Tag: motivation

Write Place, Write Time

Pictured above is Chuck Wendig’s writing shed. It’s a completely standalone structure made to do one thing: isolate a writer and make them write. It’s a deliberate, concrete manifestation of disconnecting from the world around us, and exploring aspects of how our world was before or could be in the future. Perhaps new worlds are being created in this tiny booth of creativity and frustration. It’s hard to say, until either the writer emerges with manuscript intact, or you go to the door and you knock.

Just be prepared if you knock, because writers are most definitely a frustrated lot.

Being able to isolate oneself is, in my experience, rather essential to the process. I’m sure there are writers who thrive on doing so in the midst of a crowd. Somewhere out there, there’s a novelist who can’t make the words happen unless they’re sitting on a bench in the middle of Grand Central Station getting bombarded by people and PA announcements and smells and odd looks. More power to them, I say. I’m more of a “writing shed” kind of person.

The best I can do is walk up a few blocks to my local library and get in on one of their little work rooms; failing that, use a public terminal that doesn’t have about a thousand distractions a click away. Because let’s face it: writing is incredibly frustrating work, and most writers I know are more than happy to do things that are not writing. Writers are avid gamers, outdoors enthusiasts, movie buffs, even parents… all of these things take the writer away from their writing, and unless they’re isolated to some degree, most writers I know would opt for those not-writing things instead of disconnecting from the world and getting the writing done.

Even this blog post is an example of this. I’ve gone back into my previous entries on writing to see if I’m repeating myself — I’m sure I am to some degree. I’ve looked at other writers’ Twitter accounts to see how far off I am — not all writers are the same, after all. I’ve been distracted by Discord, Facebook, the traffic outside, the sound of the TV in the flat’s main room. I’m thinking about my phone interview in half an hour. I’m thinking about Mad Max Fury Road, and Dungeons & Dragons, and…

Well, you get the idea.

If I were trying to finally put some damn words into the manuscript that’s been very patiently waiting for me to finish it, it’d be even worse. If I weren’t sitting in a place free of most distractions, save perhaps for some good mood music, I’d be getting nothing done and I’d end up frustrated over that. I know I can close my distractions as easily as I can open them. I try to do so whenever I need to get something like this done, let alone laying out hundreds of new words in a story I need to finish. In one particular case, there’s a definite need there, and despite its lengthy gestation period, I think this novel is becoming more relevant as time goes on, not less.

But that’s literally a story for another day.

With the weather in Seattle being its more temperate summer days of late, days of mild temperatures and little precipitation, going to a library for a few hours seems like a likely prospect until I secure more steady dayjob work. The challenge for me is making the time and devoting the energy to do so. Job searches are soul-crushing, heart-eroding, mind-grating things, and I think this is the longest one I’ve been on. I can’t yet sustain myself on writing alone, and the competition for freelance work is just as breakneck as it is for salaried positions, if not moreso. I’m not giving up, but I’m also reminding myself that I still want to write, need to write, and the only way to do it is, to use an old metaphor, “sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

I’m going to be working to find the right time, and go to the right place, to do just that.

Don’t worry, I’ll clean up afterwards.

Becoming A Master Builder

Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

I may not be a Master Builder. I may not have a lot of experience fighting or leading or coming up with plans. Or having ideas in general. In fact, I’m not all that smart. And I’m not what you’d call the creative type. Plus, generally unskilled. Also scared and cowardly. I know what you’re thinking: “He is the least qualified person in the world to lead us!” And you are right.

I can’t be the only one who relates very well to Emmet’s speech.

For the whole maybe half-dozen of you who haven’t seen it, in The LEGO Movie, the protagonist LEGO Minifig, a construction worker named Emmet, literally falls smack into one of those prototypical genre-crossing movie plots. There’s a thing that the antagonist is going to use for something nefarious, the protagonist has another thing that can stop the first thing, and the plot revolves around getting his thing onto the other thing (phrasing). There’s even a prophecy, a rhyming one at that, which tells of the destined hero saving the day by being skilled, imaginative, brave, powerful, smart, and I think there’s something in there about them smelling good, too.

The twist is this: Emmet is none of those things.

He freely admits this, in a speech given to a room full of ‘Master Builders’, franchise characters in Minifig forms who can change whatever they want about the world around them. Their only limits are their imaginations. Emmet, on the other hand, is a stickler for instructions. He’s a construction worker; he follows blueprints. When there is no blueprint, he gets lost. And while he may be friendly and a bit of a goofball, his relative incompetence becomes a pretty major hindrance when he stumbles upon the thing from the prophecy.

A protagonist in a story like this tends to be described as an “everyman”, a perfectly average and decidedly unremarkable individual to whom extraordinary things happen. We are meant to relate to this character, to place ourselves comfortably in their shoes. Emmet does this well by owning up to truths some of us avoid facing: we’re not perfect. We’re failures. I for one have lost count of the times I’ve come up short when facing various situations or challenges. Despite living in mortal quaking fear of letting down the people I care about, I have done just that, on more than one occasion. How can I be a master of anything if I can’t even be a decent programmer, or a consistent writer, or a reliable and honest friend? There’s no reason the wonderful people I love should give me the time of day, considering how spectacularly I can fuck things up. I can’t deny the truth: I’m going to screw up. I’m going to disappoint. I’m going to fail.

Swamp Creature: Is this supposed to make us feel better?!
Emmet: There was about to be a but…
Gandalf: You’re a butt!

Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures
“Well, you were right about him being a ding-dong.”

But I’m going to try not to fail anyway.

The hidden strength and power in Emmet, and The LEGO Movie in particular, has nothing to do with prophecies (Vitruvius made it up, anyway) or special magical items (actual mundane things given hilarious verbal spins) or astonishing powers (although I do wish I could put spaceships together as fast as Benny does). It’s sheer willpower. It’s determination. It’s stubborn, downright thick-headed devotion to simply doing the best he can with what he’s got. Sure, Emmet gets scared. He messes things up. He gets played for a sucker and lets people down.

That doesn’t stop him from doing everything he can to make things right.

That’s what makes a Master Builder. That’s what makes a person more than the sum of their failures. We cheer for Emmet because, in a way, it’s cheering for ourselves. When good writers give us good protagonists, they don’t give us perfect paragons of virtue or strength or power. They give us people. And people are flawed, thoroughly and terribly and irrevocably and beautifully flawed. I’m flawed. You’re flawed. All of us are flawed. But our flaws are not just negative attributes to be ticked off as grounds for denial on some worthiness test. Our flaws give us strength. Our flaws allow us opportunities to overcome them. Our flaws make us better people, in whatever pursuit we follow in our lives.

Emmet has no special training, no inborn power, no secret item that allows him to overcome his flaws. He just commits himself to being better than he was. He makes plenty of mistakes, and bad things happen, but that doesn’t curtail his motivation. He carries on the best way he knows how, and in the end, he doesn’t need a prophecy to prove to himself, to his friends, and to us that anybody, no matter how ordinary or average or unskilled or cowardly or butt-like they might be, can do the same.

I may not be all that smart. I may have trouble with motivation and focus. I may admonish myself to a worrying degree. I will continue to fear the disappointment and anger of the people I love. And I may find myself wondering if the wounds I have suffered, and more importantly, those I have inflicted on others, will ever truly heal.

But I cannot and will not allow those things to prevent me from getting up, dusting myself off, and doing my utmost not to fail. To make amends. To create new worlds. To rebuild bridges even in the wake of fires. To bring people to life. To be, in the context of all of the above, a Master Builder.

And if I can do it, what’s stopping you from doing the same?

Against the Grind

Gears

The writers I am fortunate enough to know either in passing or in person are exceptional people. They are endlessly creative, skilled with language, and above all else, pretty stubborn. You have to be, if you want to make it as a writer. Especially given the systems in place in the world around us.

When I would doubt myself or encounter bullies in my school days, my mother would tell me “illigitimus non carborundum – don’t let the bastards grind you down.” Despite being faux Latin, the phrase stuck with me. However, I’ve come to understand that rather than individuals doing the bullying, there is an entire system that wants to grind me, and people like me, down.

In my case, the saddest part is that I subjected myself to it. Be it due to pressure from an impending life-change toward marriage and parenting or a complete lack of confidence in my ability to sell myself and my words, I turned away from the written word and towards a more immediately lucrative career path in programming. I can’t say for sure if any one of the several motivations I had back then took the fore, or if it was a dire mix of many things, including undiagnosed mental health issues, that pushed me towards that threshold. Regardless, it was a decision I made, and I alone shoulder the blame for the next twelve years of struggle, failure, and aimless meandering.

Yet, I never quite lost sight of that dream. I tried to maintain at least a semblance of writerdom, carving out words where I could. That is really what makes a writer, more than any sort of published success or positive reviews. The willingness to never give up. It was something absolutely necessary to maintain in the face of employers and creditors and clients. None of them gave an actual damn about my dreams, my frustrations, or what I was seeking to make my life better: it’s all about the bottom line in those systems.

As bitter as I might be about time lost to what was ultimately a dead-end pursuit, I know that without my experiences, encounters, and endurance of those times, I would not be who I am today. I could have struggled just as long given my relative inability to sell myself, and my writing has developed during that time in spite of the workload. Provided I can maintain a proper level of motivation, I should be able to use my experiences and desire to avoid those dead ends to achieve the goals I have been striving for as long as I can remember.

Artists in general, and writers in particular, are iconoclasts. Molds and strict structures get broken. Work ethics and methods work in mysterious ways that baffle the bureaucrat and frustrate human resources. In the eyes of the strictly corporate world, writers should not be able to function properly, and yet they do, and sometimes even turn a profit while doing so.

Go forth and do likewise, writers! Make some businesspeople’s heads spin. Work against the grind. And don’t ever let the bastards, whomever they might be in your life, get you down.

Mind The Body

Courtesy allthingshealing.com

People who believe in souls will sometimes say that bodies are merely vessels for souls to inhabit. From that point of view, the human body can seem inconsequential. It doesn’t matter what you look like; who you are and what you do is far more contingent on thought and action than on skin color and outward gender. While this is true, the body does have significant importance in that it supports all of the higher functions we wish to pursue.

People are not at their best when they don’t take care of themselves. Oh, they might seem more productive due to the sheer dint of hours logged for corporate record-keeping, but they’re probably dying a little more inside because of those hours and the workload and the barrage of requests, corrections, and rejection that is part and parcel of life in a cubicle. Couple this with sub-par nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle, and things can go downhill pretty quickly.

I’m guilty of this myself. When your therapist comments on how exhausted you look, something definitely needs to be done. I’m going to try and sleep more, exercise more, and worry less. It can be difficult to keep things in perspective and not get drawn into a cycle where I work too hard or too long and leave myself insufficient time and energy to write, plan for the future, or get my non-work ducks in a row. I struggle with it daily, and I can’t imagine such struggles are that great for my circulatory or digestive systems.

You have to take time to take care of your body. It’s the only one you get. It is what you make of it, and you can make it as great as you want. So get out there and do it! Take some time for you today. You deserve it.

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