advice

the elements of style

After having heard many recommendations, I finally purchased and read Strunk and White’s book, The Elements of Style.

If you write at all, in any capacity, this is a must-read.

Not only is it incredibly short, clever, and to the point, it also has some insightful thoughts on writing itself—some of which impacted me greatly.

Sure, it’s not the final word on proper writing and even I disagreed with some of the points (this from a rather agreeable guy), but it’s a great overview of the essentials. I expect I’ll return to it often.

Allow me to share just a few excerpts that I found striking:


“Writing, to be effective, must follow closely the thoughts of the writer, but not necessarily in the order in which those thoughts occur. … The first principle of composition, therefore, is to force or determine the shape of what is to come and pursue that shape. … The more clearly the writer perceives the shape, the better are the chances of success.”

 

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”

“All writers, by the way they use the language, reveal something of their spirits, their habits, their capacities, and their biases. This is inevitable as well as enjoyable. All writing is communication; creative writing is communication through revelation—it is Self escaping into the open. No writer long remains incognito.”

“Writing is, for most, laborious and slow. The mind travels faster than the pen; consequently, writing becomes a question of learning to make occasional wing shots, bringing down the bird of thought as it flashes by.”

“A careful and honest writer does not need to worry about style. As you become proficient in the use of language, your style will emerge, because you yourself will emerge, and when this happens you will find it incredibly easy to break through the barriers that separate you from other minds, other hearts—which is, of course, the purpose of writing, as well as its principal reward. Fortunately, the act of composition, or creation, disciplines the mind; writing is one way to go about thinking, and the practice and habit of writing not only drain the mind but supply it, too.” 

response

First responders have some of the most difficult jobs out there, but also the most important. Without those who are willing to rush into an emergency and bring people in immediate danger to safety, many more lives would be lost. I remember the many stories of brave souls during 9/11 who headed straight into the unstable debris of the recently collapsed towers to pull others from the wreckage. To be a first responder requires you be willing to constantly lay your own life on the line, without a second thought, in order to save someone else’s. Truth be told, they hardly get the recognition they deserve.

In its own way, though not quite so life-threatening, a response is a crucial element of creativity. A creative work can live or die based on the response it receives. I think of many great movies which flew under the radar and were only seen and appreciated by a few, relatively speaking. And then there are the movies which should have been great, had a huge following and much expectation but, opened to a largely negative response and poor numbers at the box office (why would someone put their office in a box anyways, seems odd to me).

All this to say creativity and response make for a two-sided coin:

Creativity demands a response, creativity is a response.

As creatives, we are both responders and in need of a response. Whether you realize it or not, your creative work is a response to something: an idea, a dream, a hardship, a unique experience, an insight, an outlook, etc. Whether internally or externally, what you produce is in reaction to something else—an effect from a cause.

On the flip side, we desire and require others to respond to our creative output. This is where things can get tricky as we often don’t get the response we’re hoping for. Many an author, even very successful ones, have received mountains of rejection letters before finding a willing publisher for their book. Many a great painter was unappreciated in their time. And, let’s be real here, my incredible, fantastic puns are often met with groans and the occasional rotten tomato. I dunno, perhaps I should stop performing to late-night, half-sober, back-ally crowds.

Anyone who has given their creative pursuit any serious effort knows the sting (and possibly stink) of rejection, whether from a negative response or the dreaded silence of no response at all. It hurts, deep deep down inside. It’s easy to feel we personally have been rejected, a pain not easy to recover from. Our work suddenly looks like a flaming wreck, with no survivors.

But, before we get too down in the dumps or drown in our tearful pool of self-pity, here’s the great thing I’ve learned: the more practice you get at critiquing and offering good advice to others, the better you become at accepting it yourself. As you reach out and respond, you’ll learn how to recognize bad advice, appreciate and follow the good advice and press on though times of little to no response, because, at the end of the day, you must learn to love taking part in the creative work itself whether or not the outcome is what you wanted.

I encourage you to be a first responder: both responsive to others and responsible for your own work, and you will, in time, receive the same kind of response you offer to others.

 

Creatively yours,

A.P. Lambert

 

Hey Creatives, when have you seen a response make a difference, either from yourself or someone else? Let us know in the comments below.

set and forget

Here is some advice I’ve been giving myself lately (side-note, do you ever do that, give yourself advice because you know it’s good but you’re not great at implementing it?): set it and forget it.

Following the launch of this site, I’ve been more active on social media. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, but I sense a few dangers from such platforms. It’s very easy to fall into a trap of constantly checking posts and the like in search of validation, looking for approval from every like and comment to follow. This can get unhealthy fast, regardless of how well-received your offering is.

I’m often reminded of the very end of the movie, “The Social Network” where we leave a movie version of Mark Zuckerberg as he is constantly hitting refresh on his Facebook page in hopes of a reply from an old flame. The sad irony is, he’s become a slave of his own invention, he’s just like the rest of us.

My other unfortunate habit is to obsess over something before putting it out there for the world to see. Yes, I'm a recovering perfectionist. The thing about perfection and wanting to appear perfect is it gets in the way of completion. As copywriter Ray Edwards puts it:

"Done is better than perfect because perfect never gets done."

Besides that, a perfection obsession can lead us to a place where we aren't being real anymore but instead just trying to make ourselves look good. We convey to the world a false image of who we really are. But people can't get to know and care about a fake you (well, they can, but they won't know the real you this way).

So, my solution is simple: set it and forget it. When you post anything, just let it be for a while. Turn off the notifications and just let it sit out there, riding the high waves of the interwebs (or however it works). Give the world a chance to take it in instead of smothering it with even more time and attention.

I’ve found this practice helpful beyond social media. In a broader respect:

Let your creative work go.

Don’t cling so tightly to your inventions that you are unwilling to release them to the world. And when you do release your creative doves from their creative coops, don’t let your concern for other’s reactions cloud your experience. Like the witch from Oz, you must cry, “fly my pretties, fly!” and then, without another blink, turn your back on them.

This is not always easy. After all, those babies were ours. We raised them, nurtured them, cared for them from the nest, and now must we release them into the cold, cruel world? But yes, it must needs be so (or is it needs must, help me out here Shakespeare).

When it comes down to it, there are two things I’m most scared of when I put something on the internet:

  1. No one will see it
  2. Everyone will see it

The first terrifies me because I fear what I’m doing doesn’t matter, that it will go ignored and unnoticed. No one really cares what I have to say. The second, because I worry people will finally see the real me and not accept me for who I am. The struggle is real, people. And I know I’m not alone in this.

So I encourage you, keep making, keep doing new things and when it’s time to release them to the public, let them stand or fall on their own feet (or fly on their own wings). Let your validation come from the quality you put into the work itself. Get your advice from the people closest to you, the ones you don’t have to prove yourself to, not from any random Joe or Sally who knows how to type words on the internet.

If you don’t have people like those in your life (mentors and friends), it’s time to start creatively building a few deep and real relationships with people who are willing to spend the time it takes to know you. It’s time to find a tight group of like-minded folks who have your back. And if you just need a little encouragement, I’d be glad to give it. I’m proud of you people and I want to know about every little creative project you’ve got in store, because if it’s creative, it matters. If it’s important to you, it’s important to me.

 

Creatively yours,
A.P. Lambert

 

Hey Creatives, do you ever have a hard time letting your creativity go? What have you done to overcome the struggle? Let us know in the comments below.

F.O.C.U.S.

[original photo by  Alison Burrell ]

[original photo by Alison Burrell]

I’m not sure if she’s the one who invented the acronym, but I saw this from Rebecca Matter, President of American Writers & Artists Inc. in an email article she’d written. When I first read it, I knew it was a keeper:

F.O.C.U.S.

Follow One Course Until Successful

Acronyms can sometimes come off as contrived or hokey, but this one really rings true for me. In a world so full of distractions, I find focus, or should I say, FOCUS (yes, I’m shouting it) to be of greater importance now than ever. 

These days, so many things clamor for our attention, it's stinkin' hard to have stick-to-it-ness, or to follow my wife's sound (and frequent) advice, "one thing at a time, honey."

But how do we do one thing at a time? How many projects have you begun only to eventually lose track of because you lost focus? How many fell by the wayside because you didn’t stay the course? I’ve goat a metric busload of them myself (busload was an auto-correct, but I’ve decided to keep it—no idea where the goat came from though). There is something powerful, sacred even, about maintaining focus—being single-minded. 

There isn’t a person out there who couldn’t benefit from this practice. But why is focus (or FOCUS) so hard? Perhaps our goals aren’t clear enough, or we don’t want them badly enough. Maybe our priorities are a little off. Could be all those advertisements and temptations have gotten the better of us. Whatever the case, it’s time to zero in, to batter (or batten, if you must) down the hatches, to rustle up the chickens, to … you get the idea. It’s time to pick a course and follow it until successful.

Imagine you’re a pilot with dreams of traveling the world. Well, if you’ve got a license, aircraft, fuel and the right skills, you can. What if you’re on the way to London when, halfway through, you decide you’d rather go to Australia. You change course and start going there. But then, two hours away, you decide Tokyo might be more interesting for a first stop, so you redirect once more. What’ll happen if you keep this up? You won’t go anywhere and eventually you’ll run out of fuel and crash into the big blue. The same happens in life: every time you switch gears, you’re exhausting resources while not really getting anywhere. Here’s the thing: like a pilot, you can go just about anywhere, but you can only go one place at a time. Pick your destination and go. If something changes on the way (say the airport is closed due to weather conditions), so be it, but either way, you’ve got to land somewhere so pick a new destination (one nearby) and go there instead.

This practice of focus works just as much in daily life as it does for projects with a longer timeline. We might get halfway through an online article, jump to Facebook to check if someone has liked our status, hop on our email, switch to our favorite game app for a few turns, all while we were in the process of getting dressed for the day. Instead of this frantic attempt at multitasking, let’s move with purpose: pick one thing and do it until it’s done, then move on to the next, with purpose.

Maybe you get caught up on the last part, successful. Everything can’t always end up a success, right? Tis true. Then I suggest you follow the course you’ve set until you reach a natural end—a conclusion. Every good book comes to a conclusion, even if it isn’t a happy one; it’s clear the story has ended and it would make no sense for anything more to be written in that particular narrative. So it is with any task you may take on. You’ve got to stick to it until you have a darn good reason not to. But when the time comes to let go, cut your ties (and your losses) and move on to the next thing. If we allow the things we’ll never finish cling to us, we become like a hot-air balloon with too many sandbags attached, barely getting off the ground. Time to drop them and soar high.

Let’s all work at eliminating distractions and moving onward with FOCUS (sorry about all the shouting, really). Pick one thing and stick to it until you reach the end, whatever it may be. If you do, I know you’ll be surprised at the progress you make, and what you learn in the process.

 

Creatively yours,

A.P. Lambert

 

Hey Creatives, what is one area in your life where you could use more FOCUS? Let us know in the comments below.