Category: just do it (page 1 of 3)

fill your glass by focusing

Sometimes I pull myself in too many directions. If I’m working on the one thing I tell myself needs to get done today, inevitably I’ll want to do something else. I like to fool myself into thinking that I’m multi-tasking, but that doesn’t really exist.

You literally can’t focus on more than one thing at a time. Focus, by definition, is having a single object very clearly in view. Many things will vie for your attention, but they can’t all have it. Choose one thing at a time, or it will all be blurry.

If you’re going to do something well, give it your full attention. Go all in on one thing instead of being a jack of all trades. Don’t half-ass a bunch of things instead of doing one thing well.

Me, trying to do all of the things

I think of it like filling glasses. Imagine a coffee shop. You’d expect them to sell a small range of coffee and coffee-related beverages, right? Now imagine that you order a cup of coffee, and while the barista is fulfilling your order, he goes off and starts filling another cup with soda. Then he decides that he’d like to make a batch of lemonade and start filling cups with that. Before long there’s a long line of cups, each getting a different kind of beverage. But there’s only one barista, so only one cup is getting filled at a time. Each cup is only getting a few drops at a time because the real goal is to fill that first cup of coffee.

If you’re the customer, you’re pretty pissed by now that you haven’t been given your coffee. It’s a coffee joint, so the expectation is that they’re going to deliver coffee.

As creatives, it can sometimes feel impossible to just hone in on one thing. But if you’ve declared to your audience that you’re going to do something, you had better deliver.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t do all of the things that you love. Make time for things that fulfill you and scratch your creative itch. Just be sure that you’re making forward progress in the thing you want to be known for, and share things that feed that. You don’t have to project all of the things you do; it’s confusing enough for people notice what other people are all about. Make it easy on them by being clear about what you do…then do more of that.

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baby steps

Slow and steady wins the race. Action beats inaction. Taking small steps is so much more important than thinking about big steps. Sometimes I have to remind myself that tiny positive things add up and that’s so much better than stressing about making big progress (which adds up in a negative way).

I think of it like driving veeeerrrry slowly in your car: eventually you’ll get further than just sitting there revving the engine and wasting gasoline.

I have a huge project ahead of me, and it’s daunting. It’s so big that sometimes it’s paralyzing. But I know that I need to chip away at it a little bit at a time.

So I am making a bit of a pivot in the content of this blog, and I want you to know what you can expect in the future. I will still be writing about creative resistance, but it will be more along the lines of what I’m specifically encountering in my current creative projects.

First of all, if you aren’t familiar with the idea of overlapping (working a day job for financial stability while you work on what you’re passionate about on the side until it can support you), I highly recommend the book Overlap by Sean McCabe.

My passion is to make big ideas accessible to young people. I believe that the ability to think critically is one of the greatest gifts we can bestow on future generations. I’m writing and illustrating a series of young adult and children’s books making the ideas of the Great Books (Plato, Dante, Augustine, et al) super digestible. I want to normalize what used to be a standard education but has unfortunately become very rare. Everyone is capable of learning big things and no one should be scared or ashamed to be exposed to “smart people things.”

I want to get kids excited about reading through book related products, as well. Hand-lettered bookmarks, handmade book bags, and crocheted animal plushie characters that introduce kids great literary characters and their authors.

I’m making myself publicly accountable for making this vision a reality, and documenting the process. I invite you to follow along, to sign up for updates on the book release, to join the conversation in whatever way you’d like and ask questions about what makes actually doing creative things so dang hard sometimes.

It will be messy. Most things are before you get to the finished product. And that’s okay, because perfect is an illusion that keeps you from doing the important, messy things. Thanks to those who have stuck with me thus far, and thank you/welcome to those who are newly jumping in.

I invite you to make messes and take baby steps with me. 🙂

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education as resistance

Knowledge is power. But power is only potential energy. It has to be put into action in order to be of any real value in the world.

I’m as guilty as anyone of reading too many books and articles, watching way too many videos, and taking too many online courses/webinars without actually getting anything done. I research the hell out of things. I always did this with term papers in college, too. I’d spend the majority of my time compiling information, with all of the real work happening at the eleventh hour. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty good at spinning my wheels.

You can be constantly acquiring information and knowledge, but you’ll never be an expert in your field unless you implement that knowledge. You have to DO your craft in order to hone your craft. You can be an expert at learning, but you’ll never be an expert at what you do unless you physically do it. Book learning and head knowledge alone can’t do what loads of practice can.

Learning without application is like watching a workout video from the couch. Don’t expect to see results if you’re only learning the moves instead of moving.

What sets apart the experts in any given field is that they’ve put in hundreds–if not thousands–of hours of practice. They are constantly honing their craft. If you want to be on the same playing field as the best of the best, it’s not enough to watch what they do and hear what they say. And comparison will only cripple you. You have to do what they do every single day. Implement your craft in your own unique style, and do it constantly. That is the one foolproof way to get great at anything.

Bottom line: be a perennial student, but don’t forget to do the work. Consistent practice is the key to mastering your craft.

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your inner editor

A favorite exercise of those who want to get over the mental block of writing and just get words on the page is to pretend there is no backspace key on your keyboard. The goal is to just write like you should, to type as you’re thinking and get into a flow state to get lots of words on the page. You’ll write much faster by turning off your inner editor. Just keep typing.

For those like myself who just can’t help but use that backspace key, there are apps that completely eliminate that temptation:

  • First, there’s Any time you try to use the backspace key, you’ll be greeted by an audible “nope” instead.
  • If you need a little more incentive to keep getting those words on the page, “the most dangerous writing app” takes it a step further by deleting your work if you don’t keep typing.
  • Then there’s write or die. This is for the truly masochistic writer. Not only will it delete your progress if you don’t keep going, but it’s as evil as you want to make it beyond that. You set a timer and a word count goal. Then it’s up to you if you want a pleasant auditory or visual reward for continuing to type (such as nature sounds or kittens in the background), or an unpleasant consequence (like spiders crawling across your screen).

It’s such an ingrained habit to use the backspace key. I hate seeing mistakes on the page because I hate the idea of having to go back later to fix them. That’s me in a nutshell: I’d rather get unpleasant tasks out of the way right freaking now so I don’t have to remember to do them later. But perhaps I’m sabotaging myself more than I realize with this kind of mindset.

I find that if I write without a backspace key, I write slower so as to avoid mistakes. That defeats the point of the exercise. I’m supposed to turn off my inner editor. Mistakes aren’t the enemy. Failing to get words on the page is the enemy. Mistakes are a part of practice.

Your internal editor can disguise itself as your friend but really be a form of resistance that can go unnoticed for years. I’m realizing now for the first time that that inner editor goes deeper than with writing. I want to fix things as they arise, which may be taking time from what I really need to be focusing on. I need to get the bulk of the work done first, to get in the flow of doing it to get my best work out. You get your best work out on the first try when your thoughts are raw, not by editing them as they come out. Get out the good work onto the page as it exists in your mind now, in its most purest, freshest form. You can fix it up later. The important thing is to preserve the original thoughts. If you compile all of the time that you would have used backspacing or erasing or otherwise fixing little mistakes along the way (or doing things peripheral to, but ultimately distracting from, the task at hand), it will probably add up to a lot more time than you would like to admit.

There may be thoughts in your head that don’t get a chance to make it onto the page because you focused your attention to editing or something else, to something like writing down another idea as it pops into your head. Now your focus is on your to-do list rather than the subject you were initially writing about. Now you’ve broken your momentum. There were thoughts in your head about the subject you had started a flow of writing on, but you broke that stream of consciousness and aborted something that might have turned into a good bit of writing.

Just keep going. That is the important thing. You did the hard work of showing up, now you have to do the hard work of keeping solid focus and finding your flow state. You’ve sat down to do the work, you’ve eliminated distractions, now the really hard part is undoing that thing that has become such a habit in your creative life and every other part of your life. You have to turn off the part that wants to “fix it now.” If you’re a perfectionist like me, this is a deep-seated habit. But your work with will thank you for it if you just let yourself get into that flow state. Dive into the work distraction-free, without the pressure to be perfect, and you’ll be surprised what comes out of you. You could have pages and pages that would have remained in your head if you were editing along the way. You could make something much more beautiful than your editing hands normally allow if you can force yourself to turn off your editor brain, to let your brain go where it wants to go, unencumbered by the pursuit of perfection. Perfection is not the goal. Perfection is the enemy of done. Ge get the important work done. Edit later. So what if you waste a canvas? It’s a first draft of an idea. You can paint it again better if you want to. The important thing was that you tried it on the page. You tried it on the canvas. You brought it into existence. There is absolutely nothing wasted if you write a super messy first draft. You do, however, risk wasting an awful lot if you edit as you go and don’t get all of the gems in your mind onto the page.

I imagine someone panning for gold. You can’t find all the gold out there. Know that going in. But if you want to find the quality gold, you don’t walk along the river bank hoping to find one perfect nugget of gold. You grab a ton of sand and sift through it. You take a pan full of dirt and let the current take it. You let the river do the work until you’re left with lots of little bits of gold to sift through later. Then you compile all those tiny flecks into something valuable. But you can’t find the flecks unless you sift through the sand, and you’ll never see them if your only goal is to find perfectly formed nuggets on the bank.

Similarly, if wheat harvesters walked through the field and gathered individual grains, at the end of the day they will not have even gathered enough usable grain to feed themselves. Instead, they glean whole stalks at a time. Later, they separate out the usable grain by allowing the wind to blow away the unusable chaff.

First you think bigger and just go forward. Go with the flow without worrying about precision. Later, you can pick and choose what you want use and what you want to throw away. You are a gleaner and a gold miner, but only if you don’t waste your time expecting a perfect end product to fall in your lap. It’s important to get the crud out of the way to uncover the good stuff. Send your inner editor on vacation so you can just WRITE WRITE WRITE (or draw, or paint, or whatever it is you’re passionate about doing). That flow state is where you want to be.

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