The Sticker System – Best Way To Write

A few weeks ago I saw a video blog about the best way to write.

This wonderful writer (whom I cannot for the life of me remember now) showed off her sticker system.

It’s a quite simple concept. You start by buying a calendar (I spent $3) and a bunch of multi-colored stickers (another $3 for day-dots in my case). Every day, you try to write a certain number of words and if you do, you put a sticker on the date. If not, you get no sticker.

I thought on the topic for a few weeks and eventually decided it was a good way to visually see how much progress I was actually making in writing. Especially me, the king of procrastination.

Also in the video blog, the writer mentions that her first month was basically garbage. She didn’t commit to the system as she had hoped but once she turned the page on a new month, her “practice month” ended up really driving her success going forward.

Personally, I still don’t know if I agree with all the cliche comments that you hear about writing. Things like “The only rule is writers write” and “If you don’t NEED to write, you’re not a writer,” ect. I think things have changed in writing, especially the speed at which books are written, but despite only producing two books, you’d have to be an idiot to say Harper Lee isn’t a writer… and I’m doubting the same standard was applied. No doubt TKAM was edited and rewritten and worked over more times than I could fathom, but still you get my point.

Now, before you rip me up in the comments, understand that I’m not saying writing is the enemy. I’m simply saying when you apply a formula to anything, you’re not accounting for the whole picture.

I digress.

Regardless of my animosity towards these simple “rules” that we bind to ourselves and use to make ourselves feel horrible when we fail, I still do think establishing a solid habit of writing is a very good thing. So I’ve implemented the sticker system.

For me it works like this –

I get a Green sticker if I write 500 words in a day. It can’t just be any 500 words, but it has to be a part of a book I am working on. I’ve got lots of projects that I have really no intention of finishing but just enjoy working on from time to time. And then I’ve got one “main” project that I have every intention of seeing to completion. I will, however, allow myself one caveat. On Sundays (the day before I try to post a weekly blog entry on Monday), I allow myself to call a blog entry worthy of a sticker. If I procrastinate and wait till Monday to write my entry? No sticker. Hopefully this will get me back on track with you all! ūüėČ

But that’s not all I need to build in habits. I get a Yellow sticker if I read 30 pages of something published. It has to be something in a genre I am writing, but I’ve decided I need to stop being so hard on myself when I get picky and put down a book.

And finally, I get a purple sticker if I edit at least 3 pages of either my own project or my critique partners project. If I edit my own too often, I’ll be imposing rules on how many purple stickers I can earn per week from my own work, or I’ll be adding both to the docket to get my sticker (i.e. edit 3 pages of my book and 3 pages or 1 chapter of a crit partners work).

My hope is to build good habits. And being that I’m all about accountability, I’m choosing to share my system with you all so you can ridicule me if I fail at it.

Actually I’d prefer not to be ridiculed. Maybe just pestered a bit.

What are your thoughts on the sticker system? Have any of you done something similar? Has it worked?

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Reliance and Self Control in an iPhone World

For the last few months, my iPhone has been getting progressively worse.

I’ve tried to clean out the dirt and grime in the charger port, but it still forces me to hold the charging cable suspended at an 87.54 degree angle with exactly thirteen tons of metric pressure pushing up to get a charge.

It all finally hit the fan last night when I couldn’t get the dang thing to work, and while trying to apply the metric tons of pressure necessary, the cable-head itself broke.

I’ve spent the first 45 minutes of my morning feeling frustrated beyond belief. I’ve been scouring the internet for simple fixes, researched how I might be able to tear my phone apart and replace the charging port, and come to the conclusion that I hate life. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks.

It’s a phone.

Why do I care so much about a phone? You’d think I was fretting about a dying relative by my mopey nature and random outbursts of anger. But this phone has become so much a part of how I do things – of how I run my day and how I function in this world – that being without it for even a few hours or days makes me feel naked.

And now I feel a little disgusted with myself.

Because I am currently allowing a device that is literally smaller than my hand ruin my day. Because I let it get this far. Because at some point in my life I decided this small device was so necessary in fact that I would intertwine it with the way I do things. And for years I’ve reinforced this mentality until I find myself here, broken iPhone and irritated expression.

I fumbled through one of my favorite pieces of advice from a good book, and I found a list of things humans should try to embody.

Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and… what’s that last one? Oh yeah…

Self Control.

The peace is hard enough to come by in this world of constant distractions. When’s the last time we even heard silence? I read a statistic that back in 1940 it took approximately 10 hours to record 1 hour of silence, of a complete absence of sound. In 2010 the same 1 hour of silence took 3.5 months to record. But even while I struggle greatly to find that quiet place, that struggle is microscopic in comparison to my lack of self control.

I can’t skip a meal without my day being ruined.

I can’t go a few hours without a phone.

I can’t skip Game of Thrones on a Sunday night (and literally watch it on Monday) because even this… a television series… is too great a sacrifice for me.

When athletes train, they spend countless hours preparing their body for the grueling season of activity ahead of them. They do this, put in the time and the work and the preparation, so that they can perform at the highest level possible. And all of that work comes to fruition when the season begins, and those who worked hard rise to the top of the ranks above those who didn’t give it their all.

It’s not about abstaining from things just to prove I can. Nor is it about feeling better when I lack something.

It’s about control.

I want to have control over my body and my mind, not the other way around.

So for today, I’m going to ignore the fact that my phone doesn’t work.

I’m going to turn it off because it won’t charge anyways. But I’m going to leave it off. And I’m not leaving it off because I want to feel better about myself for today. Or because I want to prove I can do it.

I’m going to leave my phone off because I need to learn a little more self control and a little less reliance.

Because there is no greater season than life. And we should all be training constantly for it. Trying to be better. Working towards the type of people we are capable of being.

And I think we could all use a little more self control. Don’t you?

If You’re Gonna Fail… The Least You Can Do Is Fail Because You’re Awful

This American Life (ruined my life for like an hour)

My wife loves to listen to This American Life.

It’s a brilliant show, perfect for canoe rides. I fish while she lies back tanning and listening to the show on her phone. She fishes too, mind you — and often she catches more than I do.

If you’ve never listened to This American Life, and you want to get super hopeful or depressed about the state of this world, let me just take a moment to recommend it to you. A host retells amazing stories mixed in with interviews from the people involved and it always contains extraordinary circumstances or events. It’s brilliant.

One episode we listened to detailed a psychologist who ran a test for sociopathology and psychopathology on a bunch of certifiably crazy prisoners and then on a bunch of CEO’s and businessmen. Ironically enough, the two groups tested very similarly. There was one notable difference. The CEO’s had a spin.

They called failures – opportunities.

They called weaknesses – growth initiatives.

They called manipulating people to get what you want – guiding them in the right direction that just happened to be their own.

This episode certainly had me wondering if I was a psychopath for wanting to be successful some day (see what I mean about throwing your world for a loop?) but eventually (an hour or two later) I got over this. It’s not crazy to want to succeed. It’s actually pretty natural. But what this episode really did for me was illustrate the power of a word. Why was it so important for these hyper-successful people to change their vocabulary?

And that got me wondering about the meaning of the word failure.

“Words Matter A Great Deal, You Should Care About Them More” – F. Underwood

Failure, in regards to dreams, means creating a goal and falling short of it. Now, sometimes this goal has a limited time span. Going to the summer Olympics. Making the Varsity team. Getting into Harvard.

But more often than not, our goals are less time-oriented. Opening a business. Buying a personal zoo. Becoming a writer.

In the more time-oriented way, failure has a pretty simple meaning. It means time ran out. We only have so much of it, and we can only shove so much effort in a limited space. But for the latter… failure means something completely different.

You see, I think there are only two kinds of failure in these much more common situations when a small window isn’t the issue..

Either you’re in the first category, and you fail because you quit.

You decide that your dream is too hard to achieve. You tell yourself that you’re just not good enough or that time is the problem. You say you got busy, that you had to refocus. All of these are just different ways to say you quit.

But the second category of failure makes the first kind look silly. You fail because you changed what success meant when you got scared.

Because quitting isn’t really quitting if you just change the rules and goals. I didn’t really want THAT job. I just wanted something like it. It’s not like I need to paint as a PROFESSION, selling a painting is enough. Going to South Dakota is enough world travelling for me. I don’t really need to set foot on another continent.

You Can Be Anything You Want To Be, As Long As You Want It More Than Breathing

Now, before I go further, let me clarify something. I am terrible at art. Just terrible at it. And it’s not like I couldn’t do an okay job or be a pretty passable artist if I spent every day drawing from now until 30 years from now (maybe 60 years is more accurate) — but the truth is I’d probably never be that great at art.

Because the most important thing that no one will ever tell you is that you can be anything you want to be, as long as you want it more than breathing.

I don’t mean that figuratively. I mean you need to spend every day thinking about it. Every day practicing at it. To be truly good at something, really very good at it, you need to devote most everything you have to it. Because if you don’t want it more than you want air, someone else wants it more. If all you can manage is a little guitar practice every other day, you’re not going to turn into Steve Vai. That fire in your belly, the drive to succeed that is so much more powerful than any fear of failure, that’s what you need to get good at something. Being okay (or even good) at it in the first place is just a more-advanced¬†starting point.

When I realized this a few months ago, I realized I needed to make a new habit. So for the last two months, I’ve woken up every weekday at 5am, arrived at a local coffee shop at 6am, and started writing for two hours before work. And every night before I go to bed, I try to read for an hour or so before I fall asleep. If I want to be a writer, these are the habits I need to do it well.

If you consider the cannon of successful human beings in the world — there is one thing that every single one of them has in common. By definition, they didn’t quit. They didn’t give up or change what success meant. They pressed on despite everything that stood in their way and they refused to let anything stop them. They all worked harder than they thought was possible.

You see, the truth is — if you’re going to fail at something, the least you can do is fail because you’re awful.

What I’m trying to say is this: don’t sell yourself short. If you want to be good at something, develop those habits. I know I’m trying right there with you. Work harder than you knew was possible. Think about it when you can’t work on it and work on it when you can’t think about it any longer without making progress. Make it a part of your daily routine. Commit to it in a way you never imagined possible. Give it everything you’ve got.

That way — if it all falls apart, you can look back and truly say you gave it your all. You won’t need an excuse if it doesn’t work out. You won’t need to convince yourself you failed because of this or that and you won’t need to redefine your dreams. You can just admit that you’re very best¬†simply wasn’t enough. But if you really do this, if you really apply the time it takes to get very good at something, if you really drive at it with all you have and want it more than breathing… I have a feeling you won’t fail.

You’ll take that word and change it. You’ll call it a detour when you don’t make the kind of progress you hoped for and you’ll redouble your efforts. You won’t give in because that’s even more insane than anything else. You won’t stop breathing and you won’t stop working at what you love.

If you do that — if you apply all that time and effort into your dream — ‘not enough effort’ won’t be the reason you failed.

And if you ask me, I’d rather fail because I’m terrible, not because I didn’t try hard enough.

Most People Care More About Things Than People. And You Might Be One Of Them!

We live in a strange world.

I think we’re all aware of it, somewhere deep down in our gut, but we generally try not to think about it. We do our best to distract ourselves with Netflix binges (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was amazing) and video games (who doesn’t love Mario Kart) and March Madness (see: How Villanova ruined my life/bracket). We see this strangeness, this obsession with material oddities, and at one point or another all of us feel this soft pang of guilt.

“Why should I care?” it says.

Consider my work friend Colin (not his real name). A wonderful guy, has three kids and a wife, but recently he lost his job to a series of unfortunate events outside of his control. Colin is a great friend of mine, but when we discuss these events, I can’t help but want to change the subject. For some reason, something inside me just wants to pretend Colin has a job. That he’s going to be just fine. And that I shouldn’t worry too much about it. Maybe I’m heartless. Maybe that’s the problem.

Or maybe I’m not. A week prior to the unfortunate incidents coming to a head, Colin told me that he was considering dropping cable. Things were getting tight, financially, and I had about a half a heart-attack.

“Dropping cable? How are you going to see how bad I beat you in our¬†March Madness bracket?” (P.S. I didn’t. See: How Villanova ruined my life/bracket)

After hearing he was switching to Netflix, I gladly offered Colin a place on my couch for any subsequent basketball or soccer game (not football because that guy is a cold-blooded Packer Fan and I am 100% Minnesotan).

My point remains. I saw a material problem Colin was having and I had an easy solution — so I offered it. A week later, I saw an emotional problem that another human being was having tacked on a physical issue of finance — and feeling I was not capable of solving both I had trouble even helping on one front.

I came around, eventually. But it stunned me that this action required “coming around” at all.

But again. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m just a huge jerk.

Or maybe it’s all of us.

Consider the following:

We live in a world where a guy can raise over $55,000 to make potato salad. It was a prank. A giant prank. And yet it netted $55,000. That’s more than a lot of people make in a year.

Yet when I search GoFundMe for people who need help with medical expenses in my OWN zip code ALONE, I find 21,000 results. And aside from a VERY select few, all of these results combined still doesn’t net what one guy made in cold hard cash for a joke involving potato salad. Heck, many of these medical expense issues have had little or no money donated to them.

And that’s local to me. Just me.

The message I get from this is that people care more about potato salad than people.

“But Brian, it’s a risk thing. You see, I don’t know these people or their situation. And maybe they’re just preying on my feeble heartstrings to take my hard-earned money.”

Do you know what Potato Salad guy used his money for? Neither do I. But I certainly know what he didn’t use it for — charity. He said so. He didn’t donate a dime because that was his “hard earned cash.”

So its okay to donate money when we know it’s a joke, but when we’re not certain if it’s real, we’re afraid? Afraid of what exactly? Afraid of being wrong? Afraid our two dollar donation will fund a Porsche?

**Takes a deep breath**

This isn’t about criticizing humanity. I’m a part of it (and as previously stated, I am possibly¬†a horrible human being).

This is about a girl named Nikki.

I first met Nikki online. In fact, I’ve never actually met Nikki in person, but I know a heck of a lot about her.

I played in a band and she supported me. She bought my albums. She commented on my Facebook page, my Twitter page, my Myspace page, my Bandspace page — basically if I had a page she was commenting on it.

She joined video chats with the band on a weekly basis. She laughed with us as we performed shows and aired band practices and she told everyone she knew about us. And I mean everyone. If you knew Nikki and somehow managed to not hear about us, well you should just go out right now and buy a lottery ticket because trust me — it’s a winner.

Nikki was one of our first fans. She was more than a fan to us. She became our friend. Nikki is always compassionate. She is always loving. She is always thinking about everyone else in the world but herself.

And my friend Nikki needs a kidney.

She’s had chronic kidney disease since she was an infant. It started with a stomach virus when she was 18 months old, and that’s when the doctors first realized she had serious kidney problems. They’d overflow and she’d get infection after infection.

Three major surgeries later, things seemed to be looking up, until her senior year of high school (2008). She was in and out of the hospital every two weeks with another infection and the complications that came with it.

In 2010 her kidney function dropped to 10-15% of a normal kidney, so she had to have surgery on her arm to prepare for dialysis. It was coming time to get on the list for a new kidney. Once dialysis started, Nikki got a part time job to try to help out and made it about 5 months before the extra wear and tear on her body risked another infection and she had to quit.

Medical expenses are mostly covered by insurance, but there are some things they don’t cover.

For one, Nikki’s transplant surgery would happen in Atlanta (3 hours round trip from her). She’d stay there for an extended period after the operation, and then need to go into that hospital three times a week post-op for dialysis and to ensure no complications occurred. When possible, her mom and her stay in a hotel room to skip the drive.

Travel is not covered by medical insurance and she may have to do this for quite some time post-op.

And then there’s the anti-rejection medication. You’d think medication would be covered by insurance, and you’d be partly right. Her insurance covers it for 36 months after the operation, but that’s it. Unfortunately, she’ll need to take it the rest of her life, and it’s a few thousand dollars per month.

There are grants she can (hopefully) get to help with this cost but there are no guarantees.

For now, her and her family need a phone call, a new kidney, and a little financial support to cover the trips that will begin in a flurry the moment they get the call. So far they’ve been waiting over 4 years for that call.

My friend Nikki — she needs a helping hand.

I think the real test of humanity is what we do when we have an opportunity to help. After all, 20,000 plus people were willing to donate a dollar for a guy to make potato salad. And how much does a retweet cost? How about an email? How much does a post on facebook cost? Or a personal message to a friend?

How difficult is it to skip a McDonalds happy meal and donate $5 to a girl who just wants to make it to dialysis three times a week?

Just so she can keep her kidneys working.

Just so she can feel like garbage.

Just so she can fight back against something that’s been trying to crush her from the day she was born.

Or am I right? Is Potato Salad more important than people?

http://www.gofundme.com/7601jg

Do me a favor. Click the link above. Donate. If not, at least share it. Help Nikki.

Prove me wrong.

Human

An elderly lady idled in the turn lane waiting for the red arrow to change. Her old beat-up oldsmobile puttered along like a glorified golf cart. Her knuckles, worn and wrinkled like they were perpetually held underwater, squeezed too tightly on the steering wheel. Her sunglasses were so big that I wondered if beneath them she had multiple pairs of glasses just to see the road.

Next to her, also in the turn lane, was a recently-washed minivan. It wasn’t new or expensive, just an average middle-class¬†red caravan.¬†A mother was inside fiddling with something in the center console, a teenager next to her engrossed in his cell phone. In back there was a carseat.

And that’s when I noticed it —¬†a special bumper sticker.

You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it.

It says “Baby on Board” with a big yield diamond.

thCAG2EHD0

I’m not opposed to babies, nor the idea that they are ‘on board’ and thus precious (and not just because they are on board), but in that moment this sentiment rubbed me very much the wrong way.

Consider the meaning –

“Please be careful not to hit my car, because I have a precious life on board.”

Innocuous. Innocent. Simple.

Yet, when I looked at that¬†elderly woman with hair so white it was practically see-through — I couldn’t help but notice that there was no caution¬†sticker on the back of her car. I glanced back and forth between the minivan and the oldsmobile — as if distilling one half from the other would somehow settle the foulness stirring in my stomach.

This foulness had nothing to do with a new and precious life. But it had everything to do with the idea that we needed to protect this life via caution stickers — that in the crudest sense we needed to be reminded —

“Be careful. There’s another human in this car.”

A human.

Forget the age of the human for a moment, and just recognize that simple fact. Between the mother and the teenager and the old lady and the baby and myself, only one demanded consideration. Only one was the focus of the caution.

It’s a condition.

A piss-poor condition that we the human race have adopted somewhere along the line. That other cars carrying other humans are not people, but in fact traffic cones preventing us from getting to our destination. That old ladies in oldsmobiles who take to long to turn deserve a honk and a nudge or a revocation of their license.

That if you’re going to take a life by slamming your car into a minivan, don’t let it be the baby. The teenager, sure. The mom, why not. But not the baby. As if that makes it less sad. As if a family isn’t destroyed by the loss of any life, old or young.

This sticker that wasn’t ever created to offend anyone, proposed an idea. The idea that life is only precious when it is young, when it is untainted — that cars and those inside them are not worthy of consideration. This is the cultural message we seem to be getting.

Treat whoever you please like human¬†garbage —

But draw the line at babies.

Caution. Baby on board.

 

It was a rotten feeling.

A conviction.

And it led me to a whole mess of questions about myself and my own life. 

 

I don’t mean to bum you out this morning. I don’t mean to make you feel bad — or make anyone feel bad for that matter other than myself. I don’t think that soccer mom, or any mom is wrong for putting a bumper sticker on their car. I’m not trying to incite riots against yellow stickers.

But I do blame myself. I blame myself for attaching worth to age. I blame myself for deciding that some people are too far gone to make amends. I blame myself for trying to make up for the kids in high school that I laughed at by volunteering with high school kids and making them feel included. Because younger life is more precious. Because¬†helping young people somehow makes up for all the kids I let eat lunch alone in high school, or the ones I watched get bullied. They’re too old now, too far gone, wouldn’t remember if I reached out and apologized to them for not saying something sooner. It’s been too long.

I blame myself for not reaching out to old friends who have fallen into addiction. For distancing myself from another human life because that life was¬† all used up. Because I let myself believe that people, the older they get, can’t change. That they don’t want to change. That they are beyond redemption.

This sentiment is a reflection of myself more than anyoen else. It belongs here in public form because it is a habit & trait that I exibit. One that needs to be cut down and thrown to the fire. This statement belongs here because I may not be the only one who feels this way. Because today I will remind myself of a few simple things, in hopes that somewhere deep in my mind — it sticks.

Life is precious. Not because it’s young.

Life is precious because it’s human.

And you don’t outgrow being human.

How to Get Others to Believe in Your Dreams.

The Problem

My wife and I have this great idea. We want to build a free concert series as an outreach to hurting people. We’ll sing a bunch of songs, some on the radio and some obscure, but the purpose will be to get people in touch with their emotions or their spirituality or their love for one another and do so for free — as a service to our community.

We don’t want to preach our views on stage or force people into our mindset or way of thinking — we just want to bring people together for a free show and create an environment where people can speak openly and build community.

Yesterday, we were sharing this idea with a friend of ours. I discussed the idea, and the meaning behind it and how I envisioned it would work while we drank coffee in this wonderful new coffee shop in Bloomington, MN. I answered his questions and left the conversation feeling that he was responsive. I properly illustrated my passion and he responded with a smaller degree of passion.

In my experience, this is natural. To my wife, she found this to be unfulfilling. She made a comment on the way back home.

“Do you think people are really behind us in this?”

And I couldn’t help but think she nailed it.¬†

She keenly detected this difference in level of passion. We had more of it, and our friend had less of it. She felt unsatisfied because she wanted to share a passion with a friend and have them respond with even more passion than she had.

And there’s a reason he didn’t respond that way.

 

The Reason

Some days I think there are only two types of people in the world.

People like me, who overanalyze everything. (bad)

And people who are too busy doing and living and being to really even realize (or care for that matter) about what others are thinking. (good)

The truth, I’m sure, is more complicated than this — but there’s something to be learned in this black-and-white polarized view of the world.

Generally speaking — people who barrel¬†ahead generally get further in life than those who inch forward, analyze, redirect, inch again. And we like to make fun of the barrelers, don’t we? We like to look at those dream-chasers as ignorant, silly people. You know who I’m talking about — the ones who quit their jobs on a whim to open a business, or who move to another city/state/country with literally zero prospects or job leads or apparent reasons.

And yet, even when those who barrel come back home with a life in shambles, we still feel jaded that they did something.

I’m all for analyzing and planning and preparing. But at some point, these things become a crutch — an excuse to not move forward and implement the plan. At some point, you just have to barrel.

These people, these barrelers, they understand something about the world that us analyzers don’t. They get that people are never going to see what they see — so rather than trying to justify or explain or reason with people who are at best going to mildly agree — they do what it is they want and deal with the consequences as it happens.

 

The Way

People are never going to be as passionate about your dreams as you are. It’s like a mathmatical law of the universe.

You have the vision. You have the dream. To you, it’s crystal clear.

But everyone else can only catch a glimpse of it until it’s finished. And even when its finished, they might not be able to fully appreciate it.

Think about a form of art that you have literally zero capacity to perform. For me, any type of drawing or painting.

If a painter came up to me and desribed their vision for this wonderful serene realist work and how it was going to change the way that realist art is performed or viewed — my response would be something like this:

“That’s cool! Do it!”

In their head, they see a vision. In mine, I’m seeing some mix of Rembrant and Picasso, and then realizing that Picasso was an impressionist, and then thinking about just how little I know about art in general.

So the trick — the real trick — is distinguishing this difference. Because even when this friend of mine shows me this earth-shattering world-shaking painting, the true meaning of it might still be lost on me.

And that’s not because the painting isn’t earth-shattering. That’s because I’m art-stupid.

Hear me on this.

No one will ever be as passionate about your dreams as you.

It won’t happen. Ever.

And that’s not a problem with you or what you accomplished.

Make art, music, films, novels, poems because you want to create — because you have something to say and you need to get it out. Dream big, not so people will get behind you. Dream big and press forward and by natural consequence people will BE behind you.

Be passionate about your work and others will be passionate about it too.

And if you feel yourself wondering “Does anyone else really think I can do this?” I’d like you to shut that voice up. Call your mom, call that uber-supportive friend. Let them calm your nerves by telling you that you’ll change the world.

Or just ignore that stupid voice entirely, because what does it know anyways?

And barrel confidently forward.