Don’t Gravitate Towards Sports Just Because Everyone Does

I’ve seen it many times over my teaching career. Talented art-leaning students choosing sports because everyone does.

And before you peg me as a non-sports person who doesn’t know … blah, blah.

I understand. Growing up, baseball was my life. Quite literally. When I wasn’t playing on a team, I was throwing the ball against our porch wall or creating elaborate fake leagues with statistics and MVPs and trades and expansion teams. I was obsessed. And in those dark winter months, I started listening to Pitt Panthers basketball, created fake hockey scores, and played a lot of tackle football in our backyard. I was a sports guy, completely. And I wasn’t so bad at it. I had a fastball in the mid-80s and was even told I had a shot at getting drafted if I worked hard. Full disclosure, I didn’t.

And I think I know why. I was an arts person caught up in a sports world. The thing is: I didn’t know I was an arts person. How is a person to know? Okay, I liked to write poetry. Perhaps that should have been a clue. I liked to attend plays even though I was much too shy and lacking in confidence to think I should ever have auditioned for them.

I still remember watching my sister perform beautifully in the play Done to Death. I admired her so much. She painted too. She was an arts person, who sadly died her senior year in high school when I was ten. I still think about her all the time. I miss her.

I created things all the time – whether my own radio station on cassette tape or a play or a song lyric. But I loved baseball, and so I pursued it.

Nothing wrong with pursuing sports. I get it.

But I have seen too much creative talent being wasted in a mediocre basketball game. I’ve had kids who have terrific vocals, strong creative skills, wonderful acting abilities who end up playing third strong on a team when they could have been starring in the spotlight—kids who could really go somewhere in the arts—and if not, at least benefit tremendously from the communication skills and creative people-skills so in demand in today’s world.

I’ve told kids repeatedly, don’t go your entire high school career without trying out for a play. Step out of your comfort zone. I’ve seen talented and creative folks with great potential quit drama in the middle of a production because of a sport or they have too much to study.

Please, parents, you know if your kids are creative. Encourage them. “Hey, have you thought about dropping basketball for a year in order to take part in the musical? You have those abilities.”

They don’t always listen to me, but I almost can guarantee if they do, they will never regret it.

Creatitivity breeds confidence and more creativity. It will change the way you think, what you do, what you feel is important, and it will open doors you never thought possible.

So please, don’t gravitate towards sports just because everyone else does. Kids need to be encouraged  to do something creative, something co-curricular, outside of the realm of a classroom. I’m going to keep encouraging kids to do what I never did.

I realized late in life how important the arts are to me. I’m grateful I found this hidden calling of mine. I’m hoping there are many young people who will discover this side of them much earlier than I did.

Remember: create, not consume.

I answer questions about the creative process in the journal Crossing the Dissour

I answer questions about the creative process in the journal Crossing the Dissour

Greywood Arts of Ireland released their first online journal about art and creativity. It’s entitled CROSSING THE DISSOUR, and they asked me to participate in the multi-artist interview on the creative process.

You may remember that I had a writing residency in Ireland last year and had a terrific and productive time. I very much enjoyed thinking about the creative process and sharing some of my methodology.

You can read the entire interview at Crossing the Dissour. Here’s the LINK!

Check out all the great content from their first issue.

Commit to Your Creativity

There’s a lot of creative people out there hiding behind your non-commitment.

Creativity can be frightening. I get that. When one allows their creative works to be known to others, it can feel like a smack in the face if you hear a rude comment or a flippant laugh.

I work with a lot of students who are afraid to step out and try the unknown. Sometimes, if they let me read their play or their poem, a verbal addendum of apologies and clarifications as long as the train of a Queen’s gown is attached to it in order to down-play their work and lower expectations.

Again, I understand why. Creative artists are fragile beasts.

But if you want to improve, and if you want to move forward in your craft, I am convinced you have to commit to your creativity and just let it fly.

I dealt with an example of this today. I’m working on the ending of my upcoming show, and the final segment of the show is a narrative piece which is set to music. I’ve been toying all week with wanting to add a narrative introduction to the narrative piece as a way of setting the tone and keeping the audience’s attention.

After a couple days of brainstorming which yielded no fruit, I went back to my script and started pulling out phrases. Then I started playing the intro music and trying out different voices to see what I liked.

And then it hit me. My idea is rather weird. I think my actors are going to look at me as if I’m insane if I asked them to do this. I started second-guessing myself until I put my foot down and said, “No, this is my idea and I’m sticking with it.”

I’ve learned over the years to trust my instincts and go for it.

Now is my idea really clever? Or is it actually stupid? I have no clue.

But the point is, who cares? It’s the creative idea that I currently have, and in lieu of a better one, I’m committed to it.

And that’s how creativity should work. Push your idea, try, mold, change, adapt, but in the end, let it fly, whatever it is and don’t apologize for it – even if someone chuckles at how silly they thought it was.

Trust yourself, and commit to your creativity. It might actually be better than you think.

 

Going for a Trilogy

My, the consummate stand-alone novel guy, is going for a trilogy.  I mentioned a while back that I was wading into virgin territory by starting a sequel to my finished yet unpublished novel “A  Man too Old for a Place too Far.” As I’ve been working on the sequel, the stories line just keep ballooning and advancing in unexpected ways. Finally, today, I realized that there is no way I’m going to wrap up this story by the end of the second novel, but a third, yes, can be done. Probably should be done. I don’t want to drag it out indefinitely. I do like closure. That’s why I write standalones.

But in this one, I fleshed out 6 weaving story lines. Does that sound like a lot? Perhaps. But they are all interconnected in unique and fun ways. It will be a pleasure to see how they overlap and tie up in a beautifully satisfying bow at the end of book three. That’s the goal, at least.

And that brings me to outlining. I’ve never outlined before, but with overlapping story lines and three novels, it is starting to feel more nature. I have, at least at this point, figured out the very ending of the trilogy. That’s where I want to go. It could change, of course, but it gives me a clear goal to get to. Now it is just one big puzzle with many moving parts and I have to put the Rubik’s cube back together again. At least this is the cube that I created. I have the playbook. So there!

It’s also a reason why I slowed down the release of Book 1. I want to make sure I have all three books well thought-out before I release the first and regret it later because of a great new idea.

So the first Sasse trilogy is in the mix. It’s a tough genre to describe. Historical fiction, contemporary adventure, time travel, magical realism. And go ahead, throw in a few more.

I asked one of my beta readers of book 1 how he would categorize it. He said that that is a good question, and unfortunately, there were no good answers.

My goal would be to have the trilogy completely written by the end of 2017. First book published by summer’s end with books 2 & 3 coming along in 2018.

Now let’s see what really happens.

When the ‘Something’ becomes Obvious: A Writing Revelation

Nearly two years ago, as I was meeting with my drama troupe to brainstorm some ideas for out Christmas show, someone said, “Hey, why don’t we do something with the twelve days of Christmas.” I said okay, opened my laptop, started WORD, and named a document “Something of the Twelve Days of Christmas.”

The document was completely empty except for the title.

And so it sat for the past one and half years.

Until yesterday.

I was working on a musical piece for Christmas 2017, yes I work ahead, and when I finished revising some lyrics, I saved the piece and cruised quickly through the document folder. I came across some “unfinished ideas” and I saw the title “Something of the Twelve Days of Christmas.” And as I read that document title, I suddenly know what the ‘something’ was. It was obvious, plain, easy, right within sight. All I had to do was start writing.

I did.

Thirty minutes later I had fleshed out my idea and then today I nearly finished the first draft of this new piece called “The Twelve Days of Christmas Revisited.”

It’s going to be a really funny and fun piece to produce. I just find it strange that for a year and a half I didn’t know what the ‘something’ was, but yet yesterday, it was as plain as a blinking beacon on top of the Eifel Tower.

Why? Why did I know what to write yesterday but I didn’t have a clue what to write a year and a half ago when I was first presented with this idea?

I have no idea.

That’s the mystery of creativity. It rears its head unexpectedly. It cannot be summoned or ordered into the court of creativity. It bursts through the doors as it sees fit, in its own timing, at its own pace, with its own ideas.

I love that.

I don’t always love that. Sometimes I want the inspiration to rest heavily on my shoulders like Milton—a divine light from the heavens revealing its truth—but creativity is the most finicky of hobbies. The only thing a creative person can do is:

  • Attempt when the inspiration hasn’t hit.
  • Write down ideas, even vague ones.
  • Be patient.
  • Press forward with inferior ideas, hoping that one poor idea will lead to one better idea.
  • Wait some more.

If you do that, the ‘something’ will come back around. It will define itself and you’ll be in the position to write or create something meaningful. That’s all you can hope for.

Now get waiting!

 

 

 

Seven

Seven.  Novel number seven, that is. I started writing it today.

I needed to stop and reflect on that number a little. I suppose I should start with that frequently used qualifying: if you would have told me ten years ago that I would have … (fill in the blank) … for me it’s … written seven novels, I would have said you are crazy. Because ten years ago I was afraid to write. I had no talent. I had a poor vocabulary. No one anywhere would ever want to read what I had to say.

Yeah, that was me. Those self-doubts haven’t gone away. I suppose it should be “Whoa to the writer who never has self doubts!” I think that is someone in Ecclesiastes.

But I’ve learned, as I’ve written many times, that I no longer write for other people. I write because I am compelled to write. I write because I can’s stop the creative thoughts which keep exploding out of my brain. I write because I love it, and a poor review or a snide comment isn’t going to stop this writer anymore. It used to. And, might I add, the poor reviews and snide comments were typically self-inflicted.

But, wow, seven! 7! Bay! (That’s Vietnamese without the tone mark.)

So I started my seventh novel while my fifth novel hasn’t been released for very long. “Which Half David” came out in September, and it’s still in its infancy in regards to promotion. Honestly, I haven’t had the time to do much with it. I even feel my fourth novel, “A Love Story for a Nation,” has a much longer life to it as well. It’s only fifteen months out from its release and has yet to reach wide-spread distribution. Still working on it.

What about #6, you ask?

Six is done. It’s currently in the hands of some beta readers to get some feedback. It’s entitled “A Man too Old for a Place too Far.” Yeah, kind of long, but I like it. And as an independent author, I get to make the call! So there!

Anyways, #7 is my first sequel. It’s a continuation of novel #6. Honestly, I have no idea what I’m doing with it yet, except I wrote a powerful and gripping opening chapter, taking the story back to 1918. It will throw off the readers at first, but has some pretty cool tie-ins.

Seven. It’s a pretty special number. Perhaps someday I’ll hit 10. Or dare I say, 20?

Here’s a excerpt from a post I wrote nearly four years ago, from Feb 2013:

“With one novel published, another novel finished, and a third novel in its beginning stages, I am off on a four year writing plan. My goal? When 2017 rolls around, I hope to have five or more novels under my belt.

I have no goals of readership or success or money. Those are the least of my concerns. I want to write. I want to improve. I want to strive to be the best, creative writer I can be. If I do that, I believe all those other things will take care of themselves, and even if they don’t, I’m writing for myself because I enjoy it.

So I have a plan and I’m sticking to it.

Remember the motto: ‘Create, not consume.'”

I’m happy to see that I have met my goal, and this goal was met while also writing dozens of short plays and several full-length plays.

It’s pretty cool to see where I have come from and I wonder what these next four years will bring.

Hopefully, a lot more creativity.

 

Where will the ideas come from?

Writing is such a mind game. The creative process toys with the writer to such an extent that I sometimes wonder who’s in control – do I control the creative process or does the creative process control me?

Ok, I’m already confused. But this I know: I have 10 dramatic sketches to write in the next two months for my new show coming later in the year. Where will the inspiration come from? What procedures, ideas, words, will I engage with to get this writing done?

If I’m still being confusing, this is actually what I’m saying: on August 1, I know I will have written 10 more short plays. But on June 6, today, I just don’t know the process which will actually accomplish that.

Creativity is so strange. The other day, I sat down to write one of these 10 and the creative process came so intuitively that I couldn’t have even described it to someone if I tried.

Writing happens by writing. That’s as best as I can explain it. One chain of ideas linked together, all starting with a simple thought, and expounded on by a few words. Those words give new life to new words and soon I’m following the rabbit down the trail or I’m plowing a footpath through the jagger bushes (sorry, jagger bush is a colloquial western PA term!)  A writer might get jabbed and pricked along the way. It could be bloody and painful, but soon enough, a clearing will appear and the most beautiful scene will present itself to make the process worth it.

And then, of course, the writing will take on new life as the author re-writes and re-edits and re-writes again until the remaining work is sleek and ready to be performed.

In the end, that’s the best part of all.

In December, there will be a show. I just can’t tell you definitively what it will look like. I need a few more jagger bushes to slap me in the face before I will know that.