Never Bored with the Boards

Bridge Yellow

It was one hell of a busy summer. I finished a novel and gave up on another one (for now, anyway). I put together a game and marketing plan for the world’s first free daily serialized coffee break novel (seriously, Google it). The novel is currently running on my parallel blog, The Weekly Man.

I also, visited Fundy Park for the first time with my bestie, Stephanie, and will definitely be going back. I discovered a lake I’d been wanting to see for years along with my friend, Nanook of the Nashwaak.

I also put together my first solo exhibition featuring my macro photography and board drawings. I did 37 boards last winter and lost over 20 pounds. They were addicting to the point that I would start right in on them as soon as I got home from work and forget abut things like eating and making a lunch for the next day.

I did the actual drawing at home but took the boards into the studio to paint and varnish them.

This is what they looked like in the studio:

And this is what they look like hanging up:

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I’ve visited the studios of many of my artist friends and it always fascinates me to see their works in progress and then see them on display with all the messiness of creation left behind. I think this is what many skeptics fail to see when they look at a painting and say something stupid like, “A few dollars for paper and a few dollars for paint…and you sell it for ten times what it’s worth.”

Bastards.

I hate these people with a passion. I’d like them all to work for me for free for one year. You know, doing whatever they’re good at and not being paid for it. Or being paid a couple of dollars an hour. On the other hand, these are most likely to be people who don’t do so well on their jobs because they’re not smart and they talk too much. Maybe I don’t want them working for me and just messing everything up.

So, with that aside put aside, seeing the work in progress gives you a true sense of the intense focus and commitment that goes into creating art. I’ve seen artists on the verge of collapsing from hunger and fatigue because they had a deadline for an exhibition and they’ve gone for days without sleep and they’ve survived on coffee and air.

And this isn’t always a matter of the artists not preparing properly. Often, it’s because the gallery or other venue has changed the rules, the dates, the physical venue or whatever. Or, preparing for the exhibit leads the artist into new areas and the temptation to add some of the new stuff to the exhibit. Fortunately, most galleries don’t allow this, or there’d be a lot more crazy artists jumping out of windows and off bridges.

For me, working on the boards was one of the most fulfilling and mystical experiences of my life. I believe that where there was life, there will always be life. Life is energy and wherever that energy has existed, there will always be some remnant of it…like when you cut down a tree, the tree’s life energy doesn’t just disappear…patches of it inundate the wood like shadows of the tree’s memories, and you can feel that energy in the boards even after they’re cut into useable sizes from the tree.

Before I start drawing on the board, I spend some time getting a feel for its life energy, and that’s what directs the tip of my gel pen to bring out the board’s story.

And the stories are never boring.

 

(BTW, the image at the top of the screen is one of the photos in the exhibit.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Do You Read the Coffee Break Novel?

read novel

You would think I would have the decency and the brains to limit the world’s first daily serialized coffee break novel to five days a week…those weekdays traditionally recognized as work days in the 1950s image of the perfect world where everybody clocked in at 9 in the morning and stumbled out at 5 PM. But I have neither.

And I don’t really feel bad about it. Not everyone works in an office. Not everyone has coffee breaks. Not everyone drinks coffee. And since this is a world’s first, not everyone knows how to read it. There will be chaos and war sprouting out of arguments over how to read a coffee break novel if you don’t have a coffee break. Families will purge members who drink tea on their coffee breaks. I’ve already received disguised death threats from football fans expressing their outrage that The Weekly Man will be published not just weekdays…but Saturday and Sunday as well…even though I had no say in that. You can thank the novel’s characters for that piece of insanity.

I’ve thought deeply about this and I’ve come up with some options.

You can read The Weekly Man five days a week on your morning or afternoon coffee break…and you can come in to work for a few minutes on Saturday and Sunday to read it. I foresee objections to this option and offer the following alternatives:

  • Stay home on the weekends and read three days’ worth of episodes on Monday.
  • Have your weekend coffee breaks at home in a room simulated to look like your work space.
  • Don’t bother reading those episodes, which will very likely increase the novel’s mystery aspect.

Personally, none of these options appeal to me, but then, I’m bald and have an unruly beard that I try to conceal from the public.

Now, let’s suppose you don’t have coffee breaks, don’t drink coffee, don’t work because you’re a 105 year old hippie like me, don’t have time on your 3 minute coffee break or…don’t whatever. I have a page, a hidden page that doesn’t appear on my website’s navigation bar because it’s a secret page. It has all the episodes, every single one of them listed for the whole two and a half months of its serialization.

One problem though.

Each episode will be posted on its scheduled date…not all at once. But you can still put aside some time and read say, a week’s worth or a few days’ worth. And you don’t even have to drink coffee while you’re reading. You can drink beer. Or tea. Click here for the secret page…but don’t tell anyone else. This is just for you.

Come to think of it, reading a weeks’ worth of episodes each Saturday would be more like the original serialized novels from writers like Dickens a thousand years before they had coffee breaks.

Using this secret link will allow you to read the whole novel after all the episodes have been published. But keep in mind…that would require a lot of clicking because each episode requires you to click to open it. You’ll get Click Thumb and Fingers and your hand will fall off.

Here’s another option that just occurred to me: Read the episodes at night while you drink coffee on a break from your evening activities. How cool would that be? You’re watching a movie with friends and suddenly stand up and announce, “I think I’ll have a coffee break now and read The Weekly Man.” You’ll be envied as the loneliest person on the block. I know this from experience.

I guess it boils down to this: Read it however you want. I’ve put together a few options to give you some choice and that choice is yours.

You can read The Weekly Man on its own blog here. https://www.theweeklyman.com. If you’re reading on a cell phone or tablet, read it at the secret place mentioned above. And check out the welcome page at https://biffmitchell.com/the-weekly-man for more options and lots of freebies for readers and writers.

The World’s First Free Daily Serialized Coffee Break Novel has a Landing Page

Weekly Landing Page

I remember back in my days as a marketing manager and the first time I wasted thousands of dollars on a Google ad campaign by sending people to the company’s home page instead of the specific thing featured in the ad. For instance, advertise a special sale price on a brand of shoes and show the potential customer a home page with the sale they want buried in ads for clothing, furniture and a hundred other things.

Nothing drives a customer away faster than being pissed off at you for wasting their time and the only way to avoid this is to have a landing page…a page devoted to the advertisement that drew the web surfer. He or she is interested in the sale on shoes, not the availability of designer scarves and lawn chairs. The landing page takes them directly to it.

Wish I’d known that before I wasted all that money. But I know it now and, even though The Weekly Man is free, it occurred to me that a landing page just might be useful, especially for anyone picking it up after the story has begun.

The Weekly Man now  has a landing page with links to the cell phone version (not active, considering it’s not September 8 yet), a link where readers can start with the first episode an on to the current one (instead of having to scroll to the end of a blog to read the episode from bottom to top, something that becomes painfully arduous after the first month), links to handy documents like the character guide and a few freebies, including photo albums from one of the characters.

Right off the bat it asks the question that the reades is asking, “What the hell is this?” and then it gets into the answers. It also has free short stories that prove I can construct a sentence and line it up logically with other sentences to produce a story. (One of the characters in The Weekly Man writes with his eyes closed. I don’t do that. Anymore.) There are also some freebies for readers who would like to try their hand at writing.

With a little over a week until I post the first episode, things are starting to come together. I’m nervous as hell, knowing that this isn’t going to be easy…making sure that each episode is posted before midnight every day for two and a half months, but I did this for a month with my photography and I didn’t go crazy, die, fling myself off a bridge, jump in front of cars in the full moon light, start smoking, hide under my bed till the crying stopped or drink myself into a stupor. (Well, maybe I did drink myself into a stupor…but I won’t do that his time.)

You can see the landing page in all its grandeur right here.

A Writer’s Real Job

Real Job

“So you want to be a writer, do you?” His eyes narrowed as he chuckled and I suddenly felt like I had two purple heads. “And what exactly are you going to do for your real job?”

Even with self-publishing making it possible for anyone on the planet to become a published writer, this attitude that writing (unless you just sold the movie rights to your bestselling novel and bought a new Ferrari) is somehow a pastime that people indulge in when they’re not spending their time accomplishing something useful like diagnosing a disease or making copious notes at Monday morning’s marketing meeting, even though the PowerPoint will be emailed to you later in the day…this attitude persists today much like it did 30 years ago.

It’s a lethal attitude. It’s killed countless creative efforts and pulled the rug out from under aspiring writers for as long as there have been aspiring writers.

It’s not always as blatant as in the example above; in fact, most of the time, it’s subtle, but always there, lurking under the surface of your interactions with the people around you.

“Can you pick Sheila up at the airport?”
“This is my writing time…remember the schedule? And I’m finally on a roll with Chapter 7. Can you pick her up?”
“I have to pick up the party favors for next weekend.”

“Pick them up tomorrow.”

“But I just want to get that out of the way. You can work on Chapter 9 tomorrow.”

Been in this situation before? You’ve scheduled your writing so that it’s not just a random thing you do whenever the creative juices bubble up. It’s something you take seriously and it’s probably more important to you than the job that helps pay for the party favors.

Part of the problem is that painfully long gap between starting a novel, finishing it and getting it published…if it ever gets published. It’s the immediate return on invested time and money. For instance, a plumber repairs your leaky sink and gets paid, all in a matter of hours. You go to the office, sit around for eight hours and collect a paycheck two weeks later. For most people, work has definite start and end dates with something accomplished (repaired sink, sore butt) for which there is a definite payment. You can schedule the start, end and reward.

Not always so in the arts world; in fact, rarely so. You might spend a few months or a few years writing a novel and, unless you’ve made a deal with a publisher, you’re not being paid while you’re writing and, if it’s your first novel, you haven’t established yourself as a professional writer. So most people will perceive your writing as a hobby…not as something to which you want to devote your life. And the longer it takes you to write your novel, the less likely they’ll take it seriously: they’ll see it as your little dream, that quirky little thing you do in the background of your life while you in your keep from the real job selling cars or insurance.

This attitude can be devastating, especially during those times when you’re having doubts and feeling the angst of doing something for ages that’s moving forward slowly but: “who’s going to read it?” “do I really have anything important to say?” “what the hell am I doing?”

That kind of stuff. It can kill you as a writer. I’ve had five novels published and tons of short stories, but I still have these feelings, these doubts that what I’m doing is even worth the effort. Fortunately, I expect the negative thoughts and I keep writing at the scheduled times (yes, I schedule my writing because, like my fulltime job, it’s work).

I’m not saying there won’t be those moments of pure joy when you read something you wrote the night before and you’re floored by the idea that you, yes you, wrote these beautiful words. Those moments are worth the fear and loathing of a thousand moments of doubt. But the novel isn’t finished. You’re halfway through and you’ve been working on it for over a year. You have another year to go, maybe longer.

I try to alleviate the uncertainty by storyboarding my novels before I start the writing, but once I’m 30 or 40 pages into it, the characters and story take off and the storyboard evaporates in the heat of the writing. But the structure and direction it initially provides carries me through. A diver is more likely to dive successfully from a solid board than a rubber one.

Not everyone is into storyboarding, and I get it…it’s work and you might not know where the story is going until you start writing. This happens to me with my short fiction. But storyboard or not, it’s a long process and it eats a lot of time and requires daily sacrifices. So much of writing is discouraging and, if you’re like most of the writers I know, you’re not going to get the kind of support you really need: acknowledgment that your writing is just as valuable as anything else you do, and maybe even more so.

It’s not just a hobby. It’s not just a distraction from the real stuff. It’s what you are and what you want to be.

It means putting things in a writer’s perspective. For instance, would you take time off the 9 to 5 job to pick Sheila up at the airport? If not, why would you take time off from your scheduled writing? You might say, “Well, I have more flexibility with my own time.”

“My own time”?

That attitude has turned many a promising word smith into dissatisfied retiree with a lot of regrets. I know some of these people. They still talk about that novel they should have written and maybe, when they have some free time in their post-retirement life, they’ll get around to it.

Your own time is when you write…when you’re who and what you are.

When people don’t take your writing seriously, feel free to take those people and whatever they do with a grain of salt. Better yet, avoid them. Unless you have no choice but to interact with them, just stay clear of them. Treat them as toxic chemicals. If you’re stuck with them, don’t talk about your writing. They don’t deserve to hear about it.

Resolve that you will be spending much of your time alone, even when you’re in a crowded area like I am when I write in coffee shops. While others are gliding through their mundane lives, you’re creating new worlds, birthing personalities that grow and evolve, focusing on those little things that everyone misses until they read about them in your novel and think, “Oh yeah…that.”

That’s your real job.

 

(BTW…don’t miss the first episode of the world’s first free daily serialized coffee break novel, The Weekly Man, coming September 8.)

Can Creativity Be Taught?

NOTE: I have a workshop coming up on creativity and a friend sent me an email asking if I really think that creativity can be taught. Here are my thoughts on that.

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I’ve been teaching creative writing workshops for over a decade. I’ve had students who I thought were wasting their money taking the workshop because they were so gifted I didn’t think they needed any kind of workshop to do some amazing things. Unfortunately, they couldn’t put those gifts together long enough to actually write a novel, or even a short story.

I’ve had students who seemed to be totally without a right brain hemisphere. Anything that wasn’t strictly logical, in proper sequence and in complete conformance with pre-defined expectations was beyond anything they could even begin to comprehend.

But here they were, both groups, taking a workshop on creative writing. They wanted to write a novel. They wanted to make something like they’d never made before. They wanted to peer into that well of unpredictable thought residing in the neglected regions of their right brains, and maybe surprise everyone, including themselves.

Granted, some people will never make any kind of meaningful contact with their right brains. They’re not interested and they have no curiosity about what they could do; they’re satisfied to just keep doing what they’ve always been doing. They love the security of the known and predictable and don’t want to change a thing. Even if there might be a powerhouse of creativity waiting to be released. They don’t want it.

But for most people, there’s always that tantalizing sense of curiosity, those moments when they look away from the leger software or the charts and graphs of the next big proposal and they think for just a few moments about a story or incident they think would make an exciting novel. But they don’t know where to begin or how to begin. And once the sweet mists of the fantasy evaporate, they certainly don’t believe they could ever write such a novel.

These are the ones who make up the majority of students in my workshops. They’re the ones during the introductions in the first class claiming they have no talent or talking mostly about the boring work they do or saying almost nothing at all. But they listen to what one or two others say about what they want to write, and they hear their excitement and they’re getting goose bumps as they shift uncomfortably in their chairs.

On one hand, they feel like they don’t belong there. On the other hand, they are there. They’ve paid money to be there. They’ve taken time off from whatever else they were doing with their lives to be there. And I point that out to them in the first class: “You’re all here because you want to be here…because something inside you brought you here. And it wasn’t my awesome hair style.”

That something is the urge to create. We all have it. In some of us, it boils over when we’re still babies, using Lego to construct massive buildings at the age of .5 years. In some of us, it’s squashed under guarded pressure to keep it at bay like a lump of coal that forever falls short of becoming a diamond. For some, it’s always just under the surface of their lives, flirting with their minds and inspiring the occasional daydream of writing a novel or a play, painting a mural, learning to play the guitar and writing a song…just under the surface. Like an itch.

Those ones that need to scratch are the ones who sign up for my workshops. They come in shy and unsure but, if they survive the first class, they’ll be back.

It’s that first class with a stupid simple exercise that gives them a glimpse into their creative potential. In that first class, we do the mindless writing exercise. Everyone writes for 10 minutes without stopping to revise, judge or think. They just write, even if they go off topic, even if they just write, “I hate Biff. I hate Biff. I hate Biff.” for 10 minutes. When the writing is done, everyone reads. And after each person has read, the entire class applauds.

I’ve seen the most creativity-resistant people gaze in awe at what they’ve written when they’re not judging or evaluating something they’ve done, when they’ve just let themselves do it without any expectations or guidelines. The total anarchistic bohemian rhapsody of it.

We do a lot of mindless writing throughout the duration of the workshop, and everybody reads, and everybody applauds. And we do other things, like mental and physical awareness. You’d be surprised at how much of life you miss when you’ve spent a lifetime learning to focus on one thing at a time and disregard everything that doesn’t apply to the moment. We lose sight of just how much there is in a single moment. We see the glorious tips of mountains in the distance, but we miss the shard of sunlight turning a patch of snow into a glittering bed of light. Or we see one glint of the sunlight and miss everything else.

One of the exercises we do is called Knowing the Moment. We go outside to the street or a park. We look around and make notes of things we see. We close our eyes and listen. You’d be surprised at what you’ll hear when you’re actually making yourself aware of what you hear. Noises in the background or in the distance that are always there, but un-noticed. With our eyes closed, we smell the air. On a city street, where you might usually smell food cooking in restaurants, you might smell the after shave and perfume of passersby. On one of my favorite streets for this exercise, you can actually smell the aging of older buildings. We ask ourselves, what can I feel? Generally, it’s cold or hot. On closer inspection, it could be a barely detectable current of air. To tie it up, we identify the single most overwhelming thing that affects our senses. It might be something you’ve experienced on your way to work and it’s always been there but you’ve long since stopped noticing it. But when you’re truly in the moment, you’ll be aware of it.

We do mindless drawing. It’s like mindless writing. You put pen to paper and let the ink flow where it will flow. Initially, the drawings will be clumsy but, after doing this for a few weeks, the drawings will start to take on a more defined and repetitious form as the exercise increasingly stimulates the right side of your brain. I find this is a great exercise to do at work. Every hour or so, I draw for a few minutes. It keeps my creativity stoked during the day…and it’s relaxing.

Want to really surprise yourself? Try asking yourself questions. If you take a certain route to work, ask yourself why you take that route. If you eat the red ones first, ask yourself why. Few of us question our lives. We just accept them as they are and to some extent ignore them rather than explore them. Questions about the mundane things in your will force you to use both the left and right side of your brain. Careful with this one, though…you might end up changing your life.

As an instructional designer, I’ve learned over the years to design adult learning according to the 20/80 principle which states, usually correctly, that out of a body of information, an employee only needs 20 percent of the information to accomplish their tasks. We do this with our lives, the difference being that we focus on a lot less than 20 percent. I’ve noticed this in young people. As they grow older, they ask fewer questions. They’re less and less interested in the things outside their immediate realm of action and interest.

Add to this the fact that creativity is rarely rewarded or sought after in our schooling systems, which are geared to manufacture productive members of society, working and spending machines. Carved and sharpened to work and consume, we tend to ignore all those things that don’t systematically contribute to a material end. If it doesn’t get us a grade or a job, it may as well not exist.

Yes, some people are highly creative and use that creativity to excel at everything they do, but these folks are in the minority. The rest of us follow the rule book and stay safely snuggled up inside the box where we shield ourselves from any thoughts, ideas or originality because it might bring attention to ourselves and we might actually have to do stuff we’re not used to doing.

This is pretty much the condition of most of the students who attend my workshops. They’ve cut themselves off from being the 100 percent of themselves to being at most one percent of themselves. They know the 20 percent to get the job done, but they’d be lucky to know whatever infinitesimal percent to get their lives done.

But I have yet to see a single person who stuck around for the second class who didn’t get back in touch with their creative selves and start thinking with the right side of their brains like they’d never lost touch.

So, can creativity be taught? Probably not. That would assume teaching a person who’s never been creative, which would eliminate about 100 percent of the human race. At one point, no matter how early in life, we were all creative; we were all open to our right hemispheres, we all asked questions and wondered about things. But somewhere along the line of life, we lost it.

But, we can be reminded of what we’ve lost and then do the things we need to do to get it back.

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If you’d like to hear more about the workshop, send me a message at biff@biffmitchell.com. Next workshop is June 16 – 17.