A steep learning curve isn’t a wall

After last month’s post about struggling with discipline, I had a good month in June. First off, Rockin’ 1000 accepted my audition video and I’m in the band! So now I need to learn electric guitar for real. Also I have about 2000 words left to write in a novella project I drafted in 2016 (I ended up tossing it out and redrafting it from scratch). So overall, June was a good month for me.

Learning how to dictate my writing (ack!)

If this post feels different than my previous posts, it’s because I dictated the first draft. Yes, I’m teaching myself how to voice-type. I I don’t want to be chained to a chair all day, especially since sitting for long periods of time is terrible for your health. Practicing guitar already requires a lot of sitting–a classical guitar doesn’t use a strap. Since I also want to be more more prolific in my writing, sticking with typing would require me to sit even more. I also don’t like looking at screens more than I absolutely have to.

So now I’m adding dictation to my writing toolbox. I dictated the first draft of this post on my phone and used an AI transcription service called Otter.ai to convert it to text. I enjoyed the actual act of dictation, but Otter isn’t designed for long-form writing, so the transcription required a bunch of cleanup. Ugh. Apple’s built-in dictation function yielded better results, but I plan to invest in Dragon software and a dedicated voice recorder for even greater accuracy. My ideal: dictating stories while I go on long nature walks. Kevin J. Anderson does this (and has written over 175 books!), so I know it’s possible.

When you stop to think about it. storytelling and communication started with the spoken word, not the written word. Speaking should feel more natural, but after decades of typing, it’s not. The dictation learning curve is no joke. I guess many writers who try dictation give up and go back to typing, but I’m forcing myself to stick with it and give it an honest try.

Anything worthwhile takes time to learn. I remember when I started learning how to batch cook all my meals from scratch. My first attempt at cooking a week’s worth of meals took six hours and it was a struggle. Now I can finish in two to three hours, including cleanup, but it took almost a year before I locked down my system and routine. I made it over that steep learning curve. Dictation is just another one, and I have to remind myself that a steep learning curve is not a wall. I can always climb over it.

Creativity advice from Dave Grohl

In 2013, Dave Grohl gave a fantastic keynote address at SXSW about his music journey. What caught me was his independent attitude, especially when he set up his own company to hold the rights to his post-Nirvana music. I think more writers should adopt this mindset toward their own work.

I could write my own songs, I could record my own record, I could start my own label, I could release my own record, I could book my own shows, I could write and publish my own fanzine, I could silkscreen my own T-shirts . . . I could do all of this myself. It may have been an entirely different world now, but once again, there was no right or wrong . . . because it was all mine.

From day one the Foo Fighters have been fortunate enough to exist within this perfect world. WE write our songs. WE record our songs. WE make our albums. WE decide when the album is the album. WE OWN the album, and we’ll license it to you for a little while, but you gotta give it back. Because it’s MINE.

Because I am the musician. And I COME FIRST.

Here’s a video of the whole speech. I particularly loved his demonstration of how he multi-tracked his own songs when he was 12 (starting at 9:50).

Ugh, discipline

Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.

– Often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, but there doesn’t appear to be evidence he ever said this.

I do a good impression of a disciplined person, but more often than not, I lapse into slug mode. Inertia is no joke when I try to kickstart myself into action from a dead stop.

I’m at a dead stop often. I’ll have a burst of productivity for a day or two or a week and then nothing. Burst, stop, burst, stop. Interval training works for exercise, but in other areas of my life, I prefer consistency.

It doesn’t help that the things I want most feel so far away. Mastering anything takes decades of sustained effort. Getting over the initial “I suck” hump alone can take years. I’ve taken classical guitar lessons for a year, and while I’ve improved a lot, I still struggle with chord changes and knowing what notes are where on the fretboard. And writing? Oh jeez, I’ve been writing all my life, sold my first short story in 2006, and I still consider myself a newbie–I have so much to learn.

Sitting down to practice writing or guitar is difficult even though I love both. Perhaps that love is what makes it tough. I’m feel like I’m climbing a mountain and have made it only 3 feet up, or like I’ve hit a plateau thinking I’ve made good progress and see that the mountain is even taller than expected. Some people find big goals motivating, but I find them demoralizing.

No wonder I’d rather read or surf the web or snuggle the cat or take a nap than practice. Practice takes effort. It might be why there are people who spend more time shopping for guitars than playing them. (This is so common it has its own acronym: GAS, for Guitar Acquisition Syndrome.)

But yeah, I’m dealing with an old-fashioned discipline problem, and I suspect it’s because I’m thinking too long-term about where I want to be. I need to force myself to put my head back down and focus on daily processes and systems for my practicing instead of distant end results. My brain can wrap itself around a single day. Any longer than that, not so much. I have to trust that if I stick to a solid daily system, good results will happen as a byproduct.

And I have to remember that checking the internet yet again is simply what I want now, NOT what I want most.

Failing upward

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

– Norman Vincent Peale

Norman Vincent Peale has a questionable grasp on astronomy, but he raises a good point–you can fail on a goal and still make progress.

Which is what happened to me on Camp NaNoWriMo last month. I failed miserably in my writing time goal, but I still finished a short story, my first new piece of fiction in over a year. It’s another Everyday Thieves short story, this one inspired by a scenario I read in Financial Serial Killers by Tom Ajamie and Bruce Kelly. If you’re in the metro Detroit area, you may recognize the inspiration for some of the locations.

One short story isn’t much, but after calling it quits on fiction writing a year ago, it feels great to be telling stories again.

Have you failed reaching a big goal? If so, how did you fail upward?

Rules? What rules? Making Camp NaNoWriMo work for me

A baby writer tries NaNo

My first NaNoWriMo attempt was back in 2001 (that’s not a typo). NaNoWriMo was only three years old at the time and I was in my first year of trying to write for publication. I hadn’t written fiction since high school and I’d never attempted a novel. They were huge, intimidating beasts to me and I figured I needed a big push to even try writing one.

I technically “won” that year by writing 50,000 words in November, but the words I wrote were definitely not a novel. It didn’t even have a noticeable plot. I tried again a few more times over the years, but by 2012 I was over the whole thing.

Lessons learned from more writing experience

I’ve learned two important things about my own writing process since then: (1) word count goals don’t work for me because I spend more time focusing on the word count than what the story needed and (2) I hate writing sloppy first drafts. Both of those things fly in the face of conventional NaNo advice, which encourages you to write as much and as fast as you can and fix it later. For me, later never came. I never got around to revising those drafts because I really hate rewriting. I’d rather edit as I go, write the cleanest draft I can, then move on to the next project.

But I still like the energy and the camaraderie of NaNoWriMo, and I’ve learned to take what works for me and leave the rest. That gave me the confidence to revisit their website after ten years of avoiding it.

Trying NaNo again, but on my own terms

This month, I’m doing Camp NaNoWriMo (their off-season NaNo event, which is more relaxed than the annual November frenzy), but I’m tracking my writing minutes instead of the word count. That way, I can take advantage of the things that motivate me on their site and ignore the rest.

Many writers and other creative people look for “rules” to guide them, especially at the beginning. I was no exception, but after a while we need to view those “rules” as mere suggestions instead, especially when it comes to the creative process. Every person is different, and that means we each have to cobble together something that works specifically for us.

I think I’ve found the way I work best, at least when it comes to NaNo. I have two projects (a novella and a short story) that I want to finish this month, and I hope participating in Camp NaNo will help me get there.