Tag Archives: you are you


I Am Only a Conduit

I keep a series of sketchbooks as my writer’s notebooks, where I jot down thoughts and ideas and quotes. I have just a few more pages of notebook #8 before I’ll be breaking in a new book. One of the first things I write in each book is this summary of The Four Agreements.


It may not seem like a set of quotes related to writing, but for me this is fundamental. Decreasing the background baggage and learning to communicate more clearly makes it easier to be a better writer.

With regards to number 2, Don’t Take Anything Personally, I learned that one best from a sketch artist in the book An Illustrated Life (I can’t remember which artist in particular, but I loved that book!). He told a story about sharing his sketchbooks with anyone who asked to see them. Every person he ever shared with would look at his sketches, and then find a way to talk about themselves. He said he realized that people bring so much of themselves to the art that it’s not really “his” art once it’s done. I try to keep that in mind when I’m writing. I may be expressing one aspect of myself and my interests, but anyone who reads it is going to take what they need from it and ignore the rest.

I’m nothing more than a conduit.


Maybe What You Love is What You’re Already Doing

Back in December, I made a list of things I wanted to do in the new year. I pretend I don’t make resolutions, but I always make lists of new things I want to learn. This year, I decided, would be the year I learned to draw.

Somewhere in my brain is the idea that I’ve always wanted to learn to draw, and just never had the stars align in such a way that I could. Sure, I sketch things for fun, but I’m not a skilled artist by any means. So I decided I’d learn. I checked out books. I started a new sketchbook and gathered photos to inspire me. Since January 1, I’ve managed to draw on 3 pages.

In the meantime, I had to buy my daughter a new sketchbook over the weekend, because all of her sketchbooks were full.

You see, my daughter loves to draw. From the moment she could hold a crayon in her tiny fingers, she was drawing small villages on her walls, on paper, on her own skin. Drawing has always been her ideal form of self-expression. If she’s mad at me, she draws about it. If she loves something, she draws it. Today, I brought home some new tissue boxes, but she didn’t like the design. So she drew Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon on there.

The girl must draw half a dozen pictures every single day, and has for most of her 9 years of life. She fills several sketch books a year. FILLS them. Drawings of her toys. Drawings of characters she likes. Drawings of hipster cats with glasses and moustaches.

And then there’s my son. I always talk about wanting to learn how to code. But I don’t. He does. He gets an idea for an animation or a game, and he draws his plans and then he sits down in Scratch, and an hour or two or a week or two later, he has a thing he made that is awesome. Funny characters. Fully animated versions of cell division. Life cycles of plants. He’s been doing this for years.

So what am I doing during those times? I’m writing. If I’m not writing stories or books, I’m writing emails and journal entries. If I’m not reading fine literature, I’m reading the marketing copy on chewing gum. There have been a few days in the last few years that I haven’t written a single word. Maybe. I can’t tell you what days they were. I was probably quite cranky by the end of them.

Because I’m co-owner of one of the largest writing communities on Google+, I see a lot of new writers ask for advice. “I want to be a writer! How do I start?” I’ve seen veteran writers tell them flat out, “You will never write a novel if you aren’t already writing.” I thought that was really harsh. But I think I see it now. Sure, you can start anywhere, but unless you’re doing it every day because you can’t NOT do it, it’s always going to be that thing you want to learn and haven’t.

There’s a saying: “Do what you love and love what you do.” I always thought it was super cheesy. It’s probably the most wishy-washy piece of business advice I’ve ever read. But at the end of the day, it has an echo of the truth, I think. But maybe, instead of trying to love something, it’s more about finding out what you’re already doing. Because most likely, that’s the thing you actually love.

Image from workisnotajob.com

Image from workisnotajob.com

So, friends, what are the things you spend the most time doing or thinking about every day, even when you “should” be doing something else? What are the things that just come naturally to you?


Something I Wrote that I Want to Read Later

I was having a conversation with an online friend yesterday. He was in another of his drunken philosophical moods, and was lamenting the fact that he couldn’t spend a day in Hemingway’s shoes. Hemingway is always the guy writers think of as the successful one — the super manly man they all want to be. Why? I don’t understand it. Every time I read Hemingway or something about him, I feel a sense of relief that I never had to live his terrible life or have any sort of interaction with him.

I commented on my friend’s post, and realized that some of the advice I was writing there was to myself. So, lest it get swept away in the ocean that is the comments section on social media, I’m putting it here for posterity.

It’s always nice to think of the “success” of someone like Hemingway, until you realize that he had electro-shock therapy to try to cure his crippling depression, ended up losing all his memories, and then killed himself by putting a gun in his mouth.

Maybe that’s something you have in common — that you have to deal with the way mental illness affects you and your writing (Hemingway’s father committed suicide, as did his brother and his sister). And maybe you even medicate in the same way, with alcohol. So the question is, are you going to let it destroy you the same way it destroyed him?

To be honest, I think your decision to care for your son is better than the legacy of brokenness Hemingway left for his descendents.

And yes, fate is cruel and defies even our most passionate attempts to get out of its entanglements. The greatest power we have against it is to make peace within our own lives.


On Competition

For a long time, a film-making friend of mine had an online bio that read, “In 2 years, I will be an absolute failure.” At that time, he was nearing 30. Many of the filmmakers he admired had been in their 20s when they first met with success. He constantly compared himself to Orson Welles, who made Citizen Kane when he was 25 years old. As you can imagine, this friend was also constantly (and clinically) depressed.

The creative life is difficult to navigate. There are always stories of those striking gold in their youth. And there are also the stories of creatives who died penniless, never seeing their work admired by anyone.

I’ve come to realize 2 things over the last week. First, we need competition. And second, creativity is not a competitive sport.

They sound contradictory, but let me explain.

Last week, my son entered his art into a local fair. He was excited but nervous. We had told him that the art would be judged, and perhaps he might win a ribbon. He only wanted to put in his very best art in that case.

When we went to the fair to see if he had won, we noticed that every single piece of art had a ribbon. They had awarded prizes to all of them. The boy was still excited that he had won a ribbon, but the prize lost value in his eyes because everyone won. What did it matter that he put in his best possible work when others put in scribbles and still won?

I think competition is good. It makes us work harder and strive for excellence. Whatever our craft, that desire to be recognized for quality work is in all of us. In that way, I don’t necessarily think competition is bad.

On the other hand, creativity is not a competitive sport. There are no bench-warmers in the creative world. You’re either making art in some form, or you’re not.

There is no limit to the number of creative people in the world. There’s no one out there saying, “We’re sorry, the quota for creatives is filled. You can’t write that novel/paint that painting/take that photograph/sing that song.” The beginning of all art happens inside. Just because someone out there, with an entirely different background and set of circumstances from you, is successful at one form of creativity, it does not exclude you from expressing yourself also.

Yes, there are highly successful artists out there. Some are household names. Don’t compare yourself to them. Compare yourself to you. Are you getting better at your craft? Are you doing quality work? Are you challenging yourself?

Here’s an idea: Is there an online or local contest you’ve seen lately? Submit your work. If you don’t have a piece ready, get out there and create, so you’ll be prepared for the next one. Let me know what you plan to do, so I can cheer you on!