Grinding Away in a Creative Life

It’s sunny outside.

It’s the kind of morning of which I like to dream. Not cold, but not quite warm. No clouds. No wind. I can hear the birds and smell the honeysuckle. It’s perfect.

It’s enough to make me want to freeze time and wander the morning for a few thousand years.

I should be working, but I’m not. I’ve just finished publishing another pair of books, and I find myself slogging through a short story about which I’m only somewhat passionate.

Sometimes, when I hit a lull like this, I pick up my paintbrush and spread out a few shadows. Maybe a colorful tree. A mournful maiden. Or maybe something terrifying.

Not today. I’m not in the mood.

I really just want to hang with the cat.

This is where I’m at:

Eaters of the Light, my sci-fi/romance/thriller series? It’s published.

My goal of finishing thirty canvas paintings at this point in the year? Exceeded.

The latest entry in my ridiculous ‘Reasons to Break Up’ trilogy? Slapped together and shipped.

It’s been a good year so far. But I want more.

Some people talk about creative exhaustion. About writer’s block. About procrastination, lack of direction, and boredom.

Nah. Forget all that.

I’ve got 99 problems, but none of ’em are those.

My cardinal sin? Setting reachable goals.

Yeah. Oops.

It’s like this. Some mountains in life are meant to be climbed. You say you want to save $1000 bucks for a vacation? Boom, you did it; now get in the car and head to the beach. Land a big promotion at work? Achieved. Need to step outside and mow your lawn? Nice, you’re finished…hopefully with a cool glass of bourbon awaiting you inside.

But artistic goals – are those really meant to be conquered? Of this, I’m not so sure. Is there ever a point at which an author sits down and says, ‘You know…I think I’m done. No more books. I’m just gonna drift away into the sunset .’ Do painters, sculptors, and photographers one day just set down their tools and declare their life’s work complete? I mean…maybe. Maybe some people can do it. Maybe the best of the best reach a point of contentedness, and afterward float away in the clouds with a satisfied smile on their faces.

Maybe.

But somehow I doubt it.

My son – the G Man. He’s not impressed.

Last night, for the first time in forever, I didn’t create. My brushes sat in a Mason jar full of water, soaking up nothing. My new short story ‘Nadya the Deathless’ laid untouched on my century-old laptop. I didn’t draw. I didn’t write. I didn’t wander outside beneath the perfect stars to dream up a new and exhilarating story.

I just sat there in the gloom of my basement. With a bowl of Progresso soup. Vaguely watching a movie. Not really thinking, moving, or existing.

For a while, maybe an hour, I floated in the stillness. Near the end, a scary idea crept over me. I thought perhaps I’d made a grave error in setting goals that were too easy to achieve. ‘Aim low, and you’ll hit your target,’ I realized. ‘Shoot for the moon, and though you’ll never make it, you’ll get to die trying.’

I opened my eyes. The back door was open, and the moths fluttering inside to get at the room’s only lamp. My cats dozed beside me, savoring my rare moment of inactivity.

It was then I knew my low-goal setting hadn’t been some tragic thing.

I can make a new goal, I realized. Something lofty. Something impossible to reach.

Something I’ll be proud to die trying to do.

So let’s talk goals.

Absurd goals.

Quest to drop the One Ring into Mount Doom kind of goals.

Right now I’ve got thirty-two published books. My new goal – one-hundred.

Right now my painting store is stocked with one-hundred nine original canvas paintings. New goal – three-hundred.

Season one of Hollow Empire is finished. New goal – finish three full seasons.

This giant fantasy trilogy, the one I published five years ago, has begun to gather dust. New goal – sell one-thousand new copies…and write a sequel.

And my most ambitious goal, the one that’ll allow me to sniff retirement, is to sell one-million copies of this little tome. (Right now I’m only at thirteen-thousand copies sold.)

Challenges, challenges…

Insurmountable.

Unlikely.

Delusional.

This should be fun.

It’s still sunny outside, although maybe a bit warmer now. And there’s just a few things more I want to share before I wander outside.

My art partner, Tahina Morrison, with whom I’ve created nearly one-hundred sculpted paintings, is leaving town. It was inevitable, this change. It’s humanity’s natural ebb and flow.  As I sit in my little chair and think about the challenges that will arise in her absence, I can’t help but smile.

We did good work together, she and I.

We had a blast.

 

Furiosa

Twilight Shaman

 

Horned Queen

*

These are just a few of my favorite collaborative pieces. In Tahina’s absence, I realize my painting goals will be even more difficult to achieve.

So be it. Challenge accepted.

Now then…

I think it’s probably time.

Time to open the door and step out into the sunlight.

Time to stop talking about goals and start realizing them.

Time to feed my cats.

Thanks to all my readers for sticking with me. Thanks to all the art collectors who’ve invested in me, and who happily stick my canvasses on their walls. And special thanks to Tahina and the G Man, without whom the last two years would’ve been infinitely less rewarding.

Goodbye for now.

I’ll be back.

 * * *

Readers will want to check out this book here. Trust me…you’ll be happy you did.

And dark art lovers might appreciate this piece, which I created based on an actual skull sitting in my living room.

J Edward Neill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Have Permission To Fail

Something I’m always amazed by is both how little and how much people pay attention to the worlds that their stories take place in. That both makes sense and totally makes no sense.

What do I mean by that?

You can tell when an author is more in love with her world than with the actual characters propagating it. When they’ve clearly spent hours and hours on the connections of the history of the world rather than getting to the story they want to tell.

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In fact, it is the type of thing that can completely paralyze a potential author. Especially if you are a plotter and outline things. In order to have that road map, you might convince yourself the only way to truly understand where things could possibly go is by chasing that rabbit hole all the way back in the timeline. Instead of knowing only your lead characters, you need to know who their parents are and by extension who their grandparents were.

And it doesn’t only happen in the fantasy or science fiction stories, but can be just as much of a problem in stories set during modern times.

The thing is, you need to know a little of this stuff entering into a story, but when you try to do all the extra, one of two things are happening:

You’re procrastinating on doing the actual writing. It’s not that you need to figure out the line of succession for the President of Earth in your world (heck, you might need that information), but by focusing on that type of… stuff, you ensure no progress will be made on the story. Instead of letting people know how far along in the process, you tell them, “I’m still doing research.”

procrastination

Or, perhaps, it is that you actually do need to have the information, but you don’t know how you are going to apply it to the story you want to tell.

The secret is, the best way to build might not be from having the constellations figured out or trying to figure out what the President had for breakfast two weeks ago.

I like to think of myself as an outliner. I love the idea of calling myself an outliner at least. But what it really means is that I have a very general idea of what the book/comic/story is all about and start jotting something down in order to begin to massage it into something worth bothering with. And slowly, over the course of months sometimes, the thing begins to become… something.

The question I always have to remind myself of is whether or not I’m delaying because of true and honest reasons or because I’d rather be screwing around than doing the hard part (you know, typing the pretty words into the computer). Am I such a slave to having everything in its correct sequence and if that doesn’t happen there is just no point?

No, what you need to do is bring a little Pantsing into your life. You’re too rigid, not willing to see where it all goes. So, start small. Figure out one little thing about the town where your main character is from. Or a couple of the people she is going to interact with.

And then go and write about it.

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Remember, it’s fine. And even though you are putting words up on the screen (or in your notebook) that may not always make sense, it’s my opinion that you are allowing your brain to almost subconsciously tell you what you really want to write about.

Every writer has had that moment where certain pieces of a story somehow start to tie together in a way that you never had planned out from the beginning. A thread appears, then another, and then another until you see how it could all fit together. So you go back and add a paragraph four chapters earlier to help grow the thread… until it gets to the point where a potential reader would never even know the difference of what started in the manuscript and what was added latter.

That’s a little of the “magic” of writing.

But behind that is the need to allow yourself to possibly write absolute dreck. Because sometimes who the town’s mayor is actually very important. And sometimes what he had for breakfast could make or break your story.

However, even with all those things being true… these words on the screen can be changed and tweaked and deleted and added and refined until you are happy with them. Write a hundred words you hate. Hit the backspace key and watch your problems disappear.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.