Fail Early and Fail Fast

Andrew Stanton: 'Spielberg and I compared notes on ET and Wall-E'.

The advice “Fail early and fail fast” may seem a little odd, coming from a country where the best of us still value winning, innovation, and success.

But this piece of advice actually stems from one of this country’s greatest and most innovate minds, storyteller, director, and animator Andrew Stanton. You’re familiar with his work on Finding Nemo and Wall-E.

I learned this advise first-hand recently. I’m currently immersed in a book project that’s literally taking all I’ve got. While I’m excited about it, a lot hangs on the line (more details to come). While I started off making good headway, the last week or so has really brought me down.

The stamina and determination were still there – it’s not a matter of completion. It’s a matter of content. I was struggling through the material, unable to make it convey to readers and myself (first a reader, then an author). With my brain stuck in the proverbial mud of anti-creativity, and with the clock running against me, I had to think back to my heroes of the craft of storytelling and I was directed to a book I recently read by Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc. 

In it, he describes one of Stanton’s mottos while coaching his team on a film. “Fail early and fail fast.” The philosophy behind it is that we’re not perfect; we’re going to make mistakes. So seeing that failure is inevitable, fail early and fail fast. You basically have to ask yourself the tough questions early on: “Will people benefit from my work?”

“Will people really read this?”

“Is this really the best I can do?”

For me, the question was, “Am I having fun with this still?”

I had turned fun and entertainment into all work and all business. No one wants to read a book from an author who did not have fun and employ a liberal sense of creativity flowing through his/her book.

So today, I’m choosing to fail early and fail fast. I’m tearing out the last few pages I labored over. It’s better to do it now rather than later (trashing five pages instead of ten).

To put it into a picture, it’s like a maze on one of those children’s menus. You trace your Crayon through the labyrinth and, if you’re directionally challenged like myself, you’re going to hit a lot of dead-ends. Same with creativity.

So I ask you: Do you have the courage to fail early and fail fast? Back out, tear up, turn around, and start over in the right direction.

For more inspiration, join my Facebook Author Page.

Why I Wake Up at 4:00 A.M.

 

earlybird1I get up at 4 in the morning to work.

Not to go to work, which starts at 6.

I get up at 4 in the morning to work on what I don’t have time to work on the rest of the day.

People are always saying, “I don’t have time to accomplish my dreams, or do what I want to do.” They’re saying this as they’re flopped in front of the TV mindlessly tuned in to The Bachelor or Game of Thrones.

“I hate my job,” people say as they sleep in as late as they can without being late to their day job.

I say, Get up at 4 (and earlier if the alarm hasn’t gone off yet and I’m awake). Freedom didn’t come freely or easily, so why should your independence, or your dream job, or your money?

I get up at 4 because I believe, with all my heart, that if I work hard enough and sacrifice enough sleep, that my dream job will come true. So I get up at 4 in the morning and write, and write, and write.

At least, at the end of the day, I can say, “I got to do what I wanted today.”

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On Writing: Curing the Creative Rut

giphyYou writers and creative-types – you’ve been there. It’s a hellish place, for sure. A chasm of fear, doubt, agony, frustration…

While everyone else around you seems to be excelling in their craft, accolades are given to everyone but you, your neighbors hit the jackpot…

Come on, I’m not the only one. You’ve surely been there, right?

Idea-less.

A hellish place for sure. It’s worse than that moment you’re about to start the first sentence on a blank page.

It’s worse than having to wait 119 days until Jurassic World finally opens.

You know how I find my ideas when I at this point? It’s embarrassing, and no one has ever seen me do it, except Sarabeth when I thought I was alone, or my little girl who just thinks it’s hilarious. 1tumblr_lgp6q5NhE21qcjtu8o1_500

I dance.

I talk out loud.

I sing.

I act.

And I’ve yelled.

It’s humbling, but true. I imagine myself standing before the heads of Universal Studios or Disney and I’ve got five minutes (I’m generous) to pitch them my idea.

So I yell, I act, I pitch like a storyboard artist convincing the director that my idea is the only thing that will work. I talk aloud about something that I believe in.

I might not yet have an idea to believe in, but I believe that I will find one.

I encourage you to give this a try. Crank up some Fun. or Owl City, or Delta Rae on the ipad and dance.

ac-slater-dance-o

Yes. Just start dancing. Let your body go. Just release the stress of everyday life. The last thing you want weighing you down when you’re trying to be creative is the rock-hard facts of  life that your readers are looking to escape from.

numa-numa-kid-oSo… escape.

Dance.

And talk.

And then ask yourself later, What did I talk about? Anything interesting? Jot it down.

Bless your Facebook feed by joining my new author page. 

On Writing: Stretch Yourself

Stretching-the-Rubber-Band-tzgc5e

The awesome thing about writing is that it probes us authors to explore in more ways than one. Not only does writing encourage us to seek out and discover uncharted territories in our imaginations and throughout the world, but we are beckoned to explore the vastly wide expanse of the available genres themselves.

I told Sarabeth just last night while doing research for a book I’ve been too afraid to write for years, “I’ve discovered a new love.”

She glared at me for a moment then said, “You shouldn’t say things like that to your wife.” (I didn’t realize that Jennifer Lopez was presenting a Golden Globe on the TV wearing a dress with a V-cut as wide as the Grand Canyon.)

I said, “No, not that. Biography-ing. I know it’s not a ward, but I feel like I’ve found a new niche.”

I thought I’ve already been stretching myself out of my comfort zone of writing mainstream fiction, by working on not just a teen book, but a young readers historical novel. But due to a long-festering force of inspiration, I began a third project recently – a biography about a man you admire but don’t yet know by name (I’ll be dropping hints on my brand new author’s page on Facebook).

Crazy? Sure. But people don’t achieve their dreams by not being crazy. What’s so crazy about flopping down in front of the TV to watch another episode of Family Guy and then sleeping in until 9:00 the next day? That sort of doldrum behavior is to be expected. Do the unexpected.

You’re not going to discover new loves without being crazy enough to get out of your element and explore what the world has to offer.

They say to write what you know, but I disagree with that. I say write enough about what you don’t know, and the research will make you an expert.

On Writing: Read Less

ibooks-shelfSince 2011 I’ve kept a log of books I’ve read and the dates I read them. At the beginning of each year I go back and count the number of books I read that year.

So far my average has been about 30 books a year.

And then it dawned on me. I’ve got three books in development, two ofEditing_Red_Pen1-300x225 which are to be completed by the end of this year, and I’m only allotted so much time within the year to write them, then edit them, edit them, and edit them again.

Looking at my track record of reading 30 books a year and having one book published every two years, you’d think I was striving to be a professional reader, not writer.

Now don’t get me wrong, I will never underestimate the power and benefit of reading, especially for writers. You can’t possibly write without constantly reading, so why am I resolving to read less?

Out of 365 days a year, there are a total of 8,760 hours.

I sleep on average seven hours a night, so that’s 1,251 hours I’m forced to disregard, which means I only have 7,509 waking hours.

mathWith 2,640 of those hours being spent at work (and commuting to work), I’m now brought down to 4,869 hours.

Additionally, I have a daughter to play with and a wife to adore, movies to watch, and walks to take, so averaging in three hours a day plus weekends, I’m now at 2,709 hours available to devote to writing.

But wait. There’s time spent doing errands, miscellaneous trips to Taco Bell and new pizza joints, social worker visits, time wasted scrolling through iTunes and surfing on IMDB… a rough estimate brings my writing time down to 1,1749 hours for the year 2015.

Compared to the 7,509 hours I’m awake, 1,749 hours seems kind of small. But it is what it is and as my daughter grows older, that number is going to go down even further.

So the question is, do I spend that thousand-plus hours out-reading my previous book totals, or do I spend that time working to achieve my sub-goal of becoming a bestselling author so I can quit my day job and earn an additional 2,640 hours to my schedule, traveling the country with my family, reading (and writing) all I want on a sunny beach?

FROZEN

So yeah, I’ll keep reading in order to keep improving my writing skills, but it is not going to be as big of a priority as it has been. For me, it’s a bigger accomplishment to write two books and read 15 than read 40 books and write nothing in a year.

On Writing: Write Awful

When most people think of writing, they associate it to writing an email or a letter: Articulate your thoughts, dot your i’s, and send it away to your adoring audience.

That might be well and true for some writing forms, but not so for books. You don’t just get an idea, jot it down over a length of time, and ship it out to a pristine publisher.

Unfortunately, many who share this false assumption are, in fact, writers. So this post is going to clear the air as to what writing actually is like. Some say it’s like sculpting, some say it’s like architecture, I’m going with the illustration that writing is like drawing a picture.

book 11) Write Awful – You’ve got your brilliant idea, you write it out in book form, and several months later you go back and read your first draft and you think, Wow. I’m a terrible writer. This book stinks! Like the old break-up adage: it’s not you, it’s the process. Trust me. The brilliant minds at Pixar even say that every one of their movies started off as the worst movie ever.

 

book 32) Fix it a little – So if you think your book is awful but you’ve still retained your original idea, then yes, keep at it. Read through it again and change all the “your”s to “you’re”s and all the “their”s to “there”s. Get it a little more readable, a little more articulated. What you’re doing in this draft is removing some of that access dirt around the good idea you’ve uncovered, like sweeping away the dirt to reveal a fully-formed fossil. A word of warning must be inserted here. If, in all the chaos of writing your book, you lost track of that great idea that propelled you to write it in the first place, you might want to start from scratch. I’ve done it, I’m sure Stephen King’s done it… it’s like talking to yourself; it’s more normal than you think.

book 43) Add some detail – Now that you’ve got your book cleaned up a little bit, the main idea shines and the typos are fixed (don’t be fooled, there’s still plenty of typos still hiding), you can now start adding some detail to the narrative by adding color to the sky, rust to the park benches, and acne scars on the misunderstood antagonist. And you can also start breathing life into the dialogue exchange between your characters. Suddenly, your book is going to start taking on a more defined and grounded form. And with any luck, people will actually be able to read it and make sense of it.

book 54) Critique it – By this time you’re so tired of reading your book, just the thought of it makes you want to pull your hair out. But you’re not done. You’ve got to read it again. Heck, put it aside for a few months then return to it with a fresh mind. But this time through, you’re reading it not as the author, but as the reader. Read it with the utmost objectivity. Be hard on yourself. Ask yourself the hard questions (“Why did he say that?” “Is this convincing?” “Does she have reason enough to do this?”). Email some PDFs out to some willing friends to read it, and don’t take their criticisms personally. I’ll tell you, my wife is my toughest critic, to the point that I’m afraid of giving her my work to read for fear of having to start over or make too big of a change. But a story won’t be any closer to perfection until you put in the hard work and ask the hard questions. And it’ll be worth it in the end. (And yes, there’ll still be typos hiding.)

I_Am_LionTreat yourself to a new book for your Kindle, my newest work, I Am the Lion

On Writing: Force the Conversation

Calvin and Hobbes

No matter how good of a planner you are, no matter how much you outline your novel, you’re going to get stuck at some point.

Telling a writer that he’s/she’s going to inevitably hit a writer’s block is like telling a whale that it’s going to eventually get beached, no matter how hard it tries to avoid it.

But it’s reality. And you’ll find pages upon pages and articles upon articles on how to avoid (or get through) writer’s block, and I almost feel like I need to apologize for contributing to the cacophony of mixed and mingled suggestions.

But I won’t.

I also won’t claim that my way is the right answer or even the best way.

I believe everyone has a different way of getting through writer’s block, just like we all have a different way of accomplishing our writing.

I’m simply just going to share my way of getting through it. And bare in mind, I’m writing three books at once, so I run into it pretty frequently.

How do I get past it and go to bed each night with yet another couple of pages under my belt?

It’s simple: I write.

On my teen book which I’m working on, now titled, These Great Effects, I had my main character sitting on her bed, flipping through her crush’s phone to learn more about him. I needed another scene with her interacting with her mom, so I had her mom enter her room (“Knocking as she entered, of course”), and… I hit a wall.

But how did I get through it? I forced the conversation. Sure, there’s a lot of awkward silences and hesitant comments as I struggled through the scene, trying to decide why mom had come into her room.

But the more I wrote the scene out, stumbling along, finding my footing, learning about my characters, I hit on a line that will eventually turn the book into the direction I want it to go.

(Mom asks Adele, the main character, to attend one of her dad’s campaign gatherings with him, which is where the plot of the story will pick up.)

The point is, you’ve got to struggle through those scenes when you just don’t know where it’s going to lead you. It might take a few tries; you might change it tomorrow or you might change it a year from now. The point is, you just built in one more step to get the rest of your book completed.

And even if it’s a little wobbly, you can always go back and fix it.

Remember, it’s a writer’s block – intended for writers, and if my baby’s aiqddKkiMpresence has taught me anything, it’s that blocks are pretty easy to pick up.

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