Death by Pen

I’ll take this deadly weapon, the pen.

You can have your firearms, go–

bear them in your well-regulated militia–

while I bare my soul instead.

We shall see who leaves the

more indelible mark.
Perhaps someday my pen will kill me.

That would be no accident,

even though I have this bad habit

of leaving the safety off.

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Quitting vs. Giving Up

First of all let’s address the semantics. For the sake of my argument, I have definitions I’ll refer to as I make distinctions. I suppose the distinctions could just as easily apply if you reversed the terms, but for the duration of this conversation I’m going to create my own differentiation.

If you were raised with some version of the phrase “don’t be a quitter” I think you might find that injunction to apply more to the way I define “giving up” in my following argument. When I talk about quitting, it’s strategic, it’s a battlefield retreat. When I talk about giving up, it’s the end of a long, hard emotional road, a slow death you’ve stopped caring about preventing.

They’re easy to confuse. They both come as the result of fatigue and defeat of some kind.

Quitting: a proactive move based on the information available. A business decision.

Giving up: saying “I’m done” to your gifts and calling, walking away for good.

Jason Ropp asked me on Saturday in relation to my new partnership writing fiction with Justin Fike called Cha’am Cowboys Publishing: “how do you know when it’s time to quit a series?” His question was somewhat geared around whether or not we found financial success in our upcoming Stetson Jeff Stetson series (by the way these books are hilarious, message me if you want to be added to Cha’am Cowboys’ mailing list) and how do you decide when to stop writing a series?

First I explained how Mark Daniels and I had published Michiana Art News for about 18 months before we quit. It was a fun project, and broke even but paid very little. We saw that to even with a significant increase in our time commitment to the project, it wouldn’t increase our net very much. So we quit. There’s a business principle behind this: one of the best business decisions you can make is a timely decision not to do business. Mark and I both agreed that it was time to be done. We learned what we could and moved on.

However, with the new project, the decision to quit or not quit has much less to do with the success of any one of our books, or, for that matter, any one of our series. That’s because Justin and I are equally committed not to Give Up. A major distinctive between the Art News and Cha’am’s writing is that the news got old, but Cha’am Cowboys products are fiction, and therefore will always be fresh for readers who discover it later. Ten years later, or twenty. Quitting a series, then, is more a function of feeling we’ve played a certain character out, becoming tired of creating with that character. As long as we’re enjoying the development, we don’t quit. We quit when the story arc reaches its logical conclusion.  We plow the furrow to the end of the row, not looking back to worry about what’s growing behind us.

Look, people only jump the shark when they’re trying to squeeze the last bit of money out of something that’s commercially killing it. The time to quit is before you jump the shark. It’s okay to stop producing a series, even if it’s very successful. It’s okay to end any kind of enterprise in business. It’s okay to quit. There are other things which come along based on your values that may cause you to say “I’m done with this particular enterprise”. But that doesn’t mean you’re through being an enterprising person.

What Justin and I both know is that we’re building a back catalog, plus a joint mailing list, so that when one of our books (or a solo project) takes off, it can carry the back catalog with it. This will pay some kind of dividend, some day, as long as we don’t give up.

I have another project which is a more sensitive issue for me right now so I’m reserving details. In this project, I felt I couldn’t continue investing at the moment, so I quit. The other party was very unhappy, even angry. I had given my word, and it’s never comfortable to say out loud that I can’t complete what I promised to complete right now.

This happened some years back when my wife got a painting gig which required a ton of wallpaper removal in a tall stairwell. As time went on, she was heavier and more physically awkward with a pregnancy and we realized she had to abandon the project for her own safety.

These things happen, sometimes amicably and other times with more hurt feelings. Having an exit strategy is important in small business, because your partner may not be giving up, but an illness or other mitigating circumstance may mean they have to quit for a while.

I’m about to quit spending money with a certain advertising agency, because I’m not getting the results I expect, but I’m not giving up on advertising my business. That’s a form of quitting everyone expects you to do!

In short, I’m saying that quitting is sometimes a decision you have to make, while giving up is usually more of a gradual process where you’re demoralized and it happens more passively– but when it’s done, it’s very unlikely you’ll ever come back to that thing you loved doing. You’re too bitter to try again.

So I say, don’t give up. Be a quitter if you must, and deal with the fallout, circle the wagons, gather your metaphors and cliches, then figure out a way to Try, Try again… if at first you don’t succeed.

 

Dragon in my kitchen

Dragon comes in my kitchen, dips his tail in my bowl of guacamole, bites off the tip of his tail, crunchy. Double dips. Eats everything.

Pauses a minute to grow his tail back.

Goes to the fridge, pulls out bottles and jars. Mayo, ketchup, mustard, relish, soy sauce, barbecue, Grey Poupon. Begins mixology. A dash of this, a squirt of that, condiment cocktail. Grabs my olives. Good purple ones from Spain.

“Olives are not a condiment,” I say.

“You put them on sandwiches and in martinis,” he argues.

“Some people consider them a staple,” I say.

“So do I,” he says, and dumps the whole jar, pits and all, into his concoction.

“Why do you only eat condiments?” I ask, “and why in my kitchen? How did this occur? Where are you from?”

“One question at a time,” he says.

“Where are you from?”

“Which came first, the dragon or the egg?”

“All right, smart Alec, why do you only eat condiments?”

“I don’t. Just because that’s what I’m in the mood for today doesn’t extrapolate to my entire diet. Tomorrow, perhaps lamb, the following day, a kale smoothie.”

In the back of the fridge he finds a small jar of mint jelly. “Speaking of lamb,” he says, and scoops it up. Dumps it in his goo. Gives the whole sticky mess a swirl with a lone talon, tastes it.

“Needs salt,” he declares. I hand it to him.

What, am I supposed to stop him? He’s a fire breathing dragon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special Blog: Post #172!

A hallmark number, to be sure, the number 172. Nice and round, full-bodied, plus-size, curvy, sensual…

It’s the one-year anniversary of my blog. That’s a post on a whopping 47% of the days in the last year. There are posts from Congo and Thailand, as well as a lot more from my desk in Indiana.

What did I learn?

When you write you will mostly get ignored. Maybe this is why Jesus did not write. It made more sense to relate to a small number of people in a short time span.

When you write something controversial, more people will read it, but they might not even let you know they have a problem with what you’ve said. My most-viewed blog to date elicited a response from a local pastor, and I’m very glad he said something. Being misunderstood isn’t the end of the world– it’s the beginning of finding your voice!

When you stop caring if people will like it, and beyond that, whether they will even read it, you’ll write even more. Develop thick skin this way, and when you start getting negative reactions, you’ll see that people are reading it, and you’re probably not saying anything new, just more clearly, and you’ll know you’re on your way.

Don’t post just to post. It’ll be crap, and not get you anywhere. With that being said, post to write, and do it often. It still might be crap, but it’s better than posting just to post. If you don’t see the difference, it’s as simple as this: work on your craft. Make, and make again. Make yet again. Make art. Write.

I care less now about being famous and more about being productive than I did a year ago. That’s good because that’s something I can control.

I learned I am also a poet. That’s exciting, somewhat frightening new territory. Missed reading my poems? Here are a few of my favs from the last three months:

April

March

February

 

If you’ve enjoyed my blog, today’s the day to pick up one of my books. They’re available on Amazon or at my bookstore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peace (Thailand #4 – ish)

We’ve been working hard to set up an entire room full of artwork. I think the team that has been stressing to overcome jet lag and install the gallery is ready for the conference to begin. I don’t mean that everything is installed yet (and we only have a few hours left) but I mean in the sense that we are ready for the peace of mind that comes with saying “It has begun.” In fact, several of us will be adding to the art or working throughout the conference, but it’s a bit like starting a race. You train and train, you warm up (jogging) but you wait for the starter’s gun just so you can run some more. And then, after the initial adrenaline rush, you settle into a moment of peace. There is serenity in the journey. Somewhere between the preparations and the finish line is that time when you say “we have now begun to really run.” And we are ready for that moment, even if not all the work is quite in place.

Offhand I’d guess we have about nine to twelve people exhibiting some visual work, (several of whom are not attending, and so we have a team of people installing for them via instructions), and a musical team of seven (I count sound guys) and lots of other creativity beginning to flow. Megan leaned over to me and said, “This is becoming an arts conference. But I guess that is the point.” Well, not entirely. But the arts are becoming more and more a part of how we live and breath in a world where we work cross-culturally. Languages lose something in translation, but image can gain communicativeness, as can melody.

Thailand is a great place to be at peace. This sovereign nation resisted colonialism due to a strong monarchy, and there is room for rest here. We are already feeling it, and yet in some ways we still wait for that to be wholly unleashed.

It takes some work to be at peace with being an artist. The value of the arts is much discussed during this time, but becoming established if still elusive.

It turns out I’ll be painting. I’m going to primarily use words, and I don’t have to worry much about color. Thematically there’s a lot of black and white work here, with reds. I can paint that way. I’m content to have a 4×8 panel to work on, and ran my concepts by Megan. There are things I wish I was doing; for example I love to sing but have not done it with a team for so long that it’s not on anyone’s radar. But with blogging, photojournalism, and now a painting to execute plus lots of opportunities to listen to people quietly and ask them questions, I’m at peace with my role. You can’t do everything, and I’m doing a lot. I like to DO stuff, but to be at peace, BEING is the key.

I’m bringing that edge to my painting, as you’ll see.

I’ll start with something that looks pretty abstract. Letters.

Want to join in? Okay, here’s what goes at the top of my canvas:

AAEEFGGHILLLNOOPRSSSUUVX,

AAAAABCEGILMMNRRSSTTUY.

Just letters? We shall see.

There’s more, but all shall be revealed in due time. The starter’s gun is about to bang, and then, we’re off. We’ll settle in, we’ll be at peace, we’ll rest together.

Writers: know it.

There’s an old adage that you should write what you know. In the nonfiction world, it’s easy to get hooked into providing tons of references. White reading lots of material is great, and certainly plagiarism is bad, very bad, there’s more room than we realize to simply assert what we know.

The content your readers want is uniquely you. Good writing is going to include finding creative new ways to say what many people already know.

My favorite reason for quoting other authors is to pull disparate sources together into one place, to use multiple ideas together to say something new. In other words, if you’re just repeating, don’t bother. But if you can take an idea from over there and mix it with an idea from somewhere else to say something new, then it’s worth quoting.

If you’re addicted to quoting others, maybe it’s time to take a break from reading, so you can spend time asserting yourself more!

grab a pencil, Charlie Brown

In a favorite comic strip, Charlie Brown attempts to write to his pen pal (“Dear Pen pal,” he begins) but his pen splotches ink all over his page. In the final frame we see Chuck start again, this time with a different writing utensil. His letter now begins “Dear pencil pal,” and we presume he’s able to complete his letter with no further inconveniences. (Knowing this character, though, we might not be surprised if his pencil breaks in half, and he ends up finishing the letter with his blood, sweat, and tears.)

We’ve talked about setup before in our videos (see my writers’ group page in the sidebar) but sometimes our normal setup doesn’t work for a variety of reasons.

This week the keyboard on my Surface Pro 3 stopped working, a modern situation similar to that good ol’ blockhead’s ink problem. I had some time to write last night but I was too frustrated with using other keyboard solutions. Besides, writing on a computer keyboard usually also means I’m writing something I intend to publish, while last night I just needed to journal out my frustrations (while I write about authenticity a lot that does npt mean I need to pathologically spread my negative attitudes across the web while I’m having them). So not only did my objective change, but my setup changed, too. I grabbed that good ol’ pencil and a notebook and off I went.

Later on in the evening, calmed down enough to tolerate the frustrations (and backspace button excess) of typing on the tablet’s virtual keyboard rather than the magnetic, clip-on keyboard I prefer, I was able to come back to the computer to work on my next book outline, which I’ll use in a proposal.

The point is, we need different setups for different purposes. We also need backups and redundancies so that we have an outlet for creativity or activity of any kind. Instead of breaking the flow when things are not working, we need a backup plan. This doesn’t only relate to writers, but for backhoe operators, fitness fanatics, painters, dieting, dating your spouse, pretty much anything we have a personal dedication to doing regularly. What’s your plan B? What’s your version of a pencil? How will you get it done when you’re at your most frustrated state?