The one and the many

Sometimes I’m good at blogging frequently. Sometimes…not so much. Creativity’s fond of the whole cycle thing, sometimes on, sometimes off. For me, one day I’m focused on writing, the next I’m giddy about illustration, the next I’m excited about an iPhone app I’m writing, the next I don’t really feel like anything but reading, and so it continues.

I used to let this bother me. I finally figured out why it shouldn’t.

First, I’ve realized that in the world there are people who can specialize and those who can’t. When I’m reading books about writing or illustrating or what have you, they’re mostly written by the people who’ve devoted their lives to their craft, whatever it may be. They’re the specialists.

That’s not me. I’ve tried so many times to devote my life to just one thing — usually writing — and it’s never worked. Ever. I think the longest I’ve gone was three weeks. And I’d always feel bad about it, thinking this meant I was a slacker without self-discipline enough to accomplish much of anything.

That may still be true, but the point here is that I was trying to fit myself into the wrong mold. I will never be the person who just does writing and that’s it.

(Sidenote: I do realize that people who appear to just do writing actually do more than that, because people are complex and life isn’t cut and dried. What I mean is folks who have a single main focus as opposed to those who have five or six main focuses. And I’m not going to say focii because I’m writing in English, not Latin.)

Now that I’ve realized who I am and who I’m not, I no longer feel guilty about switching creative moods all the time. It’s okay if today I do writing and tomorrow I do illustrating and the next day I write code.

As I’ve mentioned before, the creative mood I’m in often has a lot to do with what I’m reading/seeing/listening to at the moment — creative triggers. If I read fiction or watch movies, I want to write. If I look at illustrations, I want to make art. If I read tech blogs, I want to code.

Back when I was trying to fit myself into the specialist mold, I wanted to manipulate these triggers so I could make myself write. And recently, when I thought I wanted to be a full-time illustrator (more on that in a second), I was trying to set up triggers to encourage daily illustration. I had a whole plan laid out for how I was going to do it.

It lasted, oh, a day or two. Because again, that’s not me. I no longer try to force myself into creative moods unless I’m on deadline for a project. For me, at least, natural is better.

An epiphany

In our world of specialization and Ph.D. programs, we’re expected to choose a career path. You know, the whole “when I grow up I want to be a [fill in the blank]” thing. And that’s great…for specialists.

Me, on the other hand…well, I’ve spent the last five years trying to pin down exactly what my career’s supposed to be, what my life’s work will be. Every time I think I’ve got it, bam, it changes on me, sometimes on a daily basis.

This freaked me out for a while.

After all, I’m supposed to be responsible, I’ve got to be supporting a family, and that means preparation and focus and all of that, right?

Sort of. Here’s my epiphany: I don’t have to choose a set-in-stone career path. I especially don’t have to choose it right now. It’s okay if I do lots of different things over the next forty to fifty years (and I don’t see myself retiring, not if there’s still interesting work to be done).

Basically, I’m now taking it one day at a time, trusting that the Lord will guide me. I’m following my passions, learning and doing lots of different things. Right now some of those passions pay the bills and some are just hobbies. Maybe that will change, maybe it won’t. A day or two after this epiphany, I ran across a post by Merlin Mann on future-proofing your passion:

By starting adult life with an autistically explicit “goal” that’s never been tested against any kind of real-world experience or reality-in-context, we can paradoxically miss a thousand more useful, lucrative, or organic opportunities that just…what?…pop up. Often these are one-time chances to do amazing and even unique things — opportunities that many of us continue to reject out of hand because it’s “not what we do.”

Bingo. Every time I’ve decided to myself that I’m a writer, I’ve felt like I needed to cut all my other hobbies out of my life so I could focus on writing alone. I’m glad now that I didn’t, because there are quite a few projects I can think of that I wouldn’t have started if I’d actually followed through on that excision idea.

Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient is the day unto the evil thereof. (3 Nephi 13:34)

P.S. I’ve got a new secret project I’m way excited about. It’s about halfway done and is coming along really, really well. (I’ve decided to stop posting about projects until after I finish them, by the way. This’ll hopefully help me avoid the Beyond syndrome, where I say I’m going to do a project but then bail out over and over again.)

Vulgate: Matthew

One of my new projects: Typesetting a reader’s edition of the Clementine Vulgate. Instead of waiting till the whole thing is done, however, I’m going to be publishing it one book at a time, starting with Matthew:

Why the Vulgate? Because I like Latin.

I’m planning to continue this one-piece-at-a-time thing with a few other projects (Old English texts and a German edition of the Grimms’ fairy tales).

In other bookmaking news, I’m about halfway done typesetting a reader’s edition of the Pearl of Great Price. The Mormon Digitization Project is coming along nicely, too. We’re almost done with Joseph Smith as Scientist and will be doing The Life of Heber C. Kimball next.

Rock solid action

In January I blogged about next actions, but I didn’t realize till now just how important it is that todo items be concrete. Not vague. Not fluffy. Not general. To get things done, todo times have to be rock solid and mentally tangible.

If I have any items on my todo list that aren’t concrete, my brain clouds up and I don’t get anything done. But as soon as I wipe those abstract items off my list, voila, my mind clears up and I can finally do stuff again.

Example: “Russian edition of Crime & Punishment.” First, there’s no verb here. Verbs help. Second, this is not an actionable item. It’s a goal, but not something I can directly do. So I think about it for a second and decide that the first thing I need to do is “Look for a copyright-free online edition of the Russian C&P text.” That’s something I can do. (Even more basic, I could start with “Find out how ‘Crime & Punishment’ is written in Cyrillic so I know what to search for.” It’s “Преступление и наказание,” in case you were wondering.)

The trick is noticing those vague items when they show up on my list and then moving them elsewhere (I’m using my Things inbox at the moment) until I have time to process them and figure out what real actions I need to take.

Honestly, vague todo items are to blame for probably half of the productivity I lose. (Bejeweled accounts for the rest.)

Yet another new banner

Six months later, banner boredom has struck again, so I’ve updated my banner and footer and made a few more tweaks across the site. Here’s what it used to look like:

And here’s the new thing:

Main changes include Aller for the banner font and a simpler, textured footer. Also, I used to have the home page banner taller than the banner elsewhere on the site, but now they’re all the same size.

It’s not perfect, but it’ll do for now. I’m kind of itching to redesign the whole thing from scratch, but I don’t have time for that right now.

Fear of illustration

Naturally, after I announced to the world that I wanted to be an illustrator, I promptly stopped illustrating. I wish I could say that the past month has been filled with a movielike montage of training, with my spending every waking moment drawing and painting and learning my craft. Instead, I’ve hardly done anything.

What happened? I got scared.

Doing illustrations for a living is daunting, and now that I’ve announced my intentions — now that I’m serious about it — I’ve gone and frozen up.

So now it’s a matter of thawing. Of realizing I don’t need to be perfect. Of making myself practice and produce. Of smushing the fears.

This is what Steven Pressfield calls resistance in The War of Art. And it’s too dang effective. I’ve been telling myself all sorts of excuses, using almost every avoidance tactic in the book to keep from illustrating — from doing the one thing I want to do. Sigh.

But I’m not going to let the resistance get me down.

I don’t exactly know how yet — I’ve thought about making myself draw one illo each day, but I also want to finish more complex pieces that take longer than a single day — but I’ll figure something out, so help me.

My new life

If you haven’t seen it yet, watch the Church’s new Mormon Messages “My New Life” video on Stephanie Nielson:

Stephanie is a blogger who was in a plane crash with her husband a couple years ago. I’d heard about her before (we featured her brother Chris in the third issue of my magazine), but what I hadn’t realized was how powerful her testimony of the Savior was. Like, wow. Light, pure and holy.

It’s beautiful. People who love God and aren’t afraid to let their light shine make me happy.

(Speaking of testimonies, the new is looking for stories and testimonies.)

Pedigree charts

Genealogy on the computer is nice, but sometimes you just want to write things down on paper. I’ve put together some minimalist pedigree chart templates for that purpose (downloadable as PDFs).

Standard and 2x (since you usually don’t need all the space the standard chart gives you):

And landscape, if you need more horizontal space:


Mormon Artist Issue 9

Mormon Artist Issue 9 (a special issue focusing on Latter-day Saints in New York City) is finally up:

This was our longest issue yet, and while it was hard to pull everything together for it, in the end it’s been one of the most satisfying.

And yes, I know it’s not April anymore. :P