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Archive for June, 2014

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I will be doing my first marathon in New York City later this year. I still remember how much I struggled mentally in my past 10K races, thinking thoughts like “why did I sign up for this”, “when will this ends”, and “is there a way to quit in the middle without embarrassing myself”. I think I felt that way because I didn’t train for them.

As I started training for the marathon and running 10K or more regularly, running the same distance seems to have become a much easier task. I struggle less and don’t think running 10K is a big deal anymore. During my training process, I’m becoming a slightly different person, physically and mentally becoming a person who can finish a marathon. And this is probably similar in many other endeavors, like becoming a professional musician, athlete, or CEO. We hone our skills and mental capacity to achieve things that wouldn’t be possible without those training and experience. Things that seem incredibly difficult at first become ordinary (and something else becomes the new challenge).

Goal seems to be a useful tool to change ourselves. When we strive for goals that stretch us, we need to become different from what we used to be to achieve those goals. Ideally we should also learn to enjoy the process when striving for those goals. For marathon it might mean enjoy eating healthy, staying active, and running regularly. When these activities turn into a lifestyle, it likely means we already become different selves. Dan Gilbert noted that we are always changing but tend to underestimate those changes (he called it “the end of history” illusion). Perhaps we could use goals to change ourselves more consciously.

I think training for a marathon is a great way to experience the power of training and discipline. It is a good challenge because most people can finish a marathon if they train for it, but at the same time it’s not an easy task. It’s also a good way to understand the importance of genes, as there are likely people who can run much faster than you no matter how hard you train.

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Tips from Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes. 

My comic strip was the way that I explored the world and my own perceptions and thoughts. So to switch off the job I would have had to switch off my head. So, yes, the work was insanely intense, but that was the whole point of doing it.

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Quite honestly I tried to forget that there was an audience. I wanted to keep the strip feeling small and intimate as I did it, so my goal was just to make my wife laugh. After that, I’d put it out, and the public can take it or leave it.

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My advice has always been to draw cartoons for the love of it, and concentrate on the quality and be true to yourself. Also try to remember that people have better things to do than read your work. So for heaven’s sake, try to entice them with some beauty and fun.

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A comic strip takes just a few seconds to read, but over the years, it creates a surprisingly deep connection with readers. I think that incremental aspect, that unpretentious daily aspect, is a source of power.

Interview with Austin Kleon

But I think there’s a way in which you can think about your creative process itself—the real work—and break that down into shareable bits. And if you share a little piece of your process every day, it’s a very sustainable way of promoting your work. Not promoting yourself, but promoting your work.

There’s this great story about the writer Christopher Hitchens. He said that writing a book is like getting a free education that lasts a lifetime. He was talking about how the people who read his books would email him and write him letters or he would meet them at events, and they were constantly feeding him stuff. He wasn’t just learning from writing the book, he was also learning from people’s reactions to the book.

And I think that’s the way to think about self-promotion: Think about it as opening the door to learning. In the simple act of sharing your creative process, sharing the stuff that you make, and sharing your ideas, you will get responses that feed back into your work.

And then the trick becomes how to let that feedback in without letting it hurt you. And that’s the dance of the artistic life, isn’t it? Separating what’s helpful from what’s destructive.

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I think people seriously underestimate what 15 minutes a day for 10 years will do versus 10 hours a day for a year. If you do little bits and pieces every day, after a while, you have this body of work.

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We all get 24 hours. No one gets more time. Sure, you might have your job, you might have a kid, you might have a family—I had all of those things when I was writing my first book—but when you get ruthless about what you really want to do, there are so many gaps. So many little spaces in the day where you can find the time. I know a lot of writers that just straight up steal time from work. It’s just a matter of prioritizing. Are you going to watch five episodes of Duck Dynasty in a row? Or are you going to write a novel?

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It happens a lot of in creative work that you finish a project and you don’t know what to do next. It can be a bit disconcerting. And I think that’s why it’s so important to have a daily practice that you do no matter what you are working on.

My thing is that I make one of these blackout poems every day. I just do it every day, no matter what. It gets me in the zone. Then, from there, I can work on different things.

It’s all about staying in motion. Inertia is the antithesis of creativity.

Joshua Rothman on Knausgaard

Knausgaard has found his own way of understanding it: as a struggle. It’s the struggling that gives life its texture—constant, absorbing, and unending, the same whether you’re nine, nineteen, or thirty-nine. Like many struggles, this one is simultaneously tormenting and rewarding, heroic and pathetic, dynamic and static, purposeful and a waste of time. The main thing is that you can’t stop struggling. You’re a creature of struggle. You desperately want to win each battle but you never want the war to end.

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Reading “My Struggle,” you’re pulled inside these rhythms; at the same time, you’re surprised by the subjects out of which they emerge. It makes sense for big, important experiences to be understood in this way: the consummation of a romance, the death of a father, the birth of a child, writing a book. It makes less sense for lesser experiences. And yet Knausgaard finds this same rhythm everywhere: in a long drive to see his grandparents; in a swimming lesson; in grocery shopping; in playing guitar; in making tea; in cleaning a bathroom.

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These are events he anticipates, fears, and relishes, and in which he understands himself as performing well or badly. He takes them seriously. But it’s not that these events matter—they don’t. It’s that this is life, and life is a struggle; to live is to care. “Indifference is one of the seven deadly sins, actually the greatest of them all, because it is the only one that sins against life,” he writes, at the end of the second volume.

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