In Quiet Hours

In Quiet Hours

It’s quiet right now…

Dark.

Just the way I like it…

Early.

The world is still asleep. Everything is still, and the day is full of potential.

A Matter of Time

This time matters. Eyes are opening — some dreading the day that’s ahead; others welcoming it. Some just want to go back to sleep — if smart phones have done nothing else, it makes calling or emailing the boss from bed to tell them you’re “sick” a convenience. Roll back over while everything is still warm and settled to your shape and see if you can get back to that dream where everything was all right.

For others: “Just ten more minutes of sleep…” The smell of coffee creeping beneath doors, telling some that it’s okay to rise. Cups raised, resting on chins; savor the smell of morning. The sounds of closing car doors and engines…wheels on pavement and the squeal of bus brakes. Just like that, the world is alive, a humming thing in the darkness of nothing.

It’s Time

It’s time to get moving. Close the Word file and finish this entry. Drag out the work computer and swap places with my own laptop. Log on and jump into the workday, wishing I had just ten more minutes to do my own thing, to keep this moment of silence alive.

If I do nothing else today, I will have at least written this.

Sometimes we spend so much time thinking about the legacy we will leave behind when we’re dead and gone that we don’t think about what we’ll leave behind at the end of the day.

A Writer Is Always Working

A Writer Is Always Working

Writing can be a complex or simple thing. It’s not so much how you look at it, but how you work with it. There are writers with skill I admire who maintain that writing is a difficult act, despite their many years in a chair producing. Others seem to rattle it off with no effort — some, with the zeal of youth because they are prepared.

It’s not about inspiration; it’s all about letting something complex bubble in their heads, to finally crack open and spill out when ready. There’s work in that act so many don’t see: long walks at night, crunching scenes while shopping for groceries, or talking out loud while driving on back roads and highways…pitting characters against each other and seeing a myriad endings to so many conflicts.

They are the people who can find solace even in a crowded room full of chittering people, the droning of it all becoming its own white noise perfect for thinking. They are the people who sometimes slip from one-on-one conversations, when something said by a friend fills that gap in their head that’s waited days to be filled. Their eyes closed, they might not be napping — just focusing more than usual on which way to take a scene.

They might appear lazy, lying prone on a couch and staring at the ceiling, but be sure of this: a writer is always working!

 

Labor Day

Labor Day

Labor Day: that day of rest from work. The day we celebrate the hard work of those who came before us by squeezing out the last bit of summer.

Labor Day Weekend

Labor Day Weekend is different for me. I typically take the Friday before off so I have four days to…do the work I love doing more than any other work.

I will log out of Facebook and not check email much. It is a weekend to focus on writing. This year, it will also be a weekend to focus on the podcast. It’s after midnight; it’s technically Friday, and I’ve spent the time so far editing 2 podcasts and preparing the show notes and graphics for the next 2 weeks. Outside of recording a couple more episodes some afternoon over the next four days, I get to put my head down…and write!

The Work

Normally, I write when I can. It’s rare that I have several uninterrupted days where I can focus on writing and little else. I will still spend time with my wife, but the rest of the time is about the work.

Writing is work. I’ve done a lot of different jobs in my adult life (construction, landscaping, warehouse/factory work, restaurants, many odd jobs, customer service, and a parade of office jobs), and through it all — no matter how hot, difficult, or stressful work has been — I’ve made time to write. This weekend is a celebration of that.

Those of us fortunate enough to get a long weekend deserve to spend it any way we please. Most of the world does work they would not be doing if they were independently wealthy or if they could push a button and have their dream job. It’s a well-deserved weekend for those of us who have the time off. So enjoy the weekend, and do whatever it is you want to do.

Me? I want to spend it working on the best work there is…

The Importance of Silence

The Importance of Silence

It’s quiet right now. Sure, I can hear the air conditioner and my fingers tapping away on the keyboard, but for the world I live in, it is very quiet.

It wasn’t always like this…

Bring the Noise

I grew up in a world of background noise. A stereo was always on — including my own stereo, which was on even while I slept. Televisions were left on news stations or other things to the point the intensity of the volume increased to a roaring norm. (To this day, I find the sound of television in the background one of the most annoying noises on the planet.)

There was the sound of others: clanking in the kitchen, the thud of opening and closing doors, and heavy footsteps. Phones ringing; people talking.

Enjoy the Silence

There’s no real background noise in my life anymore. The TV is only on when my wife and I watch it, and we really don’t watch it much. As much as we love music, it’s not background noise. If my wife and I listen to music, it’s almost always with headphones. It’s only an audible thing for all when cleaning, when my wife does art, or when we deliberately sit and listen to something.

We move around the apartment quietly, conscious there is another person almost always in earshot who may be doing something requiring the concentration that comes with silence.

A New Kind of Noise

Technology is great, but with it comes a new kind of noise. While my smart phone is always silenced and push notifications turned off, if you text me, my phone lights up and I’m likely to look if I’m in the room with it. Just like that, I’m distracted.

A sweep of email or social media sites and I’m left with a to-do list in the back of my mind. (“Must get back to them and them and them…”) Sometimes I get an actual phone call, which isn’t new noise, but there comes with it an expectation from those who allow a parade of interruptions into their lives that people pick up at all times.

For many, there’s no excuse to not reach someone almost immediately.

Why I Like Silence

I write best when things are silent. If I listen to music, it’s usually something soft, meant to block out background noise. If I’m up early, there’s not even music.

But it’s not all about writing…

I like silence because it soothes me and leaves my mind open only to one thing at a time…if anything at all. When I speak of silence, sometimes I mean genuine silence; other times, it’s the background noise of a hike. I like the quiet of canoe paddles moving a canoe through water. I like the quiet sounds of distant thunder. Rain is always good; soothing, even.

Why I Don’t Like Noise

The sound of news anchors and pundits telling me to be angry about something goes much deeper than the sound in my ears. With the noise comes a tension that can stick with a person throughout the day. Maybe it’s a story that gets them to check their phone frequently to see what’s developed; maybe it’s something that makes them talk with others to see if they are just as mad about the story…and if not, why not?!

It’s the kind of noise that robs a person of the most important kind of silence: silence of the mind. It is from that kind of silence that great work begins. Read the writing of people who allow themselves to be constantly interrupted compared to those who embrace silence and it’s often clear the effect a quiet mind has on great works.

I don’t know if I will ever write a great work, but I know my odds are better if I write free from distraction and away from a loud and busy world around me.

 

The Company We Keep

The Company We Keep

During my sophomore year in high school, I became a bit obsessed with the Romantic poets — particularly Samuel Taylor Coleridge (because of Rush’s “Xanadu” and Iron Maiden’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”). When I found out more than a few of the Romantic writers hung out together, I thought that was the coolest thing. I imagined what it must have been like and dreamed that one day, I would be part of something bigger than me like that.

The Funny Thing About Movements

The Romantics, the Transcendentalists, the Beats: all movements…in hindsight!

At the time, it was just a group of people with similar interests and goals pushing one another to get better. As a fan of comic books, similar groups exist within the medium; in fact, some of the people I hung out with when I wrote independent comic books have gone on to greater things. I say that not to boast that I was in good company, but because it hit me one day: these movements weren’t movements at the time.

You Might Be a Part of Something Right Now

It’s not like Jonathan Franzen, Jeffrey Eugenides, David Foster Wallace, and Mary Karr got together, settled on a secret handshake, and decided they would simply become a thing. They were just four friends who wrote books.

If you write, paint, play music, juggle, whatever — even if it’s a group of people online you support and who support you — that’s a group with potential.

So many times we daydream about being part of the groups and movements we look up to, not recognizing that we might already be in the midst of something bigger than we ever imagined at this very moment!

Holding On? Try Letting Go

Holding On? Try Letting Go

I’m working on a project at my day job (technical writing) that goes a little something like this: we’re reducing the length of our documentation.

It’s not the easiest thing for us — we’ve all been technical writers long enough that it can be hard to let go of the way we’ve done things for years. But it’s important to trust the training staff and users to not have to remind everyone of where the Save button is on the screen, when what matters is that the user already knows how to save changes they made to things.

The Holdout

I’ve worked other places where the holdouts have final say. You can do a usability study on a group, and 99.99% of the people say they’d prefer things to be a certain way, but the one person who’s done things a certain way for decades shouts, “WE MUST CONTINUE THE OLD WAYS!!!”

This is the person who waits four months for the one thing overlooked out of thousands to bellow, “I TOLD YOU SO!!!”

Right Just Once (Is Enough for Them!)

That one thing — the .001% wrong out of all you improved — becomes their day. No, it becomes their week — their reason to be!

It’s a thing etched in their minds until the end, something allowing them to refer to that time “We upgraded our documentation’ and this thing I was concerned about? It came TRUE!!!”

These are the people who will lie on their deathbeds thinking, “Man, I was RIGHT! … that .001% out of a majority of documentation that was vastly improved because even the Old Guard [of which I just might belong] said, ‘Ya know…if more than 99.99% of the people we asked want it this way, we’ll do that — because it’s documentation for THEM — not for US!!!'”

We’re All Often Holdouts

Taking it a step further, we’re all often holdouts. We get used to things, and we want them to stay the way we’re most comfortable with — even if times have changed and methods have improved. I’m sure most of us have those few things we hold on to — no matter what — instead of letting go.

You may “lose” a tug of war by letting go of the rope, but it sure is funny to watch people fall on their asses. Or, better yet — gain a new sense of confidence that reminds us all that sometimes fixating on our grip is a sure-fire way to end up blistered or simply defeated by a stronger team.