Mastery is Well-Informed Improvisation
A cleareyed Malcolm Gladwell discusses the American penchant for reducing all activity to a moral lesson that can be imparted through the powerful cocktail of stage presence and rear-screen projection. Drawing a line from Benjamin Franklin to the homilies printed on Celestial Seasonings tea boxes, Mr. Gladwell says that even knotty concepts from fields like quantum physics and philology can be made attractive to large groups of people if the concepts are rendered as anecdotes involving a cabdriver, a small child or an obscure Flemish botanist. “Start with a personal anecdote,” Mr. Gladwell suggests, “and then extrapolate to the 18th-century cocoa trade in Malta.”
It is so hard to change behavior and to face oneself honestly. This author has my total admiration. I used to work with a woman who had a brain injury and dealt with it by reciting to herself the very true mantra “everyone has SOME deficit,” which is very true. And this author has made me twist that to “everyone has SOME addiction.”
Plato could have warned me. In “The Republic,” he advises “temperance” in physical training, likening it to learning music and poetry. Keep it “simple and flexible,” as in all things, don’t overdo. Follow this course, and you will remain “independent of medicine in all but extreme cases.”
Hospital managers at Gloucestershire NHS Trust (in 2001) and the catering staff at Flintshire County Council (in 2009) renamed the pudding Spotted Richard on menus because of the use of the word dick in the original name, a common dysphemism for male genitalia in the English language. Gloucestershire NHS Trust restored the original name in 2002. Flintshire County Council reversed their renaming after a few weeks.
Doris Betts cut to the chase. To those of us engaged in writing the Great American Novel, she would say, “That’s lovely. Now how will you go about earning a living?”
n an excerpted interview published in The News & Observer in 1994, Betts talked about her book and explained that it was an exploration of how God can allow the innocent to suffer.
“I always am interested in whether or not you can deal with what I think of as the big questions at the level of ordinary working people. It seems to me that that’s essential in fiction in America,” she said. “If you really want to ask the questions that Job asked, why shouldn’t you ask them of a highway patrolman, a beautician, a shoe salesman at Belk’s …?”
“There is difficulty involved in going from the basic sentence that’s headed in the right direction to making a fine sentence. But it’s a joyous task. It’s hard, but it’s joyous. Being raised rural, I think work is its own satisfaction. It’s not seen as onerous, or a dreadful fate. It’s like building a mill or a bridge or sewing a fine garment or chopping wood—there’s a pleasure in constructing something that really works.”
Any writer who has difficulty in writing is probably not onto his true subject, but wasting time with false, petty goals; as soon as you connect with your true subject you will write.
JOYCE CAROL OATES
Whether a story is told on the page or on the screen, the same elements are required. You’ve got to have characters you can identify with, and there’d better be trouble brewing somewhere. Whatever these people’s lives have been before, they’re about to change in a big way. That’s what stories are all about.
In the overworld, the elements are: Talk to people, wander around, try new things, listen, and *gradually* gain focus on what to do next.
You don’t really need to worry about concentrating per se. As long as you put in the time, you can be as mentally distracted as you *want.* The concentration will eventually just “kick in” after a few days of doing it. I am very distractible by nature, so I know what I am talking about.
Of course, there are ways of removing distractions, like turning off your phone or email while you are working. You can deliberately avoid multi-tasking if that is helpful. What I am saying is that you don’t have to worry about the concentration per se. Regularity of working habits is the main remedy, not some internal concentration mojo that must be cultivated on its own terms. In this way concentration is similar to inspiration: neither has to exist before the work happens.
The most useful advice on writing I’ve ever received comes from Gil Rogin, who told me that he always uses his best thing in his lead, and his second best thing in his last paragraph; and from Dwight Macdonald, who wrote that the best advice he ever received was to put everything on the same subject in the same place. To these dictums I would add the advice to ask yourself repeatedly: what is this about?
You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but essentially you’re on your own. Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.
About a third of the self-help books that cross my desk could be distilled to two things: first, if you can tolerate a little discomfort, you can achieve almost any goal; and second, it’s amazing the lengths we’ll go to to avoid discomfort. (via This column will change your life: the two things | Life and style | The Guardian)
A variety of old sketchbook drawings ~ including some of “Mr. Murmur,” the character from my Dark Horse comic book one-shot Thirteen O’Clock (which was an affectionate homage to 1930s-era pulps & serials; it was later reprinted in the book Maniac Killer Strikes Again!).
In July 2010, I’d made the big decision to leave the PhD program. I was back working part-time at my old job, turning over the strange things I’d experienced. And feeling a bit adrift. The PhD promised a roadmap of sorts, after all, and I’d just balled up that map and thrown it out the window. As i wondered what my next step would be, Christine Kane offered her Uplevel Your Life seminar (affiliate link). I can’t remember how I ran across her web site, but I had added her to my short list of RSS feeds and then signed up for her newsletter. I liked her story – she’d made herself into a singer/songwriter, then entrepreneur, then coach – and her blog posts struck me as sensible and sane bits of self-management advice.
I signed up for the course, enjoyed it, and still use some of her materials today. Christine is now launching an updated version of that seminar and as one of her alums, I'm happy to write about what I got out of her program and offer links to her new program.
Here are some of the things I remember about Christine’s course:
I enjoyed Christine’s program and I do recommend it for anyone who has questions about themselves and their lives and doesn’t know what to do first, wants to sort things out in a self-study format, at their own speed, and wants a sensible plan with an excellent guide. You’ll definitely finish the program with certain ideas and phrases floating in your mind that I guarantee you’ll access when you least expect them and most need them. Again, examine the Uplevel Your Life seminar material for yourself, if you’re interested.
I have continued to follow Christine’s rise and rise, and here a few things I’ve noticed. I don’t think these observations should stop anyone from signing up for her workshop. This is me reading between the lines:
I think only a few rare people can improve themselves all on their own. I, for one, am someone who benefits from the coaching model: someone who will give me assignments, hold me accountable, and kick my ass when it needs kicking. Even in this self-directed, self-paced format, I think Christine Kane proves herself to be an excellent coach, and I find myself coming back to her materials often.
Click the banner below for more information on Christine's program. Full disclosure: these are affiliate links so if you sign up for Christine's program via the links on this page, then Christine's business sends a few bucks my way as a thank-you.