Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Something about Limits

See what he's doing?
That's what you should do.

As machines, we all have our limits.  We all have that sign that plainly says, "Stop, Cliff Ahead."  Everyone is different.  We all go to different distances, have different things that make us break.  The important thing is that we know our limits.  To not know where your limit lies is to not know how much you are able to accomplish.  If you never know what you're capable of, how will you ever push yourself to the edge?

Writers need goals. How hard we push ourselves is what drives us to reach those goals and body slam them into a barbed wire fence.  

In my experience, there are three basic types of person.  We all have different ways of dealing with stress, with pushing ourselves, with setting goals.  Everyone does.  Generally, everyone also fits into some sort of category (and don't tell me you don't, because that's its own category).  There's nothing wrong with any of these people.  (Also, I like both lists and labels.)

The Walker
These people work slowly.  Any disruption of their routine and the plan and motivation is gone.  Their limits are very close to home.  Often, they work for short amounts of time while taking frequent breaks.  There's nothing wrong with this, in fact, it might be the most healthy type.  Walkers have a hard time pushing themselves, however, because they're unaccustomed to it, but they almost never need long term breaks.  Slow and steady wins the race.

The Masses
This is probably most of everyone.  You have a limit.  You know where it is.  You don't go over it.  Nothing wrong with that.  As long as you know where it is, the Masses can keep themselves happy and healthy relatively easily.  The Masses know when and where to go over the limit and push themselves, but it isn't a common occurrence.  These are the people who 'bring out the big guns' to get things done, and then quietly store that gun back in the closet until the next time.

Limits, what limits? a.k.a. The Machine
This is me.  Walkers and the Masses call these people machines.  They work tirelessly.  They work until their eyes are bleeding.  They dance on the limit line, then take a jackhammer to it.  Capable of achieving vast amounts of work in a very short amount of time, we're your standard Kamikaze.  We're perfectly willing to break ourselves to accomplish our goals, and will if we believe it necessary.  While it sounds all well and good, this is unhealthy!  Some Machines are capable of keeping up the pace for weeks or months at a time...until we break and have to recover. 

Find your limit, no matter what sort of person you are.  Find it.  Know it.  Respect it, unless you're a Machine, in which case, respect is a nonissue.  And cross that line.  Know what it's like to push yourself, and if you're uncomfortable there, that's fine!  Everyone has their own pace, methods, and general idea of how they do business, but every once in a while, we have to challenge our routine or risk stagnation. 

How's your work ethic?  Where are your limits and how do you know you've crossed them?  Do my questions sound like standard essay questions for a college exam?  

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Importance of Relaxing

See this? This is what I want to be doing.

Relaxation.  The most wonderful R word ever.  Except for maybe reading.  Or racecar.  Just how important is relaxation anyway?

It is the difference between life and death.  Really.  

The human brain and body are extraordinary machines that every science fiction writer tries to make of cyborgs.  There will never be a more complex, efficient machine than the human system.  Our brains are capable of more processes a second than whatever fancy piece of technology you're reading this on.  Our bodies are capable of movement so fine that our brains still haven't found a way to replicated it in a robotic being.  Everything is connected by weird organic wires and filaments so tiny that the smallest gust of wind could break them.  And yet, in this chaos, everything works in perfect tandem.  Most of the time, every separate component is working so well that we don't even know it's working until it stops.  We're that amazing. 

Unfortunately, like 'real' machines, we do break.  Whether by doing battle with words on a screen, or just plain working too hard, we eventually wear down and demand maintenance.  Just like a car needs oil every few thousand miles, we humans and our brains need relaxation every few days (or hours).  And generally, when one things goes, it quickly feels like everything else is, too.  It begins in the brain.

Our brains, amazing computers that they are, need...stupid time.  Yeah, I said it.  Stupid time.  Put down that manuscript, hang up the phone, turn off the computer.  Get away from technology.  It's like the Jedi mantra, Technology leads to stress, stress leads to frustration, frustration leads to anger, and anger leads to the dark side.  Don't get caught in the dark side.  When you relax, technology is the last thing you should be thinking about.

If, by some weird, infinitessimal chance you don't let your brain rest for a little while, your body will break.  No joke.  The brain, clever cat that it is, starts sending messages to your heart, to your kidneys, to your freaking immune system command center (whatever that is).  And your brain will force you to relax.  Don't let things get to this point.  

As creative people, we're often too busy being creative, that we don't know how to stop being creative.  So find something relaxing and creative to do (or, you know, pop in a movie and relax on that La-Z-Boy, you dog you). Whatever it is, take the time and enjoy what you're doing without worrying about the result.  Our novels tear holes in our hearts and heads.  Find something to do that won't.

And, like writing, if you don't have time to relax...make time.  Your art will love you for it, and I can guarantee that you'll have a greater love and appreciation for your art when you're rested and ready to come back to it.

So, tell me.  How do you relax?  How does your quality of work differ when you're stressed and when you're rested?  you're rested?  

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Motivation Part Two: The Hunt

Yesterday, we talked about our excuses for why we don't write.  Believe me, I've been there.  I know what it's like to feel down because it just isn't coming out the way you want it to.  We've all been there.  And when that motivation seems like it just won't come in the door and stay for tea and Stargate, I've been there, too.

The Hunt for motivation is something that I'm not sure many people think about.  A lot of writers think that motivation comes to them, that it knocks on the door and asks you to buy.  That's not the way it is.  Motivation is the great white whale ghosting through the sea, driving sailors and storytellers mad.  It is elusive and slippery and harder to catch than a buttered cat.

But fear not, noble story-spinners.  There is a way.  That cat can be captured.  In fact, there are many ways and methods, and each person has a different way of sorting things out.  Here are four things that help me:

1. Go for a Run
And if you don't run, do something else to get the blood flowing.  Hell, do jumping jacks, sing at the top of your lungs while shadowboxing bad actors on TV, I don't care.  Blood circulation stimulates every feel good sensor that exists in your body.  The better you feel, the more likely you'll want to work on something creative.

2. Dream a Little
Not too much, though.  Staying grounded (a post for another day) is an important part of being a writer.  But if we don't dream, then we don't create.  Imagine the end product: Your novel on a freaking shelf in Barnes & Noble.  Your screenplay sitting on Spielberg's desk.  Then, understand that it won't get there by itself, and that you're the only pen-wielder who can carve that hunk of story into shape.  If you have the end goal in mind, it can make the journey there a little bit easier.

3. Set Goals and Consequences
THIS.  If you ignore everything else I say, don't ignore this!  Set reasonable, yet challenging goals and create consequences if you don't meet your goals.  With a good goal in mind, it's easier to focus and easier to let the motivation and will flow freely.  And listen to this, the consequences you set actually have to be really unappealing.  Something that you absolutely do not want to do.  Otherwise, what's the point?  Be responsible and hold yourself accountable.  I guarantee that you'll be feeling a lot more motivated than you were before.

4. Sit Down and Write
Honestly, this is my modus operandi.  Don't want to write? DO IT ANYWAY.  Don't want to edit? DO IT ANYWAY.  Don't have time?  MAKE TIME.  This is the simplest rule.  I often hear people say, "It isn't that easy." That's a lie.  It is that easy.  Find the will, find the drive, put away the controller or cookbook or action figures and sit your ass down and write!  And then think about Rule #2.  No one is going to achieve that dream but you.  Hop to it.

These are just a few things that I've found help me to get motivated, or to help me sit down and write every single day.  There are some days when I really just don't feel like it.  And you know what?  I sit down and do it anyway, even if it's for ten minutes.  But I'm not everyone.  As my writing group lovingly calls me, I'm a machine.  Jamie the Machine.  I like it.

What helps you get motivated?  How you do battle the days that motivation just can't be found?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Motivation Part One: The Excuse

Welcome all, to my multi-part extravaganza about that dreaded thing called 'Motivation'. We've all heard and said it so many times.  Say it with me right now: "Mo-tiv-ay-shun".  Sort of an abstract concept, isn't it?

Motivation is what makes us go, and often we either have it or we don't.  There isn't really a middle ground.  You never hear people saying, "Oh, I'm only partly motivated today."  That's sort of like saying, "Oh, I'm only partly alive today, but don't worry about me, I'll be fine."  Yeah, sure.  And I'll only partly breathe today, but don't worry, I'll be fine.

Often, writers talk about motivation like it's something physical, something you can hold and touch and keep in a little cage by your computer.  Wrong.  Motivation doesn't come from any external sources; it isn't air, and it sure as hell isn't cheesecake. 

Here are some excuses that I commonly hear from writers claiming that their motivation has been lost in the winds of time or some other excuse.  Actually, these pretty much double for excuses of why people don't write.

1. "I'm just not motivated."
What does this even mean?  This spells defeat.  If you're not motivated to create a story, to polish and shine that manuscript, to torture your characters until they're screaming UNCLE! back through the computer screen, then what drives you to create?  How strong is your desire?  If the will is strong enough, the motivation will come on its own.

2. "I have homework/babies/lives to save, and I'm too busy."
While all of that may be true, it's still an excuse.  Sure, you're busy.  I'm busy.  We're all busy with this grand thing that most of us call life, or unlife if you're undead.  Take that motivation and store it away for the next day.  Jot down your ideas in a book, the notepad on your phone, a freaking napkin at a greasy diner, I DON'T CARE.  Just make sure that you cage that desire for tomorrow.

3. "I need inspiration before I can get motivated."
Ah ha, the famous 'muse' argument.  This is a particular breed of artist that pops up every now and then and gives the rest of us a bad name.  Inspiration surrounds us.  Everything is a miracle, and if you're waiting for the angels to come from their heavenly home to give you that motivation, you'll be waiting forever.

4. "After I catch up on all of my shows, then I'll be free to get motivated."
This is not lack of motivation.  This is lack of will.  But it still applies.  Don't use your entertainment as an excuse not to write.  Use it as a reward for when your motivation takes hold of your story and makes it change.    

5. "The story is really dragging and I don't like it anymore."
Another common excuse for lack of motivation.  It may be true.  Maybe your novel is falling apart beneath your fingertips, the characters are flat, the world is gray with a touch of gray, and the plot is a tangled string that a kitten has lost down the gutter of your mind.  Whatever the case may be, that mess isn't going to fix itself.  Either you gear up and beat some sense into that story, or you quit writing.  Personally, I don't really see how that's even a choice.

We all have excuses.  Many of us have real, valid ones.  That's fine.  No one is going to tell you to sit your ass down at that computer and write after your sharks have escaped from the tank in your basement, grown legs, and suddenly started eating people.  It's when we don't have a valid excuse that things get messy.  No more excuses!  Tomorrow, we'll talk about finding motivation.  Since it is this great beast which no one can catch, surely there must be a way to find it?

I am guilty of numbers 1, 2, 4, and 5 as well as the unlisted 6-13.  What are your excuses?  What stops you from sitting down and creating?  

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Battle Against Youth

Let's just be blunt: Writing is hard.  So is life.  And so is being young.

Doubt.  Insecurity.  Too few years.  Burning, unbridled ambition.  Unequaled potential.  These are the core elements of a young writer.  Writers live in an expanse of nothingness, hindered not by boundaries or walls.  Young people live in a world of extremes.  The two often do not agree, and are often at war inside our brains.

Young writers, say, under the age of 25, have a whole different perpective of the nothingness before them that is the creative void.  Populating that void are the shadows of every writer and successful person they've ever admired, hated, aspired to be.  They hover like Godzilla over the streets of our minds, every glance a judgement and every motion a challenge.  Most young people feel oppressed by what we believe are dictators over our writing, the shadows of everything that isn't us.  I went through that phase myself (I promise, I'll say something about my age later). 

Without the wisdom that years of trying and failing and succeeding over and over again into infinity brings, a lot of young writers have trouble accepting their inexperience.  We want to be older.  We want to believe that we're as good as the greats, while secretly knowing we're not.  It's a battle, and not one that a sword or laser beam shooting dinosaurs can fix.  Hard to believe, but it's true.

Aside from all of the personal doubts and insecurities housed by our young minds, there is enemy that is the outside world, the vast network of writers and authors and storytellers who make it all look so damn easy.  And they're all better than us, or worse, we think we're better than them.  We're stuck thinking that we have to fight so hard to be heard, and that the vigor of our battling will make up for the years we lack.

The truth is, there are extra battles to fight.  There are more monsters to slay, more monkeys to cage.  Not only are young writers fighting against the other 99%, most of whom are older, wiser, more knowledgable about the world, we're fighting against ourselves.  Often, we don't know any other way to fight than to press on and hope the years reward us with the tools needed to craft a story the 'proper' way.

That went off on a tangent.  I apologize.  The point is, writing is hard for everyone.  Learning to love and accept the battles, learning which Vorpal Sword of Shattering works best against the looming bestsellers of the great artists is all part of the process, no matter how old you are.  But as a young writer, we're not going in with the Vorpal Sword of Doorstopper Destroying.  We're going in with sticks and paper hats, afraid of the enemy but sure that we can win.  Without the support of those older and wiser than us, we would surely lose the battle

Now, I promised I would write about my age.  At the tender age of only two and twenty, I feel as I've lived for a thousand years.  As my grandmother would say, I'm an 'old soul'.  I've been through the battles.  I've slain the demons and Grendel-beasts.  At times, I've thought about putting up the sword and pursuing a safer, easier path of life.  That's not who I am.  I have many, many more battles and beasts to overcome, and just as many stories to tell.

So carry on, penbearers.  Help the young, conspire with the old(er), support each other.  Send dinosaurs armed with AK-47s at all of your insecurities and fears and misguided beliefs about being too young or too old or too this or that to tell a story and tell them, in a strong, passionate voice: "Shoot to kill."

(I rewrote this post somewhere around four times.  Trying to put into words something that is hard to pin down is...well, hard to pin down.  One day, I may revisit the topic.)