2017, A Few Notes

Ah, yes. Reflection time. Every blogger / online commentator’s opportunity to throw together a good list of “me moments”. One last shameless self-plug before the new year rings in. And since I’m not beyond shameless self-promotion, I did want to talk about a few things. Some worthy of note for progression’s sake. Some not-so-much but certainly worth mentioning.

So, here goes:

Worthy of note: I started a podcast. I have a small background working in radio and looking back, I’m sad I didn’t pursue it way back when. The Writer’s Lens has opened a lot of healthy dialogue and a lot of doors too. Not to mention (but I will) I was able to start the podcast because of the generous gift of a microphone.

Worthy of note: I got connected with many other creatives. And I was able to support them via my podcast while keeping up with them throughout the year.

Not-so-great: I got really sick. I didn’t share this publicly, but I went through a strange time this year where I became ill for a really long time. In short, I was having stomach issues for a couple months and things got a little scary for a while. I don’t write this as a please-pity-me moment, but rather, acknowledging how much this put my 2017 plans on hold. When 2017 started, I was hoping to finish my second book, The Shadow of Mars, and simultaneously start a few other projects. But, all that changed right around the end of January. Creatively, I was brought to a standstill. I found my downtime filled with anxiety rather than freedom and it really took a toll on me. Thankfully, I got pain-free in summer and just in time too, as that’s when the gift of a microphone came my way (to do that whole podcasting thing).

Worthy of note: I grew bolder. Not just in my creative pursuits, but in my faith too. This year my faith was tested more than any other previous year. But instead of retreating into a safe space, I learned how to present myself in a manner that was both gracious and firm. By no means did I master the technique, but I know I made leaps and bounds in this area.

Not-so-great: Social media drained me. And I’m pretty sure it drained a lot of others too. Since I’m a self-published author and Internet surfer, I check in to social media daily. However, I didn’t do it as much as I used to (which is probably a good thing according to current studies on the topic). The angriest voices became dominant voices. Or the ones who were most controversial. Or the ones who were the most divisive. That being said, I found that dipping out – even when I didn’t plan on it – turned out to be a good decision. Every time.

Worthy of note: I got handier. This is not necessarily a creative endeavor, but I wanted to make note of it. Well, maybe it is. Let’s just say I can do more than change lightbulbs around the house now.

Worthy of note: Lastly – to keep this post relatively short – 2018 holds potential. For anyone, really. Hope is a powerful ally. It’s an ally we forget we have when things don’t go as planned. My faith in Christ is something I’ve had to learn to grow in as I’m such a cerebral guy. When I find out about something new – and it interests me – I dive in deep. I find as much information on the topic as I can. And I don’t rest until I come to some kind of conclusive end on the subject. One which I can stand on. Faith is not always as black and white as that and contrary to what some may think, this does not make it illogical or foolish. Rather, it builds a new awareness in us.

Here’s to 2018 and learning to grasp onto hope – even more than I did in 2017.

Should we separate art from the artist?

Human beings can create extraordinary things. Human beings can also do horrendous things to one another. And yet, somehow, the same people who are capable of doing horrible things may also be capable of making beautiful things. It doesn’t seem logical. Yet, humans defy this simple equation every day.

So, when an artist does something – say morally unacceptable – do we immediately negate everything he or she has ever done? On the basis that we disagree with his or her personal life? Or do we let it slide because hey, it’s not the art we disagree with, it’s the person. And one’s art – be it story, film, a painting –  ought to stand on its own. Right?

Bestselling author Andrew Klavan tends to think so. His admission that once a piece of art – written, painted, sculpted, etc. – is made for the masses, then it’s no longer the artist’s; it’s in the eyes of the beholder, so to speak. It takes on its own identity. And thereby is apart from its source.

This is a tough call, I’d argue. After all, one of art’s primary functions is to invoke a response. Good or bad. It’s up to the consumer. But, if we are more aware of the person who made it, then we might have a different outlook on what has been produced.

This perspective is becoming increasingly difficult to hold to by today’s standards. After all, we live in the age of social media. People’s thoughts and knee-jerk emotions can be plastered all over the world in a matter of seconds. So if you’re someone of influence, those words or phrases can spread like wildfire. As can allegations against your name, brand, and image.

Such has been the case of many starlets and celebrities in 2017. Kevin Spacey was fired from his hit television show. Harvey Weinstein’s entire legacy was left in tatters. And to go back aways, Bill Cosby’s wholesome stand-up comedy now looks like a cover for his secret life of seduction (this one has really hurt me).

All that being said, do we marshall on knowing that these people had the best intentions in mind? Or do we reject their work because they’ve offended us? The jury may still be out on that one.

Until then, I’ll continue debating this very topic.

Purpose in Reflection

Yesterday I was reminded of something.

That when you set a goal, you ought to track it.

So when you reach that goal, you can look back and see what it took to get there.

Case in point, I was reminded of a goal I set many months back. It happened during a radio interview I took part in back in March. I had stated I was going to do a podcast this summer – and guess what – I did. Not because I was entitled to it. Or because I had a magic formula at my disposal.

No, neither of those amount to much. It was persistence and focus that brought about these results. But, neither are worth anything if you don’t have some direction or purpose behind it (thanks to another friend of mine for that reminder too).

We can build big things. Make elaborate plans. Craft new and innovative designs; but unless we have purpose and direction, we are simply spinning our wheels. Yesterday I was reminded that purpose must be a driving force in all we do. Otherwise, we’re just wasting time in fruitless pursuits. As for me, I’ve always wanted to tell good and engaging stories. That purpose continues to push me into new and uncharted territory. And hey, that’s a good thing.

Yesterday, I was reminded of this. So today, I am encouraged to keep moving forward.

When You Aren’t Watching

It’s hard waiting for results. For one, our expectations are rarely met and for two, we aren’t the most patient people. We ask and we expect to receive right away (we can partially thank Google for exposing this trait of ours). However, such is never the case with things that really, truly matter. Time has to be a key player. Whatever is worth doing will take time. But, what matters will also require a participant’s unyielding contribution to the journey. Just as time ushers along opportunities, time also presents hardship. This is where the will is most tested: when no one else is watching.

I find it extraordinarily difficult to tell people about my challenges as a writer (and no, this won’t be a “pity party” type of blog. Stick around a while). Unless he or she is a writer themselves, it’s a tough place to speak from. Artists, authors, architects – they’re all like event planners: starting with a concept, a sketch or an idea, and building daily until the moment of completion. It’s a different kind of work. There are no immediate outcomes. There’s only the road. And it’s a road as long and diverse as the task required of the traveler.

That’s where the will comes in. A will that must be tested and as we discover, tested daily. Nothing is more grandiose (or frustrating) than standing on one side of a canyon, seeing the other, but not knowing how long it will take to get to that other side. You can’t fly across. You can’t take a car. And you can’t hitch a ride. There’s just you, your feet, and the ideas you started with.

A lot of aspiring writers (and artists) believe there’s a “quick road” to the other side; that if they wait on the edge long enough, some miracle bus will come along. And they’ll be taken away because they deserved it for waiting so patiently. Then they’ll be able to tell everyone how smart and wise they were for doing so. There was never a need to get their hands dirty, their morale rocked, or their time “wasted” under reworks, revisions, and failures. It will come to them. Someday, it will come.

However, I’m here to tell you that this type of thinking is delusional. It doesn’t hold merit and it won’t give gratification to the journeyer. There’s a reason why the chasm is so wide: it’s meant for molding, shaping, and preparing the one whose taken the challenge. It’s meant for narrowing the job applicants. It’s meant to set free and unleash the burden of what’s inside. There is no greater risk, but there is also no greater reward.

It’s a narrow and long trail, but it’s one that must be accepted once headed off. The landscape that awaits is minefield of tiny battles. All of which, we find at the end, were laid down for our betterment. And fought when hardly anyone else was watching.

Courage – what it means to a writer?

Nowadays, most people can claim to be writers. Not that most people do; it’s just that most people can. Your coworker, your uncle, your unborn child – all are capable of having webspace. And all are capable of pushing their thoughts out for the masses to read and evaluate. We know that in the past, there was a definitive gatekeeper; someone who kept that barrier from being breached. But, today? Not so much. That’s why when I hear someone say, “I have this story idea. I think I’m going to write about it and get it published,” I can’t help but cringe a little. Not because I feel the sting of competition – I just cringe because this person has unknowingly entered into an agreement that is not what they think. Writing a bunch of thoughts down is easy. Writing a book is hard.

Generally speaking, someone’s perception of something can be lightyears from the truth. Experiencing a vision is much different than merely gazing upon that vision. That’s why when I hear those words, I don’t get angry, frustrated, or anxious – I just wonder what that person perceives as “being a writer.”

For example, I’ll be 30 this month. I’m in pretty good physical health, but if I were to tell someone, “Yeah, I’m thinking of taking up karate. World black belt champion sounds fun so I’m gonna do that” – people would probably think I’m crazy. Sure, I could do karate and work towards becoming a world class black belt, but do I possess the personal conviction to do it? Is it in my heart to work towards that goal? More than likely, there are years of practice, years of dedication, and years of failures ahead if I want that distinction. It simply won’t happen overnight. And yet, I feel like that’s what has happened to “being a writer” – we’ve seen or read stories of people who had popular blogs and we think a stellar book deal is easily achievable. Or rather, we think it’s easy because everyone is writing. Everyone has a voice somewhere. Everyone has a platform.

So, from the outside-looking-in, the logical question becomes: “Why not me? That looks easy enough….”

I don’t fault anyone for thinking that. Who am I to judge if someone has a killer idea for a story? But, in some ways, I feel like the courage associated with following that killer idea – the perception of what it takes to become an established writer – has been forgotten. And the only way someone will be recognized for having “made it” is when hashtags begin trending about their book idea. Obviously, a hashtag is not a sign of “making it”, so what is? Is that something an aspiring writer should be concerned about? Is this the only part of writing that’s “courageous” anymore – to have made it commercially or financially? People can get their 15 minutes of fame for a popular book, but is that all anyone should be after?

Well, that may all depend on what your perception of success is – a concept that’s difficult to pin down if you’re afraid of what success looks like to you. As a person who has been self-published, entered numerous writing competitions, and been freelancing for several years, the decision to be a writer was a hard one. It wasn’t as simple as creating a new Facebook page. What’s behind me, I see as a success. What’s in front of me, I see as more opportunities for success. But, success is relative without courage. And courage is relative without joy upon completion, which is truly what any writer should be after: joy. Consider who has more joy – the person who gets 15 minutes of fame for a popular, yet fleeting idea? Or the one who toils, working hard for years to master a craft that is long-standing and definitive of the voice and resolve he’s carried with him for a job well done?

The answer to that question – the person who can claim to be a writer –  is the one backed by their courage.

Desktop Update – 8.25.14

I started writing this as a means to keep my mind in order. Between wedding planning, house-hunting, and everything else going on, it’s been tough making time to just relax and quiet all the external voices that come creeping in. When you’re stressed out by any number of responsibilities, you open yourself up to distractions. I’d love to check certain things off my to-do list, but it’s more important that I keep certain things off my list too. That being said, I’m reassessing my desktop and seeing what’s out there – along with planting a screenshot for accountability’s sake:

Priorities

1. Freelancing 

This is a tough gig. Don’t let the countless websites and email solicitations fool you – if you want to be a freelancer, it’s tough work. I know plenty of folks that want to do freelancing full-time, but their time is limited and/or their portfolios just don’t have the breadth to make proper headway. The 2014 year wasn’t my first year doing the freelance thing, but it’s certainly been the most rewarding thus far. The reason? 2013 was a lot of “Hey, I’ll do that for free” – that way I could accumulate some understanding of what it means to be a freelancer. And to be honest, not many people will pay you for a work unless you’ve had experience – proven experience – to do the jobs that are asked of you. One thing I’ve learned is that getting paid isn’t always the most important thing – it’s the experience. So here’s to a stronger, better 4th quarter in 2014 and beyond.

2. My next manuscript

The screenshot is not my next manuscript, but it is a short story I completed earlier this year. And I’m still working on the rewrite as I debate how to publish or merely share online. However, since A Dinner with Titans has been done for a while, I find myself putting more and more time into my next major manuscript: The Lion’s Den. It’s been nearly a year since I started The Lion’s Den and it’s been quite a year at that. I’ve worked through several iterations, worked up about 88,000 words, and even begun all over again. There’s no way to write that lightly – it’s been hard work. And now, I’m on my 2nd rewrite and am slowly making up ground as I push myself to finish before year-end. A time when the real fun begins: how to publish and where to publish. I have some ideas on how to go about that, but I can’t concern myself with that at the moment. The best I can do is get back to business and finish what I’ve begun, reminding myself of what’s behind me and what’s in front.

A Dinner with Titans_page 1

A Dinner with Titans_page 1

3. My (other) next manuscript

Though it’s not a requirement, I would suggest this to any aspiring writer: have plenty of projects lined up. Or at the very least, a few. Changing up the creative flow of things can help loosen up the mind and set you back on track. Especially in those moments when you’re frustrated or just plain stuck. I’ve never had an issue with this –  I’ve been working on sporadically on several – and these other works have helped to keep my head above water, but they’ve also restricted me from sinking into the bowels of a single idea that could make or break my spirit. That just wouldn’t be a good place to be in. First things, first though – finish the manuscript and then deviate my attention as appropriate.

Not Priorities

1. Starting another blog / building a new website

2. Searching for editors / publishers / agents

3. Allowing myself to get frustrated

 

 

My website, the graveyard

I’ve been in the midst of a website reboot for some time now. I hate this whole idea of “branding for the sake of branding” so I’m choosing to think that my situation is wholly different than the next person. There’s definitely a need to differentiate one’s self, but my time is often too limited to give my webpage much thought. I have a blog, I write in it often, and I keep myself updated on all the things I need to be doing. However, I found myself truly convicted by the drabness of my website earlier this week. Several times over, actually. And that was no fun whatsoever.

To paint a picture – one of the perks of my part-time job is the events. Alpha, my employer, had one this weekend that hosted 1,400 people here in Cleveland. It was excellent. A sold out crowd came to see Fernando Ortega perform at Grace Church. I even got to hang a bit with the performer, Fernando himself, so that was cool. But in addition to all that, I made contact with several people I’ve never met before. And we had conversations about life outside of my part-time / not-so-part-time work with Alpha. That means, having a conversation about my writing life. Which then leads to that pinnacle question nearly every blogger / writer is dying to be asked: “What’s your website address and how do I read some of your stuff?” I was shocked how many times this came up, but I was disappointed with how many times I backpedaled on myself, immediately thinking of ways to defend the visual mediocrity of my webpage.

Ugh.

So that’s what brings me here. I took a long look at my blog earlier today and I’ve come to the conclusion that it needs a bit of a makeover. When and how I’ll do this, I’m sorting through, but I understand the need for an artistic upgrade. Killing off the drab gray could be a start, perhaps? Or maybe some pictures or new categories? I’m learning much in this realm of social media but I’m grateful to have accumulated what I already have to this point. What is clear to me, though, is the requirement of a better presentation. As much as I believe the writer’s content as his greatest contribution, there is something to be said for a sexy-looking homepage. One that’s devoid of the “usual” aesthetics, but still pleasing on the eyes.

I’m not worried though. There are plenty of stokes in the fire on that front so it’s exciting more so than it is intimidating.

More to come on that later.