As a writer, I’ve thought often about working with the audience in mind. It’s advice I’ve heard from many a source: know your audience.

It’s not always easy advice to follow. Do I pick one person and write with them in mind? Do I try to guess exactly what an entire demographic would want to read?

I’ve heard some folks advise extensive research before even getting started. First discover a popular subject and then choose a niche market within that. Make sure your every word caters to those within the market.

While this approach may turn out lucrative for some, I fear it may also be soulless, passionless, and disingenuous. In short, it’s pandering.

The way I see it, pandering is playing tunes you know the crowd wants, even if it’s not the music of your own heart.

I saw a comedian making fun of this in country music. I couldn’t help but laugh at how dead-on his spoof of the popular modern country song turned out. He even had a gust of wind blowing his hair at just the right moment.

On the other hand, I just read an article from an author I respect who suggested that writers don’t need to know who their audience is (at least not at first). It took me by surprise, since I don’t think I’ve heard that from anyone else. I appreciated the untypical approach.

Whether you’re a writer, musician, designer, director, chef, or any other form of creative, there will exist a temptation to take the popular route, to put the audience first. But, may I humbly submit, good art is never made this way.

True art is made from inside.

I know, it sounds so hippy and new-agey, like something my high school art teacher might have (most definitely) said. But I’ve found it to be the case. 

When you begin with the things you care about, when the art truly matters to you, it will inevitably matter to someone else, too.

Pandering, on the other hand, may win you some fans, but you’ll also lose a lot of respect from other creatives and you yourself will not find satisfaction in your work.

Now, it’d be wrong to say the audience doesn’t matter. Of course they do. You don’t create in a black hole.

There is clearly a time to consider who would be most interested in your work—once you’ve made it. But don’t start out with the goal of winning friends and influencing people by making what you think they’ll want.

You will find the right audience when you produce the best work you can. 

That happens when you let your creativity flow out of something you delight in, something real to you. Then you will naturally draw the best kind of audience, the one that appreciates you and your work for what it is, an expression of your true self.

follow the leader


I’ve got a great group of guys I meet with weekly. We talk about life, how we’re feeling, and we do some good ol’ fashion Bible studying. It’s always a good time and I’m thankful to have such friends. 

During a recent hangout, we re-read the familiar story of David and Bathsheba. As is usually the case, I discovered something new this time. 

I noticed how David’s more failing and deceptive cover-up resulted in a breakdown of trust and obedience going down his chain of command all the way to a common messenger. No one does exactly what they’re told to, including the only righteous dude in the whole story, Uriah the Hittite. Ultimately, it leads to the death of an honest man and others with him.

It’s a perfect demonstration of the famous line from Marmion,

“Oh! What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”

I’ve seen the same thing happen with some leaders in my own life and I’m certain my own times of dishonesty have led to other’s harm.

The mantle of leadership is a heavy one because it carries with it the wellbeing of many others.

I have yet to meet a person who didn’t want to be a leader in some way. Perhaps in their field of research, among coworkers, or even in their fantasy football league.

Creatives are no different. We desire to set the standard, to have others who look up to us and respect our person and position. We long to become a source of inspiration to many, to impact those around through what we make.

At the same time, most full-grown adults are a leader in some capacity or another. There is likely someone younger or less experienced in your life who sees you as a leader, whether or not you see yourself that way.

Sadly, very few people consider the responsibilities of being a leader and the consequences of being a bad one. Or maybe they just don’t care. 

You don’t have to look far to find a disgraced or cruel leader who has left a trail of hurt in their wake.

But what makes a good leader? It’d take too long to cover the full gamut here, and there are many great books on the subject, but one quality I’ve admired is humility.

At a leadership conference I heard the phrase, 

“Be thick-skinned and soft-hearted.” 

It’s a good place to start: willing to let the negative stuff bounce off you while still showing love to the people under your care and guidance. 

A leader is someone who other people follow. But a good leader first learns what it means to follow someone else, to learn under another and to grow in empathy.

A good leader gets where they are by learning, but also remains humble enough to continue learning, even when that means accepting correction from another, perhaps even a “follower.”

Consider some of the qualities you most appreciate in a leader. Do you emulate them?

Who might be following you? Have you helped them by setting a good example or led them astray through dishonest speech and practice?

I’ve always found the phrase, “do what I say, not what I do,” to be extremely hypocritical. Honestly, that mindset ticks me off. It’s a personal excuse to harm others with no concern for their wellbeing. 

It’s a poor disguise. Actions, after all, speak louder than words. 

Ultimately, every leader, no matter how few their followers, will be known by their actions. Let yours be good, honest, and, whenever possible, creative.



Childrearing. Do they call it that because of how often the tending to rear ends is involved?

No matter—that’s neither rear no there. Whilst childrearing, I often find myself wondering what the little tikes will be like as they grow up.

I think about how future days when my little two year old girl will learn to ride a bike, go to school, get married, and even start her own family (presumably she will no longer be a two year old at that point). I consider what sort of games my half-a-year old son will like to play, what his hobbies might be, and how many messes he will make for us to clean up (many in the nearer future, I’m sure).

There are plenty of opportunities for foresight in life, but I find them most often when I’m around my own kids. Oddly, when it comes to myself, I have an assumption things will stay just about the same. This can’t possibly be true, of course, but I have it anyhow.

Fact is, we’re always changing, one way or another, whether we welcome it or not. The good thing about foresight is it helps us prepare for change, even direct it.

Creatively speaking, this also holds true. The more we plan and prepare for our creative hobbies, goals, and careers, the more likely we are to reach our desired outcomes. Very few people (if any) are successful on accident.

Granted, there will always be a good measure of the unexpected—those twists and turns, maybe even a few ramps, cliffs and loop-the-loops. But unless you plan for some kind of destination and head in that general direction, you’ll never get there.

It’s impossible to prepare for everything, and crazy to even attempt it, but if we never anticipate the future, we’ll constantly be caught off-guard by it. 

I appreciate the advice I found in the childrearing book, Baby Wise

“Begin as you mean to go.”

When you visualize what the results will be and make the necessary preparations toward that end, it’s like gathering and prepping all the right ingredients and preheating the oven before cooking. Turns out, it’s a much better strategy than just throwing whatever you have on hand into a bowl, mixing it up, and hoping for the best. This is how I think some of the more day-to-day lifestyles can turn out, a big mess that fails to rise in the heat of the oven.

When it comes to being a parent, there is virtually no end to what I do not know. But I can still take the little I know and apply it with foresight. I can think about what sort of family I want to help build and what I need to do now in order to get there. 

Eventually, one Lego brick at a time, we’ll end up with a sweet castle that has its own moat and a working drawbridge, or at least an impressively tall tower that my kids will enjoy knocking over.

beautiful things


We recently took our kids to the local zoo for the first time. All-in-all, it was pretty nice. 

For a small-time operation (at least compared to the San Diego and LA zoos) they had some notable animals. And the people working there were laid back and friendly. 

We got to pet a miniature horse who was being taken on a walk, see the tiger get her breakfast, and were even greeted by some free-roaming peacocks. Most importantly, they had a great play area—oh, and also owls (my daughter’s favorite).

There are many positive things about zoos: they educate us about wildlife, they’re usually a nice outing, and they play a large part in protecting and breeding endangered species. Still, I can’t help but feel a little sad when I see a wild creature trapped in a cage, even if it is being treated well and eating much healthier and living much longer than it would in its natural habitat. 

It feels like I’m cheating by enjoying the experience in such a manner. It’s not the way things were meant to be. A tiger in a cage chowing down is actually still fearsome (that growl will make anyone shiver a little), but it’s nothing like a tiger catching her pray out in the wilds of mother nature. 

Zoos remind me of one of my recent favorite movies, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It’s during the scene where Mitty finally meets up with the man he processes photos for, Sean O'Connell, whom he has been hunting down almost the whole movie. Sean is in the process of photographing a snow leopard. But then he stops and doesn’t take the picture. He drops one of my all-time favorite lines,

"Beautiful things don't ask for attention."

It makes me a little sad that animals must be caged and put on display to be preserved, appreciated, and enjoyed today. But even more, it makes me think about the surprising beauty of life—those special moments, those rare spottings, where everything is just right and instead of feeling the need to capture, preserve, and make a sad attempt at enjoying it forever, you just sit there and soak in the moment with a sense of awe. 

You can’t cage something like that. And there’s no use parading it around, because if you do—you’ll lose the beauty.

I talked with an acquaintance recently who is going through a difficult divorce. After expressing how much of a struggle it has been for him, he said, even so, he still experiences moments of joy and peace. Though he sleeps by himself and is lonely, there are times where he’ll throw a warm blanket over his cold feet, or times when he’ll hold his grandson and just be thankful to be alive.

It reminds me of the part in the first Die Hard movie about making fists with your toes in the carpet. Sometimes it’s the little things in life, you know?

Personally, I try to look for beauty wherever I can. I try to enjoy every moment of it. I hug my kids tight, I try never to miss even a halfway decent sunrise or sunset, I try to recognize the funny little moments that just happen. And I try to remember often and daily just how good a life I have. 

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But I also think beauty is found by those who look for it.

So often presentation plays a big part in the things we consider beautiful. But I think the most beautiful things are natural, they need no presentation but just are.

I encourage you to live a life not only searching for beauty, but also giving some of your own to the world, in your own, natural and untamed way.


Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.
-Andy Warhol

fun and games



There’s nothing I love hearing more than that word after introducing someone to a board game.

Being a board game aficionado, I have a lot of interest in what makes a game fun. 

During a family gathering, we played an old classic game I’d never heard of, Enchanted Forest. There is a special place in my heart reserved for old games. Granted, most of them don’t stand the test of time (based on my highly biased opinion), but they do retain a certain charm, an endearing quality, if you will. Likely this is because of all the old memories contained in their, dusty, weathered boxes.

I was actually surprised by Enchanted Forest. It had some interesting mechanics such as rolling two dice and using both results to move forward and/or backwards. It had a clever memory component where the players wondered through the forest peeking at symbols under trees in hopes to make it to the castle when a symbol they remembered came up. Though it had one aspect which I’ve never enjoyed and which took away some fun from the game: having to make an exact roll to land on a space. Even so, considering when it was made, it wasn’t a bad game.

The fact remains, many older games just aren’t as fun as their more modern counterparts.

But what is it that makes a game fun at all? I’ll save an in-depth treatise for a longer post, perhaps an article. Beside, the idea of “fun” is highly subjective. For example, my sister enjoys games with a high level of chance, while more hardcore boardgamers like games with more strategy. Chess-players enjoy a game with no chance at all.

All that said, there are three important fun factors which come to my mind: memorable, challenging, and surprising.

A memorable game does something unique, it has an element that stands out from any other game. When the party game Cranium came out it was a huge hit because it combined many forms of talent and artistry into one guessing game, rather than just focusing on a single one like drawing (Pictionary) or acting (Charades).

Who doesn’t like a little challenge in their game? A level of difficulty adds interest to a game, it creates a risk/reward system. Did I say Risk? Let’s shelve that for another time. Easy games with a predictable outcome get boring very fast.

Children’s games, on the other hand, are hardly ever challenging. Why, I used to outwardly scoff at games such as Candyland. The card game War isn’t much better. Then why are they so popular? Having kids, I’ve realized games like these do serve a purpose. They teach kids how to follow a set of rules, leading to a victory of some sort. They’re good for learning—a stepping stone to more advanced (and fun) games that favor smart decision-making over pure luck. Children’s games have their place, but you’d be hard pressed to find a bunch of grownups sitting down for a rousing game of Chutes and Ladders.

Last, a game needs some level of surprise. Replayability is the term you’ll often hear concerning a praiseworthy game. Most games have a randomized system built in, which allows for a good measure of the unexpected. Whether it’s a shuffled deck of cards or a modular board, even a familiar game should have some element of the new and unexpected to keep things fresh.

Alright, so that’s my crudely thrown-together list of what I find fun in a game.

How about you, are there any particular factors you’re looking for in your next game night?


The idea for this post came about after an experience I had playing the game Skyrim. In case you aren’t familiar, it’s an immense fantasy game from the Elder Scrolls series. 

In the game, I was visiting a small tavern when a serving maid walks up and asks if I’d like her to play some music. I reply yes and pay her 5 gold to do so. She plays some soothing music for a time on what I believe was a lute and then she’s done and walks away. Nothing else happens.

Her family isn’t troubled by dragons. She didn’t lose her brother’s favorite sword. None of that. She just walks away.

In Skyrim, as in many games, just about every interaction you have with anything bears some sort of significance to the overall story of the game. It seems like nearly every person you talk with has some quest they want you to go on, usually with the reward of some advancement such as a new item, skill, gold, more quests, etc.

But, in this case, all you got was the opportunity to hear some nice music for a few coins. Nothing more. 

I was a little disappointed at first. But, when I stopped to think more on it, I felt admiration.

This bit of flavor without function made the world feel more real, more vibrant. 

It got me thinking how flavor serves no immediate purpose yet without it our worlds (both real and imagined) would be quite dull.

You could survive just fine on flavorless food as long as it had adequate nutritional value. In fact, they often seem at odds with one another—flavor and nutrition. But to live such a way seems almost unbearable to me. 

I heard they invented a loaf for prisoners that had all the necessary nutrients to sustain life while being utterly flavorless. In the end, it was considered cruel and unusual punishment.

I remember a point in my life where the only part of the day I really looked forward to was when I got to eat. Draw what conclusions you wish about my mindset here, but I couldn’t imagine having that pleasure taken away.

Taste aside, even the way food is presented adds a whole 'nother level of flavor. The value of going out to a nice restaurant comes from the fact that you aren't just paying for good food, you're paying for an entire eating experience.

Personally, I'm a sucker for plates where the food is arranged to look like a face. I love it when my wife lays out my sandwich and accompanying sides to look like a happy person with a mustache. And I love doing the same for her or my daughter just as much. I would even argue it does make the food taste that much better.

A life without flavor is as dull and gray as a day without the sun.

Flavor pumps lifeblood into an otherwise ordinary story.

Flavor is the extra bling in your attire that gives you style.

The flavor text you may read about a product provides a description to entice you to learn more. It’s exciting.

Flavor is that little bit of detail you add to your art, which, while unnecessary for the work as a whole, is the spark that sets it on fire—especially if you’re really into pyrotechnics. 

Sure, flavor alone may not be enough to fill your belly, warm your body, or engage you in the story. 

Still, I hope the next time you have the opportunity, whether you’re building a bicycle or baking butternut squash biscuits, you don’t forget to add a bit of flavor—just for fun.

waste not?


I have a very strong aversion to waste.

By that I mean I absolutely hate it.

I believe much of this comes from how I was raised. I was taught to always finish all the food on my plate (which, let me advise you, isn’t always the best approach for kids). I’d learned to never throw away what could be used later.

I still think, in general, waste is pretty bad.

Americans have a propensity to be incredibly wasteful—with our food, our resources, and our time.

But, on the other hand, being hyper sensitive about waste can lead to hoarding. 

I’m not sure if I’d call myself a hoarder, in the extreme sense, but I do have the tendency to save things that I really don’t need. I learned this acutely during our move. There were so many things I look back on wondering why we kept it.

Heck, even when playing video games, I tend to hoard equipment, way more than I could possibly need or use, “just in case.”

I once had a neighbor who was a legitimate hoarder. 

Her whole car was filled with trash and had only a tiny window to see out of. When here garage door was open, all that was visible was a solid wall of trash. 

The city once had volunteers come out to clean her place up, and I helped out, but it was something of a tragic event. The whole time she sat nearby crying bitterly that we were throwing away so many of her treasures.

I worry about becoming that way, if I’m not careful.

I’ve known of people who lived through the Great Depression who save all sorts of things like tissue and used tea bags. 

“Waste not, want not,” or so the saying goes. But everything has its limits.

I say, “Waste is a terrible thing to mind.”

I have a lot of trouble deciding what to let go of and what’s worth holding on to. Just about everything I own has some level of utility or sentiment to it, so where do I draw the line?

I remember a rather powerful short story about a first-world photographer who was documenting his captor, an African warlord. The warlord, a rather nasty person, explained to the photographer how the freedom to waste was the mark of privilege and authority. The thought stuck with me.

When it comes to creativity, we want to cherish everything, to cling to every little scribble and scrap, to every idea with a modicum of potential.

But when you cling too tightly to your past works, you’re less likely to try something new.

I’ve seen many an author stuck as slaves to one series because it’s what they know, or afraid to write again because they feel their best work is behind them.

Waste management is still something I’m figuring out. 

There’s much to gain from recycling some of your old work. However, some things just belong in the rubbish bin. I mean, do you need to save every crayon drawing you made in 3rd grade? 

I think it’s best to keep an open hand and open mind, one just as ready to let go as to explore something new.



I had drama for two years in high school. I’m talking about the class here, not being in a state of unnecessary emotional upheaval. That was the full 4 years.

I really enjoyed our drama class. Most of our plays were pretty hokey or strange, and I didn’t really see eye-to-eye with the teacher (especially when I stood on my desk) but I made some great friends and learned a lot through it.

Having been in drama, I know a bit about performance.

It’s an unusual part of creativity. It’s fascinating, really, how a musician can play the same song over and over or a broadway actor can portray the same character for many years yet not tire of it.

Perhaps it is the slight differences that occur each time they take the stage.

Maybe it’s how they find ways to make alterations of their own to every presentation. 

I know that in drama each show we put on had a life of its own. Whether mistakes, ad-libs, or crowd’s response, each performance was unique.

Most attempts at creativity are, in some sense, a performance. No audience necessary.

You convince yourself to go at it again, to try once more, with feeling, even when it often just feels to you like the same old thing. 

But then, there it is, that new little unexpected something. And you’re all giddy once more and excited to let the show go on.

Or maybe you’re terribly nervous every time you begin. I know I was. My whole body would shake before crossing that curtain and stepping into the glare of the stage lights. 

Maybe I’ll totally blow it this time, maybe I’ll ruin the whole show and everyone will hate me.

But, every time, once I started acting, started moving and speaking, all those fears melted away like morning dew. Then I had fun.

I felt the same way, to a lesser extent, when I used to play guitar for the high school group at my church. Once I started playing, everything just felt right and I forgot about myself. Even if I did mess up (and I surely did) I just played on and didn’t fret about it.

I hope Creativity is like that for you. Though dull routine or the grip of fear may tempt you to stay back, I hope you step out once more into the bright lights and discover things falling into place once more, in a way you hoped they would but are still surprised every time it happens.



I generally enjoy being out in nature. 

I wouldn’t call myself a hard-core survivalist, living inside animal carcasses and backpacking through the open country for months on end. But I like being outside, going on moderately demanding hikes, and exploring wild places. 

Our family’s recent Idaho trip definitely fed my love of the outdoors. It’s one of those places where a good number of people are self-sufficient, living off the land sort of folk. I find a romantic appeal to that lifestyle, but, if I’m being honest, I’m still something of a city boy, having lived in San Diego and Los Angeles almost all my life.

I’ve found our new house in Arizona to be a blend of the two. It’s got plenty to offer in the great outdoors. I get to see the sun rise and set over mountains from my own house every day—something I hope never to take for granted. Yet it’s still got just about all the commercial offerings I’ve come to know and love.

My recent time out in the wilds reminded me of something I particularly enjoy about being outdoors: I think a lot less about myself when I’m out there.

I don’t worry so much about how I look and what I’m wearing (provided it’s weather/activity adequate). And, as you’ve probably experienced, most outdoorsy types don’t fret about fashion. That’s a city-person’s game.

But it goes beyond just outer wear. My awareness is turned away from many of my own inner struggles, doubts, anxieties, etc. and instead it’s focused on my immediate surroundings.

On a hike, a good part of my attention is given to just staying aware of the path ahead, taking it one step at a time without falling. After that, I try to enjoy the scenery. Be it trees, rocks, rivers, mountains, or plains—just about any place you go has something nice to look at. Even without a breathtaking view, the observant hiker is usually rewarded by something worth noticing like an animal sighting or particularly nice cloud formations.

Since the dawn of creativity, the outdoors have been a source of inspiration. As I’ve found, they share many similarities. 

The act of creating is also an opportunity for me to lose myself, focus on my next steps, and enjoy the journey.

Whether you’re an axe wielding lumberjack or you prefer to enjoy nature from the safety of an RV or cabin, I hope you take time to experience the outdoors and let them fuel your creative drive.

Besides, sharing s’mores with friends around a campfire still remains one of the best ways to spend an evening, even if it means your clothes will smell like burning the next day.

new year, same you


Here we are again, another year in the records, another just kicked off. 

I’m telling you, I’ve tried to stop it, but it keeps happening, c'est la vie.

So, 2018 huh? How do you like that.

Me, I’m hopeful. I think that’s the general idea when it comes to new years. 

To hope, to hold on with a belief that the future will be better.

It’s not a bad way to go though, even when most of our resolutions don’t pan out.

My 2017 had a lot of big life-changes and I certainly didn’t accomplish all I’d hoped to (Ok, so I never do). It ended with some very nice holiday celebrations but also with some pretty heavy news.

So I’m going into this new year with definite plans for much-needed change but also with some fears of what is to come. Yet I’m also expecting the unexpected, waiting to be surprised in new and interesting ways, just wanting to enjoy life to its full potential.

The new year always seems like a trick of the mind to me. You’re still the same you on January 1st and you’ll probably continue most your same habits that you had last year.

Then again, perhaps it’s just the Jedi mind trick we need. Some people are only waiting for a good excuse to make a big change, to try something new, and the new year is as good an excuse as any.

I hope your new year is one filled with great expectations, even more I hope you are surprised and delighted by the things you never expected but secretly wished for. 

I hope, as always, that you take creativity by the horns and don’t let go no matter how hard it bucks. Even when it shouts at you to stop and complains that you’re ruining a perfectly good historical viking reenactment with your horn-grabbing ways, because, hey, all’s fair in love and creativity! Or something like that.