The play must go on

I have day-job writing to do today, and the inertia is palpable. Perhaps if I approached it with the joy that I try to bring to my creative writing. There is a pattern to day-job writing that can feel restrictive, but there is a pattern to creative work, too. Perhaps …

perhaps … perhaps … perhaps!

“Find me in my next book,” I said in the postscript to my last book. Find me on the next page. Find me with your hands and eyes and ears.


Steven Pressfield tells the story of finishing his first book, and going to his mentor to proclaim victory, who said only, “Good for you! Now start on the next one.”

Start the next one. Here is my 10th book. Have a nice time with it, but I need to work on the 11th. There’s my 15th journal — I’m sure there are some nice nuggets in there, but I need to be here, in the 16th. I dropped my 324th consecutive daily blog post yesterday, and I’m proud of that, but my mind is here in the 325th and thinking about 365 at the end of next month.

It’s actually no different from the day job. Here’s today’s news, but, excuse me, I’ve got to be working on tomorrow’s news now.

The play must go on. More to the point, the play must continue. We are born to play, and so we play until we can play no longer.

… And in the space between the last two paragraphs, I found an answer to the inertia. You see, I started to write “the work” must go on, but I realized no, not work, we are playing at life in the sense that we seek joy and comfort and a sense of triumph, and while the games can be deadly serious, we are most fulfilled when we feel a win coming on … even when the win is defined as a loss in which we gave the task — or the game — all we had to give.

“I have to go to play,” the bread winner might say.

Instead of “Will you marry me?” the suitor might ask, “Can you come out to play?”

If our hard work were child’s play, would we feel better about it? And by child’s play, I mean the attitude, not the difficulty level. “Become as children,” Jesus said, or was it Paul or someone else speaking holy words? In the curiosity and open-mindedness of a child is an approach to everyday life that needs to be preserved or recaptured and rebuilt and reasserted.

The play must go on. Find me in my play. Look! I made this. What are you making there?

All of these creations I have surrounded myself with in this room — including the comfortable old chair — were made by children who grew up and made things — serious things, whimsical things, profound things, silly things, musical things, colorful things — that spark of childlike curiosity still aflame and still marveling at the possibilities. If we could bring that pleasure of discovery to all of our actions and interactions! What a world that would be.

If the day was always a new chance to see what we could find and learn and improve and share … If we moved from sand castles to skyscrapers but still had time for sand castles … remembering the joy and investing it into finding and creating new joy …

If we approached each day with the eagerness of a child at play — no, no, no, not “if.” The play must go on. The play must go on.

Although must is a command word. Mandated play is not play at all. I say “the play must go on” to convey a sense of urgency in myself, to suggest a way that seems right ot me. If you feel better to tell yourself “the work must go on,” that a time comes to put aside childish things, and this gives you a sense of accomplishment, who am I to say you should think of it as play?

So I speak for myself when I say “the play must go on.” Think of it as an invitation. Try this attitude out for size and see how it fits.

As for me, I see by the clock that it’s time to set this journal down and move to, well, playtime.

Love what you write

The people who run the late Ray Bradbury’s Facebook page posted this quote the other day:

“Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.”

Mr. Bradbury made a lot of sense. When I write about people and thoughts and dogs I love (OK, I was a cat man first, so cats, too), the words scamper across the page like a feline chasing a pesky ball filled with tinkle bells, and when the writing feels like a chore or an obligation, the words trickle out like blood from a turnip after the longest drought Mars has ever seen.

And then there’s that fatal desire to make sure the words are crafted “just right” — whittling them to perfection in your mind before applying fingers to writing implement. The balance between caring about what you write and taking care to get it right is not really a balance at all, and yet it is — you want to say what you mean and mean what you say — but if you get all tangled up in saying it, you end up not saying anything.

Sometimes in the still of morning, you just have to write whatever is spilling from your soul and sort it all out later. In fact, that’s sound advice any time of day. It pays to set your fingers free to say whatever your mind wants to say.

Case in point: When I was scribbling that last paragraph, my impulse was to write “sound advice,” but I paused. “What is the right word here?” I thought. “Sound advice? Not-unsound advice? Not-bad advice?” I finally wrote “not-bad advice,” and in hindsight, when it was time to post this little bit, I ended up deciding my first impulse was the best.

Bottom line: Write only what you love, and love what you write. Somebody very wise said that once. or twice.

Family album

Full is my tenth book. I don’t know why, but somehow, now that I’m in double digits, I feel like I can really call myself an author now.

It’s silly, really. I was always writing. I have always been authoring. And it’s not like I’m selling books like Steven King or even name-your-obscure-author-who-died-a-pauper.

But if you search my name at your online book shop, you’ll get 10 answers. You might get more than that, because I’ve published a half-dozen editions of great works in the public domain. Sixteen doesn’t sound like enough to call me a book publisher yet, but I’ll take author.

Most of them are short books, probably an outcrop of my career writing for radio and then newspapers. A thousand words is a long newspaper article and four or five radio news stories, and so I’m used to saying as much as I can as concisely as I can. My longest novel is 37,000 words, more like a novella. My largest book is a collection of 16 novelettes (10,000-15,000 words each) with a couple of short stories.

But there they are — my 10 books. I should say my “first” 10 books, and I’m excited to show you the next one. I’m always thinking about the next book. It’s what I do. I’m an author.

– – – – –

Read Full within seconds by buying the ebook, or pre-order the print-on-demand edition going live on June 15.

That which governs the dance

My stream of consciousness, as it were, was dammed by the other side of the brain:

“What are you writing?”

“What are you trying to say?”

“What does it mean?”

“What madness will people think overcame you?”

All these questions until the madness was crowded out.

The Self-Editor or the Self-Censor, call it what I may — the governor (I love what that word means, it explains everything), Pressfield’s Resistance, Godin’s Dip — Every creative seems to have this internal struggle. The poet who flies with inspired not-madness-but-music-that sings-her-soul and is whacked from the sky by those questions even as she soars —

The quotidian — the practical needs of the day — collides with the Transcendence of the Soul in an everyday, ever-spiraling dance.

(I almost wrote “everyday, ever-spiraling fight,” but no, the creative soul does not want a fight, seeking not a death struggle, but a dance.)

The words want to dance. The face wants to smile. The chaos wants to sing. Muscles want to relax.

Book shelves are full of dancing souls.

Full is, well, full

I needed a few more hundred words on the subject of freedom to complete my next book of poems and aphorisms, Full, and that more than anything is why I assembled my thoughts into yesterday’s post, “The cost of freedom.”

And so I have moved Full: Rockets, Bells & Poetry into “production” mode, and you should be able to find it wherever you find your books by mid-June. The big question is whether I will ever break the microphones out of storage and begin my audiobooks career.

Speaking of audiobooks, I just finished Mirror’s Edge, the third in Scott Westerfeld’s series that began with Impostors and continues the story of the universe from his Uglies series of a few years back. To say I like the new books better is an understatement. I am enthralled by the story of Frey, the twin of Rafia who is trained from birth to be her 25-minute-older sister’s secret body double, and their struggle against their tyrannical father. Like the rest of the series, Mirror’s Edge is filled with plenty of “what!” “WHAT?!?” and “WTF!” moments and grand emotion and adventure. The first series focused on Tally Youngblood was good, but Westerfeld has taken his storytelling to an entirely different level with the Impostors series.

And the narration by Therese Plummer is spectacular.

But: Full. Another short book along the lines of A Bridge at Crossroads, How to Play a Blue Guitar, and Gladness is Infectious. It’s subdivided into three roughly equal-length sections about creativity, freedom, and motivation/inspiration. If you follow this blog you’ve got an idea what you’ll get; in fact, you’ve already read most of it.

A couple of weeks ago I thought Full: Rockets, Bells & Poetry might be available by June 1. It’ll be a little later than that, but not much.

Trusting in the possibilities

The possibilities are endless.

I look around my room and part of me is overwhelmed. How does it always get this messy? I’m like a kid who doesn’t know to put away his toys, leaving a pile of stuff everywhere I turn.

It’s like that when I sit down to write some mornings. What could I possibly write? It’s not: “I got nothing.” No, it’s: “So many choices!” How do you pick just one toy?

What wonder have I assembled within a couple of steps and an easy reach. Here are books collecting the first 50 editions of Fantastic Four, the first 40 editions of Spider-Man, similar collections of Batman and Captain Marvel and Zot. Not far away are A Treasury of Sherlock Holmes, a collection of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poetry, all of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter stories — right here at my elbow is the Emily Dickinson paperback I pulled off the shelf a couple of weeks ago, and Carole King is singing “Smackwater Jack” from the turntable.

Is there a more perfect album of songs than Tapestry? OK, Blue and Judee Sill are also within reach, so I can think of plenty of contenders just in my own collection. But still … “When my soul was in the lost and found, you came along to claim it …”

The robin eggs under our back deck have hatched, and mama is tending what were little fluffballs not long ago but this morning look, amazingly, like little robins.

And what a few weeks ago was a white landscape is now awash with green. It has always been my favorite color, green, speaking as it does of life and warmth and growth.

Sometimes I sit in my chair, pen posed expectantly over the page, and my fingers just hover. It’s not that I don’t know what to write. It’s that the possibilities are endless.

At those moments I have a choice to be frustrated, or I can remember the story of a friend who needed to start work on a promotional video for his nonprofit, but so many things called for his attention, he didn’t know where to begin.

“Just get started,” smiled the renowned actor who had agreed to appear in his video. “The rest will take care of itself.”

And so I send my fingers across the page — or the keyboard as I’m doing now — and see what happens. It’s not magic, it’s just trusting in the possibilities.

I suppose I should pick up some of this mess. What would company think? If I keel over unexpectedly today, how rude of me to leave this for someone else to pick up. It’s like wearing dirty underwear to the emergency room.

Even more important, though, there may be something miraculous waiting to be rediscovered. How cool is that?

The fine art of riding the torrent

Why do the young (supposedly) write the most amazing songs? The Beatles were in their 20s. I know, not so, not so — some of the great works were by mature authors — but maybe foolish youth doesn’t know better and unleashes work that hasn’t been tinkered and edited to death.

After that first burst of success, they begin to think, “I am a recognized whatever now, and so I am obligated to produce works of genius,” as opposed to “I am flowing with the universe and I must share what I experience, I am the conduit not the genius creator, come see and hear what I see and hear.”

As soon as the acclaim comes, the pressure is on. “What will you do next,” as if that wasn’t enough, as if “you” did it. And you start to seek out the inspiration instead of watching and listening.

Yes, there is a flow to be tapped and there is a Great Architect willing to share the vision, and we are creators made in the Architect’s image and so the act of creating is built into our genes, but in the trying too hard to craft we can lose sight of the spark — just as these sentences are crawling more slowly out of the pen than they were a couple of minutes ago.

Sometimes, when I get out of my own way, here come the words in a torrent, and as soon as I become conscious of the flow — “Look, mom, it’s a torrent!” — it starts to slip away.

Oh, take me away, mad genius, let me swim and swim in the torrent sharing what I see and hear bursting from my chest like some generous alien critter — not a parasite like in the movie that uses my body and casts it aside, rather a creation maker who fills my heart and makes it give — an I-don’t-know-what that sends my hands flying across the page, and I look back and don’t quite remember where it all came from.

Imagine an aging Paul McCartney who never wrote his little masterpiece, sitting down to write and coming up with, “Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away,” and looking at the phrase and thinking, “No, no, no, that’s kind of bogus, I can do better than that …”

It’s a trick, letting the universe talk and not judging what you’ve got until later, and maybe the young are better at it because they haven’t learned the unfine art of second guesses. Ray Bradbury said, “Don’t think,” and I think he was on to something. In thinking comes editing, and from editing comes a trickle instead of a torrent, with only what seems best in the moment coming out.

Somewhere in the torrent will be the real gem, and you must let the river run through you, the wild river untamed and roaring along with all of it, not just the trickle, and you come back and say “Some force possessed me,” not “Oh look, see what I contrived to create this morning.”

And that is what comes of not thinking.