Monday, April 30, 2018


This book has been sitting on my desk for a month and I'm finally able to read it!

Dave Butler writes flintlock fantasy that takes place in a very alternate history Jacksonian America. In a word: awesome. I had this to say about his first book:
Captivating characters. Superb world-building. Awesome magic. Butler fuses fantasy and history effortlessly, creating a fascinating new American epic. Not to be missed!
I can't wait to tackle the sequel. If you haven't read his books, give them a shot!

Check out Book 1 in the series, Witchy Eye, here.

And check out Book 2, Witchy Winter, here. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Graphic Audio Dark Immolation Part 2 Now Available

The Graphic Audio adaptation of Part 2 of Dark Immolation is now available for purchase!

I've been making my way through their adaptation of book 2 and it has been awesome. Graphic Audio does a great job, and I think Nanette Savard's direction of DI has been on point. I'm also very happy with the casting and how they've represented the characters in the series so far.

Seriously, if you like listening to your books--or if you're just looking for something new--check out Graphic Audio!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

A couple interviews

I've been involved in a couple interviews lately about my books. Both interviews have been with great folks. The first is an interview with Nanette Savard from Graphic Audio, a fantastic company I've gushed a lot about recently (they're doing phenomenal audio adaptations of my books with a full cast, music, sound effects, and so forth--seriously, it's awesome stuff, and you should check out their adaptation of Duskfall and Dark Immolation [Part 1 and Part 2]), and I had a lot of fun doing the interview with her. We discuss Dark Immolation, their adaptation of the book, my writing process, and more. You can find the interview on iTunes here, or wherever you get your podcasts through Graphic Audio's Behind the Mic podcast.

The second interview is with Daniel Swenson of Dungeon Crawlers Radio. We discuss Blood Requiem, book three of the Chaos Queen Quintet. I had a lot of fun with this one as well. You can find that interview on their website here, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Alcan Drive

I went on an adventure a couple weeks ago and it was pretty great.

I drove down the Alcan Highway (the highway that runs from Alaska and down the majority of Canada), and continued south until I arrived home in Utah.

It was cool. I really enjoyed the first three days of the trip in particular. I took six days to do it--not too fast and not too slow, and I was able to get some writing done on a lot of days as well--and my stops included the following awesomely named places: Destruction Bay, Toad River, Grand Prairie, Red Deer. Also Helena, Montana.

I listened to the audio version of Ready Player One, which I have many opinions about, but will save them for later. I also listened to various episodes of The Adventure Zone podcast, Bossypants by Tina Fey, Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick, and the Graphic Audio version of The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett (it was like a 50 hour drive so I had a lot of listening time, and it was actually pretty cool).

If you ever have the opportunity to make the drive, I recommend it. It's definitely an adventure (especially in late March/early April, which is definitely still Winter in AK and Canada), and I enjoyed it.

The following are a series of selfies and other photos I took on the trip that are surprisingly boring but constitute the majority of my documentation from the thing.

Prepping for the trip. Northern Canada doesn't have wifi or cellular service for hundreds of miles at a time, so I had to tackle it old school.

Departing from my parents' home in Eagle River, AK.

Getting gas in Glennallen. Hey, I warned you these wouldn't be exciting.

Where I stayed in Destruction Bay.

Notice my incredibly versatile selfie expressions. Also sunrise as I left Destruction Bay. Also, Edward M. Kovel accompanied me on my quest.

Hot Springs in Liard River.

The roads were usually much better than this. The views were typically this awesome.

On rare occasion, the roads were like this. What road, you ask? That sheet of ice. Yeah. That sheet of ice is the road.

Biggest mall in North America in Edmonton. My fuzzy black sweatshirt was my constant companion, if you couldn't tell. Other than in the hot springs, clearly.

Friday, April 06, 2018

The Talent Fallacy (or: Why I Write Like I'm Running Out of Time)

The following is the speech I delivered at the BYU Honors Program Banquet & Ball on 28 March 2018. I didn't read the following verbatim, but it's pretty accurate. I've also inserted the slides I used throughout the text roughly around when I displayed them.

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I want to thank Spencer Magleby and the BYU Honors Program for inviting me to speak to you all tonight. Thank you to Julie Radle specifically for all your help and preparation for this evening. I want to express my gratitude to the Honors Program--while I can’t say I’m sad to hear that the “great works” requirement was phased out a few years ago, I have a lot of fond memories from the program, mainly from the honors classes I took and the experience of writing my thesis. Also, I got to wear a fancy medal at graduation, and that was neat. I’m happy to be here tonight. I’m happy to have my wife and some close family members here as well, and I’m excited to speak.
As the title of my address suggests, I’m going to talk about talent and writing. I’ll also be talking a little bit about basketball and ballroom dancing (how they tie in should become clear as we go). My intention is to share with you some things I’ve learned along the way that have helped me become a professional writer, and my hope is that you might see some of what I’m saying in yourselves.
To get right to the point: I don’t believe in talent anymore. I think it’s a vicious lie that harms people of all ages, inhibiting them from learning and growing. Hard work and mindset, in my experience, are infinitely more valuable assets than innate talent. But I didn’t always believe this, and in fact one of the first things people told me I had innate talent in was writing.
As many writing careers do, mine began with reading. My parents read to me, starting at a very young age, on a more or less daily basis, fueling my desire to pursue books when I could actually read them myself. I was a voracious reader, but I also tried my hand at writing from an early age. I remember making up stories with my dad, printing them out on that continuous feed dot matrix paper--you know, the kind with the perforations and holes on each side--and drawing pictures and maps to go with those stories. I wrote fanfiction, mostly of Brian Jacques’ Redwall series and the video game Final Fantasy VII, and eventually started writing a novel of my own in high school.
I barely made any progress on that novel, and definitely never finished it, because only on the rarest of occasions did I actually sit down in a chair and write. I “knew” I was a talented writer--teachers, my parents, and others had told me so, after all--but because of that expectation, I felt an almost paralyzing sense of fear whenever I looked at a blank page in front of me.
What if I gave it the best I had, but failed? What if my “talent” proved to just not be enough?
That fear froze my writing progress. I could barely write anything, and I didn’t think very highly of what little I did write.
The ending to this story is probably clear: I am now a professional writer, with two books published and the third of a five-book series due out in June. How I got from this kid, paralyzed with fear, to the writer I am now is a bit of a story.
But first, I want to start with a mild audience participation thing. You’ll see four statements on the next slide, and I want each of you to think carefully about which one most describes you as a person.

1.      You are a certain kind of person, and there is not much to be done that can really change that.
2.      No matter what kind of person you are, you can change substantially.
3.      You can do things differently, but the important parts of who you are can’t really be changed.
4.      You can always change even the most basic things about the kind of person you are.
Ponder those statements--I’ll leave them up for a minute--and we’ll come back to them later. In the meantime, I’m going to talk about one of the other pastimes of my childhood: basketball.

I enjoyed sports as a kid. My first love was actually baseball (which makes me laugh now, because playing or watching a baseball game is, like, the last thing I’d want to do these days), but when I was maybe 8 or 9 years old my grandpa on my Dad’s side sat me down and said something along the lines of “Now Chris, you’re an athletic kid, and I think you’ll do well in whatever sport you play, but I think you’re particularly talented at basketball.” There it was, that world “talent” again, and I remember thinking Wow. I like basketball, but I didn’t know I was talented at it. And suddenly basketball became my favorite sport.
A quick note in defense of my grandfather. First of all, he wasn’t the only person who’d said something along these lines to me, it’s just the one that stands out the most. Secondly, he only meant to encourage me, and he did in some ways, but his words also fostered a less-than-healthy mindset.
On that note, let’s have a little sidebar, here: what I have to say today about talent, mindset, and hard work can apply to everyone. But I think it’s particularly important to keep these things in mind as parents, or any situation where children are concerned. Some of you have children already, while others may not reach that milestone anytime soon, if you choose to pursue it at all. I have a two and a half year old daughter, Buffy (yes, named after the vampire slayer), and this is something on my mind quite often as I interact with her.
But anyway, back to basketball. The truth is, my grandpa was right in some ways, but I think it’s easy to confuse “advantage” with “talent.” I had a lot of advantages when it came to basketball, the first and foremost being my height--I hit my big growth spurt around 6th grade, and was basically a head taller than everyone in my class. I also had a fair amount of opportunity to play competitively, attend basketball camps, and so forth, so I got to know the game pretty well. 
Even so, the same paralyzing fear afflicted me, to a lesser extent, here. To make a long story short, I didn’t practice much, and it began to show. My parents, bless their hearts, tried to get me to go outside and play more, but unless I was playing pick-up games with other people, I wasn’t interested in “practice.” I didn’t work on fundamentals. Why did I need to work on them anyway, I justified subconsciously to myself, when I already had talent?
Well, when high school rolled around, I lost something important: my height advantage. I pretty much stayed the same height, while everyone else caught up to, or in many cases surpassed, me. My high school had three competitive teams--Varsity, JV, and C-team, and I made C-team as a freshman. I’ll be honest, I was a little disappointed with that--hadn’t people told me I was talented? Hadn’t I dominated most kids on the court fairly easily for the past few years? Well, I played on the C-team, but not nearly as much as I would’ve liked. And when I made JV my sophomore year, I saw even less play time. So, by the time my junior year rolled around, I was pretty disillusioned when it came to basketball. I still refused to practice, because I had talent, dang it--I wanted to be a natural, and naturals weren’t supposed to practice, they were just supposed to be good. And when junior year basketball tryouts rolled around, I went the first day, but just didn’t go back for the second or third. I gave up, because in my mind I’d already failed, and I didn’t want to continue on a path of failure.
So what really went wrong there (other than me being a completely delusional child)? On a fundamental level, I had an attitude problem. Not in the sense that I was disruptive or made trouble, but my attitude towards basketball--and particularly my “talent” in that area--had actually harmed my ability to do well.
My mindset was all wrong, and this is where I want to bring in Carol S. Dweck’s book, aptly titled Mindset. In it, she differentiates between a “growth” mindset and a “fixed” mindset. Listen to some of the things she and others have said about both types of thinking, and see if you can guess which one I had when it came to basketball. In the first, Dweck quotes a seventh-grade girl talking about the growth mindset:

I think intelligence is something you have to work isn’t just given to you....Most kids, if they’re not sure of an answer, will not raise their hand to answer the question. But what I usually do is raise my hand, because if I’m wrong, then my mistake will be corrected. Or I will raise my hand and say, ‘How would this be solved?’ or ‘I don’t get this. Can you help me?’ Just by doing that I’m increasing my intelligence. (17)
I love how this young girl puts the emphasis on learning and increasing intelligence. Compare that to these two expressions of a fixed mindset:

Either you have ability or you expend effort...this is part of the fixed mindset. Effort is for those who don’t have the ability. People with the fixed mindset tell us, “If you have to work at something, you must not be good at it.” They add, “things come easily to people who are true geniuses.” (40)
The idea of trying and still failing--of leaving yourself without excuses--is the worst fear within the fixed mindset. (42)
Yikes. That sounds familiar, right? I didn’t want to put effort into practicing the fundamentals of basketball because I had a fixed mindset--I believed that if I had to work at something, I must not be good at that thing in the first place. Trying, only to fail, was my worst fear. It meant that, as a person, I simply wasn’t good enough.
            Let’s look at what the famous track star of the 80s and 90s, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, has to say about having a growth mindset:

“For me the joy of athletics has never resided in winning,” [she] tells us, “....I derive just as much happiness from the process as from the results. I don’t mind losing as long as I see improvement or I feel I’ve done as well as I possibly could. If I lose, I just go back to the track and work some more.” (98)
Compare that to this fixed mindset concept:
The naturals, carried away with their superiority, don’t learn how to work hard or cope with setbacks. (91)
“Naturals don’t learn to work hard or cope with setbacks.” That described me, to a T. People with the growth mindset, on the other hand, are less worried about superiority and more about simply getting better at whatever it is they’re doing.

Here’s a nifty graphic that explains the two different mindsets further. On the left, we have the growth mindset: “Failure is an opportunity to grow,” “I can learn to do anything I want,” “Challenges help me to grow,” “My effort and attitudes determine my abilities,” “Feedback is constructive,” “I am inspired by the success of others,” and “I like to try new things.” On the right, we have the fixed mindset: “Failure is the limit of my abilities,” “I’m either good at it or I’m not,” “My abilities are unchanging,” “I don’t like to be challenged!,” “I can either do it, or I can’t,” “My potential is predetermined,” “When I’m frustrated, I give up,” “Feedback and criticism are personal,” and “I stick to what I know.”
Now, if you remember, towards the beginning of this address I asked you to consider four different statements and which most applied to you. Let’s go back to that now.

1.      You are a certain kind of person, and there is not much to be done that can really change that.
2.      No matter what kind of person you are, you can change substantially.
3.      You can do things differently, but the important parts of who you are can’t really be changed.
4.      You can always change even the most basic things about the kind of person you are.
Do you remember which statement you thought described you best? Well, statement’s 1 and 3 fall on the fixed mindset side of things, while 2 and 4 are in line with a growth mindset.
            Let’s look at another version of the same test, this time in reference to intelligence. Again, we’ll look at four different statements, and I’d like you to choose the statement that best describes you.

1.      Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much.
2.      You can learn new things, but you can’t really change how intelligent you are.
3.      No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit.
4.      You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.
Think about those statements for a moment, and again choose the one that you feel best describes yourself. What did you discover? (This time, the first two statement reflect a fixed mindset, and the last two one of growth.)
One thing to keep in mind, here, is that these concepts exist on a spectrum; someone may be predominantly one, but still demonstrate aspects of the other. One person may even have a fixed mindset in one aspect of their life, but have a growth mindset in another. So just because you may have selected one of the fixed mindset statements to describe yourself, don’t despair. There’s hope for you, yet. (And that’s the whole point of having a growth mindset, right? Believing that you can change!)
How? you may ask. What hope? Well, let’s get into that, and to do that I’d like to share with you my brief, but passionate affair with ballroom dancing.

When I returned to BYU from serving a mission in Italy, one of the first classes I took was Social Dance 180. I took the class with the intention to meet girls, but little did I know that when I attended the BYU National Amateur Dance Competition in March, I, like so many BYU students, would be bitten by the ballroom dance bug and quickly become obsessed.
I attacked this new challenge head-on, taking multiple classes that spring and summer, trying out for and making the Summer team, and competed in my first competition by the end of the summer. That fall, I made it onto one of the lower BYU Ballroom Dance Company teams, and continued to take more classes and practice with competitive partners.
I was working hard. I took something like 21 credits that fall semester. I spent about 12 hours each week in ballroom classes, and at least another 5-7 hours practicing either by myself or with partners. At the end of the semester, I got a call asking if I’d like to be moved up to an intermediate team, which I of course accepted, and continued to excel. The following year I got moved up to the Back-up Touring Team, started to place in and win a few competitions, and the next year I made it onto the top ballroom dance company at the university, the BYU Touring Team.
Just to touch on writing for another moment here: I still felt that crippling fear at even the thought of sitting down to write. I managed to eek out a couple short stories when I took a few fiction writing classes as an undergrad, but other than that, didn’t really get anywhere. I actually think part of the reason I got so into ballroom dance was to put off really committing to writing. Ballroom dance was a low-risk investment; if I failed, I didn’t have much to lose. Writing, however, had been high-risk for me for a long time--if I failed, based on my fixed mindset at the time, I’d lose the prospect of doing one of the things I wanted to do most in life.
But, strangely, because the stakes were relatively low, I put a lot of work into ballroom dance over those three years. And, while my mindset when it came to writing was still clearly fixed, I had a real growth mindset when it came to ballroom dance. Dweck quotes Chuck Yeager, hero of The Right Stuff and one of the best fighter pilots of his time: “There is no such thing as a natural-born pilot. Whatever my aptitude or talents, becoming a proficient pilot was hard work, really a lifetime’s learning experience....The best pilots fly more than the others; that’s why they’re the best” (32).
That’s what I was doing. I was practicing more than most people on the ballroom dance company, and it showed.
Most of you have probably heard of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers and the 10,000 Hours rule (you may also, or alternatively, be familiar with the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis track of the same name). In the book, Gladwell addresses the concept of talent, and according to him, many people view achievement as talent plus preparation, with both aspects more or less on equal ground. But “the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted,” Gladwell claims, “the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play” (38). So Gladwell acknowledges the existence of talent, but downplays its significance, giving most of the credit to good, old-fashioned hard work. That’s where the 10,000 hour concept comes into play. In Outliers, Gladwell references a study led by psychologist K. Anders Ericcson, where Ericcson observed violin students at Berlin’s elite Academy of Music. Ericcson divided the students into three groups: the “stars...with the potential to become world-class soloists, those “judged to be merely ‘good,’” and those who were unlikely to ever play professionally and would probably go on to teach in the public school system.
            Ericcson discovered a direct correlation between these tiers and the amount of hours students had practiced. In the lower tier, by age twenty, students had accumulated an average of 4000 hours of practice. In the middle tier, 8000. And, in the top tier, students had practiced an average of 10,000 hours by the age of twenty. Gladwell found this study, and particularly the number 10,000, fascinating. He said,

The striking thing about Ericsson’s study is that he and his colleagues couldn’t find any “naturals,” musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peers did. Nor could they find any “grinds,” people who worked harder than everyone else, yet didn’t have what it takes to break the top ranks. Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than anyone else. They work much, much harder. (39)
Just as Chuck Yeager said the best pilots fly more than others, that’s what Gladwell claims. After establishing the 10,000 hour number in a few other areas, he introduces the 10,000 hour rule, stating that if anyone accumulates 10,000 hours of practice in any given field, he or she will more or less become an expert.
There has been significant criticism of the 10,000 hour rule since it became popular via Gladwell’s book. Most significantly, a recent meta-analysis compiling the results of 88 scientific articles found that practice only accounted for just about 12% of skill mastery and subsequent success, on average. This criticism is valid. In fact, “10,000 hours” has more or less been proven to be an arbitrary, relatively meaningless number. Practice--even deliberate, focused practice--is by no means the only factor in success. A haphazard, inconsistent 10,000 hours won’t get anyone very far. And, generally speaking, accumulating tens of thousands of hours of practice in any given area will never guarantee proficiency, let alone the world-class level of expertise Gladwell claims.
But, despite the criticism, there’s an inherent truth to the 10,000 hour rule that makes it worth consideration, and that’s the simple concept of hard work.
For the vast majority of people, talent means very little without practice focused on improving that talent. Even those lacking any significant aptitude can usually gain sufficiency, if not proficiency, in a given skill. Consistent, focused hard work will, in most cases, only bring positive results. The concept as Gladwell presents it isn’t perfect, but I think there’s a lot of utility to squeeze out of it, especially for a proverbially lethargic “millennial” generation.
All told, I think a generous estimate of how many hours I spent practicing ballroom dance is around 3500. Hard work clearly paid off for me and my brief stint of ballroom dancing. I progressed through the “ranks,” as it were, relatively quickly, and I’m proud of what I accomplished both in competitions and performing with the Touring Company. But I do sometimes wonder how my writing career would have been shaped had I spent less time dancing as an undergraduate and more time writing. It’s possible my career would have gotten started earlier, but I actually think what I learned about myself and about practice as a dancer contributed significantly to my success as a writer.
With basketball, I had some basic ability and privilege, but I wasn’t willing to put in the practice. With ballroom dance, I put in a lot of hard work, but it was a low-stakes situation; if I failed, I wasn’t going to be terribly upset about it. And, as I mentioned, in some ways my ballroom dancing was just a form of procrastinating what I really wanted to do: write.

Let’s come full circle, then, back to my writing career. As I approached graduating with an undergraduate degree in English, I started to apply to Creative Writing Masters in Fine Arts, or MFA programs (while I mostly wanted to write novels, I was still considering teaching at a university level, including the possibility of an eventual PhD in Creative Writing).  My first round of applications, however, demonstrated my naïveté with the whole process. I applied to four programs. The newly-formed MFA program at BYU was my “safety” program--the one I figured I’d be a shoe-in for, because I’d already taken a couple graduate-level creative writing workshop classes at BYU, and won a few writing contests as an undergrad. The other programs I applied to were NYU, Columbia, and the University of Iowa--three of the most prestigious, and certainly the most competitive, MFA programs in the country.
You can imagine my disappointment--and, I’m embarrassed to say, shock--when I was rejected from all of these programs, including my “safety” school, BYU.
Here, I was faced with a choice, and probably one of the more significant decisions I’ve ever made. I could do what I did when I didn’t return for the second and third days of my junior year basketball tryouts--basically, give up and move on to the next thing life had in store for me. I’d tried, after all, I’d put myself out there, and I’d failed utterly. According to the fixed mindset, there was nothing more to be done. I’d thrown away my shot.
Or, I could work harder, and try again.
Partly because of what I’d learned about myself, practice, and the growth mindset during my time spent ballroom dancing; partly because it was something I truly wanted, almost more than anything else at the time; and partly for other reasons I’m not sure I could explain, I chose the latter. And I went to work.
I took something of a forced sabbatical over the next year. I taught part-time at a local ballroom dance studio, usually in the evenings, to earn some money, which meant I could devote my time during the day almost exclusively to writing. The first half of the year was spent re-drafting, refining, revising, and polishing my MFA applications and writing samples. I applied to thirteen programs that time around, with a much wider spread when it came to competitiveness, prestige, and affordability. I was fortunate to be accepted into two of these programs, and ultimately chose to attend BYU’s MFA program, both for the affordability and a few faculty members with whom I was excited to work.
But that wasn’t my only success of the year off I spent writing. Once all of my MFA applications were sent out, for the second half of my sabbatical, starting in January, I started writing a novel. Interesting side-note: I was living in Provo at the time, so I’d just walk up to campus, and I ended up writing almost all of the novel in the student lounge/library area of the Maeser Building. So, a little shoutout to the Honors Program there.
I treated this novel differently than I’d treated any writing project before. Usually, for short stories, I just procrastinated writing them until the day they were due for a workshop class. Or, for longer projects and novels I wanted to write, I procrastinated them indefinitely. This time, I treated writing this book like it was my job. I went to the Maeser Building and wrote from about 9am to 4pm, every weekday, and I finished the first draft of that novel almost exactly six months after I began it. I eventually settled on the title of Duskfall for that book, and after some solid revision, landed an agent and ultimately a five-book publishing deal with it.
I think of that time of my life, writing for hours a day every week day, as the moment all of this first coalesced into something real for me. I was not aware of any of the studies or books I’ve referenced tonight at the time, but I was starting to see the concepts they teach take shape in my life.
I set the novel aside during my MFA program, but still put a lot of hours into reading, writing, and teaching, and I’m grateful I did it. When I graduated, though, I no longer had any doubt about what I wanted to do. While I enjoyed the MFA program, it proved to me once and for all that I wasn’t interested in an academic career, so my wife and I sat down and had a long chat. She had always been interested in and supportive of my writing dreams, and largely because we didn’t have any children at the time, and she had a job she genuinely enjoyed, we decided to set a three-year deadline on my writing career. If I didn’t see any significant progress in that area of my life within three years, I’d set it down and look for other options.
A huge shout out to my wife here, by the way. She’s put her faith in me time and time again, and I could not be more grateful for that. In fact, her unwavering willingness to back my career choice--and the phenomenal job she had that not only supported us financially but she also enjoyed--were integral pieces to the puzzle of how I became a published writer. She’s an incredible woman and I’m grateful to be her husband.
And that, more or less, got me on the path to publication. I approached my writing the same way I did when I took that year off and wrote the first draft of Duskfall, and while it took me a while to get into a legitimately productive work-from-home schedule, I eventually did, and after revising Duskfall a few times I found an agent, who helped me land a five-book publishing deal, and now here I am, about halfway through that publication process. Book three of my series, Blood Requiem, comes out in June, and I’m about halfway done with book 4. In addition to the United States, the series is being published in the UK, Germany, and Poland, with more countries and languages hopefully on the way. I’m also making progress on another, new trilogy, that I hope to get in the publishing queue soon.
Life is good. But, as you can see, I had to overcome a fair amount of Resistance to get to this point. One of my favorite books that I think synthesizes the ideas of mindset and hard work that I’ve been discussing tonight is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. The book is subtitled “break through the blocks and win your inner creative battles.” In it, author Steven Pressfield outlines two concepts that I think have particular relevance to my words tonight. The first is Resistance, with a capital R. “There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t,” Pressfield says, “and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.”
I’d be surprised if there were any of you out there who have not experienced Resistance in one way or another--I know I did as a college student. When I finally sat down to write a research paper, or my honors thesis for that matter, it actually wasn’t difficult to do the work. But what was difficult was actually sitting down with the intent to string words together in a coherent, vaguely interesting way. I can’t tell you how many times I stared at my computer screen, ready to work, and my brain subconsciously resisted (in retrospect it’s clear this Resistance was part of a fixed mindset--I was scared that when I actually did write something, it would be terrible, and that would be it for me). I’d do all kinds of things to avoid sitting down to write. Movies, television shows, roommates, social events, social media, video games, and so forth. Wikipedia tangents were a particular danger for me; they usually began with something like a wikipedia page listing every Pope to have led the Catholic Church, and somehow, inexplicably, ended at a page describing tardigrades.

(For those who don’t know--and this is important--tardigrades are microscopic animals often referred to as “water bears” that can withstand supremely cold temperatures, pressure six times greater than that of our deepest oceans, radiation hundreds of times more powerful than what is lethal for a human--and they can survive in outer space. They’re cool creatures, ya’ll.)
Now that I’m writing professionally, I can still attest to the truth of this statement, that sitting down to write is more difficult than the act of writing itself. I fight that struggle every day. The fight has gotten easier in some ways, but it’s still a fight, and one I have to acknowledge really exists before I can effectively fight it.
In the spirit of “knowing your enemy,” Pressfield defines Resistance extensively. In short, he describes Resistance as an invisible, internal, impersonal, and universal force that most often takes the forms of procrastination, fear, rationalization, and self-doubt. He also shares a list of activities that commonly elicit Resistance:

1.      The pursuit of any calling in writing, painting, music, film, dance, or any creative art, however marginal or unconventional.
2.      The launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise, for profit or otherwise.
3.      Any diet or health regimen.
4.      Any program of spiritual advancement.
5.      Any activity whose aim is tighter abdominals.
6.      Any course or program designed to overcome an unwholesome habit or addiction.
7.      Education of every kind.
8.      Any act of political, moral, or ethical courage, including the decision to change for the better some unworthy pattern of thought or conduct in ourselves.
9.      The undertaking of any enterprise or endeavor whose aim is to help others.
10.   Any act that entails commitment of the heart. The decision to get married, to have a child, to weather a rocky patch in a relationship.
11.   The taking of any principled stand in the face of adversity. (5-6)
I don’t know a single person that hasn’t at least attempted something from that list, and speaking for myself, I’ve attempted almost all of them at one point or another. Resistance to a new health regimen is just as real as it is when I sit down to write every day. If fear, procrastination, or rationalization rear their heads in my life in any way, I can be sure that Resistance is behind it all. This is what I mean when I say that I think my words today can be widely applicable. Letting go of the idea of talent, accepting a mindset of growth and change, and embracing the concept of hard work, have helped me in many scenarios, not just writing.
The other concept I wanted to point out from Pressfield’s book is a dichotomy he explains between the “amateur” and the “professional.” He says:

The word amateur comes from the Latin root meaning “to love.” The conventional interpretation is that the amateur pursues his calling out of love, while the pro does it for money. Not the way I see it. In my view, the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his “real” vocation. (62-63)
I love this approach, particularly for writing. Too often we treat writing as a mysterious, almost supernatural act--we only write when the muse strikes us, for example. It’s all woo-woo and wizardry. That’s how I used to treat writing; why write at all if the muse wasn’t inspiring me? (For me, incidentally, the muse usually “struck” the night before a short story or paper was due for a class. In retrospect, I’m not sure that qualifies, but it was what I told myself.) What I love about The War of Art is that Pressfield doesn’t deny the sense of supernatural (or maybe extra-natural is a better word for it) when it comes to art creation. I appreciate that, because I think anyone who has created can acknowledge a small part of something beyond themselves that inspired that creation. But Pressfield does throw out the “woo-woo” mentality in lieu of practicality, and that hits all the right buttons for me. That was the key for me, when I wrote the first draft of Duskfall during my year off, after all: I treated it like a job. I went to work at it every day, consistently. And I saw results. It’s the same attitude I take today—the same attitude I have to take, if I want to continue to improve, be productive, and hopefully be successful.

          Pressfield describes an interaction the author Somerset Maugham once had in which he was asked “if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration.” “I write only when inspiration strikes,” he replied. “Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” Pressfield elaborates, saying:
Maugham reckoned another, deeper truth: that by performing the physical act of sitting down and starting to work, he set in motion a mysterious but infallible sequence of events that would produce inspiration, as surely as if the goddess had synchronized her watch with his. He knew if he built it, she would come. (64)
I love the Field of Dreams reference there, and it has surprising applicability. The most important thing about art, in my experience, is just going to work.
The subtitle of my address is “Why I write like I’m running out of time.” That’s a Hamilton reference, obviously, but I think it describes my current attitude towards writing fairly well. In fact, I could have subtitled it “I write because I’m running out of time.” I don’t mean that in a morbid sense, but rather a practical one. I know, given what I’ve learned about practice and an attitude of growth, that if I put the work in, I can continually get better at my craft. As I get better at my craft, I’ll write better books, form better characters, and express my ideas more coherently, interestingly, and creatively. I’ve seen that happen already, and I believe it will continue to happen. I don’t think there’s a cap on my writing ability; there’s only a cap on the time and effort I choose to put into my craft. That’s why I write like I’m running out of time.
Similarly, I don’t think there’s a cap on any of your writing abilities. I’m not sure where each of you are at in regards to your honors thesis; some or all of you may already be finished. If you are, congratulations! That’s a big deal, after all. But the next time you have to write something--and especially for those of you who aren’t finished with your theses--let me offer you some free advice.
No, just kidding (another Hamilton reference). My advice is what I’ve been advocating all night: be open to a growth mindset (if you aren’t already), acknowledging failure and challenges as opportunities to grow. Do the work, whether it takes ten thousand hours or one hundred, or as many hours as you can give it until you don’t have any more left. And commit to being a professional--show up to work every day, get the job done, and be ready to show up tomorrow, too.
The same advice goes to all of you, even if you don’t plan to write another word in your life. Whatever you plan to do--whether it’s more education, starting a business, starting a family, or just getting really toned abs--give it a shot. Be open to a growth mindset. Do the work. Be a professional. That stuff works for me, and I think it might work for you, too.
Thank you.

In Which I Gush About A QUIET PLACE




It's been a long time since I've bothered blogging about a film I enjoyed, but I can't help myself with this one.

Generally speaking, I like the thriller and horror genres. I'm a fan. The best films of those respective bunches usually manage to elicit a visceral response from me with one, maybe two scenes. Recent films that managed to do this for me include Get Out, It, Wind River (with one very intense sequence towards the end), It Comes at Night, mother!, and Unsane. Again, each of those got to me with one, maybe two scenes, perhaps with an entire sequence.

Let me be real with you: A Quiet Place had me on the edge of my seat, my stomach in knots and chest constricted, for about 90% of the film.

Some light spoilers follow.

Part of this, I'm sure, stems from the fact that I have a young daughter and a pregnant wife. I could relate to the family on the screen very closely. Even more than that, however, the terror generated in the film felt new, innovative, and centered around character.

This was a quality film, ya'll. Easily the best I've seen all year, and I've seen a fair share already. Let me just bullet-list some of my personal highlights:

  • Acting was superb, all around. I sometimes find it hard to take John Krasinski too seriously because of how long he spent as "Office Jim," but I saw none of that here. Emily Blunt is great in just about everything, but she was truly phenomenal here. Even the young actors knocked it out of the park. I'm not sure if the fact that there wasn't much spoken dialog helped or made that more difficult, but either way I'm astounded.
  • As a general rule, the more intimate a horror film, the better it tends to be. A Quiet Place was incredibly intimate. Each character was individually motivated and developed, but they also meshed together incredibly well. Again, kudos to the cast.
  • Creature design. Yikes. Creeeeepy, and very well-designed. I love seeing interesting, new creatures. When I first got a full (brief) look at one of the monsters, I thought it felt a little demogorgon-esque, but the more I saw of the creatures the more interesting, unique, and terrifying they became.
  • Tension. I've already mentioned this, but the whole premise of the film (the monsters are attracted to noise of any kind) began as interesting, and progressed to downright gut-wrenching. Each situation built on what we knew of character and setting. IT WAS SO INTENSE.
  • Storytelling. Nothing groundbreaking here, but it was far from a weak point of the film. It was a solidly told story, with great character development.
  • John Krasinski's direction. Wow. Dude has chops. The direction here magnified the tension, as it does in all good horror. Just. Wow.
Let me come down from my high for a moment, because the film wasn't perfect. I have two minor critiques: (1) I'm slightly skeptical that the method the family discovers to fight the monsters wasn't tried much earlier by people who would have expertise on the subject, and (2) I'm slightly annoyed said solution wasn't integrated just a bit earlier. But, seriously, those are incredibly minor critiques. Let me say again: best film I've seen this year (so far), easily.

I'm still reeling. Go see A Quiet Place as soon as you get a chance.