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Category: About Writing (page 2 of 10)

A Letter From a Friend and My Response

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine wrote me an incredibly sweet e-mail. With her permission, I am posting it and my response here for everyone to marvel at.

Hi Joe,

I was wondering how you find time to do the million things that you seem to do, be it post to your tumblr, post to blacklaser.net, find all videos you either love or hate, write as Torgeir, review bars, record short stories, etc etc etc to the nth degree?

I’ve been toying with the idea (for a while now) of starting a site where I would maybe review some things I like, heap scorn upon things I dislike, discuss the flotsam and jetsam of life in general, perhaps while trying to be funny sometimes. I get all these ideas in my head about things I want to do, I even get as far as lighting the match, but I just can’t seem to catch myself on fire. Within a few days of thinking “I should start a blog/site!” I circle back around to thinking “When would I even find time to write up a post? Who cares what I think anyways?” (Perhaps I need to care less about people caring? It would be funny if this were the simple secret to success in blogville.) Not to mention I work 40+ hours a week, at the end of which the last thing I want to do is look at another computer. I’m even writing this from my work email, as I loathe getting online at home that much.

I guess I’m wondering how you get inspired, or what propels you forward from thought to action? I need a dose of that, so I’m asking people who seem to fit a lifetime of personal achievement into each week.

If you’re too busy to answer (ha, see what I did there?), then please take this picture as tribute. Seriously though, if you don’t have time for this or don’t have anything to divulge, you can just reply with a picture of a shrug, no hard feelings.

Thanks,

Monica

Well, Monica, you’ve asked me a number of questions that I have a lot of thoughts about. In fact, I’ve been thinking about your e-mail for some time and have put together some ideas that are a bit of a synthesis of things I’ve written here before. I am going to jump around a little bit in answer your queries, so bear with me. I will touch on everything.

First, should you start a blog. I mean, you didn’t ask me this directly, but it’s what your second paragraph is hinting at. What do I think? Of course you should…if that is something you are motivated to do. When I first started The Black Laser back in 2008 (so long ago!), I didn’t really have a good idea of what I wanted the place to be. I knew I wanted a venue to share my photos and writing and whatever in one collected place. I made this site with a vague direction (black and pink, a bunch of text, uh, maybe videos?) and then just let it evolve as my fits and fancies dictated. Did I know in 2008 that by this point I’d have posted nearly 500 music videos? Of course not. I didn’t even consider posting music videos back when I was getting the site up. Did I know that I’d have an entire section devoted to letters I’ve written to things like the 23rd St F station or Coffee or Ugg boots? Of course not. The letters were just something I thought would be fun one day so I wrote a letter. And, you know what, it has turned out to be a lot of fun for me to write those things. They don’t take a lot of energy or thought and, most importantly, they make me laugh.

That is key to this whole thing: it has to be fun. If it isn’t fun, you won’t do it. I don’t very much like getting massages (weird, I know), so I never do that. I quite like drinking beer, so I do that all the time. I also quite like writing on The Black Laser, whether I am bullshitting about some music video or cross-posting my Torgeirs or analyzing my creative path or whatever the hell I am writing about, I like it. It is enjoyable for me. My advice is, unless you’re making money on it, don’t limit yourself to a certain content type. Just post whatever you like, whatever you are motivated to create. That way you will find success. And as a side bonus, you will see your writing get better. Mine certainly has over the years I’ve been doing this. I go back and read some of my early posts and think, “Man, that could have been written better,” but so it goes. That’s life. You do enough of one thing and you’re bound to be good at it. Hopefully. At the very least, better at it.

I would also advise not to get too self-critical when starting out. It’s romantic to think that a bunch of people from all over the place are going to be coming to your site and criticizing everything, but that is just a fantasy. Especially at the beginning. The people who will be coming to read initially are people you know, Facebook friends, Twitter folks, meatspace friends, whomever. So don’t worry about it. Post what you like, put a little thought into it, and just do it. I mean, fuck it, life is too short to not do things because you’re worried about what some nameless, faceless twit on the internet thinks about it, right? It’s for you.

I think I might come across as a classic oversharer, but the contents of my various social media are, in fact, highly curated. I specifically do not post certain types of material on The Black Laser, my Tumblr, Facebook, or Twitter as a matter of good practice. Because I share these things with many types of people in my life (friends, family, clients, the world), I only put things on them with which I don’t mind being identified. I only mention this, because I think that’s an important thing to consider when thinking about your potential blog. Sure, yeah, you might not have many readers at the beginning, but people will find it and it would be a real drag for them to read something there about themselves that you didn’t want them to read. Classic OOPSIES moment.

Next, let’s touch on inspiration. You asked me about what inspires me to continue doing what I am doing. A number of things, in fact. Fear mostly. Anxiety. A sense that I am wasting my life away. This dread that I am throwing my future away. The desire to share. Because I like it.

But let’s back up for a moment. You commented that I am a person that seems to “fit a lifetime of personal achievement into each week,” which, while incredibly sweet and slightly shocking, is exactly the opposite of how I feel about my life. If you click the “Inspiration” or “Creativity” tags beneath this post, you will find plenty of posts where I am struggling with my lack of inspiration, with this sense that nothing is coming, this feeling that everything is a waste. I never feel like I am doing enough, creating enough, achieving enough. I always feel like I could be doing more. Enough so that if I get home and sit around and watch a movie, I genuinely start to feel guilty. Of course, I still sit around and watch movies from time to time, but I don’t really enjoy it. It’s not relaxing for me.

I was discussing your e-mail with my therapist a few weeks ago, just after you sent it. I was telling her exactly what I wrote above. She asked me why I thought that was and I couldn’t give her an answer. My ability to create and communicate with people is inherently tied into my sense of self. And why shouldn’t it be? Even this response is deeply personal as I discuss my thoughts and fears and ideals. This is a representation of who I am, and, even more, who I’d like to be. And I guess the idea of not pursuing that to its fullest is terrifying to me. She asked me what would happen, how would I feel, if I cut myself some slack and let it slip a little. I told her that in the times I have done that my brain goes crazy, I start to feel insane, and am driven back to work, even if it’s something as trivial as posting music video reviews on The Black Laser. I have to be making something all the time. She asked me if I could feel relaxed. I told her the only way I know to relax is to create things. That’s true. When I am done with this, I will feel great. Something’s been done. Something’s been made. I can chill now.

I remember, in college, I took an acting class as a prerequisite to a directing class I wanted to take. Every week we had a standing assignment to spend 20 minutes at home just relaxing. Every week I’d come in and my professor would ask me how I did and, without fail, I told her I couldn’t relax. About three quarters of the way through the semester she had me stay after class to try and help me to learn to relax. She laid me down on the floor on my back and instructed me to close my eyes. She touched my shoulders and flinched. She might have actually said, “Holy shit!” I can’t remember; it was a long time ago. But I do remember her being quite shocked at how much tension I held in my shoulders. I told her that I couldn’t relax and now did she understand how tense I was? I left the class feeling vindicated in my inability to relax, but no close to achieving the goal. Oh well. I figured it out later.

So, where does my inspiration come from? Everywhere and nowhere. Everywhere in the sense that as I wander through life doing things, I like to soak in everything around me and funnel that into whatever the hell it is I am thinking about or working on or planning. Nowhere in the sense that my own constant sense of dread propels me all the time. I honestly feel like I am throwing away my life if I am not making things on the regular. Sure, I experience a normal ebb and flow of creativity, just like anyone. And sure, I get lazy and tired and fucking distracted—wow, so distracted—just like anyone else. I know these things about myself, yet I cannot allow them to win. It is part of why I’ve always set goals, guidelines, limits, quotas, or whatever I think will motivate me to stay obligated. I’ve always liked working with other people in teams since I am incredibly motivated to put out work when I know someone else is counting on me. When it’s only me and there’s no financial reward to be seen, it’s much harder. But if I make myself accountable to myself and to my readers on The Black Laser who are following along my year’s theme, then I find it much easier to stay on track. Does that make sense?

This all ties in to your question about where I find the time. I don’t. I make it. I work at least 50 hours a week, every week, often with late nights and weekends popping up and keeping me in the office. And, as an editor, my whole day is being creative. When I get home I rarely have much juice left to try and be super cool writer guy, so I just do what I can. I say, “All right, Joe, you’re going to write 500 words. At 500 words you can either stop or, if you’re feeling it, keep going.” That works nicely for me. It’s a system I’ve used for years. Do I always write 500 words? Fuck no! If I get home from the office at midnight after a fourteen and a half hour day, you can bet your sweet ass that all I’m going to do is go to the bar next door for a beer and then come home and go to sleep. But if I come home after a normal 10 hour day, I do try and do something. Do I always? Nope, but the thought is there. Sometimes you can’t force it. The weekends are often good for this. I’ll wake up, go out, eat, wander, run some errands, and then come home and produce before going back out for the night. In the end, it’s fun for me, so it’s not a hassle to make time for it. It also keeps me from feeling like a crazy person, which is always nice, you know?

To sum this whole thing up, if you want to make a blog, do it! Don’t limit yourself, and don’t make it a chore. If you have fun doing it and regularly think, “Man, it would be fun to blog about this!” then you will find yourself making time for it. And it doesn’t always have to be enormous blocks of text or things you spend a ton of time on. Lots of people have had incredible success on Tumblr just posting silly photos along a particular theme or just having curated collections of things or whatever the hell people do on Tumblr. The Black Laser was conceived as a place for me to write, so that’s what I do here. Think about what you might want to do (don’t get to specific) and just do it. I think you’ll have fun with it. And if you don’t, stop doing it. Done and done.

Thanks again for the note. I hope this was helpful.

Sincerely,

Joe Dillingham
The Space Pope
Torgeir The Black Metal Extremist
The Black Laser

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!