October 5

Where is my Muse?

There are times when I stare at a blank screen and wonder when the words will come. It doesn’t happen often. I’m lucky in that I can always find something to write about. But on occasion, well, my Muse seems to be on vacation.

Personally, I think she just needs to recharge every so often. The way I look at it, our brains run on electricity. All those synapses firing off billions of times every minute, all those thoughts processing, ideas forming, opinions, fears, hopes, dreams. It’s like a mini-universe unfolding.

And all that processing eats up resources. Not necessarily memory. I’m sure I have a few petabytes still available. No, I’m referring to the the actual effort spent thinking about everything. Day to day thinking coupled with creative endeavors can push the brain to the limit. And then what?

Exhaustion.

I think mental exhaustion is more crippling than physical exhaustion. And that’s what it comes down to, the brain is just out of energy. I’ve found the only real cure is a good nap. Or a good night’s sleep. Rest, recuperation, and magically my Muse saunters back into the room, adult beverage in hand, ready to get back to work. Ta-da!

I often wonder if one of the main causes of Writer’s Block is simply due to being mentally tired. I know that when I am, I have a hard time concentrating, keeping the words flowing, even getting the words to make sense. And yes, it can cause frustration and anxiety. The Muse, much like a child, gets cranky and stubborn, refuses to do anything, and pouts.

When I feel she’s getting to that point I know it’s time to take a mental break and rest. Not surprisingly, it’s resulted in my productivity going up. When I take the time to recharge I end up writing more. I used to try and push myself, thinking that any time spent away from the keyboard was just wasted time. But now I know that isn’t true. Taking a little time to recharge the batteries actually makes me a better writer, a more productive writer, and a happier writer.

With that said…time for a nap!

RB

 

August 19

Being Different

Growing up, I heard a lot of “why can’t you be more like your brothers”, “why can’t you just act normal”, and “what’s wrong with you.” I was the creative one in a family of athletes. Obviously, I was the odd one out.

For the longest time that bothered me. I didn’t want to be different. I wanted to be accepted, to be part of the crowd, to be included. The only sport I was good at was soccer, but unfortunately, when my father was transferred to Texas I discovered they really didn’t have an established program where we were going to live, so that pursuit died with a whimper.

So I continued to be pulled between two opposing forces. On one hand were the people I looked up to who told me that being different was wrong, that I needed to focus on pursuits that would land me a good job, allow me to make money. Writing and drawing were fine hobbies, but they were best kept to myself. I needed to a man. And apparently, men weren’t supposed to be creative.

I tried to kick creativity to the curb. Well, I didn’t try THAT hard, but I made an attempt to be who everyone thought I was supposed to be. There were a few people in my life who privately supported my endeavors. That kept me going. But still, I mostly kept my writing to myself, along with my sketches. A combination of embarrassment and fear, I suppose. So instead of writing in the light of day, I stayed up late at night writing by the light of a desk lamp next to my bed and kept my notebooks safely tucked between the mattress and boxspring.

It took a long time for me to finally shrug off those expectations that were put on me when I was young. It took a lot of work, introspection, and pages and pages of journal writing to sort it out, to figure out who I was, who I wanted to be. In fact, I’m still working on that. I feel I’m closer to who I want to be – a good person, empathetic, compassionate, fearless, unashamed – but there’s still a lot of work to do, quite a few rough edges that still need polishing.

However, I’m proud of the progress I’ve made. I’m not the same person I was five, ten, twenty years ago. We should never step into the same river twice…the water should always be flowing, the shoreline constantly adjusting in response to the current. In other words, we should always be adapting and evolving. We should be changing the things we don’t like about ourselves (it can be done) and building up the good qualities we want to embrace.

I like to say that the past is the reason we are who we are, but it’s not an excuse for us to be the way we are. We are in control of our lives, of our personalities, of our strengths and weaknesses.

At the moment, I’m as closer to contentment than I’ve ever been. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been worth it.

RB

July 27

The Right Attitude

One of the drawbacks to being creative is dealing with disappointment. It can be awful when one of your projects doesn’t turn out the way you wanted it to, or when people don’t like it, or things just fall apart. I’ve had stories that I simply couldn’t make work. I’ve had stories that never made it past the first draft. I’ve had people tell me something I’d written sucked and I should find something else to do with my time.

All real things that I’ve dealt with. And yes, it can be a blow to the ol’ self-esteem and self-confidence. I think it can be especially hard for creative people who may be immature or new to the game, who aren’t experienced enough to handle these let downs.

I used to let these things get to me. They’d get under my skin, inside my head, and fester. It was like having an infection of negativity. It was unpleasant and on several occasions almost got me to give up on creativity altogether. I figured, screw it. I’ll spend all my time playing games on my PC and reading comic books.

Eventually, however, I realized that I didn’t need to let these thing get in my head and live there rent-free. Art, like humor, is subjective. What one person likes may not appeal to another. For example, some people love Monty Python (myself included), but others find it stupid and nonsensical. No one here is right or wrong, it’s just personal taste, personal opinions. And just because one person does or doesn’t like something doesn’t mean that everyone else should hate or love it. Again, it’s up to the individuals.

To me, people who create have to have the right attitude when it comes to their art. That being, don’t worry about what other people think. Don’t worry about it if a project blows up in your face. Don’t get upset when the project doesn’t turn out as good as you hoped it would.

Why? Because it doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that you can start over. You can clean up the mess and begin again. You can show your work to someone else who may love it. Or at least like it.

The bottom line is that YOU need to be happy with what you’re doing. Are you writing a story that you’re in love with? Fantastic! Are you painting a picture or illustrating a story and it’s all coming together? Awesome! Did you write a song that you can’t stop humming and singing? Excellent!

You see, creativity is all about self-expression. I know I repeat this quite often, but it’s true. It’s about you, what you have to say or express or convey. We create not only because we have a need to, but also because it makes us happy. That’s all that really matters here. And in order to be happy we have to have a selfish attitude when it comes to our art. As long as what you’ve done works for you, then it’s a success.

And those projects that don’t work out? Well, so what? Start over. Try again. Come at it from a different angle. That’s one of the great things about creating, you can do whatever you want, as many times as you want, until you get it right. Or at least as close to right as it can be.

Don’t worry about an audience, about who may like it or who may hate it. Don’t worry about making money off it or becoming famous. It’s all about the creative process and making yourself happy.

Be sure to do something creative today. Not because you have to, but because you want to.

RB

 

July 15

Having Fun

Art can be serious business. People who create take their projects seriously. We agonize over them, we cuss at them, we deal with frustration, aggravation, annoyance. We want to produce the best objet d’art we can. It doesn’t matter if it’s the written word, paint on canvas, or audio file. We live and breathe art. It’s our life.

But this doesn’t mean art can’t also be fun. I think that we forget that when we get so caught up in getting the story just right, or when we’re feeling uninspired and blocked, or overwhelmed by having too many project going at once. It’s understandable.

But oftentimes art can be a way to relieve stress, to unburden our minds. Sure, reading a book is a great way to escape reality for a while, but I believe that writing and creating can be just as beneficial.

What I mean is, if we don’t take ourselves or our writing too seriously, we can end up having just as much fun as our readers.

When was the last time you wrote something for fun? I’m not talking about your current work-in-progress, I mean something that you don’t expect to publish or show off. When was the last time you wrote something silly, crazy, something that made you laugh?

Have you ever written a limerick? A silly poem? What about writing down something funny that happened to you or someone you know? We’ve all had funny experiences in our lives and we’ve heard stories from others, so why not write them down and turn it into a piece of creative non-fiction?

For example, a guy at a party once told me about a time years ago when he went to a “gentleman’s club” with his wife (her suggestion), but the place she chose wasn’t exactly top of the line, and the dancer they ended up watching had a wooden leg. That’s one I desperately want to turn into a piece of fiction. So many possibilities…why did the wife want to do this? To prove a point? Why did the dancer have a wooden leg? Did anyone end up with splinters? And yes, you’re welcome to steal it and write your own version.

I think it’s healthy for us to take a break every so often from the seriousness of writing and simply have fun. We can’t allow ourselves to get bogged down in the trenches. We need to stand up, stretch, take a break, do something else for a change. Not only will it help you to relax, but I think fun exercises like this help to keep our minds fresh, help to stimulate new ideas.

There’s no harm in having fun. You deserve it.

RB

July 6

The Prometheus Project Podcast, Ep 33, is available!

The topic for this episode is “Who Cares?” It’s easy to lose your motivation when you don’t have an audience or you aren’t getting the attention you think you should, but this doesn’t mean you should give up. Join me as I talk about keeping your focus and staying motivated.

The podcast is available at iTunes, GooglePlay, Spotify, and PodBean. Or if you prefer, I also have a YouTube channel.

Or you can simply listen to it here!

July 1

Who Cares?

One of the issues many creative individuals deal with is wondering who cares about their work. That’s understandable. For many, a lack of recognition is troublesome. It kills motivation and inspiration. It leave them wondering if they should continue on. I mean, what’s the point if no one is ever going to see it?

I get it. I’ve been there myself. I worked in a bubble for years, never showing anyone my writing, the things I drew, the music I’d written. I think most of us have been in that situation. The lonely artist.

The problem, I think, is twofold.

First, we don’t give ourselves enough credit. It’s easy to think we aren’t any good at what we’re doing. We’re amateurs. We’re just fumbling about trying to make magic happen. The thing is, what we don’t realize is that there are people out there who would enjoy our work if we’d only share it. I think we can get caught up in thinking we have to be an overnight success. We think we should be able to, say, publish a novel and it’s a bestseller. But because we have a low opinion of our abilities we don’t try, so we’ll never know.

We have to realize that it’s extremely rare for anyone to be an instant success. Many writers and artists struggled for years in obscurity. If you disagree, I’d like to point to Vincent Van Gogh as Exhibit A. In about a ten year period, Van Gogh created over 2,100 pieces of art. And you know what, during his lifetime he was a commercial failure, was mostly unknown, and died in poverty. He’s now considered one of the greatest artists to have ever lived.

So yeah, you may not become an overnight success, but your art still matters. And you never know, someday it may be worth millions.

The second part of the problem is that we tend to worry about an audience. Will people like this? Will they hate it? Will they care?

My question to you is, why does it matter?

If you’ve listened to my creativity podcast or read things I’ve posted here on my blog or on social media, you know that I’m a proponent of “Creative for yourself.” What does this mean? It means don’t worry about an audience, about who might read this, look at this, like this, hate this. It doesn’t matter. Really. I promise.

What does matter is you and your opinion. Are you writing a story that you would want to read? Then you’re on the right track. If you’re writing a story that you hope other people will like, then you’re going about it the wrong way.

You have to be happy with what you’re creating. You have to be proud of it, passionate about it. You can’t do that with something you’re doing because you think that’s what you’re supposed to do. That’s fake art, fake creativity. Like paintings in hotel rooms. Sure, someone created it, but they didn’t create it because it was something they wanted to see. They did it because someone paid them to paint a pleasing and non-offensive landscape. Something generic.

You have to be the master of our creativity. Once you begin to do that, you’ll realize that what really matters is if you care about what you’re doing. That’s what it comes down to.

When you have one of those days where you wonder why you even bother to be creative, remember that you’re doing it because it makes you happy to create things you love. It’s all about you. And yes, when it comes to creativity it’s okay to be a little selfish.

RB

 

June 29

Dealing with Isolation

It’s a strange world we’re living in. This pandemic has had more of an impact on society than anything else in recent memory. It’s affected every country, every city, every individual in some way. Probably the biggest impact is that it has fragmented society, breaking up large gatherings like concerts and parties, and kept people isolated from each other.

For creative people, this can be a mixed blessing. I think it’s safe to say that a large number of us are introverts, or if you’re like me, an introvert at heart. I kinda like being alone with my thoughts, letting all those ‘what if?’ scenarios play out in my imagination. Spending more time alone gives me more time to write, to brainstorm, to explore and experiment. In fact, over the past few months I’ve been more productive than ever before.

But I know that hasn’t been the same result for everyone. Isolation can also be detrimental. Some people need at least a little human interaction to maintain their sanity. I get it. Personally, I’m okay with FaceTime and WebX, texting and phone calls, but I’ll admit it’d be nice to sit around with some friends, have a few drinks, and enjoy some good conversation. Face-to-face conversations allow for better interaction, there’s body language involved and less lag to deal with.

We’re lucky in that we have this level of technology that allows us to interact on an intimate level, face-to-face, in real time. During the Spanish Flu pandemic from one-hundred years ago, they were socially distancing for real. There wasn’t streaming video on-demand, or music services, or Zoom video chats. These people – at least the ones who cared enough – hunkered down in their homes, many by candlelight, and made the best of the situation.

It’s sobering to think about how those people dealt with it all, and managed to survive, when so many people today are up in arms about being inconvenienced. They have no clue as to how bad it could be.

But still, isolation can be tough. Right now, I’m been at home with my partner and our dogs for just over four months, with no end in sight. When I’m not on the clock, I focus on being creative. The way I see it, I have more free time now that I don’t have to commute, make lunch, go to social events, or just wander a shopping center. Being at home 24/7 has given me an opportunity and I don’t want to waste it.

My partner, on the other hand, gets a little stir crazy every few days. She loads the dogs in the car and goes for drives through the neighborhoods, getting some air and giving the dogs a chance to bark at the neighborhood cats. It’s not much, but they all enjoy it. She spends a lot of her free time exercising. That’s what she’s taking advantage of while she has the time.

And that’s what I think is important here. Isolation, being stuck at home, doesn’t have to drive you crazy. Find a way to take advantage of it. If you’re creative, then this is the perfect chance for you to work on that novel, learn to paint, play an instrument, arrange flowers. You can still interact with people online and get at least a bit of social interaction.

But just because you can’t go to Starbucks or wander around in the local super store doesn’t mean all is lost. Use that time and energy to do something positive. Plant a garden, learn to sew, write a song using nothing but spoons as your musical instrument, teach yourself some card tricks.

Trust me, this will be good for you, for your mental health, for your physical health. Besides, once all this is over with, you’ll have some cool skills to show your friends!

RB

 

April 24

Be Kind

A little deviation from my usual posts about creativity. Hope you don’t mind.

Kindness has been on my mind lately, for somewhat obvious reasons. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m limiting my exposure to the daily news. Too much bad news, frustrating news, anger-inducing news. In my opinion, most of it stems from a lack of kindness.

And to clarify, “kindness” isn’t just being nice to someone. I mean it in a broader way, encompassing empathy, selflessness, common sense. There seems to be a lack of all these things lately. Well, it’s been lacking for a while, but I think this pandemic has made it more apparent to me.

I think part of the problem lies in selfishness. Too many people think only of themselves. I mean, I get it, sort of. We’re all the main characters in our personal stories. Everyone else is a supporting character. But just like in a work of fiction, actions have repercussions. One person refusing to cover their sneeze because it’s “their right to do so” means that other people, who don’t have a say, get potentially sprayed with germs. The sneezer will probably argue that they don’t care, it doesn’t affect them…and that’s so terribly sad to me.

It makes me think of people who are adamantly opposed to something, like marriage equality. You’ll see a politician argue that it shouldn’t be legalized, that it’s against their beliefs or some such nonsense, but when their own son or daughter come out as LGBTQ, then they suddenly change their stance. Because it affects them directly.

It’s a shame we have to come to that point to get someone’s attention. Why is that? Why are people so short-sighted? Sure, don’t cover your sneeze because it’s your right, and yeah, maybe you don’t get sick. But maybe you spread those germs to someone else who does get sick, and they spread it to someone else, and a chain reaction occurs that ends up getting your mother or father sick, or maybe your children, or your grandparents.

People don’t think about the repercussions of their actions. Everything we do, no matter how small, has a ripple effect the world. Like chaos theory claims, butterflies flapping their wings over the Indian Ocean can start a ripple effect that ends up triggering a hurricane in the Atlantic.

But you know, the same can be done with kindness. Imagine doing something nice for a stranger, a random act, and it causes that person to do something nice for someone else, and that ripple kicks in and suddenly there’s a wave of kindness spreading out with you at the center.

Doesn’t that sound fantastic?

Give it a try. Do something nice for someone, preferably someone you don’t know. Hold a door for someone. Compliment a woman’s dress or a guy’s pair of shoes. Hell, even a simple smile can change someone’s day.

Be kind. It might help to change the world.

RB

April 8

What’s My Job?

Every once in a while I sit back and consider my writing career. It’s hasn’t been illustrious, but it’s been fun. I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words, both fiction and non-fiction, and I have more ideas than I know what to do with. Nowadays, I focus solely on fiction. I love being able to imagine all sorts of weird and wonderful scenarios and put them on the page. But there’s one thing I keep asking myself: What is my job as a writer?

First and foremost, I think my job is to entertain. That’s true of all forms of art – movies, television, music, books, painting, sculpture, photography. The point is to entertain your audience, to distract them from reality for just a bit. I know many people who come home from work at the end of the day, fix something to eat, then plop down in front of the television for a few hours and get lost in a story. Some of them get lost in books, or looking at art galleries online, or put on headphones and get carried away by music.

This type of entertainment is akin to therapy. So, in effect, entertaining people is providing them with therapy. Maybe it’s stress relief or a distraction from the bad things in their lives. It’s like providing a mental health service. At least, I like to think so.

But that’s not my only job as a writer. I also think I’m charged with helping my readers to think differently, to see things from another angle. I’m not necessarily saying that it has to be ethical or moralistic, although I do try to slip that into my stories on occasion. In some cases it might be helping them to see the other side of an argument, or maybe seeing things from someone else’s perspective. I feel that most people, myself included, can get so wrapped up in their lives that they end up in a bubble, seeing only themselves and focusing only on their own wants and needs. Sometimes it’s healthy to pop the bubble and see through another person’s eyes.

I know that writing from another perspective has made me question my own opinions and suppositions. For example, I’ve written stories from a female perspective. It’s not intentional. I mean, I write based on what’s called for by the story. If the story needs a female protagonist, then that’s the voice I try to capture. But writing this way, seeing through a woman’s eyes, has made me see some of my own gender’s shortcomings. It helps that I have women in my life that I can use as resources. They read my drafts and let me know if I’m getting the essence right or if I’m way off base. I think it’s an educational experience and I hope my readers feel the same way.

Another example is my short story, “Sunwalker”. The protagonist is a Native American. Now I unfortunately don’t have any Native American people in my life at the moment, but I’ve known a few over the years and I’ve read a fair amount of their history here in the U.S., so I tried to convey what I felt would be the experience of the last Native American in the world. The thing is, it was a tough story to write because I had to imagine myself in this man’s situation. He’s the last Native American in the world, his people have all died off. Now he’s receiving special treatment from the government, something his people never got to experience, and he doesn’t like it. He’s dealing with guilt, depression, and a need for something more.

Even though I’m well aware of the terrible things Native Americans have gone through over the past few centuries, writing this story made it more personal for me and it ended up being a difficult story to write on an emotional level. The feedback I’ve received on the story has been mostly positive. My readers were entertained. But honestly, I hope the story was more than that, that it helped them to see the world from the eyes of my protagonist, what he and his people had to deal with, what they had to overcome.

When it comes down to it, my job description can have sub-entries of “entertainer” and “influencer”. I’d be happy with that.

RB

March 30

Stay Motivated

I thought about starting this post by stating that I wanted to write a post about staying motivated, but I didn’t feel like it. That’s it, short and sweet and arguably humorous. But then I realized that it wouldn’t be motivating and probably not as funny as I thought, so here we go…

If you’re like the millions of people around the globe who are stuck at home during this CoronaVirus thing, then you’re probably running out of steam when it comes to doing things. Being stuck in the house is usually fun for a couple of days, maybe a week, but after that you begin to feel trapped. Everything looks the same day after day. You’re not getting any input from face-to-face human interaction. You’re tired and restless and in need of something you can’t quite put your finger on…

I get it. I’m right there with you. But you can work through it. Here are a few things I’ve been doing to stay motivated at home.

First, exercise. Yeah, I know, you don’t feel like it. But you don’t have to go to a gym or have weights and machines and all that crap to work out. There are hundreds of YouTube videos out there that can get you started with basic stretching and yoga. Those are always good to start with. Believe me, basic stretching can make a positive difference in how you feel both physically and mentally.

At far as actually body-changing exercise, again, you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment. I don’t have any of that so I do body weight exercises. If you can’t find a YouTube video you like, then check out some of the exercise apps. Personally, I use FitBod (and no, I’m not getting anything to endorse them). It takes a few minutes to set up, but you can set it for body weight exercises, how often you want to work out, and even how much time you want to spend working out.

Of course, be sure to check with your physician before starting any routines like this, just to be safe.

I find that exercising three days a week has made a big difference in how I feel throughout the day. I’m mentally sharper, more energetic, and after a few weeks I actually crave exercise. Weird, right?

Also, get some outside time. I know, with social distancing, quarantines, and city and state parks being shut down that limits where you can go. However, you can still simply sit outside for thirty minutes. Sit on your patio or balcony. Maybe go for a drive with the windows down in your car. Walk around the block. Do laps in your backyard. The point here is twofold – first, getting some fresh air. Sitting in the house breathing that recycled air for days on end isn’t conducive to mental or physical health. Secondly, it gets you in the sunshine for a bit, and we all need a little vitamin D to stay healthy.

And finally, be creative. I know, I know, you don’t feel like it. You aren’t inspired. You’re bored. You don’t have any ideas. Whatever. Then use that as your inspiration and motivation. Write about how you’re feeling. Draw your frustrations. Paint your fears. Use all that crap building up in your head as the foundation for a creative project. Again, this is good for your mental health and gives your creative muscles some exercise. It’s a win-win!

Please, don’t let cabin fever get into your head. Focus on the good things in your life. Focus on doing something creative. And remember there are people you can talk to (online, of course) to help you manage.

Be safe and stay healthy.

RB