How to Start a Side Project… And Keep Going

Starting a side project, whether it’s for personal development, creativity, or business, is one of the most rewarding ways to spend your free time. Free time, a funny concept. In a day there’s not much of it, but added up over the course of a year and there is a lot you can do. In a day, you won’t notice much, but in a year, you can look back and see spectacular progress. In a year… that is if you start now. 

Many think starting is the hardest part, I disagree. Starting is exciting! Starting is full of hope. Starting is fun. Starting is the second hardest part. The first hardest part is continuing after things get tough. A month in and you may tire of staying up an extra hour or waking up early to make the most of your free time. Free time isn’t free after all, it comes with a price, and paying that regularly will make quitting something you constantly debate. Winning that debate; that’s the hardest part. 

In the past year, I embraced the side project. In doing so, I’ve learned a few things, some hard skills like narrating an audiobook or drawing in Photoshop, but also some soft skills, such as time management and burnout prevention. These soft skills have enabled me to find time and stay motivated, making my side project a key part of my life, a habit ingrained into my very being. 

If you’re thinking of starting a side project, here are a few tips in developing a process so when the excitement fades, and the going gets tough, it’ll catch you and keep you moving forward. 

Develop a Schedule: 

From March 28 to November 14, 2020, I published 34 videos documenting myself Typing The Great Gatsby. 

Before I started the project, I knew the possibility of me giving up was very high. For the first few episodes, I was looking forward to typing and recording my process, but after the fifth episode (with many more to go), I couldn’t wait for it to be over. 

In order to avoid collapsing and giving up on the project, I decided to publish weekly, every Saturday. The weekly schedule made it sacred. I’m not a religious person, but this was as close as I got to attending church. I had to show up once a week. 

By having a weekly schedule, I could plan for the future. Once you plan for the future, you can anticipate how your week is going to go and ask yourself, “When am I going to do it?” The time for me was often after work on Friday. 

Starting a side project is all about how you manage your time. And one of the easiest ways to manage time is to set a schedule. Whether it’s a daily or a weekly mark, make sure you have one. This can be as simple as something you can track in your calendar. Over the course of many months, you can scroll back and see every time you showed up. 

Little by Little: 

When I was recording the narration of The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, I did a little bit every night to avoid burnout. 

Starting a side project can be exciting and you might get obsessed. However, if you don’t pace yourself, you could end up draining all your energy and interest. If your side project is going to be worth anything, odds are, it’ll take more than a few days to complete. Therefore, doing little by little, bit by bit, day by day, you can get the project to the finish line. 

Spreading your project out over the course of time also allows you to develop a relationship with it. It becomes a phase you go through, a season you can reflect on. 

When I was working on The Metamorphosis, I knew I could find a day, hunker down and record the whole book. If I did that, I would only have one recording session, and that would only be one chance to learn, try, and do. 

Instead, I chose to record a couple of paragraphs each day, and edit them in batches. Each recording session was a whole new experience, with its own challenges, and by overcoming new challenges each time, I learned more. The more times I did it, the more I learned. This experience was the real metamorphosis.

Use a List:

With scheduling milestones and doing a little consistently, working on side projects became a part of my everyday life. Once something becomes a part of your everyday life, you’ll find that you may not have the same amount of free time every day. There are some days where you just need to do — less thinking, less brainstorming — just do. My advice when anticipating busy or tiring days is to have a list prepared. Work off of a list, so that you know what you need to get done today, tomorrow, and maybe even a week from now. 

Earlier this year, I wanted to improve my digital illustration. This was an extracurricular activity that I might not have ample time for every day, yet, it was something I wanted to do daily. Drawing Pokemon allowed me to follow a list, which enabled me to practice without having to be inspired. I didn’t need a muse, I only needed to know which Pokemon was next on the list to draw. 

Pokemon is an easy choice because all those critters are numbered. If you aren’t pursuing anything that involves Pokemon, you’ll have to develop a long list of your own and work your way through it. Little by little. Once the list is done, evaluate your experience. Ask yourself: is this something you want to keep doing? If the answer is yes, make a bigger list. If the answer is no, you finished it, you can hold your head up high and pursue another side project. That’s the beautiful thing about a list, eventually, if you’re disciplined with your scheduling and your little by little, you’ll get to the end. 

In life, we only have so much time, and we shouldn’t waste it dreaming. If there is a project you want to tackle, don’t wait. There won’t be a perfect time. You’ll have to squeeze it into your real life, your main project. 

As I mentioned, consistency is the key — not getting started — however, in order to remain consistent when things get hard, how you start and how you prepare will make all the difference. So remember, make a schedule, pace yourself, and follow your list. Before you know it, time will pass and your side project will be done. 

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20 Great Quotes on Writing From Aldous Huxley & George Orwell

We are currently living in a dystopian reality, where it seems that fact is stranger than fiction. It’s gotten so weird that many writers have thrown up their arms in defeat, saying, why bother?  

In these strange moments, there are two writers we can turn to for inspiration as we attempt to navigate through these rocky days. 

Aldous Huxley, the author of Brave New World (Amazon), and George Orwell, the author of 1984 (Amazon), lived through their own troubling times. And in their experiences, they’ve created works that eerily predicted scenarios that we are living through today. While one saw a future where we are consumed by pleasure, the other saw a world imposed by fear. 

Yet, we are somewhere in between now, rolling from one end — our addictions to the other end our phobias. Writing allows us to recognize these temptations — these traumas — and how we respond to them. While we might not be able to write something that will honestly capture the moment or even rival it in uniqueness, we can write to understand our own perception of these crazy times. 

Today, we are going to look at 10 quotes each from these iconic authors and find insights into their creative process.

Aldous Huxley:

  1. Writers write to influence their readers, their preachers, their auditors, but always, at bottom, to be more themselves.
  1. Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.
  1. To write fiction, one needs a whole series of inspirations about people in an actual environment, and then a whole lot of work on the basis of those inspirations.
  1. A bad book is as much of a labor to write as a good one, it comes as sincerely from the author’s soul.
  1. I met, not long ago, a young man who aspired to become a novelist. Knowing that I was in the profession, he asked me to tell him how he should set to work to realize his ambition. I did my best to explain. ‘The first thing,’ I said, ‘is to buy quite a lot of paper, a bottle of ink, and a pen. After that you merely have to write.’
  1. I believe one would write better if the climate were bad. If there were a lot of wind and storms for example.
  1. I write everything many times over. All my thoughts are second thoughts.
  1. I’ve never discussed my writing with others much, but I don’t believe it can do any harm. I don’t think that there’s any risk that ideas or materials will evaporate.
  1. Perhaps it’s good for one to suffer. Can an artist do anything if he’s happy? Would he ever want to do anything? What is art, after all, but a protest against the horrible inclemency of life?
  2. Every man who knows how to read has it in his power to magnify himself, to multiply the ways in which he exists, to make his life full, significant and interesting.

George Orwell:

  1.  If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.
  1. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.
  • Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
  1. I do not wish to comment on the work; if it does not speak for itself, it is a failure.
  1. Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. 
  1. I do not think one can assess a writer’s motives without knowing something of his early development. His subject matter will be determined by the age he lives in … but before he ever begins to write he will have acquired an emotional attitude from which he will never completely escape.
  1. To write or even speak English is not a science but an art. There are no reliable words. Whoever writes English is involved in a struggle that never lets up even for a sentence. He is struggling against vagueness, against obscurity, against the lure of the decorative adjective, against the encroachment of Latin and Greek, and, above all, against the worn-out phrases and dead metaphors with which the language is cluttered up.
  1. The actual writing would be easy. All he had to do was to transfer to paper the interminable restless monologue that had been running inside his head, literally for years.
  1. A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
  1. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

Interested in more writing quotes? Check out what Kurt Vonnegut or Haruki Murakami has to share.

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How to Write a Tragic Character: Frank Grimes

Today we’ll be exploring one of the most tragic characters in the Simpsons canon, Homer’s Enemy, Frank Grimes. Frank Grimes or Grimey appeared in what many consider to be one of the darkest episodes in all of The Simpsons. What made episode 23 of season 8 so unique and unforgettable was that the Frank Grimes character actually represented a normal person (a hardworking, persevering American everyman) stepping into The Simpsons Universe. Frank Grimes is most of us. 

But what was it that made Frank Grimes so relatable yet so tragic? It was the shape of his story.

Charting characters’ journeys through a story is a good way to ensure they don’t stay stagnant.  This can be done by monitoring how the character moves up and down the rankings of fortune. What happens to this character? What does he or she do from beginning to end? And do those events and actions yield something good or something bad? 

In a 2004 lecture, the author of Slaughter-House Five, Kurt Vonnegut showed the variety of shapes a story can take on a graph he drew on a chalkboard. On the vertical axis (The G-I axis) top represents good fortune for the character (they get a promotion, they get married, or they win a championship) and at the bottom ill fortune (they get sick, they get fired, or they lose everything in a hurricane). On the horizontal axis (The B-E axis) the left is the beginning and the right is the end of the story. 

Using this graph we can see the story of Frank Grimes unfold more clearly and recognize how to use triumphs and failures to build a character. 

Frank Grimes’ life begins like any other somewhere just above good fortune for having been born. Yet early in his story, he is stricken with bad luck. At the age of four, Frank Grimes was abandoned by his family. Orphaned at such a young age, this set his life into a downward trend. 

At least he gets a job, but he doesn’t rise up far, for it’s a job as a delivery boy, delivering toys to richer more fortunate children. Fortune continues going down for many years until his 18th birthday, when Frank Grimes is blown up in a silo explosion. The bottom falls out and we find our character as low as he’s ever been. 

Grimes recovers, slowly rising upward, and begins learning to hear and feel pain again. Gradually he climbs using his leisure time to study science by mail. Seventeen years past since his accident, working hard and persisting, Frank Grimes finally crosses the line from ill fortune into good fortune. At 35 years old, he received his correspondence school diploma in Nuclear Physics, with a minor in determination. He experiences a blimp immediately after this as a bird tries to steal his diploma. 

A week after, Frank Grimes’ fortune soared higher, when his segment in Kent’s People aired and Mr. Burns sought to hire him as the Executive Vice President of the Power Plant. Now, if Frank Grimes’ story was to end here, it would be a true underdog story, a man starting at zero and rising to the top. However, in this episode, this is where the story really begins. The story begins with Frank Grimes at his peak and we see how quickly his fortune reverses. 

Grimes spent no more than one full day at the pinnacle of his fortune. The next day Mr. Burns watched another segment of Kent’s People, this time about a heroic dog, and had already forgotten about the self-made-man. 

Having been put out of the way, Grimes begins a slow decline into madness. First with Homer touching his pencils, then calling him Stretch and eating his special dietetic lunch, then destroying his pencils, and finally being annoying and shirking his job, especially when there’s a Five-Thirteen,  

Even as annoying as Homer is, Grimes doesn’t fall below origin, that is until he saves Homer’s life, knocking a haphazardly placed beaker of sulphuric acid out of his hand into the wall, melting it completely. This just so happens as Mr. Burns is walking by. Things drop significantly, when Mr. Burns doesn’t terminate Grimes, but gives him one more chance, at a reduced salary. Grimes is not at rock bottom, things aren’t worse than when he was caught in the silo explosion, but it’s a dramatic turning point for Grimes, who wants nothing more to do with Homer. 

As bad as Grimes’ life is living in a single room above a bowling alley below another bowling alley and working a second job at the foundry, things don’t get any worse, until Homer tricks him to come over to his palace for an extravagant lobster dinner and to show off his perfect family. After seeing all of Homer’s achievements, going to space and winning a Grammy, the floor falls away and Grimes nosedives, but catches himself when he storms out after calling Homer a fraud. 

In an effort to get even, expose and disgrace Homer, and get some positive fortune, Grimes fools Homer into participating in the Children’s Nuclear Design Contest. Things were looking good for a short moment, but then, Homer hit his car on his way home to work on his design. All of that would be fine, if Homer is embarrassed on stage, but his plan fails and Homer wins the competition. This time, Grimes is unable to catch himself. Losing his mind, he mimics Homer self destructively, causing a scene and eventually electrocuting himself to death. Grimes’ life ends at a new low point. To accomplish all he had and to end up so disrespected, Frank Grimes’ character journey truly represents the tragedy of the American working class. How hard working people can overcome so much and still implode upon themselves. 

Yes, Homer’s Enemy is a dark episode, but it’s also one of the most memorable ones, because when we watch The Simpsons, in reality, more often than not, we are in Frank Grimes’ shoes. We all face good and ill fortune, that is what makes a character relatable. If you want to create your own character that experiences profound change, I recommend plotting their life on a story shape graph. Make sure they face good and ill fortune through their lives. Then choose a starting point. In the case of Frank Grimes, the story starts while he’s most fortunate. Maybe that’s a good place to start the story of your tragic character as well. 

Do you want to see the shape of a story for another famous character? Let me know in the comments. It can be from a movie, television show or literature. I’ll do my best to make it possible.

My favourite episode of The Simpsons is Lemon of Troy. It’s arguably the best written 22 minute of television. Allow me to explain. Read the article here.

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The Butterfly Effect of Writing: Being At Peace With The Work You’ve Done

John is a best selling author on tour for his latest story about Dinosaurs. He had written many stories before, stories about Aliens, stories about Monsters, and even stories about Lovers. Yet, it was the Dinosaur story that really caught fire and launched him into stardom. Book tours, movie options, and adoring fans. John had made it. 

At a Q&A, a boy stands up and asks John, “You’ve written many books, many of which were flops. Now that the Dinosaur book is so well received and you’re getting new fans, are you embarrassed about everything you’ve written before? If you could go back in time, would you not write them and just write the Dinosaur story?” 

John knew the Alien story was bad, the Monster story was unoriginal, and the story about Lovers was honestly just therapy for a break up. The boy was worried on John’s behalf that his new fans would recognize his name, read his old work, and be disappointed. Or perhaps John would’ve fast tracked his career by prioritizing the Dinosaur story before all the others. 

“No…” John said, “Because when I read my old work, I’m transported to a moment in my past. I believe in the Butterfly Effect. If I was to go back and change anything, like writing the Dinosaur story first, and it was a failure, then I might have quit writing there. This book only exists because I’ve written all those others. Those books represented a phase I was in. Each idea, only when completed, branches off into others. My books are all part of a family tree, I gave life to them, I gave my life to them, even if the stories are different. They’re my family. In a way, the Dinosaur book is the latest generation and it exists only because of its ancestors. My previous books were all training. I wasn’t ready yet, and the audience wasn’t ready yet. I hope those who read it today can see the improvements I’ve made along the way. I wouldn’t have thought to write the Dinosaur book first, and if I did, who’s to say it wouldn’t be the Alien book that would become popular? It’s not the idea really, it’s the experience.” 

“We always have to keep writing forward and not regret what we created in the past. Learn from it for sure, just like how we should learn from history, but we shouldn’t waste the present trying to change the past. A lot of the stuff we make won’t meet our standards. We might never meet that standard, even if we receive the approval of others. I’m being celebrated, but I know I can do better. We cannot regret what we’ve made in the past, even if people go back and judge us for it. We cannot control the response of the external world. I’m merely a passenger on this journey as much as you are. If I went back in time and even wrote one single word differently, I would’ve killed a butterfly, and everything would be different. I might not be standing here today. Heck, you might not even exist. We have to live with the work we’ve created, as imperfect as they are. But without them, we wouldn’t have this moment now, so no, I wouldn’t do anything different.” 

The boy raised his hand up again. “Do you wish to edit those books now that you’re a better writer?” 

“If you make writing a part of your life, then you’ll know that one word will come after the next. I keep moving forward with my work, because there are new interesting things I’d like to write about. I can’t do that if I keep going back to edit my old pieces and try making them better. If I do that, then I will never finish another story. And there is no saying I would make it better. The Alien story is what it is, and I love it for that. I had a great experience writing it and I was very proud when I was done. I don’t wish to tarnish that experience. I don’t even want to read it really. Only in comparison with the Dinosaur book in terms of sales do I feel shameful about it, but otherwise, I’m grateful for it. If I go back to edit the Alien story, I might be messing with what was meant to be. I’m focusing on what I’m interested in writing next, my next project.” 

The boy’s hand shot up again. “And that will be another Dinosaur book?” 

John simpered and said, “Only time will tell…” 

How do you feel about the Butterfly Effect of writing? Let me know in the comments below. And if you are thinking about revisiting an old project? Maybe it’s not a terrible idea. Check out this article about the 4 reasons to revisit old work.

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Why I Narrated The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka Audiobook

About a month after I finished Typing The Great Gatsby, I decided to embark on another “endurance” challenge. Something that would help me get granular with a piece of work, much like what Typing The Great Gatsby did

While typing a whole novel (on camera) was a speed challenge, my next project should encourage me to go deeper, seek precision, and feel the flow of the words on the page. Then it dawned on me, I should narrate an audiobook. 

Narrating an audiobook is more than reading a book aloud, it’s storytelling. It’s a presentation. It’s about the tone, mood, and pacing of the words. It’s not only pronouncing the words properly, it’s about dramatizing the text on the page in an engaging way. 

I knew Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka would be the perfect source material for this project. It’s a story localized to one setting, with a small cast of characters, and a manageable length (in this version translated by Ian Johnston) just north of 20,000 words. It wasn’t going to be easy, but it was doable. Thinking something is doable is all it takes to start. 

I recorded the first word on January 3, 2021 and the last word on April 22, 2021. From the moment you start listening to my version to the last, nearly five months have passed. I see it as a form of time travelling. 

There were moments where I felt like quitting. Staying up an extra 30-45 minutes on a weeknight to record 3 minutes of usable audio is as tiring as it sounds. Yet, once I got over the hump, I knew I had to finish. Like going to the gym consistently, I noticed results in a few areas. 

Speaking Clearly: 

When we’re speaking to a friend, a family member, or a co-worked in a casual conversation, we slur our words, we mumble, and rarely do we enunciate every syllable. You think you speak clearly until you turn a microphone on yourself and hit record. The importance of being heard and understood for an audiobook is critical and therefore, it was a muscle I focused on exercising. Working on this project gave me an avenue to practice articulating my words, without having a conversation with anyone. 

Understanding the Words:

When we’re writing, we can pause, research a word, find synonyms, and generally sound smarter. When we talk, we can’t do that. We’re limited to the words in our vocabulary. And if you’re like me, you really only use the same hundred or so words. However, when we read out loud someone else’s writing, we gain access not only to the words they know, but probably words they took the effort in researching as well. There were at least ten words in The Metamorphosis that I had never used before. One example is the word “amelioration.” I’ve never heard of that word, let alone said it out loud. I don’t know if I’ll ever use it again in daily life, (I’d probably sound pretentious if I do) but hey, I clearly remember it, because I’m writing about it now. How can I put a price on that? 

Feeling the Flow of the Sentences: 

In this translation of The Metamorphosis, Ian Johnston used a lot of long, complex sentences, many over 50 words long with multiple commas, clauses, and oh boy! Grammar grammar! Now, if you were just reading word for word, it doesn’t matter how the sentences flow together (think Stephen Hawking’s robot voice), but an audiobook isn’t just saying one word after the next, it’s presenting the sentences as though they were thoughts from your brain. A few takes are necessary to get the right flow of the sentence, in terms of knowing which words to accentuate, where to take a breath, and which tone of voice matches the scene. 

Directing Myself:

100% of the words recorded in this audiobook were said by me after 9pm, as I’m fighting the exhaustion of the day. Sometimes, in that fugue state, I end up messing up over and over again. Or… I thought I was messing up, but it was a perfectly usable take. Nevertheless, I would try again and mess up some more. A paragraph that should’ve taken three minutes to record ended up taking twenty. 

Learning to direct yourself is an underrated skill. It involved learning how to be gentle with yourself, learning how to manage expectations, learning how to break a large chunk into smaller sections, and most importantly, learning when good enough is good enough. This project took me six months to complete. It could’ve taken less time and it could’ve taken more time. Either way, I’m glad I’m done.  

Hearing My Own Voice: 

I never thought that I had a radio voice or a Morgan Freeman voice where anything I say would be buttery smooth to my listener’s ears. No, you won’t listen to my voice for the pleasure of my voice alone. Then again, it’s the only voice I have and I want it to try new things. Like a body should exercise and travel, a voice should be challenged as well. You want it to be strong so when the time is right, you have the confidence to speak. I hope to one day record the Audible version for my own book. One day. 

Narrating The Metamorphosis was a challenge and a fulfilling way to pass some time during these pandemic months. Only time will tell how much I really got out of it, but truthfully, it was so much fun to do that I’m looking forward to the next audiobook I’ll narrate. I have a few in mind… Stay tuned. 

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10 Great Gifts for Writers and Authors

Gift shopping should be a gratifying experience, but more often than not it’s stressful. This can be especially true if you’re shopping for a writer. Writers are simple people. What do they even want that they don’t already have or can’t conjure up in their imagination? If you’re reading this, you probably need some gift ideas for writers, and as a writer, here are a few writer-y things that I wouldn’t mind receiving (heh heh heh). 

writing gift

Now, I’m not a gift-giving expert, in fact, I have a gift-giving phobia (just ask my wife). But let’s not get into that now. Yes, yes, it’s the thought that counts, but there is something to be said about a good gift: something practical, luxurious, and so unique that the gift getter probably wouldn’t buy for themselves. 

Without further ado, let’s get started, here are 10 gift ideas for writers! 

 

Typewriter-style USB Mechanical Keyboard  (Amazon)  $108.19

Every writer had spent a moment or two fantasizing about typing their next great work on a typewriter. The thing is, a typewriter isn’t the most practical gift. To find a functioning one is expensive and good luck replacing parts or getting maintenance if it should break.

No, modern-day writers don’t want the hassle of using a typewriter, what they want is that satisfying feeling of hitting a typewriter key. A keyboard that can replicate that sensation will give your writer friend an exciting lift with each word they type. 

 

Leather Notebook and Journal (Amazon) $14.50

A beautiful notebook can be the motivation a writer needs to bring their best ideas to life. Many writers carry around a thought that they’re waiting to put on paper. If only there was paper worthy of that thought. A worthy paper or the perfect notebook is not always something writers are willing to splurge on, but it may be something they need. 

A good notebook is like a big stage. It challenges the writer to give it their all and put their best words down. When you give a writer a notebook that they wouldn’t buy themselves, indirectly you’re motivating them to write their best work. 

 

Fountain Pens (Amazon) $15.99

A fountain pen makes writing fun. It doesn’t matter what’s written, a novel, a letter, a grocery list, it’s a pleasure that can’t be replicated with a ballpoint. For writers, sometimes the words are flowing and it doesn’t matter what writing instrument is used, but when a nice fountain pen is in hand, the words matter less and the act of writing is the enjoyment. 

Giving a fountain pen as a gift is like giving a writer a sports car (a little dramatic, I know), but it doesn’t matter what they write or where it takes them, you know it’s going to be a fun ride. A good pen affirms the writer that the process of writing is as satisfying as having the scripts written. 

 

Feather Pens or Quill Pens (Amazon) $39.99

Whether they’re pretending to be Shakespeare or their favorite fantasy character, writing with a feather pen is an actual fantasy that all writers have imagined. Why not give them a chance to bring it to reality? A feather pen is a bit of role-playing that will spark a writer’s imagination and give their words new life.

A feather pen is an unassuming yet fancy gift that’ll bring a smile to any writer’s face. Today a writer is surrounded by technology: word documents and spell checkers, a feather pen is a reminder that the tools they use now have come a long way from the quills of yore. A feather pen is a new experience for something so familiar for writers. 

 

Bookmarks (Amazon) $17.99

Bookmarks. An avid reader will never have enough of them. A beautiful trusty bookmark is a constant companion that’ll accompany your writer friend wherever the story takes them. Each time the reader marks their pages, they’ll be reminded of the simple yet persisting gift. 

No, a bookmark is not going to blow anybody away, but sometimes it’s the small gifts that are the most meaningful. Think about it. There are few better moments than a reader finishing a great book, holding onto the bookmark, and anticipating where to take it next. 

 

Laptop Stand (Amazon) $25.99

A laptop stand is a gift that can vastly change their writer’s work environment without getting them a new office. Laptop stands improve ergonomics, allow for flexibility in workplaces and adjustments, and open up more desk space for notepads, coffee cups, and whatever other clutter they want to have around them. 

If your writer friend likes to work in different places such as coffee shops, hotel lobbies, or libraries, the challenge is often to get comfortable. With a portable laptop stand,  wherever they go they can get the optimal experience working.

 

Mousepads (Amazon) $15.99

Now you may be saying that there is nothing special about giving a mouse pad as a gift, but hey, even if your writer friends already have mouse pads, they probably secretly want a new (better) one. Unless the mouse pad is turning orange and sour, they might not consider getting a replacement. Writers have a lot on their minds. Giving a wrist-supporting mouse pad relieves them of their secret want. 

A mouse pad is one of those things a writer will have for years and years without replacing. It’s not that “important”, but it’s a central part of their working environment. Having a good one — given to them by someone who cares about their work — will let them know that their efforts are appreciated. Even when they are moving the mouse to click on a word to delete it, they will feel supported. 

 

Electric Back Massager (Amazon) $39.99

A writer might not always have time to go to the spa, but with an electric back massager that they can place on the back of their seat, they can at least get some relief at their desk. Back and neck pain comes with the job, and since you aren’t going to be there every night to give them your world-class back rubs, an electric back massager might be the perfect alternative. 

The great thing about this massager is that they can bring it anywhere they want. It’s not limited to the desk chair, they can use it on the couch as they dig into their latest novel or catch up on a television show. 

 

Foot Rest (Amazon) $32.95

Small comfort can make all the difference when a writer is grinding out their latest draft, when the words aren’t coming, and when there is an impending deadline. Regardless, they must stay at their desk until the work is done. In those times, a foot rest can give them the extra 1% they need to get across the finish line. They might never be certain that it was your gift that helped them achieve their goals, but hey, you don’t need that, just as long as they do. That’s what being a good writer’s friend is all about. 

 

Light Therapy Lamp (Amazon) $39.99

If your poor unfortunate writer friend happens to have an office without any windows like I do, perhaps the gift of a light therapy lamp can brighten up their day. Using this lamp periodically throughout the day, especially during those dark winter months may enhance their mood. Not only that, knowing that they received this gift from someone who put thought into their day-to-day happiness level might be enough to cheer them up if they are already feeling down. 

 

Writing is a lonely job and a gift that makes that task more enjoyable reminds writers that there are people out there that support them. Writers put their soul and energy into what they make and often that may mean neglecting self-care or personal enjoyment. These ten gifts will be sure to remind writers that they are not forgotten and what they are making matters. 

Prices in this article are subjected to change.

Ants and Bears: Encouragement For Writers Living in a Filmmaker’s World

Oh… the plight of a writer, watching others take the spotlight as the audiences cheer. It’s a lonely and often underappreciated job. This is especially true in this world where attention spans are shorter while movies and tv shows become more grand. How are the writer’s words supposed to compete? 

What we forget is what it takes to make a movie. A movie is a mammoth production that involves many many people with many different jobs, skills, and responsibilities. It’s not right to compare the construction site of a movie set with the desk of a writer. Additionally, a movie can cost millions of dollars, while all a writer needs is a piece of paper and a pen. 

Nevertheless, with only words, a writer can do alone what a filmmaker will need a cast and crew of hundreds to accomplish. In that way, how can we not be impressed by the power that a writer wields? 

In Writing Dialogue by Tom Chiarella, there is a chapter that encourages writers to watch tv and movies in order to learn the nuances of effective on-screen dialogue that doesn’t translate to prose. At the end of the chapter, Chiarella urges writers to not feel discouraged by the magnitude of the film and television industry in a section called Ants and Bears. The following is an excerpt: 

Ants and Bears

One final word on these people: actors, directors, editors, producers, grips. Think about how they work. They are like a colony of ants. That’s how they work. Ants — limitless in their numbers, each performing a task for the benefit of the colony. Operating efficiently, with a sense of almost military precision, circling around a generally indifferent queen. Now, I admire ants greatly. But in general, ants are 

  1. everywhere
  2. hard to get rid of 
  3. important to the ecosystem.

That’s truly the case with movie people. They are everywhere and our culture tends to champion them. But remember, fiction writers and screen writers alike: You are the writer. You are the bear. You work alone. You travel great distances. Bears are messy and dangerous. Bears are scary! You see many things. They — producers and the rest — they are ants. To them, what a bear does is fairly unimportant, though they do eat a bear’s scat, so there is something to be said about their relationship. Remember! Bears are bigger, stronger and more awesome than ants (except when taken in toto). Don’t get your sense of value from what movies can do. You are a bear! One bear can do so much more than one ant. Bears rock! Ants bring home the dead bees and make sure the tunnels are wide enough. They tend to be rich ants, true. But still — ants. 

What do you think about Ants and Bears? Do you think that is an accurate comparison?

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The Saturday Story: Overcoming The Weekend Distractions

Has this ever happened to you? All week you look forward to Saturday, a free day for you to work on your project. You don’t have to attend any meetings or go to any appointments. It’s finally time for you to catch up or get ahead. You can write, you can read, you can finally make some progress. 

But then — suddenly, it’s Sunday night — and you realize, you barely did any of that. You didn’t catch up or get ahead. You feel discouraged and exhausted because you know that another grueling week is ahead. You eye the next weekend. Yes, the next one will be different. But will it? 

There’s a reason why your free days can often be less productive than the days where you have to squeeze your project into a busy schedule. On those busy weekdays, you may need to wake up early to do a bit of writing or edit a draft during lunch or stay up a bit later to outline. On busy days, you don’t get a lot done, but you do a little. However, on Saturdays when there is nothing to anchor your day, you may find yourself drifting away from your desk, only to return when the weekend is over. 

Why is that?

When we have a free day to do anything, we may put things off. We may wake up and decide, hey, it’s a beautiful day, let’s go get breakfast, once we come back we’ll do some work. When we come back we realize that we haven’t vacuumed in a few weeks. We should probably attend to that first. Then we feel a little tired from our breakfast and chores, why don’t we take a power nap, and as soon as we wake up, we’ll tackle the project. We take a nap and when we wake up, our friend calls and we talk for an hour. Suddenly, it’s dinner time, so we’ll eat, and it just so happens that after, the better halves want to watch this new movie. We can’t miss that. In a flash, we successfully had a day off. However, we failed in doing anything productive with our personal project. 

This issue occurs when there’s no schedule. On workdays, you do have a schedule, you clock in, answer calls, attend meetings, take lunch, return for the afternoon pow wow and then sign off. However, on Saturdays, you can do your project whenever you want. Whenever you want may sound like total freedom, but it actually creates friction within, or as Steven Pressfield calls it, resistance. 

Saturday is the day we have all to ourselves, we can make the rules. The thing is, there needs to be rules. There needs to be at the very least a schedule for when you will work on your personal project, it’s something you need to be accountable for. Whether it’s first thing in the morning, immediately after lunch, or before you do your chores in the afternoon, you need to put down on paper or on your calendar or tell your spouse that at this time, you will be working on your project. You need to set the time aside to do it. Not wait for the perfect time, because the perfect time will be swallowed up by distractions. 

Scheduling it in is about making a promise to your Wednesday self. It’s about making the person you are on Monday proud. The weekday versions of you are working hard to pay the bills, but the weekend self is for the soul. Don’t waste it on frivolous activities, there will always be time for that stuff, but there will never be enough time for the work you really need to make, the work nobody else can do, the work you must practice on, the work that comes from your heart. So don’t waste time when it’s available.

Procrastination comes in many forms and there’s no magic solution, but setting a schedule, a chunk of time, where you sit down and work, shows the world you’re serious. There will be distractions on Saturdays, you know this now, so be prepared, don’t let it catch you off guard again. 

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How Aaron Sorkin Beats Writer’s Block

Aaron Sorkin, the writer of A Few Good Men, The Social Network, and The Trial of the Chicago 7, is one of the greatest screenwriters of our generation. Best known for his snappy, fast-paced dialogue, Sorkin treats conversations like musical arrangements. Yet, today, we’re not talking about Sorkin’s writing style, today we’re talking about one of his funny writing quirks. 

Interviewed in 2014, during publicity for his upcoming movie Steve Jobs, he was asked a variation of the question that creatives are familiar with, “What do you do when you get stuck?” 

To the surprise of some, Sorkin gave a genuine answer, and said that in order to feel as though he was getting a fresh start, he would take a shower. On the more challenging days, he could end up taking six to eight showers. This might sound wild to some — perhaps even a little wasteful — but what Sorkin did was an effective way of clearing his mind and getting the creative juices flowing again. After all, don’t great ideas come in the shower? 

Because today, we’re writing everything digitally, the act of crumpling up a piece of paper and throwing it into the wastepaper basket no longer exists. We don’t get the gratifying feeling of resetting. We hit the backspace, continue to stare at that blinking vertical line, and wait in agony for the next word to materialize. It’s as painful as it sounds. 

Stop. Do what Aaron Sorkin does — it doesn’t have to be taking a shower — but do something that refreshes your mental state. Do something where your mind gets to settle down, focus on something else — or nothing at all — and wander. 

Physically remove yourself from the computer chair. Don’t just scroll Instagram or watch a YouTube video (unless it’s this video), actually get up and go to a different room. Go to the bathroom and splash some water on your face if you don’t want to take a shower — or if you don’t have the luxury of Aaron Sorkin, who has a shower installed in his office. Don’t want to splash water on your face? Maybe bring a change of clothes and change into something more comfortable, which is another one of Sorkin’s resetting tactics

One of the greatest screenwriters of our time admits to constantly being in a state of writer’s block. Yet, he is clearly still producing. The key is to recognize when is a good time to step aside and take a break, to rip the paper from the typewriter, crumple it up, and toss it into the trash. To take a hot shower and change into something comfortable. Don’t allow yourself to sit at your computer and continue feeling discouraged, draining yourself of your energy, trying to plow through only to then delete everything you wrote. When it feels futile, take a breather, change up your physical state and refresh your mindset, and return as if it’s a brand new opportunity to write something great without the baggage of the previous attempt. 

Confronting writer’s block is something every writer has to deal with, but confront you must! Don’t let the threat of writer’s block stop you from writing, instead, learn how to take it’s punches, regroup, and most importantly, come back fresh every time for another fight. 

Want to start a habit in writing? Here is a 30-day writing challenge that can get you going!

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10 Great Cathartic Movies (for Dudes Who Need to Feel)

It’s not easy being an emotionally stunted man. Maybe it’s parenting, maybe it’s societal pressure, maybe it’s some primal instinct to suck it up, but whatever it is — it makes sharing the bruised parts of ourselves hard. What we need is a primer. Something that opens a crack in our window of acceptance, something to allow a cold external breeze to enter. Something like a cathartic movie. 

What is Catharsis?

While a comedy can distract us from the pain, a tragedy encourages us to confront it, accept it, and brace for it. 

What you need, is a tragedy. Because a good way to cope with the troubles of our own lives is to start by empathizing with those of others. 

If you are feeling a little blue — and communicating it with a loved one or a trusted friend feels too brutal — here are 10 movies that can ease you in. These are 10 Cathartic movies for Dudes who Need to Feel. 

Trees Lounge: (Amazon) 

Trees Lounge

Whether you’ve stolen money from a friend or had a buddy steal your girl, you never come out the same after a betrayal. Steve Buscemi knows betrayal well. How else could he have written, directed, and starred in the 1996 comedy-drama, Trees Lounge?  

Trees Lounge is a story about Tommy, his addictions, and a little bar that acts as a landing mat at rock bottom. At the core, Trees Lounge is about someone self-destructive, someone beyond help, for helping would be to get sucked into their little black hole. Chloe Sevigny, Mark Boone Junior, Debi Mazar — and Samuel L. Jackson, give sincere performances that heighten the disgust we feel for those whose reputation is beyond repair. Tommy is someone who has nowhere to go but up, but can’t seem to move. It’s hard to recover from a betrayal, on both sides, and sometimes we deserve second chances, but that doesn’t mean we’ll get it. Trees Lounge cautions us, letting us know that we too can become worthy of pity, but also gives us company like a stranger at the bar. 

Dead Poet Society: (Amazon)

Dead Poet Society

Pressure makes diamonds so they say — but pressure can crack and shatter. Dead Poet Society set in a prep school, Welton Academy, tells the story of a group of boys, inspired by their English teacher, starring Robin Williams, to seize the day and make their lives extraordinary. 

For anyone who is currently held hostage by someone else’s expectations, know that Dead Poet Society is one of the purest portrayals of how tough love can backfire. It reminds us that having a strong belief that any one thing should happen, especially when it comes to another person, is ultimately going to lead to disappointment, if not tragedy. You’re in control. Dead Poet Society doesn’t release the weight from our shoulders, but it encourages us to acknowledge it, and ask whether we’re carrying something that might not even belong to us, and perhaps we can drop it. 

The Wrestler: (Amazon)

The Wrestler

As we fade, as it becomes clear that the glory days are over, as we cling ever longer to keep the light lit, we confront life fully. We start to take stock of what actually matters. In The Wrestler, directed by Darren Aronofsky, we learned that our choice in what matters can be perfectly selfish. It’s our right to ride out the end of our days holding onto the illusion of what we ourselves deem successful. However, The Wrestler wants us to be completely honest — and to accept that our choices are not without ripples. 

Mickey Rourke gives a poignant performance as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, where he used the fall of his character as the comeback for his own career. The Wrestler acts as warning and encouragement, as disappointment and pride, as mercy and hope. Wherever you are in your own comeback know that even though your body may give up you, you can fight until the last breath. 

Mystic River: (Amazon)

Mystic River

The damage of trauma lasts a lifetime, it’s a scar that never fully heals, and if you’re unlucky it’s something you can leave hidden. Mystic River, directed by Clint Eastwood, with heart-wrenching performances from Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, and Kevin Bacon is a visceral experience that forces us to meet face to face with the words justice and punishment, and what that means to us.

In this unjust world, we can feel that we need to take matters into our own hands. We are rather preys or predators. There is no one here to help us. In this way, seeking justice becomes the punishment — like handcuffs we put on ourselves. We often call this demand for justice, revenge. What is done to us, we’d do to others. Eye for an eye. Mystic River balances the tragedies and what people would suspect of us after such an event. This is not an inspirational story, it’s a dreadful tale of how retribution can backfire — and, as reactive animals, more often than not, that is what we need. 

The Elephant Man: (Amazon)

The Elephant Man

Every day we look into the mirror and face who we are. Our face is how we show ourselves to the world. In these digital times, it’s easy to hide away, hide behind an avatar, hide our flaws, hide our deformities. Hide the things we think will bring us shame. The Elephant Man, directed by David Lynch, is a story about a man who cannot hide, about a man who is cursed from birth, a man who yearns for kindness as much as he yearns to lay down to sleep.  

John Hurt portrays John Merrick, the Elephant Man, based off of a real person from the late 1800s who was born with severe, yet mysterious deformities. While it’s easy to pity Merrick, what the movie really asks of us is not pity, but rather simple humility. Regardless of how others appear, understand that we aren’t seeing the full picture, and so it goes with ourselves when we look in the mirror. While we put ourselves out there and receive others in return, The Elephant Man reminds us not to let vanity be the measurement of our worth.

Inside Llewyn Davis: (Amazon)

Inside Llewyn Davis

Life is full of possessions, things that belong to us, things that don’t. As we move through this song of ours, we realize how little we have and even the things we have are usually temporary. And the things that matter can rarely be replaced. Inside Llewyn Davis, perhaps the Coen Brother’s most introspective movie, follows a folk musician as he attempts to salvage his life after the death of his musical partner. 

Oscar Issac gives a touching performance, showing how the world can kick us even when we are down and how easy it is to take advantage of us when we have nobody else to protect us, to stand up for us, to give us a place to stay. Outside, the unsympathetic world, in our desperation, gives us a worse deal, and it rushes us — before we are ready — to get over what we know we never can. Inside Llewyn Davis is a story about recovering, about trying to do better, and how hard it is when we have to go at it alone. 

Lost in Translation: (Amazon)

Lost in Translation

What happens when we get everything we dreamed of? Well… life continues and from that new normal we can rather chase more or hang on bitterly to what we have for fear that we might recede and lose it. Lost In Translation puts us in the epicenter of the bustle of Tokyo with a couple of aimless foreigners, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannson, who are both unable to visualize what the next milestone looks like in their stagnant lives. 

We often feel as though we have to make some big decisions in our lives and that if we don’t pick the right ones, we will regret it. But what Lost in Translation tells us is what philosopher Soren Kierkegaard understood all along, regardless of what we do or don’t (get married/don’t get married, quit our job/stay forever, laugh at the world/weep over it), we will regret it. No matter how big our decision may feel, no matter how paralyzing it becomes, Lost In Translation encourages us to accept the inevitable regrets, and make them, for in our insignificance that is the only control we have. 

Good Will Hunting: (Amazon)

Good Will Hunting

We know everything — at least, more than people give us credit for — but when it comes to life and this mysterious journey, we have to accept that at best, we know as much as anyone else, regardless of what a genius we might actually be. Good Will Hunting, the Matt Damon classic, is the pull and tug we often feel from the communities around us. The communities that offer the lure of belonging, the lure of comfort, the lure of accolades, or rather a distraction from what we really are. 

Robin William’s powerful performance reminds us that amidst our stubbornness, we are as lost as everyone else. Yet, regardless of whatever blessings or curses we are given, when an opportunity comes along, it is still our job to recognize and potentially learn from it. When we think we know it all, we push away, when we accept there is more to know — that there are experiences out there — we must chase. 

Manchester By The Sea: (Amazon)

Manchester by the Sea

 We’ll make mistakes, we’ll hurt others, and life continues — the question is, what’s the cost of the guilt we carry? How long will we carry it? Like hoarders, keeping garbage to remind them of the past, how can we ever let it go? Manchester by the Sea tells the story of a man whose negligence proved costly, and how the greatest damnation is the one we impose upon ourselves. 

Casey Affleck gives a compelling performance as Lee Chandler, a man who will never recover from his past. Even as we the audience have long absolved this person, he cannot forgive himself. We can find ourselves in Lee’s shoes, unable to let go of the guilt we carry, even when the rest of the world is telling us it no longer does anyone any good. The pain, like a concussion, remains. Perhaps we need to look upon ourselves in the third person, like we are watching ourselves in a movie, our character haunted by the past. Maybe viewing our uselessness in this manner can help us see that forgetting might not be possible, but the pain we can keep to ourselves, we don’t have to inflict it on others. We can be the sacrifice — a sacrifice for another person — and that can be the way we find forgiveness. 

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: (Amazon)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

At the end of a terrible day, sometimes all we want to do is forget. But what Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind shows us is that erasing our memories doesn’t leave us free from the pain of those we’ve forgotten. No, instead, it leaves us with an empty void, it leaves us in a sunken pit, wondering how we’ve got so down. 

Charlie Kaufman’s imaginative story with the melancholy visuals of Michel Gondry’s directions, paired with the moving performances from Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, makes Eternal Sunshine a triumph in catharsis. For all of us who are currently in the midst of heartbreak, for all of us who’ve experienced regret, shame, and disappointment, for all of us seeking a tangible solution when there will never be one, we can be free for a moment, lost in someone else’s world, and understand that what we are experiencing is indeed a little surreal. 

Big conversations are hard to have, especially when they are on a heavy personal topic. You may find yourself creating a barrier between yourself and your emotions. A cathartic movie can offer you a bridge to cross that chasm, to see your feelings up close, to accept that you can express yourself. By using a story as the vessel to reach your emotions, you can for the time being bypass your own pain. That’s the power of storytelling. Sometimes it is entertaining, and other times, it’s soul cleansing. 

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