Tag Archives: Jeff Goins

Guest Post: Clutter Is Killing Your Creativity (And What to Do About It) by Jeff Goins

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Thanks to Jeff Goins, author of The Art of Work and blogger at Goins, WriterYou can also follow him on Medium

Some weeks, my desktop is a disaster: full of papers and files and sticky notes with half-baked ideas. Yes, I am your typical “creative.” Disorganized and disheveled, I proudly chalk it up to the artist in me. But if I’m honest, this is embarrassing.

Clutter is not my friend; it is my enemy.

Clutter

Clutter is procrastination. It is the Resistance, a subtle form of stalling and self-sabotage. And it keeps me (and you) from creating stuff that matters.

The mess is not inevitable. It is not cute or idiosyncratic. It is a foe, and it is killing your art.

Clean up your mess

Before beginning her career as a successful author and speaker, Patsy Clairmont did something unexpected. She washed the dishes.

She wanted to take her message to the world, but as she was readying herself, she felt nudged to start in an unusual way. She got out of bed and cleaned her house.

In other words, Patsy got rid of the mess. And it put her in a position to start living more creatively. We must do the same.

Bringing your message to the world does not begin on the main stage. It starts at home. In the kitchen. At your desk. On your cluttered computer. You need to clear your life of distractions, not perfectly, but enough so that there’s room for you to create.

The relationship between clutter and creativity is inverse. The more you have of the former, the less you have of the latter. Mess creates stress. Which is far from an ideal environment for being brilliant.

Make more with less

Jack White has an interesting philosophy on creativity. He believes less is more, that inspiration comes from restriction. If you want to be inspired, according to Jack, then give yourself boundaries. That’s where art blossoms.

At a public speaking conference earlier this year, I learned this truth, as it relates to communication. An important adage the presenters often repeated was:

If you can’t say it in three minutes, you can’t say it in 30.

We spent the week of the conference writing and delivering five-minute speeches every day. We learned that if we couldn’t summarize our ideas in a few short sentences, then we couldn’t elaborate on them for half an hour. Sure, we could ramble and rant. But that’s not communicating. It’s word vomit.

I’ve learned to do this with writing. If I can’t say what I want in a sentence or two, then I’m not ready to share the idea. Prematurely broadcasting an idea before it can be described succinctly will cause you to lose trust with your audience and cost the integrity of your message.

When attention is sparse, the people with the fewest, most important words win.

Be Ernest Hemingway

In a world full of noise, it’s nice not to have to weed through digital SPAM to find the nuggets worth reading. But this doesn’t come naturally. Succinctly getting your point across is a discipline.

I like to talk — a lot. I often process ideas out loud as they come to me. But I find this frustrating when other people do it. So I’m trying to master the art of clutter-free writing.

Here’s what I do: I write and write and write, getting all my on “paper” (or computer or whatever). Then, I take out as many words as possible while still clearly communicating my message.

Because if I can say it in five words instead of 15, I should.

This process of cleaning up your message is not intuitive for people. But it isimportant — an essential discipline for anyone with something to say. If you don’t know where to begin, start here:

  1. Reclaim your inbox. Throw away magazines and newspapers you have no intention of reading. Clean up your email, getting it down to a manageable amount (zero, if you can).
  2. Clean up your desk. Again, throw away stuff you haven’t used in months.
  3. Find a clean space to create. This is different for everyone, but it needs to not stress you out.
  4. Limit distractions. Turn off email, phone, and social media tools. Force yourself to focus on one thing at a time.
  5. Start creating clutter-free messages. Remember: less is more. Use restrictions to be more creative.
  6. Repeat this for the rest of your life.

For more on ways to be more structured and focus as a creative, I’ve found these books to be really helpful:

How do you deal with clutter and creativity? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

Monday Morning Wisdom #80

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Monday Morning Wisdom #80

Found on Facebook:Practice 2

Monday Morning Wisdom #71

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Monday Morning Wisdom #71

Found on Facebook:Writer 1

My 8 Go-To Writing Books

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My 8 Go-To Writing Books

I love to read reading lists. I recently read 14 Books Every Writer Needs on Their Shelf by Pamela Hodges. As a writer and book addict, I have 2 ½  shelves devoted to writing books; Hodge’s list got me thinking—which are the books I refer to over and over again?

So here they are, the writing books I consider to be the essentials:The Art of Work

  1. The Art of Work by Jeff Goins. Not specifically for writers, but for finding your purpose in life. As it happens, Goins is a professional writer, and much of the book deals with how he found his path to a writing career. It also convinced me I’m on the right path. Click here to see an in-depth review.
  2. The Artist's WayThe Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron. Not just for writers, The Artist’s Way is a twelve-week crash course in removing blocks to your creativity. I went through the whole process many years ago, and I still practice many of the concepts I learned, but I feel the need to go through the process again (I’m putting it in my creative goals for 2017). Cameron’s spirituality is Zen-like, but I can adapt her ideas to be appropriate to my Christian worldview.
  3. Bird by birdBird by Bird: Some Ideas on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. I will always love Lamott for giving me permission to write sh*tty first drafts. I’ve read several of her books and her essays on Salon.com and I love her voice. She’s earthy, witty, and despite her unorthodox theology, incredibly spiritual. The title of this book refers to advice her father gave to her brother when he procrastinated writing an ornithology report for school—“Just take it bird by bird, son, bird by bird.”
  4. Little, Brown HandbookThe Little, Brown Handbook by H. Ramsey Fowler and Jane E. Aaron. Although many writers swear by E.B. White’s Elements of Style or The Chicago Manual of Style, when I have a grammar, punctuation, or formatting question, I grab this book. It’s well-organized and I can find what I need immediately. A detailed table of contents is laid out right inside the front cover, and a glossary of editing symbols lives inside the back cover. The St. Martin’s Handbook (I have that, too) is set up much the same way, as are many other high school and college level grammar books. Use whatever you like, but you need a good grammar reference.
  5. On WritingOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. I like this book not so much for the writing advice (he’s a pantser, I’m an outliner) as for insight into his process and his life. I love his break-out story. I like many of Uncle Stevie’s books, but I can’t force myself to read through some of them. I’m a little concerned about a mind that can conceive so much evil…
  6. PlatformPlatform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World; a Step-By-Step Guide for Anyone with Something to Say or Sell by Michael Hyatt. As the former Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the seventh largest trade book publishing company in the U.S., Hyatt knows a little something about marketing, especially as it applies to authors. Reading this book two years ago convinced me I ought to write a blog, and that I probably needed to learn how to tweet. It got me out of my comfort zone, and I will probably reap the benefits for the rest of my writing career.
  7. poemcrazypoemcrazy: freeing your life with words by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge. Wooldridge conducts poetry workshops, and this book is sort of her textbook. I originally bought it for my daughter when studied poetry in college (she went to Bennington and I think she got to take a class with Mary Oliver; eventually she graduated with a degree in German); but when I flipped through it, I couldn’t bear to part with it. I’ve been working my way through the exercises in it this year, and when I’m done I’ll write a review of it for ARHtistic License.
  8. Writer's JourneyThe Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters by Christopher Vogler. Based on the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell. Vogler, while working as a story analyst for the Walt Disney Company, penned a seven-page memo called “A Practical Guide to The Hero with a Thousand Faces” distilling Campbell’s magnus opus. It’s reputed to have served as a plot guide for many of the Disney movies. This book grew out of that memo. I’ve used it to outline my novels. I was lucky enough to have Vogler sign my copy years ago when I met him at a writer’s conference.

Have I missed a book that you as a writer can’t live without? Let us know by sharing your favorite titles in the comments below (and a little bit about why you like them).

Monday Morning Wisdom #62

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Monday Morning Wisdom #62

Found on Facebook:Question

The Untold Story Behind Vincent van Gogh’s Success…by Jeff Goins

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The Untold Story Behind Vincent van Gogh’s Success…by Jeff Goins

Thank you to Jeff Goins for today’s guest post. This article was originally published on Jeff’s blog, Goins, Writer, which is required reading for writers and others striving to find and be faithful to their purpose.

Not every mom puts her kids’ drawings on the refrigerator. Some mothers are critical, even cruel. And to be fair, some drawings are just not that good. But can you imagine being the mother of Vincent van Gogh and ridiculing your child’s work? It sounds crazy, but crazy was a major theme of his life.

The Untold Story Behind Vincent van Gogh's Success

Vincent van Gogh led a life of madness, one with many starts and stops that looked as frenetic on the outside as they must have felt on the inside. Only during the final years of his short life was Vincent a professional artist, and even then, a tortured one ridiculed by others, even by his own mother.

So what can we learn from the career of a man whom history either remembers as a lunatic or a genius? A lot, in fact.

False starts can lead to success

An impassioned young man never content to sit still for too long, Vincent van Gogh chased many vocations in his youth.

First, he apprenticed for an art dealer in London, which was an arrangement made by his family and one he eventually resented. This was where the first of many heart-breaking love affairs would occur.

Then he pursued a career in Christian ministry.

After a dramatic conversion experience in London, the zealous van Gogh was determined to enter the pastorate. Unfortunately, he failed the required entrance exam to begin his theological education, which was then followed by another failed attempt at gaining a religious education.

This was a common theme in van Gogh’s life: failure after failure, disappointment after disappointment. When it became clear that in spite of his fervor, he would not likely become a pastor, he was forced to face the facts. He was going to have to find another path. Still, he continued to try to force it.

Van Gogh spent some time as a traveling missionary and evangelist before eventually deciding to become an artist, a vocation he believed might also honor God. At the time, it looked as if he was wandering through life; in fact, his parents were deeply concerned, probably even ashamed of him.

At one point, Vincent’s father looked into admitting the eccentric boy to an insane asylum. But despite the series of seemingly disparate events, in retrospect, we see a pattern: from young Vincent’s long walks as a child in nature, where he marveled at the natural beauty of creation; to an early apprenticeship for an art dealer; to his failed attempts at entering the ministry. None of it was an accident.

There was a force, which van Gogh believed to be God, guiding him through life, helping him find his way. Such a force guides each of us, leading us to our destiny. But the way this force chooses to reveal itself is surprising.

At times, it may feel and look like failure; it certainly did for Vincent. But what’s really happening is our life is being directed, guided in a certain direction, in a way that is beyond our control. As we continue to face adversity, we adapt. We grow.

Trust yourself

What made Vincent van Gogh remarkable, and the reason we know his name today, is that he didn’t quit. At no point did he ever give up on the search for his calling. He knew he was destined for greatness, believing God had called him to some sacred service — he just didn’t know what it was.

“My only anxiety,” Vincent wrote in a letter to his brother Theo, “is how can I be of use in the world?”

So he kept going, trying new things until he found something that worked. And as with other stories of calling, this wasn’t something new. It was something old, something he had always loved but hadn’t considered a career, maybe due to the jabs of his mother or pressure from his family to make a living. At the age of twenty-seven, however, Vincent van Gogh decided to become an artist.

It’s a little disingenuous to say he didn’t give up. He did, in fact, quit many things. He just never gave up on that inner nudge he felt to do something significant with his life. He used failure to help him find out what it was, using each closed door of opportunity as a pivot point to send him in a new direction.

 

Vincent van Gogh failed his way to success. And when he got to his destiny, he realized how everything, from his spiritual frustration borne of growing up under a Dutch clergyman to his obsession with the outdoors, all had a purpose. All these things were preparation; they became his inspiration.

His career as an artist was short-lived, lasting only ten years. His life ended at the age of thirty-seven at his own hands, and he died a poor, mentally ill man. His brother had to finance most of his career, and he experienced little commercial success during his life. And yet, within a hundred years, his name would become famous, and his works would go on to be some of the most valuable in the world.

Why gatekeepers matter

How did this happen? It wasn’t just luck. There were guides who met Vincent at every stop along his journey. These were the people who both rejected him and affirmed him. Each step was an approach towards greatness, even when that step involved failure.

When he failed, Vincent grew reflective, asking himself what he was doing wrong. And what often happened afterward was a renewed resolve to dedicate himself more fully to his work. As he continued, he found people who resonated with what he was trying to do, even when he didn’t fully understand it.

This very much follows what one psychology calls the “systems theory of creativity”, which I wrote about here. What it takes for an artist to succeed is not to simply master his or her craft and wait for people to acknowledge their genius. It doesn’t work like that.

If you want your creative work to succeed, you have to satisfy three core systems: the self, the field, and the domain.

Practically, what that means is you have to get good, then you have to find gatekeepers who affirm the importance of your work, and then you must do something that changes or contributes to your domain in some way.

For Vincent van Gogh, that meant struggling for years, first trying to find his calling in life, and then dedicating himself to the practice of art to the point that he could acquire enough hours to be great. But that, in and of itself, was not enough.

Vincent had to find people in the art world whom others trusted, and this was difficult. At the time, the way Vincent painted was so bizarre and offensive that people didn’t know what to do with it. It looked like child’s play. But when he met a group of French painters, everything changed. He realized that his dense paint and broad brushstrokes full of bright, vibrant colors had a name: Impressionism.

Then there was his brother Theo, who acted as a patron to his art for a decade, supporting him both financially and emotionally, if not always fully understanding him. The two van Gogh brothers were so closely connected that shortly after the latter took his life, the former joined him in death.

Even in death, Vincent van Gogh had not attained the level of fame his work would soon experience. It was his sister-in-law, Theo’s wife, who saw to it that his paintings were sold and eventually recognized. Were it not for Johanna van Gogh, we may not have ever seen Starry Night or any number of other paintings that are now worth millions.

Deconstructing genius

So what does this mean for us? If we feel, as Vincent did, that we have important work to share, then we must consider the road ahead of us. It won’t be easy, but the reward may be worth the obstacles.

Here are three lessons I think we can learn from this story:

  1. Listen to failure. Vincent van Gogh failed a lot, but each failure taught him something about himself and moved him closer to his calling. If you sense you are somehow destined for greatness but don’t know what to do, do what Vincent did and just start trying things. Failure will be a good friend and guide you to where you want to go.
  2. Persevere in the right things. Not all failure is a sign that you should quit. Over time, you will learn to trust yourself. I find that prayer and meditation are worthwhile practices for this. Deep in your subconscious, there is what my friend Dov calls an “inner knowing” which will tell you where to go and what to do. In other words, pay attention to your intuition and keep doing the things it tells you to do.
  3. Find people who resonate with your work. Even if that means seeking out other outcasts, as it often does for creative individuals, you need a collective. The French Impressionists were in many cases banned from art galleries and their work was censored for years. But they banded together to create something new and fresh. And over time, people began to understand it. But until that happened, they had each other, which was enough encouragement to keep going.

The creative life is filled with rejection and failure, but that’s not all there is to it. There is also success and encouragement and meaning when you understand how to navigate this windy road. Good luck.

Resources

To learn more about van Gogh, mastering your craft, and how creative people succeed, check out the following:

And if you haven’t picked up a copy of my best-selling book, The Art of Work, yet, I highly recommend that. You can get the audio for free here.

What failures are you listening to? How are you pushing through rejection on the right things? Share in the 39 Comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

Start Building Your Audience Today

Download my free eBook and learn exactly what I did to grow my blog from zero to 100,000 readers in 18 months.

In this book, I share everything I’ve learned from building a tribe and becoming a full-time writer — and how you can do the same.

Click here to download the free book now.

Monday Morning Wisdom #55

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Monday Morning Wisdom #55

Practice 1

Monday Morning Wisdom #18

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Monday Morning Wisdom #18

Don’t long for a better life — live the one you have. “Wherever you are,” missionary Jim Elliott once said, “be all there.” Making the most of your current reality is the best practice for what’s to come.

Don’t get stuck in a single pursuit — create a body of work. Keep looking for other skills and interests you can develop that will complement your core. You never know where a new fascination might lead.

Don’t be afraid to change mediums — keep trying new things. Sometimes, the way we get to our best work is by quitting something else.–Jeff Goins.MMW

Top Ten Ways to Combat Writer’s Block

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Top Ten Ways to Combat Writer’s Block

Let’s face it—writer’s block is a universal experience among writers. We all deal with it at one time or another. As discouraging as it is to face a project that defies you to start or make progress, you can prevail unto victory. Here are some strategies that work for me.

  1. Persevere. That means don’t give up. Think Winston Churchill. This is hard, but imperative. (By the way, perseverance has applications in all other aspects of life, especially work, sports, and the arts. And parenting.)
  2. Write every day. Even if you can’t seem to write a word on your project, write something. Write a shopping list or a to-do list. Write a stream of consciousness. Write a Facebook post. Write a breakdown of your project into easily accomplishable tasks. Write pages that you know will never show up in your final project. Just write something—shoot for at least 500 words. Practice daily writing as a discipline. Take Jeff Goins’ 500 Word Challenge. You will build impetus and fight inertia.
  3. Believe in your project. You have a message, or at least a story to tell. And even if it’s already been done, no one call tell it the same way you can. Remember why you are doing this. If your only motive is money, that’s probably not enough to sustain your work. While we all have bills to pay, that’s no reason for your manuscript to exist. You should want to touch people’s lives, encourage and uplift them, help them, educate them, entertain them. If your project doesn’t have a meaningful purpose, it doesn’t deserve your effort. Have a project worthy of hard work. Then work hard.
  4. Do something mindless. Physical movement helps, but I prefer something you don’t really have to think about, like ironing or walking. I used to walk every morning. I learned to take a notebook with me, because invariably something intriguing would pop into my head that I would forget if I didn’t write it down. It’s challenging to write while you’re walking, but you can do it. Or capture your ideas on your smart phone or a portable recorder.frustrated-writer-2
  5. Make a story board, or write an outline. Try taking 12 index cards, one for each phase of The Hero’s Journey. (Click here.) Then write down your scenes on the appropriate cards. While you are not bound to this sort of a framework (and Stephen King produces book after book without bothering with one), it can show you how to fill the holes in your project.
  6. Write out of sequence. Maybe you know what the next-to-last chapter of your nonfiction book needs to cover, but you just can’t make progress on chapter five. You don’t necessarily need to write each page in order. If you’re stuck, try writing a particularly vivid scene that will occur further on in your novel. You will probably have to throw most of it away later, because details will be all out of whack. But what you write may give you clues about the progression of your story line. Getting words on paper is the important thing. You can always rewrite later.
  7. Think about improbable next steps for your work-in-progress. Maybe your 1800’s character witnesses an alien spaceship crash. Or maybe the next chapter in your economics book should be about the history of tic-tac-toe. Don’t knock it–I sometimes get usable ideas from this strategy. Or write a minor character’s back story. This is more useful than it sounds, because if you do the work of getting to know him, he will behave much more believably in your story.
  8. Don’t aim for perfection—at least until after your first draft is done. Perfectionism is the mother of procrastination. First drafts are supposed to suck. They’re the raw material for your rewrites. Every writer rewrites. Don’t edit as you go. Instead, get the whole thing down. In his book On Writing, Stephen King recommends writing your first draft, then putting it in a drawer for six weeks while you work on your next project. Then go back and read the draft, see if it holds together, and make any major corrections and changes before starting at least two very serious rewrites.
  9. Give your subconscious the assignment of figuring out the next part. Before you go to sleep, or as you start a brainless task, remind yourself that you need to figure out how you’re going to get around your blockage. Some writers find it helpful to reread their last few pages before they go to bed. My friend Gloria Jean, a ballroom dancer who designed and sewed all her dance dresses, kept a sketch book next to her bed. She saw dance dresses in her dreams and drew them when she woke up (sometimes in the middle of the night!) while they were still fresh in her mind. You might keep a pad and pencil by your bed so you can record ideas (sometimes shockingly bizarre) that come to you in your dreams.
  10. Above all, never, never, never give up.

Do you have a blockage-busting strategy that works especially well for you? Please share in the comments below.

What Is My Calling?

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What Is My Calling?

If you asked me a few years ago what my calling was, I would tell you I was born to teach. I loved being around elementary school children, seeing the world through their eyes. I taught music, and I loved seeing the kids build skills, learn concepts, and enjoy making music.

Then everything changed. Without going into detail, teaching became a burden rather than a joy. Recognizing that the educational paradigm was shifting, I tried to roll with the changes, telling myself I could hang on until things got better.

They only got worse. Demands increased as resources dwindled. Morale at my school plummeted. My stress level rose. After grieving for three years over my profession’s shift from rewarding labor to drudgery, I resigned in May of 2014. I had to. I couldn’t suffer it one more day.

I immediately underwent an identity crisis. What was I, if no longer a teacher? And what was I going to do with the rest of my life? I was too young to retire, too young for Medicare.

Signing the deal

I returned to Tuesdays Children, the writers’ critique group I was part of a decade before, when as a stay-at-home mom I tried to write for a living. It was my logical fall-back, since I always said I’d return to writing when I wasn’t teaching any more. These wonderful ladies decided to launch a group blog, Doing Life Together, and I wrote a post about my transition from teaching to the unknown. (Click here.)

Jeff Goins

Jeff Goins

When Jeff Goins, a writer whose blog I follow (click here), recently published his book The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do, I knew I had to read it. And since I am participating in the Around the World Reading Challenge sponsored by the blog Booking It (click here), I am reviewing it here as my entry for North America. (Jeff Goins lives near Nashville, Tennessee.)The Art of Work

In this book, Goins explains that everything that happens in your life is preparation for what is to come. Sometimes when you seem stuck doing something you never wanted to do, you are actually busy acquiring skills you need to accomplish your (as yet undiscovered) mission in life. Most people work at multiple occupations during their lifetimes, and none of those are wasted in the big picture, though it may take the perspective of looking back through decades to be aware of how vital those experiences were to your growth into the person you were always meant to be. In fact, if you think your calling is only one thing, you’re wrong—it will be many things over time. The path isn’t straight, it’s loopy. And what seems like backtracking isn’t necessarily lack of progress.

My favorite chapter of all is 5. Pivot Points: Why Failure Is Your Friend. It made me realize that my time teaching needed to be over because my apprenticeship there was through. Teaching helped me hone two skills I need for my writing—crafting words to make concepts crystal clear, and using design software. (One of the many expectations teachers comply with is maintaining a webpage about what they are teaching in class; another is advising extra-curricular activities. I volunteered to produce the school’s yearbook for three years. Little did I know how much it would help me later in designing my blog.)

After a year of agonizing over what I should be pursuing, praying to the Lord for direction and not discerning any, applying for jobs and not finding a good fit, reading The Art of Work confirmed for me that I am already doing exactly when I was meant to do at this point in my life. A year ago, God immediately answered my prayers by placing me precisely where I needed to be.