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Category: About Writing (page 2 of 10)

Month of Letters Challenge: A letter appears!

Today I received my first piece of mail for the Month of Letters challenge from the originator of the idea, Mary Robinette Kowal. Pretty sweet. She sent me quite a pretty postcard on fancy paper with shiny highlights surrounding the flowers. In case you can’t read the lovely (shit) photo my laptop took, let me transcribe for you.

February 1, 2012

Dear Joe,

I saw your blog post and thought I would drop you a line. I has been very exciting to see how enthusiastic people are about the challenge. I hope you get lots of mail.

Yours,

Mary Robinette Kowal

How nice of her! This postcard is, in fact, my very first piece of mail and it came all the way from Portland, OR. I am pretty excited about it. I do hope I get more (hint hint) and will be sharing anything I receive here barring sensitive or personal information. Want to get Black Lasered? Write me a letter or postcard.

The Month of Letters challenge

You all know how I love challenges, so when I read a post by Mary Robinette Kowal when she challenged readers to write and send a piece of mail every day in February, my brain perked up and I started thinking about to whom I would write.

Here is her description of the project.

I have a simple challenge for you.

  1. In the month of February, mail at least one item through the post every day it runs. Write a postcard, a letter, send a picture, or a cutting from a newspaper, or a fabric swatch.
  2. Write back to everyone who writes to you. This can count as one of your mailed items.

All you are committing to is to mail 24 items. Why 24? There are four Sundays and one US holiday. In fact, you might send more than 24 items. You might develop a correspondence that extends beyond the month. You might enjoy going to the mail box again.

Letters! I love letters! I love writing letters! I never receive letters though, which is a drag, but I wish I did. I mean, there is even a whole section of this very site dedicated to letters. Wonderful.

Would you like me to send you a letter? I have quite a few to write. Send me your mailing address via e-mail (if you know it) or on the contact form.

Would you like to write me a letter? Sweet! Please do! If you know my address, use that! If not, how about my mailing address?

Joe Dillingham
No6
36 W 25th St FL 15
New York, NY 10010

Great. I look forward to sending and receiving mail in the month of February.

Creative Projects-December: The Return of Torgeir, or, I Was Half Healthy!

December was a decent month for me creatively. I managed to bring back good old Torgeir in a significant way. I really enjoy the hell out of writing that guy because it gives me a venue to be a complete dick. I often don’t believe the advice I am giving as Torgeir, but there are other times I kind of think that he’s totally right on. And then I get to slip into some recollection of his past in Norway and I am allowed to go totally nuts. And get dark. Really dark. And then I get to close the whole thing off by completely contradicting myself and recommending some of my favorite black metal to you guys. I get all sorts of positive feedback about the Torgeir columns that I haven’t gotten from anything else, so that is super great and inspirational to keep doing it.

As far as slowing my roll, that was more of a mixed result.

For the first half of the month I was very good about hitting the gym 3 times a week and eating super well keeping to my 80% paleo guidelines. And no doubt, I felt really good about it. I hit 190 pounds for the first time in I can’t even remember. I stepped on the scale expecting my usual 195~200 and the little red line stopped at 190. I actually yelled, “Holy shit!” in my apartment. Aloud. By myself. I proceeded to tell a bunch of people, of course. What would The Black Laser be without me broadcasting every stupid little thing I think or care about into the wild voids of the internet?

I had noticed that my body was changing, that I was acquiring better definition on my torso, but I just chalked it up to vanity. Then when I saw the 190, I realized that all the fucking push-ups and pull-ups and squats and all the other nightmarish things they were having me do actually made a difference. Holy shit, right? I was psyched.

But then Christmas party season rolled around and, as one does every single year, I spent the next three weeks drunk the entire time. It’s hard to motivate to get to the gym at 8am when you’ve only been asleep for three hours at that point. Oops. And then I went to California and sure as hell wasn’t going to the gym while I was there. Also drunk the whole time. And then I came back the 27th and have had no real excuses not to go except that I am a lazy fuck. And I ate badly. Stupid holidays.

So that’s no good. But what are you going to do? I am all paid up through May so it’s just a matter of getting my ass there. I can do it!

Look out for a wrap up of the entire Year of 12 Creative Projects and Slowing My Roll soon. Should be interesting to go back through the whole year.

Tate Shots: Maurice Sendak

This is a charming interview of Maurice Sendak, author of Where The Wild Things Are. I am always a big fan of creative people talking about being creative and their process and struggles. Check this out. It is really great.

Terry Gilliam on Kubrick VS. Spielberg

Even though he comes off as a little bit of a dick, Gilliam’s comment on the nature of art is valuable and true. Effectively, that the best art leaves strings hanging for the viewer/reader/whateverer to figure out for themselves which, I believe, creates a more intimate experience. There’s nothing like having to work for comprehension to help make a thing feel like it is your own, to build a bond with a work, to internalize it, to have it affect you. When handed all the answers, things are boring as hell. It’s one of my major pet peeves with YA fiction and, really, a lot of SF/F. I get so bored when everything is explained. Just put things in there and let us work it out through context. That is one of the things I really enjoyed about Gene Wolfe’s work. Creativity is problem solving. Jeez, that’s like my new mantra.

And like women, the easy ones are boring. There’s nothing more boring than a woman who throws herself at you. It’s the difficult ones we all like and go after. Art. Women. Women. Art. They are the same.

Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto For Growth

The other day as I was clicking through Tumblr, a network I am finding increasingly strange, I happened upon an image with three points labeled “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth”. After following the tumble trail to its absolute origin, I found this: Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto for Growth. Man, I love shit like this.

Originally written in 1998 by designer Bruce Mau, the list outlines his design process. But, more importantly, I think the little snippets of advice and guidance can inform any creative process, from writing to design to filmmaking to music. Whatever it is you’re struggling with creatively can benefit from some alternative perspective. You may not always take the advice, but if it causes you to think differently about the problem you’re trying to solve, then it was helpful. As I said yesterday, creativity is problem solving, and anything that helps you solve a problem is good.

And this list is filled with all sorts of good lits bits. If I were forced to pick my favorite five, they would be these.

2. Forget about good.
Good is a known quantity. Good is what we all agree on. Growth is not necessarily good. Growth is an exploration of unlit recesses that may or may not yield to our research. As long as you stick to good you’ll never have real growth.

3. Process is more important than outcome.
When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we’ve already been. If process drives outcome we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there.

9. Begin anywhere.
John Cage tells us that not knowing where to begin is a common form of paralysis. His advice: begin anywhere.

11. Harvest ideas.
Edit applications. Ideas need a dynamic, fluid, generous environment to sustain life. Applications, on the other hand, benefit from critical rigor. Produce a high ratio of ideas to applications.

32. Listen carefully.
Every collaborator who enters our orbit brings with him or her a world more strange and complex than any we could ever hope to imagine. By listening to the details and the subtlety of their needs, desires, or ambitions, we fold their world onto our own. Neither party will ever be the same.

40. Avoid fields.
Jump fences. Disciplinary boundaries and regulatory regimes are attempts to control the wilding of creative life. They are often understandable efforts to order what are manifold, complex, evolutionary processes. Our job is to jump the fences and cross the fields.

I know, I know. That was six. I tried not to post the whole list. Get over it.

Check out the remainder of the 43 points here: Incomplete Manifesto for Growth.

Number 15 on the list, Ask Stupid Questions, reminds me a lot of Leonardo’s to-do list from the post yesterday. “Ask Benedetto Portinari by what means they go on ice in Flanders”?? That is a stupid ass question. Maybe I’m not asking stupid enough questions.

The Theme for 2012

It is that time of year again! Time to announce the coming year’s theme! And I know you’ve all been waiting patiently for me to have an excuse to ramble on wildly about my musings about creativity and my own personal journey with it. I know you all love it. Or at least the three of you who read these don’t completely hate it. So, that’s good.

In previous years, the themes have been The Year of 5000 Photos and 50 Short Stories (2009), The Year of 3 Music Videos and 12 Short Stories (2010), and, this year, The Year of 12 Projects (and Slowing My Roll) (2011). Of course, in previous years I had other themes—The Year of Trying New Things, The Year of Writing, The Year of Focus, The Year of Finishing Things, and The Year of Self-Care—but those have not been documented here on The Black Laser, so we’ll mostly ignore them for the purposes of this one-sided discussion. If you’d like to read more on my thoughts on previous years’ themes, go right ahead.

This year, The Year of 12 Projects, has been remarkably successful so far with 13 of my 12 projects completed at this point. I won’t go too much into my thoughts about the year as a whole yet—I’m saving that for its own year-end write up—but let’s just agree that it’s been great. And let’s also acknowledge that it’s the first time ever that I’ve met the goals I set out for myself at the beginning of the year.

Wait, that bears repeating. It is the first time in eight years of giving myself themes instead of resolutions that I’ve actually accomplished what I set out to do.

Holy shit.

Amazing!

I think a lot of what made this year such a success was that I allowed my brain to sort of go anywhere in terms of being creative. I wasn’t limited to one specific type of thing. I could do whatever caught my fancy, and, in turn, I got a lot done. That is great. In fact, a posting I recently read at NPR’s blog about Leonardo da Vinci’s to-do list seems to reinforce that allowing your brain to wander, to be unfocused, is beneficial for getting things done. Not that I am da Vinci, but I seem to have stumbled upon the same results. It goes against years of myself trying to focus on one thing, one goal, one idea. No wonder I was never able to do a damned thing; I worried so much about being focused, driven, single-minded about my creativity that I limited what I could be accomplishing otherwise. Knowing that I do better when I let myself be free is rather refreshing, actually.

While thinking about what I wanted to accomplish for 2012, I recognized that part of my creative palette that I have been really missing this last year and a half or so is my writing. I haven’t written any fiction at all in ages. Do you, avid reader of The Black Laser, recall the last time I posted fiction here? No you don’t. Do you know why? Because it was January 28, 2010. That is terrible. A couple (few?) weeks ago I tweeted, “Do you remember when I used to write stories??? Whatever happened to that, huh??” I wrote it as sort of a joke, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it is actually kind of sad. For something that was so important to me that I was going to give up a decent career twice for it, how could it have fallen so far out of my life that the last time I wrote anything of consequence was in January of last year? It’s like having a really awesome girlfriend and then suddenly you stop talking to her at all and then 20 months later you’re all, “Hey, where did she go?? How did she get away from me????” And then after you recognize that you’re all, “Damn, I’d better do something about this because I really miss her.”

And that is what writing feels like to me: an amazing supportive relationship with its ups and downs and pitfalls and triumphs. It has always felt so much more real to me than my ventures into filmmaking or photography or drawing or animation any of the other things I’ve dabbled in. Writing is challenging and because it is challenging it is rewarding like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. It feels good and it hurts and it is scary and I love it. I mean, duh, obviously, look at how I get going on things like this when I give a damn about them. I’m just blah blah blahing all up and down the East River like a crazy man with a garbage bag for a hat.

So that brings us to this year’s theme:

The Year of Writing

A question remains: how do I reconcile the success I had when I let my brain wander with the desire to focus on one specific kind of output? I thought of this, too. I think the key lies in not forcing “writing” to be any one thing, but allowing it to take whatever form I think I want to mess around with at that moment.

The astute reader will notice that this is in fact my second Year of Writing, the previous one being an abortive effort before I had any sense of how to structure these things for maximum efficacy. But I know how to do that now and that means giving myself limits that allow me to be flexible. Funny, right? Limits that allow me to be flexible. But it’s true and it works. Full open-endedness is daunting, but limit the creative sandbox a little and you’ll be surprised what you can come up with. Creativity is problem solving. Give yourself problems to solve.

So what are my limits/goals for this year?

  • 100,000 words – While chit-chatting with Lindsey on the IMs about what my goals should be for this year I recalled that at my peak output, I was writing at least 500 words a day. If I could maintain that every day of the year, my output would be 182,500 words. A massive amount. But I am not going to be so unrealistic and believe that I am actually going to write every single day of the year. Let’s don’t be ridiculous. There are going to be nights where I’ll have my face buried in the computer doing nothing but fucking off on the internet and nights where I am stuck at work late and nights where I just won’t want to write. And 100,000 is a nice, round number.

    What counts toward my 100,000 word count? Anything: letters to my brain, long articles on The Black Laser about whatever, anything for Vox Critica, any fiction, screenplays (who knows???). Basically anything where I give a damn about the quality of the writing. This encompasses quite a lot of what I do and should make hitting 100K for the year not such a daunting challenge. The only things that won’t count are when I’m bullshitting about music videos (unless I actually have something to say, my prerogative) and things like Twitter/Facebook/whatever. I mean, this thing is already 1200 words long. I’d only need to do 84 posts like this and I’d be done.

  • Dance EP – I’ve been talking about making a dance record for a long time. I love dance music. It’s so stupid and fun but can also be really beautiful in the right hands. Those hands are not mine, but that doesn’t stop from wanting to put my own music out there. And it fits under the header of “writing” quite nicely and is so different than writing words that it allows me to play around in a different medium but still be working toward my theme for the year. It will allow my brain to wander when I don’t have anything particularly meaningful to say otherwise.

    What constitutes a Dance EP? Well, as we all know an EP is longer than a single but shorter than an album, so like 3 to 5 songs. I think that is about right. I just want it to be a fun project that makes people want to move and shake their asses and do all that stupid shit that people do that makes them look really funny in photos.

There you have it. 2012, The Year of Writing. 100,000 words or whatever and a dance EP.

And if you think that I think about this stuff too much, I’ll just leave this little snippet of yesterday’s conversation here for you to enjoy.

The Space Pope
4:39 PM The year I did 50 short stories, I kept a word/story count by each date I finished one so I could graph the work.
4:39 PM Jeez, I think about this too much maybe. But whatever.
4:40 PM I could keep a spreadsheet of writing by wordcount/type/date

lfkaufman
4:40 PM You think about most things too much. :)

Now I’ve blown my little secret that I intend to graph my progress. Here’s to 2012!

Creative Projects-August: The Black Laser Gets Redesigned, or, Giving Advice To Those Who Don’t Want It

Another month, another series of successes! WOO WOO. I was able to successfully finish the redesign of The Black Laser which was long in coming. I am glad it is done. That was project 8.

I also debuted as Torgeir the Black Metal Extremist over at Vox Critica which is pretty sweet. Giving people advice they don’t want might be the most important thing a person can do for others and I am glad to be inflicting that trauma. Enjoy it. Torgeir was project 9.

You’ll also notice that the counter for this year so far is already at 11. That’s right. Nearly all the way there and only mid-way through September. It’s a far cry from earlier this year when I was struggling to get things done. Feels damned good.

On the other half of the tip, August was a pretty good, moderate month for me. Nothing terribly exciting to report there. The whole “Don’t Go Drinking During The Week By Yourself” thing is working out pretty well for me. Next up? “Don’t Go Drinking By Yourself At All.” Baby steps.

There’s a bunch of stuff to talk about during this month’s wrap up, but it will have to wait. Until then!