The Morning After Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is for friends and family.  It’s for eating turkey, and mashed potatoes, and mac & cheese and stuffing and pie for dessert.  For loaded down tables and creaky chairs.  For laughter and thankfulness and more hugs than you know what to do with.  Thanksgiving is a day when we get to take a break, take a breath, catch up with those we love, reset ourselves a little bit, and say thank you.  So thank you to all of my friends and family who are reading this right now, to all of the people who’ve followed this blog, written comments, or hit the ‘like’ button that means so much.  Thanksgiving is fun, and I hope everyone had a great one.

But what about the morning after Thanksgiving?  What is that for?

The morning after Thanksgiving is for the ray of sunlight that wakes us up early.  It’s for warm showers that wash the sleep off our skin, steaming mugs of coffee that smell delicious, and the beautiful quiet that comes with these early hours.  It’s for cracking open your computer screen, pulling out your pad of paper, and sitting at the table – no stress, no worries, just motivation.  It’s for shaking off the food-coma of the night before and smiling at the thought of leftovers in your fridge.  This morning is for being the hardest worker in the room.

So if you don’t trust the sun to wake you up, set your alarms.  Tomorrow’s going to be a good day.

Oh, and happy Thanksgiving.

Day Jobs and Creativity

You know the scene; you live in this picture every day.

Rows of desks march down an open floor plan; coworking spaces nestle in niches and corners; LED computer screens add their eerie white glow to the ceiling lights set overhead. Fingers click on keys and mouses brush against tables; conversations float at eye level, sometimes reaching for the ceiling in a gout of laughter; somewhere someone is shouting, but it’s not an angry shout, it’s an excited shout. It smells like coffee (cliche but true), chipotle, maybe incense if your coworkers are trendy. It’s fun, it’s upbeat, it’s fast-paced, it’s engaging, it’s distracting, it’s… your office?

Ok, fine, not the best kept surprise in the world, maybe the title gave it away. But yes, I’m talking about your office. My office, actually.

I work as a management consultant for a medium sized firm in DC. Despite what some (still-not-famous) artists might tell you about how shackled they feel by a day job, I actually love mine. I get to work with and advise C-level executives at Fortune 500 companies in and around NYC; I work with many of the largest institutions in Toronto, including the Big Five Banks of Canada. I have the opportunity to travel to both of these cities on a regular basis. The work is interesting, engaging, fun, and I love the 40-some-odd people on my team. When I arrive at the office in the morning I get to see and hang out with real friends all day (and often all through happy hour and the night). It’s great. It’s cool. As Donald Trump would say: ‘It’s fantastic, believe me.’ It’s almost enough to make me forget what my greatest desire is – my biggest dream. It’s the most dangerous kind of distraction, because it’s one I thoroughly enjoy.

But I don’t want to be a consultant for the rest of my life, no matter how fun or engaging it is. I want to be an author, as many of the people reading this post do. A writer. A storyteller. A teacher of tales, whatever shape that may end up looking like.

So how do we stay creative at work?

I could give you the list – you know, the one you’ve heard before: write every day, keep a journal, take advantage of down time, protect your writing time at all costs, etc. But who can actually keep up with all that crap (if you do, no offense, I’m actually very impressed).

Instead of giving you the list, here is my list:

  • I use Evernotes. Actually, I wrote this post on Evernotes, switching between my phone and my iPad. By keeping a lot of my work in Evernotes, I can work on my projects no matter where I am. Stuck on a delayed flight? Evernotes has synced my work and I can outline / brainstorm and write on my phone. Taking the train? I grab my iPad. Back home again? I pull up Evernotes on my computer, take everything that has copied over from my phone and iPad, and put it back into Scrivener. I make a habit to copy my works in progress into Evernotes at least a few times a week so I can always be ready to go.
  • I read on the Metro to and from work. We all have some form of down time (whether it’s commuting to work, waiting for our kids to get out of school, pretending to watch The Bachelor with our girlfriend) that can be used to sneak in reading. There is absolutely nothing – 0 single thing – in the world that will spur your creativity like reading will. Read often. And when ideas strike you, write them down (in Evernotes, perhaps?  No, I swear this is not an ad).
  • I’ve found my writing spot. In the past, I would try to write in my apartment. It sucked. I’d end up watching TV, get distracted by my roommate, fall asleep. I firmly believe that we all need a special place to work. Because writing is not relaxing; it’s often extremely hard. Just like you work better in the office, you’ll get more writing down outside your home. Now for some of you home may be better, you might have a special nook. That’s great. For me, I go to this coffee shop in Chinatown in DC called La Colombe, bring my Bose noise-cancelling headphones, and like magic I can concentrate fully for as long as I want. I usually leave work and go straight there. So find your spot.
  • Figure out what you love to do, then write directly before you do it. For me, I love going to the gym. I go about five times a week, I blast music, I have fun, I feel awesome. It’s my thing. I used to go to the gym after work, come home, shower, and try to write in my apartment. It rarely ever worked. Now I go to La Colombe right after work, knowing that as soon as I’m done I’ll be rewarded by getting to go to the gym. It’s a huge incentive. If the gym isn’t your thing, maybe it’s watching a specific TV show, or relaxing in a nice long bath, or having a few glasses of wine (or a 6-pack of beer – Loose Cannon is my favorite by the way); whatever your thing is, it’s yours. Write before you do it.

Those are just a few of the things I do, but they’re the ones I do day in and day out. If your list gets too long, it’ll be too hard to keep track of. Find what works for you and stick to it. No excuses.

For those of you with engaging/exhausting day jobs, how do you find the time to stay creative? To write? What works best for you?

Make A Mission Statement And Stick To It

A mission statement is a small, overlooked, but powerful thing. Like the theme of a great book, a mission statement is often lurking beneath the surface, sometimes unnoticed, but always guiding the characters and plot in a subtle but profound way. A mission statement is the theme of our life and our work, whatever that work may be. It is the next level. It gives life deeper meaning. It can guide us when we’re lost or faced with a fork in the road. We all need that help from time to time.The good news is that most of us probably already have a mission statement in some way, shape, or form. But if that form is anything other than a concise and written distillation of our identity and desires, we’re missing out on a powerful tool. The bad news is that turning our identify and desires – which already guide us on a subconscious level – into something concrete is very difficult. But it’s extremely rewarding.

A mission statement should be short – five sentences or less. It should be a declaration to ourselves and the outside world that explains who we are and what we’re all about. It should tell people what to expect from us. It should help the world understand our goals and what, if they choose to follow along, they will receive in return. It could be what they will receive from our blogs, our businesses, our conversations – the method of delivery is up to us, but the product we deliver (physical items, knowledge, friendship) is going to be built around a common theme, and that theme needs to be explained.

The external value of this statement is apparent, but the internal value is often even greater. A mission statement helps ground us in what we truly want, making sure that we never lose sight of what matters most. It is a pillar of support at all times. No matter where you are, no matter what you do, if you understand what you want out of life, you’ll always be equipped to make the best decisions possible.

Creating your own mission statement is a personal process, but here is how I made mine:

  • Free write, a lot. Pretend you’re talking to a friend or journal, explaining your life values and what your most cherished dreams are. Where do you want to be in 10 years? What do you want people to think of you? What do you want to help other people understand? If you were gone, what would you want them to say you cared most about?
  • Read what you wrote, and pick out the most important, concrete, things, such as: I want to be a successful writer, I want to help people in need, I want to help other people live a carefree lifestyle, I want to travel the world and experience different cultures, I want to own the world’s largest sock collection, etc.
  • Go through that list and pick out the three most important things, the common threads that run through the entire group, the things you cannot live without
  • Turn those things into a statement

Below is a first draft of my mission statement.  Stay tuned for an upcoming post about how to refine it into something easy to understand, and how to use that second version as a springboard for creating your own stories/blog/brand (ones that are unique to you, that other people will love to read).

My first draft mission statement:

I’m a writer, with everything that entails, who cares most about creating stories that focus on the grayest areas of good vs. evil. I love people to a fault and want to travel the world to experience different cultures and places, and I try to use those inputs to fuel my creativity. I care about fitness, and friends, and always seeing the good side of everything, and my dream is to write about all of these things, and not just fiction, to help anyone who might need it. I focus my life on stories, people, travel, fitness, and positivity – and I try to connect people to these things through fiction, blogs, and conversations.

What about you? How do you feel about mission statements? Worthwhile? Waste of time? If you have one, what is it?

How to Write in a Coffee Shop

  1. Be extra nice to the staff
  2. If you’re going to be there for longer than 60-90 minutes, go up and buy another drink
  3. Don’t make a mess
  4. You made a mess.  Clean up your mess
  5. Don’t make overly creepy or lengthy eye contact with anyone
  6. If you try to strike up a conversation, be mindful of any hints that might mean ‘fuck off I’m working’
  7. Don’t try to strike up a conversation
  8. If you listen to music, make sure it isn’t disturbing anyone next to you
  9. If the person next to you is listening to disturbing music, spill your drink on her
  10. Actually do work.  If you’re just browsing Facebook, and other people see your screen, they will resent you
  11. If you have to use the restroom, ask the person next to you to watch your stuff
  12. If your restroom trip is going to take longer than two minutes (if you know what I mean), just go home and do it there
  13. Don’t put your bag on the chair next to you
  14. Don’t eat with your mouth open
  15. Don’t slurp
  16. Don’t smell bad
  17. If you get really into a song you’re listening to, bob your head to the beat, but understand that people will think you’re crazy/weird
  18. Don’t brag about how often you write in coffee shops
  19. Try to switch it up sometimes – other places are cool too
  20. Don’t fart, unless it’s to mark your territory as you’re leaving or the person next to you is exceedingly rude
  21. Don’t forget your stuff

Stop Procrastinating

If you’re anything like most of the people I know, you need help.  Trust me, you really do.

In today’s society, procrastination is almost an art form, something that a certain group of people have perfected to such a degree of proficiency that not only do they believe their own excuses, but the people around them do too.  Almost every person old enough to talk is at least mildly proficient at procrastination; I’d say I fall somewhere between “Exceeds Expectations” and “Jedi”.  But when it comes to the things that matter to me, that I dream about every day and night, I’m also a master at cutting through the procrastination and getting work done.  Read more

Living In Memory

About seven years ago, during my senior year of high-school, I wrote a short story titled Frank, which I later changed to Living in Memory. It’s been tucked away since then, gathering dust, aging slowly – not unlike the eponymous character – until I found it this morning and got a chance to re-read my 18-year-old writing. It’s about 3,400 words and I wanted to share it here with you all. For those who get a chance to read it, I’d love to hear what you think in either the comments section or through a direct message. Read more

Write in Weird Places

Have you ever written somewhere a little bit strange?  No, I don’t mean ‘yesterday I wrote a short story on my mom’s dining room table’ strange.  I mean somewhere different, somewhere outside the norm.  Somewhere exciting.  Somewhere fun or scary.  A place that might seem regular, but still a place you’d never consciously go to work on a normal day.

I have.  I did it today, and last week, and a few weeks before that.

And it was awesome.

Welcome to the first part of my new series of blog posts: Write in Weird Places. Read more