Creative Blockage

Writer’s Block. It’s a thing. Well, I think it is. Some will argue otherwise, to just push through the mental bullshit, also known as nonsense. But it doesn’t matter who you are, not all days will be good ones when it comes to creating, and, certainly, not all of them will be productive ones either, not to say whether or not they are mutually exclusive.

 

How? How does this happen?

Stress. That’s usually what’s doing it. It’s as simple as stress. It’s as complicated as stress. You can go to fancy resources to figure out your problems, but stress is a common killer of creative flows. It has been for as long as art has been around. Yeah, that’s a long time.

Technically, it’s not the main culprit. It’s what is caused by whatever is happening to you, but the stress that occurs is what does you in. If your time is being used up by an unfortunate event and you can’t create, that’s one thing, but most things are stress related.

 

What do you do?

Good question. Did you ask it? Doesn’t matter because I did. Yes, that’s right, I’m important. At least I am here. That’s what matters. See what I did there?

I’d recommend de-stressing. Cue eye roll and/or the “no duh.” That’s de-stressing, not to be confused with distressing. This made up compound word actually means to relieve the stress that you’ve accrued and/or are carrying. Stress is not only bad for your creating, it’s bad for your health as well. It even shortens your life, so I’ve been told. Don’t check that. I’m pretty sure that’s accurate. It’s not an alternative fact, probably.

I’ll make past professors cringe when I tell you to do the opposite of what they told me, being older and wiser and whatnot, step away from what you’re doing. Don’t create. If you have something causing you stress, resolve it. Then get yourself to feeling better. After that your creativity will happen more freely and naturally.

Alternatively, another way would be to listen to my older and wiser past professors and push through. It is mental, after all, and forcing yourself to continue isn’t the worst advice. Your best bet here, though, is to try to focus on what you’re creating rather than the stress causing thing that basically produced the blockage in the first place. Take baby steps here. Try too hard and you could end up doing the not creating that you weren’t doing before. If you’re writing, punctuate, write a sentence or two, but not too quickly. After years of trying this, I don’t recommend it. It does sometimes work, forcing your way through, but it’s really for people who just can’t think of anything.

Another, almost compromising thing that partly contradicts the first piece of advice, would be to stop what you’re creating and create another thing. In other words, work on something else. Come back to what you were working on before later. I would recommend, if you choose this “option” to go light on whatever other thing you’ll be creating. You don’t want or need additional stress after all.

But I thought you said it was stress?

I did.

Occasionally you will be met with a blank spot in your mind where an idea should be. This is fine. It’s bad for deadlines, but ok for you. Try not to panic, that’s key. The one thing you should do is alleviate that stress. Work it out as well as you can and as quickly as you can without building onto it. This may mean that you have to stop. Understand the necessity of this.

Really, everyone is different. We handle this stuff differently. You may need to take less time than you’d expect to get the ball rolling, so to speak. You might also need more. Pushing through the mental block may be the way to go for you as well.

For many of us the block is there and it’s real. Hopefully, some of the things I mentioned help. If they don’t, if you find another way, I encourage everyone to share. As always, I hope the best for you.

 

Yours,

 

Nathan

A Time to Create

When I am writing this, it is 3AM.

I cannot sleep.

Despite my prescribed sleeping medication, not actually prescribed to help remedy a sleep issue, funny enough, I am awake. What makes this great is that the internet is currently down as well. It’s really the perfect combination.

Although, in a way, I’m grateful. I wouldn’t be writing right now if the scenario were different. I’d be watching a video on YouTube or Netflix. We all know that most of writing on a computer is comprised of a page here followed by 40 minutes of Internet access, rinse and repeat. Maybe looking up a recipe or googling symptoms to a disease that I swear I’ve just contracted within the time I was asleep. Because it’s probably not really insomnia if I was asleep moments ago, right?

The thing is I’m writing. I’m creating. Everyone has different cycles when it comes to their ability to create. You may have noticed that you perform better at certain points in the day. A lot of writers, for instance, are cursed with the inane ability to write proficiently around 3AM and not really any other time. And this can be a tricky thing to figure out unless you’re in my scenario or a similar one, because distractions lay everywhere in the Modern or Postmodern world, depending on who you ask.

I normally create during the day. I like the sun being out and birds flying overhead. I’ll even go to the park when I’m not at work, watch the birds hop along the sidewalk, heads tilted with goofy expressions. I’ll take out a notebook from my back pocket and a pen from my front one and write whatever comes to mind or what I need to. I’ll feel a breeze roll over me.

Do you know when and where the best time and place to create is for you? It can be a pivotal moment. If you figure it out, you can set a schedule to work specifically during that time and/or place. It can be unfortunate if you find it’s during late hours, but that can also give you a reason to work late shifts or stay up on weekends, if you weren’t already.

Most of us discover this by accident. Case in point. I had an inkling I might be good for writing in the early hours, but I wouldn’t have known without my brain keeping me up like it is now. Of course, I’m well content with my day writing. I’m less tired that way. I don’t want nor intend for this to become habitual. I say that if it works for your, fits into your routine, then go for it. Otherwise, do test other times of day and/or night. Despite what I just said about it usually being found by accident, you can still intentionally seek it out, I promise. It’s just a lot of guess and check type stuff. But you’ll never know unless you try. I highly encourage, if you want to create, you try.

I also hope that you never find yourself in this situation, but it happens.

 

All the best and lots of love,

Nathan

Taking Breaks

Eventually we all reach this point. You’ve been working every day for months, if not years. Dark marks lay below your eyes, and that tired feeling claws behind them. You might find yourself lacking that drive and ambition which got you started and where you are now.

Q: So, what do you do?

A: Nothing.

That’s what I do anyway. Well, sort of…

I know. I have probably said something about this before a couple of times. In fact, I know that I have. That’s why I said that I know right off the bat.

Before anyone jumps to any conclusions, no, I’m not stopping the blog. I’m not going to stop writing either. Well, not altogether. That is, I’m taking about a week to have fun and/or sleep. The two actions are synonymous. And I’ll still write. Habits, even good ones, are hard to break.

This month, as in June, I’ll be returning to a place I was happy to call home once, Block Island, Rhode Island. If you’ve never heard of it that’s pretty common. I’m pleasantly surprised when someone says they have. It’s an island about 12 miles off the coast of Rhode Island. They have less than a thousand year round residents who live at or below the impoverished line, statistically speaking.

The population has a tendency to increase about 1000% during tourism season. Yes, that’s hyperbolic, but tourism brings in a lot of people, some of whom have money to spend. Like a lot of money. As in, something I doubt I’ll ever experience. The people who don’t have a lot of money like that can either come for a day trip, leaving on the last ferry of  the day, or visit someone who lives there, which is what I do. Basically, I’m a moocher who likes to visit my family on a wonderful place where I can recoup because I probably couldn’t afford to be there any other way. Woo! Go me!

Currently, a lot is happening and also not happening there. July is a little wilder for them. The 4th of July floods the beaches with people. In the past, most of them would stand shoulder-to-shoulder, beneath the sun, drunk. Some of them would have to be air lifted, if emergency crews could get to them. Although that has changed over the years. I picked a good time to come down when I can choose to do something or choose to go into the wilderness and search for peace.

There are lots of underdeveloped, protected lands to traverse and beaches to enjoy. I probably won’t sun too long since I could double as a piece of copy paper. Anyway, it’s a good time. And, frankly, I’m exhausted. Also, repetition can be a double edged sword… I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, especially since I’m only leaving to return stronger into the fray.

I love writing. But it’s not all I do. It’s important, though, regardless of what you’re doing, creative or otherwise, to take a break. It’s healthy. We’re probably only human. So, don’t let anyone tell you differently. Seriously, you’re not a machine, and if you don’t take a break every now and then, you risk exhausting yourself, which could have bad consequences for your physical and/or mental health.

Although, I would never advise an indefinite break. It’s a mistake. Unless you want to do something else and work hard on doing that for the rest of your life, that is. A skill unused is a skill lost. You’ll metaphorically oxidize and disintegrate. What I mean is, if you don’t keep practicing, then you’ll only get worse. That hard work to better yourself will be for naught. Eventually you won’t be able to do the thing you were doing at all.

Still, take your time. Return when you’re ready. Regain your energy, your creative juices which, admittedly, sounds dirty haha, or whatever. Be aware of yourself and how much you can do before taking any sort of time off.  Know how burned out you are before deciding this is the best way to go. If you feel you want to abandon your craft, use a couple days, if possible, to not do participate in creating in that way. Instead, do something else or do nothing at all. Return to it when you’re feeling better, not stressing about it, and see how you feel. This is all person-by-person. I take a week off here and there after a couple months, and then I’m good to go for a couple more months. You may be different. In fact, you most likely are, and that’s a wonderful thing.

In the end, work hard, live a lot, and take care of yourself.

Sincerely yours,

 

Nathan

 

 

P.S. IMPORTANT! I need your help! If you would like me to discuss anything, please let me know in the comments! I’ll be reading them.

Presentations

Everyone does them. Writers do them. Painters do them. Potters do them. Musicians do them. Thespians do them. Scientists tend to do them too. Odds are if you’re involved in the arts and/or do something that you feel others should be aware of, then you’re probably going to present in some way at some point.

This will most likely come delayed, I expect, as I am currently preparing for at least one reading this month, May 9th to be exact. If not, then, please, disregard.

You would think years of plays, more than a handful of public speaking events, as well as several readings under my belt that I’d have no problem getting up in front of peers, friends, family, and complete strangers not in those categories. You might think it would be easy to read lines from a piece of paper that I’ve prepared in advance, and probably worked on for weeks, if not months. You’d be wrong. But it’s ok. To not be good at public speaking events that is. Less so about being wrong. Really, you don’t have to get used to it. It helps if you do, but it’s not mandatory. Granted with my anxiety disorder and my introverted tendencies, you might also think I would never give a reading. Nope. Despite all of that, I love them.

A few things I do to prepare:

  1. Pick what I’ll be reading. This includes subject matter and length.
  2. Practice the pieces. This will not only help determine time but when and where to breathe.
  3. Decide order. It’s important, for me anyway, to have a flow from one piece to the next. If the tone of the pieces increases or one of them has a great ending, then that’s usually how I’ll go.
  4. Practice reading them some more until you accidentally learn them or come close. This is never on purpose, but it actually helps with eye contact, which is very important. The trick, for me, is to pick a person to look up at while you’re reading and then focus just slightly above their heads.
  5. Take a break before practicing some more. Don’t over think the pieces. Don’t freak out beforehand.

 

I like podiums. Some people say, “Um,” or “Uh,” while they read. Other people talk too fast. Some people have difficulty controlling the volume of their voice. Me? My knees shake. Like a lot. It looks bad, which is why I like standing behind something that doesn’t reveal my knees. That sounds weird, because it is, but it’s also the reason I enjoy a good podium. That also sounded strange. You’ll find out your issues when they arise. That’s normal to feel nervous and have these, um, ticks, if you will.

You’ll find a lot of idiosyncrasies showing up because of the pressure. For instance, I found that I do voices when I read dialogue. Makes sense. I write nonfiction. My characters are real. They don’t speak the same, hence voices. Never did them on purpose, but now I try my best with them. This is not something you have to do though. And people in other mediums might never have anything this odd come out of their works, which is fine too.

Keep in mind, it is a performance. That said, you’ll allowed to interpret that however you see fit. All I can really say about this is that, at the very end, I hope you have fun with it. It can be stressful, and the reasons for doing it can very, but it’s important to find joy in what you’re doing. This is no exception.

 

Much love,

Nathan

Stella: A Meditation

I’m going to be honest with you right away: I seriously want to make a pun and/or reference to A Streetcar Named Desire or How Stella Got Her Groove Back, but I’ll refrain. I promise.

Welcome to my mind. It’s not the most coherent piece I’ve written, but coming as a form of meditation, I’m surprised it took shape the way it did.

 

  1. Monkey Mind

 

It’s been over a year since I started this blog. A lot has happened. A lot is happening. My first blog was on the snow storm that hit Baltimore. Jonas kept me from going to work, and left many, including myself, without power. Recently, if you’re reading this and you’re not in the US, the blizzard (snowstorm) known as Stella came through the East Coast. They really played her up. I mean, meteorologists were terrified, claiming that places could see up to 20 inches, which some did come close to. Baltimore was supposed to get hit hard as well. People were losing their minds about the Biblical proportions coming our way. Bread, milk, toilet paper, and water were disappearing from store shelves. Businesses closed in advance, but the statements proved hyperbolic, to say the least. Then little happened. It was such a major difference to the one that I started all this with. It reminded me of it though. So, I thought I would reflect some.

I try hard to challenge myself, write every single day, but still keep it all together. I am not always successful. Yet, I’ve learned to forgive myself, move on, and try again the next day. You might be surprised, but I really like writing. I love the arts, which are in jeopardy as we speak, er— read/write. Well, they are in the U.S. at the moment anyway… So, Stella. Right. I was talking about that, and how I challenge myself. That’s another reason I write these blogs, not just because I wanted something to keep this site active. Although, that was one of my original points for this blog.

When I started this, I was writing my book. I was in the MFA program at the University of Baltimore, working full-time, and losing my mind. I’d say the only thing that’s changed is that I graduated so I’m no longer in the program. I still see and spend time with many people from there though. Of course, I’ve also lost touch with some, but such is life. Makes it easier to write about them though, if I’m being completely honest. Albeit, I’m still working a job and losing my mind. I still have copies left from the original printing, with all the overlooked mistakes that have been pointed out to me by obnoxious readers. Relax, my first self-publishing gig isn’t going to be perfect. Mistakes are inevitable. Not that there were a lot of mistakes… Anyway, it’s crazy to think how far I’ve come and how far I want to go.

You see, my current problem is being dissatisfied. I’ve accomplished a lot. A book was on my bucket list. Now, I’m trying to write another (this one is nonfiction) as well as promote the one I have and attempt a chapbook (poetry). It’s still not enough. I’m tired, but I’m restless. That’s why I’m keeping this blog going. That’s why I’m still writing.

Besides that, I have a fear of contentedness, because if you’re not trying to improve yourself, your work, then you’re not better and you’re probably not staying the same either. You’re in decline. Most people who enter states of contentedness and inactivity begin this process of atrophy without realizing it, because you can never really stay the same, even if you want to.

The metaphor I’ll use which may or may not be considered an apt metaphor: It’s like being on fire but never burning up.

Yeah, I’m kind of like that one bush that spoke to Moses only less well known. Like a lot less well known. Like a minuscule portion of the world’s population are aware of me and I don’t exist to the rest.

Digressing again.

You know what I didn’t do when my phone went off at 5AM on a Tuesday to let me know that work was called off? I didn’t write. I wrote some eventually, but that’s not the point. I went back to sleep and woke up several hours later. Greeted by stifled sunlight, I peeked out my bedroom window at what remained of just a light covering of a few inches. It was sleeting at that point. The chatter of fragmented ice pattered on closed windows that lead me to breakfast and coffee. Still, I didn’t write. I watched some videos online. I listened to music. I got ready for a day inside, but I didn’t write. I read a book too.

I waited all day to write, a day I had completely free to do whatever I wanted.

Looking back, I’m disappointed in myself. I don’t regret spending the day enjoying myself.  It was necessary. And I probably wouldn’t do it differently if I had the chance to redo the day. Says a lot. Says nothing too.

I’m at a point where I don’t know if this is problematic or not. I feel like it is. And there’s the issue.

I know you can’t work all the time. I mean, you absolutely can, but burning out isn’t helpful for creativity. At least, it isn’t for me.  In this case, back to the metaphor, if you’re a burning bush, it’s important to know that sometimes it rains. Can’t be on fire all the time. Anyway, when I can’t think, I can’t create. If I’m exhausted, rather than tired, it’s a lot like trying to pull the world out of nothing. It just can’t be done. Not by me. There’s a reason the phrase, “burning the candle at both ends,” is still notoriously negative. It means you’re hardworking but also too hard working. Also, more fire metaphors…

Side Note: How would you keep a candle like that? You couldn’t place it in a candle holder, that’s for sure. Do you have to hold it? That sounds painful. But it bring nuanced meaning to the phrase. Wouldn’t two candles not only be hold-able, but burn twice as long? You see each side of a candle burning at both ends would only have half a candle of light a piece, if that. Totally inefficient.

I did it again, didn’t I? Been tangential a lot lately, more so than usual. It has to do with working on too many things, a lot I don’t even want to be a part of, but work that pays is work that pays. I hope someone reads that and nods knowingly to themselves. If you did, we should be friends. If we’re not already friends, I’m sorry. I have a lot going on. I said that already…

In Buddhism, the term for a mind like mine is Monkey Mind. It’s an uncontrollable, capricious mind. When I’m not doing anything, it wanders.  The overactive mind is great for creativity, as long as you can reign it in and manage to be productive. With all my passion that’s a difficult task to perform. Stella made that painfully obvious. Of course, I only realized that after the fact. That’s normal though. It’s similar to having a great comeback to some insult hurled at you a week ago.

It’s been cold on and off, blue skies, chilled winds. Blooming pear trees blossomed white, now turn decaying brown. I try to notice nature as best I can. It helps me to clear my mind, calm it. Helps the writing. Long walks. Presumably, we won’t have most of current nature for much longer, which is another reason to cherish it. One day we might only know constant, ravaging snowstorms, or forget what snow looks like. Then I’ll be trapped inside and unable to write. Maybe a year from now I’ll be experiencing something like that. Hopefully not.

 

  1. Where to?

I’d like to think that I’d keep this blog going even if I were to venture somewhere, anywhere. I’d keep it going, if not for my readers or potential readers, then for me. And if someone should take something from it, all the more reason to continue.

I am going somewhere. At least, I think I am. I have a few pieces being published. I also should be having a reading coming up in May. I’ll post about that more when everything is made more certain. A couple chapters have been written for my next manuscript. I’ve even been reading and finishing books for research purposes. This is still not enough, and I have to discover what is for me. Most people have to. Most people reach their twenties and figure out what they want to do, whether or not they can do it, know more of who they are, and somehow calm down a bit. No thank you. I’m 28 now. I feel like I should know more, but I’m ok with that not being the case. I’m aware that most people are in a similar, if not the same, situation. It’s oddly reassuring.

By the time you’re reading this, it will be April. There’s more sunlight, rain, and heat than there have been for a while. More birds singing. More time that can be spent outside. Less time to write. More time to be frustrated. Probably more readings too. I won’t be able to do everything I want to.

I hope that you can do what you want to do, within reason. Dreams are less achievable for many than they have ever been. They can still be reached, but the times have not changed for the better. Despite this, it’s important to not give up, especially if you’re an artist. It has never been easy. It probably never will be. You may not end up the kind of successful that you want to be or feel you need to be. Do not let that take away from what you are doing. Do not allow that to diminish your passions. Although I know it happens to many of us.

I’m thinking of leaving Baltimore. I think that every year. And every year I realize the security in my job that helps me pay the rent and allows me to have health insurance. Every year I have some health concern or private matter that needs to be dealt with first. Every year there is something. My own fears are constant. How do you establish yourself somewhere new, especially as an adult? It’s a big decision.

There’s also the fact that I kind of like it here, despite some things that have happened and a lack of employment possibilities in my field. In the arts, there’s a lot happening in Baltimore. Plus friends. Some of whom have already moved on to other, often bigger things or are on the cusp of doing so. If they can do it, why can’t I? In other words, there’s nothing stopping me except the occasional snow storm.

 

 

 

To Whom It May Concern/Reader:

 

I would like to thank you for reading this blog. Whether you have been reading from the beginning or just started with this one, I appreciate you and your literacy. Welcome all! For those reading into what I said in this piece, do not worry about future content as I will continue to produce it for the foreseeable future. I mean, I believe I said that more than once anyway, but you can never be too sure. I do ask that you please continue to support me in whatever way you can. I will do my best to share what I know and what I learn with you. I will also keep everyone who is interested up to date on all my writing and art related activities. Again, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

 

Yours,

 

Nathan

Criticism 101

Previously titled: Criticism 101 Or That Time I Used A Strange Baby Metaphor. Read on to figure that one out.

Let’s start with a little story: I was in college when I started receiving Criticism.

That’s inaccurate, I have been receiving some form of criticism my entire life. What I mean is that I began receiving criticism on a level I never had before, and in a form I wasn’t really used to. Typically, it would be in the form of someone putting me down by pointing out something about me, usually a flaw. In college, it was mostly focused on the pieces I wrote and helping me to better my writing. Most of it came during workshops in writing courses.

There are two types of criticism that you should be aware of, if you aren’t already: Constructive and (Critical or De-constructive) Criticism.

It’s always baffled me how criticism, on its own, has such a negative connotation, but that’s because, without purpose to help, it is a tool that can only serve to destroy or deconstruct someone or thing.

Constructive Criticism is fairly easy to differentiate from regular Criticism, and not just that it tends not to make you feel like shit. The first thing that good constructive criticism does is similar to criticism, it points out the issue. That is, it makes the person aware that there’s an issue. What sets it apart is that, after the issue is identified, it is then used to tell you how to resolve it. In the end, this should serve as a mutually beneficial exchange, you get to improve at whatever you’re doing and the person helping you gets an improved thing. It can also strengthen relationships.

The worst types of criticism can come in the form of bullying. Whereas constructive criticism should come from a place that is not only trying to help someone else but to better that person or thing that they are doing.

To break regular criticism down, it starts the same as its constructive counterpart in that it begins by pointing out the problem or issue. Then, it just makes things worse. While this is happening, it also makes you feel bad about whatever the problem is by bringing you down and only identifying the problem as a negative. By belittling you, criticism empowers the person antagonizing. So, basically, regular criticism often serves to make you feel like shit, while the other person feels better about themselves, and you shouldn’t ever accept it.

Yet how you should take it will always be the question.

Since it serves as a tool to assist you, make you better, Constructive Criticism should be taken with the understanding that it’s not meant to harm. Now, it doesn’t mean it’s without difficulty. If someone tells you that what you’ve been working on for some time needs to be changed, even if they cite valid reasons, it will still hurt. It’s ok to feel that way. After all, what you create can be like your child.

On that note, let’s talk babies.

It would be like if I had a baby and someone told me it would look better with dark hair than with light colored hair, and I dyed its hair a dark brown and thought to myself, “Oh, you know what? Dark colored hair really does compliment my baby’s cheek structure.” It’s like I know my baby is perfect just the way it is, but this criticism improved on what was already there. That person was helpful with the strange baby tip, although I might want to question why I associate with someone fixated on baby bone structures and hair colors… I’m sorry, I don’t know why I started this convoluted metaphor. Mom, Dad, if you’re reading this, I don’t have a baby. I digress.

Criticism, though, is someone telling you that your baby is shit and you should feel bad for having a shit baby. This is not ok. First, I would suggest explaining to them that this hurts you and suggest different ways they can change their behavior, like telling you why they don’t like the baby and what you might be able to do to change the baby. If you can’t get them to do that, I would suggest getting that person out of your life for both you and your baby’s best interests…

That got weird, right?

The reality is, this becomes more and more obvious the more you put yourself in situations where you will be receiving criticism. For writers, that means workshops or passing your pieces on to friends or anyone, really, for critiquing improvements. And the best way to get over it that I can tell you is that the more you do it, the less painful it becomes. I won’t say it ever stops feeling not-so-good completely, but, like most things, it does get easier. It’s good to be able to differentiate. It’s good to know what’s bad. It’s also good to know that feeling poorly, about either one, is totally fine. Oh, and abnormal metaphors should maybe be kept to a minimum. That’s why I only technically used one here.

Haha I’m awful. No, really. I am truly awful. And that’s self-deprecation, another form of criticism that I’ll talk about on a future day. Wink wink.

 

If you have questions, if you’re confused, or maybe if you think there’s something I should do differently here, let me know. But be gentle.

I hope you all have a wonderful month!

 

Regards,

Nathan

Crossing Genres

Crossing Genres

 

This starts out with writing as the primary focus, but I’ll bring it around to more of a general understanding.

 

If you go to an event, a conference, an MFA program, as a writer, you’ll usually get the same question, “What do you write?” What they mean by that is, “What genre do you write?”

In truth, I write Nonfiction and have been attempting Poetry, a lot. Occasionally, I’ll write Fiction. You’re usually expected to choose only one because that’s what most people do, they choose one and stick to it, they specialize. This helps you in your craft, to focus on being the best at one thing. It also allows you time management. That is, it takes a lot of work to write, let alone write in different ways, and this is most effective. The same can be said for most arts and creative endeavors.

When I was introduced to the concept of Creative Nonfiction, I was also introduced to the concept of using tools from poetry and fiction in writing true stories. That’s why I became adamant on mastering the other genres, or, really, having their basics under my belt.  Using lyrical diction or crafting scenes that flow naturally with dialogue and whatnot, and aren’t just recounting events and facts, are important skills to have. So, when I get asked which genre I stick to, I almost feel insulted. Although, it is still a fair question, it’s necessary for me to have a little of each, even hybridization and experimental forms.

I understand the mindset. Specialization leads to a mastery of craft and form that you can’t get otherwise. But even some of the best painters tried their hands at various styles before settling on their preferred one, and, even then, not all of them stuck to what they became famous for. Still, there is the idea that each genre also has the inclusion of subgenres. Creative Nonfiction has the subgenres of Memoir, Autobiography and Biography, Lyrical Essay, and Immersion writing, to name a few. If you would like to learn more, I recommend Sue William Silverman’s, The Meandering River: An Overview of the Subgenres of Nonfiction. And Fiction has even more.

Typically, even when people will say that they focus on one genre, they probably also mean, even more so, that they focus on a subgenre and rarely have anything to do with the others, let alone another genre altogether. The reality of writing is that it’s difficult to be very good at one style without focusing on it exclusively, but, at the same time, it’s good to have the tools of the others at your disposal. For instance, the lyrical essay demands that you have a background or, at the very least, some experience with poetry or poetic writing. What’s interesting about the lyrical essay is that it can also be interpreted as a prose poem, meaning that it is a genre bending style in and of itself.

If you’re wondering how this might be applicable to outside the arts, there are probably a few ways I could put it. One way that comes to mind is to compare it to a liberal arts degree and a more specialized degree or study. Not to offend anyone. I do want to point out that sticking to one thing is fine and often preferable as it helps you to know more about one subject and be better at it.

Back in 2011, I went to China for a three-week study abroad course with my undergrad, Hiram College. It was a wonderful experience, and we were there during a time of unprecedented exponential economic growth. While we were there, we were introduced to a person who, I believe, was an economist or in that field. He explained to us something that we all found truly odd, China had no concept of liberal degrees. They didn’t even have them.

You see, in that culture, you decided on a profession, went to school for it, graduated, and then got a job in that field for the rest of your life, a concept lost to us Americans. The problem was that the rapid expansion of China’s economy as well as the progression of technology would make some of the people’s jobs either obsolete in a few years after receiving their degree and entering the workforce or make it so that their knowledge on the job was no longer valid/up to date. When this happens, they have nothing to fall back onto. The benefit of a liberal arts degree is the roundedness of it. Yes, there’s no specialization and you tend to have a smaller income, but you have the flexibility in an ever-changing market to do something else, have a focus somewhere else. That’s sort of how I see genre or style crossing in writing and the arts. Well, sometimes. It’s not a perfect analogy. Nobody is perfect though. You know what I mean?

I’m mixed on this, as I hope you can tell. I both want you to cross over to other genres, but, at the same time, I’m telling you that you don’t have to. A singular focus is a good thing to have, especially in the arts. A dabbling in everything is great too. I feel someone will read this with the argument that I’m just talking about a dabbling for mastering a singular style or genre, and that’s somewhat true. I’m not a professional poet. I don’t professionally write novels or short stories. I wouldn’t profess to saying I’ve mastered these things, let alone Creative Nonfiction, for that matter. I am saying that you should try them out, again. Master them to the best of your ability, and if you find you don’t want to stick to them, then go back to whichever genre you prefer. But keep what you learn from the other, it will strengthen whatever you do.

 

All the Best,

Nathan

 

End

Cue Music

Roll Credits

 

 

 

 

 

Music Ends

Credits End

 

 

 

 

 

*Peeks around corner wearing a red and white, striped bathrobe*

*Approaches from back of hallway*

You’re still here?

It’s over.

Go home.

*Retreats to back of hallway*

*Waves hand dismissively*

Go.

*Exits Scene*

Black Screen.

 

What I Talk About When I Talk About 2017.

New Year, New Me?

Yeah no.

My concise thoughts on the matter, if you don’t want to read my long-winded, tangential, ramblings: Forget it. Just be a better you. Otherwise, don’t do anything different. Oh, and fight really, really hard.

There are some things to consider: What do you want to do? What are you doing? What can you improve?

In his book, Psycho-Cybernetics, Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a former plastic surgeon, determined it took 21 days for changes to stick. Later the myth was broken by Phillipa Lally who found it can take about 2 months, 66 days really, on average. That’s a crazy amount of time to make a change and stick to it. Look at THIS Huffington Post article for more information.

Near the start of February 2016, I weighed 210 lbs. I didn’t exercise, and I ate horrendously. I hope you’re aware that’s all bad. I did. I realized my problems. I decided to start eating better, and running and working out nearly every day or every-other-day. Guess how long I kept to it? An entire year. I even plan on keeping it up the following year and the year after that, etc. I’m down 40 lbs. and I’m much healthier.

This is one of those rare occasions where I stick to something and achieve it. But I would say it’s more because of my stubbornness rather than anything else. I hated my appearance and my health, and I was determined to fix it. You know what I go for all my hard work? Clothes that don’t fit right anymore. I’m a writer. It’s not like I can go out on a shopping spree for new clothes. I’m kidding. That’s why belts exist.

I digress.

Most of you is probably fine the way it is. There are things you could work on unlearning like being a jerk, for example. I’m sure, reader, that you’re most likely not a jerk. Really, what you need to do is reflect on the things you view as good that you already do and you think you should do more of… For me, this was writing.

Previously, I mentioned that, before I got a job and before I went to grad school, I was writing a ridiculous 4 hours a day. This diminished greatly to maybe once a week. I knew this was bad even with the commitments of adulthood. What do I do? I make a deal with myself to write once a day. I don’t set a time limit. I try to block a time, but I still keep it flexible. Then I write for as long as I can before something like my work break ends or my stomach decides food is needed. To me, it’s the most important thing to do. I can’t write like the old days, but I don’t want to give it up either. So, I have this solution. It’s not the best, but it is better.

Other important things to consider:

  • What’s your work habit like?
  • How can you improve it?
  • What do you want to work on?
  • What can you realistically work on? (work on the ones you can)

Part II, The Artists

What can I say about 2017 in regards to artists and creators?

*Sigh*

A few things, really. At the very least, the next four years, not just the one, are going to be difficult, more so for some than others. Here is where I’d make a joke if I found it appropriate to do so. Even though people are griping about the severity of 2016, it can, in fact, get worse. This is especially true when you consider that some of the worst parts people refer to tend to be the deaths of celebrities they’ve never met. This is fine. They impacted you at some point. The odds are you probably didn’t know them personally. Although a famous stranger’s death can affect you, it’s not the worst thing that can happen to you. There, I said it.

So, what are we supposed to do with this new year that seems to be the coming possible apocalypse? I have a couple ideas. You don’t have to agree. You also don’t have to disagree. These are thoughts.

As an artist, you are going to be facing a group of people in power who will do all they can to get what they want, and they don’t seem to care about you or most anyone else. This means you need to enter the fray in arenas like socioeconomics and politics, as much as it pains me to say that. Let’s face it, society is in the process of shitting all over itself. You may not feel like this, but it’s the artist’s duty to not only point this out to them but to also assist them in cleaning this mess.

Here you are, thrust into the scene of uncertainty, a bohemian militant. If you can see the wrong, it can see you. Now is the time to fight. Or, really, now is the time to create. Don’t hold back. If someone tells you something is too much, the correct response is, “Fuck you.” Then carry on with what you were doing. Also consider getting rid of that person. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life. I think that’s what that is.

It won’t be easy. It won’t be fast. Most everything about it will be painful. It will probably be dangerous at times. If all you want to do is make money off of art, then you’ve come into the wrong time period, with exception to being born into certain races, classes, and sexual orientations. Even then, the world will make no promises.

Part III, Everyone

Take a deep breath. Reflect on your life. What’s going on? What do you want to do? What have you been doing? What of that stuff you’ve been doing can you do better? Think.

I know I sound like a broken record, but it’s important. Don’t accept what people tell you. Or don’t take everything you’re told at face value. Investigate matters. Call your leaders that you chose to represent you and your best interests out on their bullshit. Don’t be offended when other people do the same thing to people you side with; they are simply doing the same for themselves.

Do you care about someone? You should keep caring about them. Unless it goes to shit. Then don’t. Whatever. You’re your own person. Just take care of yourself, and try to cherish what you already have. Do you love someone or something? Does it hurt someone else? If not, then keep loving that someone or something.

Remember to eat well, drink lots of water, and get plenty of rest. Wait. I forget. Are you sick? Never mind.

Part IV, End

It’s the beginning of the year, but I’m talking about the end. Figures.

Here’s the deal, you’re most likely going to be living longer than four years, let alone the one. This makes it important to not only fight through 2017, but all the remaining years of your life. Also, live. Be sure to live. That’s going to be key. Enjoy what you can. Create what and when you can. Think deeply. Love widely. I appreciate you as both a person and a reader, and, despite everything happening, I do hope for the best for you and the people in your life.

 

 

Much love,

Nathan

What You’re Working On

I have a bad habit of blabbering about my projects that are in the works. If you ask me, I’ll probably tell you. Sometimes I’ll even send you an early draft. Why not, right?

It’s tricky. You want to share your ideas. You think they’re so great, but it’s easy to get derailed. Usually the person asking is your target audience. If telling them means anything, it’s that you are creating something for them and not just yourself. I get the adage, “Write what you want to read,” but if you’re going to be putting your work in a public venue, it’s best to also keep other people in mind. Still, I’ve heard a lot of opinions on this subject.

I’ve had professors in the past tell the class that they’ll never tell anyone what they’re working on until it’s done. I tend to wait until the first draft, at least. It makes it easier to get help. On the unfortunately not-so-rare occasion I tell someone my idea of what I want to work on, I’ll see their face drop. They might try to backpedal the expression by reassuring me, but that moment is when the idea begins to die nonetheless.

“Oh no! Is this a bad idea?! I shouldn’t do this, should I?” – Me or something I might be heard saying sometimes.

What you need to know here is: It’s ok. It happens.

Self-doubt becomes prevalent in the above scenario. In these situations it’s best to keep the understanding that most people don’t know as well as you do. Their reaction shouldn’t dictate the death of an idea. What it should do is make you question the idea. Is there something else you can do with it? Any tweaking that will improve it? If you can’t think of anything, then forget their face.

If a person verbally says that it’s a bad idea, it’s ok to feel bad. They’re being mean. Disregard. Their opinion should no longer be considered valid. If they share with you why it’s bad, and it makes sense, then, again, improve it. All that said, you might be like me, sharing it with people you know whose opinions are heavily weighted for you. If this is the case, then you have two options: 1. give up or 2. continue, despite them.

I had an idea to write a humor essay about being discriminated as a left-handed person. My friend looked at me, shook his head, and said, “No, that wouldn’t work.” I let the idea go. Clearly. I might still do it. Probably not. But you never know! It wouldn’t be to spite this person, but to see if it does work or not.

Positivity and Recommendations for all!

On the other hand, you may run into validation too. It’s rare but beneficial. People can put you into gear to do better. Funny how being positive can have a positive effect on others, right? It’s good to be positive back, if the situation allows.

What I’d recommend is not being an asshole, but you do you. There’s no guarantee as to how people will react, except maybe for parents.

What do you do if someone tells you their idea? It’s usually enough to tell someone, “That sounds interesting.” For added effect, an affirming pat on the back or side hug can be good too, depending on the person and where your relationship is. Physical contact is not always recommended.

Here’s where I’m putting a conclusion.

At the very least, give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Write it out, draw it, sculpt it, throw it, etc., and see how things go. Don’t put yourself in a place wondering about what would have happened if you’d created that thing someone didn’t seem enthusiastic about. Other people could like it, after all. One person is not a reason. One person is an excuse that you use to not do something.

So, good luck. Whichever way you choose to go, I wish you the best. I hope you do amazing things!

 

Yours,

Nathan

The Creative Schedule

“Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” – Mark Twain attempting to quote Confucius.

 

What do people do when they don’t have a specific task to work on?

Typically, based primarily on observation and conversations I’ve had throughout my entire life, they’ll do nothing. That is, if they’re adults. Kids might try to play. Teens and young adults might find a restlessness and/or a drive to do something. This isn’t true for all adults, but most adults, especially those that have been, to some extent, out in the world, they want to do nothing, even if only for a moment. At some point we find ourselves desiring, craving this freedom to not have to do. I get it. I really do. I’m the same way.

Currently, I have no assigned projects, with exception to what they give me at work, and those are neither creative nor writing assignments. Occasionally, a free-lance gig might fall into my lap, but those are rare and often non-paying. I’m less inclined to take those on top of my preexisting, paying job. With that, nine out of ten times I am tired. Or nine out of ten times, I find myself without motivation to do much of anything. Despite the relatively arbitrary percentages, it’s still a serious thing.

We’re not all fortunate enough to get any jobs. Some of us have to find a way to persevere on our own. It’s difficult but doable.

You may be wondering or yelling, What do you do? I’m getting there, I swear.

I used to ask myself that, what I should do.

On top of everything I just mentioned, as I touched upon in my MFA piece, I also have a lack of structure to deal with. Getting out of school, it’s a shock to the system. Surprise! Life doesn’t have as much structure as we like to think it does or might. There is a good chance that this will be what gets you, what defeats you. It’s more than just the burn out you might experience from being in school. The real issue occurs in the contemplation of How do I keep going? The simple answer is: It’s structure.  Why would I mention it if it wasn’t? You’ll have to create a structure to your life, in your life. It may seem obvious, but it’s anything but easy.

It’s also important to find motivation, even if that motivation is derived from pure stubbornness. Although, I won’t explicitly recommend that either, regardless of my own hypocrisy. I digress.

People will compliment me on my drive to write. I find it strange but flattering. As previously mentioned, I’d prefer to do nothing. Of course, it wasn’t always like this.

There was a time, when I didn’t have to work every single day like a normal person in the US, I would take four hours a day to write. Just write. Whatever I had at the end, I would review. Anything I liked, I kept. Whatever I didn’t, I discarded. My writing had effectively become a part time job. I think what’s most impressive, to me at least, is that I was keeping this routine throughout college and grad school too. Well, maybe not as consistently as I’d like, but better than you might think.

Now, I can’t do that. I work an eight hour day job, not including breaks and the time it takes to get to and from work, what with not being able to afford my own car, as well as when I have to get to work, I really don’t have the time to put in four hour days. What I do is schedule a time when I get home, usually after I’ve eaten and finished anything I have to do, and I write.

Normally, I would tell you that this is a form of time management called, “Blocking.” Blocking is where you take chunks of time and devote them to specific tasks. You don’t allow yourself to get distracted. You do the work until either it’s done or the time you’ve set aside ends. It’s important to know that I’m not really Blocking here. I’m setting a chunk of time aside, yes, but it’s whenever I can as opposed to the same time everyday. Still, if you think it is hard, it is. So, how do I do this? It might sound simple…

I do this by telling myself that I have to, that I don’t have a choice. At first it’s difficult, but it gets easier and you’ll find yourself more inclined to doing it than when you started. Eventually, you won’t have to force it. If you do this, don’t forget to forgive yourself when you simply cannot do it. We all get exhausted or distracted. Just don’t allow yourself to take too much time, or else you risk stopping indefinitely. Don’t make up ridiculous excuses. If you want to write, then write. If you want to create, create.

But I don’t write with reckless abandon as I once did. Time is precious, too precious. That’s why some of my time that I blocked for writing gets subverted to reading and taking notes on the material/story, or I use it to brainstorm and map out what I’m going to write. I’ll even set up interviews from time-to-time. This gives me focus and purpose. I know what I’m going after, what I need to do, and, hopefully, I do it.

Sometimes things go awry. My mind will blank despite all my preparations. This is fine. This happens. I don’t stop writing. I write something else, anything else. It’s effective for me because it allows some other part of me to work out what I need to do, and it supplies me with something else to work on later. I try not to spend too much time on this side piece if I can help it. It’s important to continue what you set out to do. If you can’t, don’t worry. It’s not the end of the world. Well, this time it isn’t.

Even if I do stop writing, I’m not actually stopping. I’m taking a break. I always get back to my writing. Don’t give up! You can do it!

You may or may not be wondering if there’s any point to working on something that you probably won’t be seeing income for. I have to say, if you are wondering this, how capitalistic of you. There are several reasons. One of them, the only one I’ll mention, is that you need to keep yourself sharp. Setting up this schedule and actually doing it will help. If you keep up at something, then you’ll most likely get better at it. I mean, you can’t get any worse, right?

My real secret is understanding that it’s not the writing I don’t want to do, it’s the work, the effort that goes into it. This is why it’s important to do something you want to be doing. Being paid is a good motivator, but when you don’t have that, you should have your own enjoyment to lean upon in order to accomplish your writing or creating goals. I do this. I make sure that I’m working on something I like. I’m not just doing it to hone my craft. It makes the whole endeavor easier and provides a feeling of being worthwhile.

The only thing I have to say here, at the end, is do what fits you best. Try out different things, and then decide which works better than anything else. Or don’t just do one thing, do many, if that suits you. If you think my way would work for you, then I say do it. I encourage creating and hard work, and I try to do it too, despite myself, despite everything.

All the best. Keep creating!

 

Nathan