New Year’s Revolutions, or, Embrace Your Inner Dictator Part 3

the rewrite chronicles public domain blog michael allan leonard

For Parts 1 and 2 of the first segment of our new ongoing feature about writing, the creative process, and one nerd just plain finally getting his @#$% together, you can find out all about my New Year’s revolution and who ‘el Presidente’ is by clicking here, and I talk about the circumstances of my bailing on my nascent writing career in Part 2.

Picking up where we left off last time, writing and putting together Public Domain has really been the equivalent of a performance-enhancing substance when it comes to getting my stalled out writing career back on track.

In the four months since I’ve started PD, I feel more energized and motivated than I’ve been in years.  While it’s a good sign, I’m not quite out of the proverbial woods just yet.

This very easily falls along the line of a typical New Year’s resolution: you’re all chuffed about it and the progress you make in the early weeks when your resolve is strong, but mid-February sets in and you may have to struggle to keep up with it, and you start to backslide.

The years of being creatively sedentary have left me with recurring chronic issues that I’ll need to either cure or, more realistically, find a way to manage and live with.  Procrastination, while dealt a critical blow lately, is still a threat, as is lack of consistent organization to keep multiple projects on track and moving forward, as well as following things through to completion.  It’s one thing to sit down and craft a thousand word post or put together some goofy little Far Side-ish one-panel webcomic like Tales to Admonish!, but putting together a comic, or a novel, or a screenplay, or what have you, is a much longer battle.

Still, though — whether it’s just a more leisurely stroll around the block or a 5K competitive run, it all boils down to one thing: putting one foot in front of the other in a repeated fashion, and not collapsing in a gasping, sweaty heap when the going gets tough.

And that’s where el Presidente comes in.  For the time being, he’s always going to be a few steps behind me, just walking along and taking in the sights, hands clasped behind his back, boot heels softly clicking on the asphalt.  He may give a few words of encouragement when I hit a wall or stumble, but the real value in his existence is the vintage Luger he’s got holstered on his hip.

If I try to throw in the towel this time, after finally getting the machine sputtering into life . . . there’s no waving the damp sweatmop like a white flag.

I could complain, but el P, he just plucks the cigar from his mustachioed lips and gives a hearty laugh at phrases like ‘Geneva Convention’ and ‘Amnesty International’.

That’s the nice thing about a personal internal dictator.

No negotiations, no putting it to a vote.   Keeps things simple.  Mental democracies may be highly overrated.

public domain blog michael allan leonard the rewrite chronicles writing

The reWrite Chronicles is my public diary of this attempt to get my writing career back on track and hit the ultimate goal of being able to make a living from my talent.  I wish I could say I have a highly detailed and well-researched plan on how I’m going to achieve this, but I don’t.  I have plenty of ideas of things to try, and the next couple of years will be a lot of experiments to see what I’m capable of, as well as what works and what doesn’t, and that process is a big part of what I’ll be documenting here.

I can say going in that don’t have any unrealistic expectations that this is suddenly going to happen overnight and without no small amount of blood, sweat, tears and sleepless nights spent on it.

This isn’t my first rodeo, remember.

However, this is an entirely new age with a whole new set of tools for me to utilize.  The first ever official promotional event that I took part of for my work was gathering up a group of fellow comics creators that were also being published by Caliber Comics and holding a public chat session.  We held this in an AOL chat room, over dial-up, circa 1995.  (As I recall, no one but the creative participants showed up.)

The possibilities today to both produce material and get it to the public, as well as promote said effort, seems endless.  Self-publishing no longer carries the derisive vanity press last-stop-for-wannabe-losers stigma it once did.  Whether or not it generates a profit is another thing, but at least someone has the opportunity to read and enjoy it.

And for someone who finally got on Facebook last year, has yet to send out a single tweet, and knows not one thing about HTML or CSS — and who sometimes struggles to keep a checkbook balanced — all this is an incredibly daunting prospect.

But I’ll learn, one step and For Dummies volume and Google search and FAQ at a time.

public domain blog michael allan leonard the rewrite chronicles writing

I’m not all that big on talking about myself, mostly because I don’t consider myself some gifted wunderkind.  People have paid me compliments over the years, and I appreciate that, but I don’t think I’m all that fascinating.  I have enough of an ego to cop to the ability to write entertaining stories about made-up people, but when you pull back the curtain, this wizard is kind of plain jane.

When the idea first occurred to me to write this column, and document my attempt to pull myself up by my bootstraps, I debated with myself of what the point of it was.  Usually, to write a self-help or how-to sort of thing, you kind of need to . . . well, have helped yourself or have some actual expertise on how to do something, and a track record of being able to pull it off.

And what the two of us, me and I, decided was that the point is that I’m not anyone special, so if I can delve in and do this — at least try if not succeed — then so could anyone else.  I don’t have any sort of insider track (well, outside of having a handful of commercially published comics under my belt).

If TrC (ooh, dig the way cool abbreviation) inspires or helps one other person who might be struggling with some of the same issues, or sitting back and thinking, “I’d like to try that, but where would I even start?” then it will have been worth the time and the effort.

For younger folks, maybe I can pass on some sage advice coming from someone who started out as a take-no-prisoners spitfire but screwed up along the way and let that fire in his belly die down to mere glowing embers.

(Tip #1: Don’t do that, kids.)

For potential late bloomers who think that they just can’t get in and manage and learn all these things, I can prove you wrong.  You can.  It just takes patience and the understanding that you’re going to probably @#$% it up a few times.  Think of me as a way to @#$% up by proxy: I can be the one who does a painful faceplant, and you can safely learn from my mistakes, and get a good chuckle in the process.

And I think a point worth mentioning is that I’m also all about being frugal.  Whatever I try to get my career going has to be tempered by the fact that I am still a wage slave who can’t just toss out a blank check even if the expense might be entirely justified.  So the value of experimentation is tempered by the price tag: the closer to ‘free’, the better.

Everyone else . . . well, I guess this has the potential of being a slow-motion train wreck.  Let’s face it: we go to the circus not to marvel at the garishly-dressed guy or gal on the high wire, but the fact that he or she might fall.  That’s the danger of not just waiting it out so see if my ideas pan out and then sharing after-the-fact.

What I hope, and what I’m working toward, is standing on the center riser and holding the bouquet of roses with the gold medal dangling around my neck, flashbulbs popping around me.

I don’t feel it’s too pessimistic to consider that there’s an equal if not greater likelihood of this happening:

public domain blog michael allan leonard the rewrite chronicles writing

If you’re the Nelson Muntz type, stick around, you might get the chance to point and laugh that trademark laugh.  (Or, I might be able to do the same to you and your rubbernecking, slow-down-when-passing-the-accident ways when I manage to pull off this rebound. One of us is going to get to sneer and guffaw, and you’ve got the same 50/50 shot I do.)

So, let’s wrap this inaugural installment of The reWrite Chronicles up (sorry, no performance by Beyoncé at this inauguration, but I suppose I could belt out ‘If I Were A Boy’ if you really wanted) with a brief review of salient points to remember.

TAKEAWAYS:

  • If you’re having problems getting your creative act together, consider creating your own inner stereotypical banana republic dictator persona, complete with beard and cigar.  It’s hard to be your own boss and simultaneously discipline the problem employees who just want to hang out, stuff their face with Cheetos, and delve into the deepest corners of Netflix Instant Watch instead of being productive.  This way, you and all the other wags in your head can hang around the water cooler and bond complaining about that @#$% in charge.  You’ll get things accomplished, and you’ll still be popular with yourself.
  • Don’t be resolute about the things that are holding you back.  You know who else is resolute?  The United Nations.  They pass resolutions all the time to try to punish entities who step out of line.  Rattle that paper saber.  And yet we still haven’t managed world peace.  Diplomacy only goes so far, especially with well-entrenched miscreants.  Be revolting a revolutionary instead.  No one likes to go there, but sometimes you need to shock and awe your bad, unproductive habits with a show of overwhelming force.  Remember, you’ve got an inner dictator now.  Elections have been suspended.  No one’s going to bring up the fact that you didn’t actually find the Weapons of Mass Distraction amongst the rubble that your intel ‘confirmed’ were there.  (If they do, that’s why you’ve got the secret police on the payroll.  Once a few of those dissenting voices disappear in the dead of night never to be heard from again, the rest will fall into line.)
  • It’s never too late to pick up where you left off on something you really wanted out of life but put on hold for one reason or another.  You may not be able to get exactly what you were once shooting for in the exact manner you once pursued it, but consider this: you’re a grizzled gunfighter now.  You’ve got that weathered Eastwood squint.  You may not be as fast on the draw as the younger bucks, but you know your limitations by now.  That whole face down your problems at high noon in a fair fight?  Come on.  You’ve been around the block.  Distract your problems and draw when they’re not expecting it.  Send ’em to the undertaker with a dumb look of puzzlement frozen eternally on their faces.  Boot Hill is chock full of well-meaning idealists who played ‘fair’.  Sometimes your own worst enemy is yourself, and you’ve had plenty of time to study those weak points — they should be glowing bright red by now and you should know exactly which part of the towering colossus to aim for to bring it down. ‘Too old’ or ‘too late’ is all in your head.  Don’t give into delusions of deferral.
  • Conversely, you’re never too young to consider that you don’t have perhaps quite as much time as you think to achieve your goals.  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the time to stop and smell the roses, but be selective about what you’re inhaling.  Some of that pollen can cause more than just a lost weekend.  Look at it this way: your peers might give you grief now about not joining them at the florist, but once you’ve put the time in and made it, you can commission an awesome private garden and tell the secretary to hold all your calls.  And just a word of advice: there are such things as late bloomers, but that’s not really much of a backup plan.  Ask a late bloomer whether or not they’d have rather had their success earlier on in life.  If they tell you no, they’re lying . . . or trying to trick you into thinking its okay to spend all that time on Facebook and Xbox instead of getting your creative thing done so that you, too, in a few years can know the magic of near-crippling late-night self-doubt attacks over whether or not you’ve wasted your life because it’s taken you this long to make something of yourself.

HOMEWORK:

  • Start your own revolution against the powers-that-be-in-your-head-holding-you-back by tossing your first philosophical Molotov RIGHT NOW.  For the next seven days, challenge yourself to spend a good chunk of time doing whatever it is you feel passionate about.

molotov

If you’re a creative type, this is your art, whatever form it may take.  If you’re not a creative, pick yourself an equivalent, something you really want to do and are stimulated by, but don’t manage to get around to often enough (it should probably be constructive and better yourself, otherwise I’ll feel bad for sparking some new destructive obsession in your head).

Think of this as a New Year’s resolution on hyper-Hulk-steroids with a very specific expiration date.  Pick your thing and do it to the near-exclusion of everything else.  No excuses.  No crutches.  Strip your life down to the bare, most essential minimums.  Everything else gets put on hold for those 168 hours.

What’s ‘essential’?

Well, if your, or someone else’s, continuing existence doesn’t directly hinge on the act, then it’s not essential.  That means you feed the pets, the kids, yourself.  (Spouses and signficant others can take care of themselves.)  You go to work or school or to see the parole officer.  Make sure grandma gets her pills, if that’s something you’re tasked with.  The rule of thumb is: if there’s a possibility of lawyers or the authorities getting involved if you fail to meet a certain responsibility . . . then you probably need to do it.

But all the rest of the things you do to fill your day, the creature comfort bon-bons you pop into your mouth without thinking between meals to pass the time between when you open your eyes and then close them again to go to sleep?

Gone.  Replaced with something you do enjoy, but have been neglecting, that consistently gets pushed back or put off.  Stay up late.  Get up early.  Do both.  Whatever it takes to get the maximum amount of time in on your thing.

Pull the plugs, yank the breakers, and cause some chaos in your daily routine.  Make the trains not run on time because those crazy rebels blew up a few of the tracks.  It’s only for a week, you’ll survive.  It probably will be a bit messy and cause some headaches.  Revolutions are not known for their nice, neat, orderly fashion.

On the other hand . . . you might find, once you get past the inconveniences and slight discomfort of not reflexively reaching for the TV remote or the game controller or the iPad or smartphone, that you kind of enjoyed the constructive binge, and getting a little outside of the box that you normally occupy on a day-to-day basis.

We fall into patterns and habits because it’s easy to do so.  It’s how our minds are wired.  It’s how the UNIVERSE is wired: an object at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted upon by an outside force.  We insulate ourselves against those outside forces. There’s comfort in routine, even if we’re not particularly satisfied with the end result the repetition brings.

Change (or at least the positive kind) usually doesn’t happen overnight.  We’d like it to — just, for instance, pop the magic pill and zap the flab away instead of a longer and more time-consuming course of diet and exercise, sacrifice and discipline.

But if you can get just one wheel out of the rut you might find yourself in, that can make all the difference.

Go ahead and blast it out, if you have to. el Presidente would approve.

Next up on The reWrite Chronicles: dealing with a common arch-foe many of us share between our rogues’ galleries: procrastination.

When?

Whenever I get around to it, man.  Geez.

Sacha Baron Cohen

Okay, okay, el Presidente, put the gun down.  Next installment in a week or two, tops.

— mal

Thanks for stopping by Public Domain!  I hope you enjoyed our little foray into the inspirational / self-help category.  Deepak Chopra and Dr. Phil probably don’t have too much to worry about . . . yet.

el Presidente, however, has some pretty lofty goals as to where we could go with this.  I’m pretty sure I heard him talking to some producer on the phone about the TV rights.  Well, there was shouting and gunshots into the ceiling, anyway.  That could mean anything from talking to his mother to ordering a pizza, now that I think about it.

Anyway, to make sure I don’t falter at my commitment to this new venture, and to keep an eye on me when he’s taking an afternoon power nap, el P left a little totem on my desk, a plastic visage of a fellow tyrant and despot:

public domain blog michael allan leonard the rewrite chronicles writing

 

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4 Comments

  1. “personal internal dictator” ha ha ha ha

    • Thank you, thank you.

      Seriously, thanks to everyone for their show of support: I was a little nervous that this deviation from the norm (or maybe, all things considered here, the normal deviations) wasn’t going to fly well, but to say I was surprised by the amount of traffic that came in, as well as a whole slew of new followers, is a gross understatement.

      You guys and gals are an awesome crowd and community to be a part of, and I’ll try my best to make it worth your while each time you roll through here.

  2. For one day, my inner dictator deems this Eternal Blog Post of His People’s Glory. May lazy workers throughout the republic avoid subsequent beheadings because of its wisdom.

    • el Presidente has given just the slighest nod, barely visible through the fugue of cigar smoke. It’s hard to tell from where I’m at — and because his mustache is sort of in the way — but I think he may actually be smiling.

      Awesome! Maybe we’ll get out of that ‘building character’ ten kilometer hike through the minefield today. Who said Mondays suck?


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