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.

For more writing and editing inspiration and stories, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only works that I’m most proud of.

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. 

For more writing and editing inspiration and stories, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only works that I’m most proud of.

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?

For more writing and editing inspiration and stories, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only works that I’m most proud of.

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. 

For more writing and editing inspiration and stories, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only works that I’m most proud of.

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!

For more writing and editing inspiration and stories, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only works that I’m most proud of.

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. 

For more writing and editing inspiration and stories, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only works that I’m most proud of.

How to Stay Motivated in Creative Projects (ft. Progress Bars)

If you’re a Millennial like me, you’d remember a time when downloading anything took forever. Downloading music, downloading tv shows, and downloading movies. Computers weren’t that powerful back then, the bandwidth — if it wasn’t still connected by dial up — was overall pretty weak. Occasionally, a large file, like an HD movie, would take hours if not days to complete. 

I would sit at the computer and stare at the progress bar and watch it slowly edge along, telling me how many percent was left and how many kilobytes it was receiving per second. Looking back, I wonder how many cumulative hours I’ve spent sitting there watching that bar. Now and then, it would move so slowly that I would have to put my mouse cursor right by the edge just so I could see if it was actually moving, even by a pixel. It’s an old technique, you can use it too. 

The most infirurating part, which happened more often than not, is when the download would be going really fast, reach 98% and then… stop… I felt so helpless. Still, I was always grateful for the existence of that progress bar, because even though it was sometimes glitchy and inaccurate, it kept me from canceling my download. 

A progress bar is a good design. It helps you see how much has been done and how much is left to do. It works brilliantly for downloading software, but progress bars work for other things in life too. If you are painting a room, the progress bar is the paint on your wall. When you are reading a book, it’s the proximity of your bookmark to the back cover. These are things that tell us, “Great job! You’re doing it! Keep going!” 

Progress bar

But what about things that don’t inherently have progress bars? For example, writing a book. Writing a book is a multi-step task that doesn’t have a clear progression. Is finishing the outline 1% or 2% of the project? Is finishing the first draft 50% done? You don’t know. With creative projects, you can often feel as though you — like my download — went really fast at the beginning and then got stuck at 98% complete. You’ve been at 98% complete for months now on that novel. What the hell!? 

While progress bars are great for measuring projects with completions, creative projects aren’t always clear, especially if they are more personal projects, so you as the creator gets to decide where the end is. And to avoid ending up stuck at 98% for infinity, it’s good to create this progress bar from the very start of your project. Actually draw out where the 25% line, where’s the 50% line and where is the finish line is. 

For example, let’s say you are working on a novel. Great! You could just start writing and see where it all ends up, but God knows where that will take you. Instead let’s break it down. We can even do that with the different stages. 

Outlining: Outline 1st act will get me to 25%, Outline 2nd act will get me to 50%, Outline 3rd act will get me to 75%, and reviewing it 3 times will allow me to complete the outlining stage. 

Progress bar for outlining is filled. Then we can move to Drafting. 

Drafting: Writing the 1st act will get me to 25%, act 2 will get me to 50% and so on like that. 

Then there is Editing, Publishing, and Marketing. All these sections can have their own progress bars. So even when your larger progress bar feels like it’s stuck on 98%, you can look down at these smaller ones and see what actually needs to be done and work on it until you can reach the next milestones. 

Whenever you are stuck on a project or feel unmotivated to continue, think of your task in relation to a progress bar. If you at least know where you are going, then when your work and effort are only delivering minuscule improvements, 0.001% of progress each day, at least you know you are still on the right track and that, even though you may be stuck at 98%, you know you’re not completely frozen, and progress is still happening. 

We live in a time where a lot of things are instantaneous! Tv shows, movies, and music to name a few. I haven’t downloaded anything that took over a few minutes in years. Yet, creating meaningful work still takes time and the results might not be visible if you’ve been staring at the progress bar for so long. But as long as you keep moving towards the next percentage point, as long as you know where that is, then eventually, you will be done. 

Keep going! Before you hit cancel, look at the progress bar. It might not look like it each and every day, but you are making progress. 

For more writing and editing inspiration and stories, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only works that I’m most proud of.

What Is The Difference Between Cheesy and Corny?

It’s comedy night at the Fridge, and you are ready to laugh. On the stage are two performers: Chester Cheeseman and Cornelius Cobbs — and they are in a comedy battle. 

Cheeseman opens with some crowd work. “A lot of beautiful people here tonight! Especially this lady here. Lady, if you were cheese you’d be GOUUUDA!” 

The crowd chuckles lightly. Your girlfriend, who kindly joined you for this evening of comedy, leans over and whispers, “Well, that was cheesy…” 

Then comes Cornelious Cobb to the mic. He pulls out a cue card and reads, “What does a corn say when it gets a compliment?” “What?” “Aw shucks!” 

Your girlfriend rolls her eyes and stares at you wondering if the two of you could sneak out of this disastrous show. “Let’s get out of here and away from the corny jokes.” 

While you stare into your girlfriend’s face one part of your brain contemplates sneaking out of the show, but another part is computing something quite complex: the two words she used to describe the comedians (Cheesy and Corny). 

You’ve heard these adjectives used before, but what are the differences between the two words? It’s true, the two comedians were not telling brilliantly clever jokes, but what about their jokes made them bad? And did being cheesy and corny have something to do with it? 

Let’s start with Chester and his cheesy pick-up-line-styled joke. The word cheesy is often used to describe something that is overly dramatic, exaggerated, or forced. In addition to pick up lines, songs can also be cheesy such as a love song that makes outrageous promises like “Never Gonna Give You Up, Never Gonna Let You Down!” 

The way Chester presents himself — a bombastic caricature, saying a line that was so clearly rehearsed in a tone that begged for attention — is undoubtedly cheesy.   

Then there is Cornelius Cobbs and his corny joke. Simply put, something is corny when it lacks creativity and originality, and feels as though it was taken from an overused source. Anyone who had ever thought of the phrase “Aw Shucks” had most likely associated it with the shucking of a corn. The mental leap taken for that joke is quite short. The cleverness of the joke is perhaps at a Grade 3 level, where one may be old enough to understand the concepts of corn, shucking, and the phrase evoking flattery. Any adult — you and your girlfriend included — would feel a little cheated when hearing that punchline. It was predictable. You could have told that joke yourself. It’s like going to a restaurant and knowing you can cook the food better than the chef. It’s disappointing. 

When using these two adjectives, at the core, what you are describing is something that is cliché, overly emotional, or sentimental. These are the traits that these two words share. They are both predictable and excessive to a point where it becomes boring, if not painful to endure. 

What a good story, song, or joke does is establish a pattern for your brain to follow, but if the pattern as it progresses is so predictable that you end up knowing who the killer is, or how the next rhythm goes, or how the punchline lands, you end up feeling robbed of a promise of entertainment, pleasure, and laughter. That’s the feeling you get after hearing or watching something cheesy or corny. You feel like a good feeling you should get from art was taken or blocked. You worry that you might never feel the feeling of being properly entertained again. It is this sudden pulse of panic that makes so many of us detest anything cheesy and corny. 

So to clarify, let’s draw a quick venn diagram: 

On the left we have Cheesy and on the right we have Corny, and in the middle we have similarities. 

Something that is Cheesy is exaggerated or forced and something that is Corny is boring. In the middle, we have cliche, unoriginal, and cloying. Cheesy is often seen as being more contrived and Corny is often seen as being more lazy. 

But what feedback can we give these two comedians? You wonder as your girlfriend is getting up from her seat. Perhaps their failing is that you didn’t get to know the true characters behind Chester Cheeseman and Cornelius Cobbs. They are just vessels for bad jokes and you don’t know what they love and fear, you don’t know how they actually see the world. You didn’t hear any raw stories or feel any strong emotions. They didn’t challenge your beliefs or make any stances. They are replaceable, interchangeable, and expendable. If you could give them one piece of feedback, you would tell them to say something real, say something true, and perhaps in the truth there would be originality and in the originality, there would be humour. 

“Can we go?” Your girlfriend asks, grabbing her bag off the back of the chair. You look at her and then once again to the two performers on stage. 

Chester says, “I’m on a new diet, you know what it’s called?”

“What?”

“Curds and weigh.” 

“Wow! It works, you look a-Maize-ing!” says Cornelius. 

You grab your girlfriend by the hand and rush out of the Fridge together. Once outside you exhale. All the way home, the two of you make jokes and laugh at Chester and Cornelius, and how horrible they were. A thought strikes you, perhaps there is some entertainment value in their performance after all. 

For more writing and editing inspiration and stories, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only works that I’m most proud of.

The Key to Succeeding in a Bureaucracy: Dealing with Boredom

Whatever you want to do in life, if you want to make money from it, you will need to jump through some hoops. That’s adult life. That’s how it’s different from a movie. There is no way to cut out the boring parts: the parts where we’re in line, on hold with customer service, or waiting for a form to come in the mail. Taxes! Let’s not forget about taxes. Life is filled with these little hurdles that don’t define a life outright, but if you allow yourself to trip over enough, discouraging you from continuing, then ultimately, it will. 

If you want anything, say… to write a best selling book. What you are really saying is, “I want to start a business.” And with all businesses, there is bureaucracy involved. 

One doesn’t write a book or start a blog and earn instant fame and wealth. It takes work, it takes time — and strict adherence to the rules of money. 

And what is money but a game with many players. 

You need to access platforms, request different assets, and perform administrative tasks. You’ll feel like you are going in circles, wasting time doing things that aren’t “important.” After all, if you’re a professional writer, you should be writing, not messing with some sales page or negotiating with contractors. 

This always reminded me of the game Zelda, where you need to accomplish minor tasks, talk to characters you have no desire to talk to, buy material you don’t really want, smash open a few pots here and there so that you can reach your real goal, which is to save the princess or something. When you have a professional pursuit, you will find these mini-tasks at every stage. 

It’s tricky, because these hoops and hurdles make you want to stop and say, “I don’t need to do this for work, I can just do this for fun.” But that’s just an impatient part of you talking. Writing is fun. Creating your art is fun. Jumping through hoops and dealing with beaurcratic bull shit is not. But great things happen when you are able to support yourself and reach more people. 

A lot can be done alone in your office as a writer, but as soon as you need to reach a wider audience — and you want to make money from them — you’ll need to interact with people and be a part of society, the same way plumbers, bakers, and teachers are. Unfortunately, society operates like an old clunky machine, it’s slow, it malfunctions, it jams and freezes. It’s frustrating. But that’s the way it is, and a little surprising that it even works at all. Even if you repair one part, there are so many others on the verge of breaking. Attempting to fix this machine will only distract you from your purpose, and so we must learn to live with it. 

There is this great passage from David Foster Wallace’s unfinished novel, The Pale King that has helped me a lot whenever I was stuck behind a hurdle, too drained and impatient to jump over. It goes like this: 

“I learned that the world of men as it exists today is a bureaucracy. This is an obvious truth, of course, though it is also one the ignorance of which causes great suffering.

“But moreover, I discovered, in the only way that a man ever really learns anything important, the real skill that is required to succeed in a bureaucracy. I mean really succeed: do good, make a difference, serve. I discovered the key. This key is not efficiency, or probity, or insight, or wisdom. It is not political cunning, interpersonal skills, raw IQ, loyalty, vision, or any of the qualities that the bureaucratic world calls virtues, and tests for. The key is a certain capacity that underlies all these qualities, rather the way that an ability to breathe and pump blood underlies all thought and action.

“The underlying bureaucratic key is the ability to deal with boredom. To function effectively in an environment that precludes everything vital and human. To breathe, so to speak, without air.  

“The key is the ability, whether innate or conditioned, to find the other side of the rote, the picayune, the meaningless, the repetitive, the pointlessly complex. To be, in a word, unborable.

“It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.”

For more writing and editing inspiration and stories, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only works that I’m most proud of.