Unexpected Rewards

Yesterday was one of those days where I forced myself to go to the drop-in class at iO even though all I wanted to do was sleep. I was rewarded with an experience I’ve never had on stage before.

Several of the students wanted to work on acting/realism so that was our focus. I had this moment where I was squared off with a guy and we were just looking at each other, trying to let whatever was already there bubble up and build something from the natural feelings without judging them or trying to categorize them.

So anyway, we are doing that and Lyndsay was giving us a lot of side-coaching. Telling my partner to breath and to quit fidgeting, that he was defusing all the energy that needed to come out as an emotion through moving around. The same note she gave me several times when I had her during the intensive. So I took it as a note for me as well and doubled-down. Forced myself to stand perfectly still. Both feet flat on the floor, both hands flat on the sides of my legs, no swaying or nodding or chewing on my lip or anything else that would let me move around.

It was freakin’ hard! But I had the chance to work on it because she was talking to him. So I kept staring, and kept forcing myself to be perfectly still. As we finally started talking I wanted to move. Very much. Then I opened my mouth to say something and the urge to move was so intense I felt like I simply couldn’t hold still another second. So I blurted out something instead.

I just opened my mouth and words came out that I didn’t expect, that I would never have said because they didn’t make any sense. But it was that or move and I’d already decided I was NOT going to move. I couldn’t say what I’d planned, to further the story, because that would have meant moving. I think Lyndsay would say that it was because what I planned to say wasn’t honest to the scene, so I wanted to shift around to defuse that dishonesty. Like a little kid.

He blinked. I think I surprised him too. But as soon as I said the unexpected words I felt this rush of energy sweep through me. In that moment, when I chose to not let it out any other way, the reward was stunning. I’ve never like that on stage. The rush lasted the rest of the scene. I was buzzy, electric, with energy. I felt dizzy with it. I kept going with what we’d already started, I didn’t have to think about my answers. I felt like I had control, in a good way. Like, even if he had flipped and done something unexpected I could have held onto my own stuff. Something I tend to not do.

I’m not sure where the balance is in this. I can’t simply stare down everyone on stage without moving. And I tend to come off as nervous quite often, that’s where my energy seems to come from. So I need to figure out how to get that sense of power even when I’m moving or gesturing.

Recap: Week 10

One Million Words Challenge

Recap: Week 10

OK, so I’m not doing so well at this. I know this is my common theme but it’s still true. I’ve been neglectful of my writing, and I am falling further behind. I’m still committed, still going to keep striving forward. I will do this. It’s just harder than I imagined.

Writing is fun for me. And reasonably easy.

Not this past month. It’s been hard to hit the totals this whole time, yes, but over the past month writing has been incredibly difficult. I’m struggling to write anything. I’ve journaled almost daily my entire life and last week I only wrote once. The words are stuck in my head. Additionally I feel scattered, distant, lethargic. My mind hops from one thought to another with no connections or warning, it’s hard to hold onto a train of thought. I can’t finish books, follow movies, have long conversations. It’s like the part of my head that keeps my attention in one place has been removed.

I have dealt with this my whole life- ADD, ADH, any set of initials they can throw at someone to say that their brain is active have been thrown at me. I’ve learned a lot over the years about how to help myself focused, how to pay attention, how to help myself stay on track.

But lately none of my tricks have been working and it’s frustrating. I feel like if I just had more discipline I would be OK, but I don’t have the discipline to get disciplined. Plus, discipline had never really helped me. I do best when I’m playing. Competing or taking a class work too- when I can convince my brain that something else is going on it will cooperate. I’m a loner, but I need people to stay on track. If I didn’t have such a busy summer ahead of me I’d form a writing group in the area, the closest ones I’ve found are over in the city. Still, even if I’m going to be moving soon it might be worth driving over for one even just for the next few months. I know from past experience that it does help to talk to other people and to feel like I have to keep up.

Also, re-reading The Artist’s Life reminded me about the idea of filling the well. Cameron talks about how if we do nothing but draw from our mind it will eventually run dry, especially during a very productive stage. It made me think- I’m demanding that my brain give me 3,000 words a day but I’m not giving it much to work with- few books, few movies, few events or fairs or new things to look at. Plus, I adore improv but I often feel mentally tired/drained after, as if it has sucked off my top level energy. The same energy I need for writing. So I’m writing and acting and creating and I’m not putting anything back in. And that is undoubtedly part of the problem.

On top of all that I am putting too much pressure on myself. I want to write something good. Something entertaining, fun, exciting. I’ve forgotten that all first drafts are shit, and that my first million words are practice. Hopefully I’ll get something good out of them but if I don’t it doesn’t matter, I’m learning. I need quantity, not quality. I tell myself that but remembering to believe it is a little harder. Maybe with enough repetitions it’ll eventually sink in.

That’s a big part of why I’m doing the million words challenge. I want to learn to make myself produce work even when I don’t want to, don’t feel like it, or have nothing to say. One of my career goals is to write for a TV series and if that is my job I won’t have the luxury of waiting until I feel inspired or have a great idea- I will have to sit down and write on a deadline and make it worth reading. This is my deliberate practice.

Here are my totals this week–

  • Journal 692
  • Brazil 4,505
  • MPs 6,804
  • Total 12,001
  • YTD 126,016
  • Where I should be 191,800

Recap: Week 8

My little sister, Sara, was married this past Saturday. It was a beautiful wedding, and she was a gorgeous bride.

Also, I mailed out my first copies to readers. Later than planned due to printing issues and then a wedding, and then them getting into the wrong vehicle and leaving the state, but they finally made it out. My writing totals, however, were dismal. I got some done but most of my words were spread across only two days. I decided that I would focus on my sister and her wedding, not word totals. I think that was the right choice but now I am going to focus on getting caught up over the next few weeks.

Here are my totals this week–

  • Journal 856
  • Out Spaced 2,774
  • MPs 3,888
  • Blog 424
  • Letters 1,034
  • Raising Trouble 2,340
  • Total 11,316
  • q

  • YTD 114,739
  • Where I should be 151,640

Too easy?

We have a mythology that tells us that writing is a torturous activity.

Believing that, we don’t even try it or, if we do, and we find it unexpectedly easy,

we stop, freeze up, and tell ourselves that whatever we are doing,

it can’t be “real” writing.

~Julia Cameron

The path... (3327236923)

Writing my novel (Raising Trouble) brought this phenomenon to life for me. I enjoyed writing the book. Loved it. Not every single word every single day but overall it was a great experience and a lot of fun. I didn’t feel like I was “missing out” on other stuff, like watching movies or tv. I was excited to be writing. And when I let myself write, instead of thinking about writing, it was easy.

Too easy. I was convinced, still secretly feel inside, that anything which flowed that easily cannot possibly be anything worth reading. That if the words come out without any trouble than they are no good. Never mind that my favorite art in the world is made up on the spot. Never mind that the speech I gave that got the best feedback of all was the one I dashed off a couple of hours beforehand. Never mind that the piece of writing which moved more people than any other piece I’ve ever written was finished and edited in one go, late at night. Yes- let’s forget all of that and assume that if something comes quick and easy it is worthless.

Not that there isn’t a place for editing and hard work to make something the best it can be before it goes into the world. I’m not talking about sloppiness. But rather the feeling that if it isn’t painful in can’t be good. That if I’m enjoying the process I must be messing it up somehow.

I’m trying to relax and trust that even if it feels too easy, and doesn’t take a lot of time, it still has a chance of being good. Or of being terrible. But whether it’s good or bad had nothing to do with how easily it flowed out.

Where are all the good ideas?


When someone says to me, “I don’t have any good ideas… I’m just not good at that,” I ask them, “Do you have any bad ideas?”

Nine times out of ten, the answer is no. Finding good ideas is surprisingly easy once you deal with the problem of finding bad ideas. All the creativity books in the world aren’t going to help you if you’re unwilling to have lousy, lame, and even dangerously bad ideas.

The resistance abhors bad ideas. It would rather have you freeze up and invent nothing than take a risk and have some portion of your output be laughable. Every creative person I know generates a slew of laughable ideas for every good one. Some people (like me) need to create two slews for every good one.

One way to become creative is to discipline yourself to generate bad ideas. The worse the better. Do it a lot and magically you’ll discover that some good ones slip through.

~Seth Godin, Linchpin


This applies to every creative area of my life. And yours too, I’d wager. I immediately thought of improv and of how very often I freeze on stage. I don’t know what to say, nothing in my head sounds right; I shuffle through eighteen different phrases and then I realize it’s been too long and now the pause is awkward. I will say nothing rather than risk saying the wrong thing.

But while I was typing up the paragraph I realized how many other areas of my life this applies to as well. Blogging, for one. How often do I lament that I can’t think of any good ideas for posts? (answer? Every day) Yet how often do I sit at the table and write 25 terrible ideas down, just to see if a good one slips in? Almost never.

It’s too scary. If I have a good idea then I have no reason to not write. And if I write I have to post. And if I post you can read it. And if you read it you might not like it, or might think it was a bad idea, or might criticize it, or might even laugh at me (meanly). And if you do those things I might go into a spiral of hysterics and never recover. So simply avoiding having ideas at all is a much less mentally and emotionally dangerous.


I’m back, though I never meant to go

In starting a blog about the art of learning to fail well I have failed. As you may have noticed it’s been some time since my last post. That’s because the very day I fell behind on the schedule I had made for myself my inner perfectionist came out to play and insisted that I quit, since I’d already messed things up anyway.

Of course, I argued that it was fine and likely no one had even noticed. Certainly true. Then I made the critical mistake. Instead of jumping right back in I decided to take another day before I posted, take a little more time to think of something good. And, of course, the next day was too busy and the next I didn’t think about it….

In the spirit of this blog I found 3 lessons this failure has taught me.

1. I like to jump into the deep end of projects. No baby steps for me! This has been both a advantage and disadvantage in my life. I’ve had some great adventures and experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything because I pulled a Peter and went for a walk. “Jump, then Look” had served me well in some areas of my life. On the other hand, I do tend to take on too much or give up on projects because I feel completely over-whelmed. Lesson? If it’s an adventure, a once-in-a-lifetime event, or just something crazy fun or short-term then jumping in with both feet can work. But if it’s going to be a long-haul, or a bedrock habit I’m trying to build into my life, then it might be better to take things a bit more slowly in the beginning.

2. It’s easy to drift away when there is no accountability. No one else knew what my posting schedule was supposed to be so no one noticed when I didn’t make it. So when I felt no one noticed I was right. Not much motivation there. Lesson? Accountability is good. I’m going to be posting a minimum of twice a week now. If both posts are on Saturday night you’ll know lesson 3 was in full effect.

3. The Resistance is strong in this one. If you’ve never read “The War or Art” by Steven Pressfield I’d recommend you find a copy. The book was not what I was expecting when I read it but it changed the way I look at my writing, and other areas of my lfe as well. Most of all, he names the reason I don’t write- Resistance. With a capitol R. Resistance is a tricky beast, and clever to boot. It’s the same sort of idea that Seth Godin talks about, the “lizard brain”. Lesson? The things I want the most are the things I am most afraid of of failing at, which means they are the things I am most resistant to attempt.

An example- Knitting is fun. However, I have no major dreams that involve knitting, nothing is riding on my ability to do it well or succeed at it. Failure at knitting costs me nothing but a little time. Therefore, Resistance doesn’t show up when I knit. I can fail and fail and fail again and though it is frustrating it isn’t a big deal. There is no fear of failure in making a scarf. Writing, on the other hand, is very important to me. I want to succeed, I have dreams and hopes and plans riding on that success. This makes writing trigger an immense amount of Resistance. When I fail at writing I don’t just feel like I’ve failed, I feel like I am a failure. Worst of all, it feels like my dreams are being threatened and I hide. When I write poorly it feels like a big deal, and there is much fear of failure.

This makes Resistance extraordinarily valuable. It shines a light right on the things I value most, on the things I want at the deepest level but am afraid of going after because trying and losing seems more painful than simply longing.

Now that I have a more reasonable posting schedule, accountability, and have recognized my Resistance as a sign that this is something I should pursue I am ready to begin again.

And I’m going to turn the tables-

Is there an area in your life that is important to you, where you are striving to reach a new level or gain a new skill, but that you find yourself consistently not gaining ground because you just don’t do the work? Have you considered the idea that it might not be laziness or a lack of self-discipline (the 2 attacks I toss at myself the most often) that is holding you back but rather that it might be fear? Does that change the way you go after those goals?

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