Just touching base on this blog with some writing prompts from my third book. I am also repeating the 31-day My 500 Words challenge. It was instrumental last January in my building a more consistent writing habit.
I’ve decided this year that I will direct my daily word count toward a single project I’m working on. Here was today’s post to the group. [Day 3 for me.]
610 words on my project of the month. I’m using the words to work through my process–steps I’m taking toward completion, including my responses to books and resources I’m using to help me. [i.e. Side Hustle by Chris Guillebeau]. Two things are ‘freeing’: 1. This 500-word challenge because Jeff Goins says, ‘Don’t edit!’. 2. The project itself because it is just an experiment anyway, without much skin in the game.
For me, merely completing the project will be the reward.
Here are the prompts:
“Whoa! Hold on there. Don’t start throwing out terms like ‘nutritional’ and ‘organic’ around here!”
“So, you have no alibi and you were the last person to see her alive and you don’t think you should be in this room?”
We were going to let her sit and stew awhile before we delivered the news…
“Please! Take the gun. Just put the accordion down!”
All he ever talked about was food…
We knew we had found his weak spot…
Customers lining up around the corner. Angry customers…
This was not the time to get sentimental…
“You really have no idea where your money comes from, do you?”
“I’m telling you for the last time…”
Note: Always feel free to request a PDF of one of my books of 1000 prompts.
One of my favorite recent purchases [August 2017 is recent for me] is the book, If You Can Talk, You Can Write by Joel Saltzman. [Not an affiliate link. I just couldn’t easily find how own website.]
Here are a few points I’ve revisited today in my reading session:
“Whether you’re struggling with a single sentence or polishing a book-length manuscript, let progress be your guide, not perfection your nemesis.”
“Along the way, you’ll develop technique, stamina and—if you’re lucky—the ability to make your next effort better than the last.”
“Conquer your worry about not writing by writing every day—either by counting the minutes or counting the pages.” In my case, I’ve been counting the words. I’ve done so ever since the January 500 Word Challenge.
Today’s Challenge Prompt from Jeff Goins is about finishing this 15,500 word adventure. More than likely more than that.
And so I chose to bring in a guy who is currently on the forefront of finishing, Jon Acuff, who published Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done.
I bought the book and it is the most recent one I’ve, uh, finished.
A worthwhile investment, I have to say.
Moving on…I selected some quotes—in italics—from the book [thank you, Goodreads] and will apply them to my 500-Word Challenge experience.
[By the way, I’m not counting the quotes as words toward my total. That would be flat-out cheating, right?]
“The harder you try to be perfect, the less likely you’ll accomplish your goals.”
Jon, you did a nice job picking apart perfection and it helped me rip through my challenges without listening too intently for ‘the voices’. One hundred word bursts were often the norm and that felt good. What else felt good? Clicking ‘post’, even though I knew the writing wasn’t a third draft product. I will admit there were times when I spent a little too much time editing, and even adding an image to spice things up, but all in all, it was nice to have that feeling of ‘my work here is done’.
“But more than just analysis, perfectionism offers us two distinct distractions: Hiding places and Noble obstacles A hiding place is an activity you focus on instead of your goal. A noble obstacle is a virtuous-sounding reason for not working toward a finish. Both are toxic to your ability to finish.”
These two concepts tagged along throughout the month. Much of the writing certainly didn’t address many of my main goals, such as developing an online course as well as completing stories in a series I’m working on. And while I benefited considerably from the month, I wondered if I leaped into this as yet another side trip, yet another ‘hiding place’. I think those terms are essentially other words for ‘rationalizations’ and I could easily rationalize my participation—building consistency, rising above perfection, exploring new directions and voices, even. But at the end of this month, what will I have to show for it? A corollary to your chapter on hiding places and noble objectives—the more we delve into those side trips, the more of a burden we face…not only in playing catch-up with the projects we really want to finish, but in somehow justifying our decisions to veer off-course. And we not only at times have to justify it to ourselves, but we might also have some stakeholders we might have to convince. No easy feat.
The bigger rule was “For something to count, it has to be difficult.” A lot of high performers carry that sort of secret rule along with them. If an exercise is enjoyable and you have fun doing it, it must not count.
Bravo to me for not falling prey to this secret rule. The 500-Word Challenge was rarely a grind. And when it felt that way, it was more a product of stupid annoying technology. It was fun to come up with new directions and new formats for the daily challenges. I enjoyed the Q and A from imaginary readers and will continue to play with that. For the last year, I’ve for the most part played it straight in my blog and this challenge often enabled me to cut loose a bit. Uh-oh, confession time. I strayed from this challenge to ensure I quoted you correctly: Make It Fun If You Want It Done. And in the process, I ran across your Finish workbook. That baby is printing out as I’m completing this sentence.
All you have to do is win more today than you did yesterday and repeat the whole thing tomorrow.”
Okay, I’ve passed my 500-word goal already, but I’ll close by addressing this quote. Love it. And the challenge absolutely cemented this philosophy. So what’s next? Staying the course set by this final quote and building a focus on fun, halving my daily goals, keeping an eye on data [even if it’s words per day…or productive habits practiced], and dodging the ever-present hiding places and noble objectives.
a. When I finished the longer piece, I gave myself five minutes to do a light edit. Yes! Finished with 30 seconds to spare!
b. During my 30-minute exerbike sessions, inspiration generally kicks in after ten minutes of pedaling and reading. At that point, I’m generally reaching for a pen and notebook and the ideas really do flow.
c. I spend too much time looking for/inserting an image to accompany my writing.
d. In spite of ‘c’, I do appreciate Pixabay and Unsplash.
e. YouTube has lots of good 90-120 minute videos of instrumental music.
f. My eclectic’s journal has consistently launched me into rapid word surges.
Okay, since Mr. Goins has not delivered the writing challenge prompt for today, allow me to step in.
But first a word from our unnamed [but still gathering data on your browsing tendencies] sponsor…
Have you noticed that the only difference between ‘donut’ and ‘don’t’ is ‘u’?
And now back to our regularly-scheduled programming…
Write about the time when you wanted to take over a class you were attending. Yes, include the parts about laying siege to the administration building. And when you planned to change your grade in the class you were failing. And the grades of anyone else who was willing to pony up for your newfound side hustle.
Speaking of side hustles, write about a side hustle you would like to try. Yes, include the start-up costs, including the condo on Maui, the Lear Jet, and your sales conferences in Aruba.
Write about the dossier you collected on your neighbors. No, not the slimy, distasteful stuff [that’s for a whole different writing challenge], but the ‘what they do that you should be doing but will never get around to doing, like painting their house during this millennium, and thus you hate them for making you look like a slothful parasite. Yeah, that kind of dossier.
Write about the stuff you immediately look at when you enter a thrift store. [Some of you might need to first fess up that you even visit them.]
Describe your ideal writing setting. Include the aromas Fresh-brewed coffee? Sea mist from nearby crashing waves? Both of those simultaneously? [Yeah! Way to dream!], the needed ambient noise, your essential writing tools [blender and recliner included].
Tell about how you will celebrate the completion of the January writing challenge. Feel free to include climbing the steps of a local civic building, turning, jogging in place, and raising your arms in victory. [Just don’t tell Sly Stallone.]
Share some predictions of the aftermath of the January writing challenge. Maybe your description of the ideal writing setting will send you on a shopping spree. Perhaps your discussion of the side hustle will lead to a few phone calls with off-shore realtors. It could be as simple as a new set of pens. [For me, it’s one of those multi-packs of Flair pens, which guarantee a result from the inspired scrawl sessions in the pitch black of 3:00 AM. I don’t care if these brainstorms are in hot pink, I just want them recorded.]
Write a tribute to your writing life cheerleaders. Detail their qualities and those special moments when they lifted you up or drilled you with a solid dose of reality or treated you to a bacon breakfast burrito to launch you on your next project. [Yes, I know, ‘bacon breakfast burrito’ is getting pretty specific, but I want you to home in on their specialness.]
Make a list of ten products or services you wished existed for writers [or for folks with other avocations, life circumstances, or community service obligations]. Come on, stretch that thinking and have fun. Seriously, don’t you think all of us writers—in the midst of an inspirational surge— need an on-call personal assistant to cook the arroz con pollo, toothbrush that annoying tile grit in the shower, and give Barkley his afternoon romp? [For me, it would be an editor of my first-draft tirades and a typist of the acres of material from my notebooks. Oh! And someone with discretion and taste to sift through that stuff once it is typed up. I haven’t yet come up with a title for that poor shlub.]
Okay, so I’ve covered for Mr. Goins. If you haven’t already started your Jan. 27 challenge, there you go!
As for me, I just finished mine. [I hate ‘smug’, don’t you?]
Write It Down, Make It Happen is where good honest hard work and determination intersect with a sincere optimism that keeping those goals ‘published in your head’ raises the odds of the universe responding favorably.
I found myself rooting for those who shared their stories and I think it will raise readers’ hopes that they too might glean some serendipitous assistance.
As for Become an Idea Machine–the inspiration behind my ‘Idea Sandbox’ section–there is something magical about the number ten, as in, ‘list ten ideas especially in terms of ‘making the brain sweat’. to use the words of James Altucher, the first writer I read who coined the term ‘idea machine’ [though Claudia Azula Altucher actually wrote the book].
For me, once I reach numbers 7 – 10 in my daily idea challenge, I generally am wading into the waters of the absurd. The benefits? Absurdity checks the editor at the door, gives resistance a kick in the behind, and reminds me that this list is just for me so there is no reason to feel foolish. And when I drift that far afield can often lead to unexpected breakthroughs.
I have also benefited from using other media or thinking tools, such as my prewriting strategies, to help me along when I’m dragging or to boost my productivity to well past the prescribed ten ideas or to generate more idea prompts for later exploration.
The Doodle Revolution: Unlock the Power to Think Differently by Sunni Brown convinced me to add a ‘doodling’ component to page 2 of every Eclectic’s Journal entry.So many of us have talked ourselves out of even trying to draw something, that if it’s not recognizable and unsullied by missteps with ink or graphite, then it’s not worth doing at all. But with doodling, if nothing else, this component encourages a little artful freeform lettering as I emphasize a concept that is top of mind, such as ‘SIDE HUSTLE’, or ‘FINISH’, or ‘REINVENT’. Repetition of the doodling has also built my confidence in sketching and developing some basic techniques like cross-hatching. And it’s just plain fun. And it’s a nice release of pent-up energy. And, as with the rest of the Eclectic’s Journal, it is just for me. No pressure, try new things, see what develops. And it provides a connection between other Eclectic’s Journal components, which really is what the EJ is all about–connecting the dots between the personal and the creative.
Gratitude: I first learned of the power of thankfulness from Andrew Weil. He shared research that engendering optimism and other positive emotions lowers the level of cortisol, the stress hormone.
My gratitude exercise also breaks me out of ‘me-me-me’ blindness. Honest, I need all three ‘me’s’ to make my point. When I remind myself of some of the good that has happened to me that day, it tells me that there is at least a portion of the world/universe that is on my side. It forms for me–even briefly–my own little bubble of security and it opens my eyes to even more daily positives that I can hang my hat on [and I can feel secure enough to look past ending the previous sentence with a preposition. Luckily, I know the editor and he’s going to let me slide on it…just this once.]
So today is a good day to revisit some lessons about the writing life that I have learned recently.
You might be asking, ‘What makes today a good day for this?”
Answer: I can’t come up with any other topic.
And so…the lessons.
I prefer short pieces. Why? Because it forces me to make every word count? To challenge myself to condense profound thoughts into neat little packages of insight? Uhhh, no. That would require sweat and heavy investment of ego and time away from watching Hallmark movies. The real reasons? One, the less I write, the less I have to edit. Two, I often get distracted during–you know, the NFL just isn’t the same since Joe Montana and Steve Young left the 49ers–the writing process.
I prefer cooking to writing. Cases in point: Quick Bread. Coffee Cake. Stovetop Chocolate Cake. Chile Verde. Apple Cake. Blueberry Muffins. Biscuits. Well, those and a host of other reasons. When I’m done cooking, I have something concrete [please reserve comments on the appearance of my baking ventures.]. When I express myself with text, I run the risk of folks thinking I’m a whack job. But when I express myself in the kitchen, I connect with most folks through a shared experiences–whether with the preparation or with the consumption. When I cook, I have a genuine audience–family members, neighbors, even myself. And then there is the comfort elicited by the aromas that greet you at the front door, the warmth of the cake straight from the oven. I’m still waiting for my words to envelop me in the same way. It doesn’t mean I’ll be putting down my pen, of course. But I’m realistic about what I like.
I prefer finding images for my posts to writing them. Yeah, that sounds pretty weak, but it’s just more fun. And scanning those images has often generated plenty of material for my ‘stories I’d love to write but will never get around to’ file. I mean, how can you not have stories swirling in your head after a quick cruise through gratisography.com? I also advocate image searches as a strategy in my free prewriting course.
The people whose blogs I read are better writers than I am. They explore topics more deeply. They weave words together seamlessly. They’re informative. They have a clear point of view.
I dislike those people intensely. *
I am a small, small person.
There are so many resources available to make me a better writer and content creator.
People don’t appreciate how much energy and concentration it takes to avoid, ignore, or downplay/disregard said resources. I mean, really, all these people with so much to share. There has to be some kind of angle, don’t you think? **
When I spend an hour whether I should use ‘in anger’ vs. ‘angrily’, I’m pretty certain I need to walk away from the computer, writing room, house, city, state, and probably country. [Reason one for always carrying my passport with me.]
I’m still convinced a new MacBook will vault me into literary stardom. 10a. My wife disagrees and thinks I should get back to work.
* Of course, I don’t. In fact, because of the warmth and sincerity of their work, they are quite likable.
So I went to my inbox and there sat my assignment for the day.
That obsessive JG had left more work for me: Take your readers through a day in your life.
I started to nod off just thinking of the topic, but I knew if I didn’t get this done, I wouldn’t get that bonus check awaiting me. [Luckily, a previous assignment nudged us to lie to our readers so there may well be some carryover here. I have retained Siri as my official timekeeper. Such a loyal and efficient assistant. She told me I had surpassed my time allotment. I plowed through, though, as that just means a bigger cash bonus at the end of January.]
So, let’s get on with it. [I just noticed that’s the second time I started a sentence with ‘so’. The madness has to stop.]
First of all, I watched no football yesterday, thanks to this writing challenge. Oh, sure it’s not like I wrote all day, but I have to blame someone and the faceless JG might as well take the blame.
I used part of my morning finishing my highly-acclaimed project piece from the day before–a classic Q and A with some of my most avid readers–Ward, June, and The Beav from Mayfield, Colorado. I set them straight on some of the ills of the National Basketball Association. I’m certain my pithy answers made their day just that much more memorable.
I baked a pumpkin [Okay, okay, it was sunshine squash] quick bread with a molasses, brown sugar, and cinnamon swirl and had to hurry through the follow-up photos and notes, as Cook’s Illustrated was hounding me for any and all documentation of the venture. These imaginary editors can be such divas…
I posted the experience on my wordinventions.blog site. [And yes, I am using a .blog address and yes, that suggests I am a lowly hack, but hey! I’m powering down an overly rich quick bread with coffee and you’re not!]
Next, I opened the local newspaper to an interesting article about the community college’s graduation ceremony of June 17. Full page, nice photos of grads, really special. Made unspecial, however, by the fact that it is now six months after the event. This proved one thing: My detractors, enemies, rivals, and other assorted scoundrels with nothing better to do have teamed up to tease at my last remaining shred of sanity.
I can just hear these lowlifes: “Let’s make him wonder if he’s in some kind of time warp and maybe he’ll just drift away to either six months prior or six months ahead.”
“Yeah, boss! That’s a good idea, boss. What’s a time warp?”
Yes, my day was shaken a bit. I reached for the quick bread and broke off a hunk. [Note to readers: always eat your cakes and quick breads in hunks. Check any utensils at the door. It tastes 3.4 times better.]
With sanity restored, I launched into some vital Web research: I need a coffee grinder that doesn’t result in a layer of black dust strewn across the kitchen counter. Vital, I tell you. Seems Krups might be my answer. And no, don’t accuse me of product placement.
It was time for errands around town. Still fraught with anxiety over my coffee grinder issues, I needed a shot of calm and equanimity. [And yes, I need to work on verbal redundancy and…here I go again,… superfluousness. Honest, folks, that is the first time in my life I have ever used that word. Thrilled that dictionary.com is letting it slide.]
Anyway, for faith-restoring dose of goodness, I headed to a U.S. Postal Service subsidiary at, where else but a swimming pool and barbecue supply store. Yes, you read that right. We’re a quaint town, we are.
And sure enough, plopped on the floor was Max, Golden Retriever and resident one-dog greeting committee/customer relations wizard. [Not his real name. He prefers a lower social media profile.]
Energized by some good-natured tailwags and wrist licks, I headed for Office Depot to look into creating dog-themed address labels for a colleague.
Mission accomplished: I printed out about a hundred with a photo of a Yellow Lab–50 with the words, “Can I have a dog as my life coach?’ and 50 with a quote from Robert Falcon Scott: ‘The dog lives for the day, the hour, even the moment.’
We later met friends for dinner at Laughing Planet. Felt good to team with D and C to contribute to the place’s claim of ‘laughter’. My wife and I did the usual mid-meal plate switch, as she wanted a taste of the Santa Fe Bowl and I was ready for some of the Highway to Kale she usually orders.
We four teamed up to solve pretty much every woe of the world, except for this writing challenge’s damnable creator who will, no doubt, have another assignment awaiting me in my inbox tomorrow.
For today’s 500 words, the creator of the challenge has demanded—demanded, I tell you,—that we dabble in the practice of lying.
Not the malicious hostility-based type of lying, mind you, but let’s just go with not just stretching the truth, but flat out snapping it so it comes back and takes out an eye.
As the creator of the Internet, I can only say, this is wrong and I really have no choice but to personally expunge all record of this person’s involvement in the field of writing, blogging, and living in Tennessee.
Okay, so, back to the truth.
I’m going to answer a fewquestions from my readers’ mailbag. No wait, it’s my mailbag, but with questions from my millions of readers.
June from Midvale, Colorado asks: What do you not like about the National Basketball Association?
Well, June, it’s like this.
NBA players are allowed an exorbitant number of fouls, thus enabling on-court-assault-and-battery. [Not to worry, fans. This will be taken care of when I finally give in to the resounding demand for me to take over as the NBA commissioner.]. Worse than the customary bloodletting on the hardwood, though, is it slows down and chops up the game and really, what appeals to me is what’s most important, right readers? Uhhh, readers? Don’t leave yet!
And then, there are the timeouts. Too many, especially when you count the TV timeouts that open the floodgates for commercials suggesting that I have either ED or the cardiopulmonary shortcoming du jour.
Let me just say, “Geeeeeeezzz! Let the players play! And let the fans actually think they’re watching a game that consists of more than dribble up court, ref calls a foul, ref confides in other ref and watches the mugging on replay, player enters concussion protocol, player [once steered back to the correct foul line] is deemed okay, misses the basket [but hits teammate in forehead], makes the second, the other team calls timeout so the ball is advanced to half-court. Or something like that.
Ward from Midvale, Colorado asks:Come on, the NBA game isn’t that bad, is it?
Well, Ward, one word: Yes it is that bad. But what really gripes me is, out of one side of their mouth, they [choose your own ‘they’] remind us all that pro sports is ‘just entertainment’, but on the other side of their mouth, they put on their ‘dribble, foul, free throws, timeout, rinse and repeat’ rendition, which is NOT entertainment. And then there’s what they say out of the third side of their mouth, which isA. unprintable B. fodder for another, much-anticipated Q. and A. from my billions of readers.
But have no fear. When I become commissioner, I’ll be limiting the players to four fouls. However, I will allow the coaches four fouls, but they A. will not lead to stoppage of play.B. must be committed on their own players for rudeness to fans, stupid plays on the court, and/or over-exultation after a slam-dunk.In many cases, I will even allow an extra, double-top-secret foul called, “Hyper Flagrant” to be committed at their discretion on a player who, in my judgment, deserves it.
The Beav from Midvale, Colorado asks: But what if the fans at the NBA game are excessively rude? Isn’t that possible?
WULL-GEE BEAV, that is possible, and even probable, because so many of these people feel so entitled that they think they can spew racial slurs and demeaning epithets at these millionaires who are just trying to earn a living and max out their daily allotment of NBA fouls. In the case of fan stupidity, I’ve set up a black-ops league of mixed martial artists who, clad with semi-assuming Kevlar vests to accompany their Batman masks, will patrol the stands and swarm to the first hint of spectator unruliness. A few kindly senior citizens with Dick Tracy watches [without batteries] will be sprinkled among the fans to provide additional ‘surveillance’.
There, Beav, I’m glad we had this talk.
Thanks for checking in, readers. In my next installment, I’ll be covering my concerns about the National Football League. Stay tuned.