Tag Archives: Motivation

The Ever-Elusive Audience

We officially launched Jabberwocky Audio Theater on the broadcast airwaves yesterday. It was exciting. It took a lot of work to get to this point — and really, the main point of the work was to share these stories with people.

But, as with all creative endeavors –heck, with any endeavors that depend on public reaction to thrive– the enduring question is: will enough people be interested… enough?

And that multi-faceted question is important: because we all know how easy it is to click ‘like’ on social media. And being supportive in that way isn’t without value. Visibility counts. But what creatives really need isn’t simply awareness of their work. They need engagement with their work. They need an audience.

And sometimes, probably a lot of the time, even family and friends are not that audience. I know many an actor, musician, author, and filmmaker knows this, but it bears repeating. Because emotionally, it’s natural to expect good friends and peers to be into what you’ve been sweating and obsessing over… but that’s not always the case. And there’s any number of perfectly good reasons why that is the case — including the dreaded reason that they may be fine with you personally, but not into whatever creative work you produce.

Author Tom McAllister has a good piece over at The Millions that delves into the despair and neediness around seeking that audience (and not coincidentally, making money from your creative endeavors). It’s not the most pleasant read, but it’s an honest one — and a good reminder of your critical role in continuing to show up.

 

 

Aka, Keep on Swimming

My recent project, Jabberwocky Audio Theater, is not a recent development. I’ve been working on it in one form or another since 2007.

When you work on something that long that means there’s definitely breaks when you’re not working on it… and within those breaks and at those moments of starting or stopping, your doubts about continuing happily pay a visit.

In one of the blogs I perpetually read, Mark Evanier has a response to the age-old question from creatives wondering if they’re wasting their time. While this one is a bit more focused on freelancing, it rings true for questions to continue on any creative enterprise.

 

10 More Motivation Levers for Your Writing

Hey, it’s been awhile since I’ve done a “Motivation Monday,” so it seemed like Big Bill’s birthday was as good a day as any to get back to it.

I’d caught Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2009 TED talk on writing and motivation (the video is 20 minutes, and this link also has a transcript), so when I saw an Amazon article ad for her “10 Tips for Writers,” (as compiled by Cynthia Shannon), I figured it was worth checking out.

You may correctly conclude I found it useful, what with me linking to it here. And, as with many bits of writing, the value isn’t so much that I’d never, ever heard of the tip before, but that that the tips are presented in a nice, distilled manner for easy digestion and contemplation.

Full disclosure: I’ve recently released a whole host of my writing out into the world (in audio form) — and I find it’s always easier to contemplate motivation when you’ve actually finished writing.

At the same time, I find myself reading through these tips and thinking of how I did and didn’t use them in writing Rogue Tyger. So if you just want the tips, go ahead and go to that link. If you want my subjective reflections on them, read on.

Tip #1: Start Writing.
Boy howdy do I agree with this one. I’ve linked to Cory Doctorow’s “Writing in the Age of Distraction” about 147 times on this blog, but time again I come back to it and the central idea that writers write… and one ought to write daily.

Tip #2: Be Creative Every Day
Writing Rogue Tyger was my antidote to one of the worst day jobs I can recall. I happily poured hopes and fears and frustrations born of day-to-day ridiculousness into the characters and the plot. But even if I’m doing writing or, let’s be honest, I fall off the writing-every-day wagon for a couple days, still doing stuff that is creative is critical to being a happy camper. It can be as simple as doodling, noodling on the piano (when I’m near a piano), or helping one of my kids construct a paper airplane.

The point is that, not only do I benefit from doing something creative every day, I can distinctly tell when I haven’t for too many days: by then, I’m a less-than-happy camper.

Tip #3: Go Looking for Inspiration
One theater director I had revealed he investigated the museums of any city he visited. Another theater professor I had urged us to visit galleries and see how paintings staged scenes down through the ages. I’ve talked with other writers who simply make sure to go on a hike and take cues from nature. Others take classes in drawing and acting and all sorts of things they’ve wanted to learn. There’s plenty of inspiration to be found — and just like Tip #2, I’ve found a little work on this front can dislodge any notions of writer’s block.

Tip #4: Surround Yourself with Optimists
By ‘optimists,’ I very much think of people who see possibilities. Possibilities in themselves, you, and your work. People who may be very smart, quite experienced, and still look over this list and –even if every tip is familiar– use it to spark memories and remind themselves of some tactic to double-down on. In other words, I put into the ‘optimist’ camp those people who put asking questions and curiosity over and above being clever and knowing “all the answers.”

I really ought to do a poll amongst my fellow filmmakers and writers, but invariably, I find that those people who are obsessed about ideas being “entirely original” and find every creative work in creation “not being without problems” are not people to be around.

Yes, creative types need to maintain the cognitive dissonance that their current work is utter crap and amazing as they continue working, but the point is to risk, fail, and risk again. I want to be around people who can enjoy jokes about Sisyphus, but still get their shoulder against the boulder when the time comes.

I have been aided by many smart and optimistic people in bringing Rogue Tyger to life. The boulder moved.

Tip #5: Dare Yourself to Keep Working
Bribery, incentives, whatever it is, do what works to keep on writing.

My biggest motivation in this corner has been seeing friends and colleagues complete things. I should note that I find a lot of their work phenomenal, but even where it’s not the greatest thing since sliced bread or Betty White, an imperfect completed work is loads better than a “perfect” incomplete work-in-progress.

To reference Chariots of Fire, I’ve found it’s better to stop worrying about whether you’ll win when you run. Simply put: you can’t win if you don’t run. So get to running.

Tip #6: Trust Your Curiosity
Great things come from research and one that comes to me again and again is excitement. My recent work on a modern adaptation of War of the Worlds reminded me of how much I enjoy using bits of knowledge to build a story. The same thing happened with Rogue Tyger, which remains very much a space opera, but has some hard science elements amid the blasters and jump drives.

I’ve had friends and colleagues find curiosity and subsequent inspiration through pursuing interests in epidemiology, the armed forces, first contact protocols, recovery programs, and all sorts of oddities. Going down the rabbit hole of minutiae, so long as one eventually comes up to write, seems to be a blessing.

Tip #7: Create a Ritual
I recall Stephen King cautioning against being too precious with one’s writing space or required rituals, so this seems much more in line with tips 3 and 6: what warms you up and gets you ready to write?

Tip #8: Don’t Believe in Writer’s Block
I still remember an interview with Ray Bradbury from the 80s where he mentioned he simply didn’t accept writer’s block from himself. This didn’t mean he wouldn’t get stumped by a particular story. Instead, when that did happen, he would take a break, trust curiosity and follow inspiration into another piece of writing. The novel is at a standstill? Write a poem. Write that short story that’s been in his head for months. Then come back and the novel is moving forward again.

The key here seems to be completing things and using momentum to go back into the work that stalled. That’s easier said than done (or written). It was (and is) a valuable insight none-the-less.

Tip #9: Write for Yourself
For me, this is part and parcel with both curiosity and inspiration. What writing inspired you and why? And what if we went down such and such a path?

For Rogue Tyger, I looked a lot at the science fiction I liked, and a (perhaps disturbingly) large amount of it involved small groups of people on ships going off on adventures. Trying to tackle that myself was (and is) mighty fulfilling.

Tip #10: Imagine Your Reader
The key corollary to the previous point: what is your reader expecting and how can you pay off their expectations in a satisfying mixture of expected and unexpected ways? I obsess about payoff, but I guess we’ll see what happens.

So there it is. Now, I’m off to work on a bit more writing because, well, I’m rather motivated at the moment.

Get Your Exercise On, Big Data Style

The writers at FiveThirtyEight have never been afraid to get wonky.

So when they look into how to best pursue a regular course of exercise — surely something that people are grappling with now since we’re still in the glow of New Year’s resolutions — I found it worth reading.

Ikigai and What to Do Today (and Today and Today)

New years, like birthdays, are popular times to look at the year ahead and take stock at the year past, and I certainly join in as well.

One topic that’s come up with several friends and acquaintances both online and off for the past few weeks has been job satisfaction as well as what to do with one’s life.

My current main breadwinning gig, project and program management, has nothing to do with what I studied in school (technically). And while I have had iterations of this sort of job that have been fulfilling, I’ve had so many versions of it that aren’t fun that I have been honestly surprised at how fulfilling my current gig is.

Combine that with some miserable jobs working at what I’ve trained for and for which one is usually supposed to have unbridled passion (e.g. acting, writing, film, and assorted TV stuff) and I’ve often had some questions about that whole job satisfaction/life purpose thing.

So I was very excited when I came across the concept of “ikigai” in the past few years.

Ikigai, not dissimilar to “raison d’être” is most simply “a reason for being,” but you, like me, might have first seen ikigai explained via a Venn diagram like this:

Courtesy of a talented person at the Toronto Star

This, incidentally, is my favorite of many versions of the Venn diagram, because it manages to address some of the gaps I’ve found in jobs that are theoretically not my passion, but satisfying — as well as jobs that should totally be more in “dream job” territory that are none-the-less, unsatisfying.

I found this version of the diagram in this article by Laura Oliver. Her piece goes into greater detail about the origins of the term ikigai as well as some of the people studying ikigai and happiness in general. Spoiler alert: Kurosawa fans will find new resonance in the film Ikiru.

Speaking of studying happiness, job satisfaction, I would be remiss to not mention that reading up on ikigai has certainly complemented my reading of works such as Drive by Daniel Pink and Finding Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (you can also go into Flow or his more academic explorations of the concept).

Okay, so digressions that may add to your reading aside, back to some of my connections to ikigai.

From reading more about it and analyzing Venn diagrams like the one above, I finally had some answers regarding my satisfaction and dissatisfaction with both day jobs and dream jobs. For example, when I’ve been in a job that pays me and that people need, I’ve felt some emptiness, even if I’m good at it. And certainly I enjoy esoteric movie and sci-fi trivia, but possessing or exercising this knowledge doesn’t make one feel useful (outside of Wade Watts in Ready Player One).

From this reflection, I’ve come to a few personal conclusions that I’ll share in case they help in your own exploration of “ikigai” and your life’s purpose.

Finding a job that fits “Ikigai” is extraordinarily difficult and probably isn’t worth pursuing to the exclusion of all else.
For where I am now in my life, this is a big one. I have responsibilities outside myself as so many of us do, so I can’t pop off on an adventure like I conceivably could when I was younger.

That doesn’t mean I need to throw up my hands, lamenting my inability to emulate Bilbo Baggins or the heroes of countless bildungsroman. No, I can take action. I don’t want to wait. Never wait.

Life, as they say, is what happens when you’re making other plans. I want to enjoy some of that life while I’m alive. I’m a program manager, so I’ll be making plans regardless. This leads to:

Getting to “ikigai” may require more than a single job
Look at that Venn diagram above again. Do you have anything you like to do outside of work? Do you actually like spending time with your family? (Okay, maybe not the best question to ask some people who spent a lot of time with them during the holidays, but it stands).

The fact is that there’s plenty of stuff we love that isn’t in a job and that could be addressed in a hobby or activity. The most interesting people I meet at work do a lot of different things in their off hours (always a humbling reminder not to judge people by the one facet they show you in one arena).

Heck, I know many actors and creatives that engage in hobbies and activities outside of the creative work they do.

To me, this realization is liberating. I don’t have to find the perfect job. If I can find enough other things to do in addition to “the dayjob” that scratch the passion, mission, vocation, and profession itches, I’m good.

Not everything has to be monetized or professionalized
In our amped-up, hyper-entrepreneurial world, where everything you do is folded into your personal “brand” which must, of course, be a source of revenue and a core part of your definition as a “thought leader” or some such thing.

Um, no. It could be that, in the land of the overabundant graduate degrees, it’s hard for people to define themselves as amateurs. It could be, in the age of the eternal side hustle, that people just puttering about various hobbies is deemed insufficient.

But I’m thinking it’s probably a good idea to have some things where you don’t try and be an expert — or even if you’re trying to gain expertise — you’re not depending on that expertise for a new revenue stream.

In other words, not only may ikigai require more than a single job, not all of those jobs need to be “jobs.” You are allowed to have fun sans monetary ROI.

I used a Dremel tool for the first time this weekend. Believe me, “Dremel tool craftsman” or “woodworking wizard” ain’t gonna be my job titles any time soon. Still, I’m sure glad I got the Dremel tool, look forward to learning to use it better, and am quite sure I’ll be budgeting some time to use it on many more weekends to come.

Percentages Matter
I suppose some people could deal with having a dayjob that is nothing more than a vocation or a profession. I find I need at least a little bit of passion to get through the day — though perhaps Daniel Pink would say I’ve simply found a profession or vocation where I can exercise enough autonomy and mastery to derive meaningful purpose. “The dayjob” remains important for me and, my guess is, a lot of us. It looms large both mentally and the amount of hours I spend on it each week.

Your job mileage may vary, but I’ve found I need to be very aware of how much I’m hitting my goals for passion, mission, profession, or vocation. If I’m feeling out of sorts, it’s usually because one of those itches isn’t being scratched or scratched enough. I guess this what people sometimes call “life-work” balance, but it’s more complex than just “life” and “work.” Home chores sure are work, on the one hand. Work can be full of joy and passion for another.

With that in mind, I doubt I’ll ever have “the answer.” I’ll forever be re-balancing things, both from external forces and my own needs. At least I feel like I have more of a framework to know how to adjust. How am I doing today? And tomorrow, that will be the same question… because it will then be today. And so on and so on. Oh, I’ll be mindful of my trajectory, but every day offers new opportunities for course corrections.

Have some thoughts you’d like to share about finding your life’s purpose or just tasting the strawberry on the journey? Comment below.

Writing (and writing and writing) for the Sake of Writing

I started this site a little over two years ago — in part to just get in the habit of regularly writing and putting said writing into the world.

One of the blogs I habitually read, Mark Evanier’s “News from ME,” reached its 25,000th blog post earlier this month. He decided to mark the occasion with an introspective post about why he writes the blog.

At my current rate of posting, I won’t get to 25,000 posts for another eight thousand years or so, but I still found his post motivating.

So for those who celebrate, Merry Christmas!

(And whether or not you’re celebrating, if you’re a writer, don’t forget to write a little today!)

You Don’t Know How Good Every Painting Is Until They’re Gone

They say all good things come to an end. In the case of podcasts and online video series, I suppose you don’t know how good a thing is until it’s gone.

So it was with some sadness that I took the time to read the postmortem by Taylor Ramos and Tony Zhou explaining how their YouTube series, Every Frame a Painting had come to an end. A friend and fellow fan of the series sent the essay to me and I had to pause before going through it in depth.

Yes, this is still a “Motivation Monday” post. Stay with me.

If you haven’t stumbled across this series before, it’s a lovingly obsessive look at the craft and technique that goes into making movie magic done by some lovingly obsessive creative folk.

I first got to know about the series with their piece on Akira Kurosawa:

 

Another favorite is about the “Spielberg Oner.”

Even though I’ve been a cinematographer for only a few projects, I know how much work can go into making moves like these look so organic and effortless. That makes me love them all the more.

And it also motivates me to go out and make something extraordinary. If you’re a filmmaker, go on and watch a few yourself. See if it doesn’t inspire you to approach your next project with more verve.

But don’t forget to read through the postmortem. It shows what level of love and dedication it took to make what these “nutrient-rich” videos packed full of insight. And it explains why they decided to move on.

But the motivation remains. Kudos to Taylor and Tony — and I know I speak for many when I say I hope we see you online again sooner rather than later.

Monday Motivation: You Doing You Creatively

I am overdue in continuing the “Monday Motivation” posts, so I thought it’d be an opportune time to note that sometimes it’s good to just do what you’re doing and keep on doing it. Especially for those of you in the middle of the slog that is NaNoWriMo: just keep truckin’. Don’t edit, write! As “they” say, the first draft is always garbage anyway and editing is another month.

One thing I thought of in terms of “you doing you” creatively is the fact that certain things are outside of your control. For example, sometimes people aren’t buying what you’re selling creatively… and it has nothing to do with the quality of what you’re selling (or you, personally). Mark Evanier mentions this as it applies to writers and actors in one of his excellent columns on rejection. As he points out, not every opportunity is an opportunity you’re supposed to get.

 

I’ve experienced both sides of this equation. On the submission side, I have and continue to get to be rejected both as a writer and an actor. I’m lucky on the actor front to often hear the voice-over spots I auditioned for that I didn’t get: many’s the time where I hear it and think, “Yup, they were going for something different than what I was giving.” It helps that I also get accepted as a writer and an actor from time-to-time, but it’s by no means guaranteed.

The flip side, doing casting or editing, I know the people Mark Evanier talks about who feel work should be guaranteed. The ins and outs of that are worth a whole other post, but the main thing I can say is, so long as you have an honest feedback loop in place to tell you how good your work is, you can and should just keep on doing your best and learning how to better that. Time and again I’ve seen that kind of self-aware, self-improving hard work be noticed and rewarded.

 

In Which a Domino’s Patience is Rewarded

Some of my past few Monday posts on motivation have been a bit on the grimmer side, so I wanted to share something that was more in the “You Can Do It” vein.

On Scriptnotes a couple weeks ago, John August’s One Cool Thing was a physics paper about the power of dominoes to topple bigger dominoes. In fact, the domino the size of a sliver can start a process by which dominoes the size of tombstones topple.

Can you extrapolate this to mean your tiny efforts can lead to big results? Of course you can! That’s the 20 minutes a day of writing. That’s doing at least one film project a year or every Christmas.

It adds up.

A Writer Writes… and Finishes

Continuing my series of Monday posts about motivation, I wanted to share another favorite post about staying motivated by Terry Rossio from the inestimable resource that is Wordplay. It arguably builds off the tough love/cold water of The Speech two weeks ago. And while I’m going to focus on writers and motivation, I have observed (and been told) that this sort of motivation (and procrastination) is something that all creative folk encounter.

But back to writers. There’s a notion that writers “hate to write, but love having written.” (I’ve heard it most frequently ascribed to Dorothy Parker, but when I tried to validate the reference, I had some problems). Now while I understand this notion, I actually like the process of writing. Sure, it can be difficult at points. Sure, I might encounter a rough scene that I can’t crack for days (or have to abandon and return to). Sure, I’ve had dozens of pages I look back on and decide to throw out. But more often than not, I’m enjoying the actual activity of writing (even on those pages I later throw out).

Still, it’s very easy to procrastinate on writing — and it doesn’t have to be a bad reason. What if my son wants to show off his latest LEGO creation? What if my daughter wants to play that dragon game? Life is for living, not simply observing… otherwise, what are you writing about?

But eventually, you need to be writing. You need to write, not wait.

So that’s why I linked to Terry Rossio’s article about never waiting. And if you didn’t read it at the top of this post: go ahead and read it now.

Makes you reflect, doesn’t it? It explores so many angles: from simply knowing you need to take action to delving into the nuances around the sentiment of “not waiting.”

If you want to explore the whole Wordplay site, you’ll find a host of great articles, some of which I’ll probably link to in the future. “Never Wait” remains one of the evergreen articles for me, because it never stops being relevant.

I waited a week to write this post. Originally, I was going to finish it up and post it on Monday, July 17th. I didn’t because I spent the weekend shooting a film and getting stuff from Ikea. Hey, the film gave me the opportunity to make a film with people I love to work with — and the Ikea trip was fulfilling a home organization goal long planned for.

But I waited to write. I waited to finish writing.

I’ve been tracking how long I write each day for seven years — pretty much ever since I read Cory Doctorow’s article about writing in the age of distraction and wanted to finish some Rogue Tyger scripts.

And it’s worked. I’ve been able to track my progress and know when I’ve been slipping in my daily discipline. But you know one way in which this technique fails? Tracking when I finish a piece of writing.

See, I can get shelving units or play games or do any number of things. But if I’m a writer (or a painter or a filmmaker) and I say I want to write (or paint or make films), then the writing and painting and filming doesn’t matter so much as finishing the writing, the painting, or the films.

This, incidentally, is why my colleague Bill Coughlan loves the 48 Hour Film Project so much: because after a weekend, you have a finished film. And look at all those films! That’s over 13 years of not waiting. It adds up. That’s one of the reasons I loved shooting the film this past weekend: it’s now a finished film.

And that’s what puts that phrase that writers “hate to write, but love having written” in an additional perspective. I love writing, but I hate writing and not being finished. How much work am I doing to not only write, but finish writing?

And this is where it gets tricky. Because getting the shelving units is good for me and my family. Making a film is fun for me (and hopefully others). Playing games with my kids is definitely fun. But when is the writing going to get done?

It usually happens when you decide to not do some of those good and fun things. You have to gamble that good things still happen to those who never wait.

Perhaps that can be a motivation to finish faster.

(Spoiler: Worked for this post.)