The Shot Before the Flight

2926670-duckhuntRecently, I made the mistake recently of exposing some of my very early-stage ideas to the ruthless scrutiny of outsiders.

This rarely goes well, and I know better than to do this under normal circumstances. Young ideas need to be coddled and protected, like vulnerable children. You need to keep them close until they are strong enough to withstand exposure to outside criticism.

That’s the usual law I abide by. But in the case of this particular idea, I wanted to be accepted into a program which was designed to develop early stage ideas, so I went for it, despite my better judgment.

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise then when this idea was brutally rebuked by the judges. The judges didn’t seem to understand or like the idea. And their feedback was cryptic and frustrating. It basically amounted to: they didn’t like your movie. It sucks.

Is this because my idea is, in fact, terrible? Or is it because it’s unusual and new, that it bears no comparison? And…does it matter, either way?

I had to sit on this criticism for a while today. I take criticism of my work very seriously. I’m not the type to disregard people’s opinions off-hand. Yet, if I were to follow the line of this criticism, there’s a good chance I would start second-guessing all my choices at this very early stage of development. There’s a good chance I would lose faith completely in the project and give up.

How much weight should we really assign to such feedback in early stages?

It took me an afternoon of reflection, but I think I’ve come the conclusion that I haven’t gone far enough down the rabbit hole yet to put weight into it. Let people tell me they hate it when I’m done the first draft. Don’t tell me now, before it’s even been translated to the page!

So, people don’t get my concept. This has happened plenty of times before in the past when I’ve shared early-stage ideas, that’s nothing new. And even if it ends up that I waste a few months pursuing something that turns out to be ill-advised and stupid- is that really a waste of time?

Past experience reminds me that no writing pursuit is a waste of time- even if your idea doesn’t appear to go anywhere initially: Dead projects give way to better ideas. Failed ideas morph into successful ones. If you’re passionate about something, you need to let it percolate in your mind a while, and give it the opportunity to develop into something better.

There are safeguards in place to protect fawn from being hunted too early in their life-cycle. Likewise, we need to create similar safeguards to prevent our work being torn down before it has legs to stand on. I can’t allow my babies to be shot out of the sky before they’ve even had a chance to spread their wings.

Following this event, I found myself revisiting this amazing old blog post I had clipped by Steven Pressfield. If you haven’t yet read any of his incredible works (like War of Art), I highly recommend running not walking to pick them up…

“There’s an axiom among artists and entrepreneurs: to succeed, you have to be arrogant or ignorant or both. What that means is you have to blow off every response that says it’ll-never-work. Be arrogant. The nay-sayers are idiots. Or ignorant. Stay stupid and plunge ahead…..Almost no one recognizes a good idea at the idea stage. And the more bold the idea, the more people will be blind to it. That’s human nature. It’s the way the world works. If you’re seeking reinforcement from outside yourself, you’re in for a long, lonely haul. The answer to self-doubt is self-reinforcement.”

With that, I’m forging ahead with confidence. It’s too early to be listening to the cynics.

Digital Minimalism

I’ve been reading a fantastic book lately called Deep Work by Cal Newport. While I was already familiar with a lot of the concepts- such as blocking out long uninterrupted time frames to devoted to a single tasks (to create flow), and minimizing distraction- the book formalizes a lot of these processes into concrete methodologies which are scientifically proven to be effective in creating better output and happiness.

I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in increasing their output and doing what he terms “knowledge work” (like writing or research).

Now comes time to implement this in my life.

I’ve downloaded an app called “Focus” for my computer, and have made a habit of now turning off my phone while timing and logging these deep work sessions, which can last anywhere from 1-4 hours.

So far it’s going pretty well. I’ve gotten quite a lot done in the last two days since formalizing this practice. I don’t think I was particularly bad at focusing before, but it does take some concentration to be able to resist the urge not to break off into more “fun” respites, like facebook, while the timer is on. I’m looking forward to seeing the results as I continue on.

Next, I’m quietly disengaging from a lot of my social media life.

This is a tricky one- as sharing my work online has become extremely valuable to me in terms of personal fulfillment and branding.

I plan to continue doing this by pre-scheduling posts in this blog the night before, then limiting my email/social media checks to twice a day- one morning and one night. I’m hoping by reducing these interruptions throughout the day I can accomplish more writing and also invest more in my real-world relationships and passion projects instead.

Check out this very interesting article on the concept of digital minimalism by the author on his blog (Take the concept of minimalism one step further into the digital realm and there you have it. It sounds like what it means.). It’s a very interesting conversation- it may be something you are interested in implementing in your own life.

unplug replug- then do it again

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Our job as artists has two phases:
-unplugging for creation
-then plugging back in for sharing

We must constantly oscillate between the two actions to keep our ship afloat.

For some, the process of unplugging is painful; extroverts hate to be pulled away from their stimuli- their friends, their adventures. Sitting down and writing a script can be very painful and lonely for an extroverted artist.

For introverts, plugging into the network and sharing their work is painful. It’s tough to put yourself out there. Introverts fear people may not want to see their work, or may not appreciate it.

But, of course, without sharing, our work is created in a void for us and only us. We never get real world input on our ideas. We never get to see how our work impacts others. And worst of all, we don’t stand a chance of making money from our work, as people can’t pay for something you never get to see.

Likewise, without the deep concentration and intense focus that comes from unplugging, artists are unlikely to ever achieve the quality or volume of work that is necessary to stand out in the marketplace.

Both steps of this process can be as difficult or as easy as we want to make it. But the fact of the matter remains: both “plugging in” and “unplugging” are necessary evils.

It’s important for us artists to stop begrudging either step of this two-fold process- it has always been this way and will always be this way. Even very famous artists, who have publicists and agents representing them, must engage with the public at some point- they must put a face to the work and speak to the press.

Likewise, even the most media-savvy, digitally-connected artists need time away from the noise to think about their next book/film/work.

Plug-in, unplug, plug-in again.

We need start embracing these as two sides of the same coin. And we need to be nimble enough to move back and forth between the two, remaining lucid enough to know when we have spent too much time in one phase and we need to move to the next.

I’m unplugging right now if you haven’t guessed it. But I look forward to connecting with you…later.

Play the Hand Smart

play-pig-card-game-step-17-version-2We don’t get to pick the circumstances we were born into
the hardships that befall us
or the luck we are handed
life is riddled with happenstance fortune and accidental tragedy
the degree, volume, and timing of these circumstances are among the biggest variables of human experience
no two people’s circumstances are alike
we can no more begrudge someone born into great privilege playing every advantage handed them
then we can a poor person playing every card they can to get by
we all need to play our hand
to the best of our ability

like a game of cards, we don’t get to control what’s in the deck
we only get to play the cards we’re dealt
some of us are better strategists than others
some of us will have that strategy rewarded when we are met with the fortune of a good hand
some of us have no strategy, just a damn good hand
and some of us have loads of strategy, but our cards just never come up.

The first example is the one we need to focus on, and put our attention to.
Suppose we are dealt a good hand, but we are too foolhardy to recognize it’s potential and then don’t play it right?
That is a scary concept.

It’s a fact of life, there is a huge degree of chance involved.
Taking full acknowledgment of this fact,
we can relinquish our focus on these unpredictable variables and turn our focus to the things we can control
there really is no productive alternative but to do this.

we must stop pouring energy into terrible circumstances have befallen us
or the idea that we were never given a chance
or that so many others had so more advantages from the start
these are wasteful thoughts that only impede our focus on the new cards hitting the table
let’s focus instead on having the best control of the variables within our power
so that when our luck comes up, we can play the hand smart.

Face the Pain, Use the Pain

we artists have a great opportunity:
instead of running away from our pain
we can run with it
instead of drowning our sorrows in alcohol
we can channel our sorrows into our​ work
and instead of releasing our problems to a therapist
we can release our problems through our art
we can take the ugliness of the world and turn it into something beautiful

so while everyone around us is doing everything in their power to escape the pain
we are pouring our pain into a new creation,
using it as fuel.

it is a tremendous gift
we make lemonade from the lemons every damn day.

thus, we have no need to run away from anything in our lives
there is no waste
it is all useful to us

our work and life in tandem,
the pain and beauty as one.

The Later List for Manic Minds

I’m a hyperactive learner. I want to know everything I need to know, and I want to know it now, all at once.

This is an impossible desire. And it causes me stress.

It’s crushing to me when I consider how few books I will be able to read and how few skills I will have time to master within the limited capacity of my time on earth.

Especially considering the ever-growing research which posits the importance of focusing on a single task at a time. I now realize how important it is to invest my mind into the kind of deep work called for in my profession.

In my mind, there are so many urgent things which need to be addressed and learned, it makes it difficult to calm my mind into focusing on the task at hand.

Lately, the strategy of THE LATER LIST is helping me control this impulse.

When something pops into my mind- something that urgently needs to be addressed, a skill that I want to learn or a course or book I need to devote time to- I add it to the “later list.” Then I pencil in an approximate time-frame in the future where I may be free to address this concern with more focus.

This way, I can release the fear that these desires won’t be attended to. And I can feel confident that it is accounted for with adequate time allotted to its focus. That time just isn’t now, because now the task must be the ONE THING I’ve already decided on.

The Later List is helping to control my hyperactive mind and helping me focus.

Right NOW it’s all about the writing.

But here’s what’s coming up later:
-focus on a networking strategy and creating better systems for cataloging my industry contacts
-learn how to operate new Steadicam device my sister got for Christmas + employ this in a paid project
-focus on improving my knowledge of current technologies and trends as they relate to film and directing
-focus on improving my knowledge of investing
-focus on getting more commercials
-focus on landing tv directing gigs
-get involved in non-profit work
-adding options to automatically purchase prints of my photos on my website
-review Evernote notes from past few years
-review screenwriting/filmmaking saved materials on my computer- scripts, docs etc.. that are worth referencing back to.
-taking a freelancer course by Seth Godin