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Archive for the ‘making mistakes’ Category

Where Can I Buy a Fine-Art Mode?

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The Beauty of Knowing Nothing

I don’t have a fine-tuning mode that tinkers with physical detail. I draw and it is mostly crude. I cut plywood and pine shelves and they are rough enough to make my craftsman-father scoff into his hand. I make dinner and it is mostly broad-stroke stuff that requires very little finessing. I will confess my popcorn is a work of art, combining yellow and white kernels, salted and buttered and mixed to a sensuous, savory smack of flavor. And I am learning how words interact on a page—though it is slow going.

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How does someone get to the point of crafting from rough cuts to fine finished detail? It is possible that in this age of ordering clothes, pizza and romance from a button on our mobile devices, that some things still take time. Some things require beginning at the beginning. The question for each of us: do I have the courage to begin at the beginning? To know nothing for a time and do things badly?

The beauty about not having been taught drawing is that you are in a position of the acquirer: the process of figuring it out might take a while, and you will most likely continue to figure stuff out as you go, but that process is yours. There are no shortcuts and no tricks. Just the plain practice of drawing, screwing up, and drawing some more.

–France Belleville-Van Stone in Sketch! (NY: Watson-Guptill, 2014)

You cannot buy personal processes. Not really. You have to make them from scratch—those processes that help you make meaning in the world. And you have to begin at the beginning.

Mistake will be made.

You will make those mistakes.

And that’s OK.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

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To Flee Corporate Dysfunction or Not?

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Where will you run?

My friend just quit her corporate job. She does not have another job.

“Too much dysfunction,” she said. “Why spend my days in a cube, following through on poor choices our leaders made under the guise of collaboration? There’s got to be a better way.”

“I hope you are honest in the exit interview,” several people said to her. Other top talent had quit as well and those remaining cherished a hope of productive work.

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Every company has these bouts of employee-flight. Maybe the department director is a megalomaniac. Maybe the boss simply doesn’t know what to do next and is not open to advice. Maybe the department trolls rule the roost. Every so often dysfunction catches up with a department or company and talented people throw up their hands and march to the exit. It is more common when the economy is on the rise, but even in a down economy, talented people choose flight over fight, even with no job on the horizon.

So it is with my friend.

She had had enough and hoped to parlay her high-end employee history into a freelance life. I often talk with people considering this move. What I liked about this conversation was that my friend could identify a few key skills and passions that she wanted to pursue. And she had already begun to push on these passions. She knew what she wanted to build next. So her “I quit!” was less about fleeing and more about “now is when I do this thing I love.”

Because, the truth is, you can never be entirely rid of dysfunction.

“Why is that?” you may ask. (I can hear you.)

It is because you bring it with you. Disagreeing and disagreeable. Seeing issues from your personal, rigid perspective. Combative. Megalomania. These seeds are planted in every one of us. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to cause them to flower. A good conversation harnesses different potentials in those seeds and helps us move forward. A dysfunctional environment feeds the bad seed and strife rises to the surface.

Such is the human condition.

But moving forward toward our passion, finding time to do those things we love—the things we are meant to do, even if no one else cares—that feeds the productive functional seeds in us.

Is there a way to do the things you were meant to do today—right now—even as you wade through the current dysfunction?

That is the question.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Seeing Past Childish Symbols

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Step 1: See the Template You’re Working from

I’ve been trying to learn to draw and Betty Edwards’s Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain has been particularly helpful. Edwards looked at why it is so many adults say they can’t draw, which is especially odd since nearly every child loves to draw. How did we move from love to incompetence? Edwards answers that by tracing our development as artists, and here is one milestone:

By around age five or six, children have developed a set of symbols to create a landscape. Again, by a process of trial and error, children usually settle on a single version of a symbolic landscape, which is endlessly repeated. (73)

As we age we become dissatisfied with those symbols but we have not worked out new ways to put on paper what we see. And so we give up, and our drawing gets stuck in that old symbolic system. Edwards provides a much richer discussion, but at least one result is that we must set aside our childish system of symbols to begin to see.

Which is not so simple.

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I still start with a circle.

Not so simple because of the confusion that sets in as we try to translate real world scenes into a two-dimensional representations. To set aside the sun as a happy face in the upper right corner means I must look at how the sun reflects off, well, everything. To look at a face and see that—no, there is no outline—is off-putting. How to draw a face without starting with an oval?

This is why Edwards starts with learning to see as a precursor to learning to draw. In my 70+ days of drawing daily, learning to set aside my childish symbolic language has proved difficult. But the answer to seeing better and especially to seeing past the old symbols is to do things badly. And maybe do them badly for a long time. To do things so bad they are cringe-worthy. But that is the price one pays to learn.

I cannot help but think this life lesson and applies across the board. Learning to see and hear, and learning to form your own opinion and make your own representation applies universally. Growth from child to adult means you find new ways to interact with parents, so you set aside some (not all) the old relational cues. The ways we interact with colleagues and bosses must change as we take ownership for our work. Even the childhood symbols that directed our understanding of life purpose and how one knows God must be rejiggered. There is a template for romance we would do well to look at again. Nearly every part of life is helped by reexamination.

"Cutie Pie" + "Let's Read" seems like a good place to land.

“Cutie Pie” + “Let’s Read” seems like a good place to land.

But make a deal with yourself : be patient and give yourself time to move beyond the immediate confusion.

 

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Image credits, including dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

February 16, 2015 at 9:27 am

When Truth Sounds Like a Lie

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And the lie that turns out true

Let’s make up a new term: the “aspirational lie.”

The aspirational lie is that thing that falls from your mouth before you can stop it.

  • It is not quite true—that’s why you almost didn’t say it.
  • But it is not quite false—something about it is true. Which is why you did say it.

That happened to me when talking to a writing class of business students. My professor friend let me come in and chat about freelance copywriting. She wanted her MBA students to see some different shades to how work gets done. In the course of our discussion we talked about how one prepares to write and about how one does the work.

I told one truth that sounded like a lie.

And I told a lie that turned out to be true.

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The Truth That Sounded Like a Lie

The truth that sounded like a lie was that I make a bunch of stuff up for my clients. “How so?” wondered the class. It’s like this: the writer’s work is to think forward and then tell the story of how all the parts fit together. Whether writing a white paper, a journal article, an advertising campaign or refreshing a brand, writers do what writers have always done: make stuff up. They grab bits and pieces of facts and directions and fit them into a coherent whole. As they move forward, they gradually replace false with true and so learn as they go.

That is the creative process.

You fill up your head with facts and premonitions and assumptions. Many are true, some are false. But the process itself—and the subsequent reviews reveal what it is true. Writing is very much a process of trying things on for size and then using them or discarding them. And sometimes we used facts “for position only,” as a stand-in for the real, true fact on our way to building the honest, coherent whole.

 

The Aspirational Lie

We also talked about backgrounds and how one prepares to write. I explained how degrees in philosophy and theology are an asset to business writing. Yes: I was making that up on the spot. But not really, because I have believed that for some time, though had never quite put it in those words. Pulling from disparate backgrounds is a way out of the narrow ruts we find ourselves in. Those divergent backgrounds help to connect the dots in new and occasionally excellent ways. Which is also why we do ourselves a favor when we break from our homogeneous clubs from time to time.

Comedy writers do this all the time. I just finished Mike Sacks excellent Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today’s Top Comedy Writers (NY: Penguin Books, 2014), and was amazed all over again at the widely different life experiences comedy writers bought to their work.

The more I’ve thought about the aspirational lie that philosophy and theology contribute to story-telling, the more convinced I am it is true. That’s because I find myself lining up facts and story bits and characters and timelines according the rhythms and disciplines I was steeped in during school. In philosophy it was the standing back and observing with a disinterested eye. In theology it was the finding and unraveling and rethreading of complicated arguments—plus a “this-is-part-of-a-much-larger-story” component.

Our studies, our reading, our life experience—all these help line up the ways we hear things and the ways we connect the dots. Our best stories are unified and coherent because of this.

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Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

Own Your Process

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Ownership Sparks Creativity in Art & Work & Life

One key differentiator between working for the man (every night and day) and working for yourself is ownership. Working for yourself you own the beginning, the middle, and the outcome.

Especially the outcome.

Some of my favorite colleagues over the years—the very ones who advanced in whatever they worked at—found ways to own the process. These were the ones not content to follow orders. Instead they made the work their own, found their own way, employed their skill and imagination. I’ll argue that owning the work sparked their creativity to accomplish the task. And I’ll argue that ownership looked like responsibility for the outcome. So despite working for the man, they took ownership, made their own meaning and became, well, the man.

Over at Dumb Sketch Daily I’ve been producing a dumb sketch every day for the last 39 days. I was sorta proud of this dumb sketch:

 

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Then a commenter suggested abstracting it, which I tried, given my limited art understanding and abilities (here):

 

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You can see the result is…simple. But it is my own (not that anyone is lining up to take credit). The commenter’s comment helped me continue my odyssey toward learning to see.

My only point is that developing new skills requires a certain elasticity. We try new stuff and get it wrong again and again and again. And we keep failing until maybe, one fine day, it turns out sorta OK.

A lot happens when we take ownership for developing our own skills. And a lot of good can come from taking responsibility for our client/boss/friend’s desired outcome.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

 

The Talking Part of Writing

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Talking Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death

When it comes to brand new, unpaged ideas (that is, not yet written), J.K. Rowling is right:

But at some point every idea needs to make contact with an audience. Writers want their idea fully-formed with beautiful plumage before they exhibit it to anyone (lest someone call my baby ugly). Copywriters know this is not possible when it comes to collaborative writing—writing that serves some mission or purpose for an organization or cause—which needs client eyeballs as a part of the process.

Because Lillian Hellman is also right:

And Nora Roberts is especially right:

There’s the writing. And then there’s the fixing. I often think of the fixing as equally creative as the original writing. Great and wonderful things happen at the fixing/revising stage.

There is a point in every copywriting project where it must be discussed. It must be read aloud. And the key is—especially with new clients—fail faster.

I recently made a category error with a new client and I’m wondering how high a price I’ll pay. Rather than insisting on an early reading and sharing first thoughts when the bar was low, I let my content slide through several holidays until the deadline is an approaching storm and the bar is high for the copy to be right on the first reading.

Which it isn’t: it’s full of questions.

Which is almost always the case with a new client. Especially if the topic has a lot of moving parts.

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So lesson learned (again): insist on failing faster and earlier.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Who We Are Who We Aren’t.

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A lot rides on identity

  • We aren’t torturers, that’s for sure. Except for…wait, it looks like we are (read the report here).
  • We believe in the rule of law, unless we’ve been violated. Then we stand above the law.
  • We believe in the level playing field, where everyone has the same opportunity. Except bankers and corporate boards and Wall Street and race are exposed nearly every week as rigging the game and handing big money and privilege to the rule makers.
  • We’re not a police state, except for when we are. And it looks like we are building in that direction.

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The personal and local and national conversations we need to have are getting harder and much less comfortable. Maybe that’s because we’ve put them off so long and been in denial for so long. Maybe it is because we remain afraid of talking with people unlike us.

But we need these conversations. These are the conversations that help us figure out who we are. These are the conversations that help us move forward.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

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