worth it. At least, that’s what they tell me.

What if it Rains

Setting up the full sound equipment for a choir and band to perform outside, for instance in a park, takes an extensive amount of effort. Between speakers, wires, and every small technical detail, by completion it’s been several hours of labor, lots of sweating, and a good amount of tactician’s effort—how things need to be positioned to sound the best, where they’ll be out of the line of vision (but still effective), and the wires that need to be set and draped to avoid a rats nest of tangle.

All of this, and what if it rains? You have to pack up and clear out quickly, to save the equipment. Even if the band only played for five minutes, rain doesn’t make the process worthless—but it certainly feels that way.

Sometimes you spend a long time on a piece, working very hard and putting your best into it.  Then something goes wrong; someone doesn’t like it and ‘they’ only have negative things to say about it.

That doesn’t invalidate it. It is always worth it to write.