flirting with nihilism

writing

For over a week now, I've told myself that I need to write a new blog post. And for over a week now, I've failed to deliver. Few drafts get past the idea phase before they're abandoned. Interesting ideas, upon further inspection, quickly find their way into the recycle bin.

The situation is little better for my fiction writing. Perhaps the difference is that being part of a writing group with regular submission deadlines obligates me to push through and deliver something. Still, it hasn't been easy.

My inner critic has been harder than usual to please lately. I'm not sure of the source of the critic's distaste. Perhaps his emotions are cyclical and it's simply time for him to make himself heard.

Surely the pandemic deserves some of the blame. Though I feel better adjusted than in weeks past, the pandemic continues to affect us all. At the least, it has hindered social interactions, which are often a good source for writing ideas and inspiration. I hope more ideas will surface in day-to-day interactions as life gradually pushes toward a new normal.

I suppose a change in technique brings its own woes. When I first got back into writing, I wrote my first drafts using pen and paper.

fountain pen writing on paperPhoto credit: Aaron Burden on Unsplash.com

Doing so made me feel better connected to the act of writing. I felt more in-tune with the process and I felt as if pen and paper gave me a better feel for the pacing and flow of my writings. That was fine when I was writing short blog posts and flash fiction pieces, but as I increase my ambitions and look to write longer pieces—at least in fiction—writing via computer or tablet and keyboard will be necessary for efficiency's sake.

I know the best strategy is to keep showing up and to keep fighting and to wait the inner critic out, but that doesn't mean it's an easy thing to do.

This isn't the blog post I wanted to write, but at the moment it's all I have. I'm going to hit Publish before the critic convinces me to delete it.

#personal #writing

I recently submitted a short story to a literary journal. While I do not know whether the publication will accept my short story, I have already enjoyed the process. Maybe I enjoyed it because this submission was my first. Or maybe I enjoyed it because of whom the submission was to.

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that I’ve fallen in love with Taco Bell Quarterly. The premise makes it easy: It’s a literary journal dedicated to all things Taco Bell. In the past I had a take-it-or-leave-it attitude about Taco Bell, but since discovering this wonderful journal, my patronage has increased. Now I got Taco Bell on the brain, yo.

After reading through a few stories and poems, I thought, Yeah, I wanna be a part of this. So I set out working on a short story titled “A Taco Bell Breakup”.

If TBQ (as the cool kids call it) publishes my story, I’ll be sure to share the news on this blog and Twitter. If they reject the story, well, I’ll just publish it here because it’s not as if the story can have a home anywhere else. If I'm wrong, please let me know.

Regardless of the fate of my short story, I did learn a few things from the process of preparing for submission.

Revise, revise, and revise again

For me, writing usually isn't the hard part. Revising is the hard part. Once you've pumped out a first draft, you may be tempted to call it done and move on. And maybe that works for a personal blog, but readers expect a little more polish from certain other works.

Write without fear. Edit without mercy.Photo credit: Hannah Grace on Unsplash.com

I revised “A Taco Bell Breakup” six or seven times before I finally called it done. I'm sure the story can still be improved—no writing is perfect, after all—but at some point you have to ship. You have to produce.

Besides, how much work can I really put into such a niche story that likely has only one avenue for publication?

Your word count is too damn high.

My first draft was around 1,800 words. TBQ requests submissions between 500 and 1,500 words.

I didn't see how I could shave off 300 words without changing a key aspect of the story, so I focused on trimming the word count during my first few revisions. And dear reader, I was in fact able to cut the story down to under 1,500 words.

And then I changed the key aspect of the story anyway. But that's okay because doing so enabled me to further reduce the word count to under 1,300 words.

I might push limits by submitting to TBQ, but I'm not going to push limits with TBQ.

Your art should be enjoyable.

Writing can be difficult, especially if you have ambitious goals with the craft. But I can't help rolling my eyes whenever someone talks as if being a writer is some sort of curse. If you don't enjoy writing on some level, then why do you make yourself do it? Don't sacrifice yourself for us. Find another interest that won't torture you so.

While putting so much effort into a story as ridiculous as “A Taco Bell Breakup” created its own stresses, the story itself made the process enjoyable. If I had hated the story, I wouldn't have been able to go through so many revisions.

The story is one of my babies and while I can't guarantee its success or acceptance in the world, I just want to give it the best chance I can. You know, just like my human babies.

This won't be my last submission.

At the latest First Draughts happy hour hosted by Writing Workshops Dallas, I heard a number of writers share their experiences with submissions and rejections. Their stories put to light just how much of a grind getting published is. You can't shop one story at a time and just move on to the next one after the story is published. I mean, you can. It's your writing career/hobby, so do what you want. But you're likely better off prettying up as many stories as possible and pimping them all out simultaneously.

Yet again I'm late to the party.

When I discovered TBQ, I felt as if the publication's obscurity could work in my favor and could improve my odds of getting published. Then, while I was working on my short story, TBQ blew up.

The New York Post sang TBQ's praises. Then the A. V. Club.

I'm always late to the party. Throughout my career, I've hired on at places at their peaks only to see them crash and burn soon afterward, some closing their doors just over a year later. (If you keep running into the same problems over and over, at some point you have to ask yourself if you're the problem, but I swear it's not my fault.)

Now I'm late in a different way. TBQ has blown up and is getting cooler by the minute. Soon someone at Taco Bell corporate will find out about this and he'll worry about how this publication of love and acceptance will affect “the brand” and then he'll order his corporate-y attorney to issue a cease and desist, thereby ruining all that is pure in the lit world.

This is why we can't have nice things.

#personal #writing #TacoBellQuarterly #TBQ #TBQFam #publishing

Have you ever asked yourself what are your personal covenants for writing? Do you require good grammar and perfect punctuation? Does the protagonist have to be likable? Do you want insight into the background of the characters? Must there be a happy ending? How do you feel about sequences of questions? Fragments and incomplete sentences?

I like to think that I'm flexible on all of the questions above and that I can get on board for almost any adventure as long as it's done well, but my favorite writing is about discovering and sharing truths. These truths may be universal or deeply personal. Existential or mundane. Whatever the specifics, my favorite writing reveals something often overlooked or unspoken.

Perhaps that’s why I count Bret Easton Ellis, Cormac McCarthy, and Hubert Selby, Jr., among my favorite authors. Each author looks at people of different classes and perhaps even generations to address struggles and pleasures alike that many of us may be unaware of.

Bret Easton Ellis's debut novel Less Than Zero showed me that being born into a life of excess can be a privilege and a misfortune. Such lifestyle can give a person access to exclusive places and people, but it can also keep a person from finding connection and sincerity in others. I am not suggesting that everyone of impressive means is shallow and superficial, but there are many reasons most us of never reach the levels of the rich and famous. Unusual accomplishments often require unusual sacrifices, and sometimes that means sacrificing yourself—your soul, your individuality, your humanity. While having money does solve money problems, it does not solve every problem.

Ask fans to describe the works of Hubert Selby, Jr., and you're likely to hear one word repeated: compassion. Selby often writes about the downtrods of society but does so in an effort to make his readers connect with and better understand his characters and subjects. Requiem For A Dream, which focuses on the hopes and struggles of addicts—and which was made into an awesome film with a chilling theme song —reminds us that people are not inherently bad simply because they go down a bad path. Neither of the story's four main characters has malice or ill will in his or her heart, yet they all found themselves going down paths they cannot correct. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, after all.

In novels like The Road, the tale of the journey south taken by a young boy and his father after an unnamed catastrophe has struck the world, Cormac McCarthy also shows how little you need in order to tell truths as the father and son are never named at any point in the story. That method of storytelling is its own kind of truth as it focuses on only the essential elements. Such stories focus on the fundamentals and force readers to reflect on what truly matters.

In many ways my blog has become about truth insofar as my own personhood. Searching for and accepting certain truths have gone a long way in my own growth over the last few years. I’m on a constant search for more truths as I continue to examine myself and consider all the pieces that make me who I am and keep me from becoming whom I want to be.

I hope that my fiction contains similar truths. The last few bits of fiction I've written have turned out to be deeply personal in some way, which makes for writing that is both exciting and frightening—exciting because you're peeling back another layer of the onion of your individuality yet frightening for the same reasons.

And if I am ever able to complete a novel, I expect to find truths of a similar sort. The expected subject matter guarantees it. Write what you know, they say.

As far back as I can remember, I have been interested in the truths of the human experience. And I have finally reached a point where I feel I have at least some authority to contribute to the conversation. I now realize that truth is my artistic goal and struggle.

Image from Joel de Vriend on Unsplash.com

But what constitutes truth? The age old question repeats itself.

Journalism was once a discipline dedicated to the truth of facts yet these days it is often reduced to propaganda or clickbait headlines. Anyone who calls him or herself a journalist should define truth in the most conservative manner. The journalist's relationship with truth is one reason I switched out of journalism in college—I didn't want to write only facts for a living. I'm not professional enough to refrain from putting myself in my writing, but I can’t make it as cool as Hunter S. Thompson did. Can anyone?

I have always thought of truth as being mostly relative, which appears to increasingly be the case in 2020 when it seems as if a person can find a source to validate any claim. Perhaps this is why I prefer to focus on truths of the individual because almost anything can be true to someone on a personal level, depending on his experience and his exposure to the world around him and outside him.

Being honest can be difficult and scary. Anytime you're honest about anything you risk offending someone. But when it feels as if you're destined to offend someone no matter what you do, the case can be made that you should just go ahead and speak your truth.

And so in 2020, I find myself struggling to tell as much truth as I can afford to tell. I’m dipping my toes ever farther into the deep end, seeing just how far I’m willing to go. But I remain careful not to go too much further out at any point. I never was a great swimmer.

#personal #writing #truth

Last week I closed out 2019 with a bit of reflection. Now is the time to look ahead to 2020 and identify goals for the 366 days (Don't forget about Leap Year) that await.

Lose 20 pounds in 2020

As I've already stated on this blog, I lost 15 pounds in the second half of 2019. That's a good primer for losing 20 extra pounds in 2020. I don't expect to do anything drastic. I just need to keep on keeping on, and with a long enough timeline, I should be able to reach my goal.

This is the only of my goals that might be worthy of its own hashtag: #20for2020

Weekly posts on Flirting With Nihilism

I have been working on making writing a consistent habit, and I started publishing blog posts on a weekly basis with some small hiccups here and there. I would like to ride that momentum into solidifying a regular schedule for my original write.as blog.

## Monthly posts on Truth & Hyperbole

Here is where I announce the launch of my flash fiction blog, Truth & Hyperbole. I hope that my fiction will be more refined than my posts on Flirting With Nihilism, and so I would like to take some extra time between posts for edits and revisions.

In 2019 my writing goals revolved around practice and frequency, and I’m keeping that theme going in 2020.

I have since killed this blog and decided to consolidate my personal essays and fiction into Flirting With Nihilism. I will separate my posts via the tags blog and fiction.

Prep for a novel

I’ve had an idea for a novel floating around in my head for a few years, but I’ve had difficulty writing it because I still haven’t answered questions about fundamental aspects of my story such as character details, the location(s), and specific events. I’m not too great at improvising as I go in my writing, so I would like to take 2020 to outline my project. It would be great if I were able to start writing my novel in 2020, but at worst I would like to be ready to go by January 1, 2021.

Use fewer commas in my writing

I have a problem with commas in that I use them too often. I'm confident in my usage and feel that said usage is correct, but using too many commas bogs writing down. Even if I do reach my goal of reducing unnecessary commas, I'll always be Team Oxford Comma. Because sometimes commas are necessary.

Use a custom domain for my email

I'm cheating on this one since I've already transitioned my email to a custom domain, which is one of the best digital investments a person can make as Steven Ovadia mentioned on his blog Linux Rig. An unclaimed domain can be had for about $10 (recurring on an annual basis so long as you keep the domain) and can be used with email hosts both free and paid. If you decide to change email providers and leave certain digital ecosystems, there's no need to notify anyone because your contacts can continue reaching you at the same email address. You switch providers, but no one has reason to know or care. It's a great setup.

Lately I've been struggling with what to do with my unwanted books. I buy many of my books at sales hosted by the local chapter of the Friends of the Library, so it feels pointless to donate the same books to the library only to have them back in rotation at another sale.

Recently I stumbled upon a reddit post in which someone recommended donating books to prisoners. After a little Google-fu, I found a local group dedicated to getting books into the hands of prisoners.

Over the last couple of years I've been looking for ways to be more generous, so giving unwanted books to prisoners makes for a double win.

Keep a list of books read

I more or less started doing this in the 3rd quarter of 2019 when I started bullet journaling. I keep a couple of lists—one for fiction and one for non-fiction—for books I would like to read and then I mark them off the list whenever I've completed them. But I would like to have a list only of books I've read, rather than a list of the books on my wishlist that have been read. This may be a good opportunity to utilize my goodreads account.

Play more disc golf

All work, no play... Sometimes you just gotta let loose and let the discs fly. Disc golf is cheaper than regular golf but a player can become as obsessive over his throw as he can his swing. However, disc golf does not make for great small talk at the water cooler. There are no solutions, only trade-offs.

Getting back into a routine

The holiday season is great if you’re lucky enough to work in a career that affords time off. You will never hear me complain about extra vacation or holiday time, but the holiday season makes maintaining routines and habits difficult. I’m looking forward to the return to normalcy but once I’m back in a routine it won't be long before I'm complaining that I would like some extra time off again.

The new year is upon us

I don’t take resolutions too seriously. I don’t expect my life to suddenly and dramatically change on January 1st of any year, but the changing of the year is a good time to think about some of the things you wish you did differently. We should feel free to make positive changes on any date, so I’m sure my goals will shift throughout 2020.

And so...

Onward to 2020.

#personal #newyear #resolutions #goals #writing

Perform a quick Google search for the criteria for calling yourself a writer, and you're likely to find any number of requirements. Do you have to be published before you can call yourself a writer? Are you a writer if you pump out genre fiction, or are you a writer only if your works are shelved in literary fiction? Are you a writer only if you obsess over your craft to the point that you neglect everything else in your life—your relationships, employment, and health and hygiene? Are you a writer only if you get paid for your work?

So many possibilities.

Let's keep it simple since you know that's how we roll at Flirting With Nihilism. For the sake of this post, a writer is someone who writes. It's as simple as that.

The next natural question would be, What counts as writing? Obviously, writing requires the act of writing itself. Putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Writers write, after all.

The act of writing is undoubtedly the most important part of writing, but there are a number of other writerly activities that contribute to the craft.

Editing

Some people will roll their eyes at this one and let out a big Duh. But editing is one of the most hated writerly activities. Everyone wants to believe his first draft will be a masterpiece, but deep down we all know that every work needs at least one run of revisions. If nothing else, we need to take the opportunity to sniff out any sneaky typos.

I know I need more practice in editing. Perhaps I should turn that into a goal/resolution for 2020.

Reading

This one is pretty obvious. If Rule #1 of Writer Club is that you must write, then Rule #2 is that you must read. Why you would read works similar to your own writing is straight forward: doing so gives proper influence to your writing. But it's also good to read outside your genre, for diversity's sake.

You can also read books about writing or style. Nerd alert! While I have my own opinions about writing, I almost always take something away when I read a style guide. If nothing else, I may discover that I don't agree with certain writing “rules” in style guides, which makes me feel like a bit of a rebel.

A silhouette of a woman raising her fist into the air Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash.com

Journaling

I find journaling to be meditative and reflective. The practice helps me to clear my mind, which clears the path for writing. I've recently concluded that in the past I was unable to write because my head was a mess. I had too much stuff—mostly anxiety—bouncing around up there with no healthy outlet. These days I try to get all that bother out on paper.

Journaling helps to give me structure. I tend to lean on my journal for keeping track of events and appointments while my digital calendar is more of a backup. Also, a journal is a great place for retaining working material. A journal is easy to flip through, which simplifies the process of rediscovering old ideas. Digital solutions are fantastic for archiving complete works, but I do not find them ideal for browsing and rediscovering ideas. Digital solutions can be too organized for some uses.

Over the last few years, I've heard many claims that writing by hand helps with memory and also with uncovering deep thoughts and feelings. While I understand and appreciate the value of working with technology, I often find myself going back to the old ways.

Observing

Where do your ideas come from? I'm not a very original person, so I get my ideas from what I observe in my day-to-day life. My mind is almost always taking events in and processing them. I'm always looking for little tidbits wherever I can find them.

I especially enjoy observing people and their reactions to events and situations. People are usually my favorite part of my favorite stories. I'm convinced that if a story has great characters and style, I'm in for almost any adventure or misadventure. I'm further convinced that, at least for my writing, these characters are not created but found, observed in the wild and brought to life for others via words on the page.

Writer's groups and events

Over the last few months I have been to a few writer's groups and happy hours. I'm embarrassed to say I've yet to share any work as my ego isn't ready for the hit, but I've always left these events inspired after hanging out with others with the same interest, whether they pursue that interest as a hobby or as a profession. Writing is usually a solitary act, so it's nice to be among others facing similar struggles. And sometimes it's nice to simply be among other people, as even the most hardcore introverts need social interaction from time to time, no matter how much they may try to avoid leaving the house unnecessarily.

Going to a writer's group or event would fall under the category of “inspiration”, something which writers could always use.

Most days I don't write as much as I know I should. Sometimes it's because of poor planning on my part, and sometimes it's because life simply gets in the way. In order to compensate, I try to refine my other writerly skills so that I'm getting better in some way every day.

#personal #writing #journaling #journal

If we talk about any celebrity for a long enough period, we will almost certainly comment on his or her ego or humility, terms that we seem to recognize only in extremes. We treat the terms ego and humility as if they are mutually exclusive, as if a person has to have one or the other and as if any combination of the two is impossible.

On one end—or extreme—we have supreme humility represented by Steve Carell. On the other end, we have supreme ego represented by Kanye West.

For the humility representative, we could have chosen Keanu Reeves, but he just got a new ladyfriend, so his ego must be boosted in the short-term. And he has been killing it in the John Wick movie franchise.

In case you haven't heard, Steve Carell is the nicest guy in showbiz. Mindy Kaling confirmed this in her 2011 memoir Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?:

It has been said many times, but it is true: Steve Carell is a very nice guy. His niceness manifests itself mostly in the fact that he never complains. You could screw up a handful of takes outside in 104-degree smog-choked Panorama City heat, and Steve Carell’s final words before collapsing of heat stroke would be a friendly and hopeful “Hey, you think you have that shot yet?” . . . Getting Steve to talk shit was one of the most difficult seven-year challenges, but I was determined to do it. A circle of actors could be in a fun, excoriating conversation about, say, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and you’d shoot Steve an encouraging look that said, “Hey, come over here; we’ve made a space for you! We’re trashing Dominique Strauss-Kahn to build cast rapport!” and the best he might offer is “Wow. If all they say about him is true, that is nuts,” and then politely excuse himself to go to his trailer. That’s it. That’s all you’d get. Can you believe that? He just would not engage. That is some willpower there.

Let fans of Steve Carell discuss their love of the man for longer than one minute and 23 seconds, and they'll slide in the fact that he's just so humble. No hint of ego in that man, they'll say. Not. One. Bit.

Contrast that to Kanye West, our representative of ego. Kanye West is all ego all the time. Ego is the man's life source. Word on the street is that Kanye actually died in that 2002 car accident, but his ego has kept him going all these years later. If this is true, I estimate that Kanye's ego can sustain him until at least 2047 before his body has to accept the reality of his injuries.

If you need proof of Kanye West's ego, take a look at his discography. The man released eight albums of hippity hop full of profanities and sexual content and then turned around a released a gospel album, God Is King, and then went on Joel Osteen's show and called himself “the greatest artist that God has ever created”. If that ain't ego, I don't know what is.

In these extreme examples, it's so easy to fall in love with Steve Carell, Humility, and to be disgusted by Kanye West, Ego. Call me crazy, but I love Kanye West's ego. I love a guy who's not afraid to shake things up. I don't know why I'm like this. Mama tried.

Why does ego seem a word used only in extremes? Often, the presence of ego is seen as a negative while the absence of ego is celebrated. Extreme stances often miss the mark, and the usual feelings about ego are no exception. Ego should not be so binary, so either/or. Ego is a motivator, a driver, a call to action. Ego does need to be kept in check—this is where humility comes into the mix—but everyone should have a healthy dose and should work to identify his or her own flavor of ego.

Do you really think our beloved Steve Carell has no ego? I would argue that he simply chooses not to show it.

Can anyone hope to accomplish anything remarkable without ego? Can an artist exist without ego? Should an artist try?

Ego says I can do something better than you. Ego says I have something to say, and I have the audacity to interrupt your day to bring you my message. Ego says to hit Publish or Send, to share your work. Or at least put it out there so that people have the opportunity to find it.

A poet's ego allows him to charge for his work. Humility lets him acknowledge he can't set his own price. Photo by Leonardo Baldissara on Unsplash.

I do not think myself egotistical, but make no mistake—I have ego.

And what of my own flavor of ego? What does my ego say? My ego says that I'm someone with life experience and perspective that others should listen to. I obsess over nuance, so I dissect unpleasant and mundane events alike and find life lessons along the journey. My ego says that I'm a poor man's Mark Manson, doing my part to combat the feelgood industrial complex and to promote healthier perspectives while limiting my use of F bombs and other profanities so as not to ruffle too many feathers. I can't be as bold as you, Mark Manson. I still have a day job.

On the flipside, I have humility and plenty reason to be humble.

What does my humility say? My humility says I've collected dust by neglecting writing over the years. I have a lot of writing ahead of me before I'll be as refined as I would like. My humility says it won't happen overnight. My humility says I have to start somewhere.

Humility properly manages my expectations. Ego says that where I am today is not where I will be tomorrow.

For further proof of how wrong we as a whole have our concepts of ego and humility, look at one of my biggest pet peeves: the horrible misuse of “being humbled”. You are not humbled when you are granted an award and recognized for an achievement. You are humbled when you give your best effort yet are still bested by someone else. Maybe the other person was better prepared, or maybe the other person is more of a natural talent than you are. Either way, humility accepts the defeat. Ego says I'll get y'all next year.

If an artist wanted to do something only for the sake of it, then he would keep it private. But he puts it out there for a reason, if only to feed his ego, the fuel that keeps him going.

And let's not pretend that bookish writers are immune to ego.

Writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it. Use its energy to keep yourself going. – On Writing Well by William Zinsser

Done, William Zinsser. Done.

#personal #ego #humility #artists #writing #writers #humble

While I am in some ways intrigued by Gary Vaynerchuk, I am wary of his advice. In particular, I do not like Vaynerchuk's message of working every second of every day in order to achieve success. While I do believe that hard work and sacrifice are important, I do worry about the effects a relentless grind has on one's physical and mental health. Fortunately, it appears that I'm not alone.

However, I do believe in giving credit where it's due. And though I disagree with his overall message, that hardly means Vaynerchuk has no good insights. After all, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Despite my concerns about Vaynerchuk, I have been hearing echoes of one piece of his advice in my own life over the last few weeks:

“Love the process and the grind more than the payoff.”

Allow me to share a couple of anecdotes to elaborate.

I recently attended a writer's happy hour. At a hip coffee shop in Dallas's Bishop Arts district, I spent a significant portion of the night talking to the one non-writer who decided to accompany her husband to the event. At one point, my single-serving friend asked what I was looking to accomplish with my writing.

I felt as if she was expecting a grandiose answer. Was I hoping to write a novel that would be published by one of the big dogs? Was I hoping to write the next hot series that everyone wouldn't be able to get enough of?

While either of those scenarios would be awesome, I'd be lying if I said they were my primary aim at the moment, so I gave what was likely the most uncoolest answer I could have given. I told her that I was simply focused on establishing the habit of writing.

Sure, I have dreams of achieving some form of writing success. I would love it if I were able to build a following on this blog. Maybe one day I will actually write a bestselling novel or memoir. Or who knows, maybe I will be invited onto some morning TV show to discuss the triviality of the semicolon. (For the record, I see such usage as a personal choice; do what feels right.)

But these goals and dreams mean nothing if I don't actually write and subscribe to the process. None of my writing goals will ever be realized without the proper set of actions.

In a previous post, I revealed how starting the habit of exercising nearly killed me. But in that post I didn't mention that I've lost 15 pounds in the last four months. Recently, too few of my co-workers opted to participate in a workout session, so it had to be cancelled.

I was genuinely upset. My process had been disrupted, and now I was going to have to make up for the missed workout later on in the week.

So many of us want to lose weight, and we all know what we need to do. No fad diets, no gimmicks. Just good old fashioned diet and exercise. Burn more calories than you consume. It's simple math.

Algebraic equations Photo by Antoine Dautry on Unsplash

Often it's not a lack of knowledge that keeps us from reaching our goals, especially in the age of the internet, where the answers to our curiosities are only a Google search away. It's our unwillingness to embrace the process that holds us back.

I didn't start losing weight because I made it a goal. I started losing weight because I built a process. In addition to the weekly workouts at the office, I also go for walks and jogs at least three times a week. I am more mindful of what I eat and try not to go overboard with the sweets and carbs. The thing about processes is that they can almost always be improved in some way. In this case, the diet portion of my process could certainly use some work.

Goals are good and often necessary, but they are not the most crucial ingredient for success. Good processes and commitment to those processes are far more important. If you want to get somewhere, you have to get moving. And once you get moving, you may find that you change paths and goals at some point. Maybe where you were originally headed has too many roadblocks, or maybe you found a more interesting destination. But you are unlikely to get anywhere standing still.

It's so easy to fall in love with the stories of people who were discovered without even trying. Edward Furlong was discovered by casting director Mali Finn at the Pasadena Boys And Girls Club. This chance meeting led to Furlong's being cast as John Connor in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Furlong didn't have to grind through audition after audition and didn't have to find the strength to persist despite rejection after rejection.

Such experiences make great stories, but they're not blueprints for success. As Seth Godin has said, “No one's coming. Stop waiting to get picked”.

I'm not sure what I ultimately hope to accomplish with my writing. On multiple occasions, I've asked myself why I'm writing. I don't know where it will lead me, but it won't take me anywhere if I don't put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

After all, writing itself is a process. My writing often starts in my bullet journal. Sometimes that means starting with a wall of text and sometimes it means starting with only bullet points and notes. Then comes the typing of the rough draft, often originating in Joplin. Lately I've been kicking it old school with my revisions by printing them out and marking them up with red ink. I was recently pleased to discover that I'm not alone in this analog approach to editing in 2019.

I don't have the greatest track record with meeting goals. It's not as if I never reach goals, but sometimes my dreams and accomplishments do not lead to the happiness and fulfillment I had originally envisioned. It sometimes turns out that my goals were created purely out of my own ignorance. It can be difficult to make appropriate goals when you're unaware what options exist for you. But a funny thing about options is that they're more likely to reveal themselves once you've subscribed to a process and therefore have gained some sort of momentum.

Maybe the real problem is that we're not actually in love with our goals. Maybe we're only in love with the dream. It's not hard to see why that would be the case. Dreams are fun because they're perfect in our minds. In our dreams, we don't imagine the struggles and the setbacks. We don't focus on the process that will get us where we want to be. We dream only about having reached the finish line.

But you know how the old cliche goes:

“It's not the destination, it's the journey.”

#personal #writing #processes

We have all at some point said those words: I don't have time. We usually say them after we've revealed a desire to do something different, such as exercise, learn a new language, or try our hand at standup comedy. I often said the phrase after I talked about wanting to write again.

When you say I don't have time for something in your personal life, most people will never challenge you. They'll nod their heads and give the sympathy you seek and then you both continue eating your third helping of chocolate chip cookie sundae and complain that you can't lose weight. But it's not your fault because you don't eat unhealthy—your mother had thyroid issues, so you should get yours checked. But you never do it. You don't have time, after all.

Are you seeing a pattern?

I finally got to the point where not only was I tired of not writing, but I was tired of listening to myself complain about not accomplishing a personal goal. I challenged myself to find the time, requiring me to assume that I did in fact have such time.

I analyzed my typical day and my routine and habits and realized that I was sleeping through my writing time, so I started waking up earlier. Until just a few months ago, I'd stay in bed until the last possible moment before getting ready for work, so I worked to change a 34-year-old habit.

I also realized I couldn't write because I spent too much time distracted. For me, my laptop is great for producing writing but not great for creating writing. It's too easy to get distracted by a computer. Open one browser window for “research” and next thing you know you're five hours into a random YouTube video marathon. Modern cell phones are equally distracting as you have all of the digital world at your fingertips, and I hate writing on a cell phone anyway, so it hardly helps my cause. We're hearing more and more that we should stop using screens just before bed, so writing on a laptop or cell phone while winding down for the night seems like a bad idea. That's where the ol' trusty pen and notebook come in handy.

Fun fact: Pen and paper also help with reducing screentime in general. They really are wonderful contraptions.

Most recently I had the ephiphany that I could write during my lunch breaks. I also realized that I had more time to write if I cut out playing video games. It's amazing how much time you can find when you want to find it. Maybe you are one of those rare cases who truly does not have the time. Only you can determine that. On the other hand, maybe you need to work on your communication and negotiation skills in order to give yourself the opportunity. Identify your priority and ask what it would take to get it.

Even when you do find extra time, there comes a limit. For instance, I know I can't write for eight hours a day unless I quit my day job, and considering my day job pays better than the $0 my writing nets me, that ain't happening any time soon. Yet I wonder where else we can find extra time when we challenge ourselves to find it rather than accept that it doesn't exist.

#personal #timemanagement #writing #prioritizing