Monday, September 21, 2009


Photo credit: The Tiny Dynamo!
The bulbs are blooming. Buddy's better.

And the novel moves along, slow and steady.

The New and Improved, Steampunk Wordcount-O-Meter stands at 22,000 words. I've made my peace with my pace.

Though not with my tendency to alliteration...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Failing Well

One great secret to success in life: Failure.

More specifically, the ability to fail well. To shrug off your failure and come back just as hard as the first time. It's what makes champion sportsmen, successful inventors and industrialists and every career artist/writer/actor/dancer/musician/creative type you'll ever meet.

Thing is, that's harder than it sounds. Failure is hard on the ego, and failing at something you really, deeply care about can be devastating.

Or not. Thomas Edison failed something like 3000 times before he got a light bulb to work. Walt Disney was turned down by over 100 banks before he was able to finance his first amusement park. Actors get turned down at one heck of a lot of auditions for every part they get, and there isn't a writer alive, no matter how bestselling, without a fair-sized stack of rejection letters behind them.

Failure is how we succeed, *if* we don't let it get the best of us. And how do we do that? How do we take those rejections, those hard knocks, and come right back swinging?

The key is how we explain our failures to ourselves.

The ones who stay down when they fall, or need MUCH more time to get back up, are those who see their failures as Pervasive, Powerful and Permanent. For example, Joe Writer gets a rejection letter. He thinks, "I suck at everything (Pervasive), this letter proves it (Powerful). I'll *never* be any good as a writer (Permanent)." It takes him a week to work up the nerve to send the next submission, if he doesn't just stick his manuscript in a drawer and give up. After all, he's no good, right?

Those who bounce back do it first in their heads. The better they see their failures as Isolated, Weak and Temporary, the better they do on their next performance. Jane Scribbler gets her rejection letter too, but she is able to think, "It's only one letter (Isolated), and just one market (Weak). Somebody's bound to say 'yes'."

I know, this perspective is easier to say than to do, especially when your latest setback has you feeling like you've been kicked in the guts. But, if you want to succeed, learning to fail well is vital.


One side point: Denial, Distortion and Projection are also effective ways to deal with failure. Effective, but not exactly healthy. Refusing to allow that failure into your mental landscape (Denial), reshaping reality to meet our mental needs (Distortion) and pushing the causes of our failures outside ourselves (Projection-- often persecutory in nature), these are elemental ways our ego protects itself from damaging information.

Thing is, what protects our ego often blights our character. Blocking failure robs us of the opportunity to correct the causes of our failure and eventually succeed. Nothing good can come of this...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Losing It

Charles posted on writers who destroyed themselves when they felt their best work was behind them. The examples he used were vivid: Hemingway, Howard and London, two suicides and one who drank himself to death.

Truth is, Charles barely skimmed the surface, but he did make his point. Writers struggle with the idea that they've 'lost it'.

Reading his post, it occured to me that I might have a useful perspective on this. You see, I've lost it a few times in life. Sometimes lost and found it again. Others, just, well... lost.

Comics: I haven't drawn a comic in some years now. My last original work was two parts of a trilogy that still sits unfinished. I never meant to stop, it just sort of worked out that way. The stories that have come since then have been novels, or sometimes paintings, but no comics.

Painting: While I'm on the subject, I was a keen painter in my twenties (back when paint was a newfangled invention) but I somehow managed to go the best part of a decade without picking up a brush. Those rare occasions I did try to paint, the work simply wasn't up to scratch. I made up my mind that those particular guns had been hung up.

Then one day a couple-odd Christmases ago, paintings were requested as gifts. I dutifully strapped on my brushes and made a big old mess out of some canvases. The work lacked my old magic (whatever that was), but it was too late: I was once again in love.

I got back to painting. The magic wasn't there, but the love was back. Then Frank Frazetta's Painting With Fire gave me permission to paint like my new self, if that makes any sense. New magic came. Last year I did my best to date. This year, well... it remains to be seen.

Tattooing: I've also certainly had fallow periods in my tattooing. Times when the work I turned out was... uninspired. When I'd look at the next tattoo and think I just couldn't be bothered.

Couple of those times I took a sabbatical, lived off my savings, took in illustration work, whatever. The most recent one, I couldn't afford to quit. So I just kept on keeping on. One day, I found inspiration again, this time in the work of Guy Aitchison, Kat Von D and Nikko Hurtado. I remembered why I picked up the needles in the first place. My focus shifted. The magic returned.

Personally, I think plateaus are natural. Exercising and learning, the curve tends to be periods of sharp, upward development and long, flat stretches where what really counts is the will to continue. No reason to think that things should be any different for creative skills.

Who says we have to be fresh, always doing our best?

And who says we can't?

Any writer who worries that they've 'lost it' should look to Johnny Cash for inspiration. Johnny came out of the gate with a bang: the first few years of his career, he wrote Walk the Line, Cry Cry Cry, Folsom Prison Blues and most of his classics. It was an unbelievable streak of creative brilliance.

Thirty-odd years later, he was still playing those same songs. He'd had a few bright spots creativity-wise (as opposed to commercially), but by the late 80's he was well and truly in the has-been category.

He was sure his best days were behind him. He even thought he'd quit recording, spend his time doing live concerts performing the music from his glory days.

Enter Rick Rubin, and a different vision. Johnny stripped down to the absolute essentials: his guitar and his voice. American Recordings may or may not be the best work he ever did, but it sure as hell showed the world his best days were far from over.

Maybe for Johnny (as for me), it was permission to be himself. To be that old guy with all the hard miles on him, not trying to fit who he used to be or who the other singers around him were. I know for me, those times I 'found it' again were also times I realized I had to be me, not a knock-off, even of my own earlier self.

Maybe if Hemingway hadn't spent so much time trying to reiterate Fiesta and For Whom the Bell Tolls, he would have had more, and better, work than The Old Man and the Sea. And maybe he wouldn't have been so damned depressed that he got the electroshock that made him suicidal.

And yeah, the Steampunk Word-O-Meter stands at 12,800 words. I think it's the weekend (my busy time at work) that's the culprit, not the scenes themselves...