Category Archives: Writing

Embrace the Box

“A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God” – Ray Bradbury

ArtistHow often have you heard, “We need to think outside the box?”

Seems like a lot of folk use that phrase or something similar (my favorite is, “The solution came from left field.”).

While I believe that every human being is a creative type, everyone thinks differently. My experience is that most linear thinking folk are more apt to use terms like “outside the box”.  There’s nothing wrong with that – it means they are willing to go outside their comfort zone and consider more abstract, perhaps even illogical solutions or ideas.

I’ve always been a non-linear thinker. One of the benefits of having ADD is that my mind tends to race ahead, see the big picture, and identify connections that maybe a linear thinker wouldn’t necessarily see right away. While it is a benefit, it comes with potential problems in communicating with my linear colleagues.

When I was younger I would often become frustrated while I stubbornly tried to make people see the distant, abstract connections, or explain a complex concept. Over time I learned to have patience and empathy: the linear thinking people were just as frustrated with me! And, Heaven forbid, maybe even thought I was a bit looney or weird.

That’s okay with me. I don’t mind being a little weird or abnormal.

Then I discovered a concept that changed everything.

There is no such thing as “out of the box”.

Human beings, no matter how creative, abstract, modern or innovative, are designed to create order. In fact, in his beautiful little book, The Courage to Create,  the noted psychologist, Rollo May, makes a strong case that it is the artist’s job to bring form to chaos.

This made me think deeply about the nature of art, about life, about the universe. The fact is that there is an order to everything – even when it is not readily apparent. In essence, everything has a box. Even if we’re pulling an idea out of the chaotic swirl of cosmic matter, that idea was born from some type of order.

While I may be making a mountain out of a mole hill here, I think it’s an important distinction. Most people are linear. For that reason, knowing that everything intrinsically has a boundary can actually make the creative process easier and less overwhelming.

Our job is to either expand or contract the box.  It is to recognize the current order – and then to change the form. Artists do this all the time. Ask five painters to look at a scene and we’ll typically get five very different interpretations.  Their perceptions help us all to expand the box.

Same thing rings true when five colleagues are sitting around a conference table looking at a problem. We’ll get five (or more) different solutions that expand the box.

I think the key to solving problems is to first embrace the box. See the existing form as a reality. Begin there, and then go to work expanding the box with the realization that only God can exist outside the box.

Be Bold

I was blessed at an early age to have received encouragement from some great teachers in and out of school. My English teachers in high school (Jack McNaughton, Mal Mackey, Ron Schmidt, Linda Spinelli) helped me to cultivate imagination and instilled in me a desire to seek freedom through putting words on paper.

Concurrently, a family friend, Richard King, would read my stuff and compare my work to Rod Serling. Richard was a professional songwriter with some serious chops, so I took him seriously – and was thrilled by the comparison.

I wanted to be the next Stephen King.

So I spent the next ten years writing bad horror. Short stories and a couple of novels. I collected rejection slips and shared complaints with writer friends about how editors worldwide needed to visit their local optometrists because they seriously lacked vision.

Then I began a long journey of writing ad copy, marketing communications, magazine articles, newspaper columns – business writing paid the bills. I also dabbled with different styles. During my late 20’s and 30’s I read a lot of Ernest Effing Hemingway, Jack Kerouac and William Gibson. My writing improved, but still wasn’t where I wanted it. Something was missing.

More years passed and, while in the process of learning about ADD, something clicked. I began writing differently. I went deeper into my soul. I actually thought what I was writing – whatever it was – was beginning to read differently.

I’d found my voice.

The first half of my writing life I spent imitating those writers I read and admired. In the tradition of master-apprentice I copied what they did, applied their techniques and styles, and created imitations of their work. When I finally let them go I discovered that hidden beneath their technique was a clear and persistent voice that belonged only to me.

It wasn’t conscious. It simply was.

The more I wrote, the more pronounced it became. Freedom was at-hand.

There is something bold and liberating about sliding into your authenticity as a writer or whatever kind of Creative Type you may be.  Just let it go and the flow will find you.

Let it go and Be Bold. No matter what, your authentic voice is what’s important. Look for it. Care for it. Give it free reign. There is nothing more satisfying.

I owe a great debt of gratitude to my teachers for giving me such freedom at an early age. They helped me to stretch and explore, and then guided me in helping me give my chaos form. That’s the essence of the creative process.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my teachers these past few weeks. Just want to give credit to Jack, Mal, Ron and Linda. They helped me set sail on a lifelong quest to give expression to my soul, and not be fearful of spilling blood on the page.

Makers Make (and then revise)

When people ask me what I do, and then I tell them I’m a writer, it draws an interesting response from many.

“Wow…I’ve always wanted to write!”

Of course, my response is typically, “That’s terrific. Why don’t you write?”

“I don’t have time…I’m not that good…I don’t know what to write about…” You get the picture.

Well, writer’s write. That’s what makes someone a writer. They sit before a blank screen, fingers poised above the keyboard, and then fill the page.

Once the page is filled the job is just beginning. Writer’s write, and then re-write.

A good friend who writes sci-fi books told me once, “My first draft is always crap. The re-write is the attempt to clean up the crap.”

It’s true. We aren’t perfect. There was only one Mozart (who could hear and see the symphony in his mind and write the music from brain to hand, perfectly). Us mortals – and especially those of us blessed with ADD – must absolutely entertain one or more re-writes.

I actually enjoy the re-write process. The work takes shape. It’s like a master blacksmith who pounds with his heavy hammer, refining and shaping, refining and shaping, until he has his finished piece. It’s a process.

So…MAKE. And then revise. It’s the process and path every craftsman must take.

When the Blaze is Blasé

Sometimes there’s rain. Lots of rain…words pouring onto the page. The fountain never runs dry, it seems. Maybe it’s hyper-focus. Maybe it’s the elusive state of flow. Either way, I live for those times.

And then there is drought. The keyboard is a desert. There’s no water on the screen. Sometimes for days.

E.L. Doctorow said that a writer shouldn’t be too comfortable. Noise in the street is a good thing. So is a broken down computer. He says there needs to be a struggle – it’s a good thing.

Of course, as someone with ADD, if I hear an interesting noise in the street, I might get up and take a look. When I look out the window I might see something else, maybe an odd looking person walking down the sidewalk. I might daydream about that person’s life, wondering where they are going in the middle of the day, which may lead to other daydreams about where I wish I could be at that moment. Maybe a ball game (are the Giants in town?), or maybe sitting next to a creek in the mountains reading a good book. Which then leads me to my book shelf. Kerouac or King?

And then, as I browse my library, I remember…I’m supposed to be writing. Something. Anything.

I used to beat myself up for rabbit-trailing. Now I just laugh. And pray for rain.