Friday, June 22, 2018

3 Surefire Ways to Write More Consistently

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” — Thomas Mann

Isaac Assimov wrote or edited over 500 books and roughly 90,000 letters in his life.

Romance novelist Barbara Cartland wrote more than 700 books.

Stephen King has written 60-full length works of fiction and nearly 200 short stories.

How on earth does one become so prolific?

The most important lesson I’ve taken away from the writers I admire most is simple in its prose: one can’t write if they don’t first sit down to do it.

The discipline required to plant ourselves and simply begin has become extraordinarily rare in an age of constant distraction and mindless entertainment.

But as some of the great writers of our time have proven, it is possible.

Here Are 3 Surefire Ways to Help You Write More Consistently
Don’t wait for inspiration
“I’m not any less confused about it than you are. I just got in the habit of doing it.” — David Mamet

What the Isaac Assimov’s and Hemingway’s of the world understood is you can’t simply wait for divine revelation to strike.

YOU have to strike first.

You have to write whether you feel like it or not and, here’s the key, be consistent.

This means falling madly in love with failure, being able to stomach your work being bad, and setting a time each day where you write without distraction.

The better we become at creating environments where we thrive, the better our chances of success.

You can also implement a writing regimen. Maybe you put pen to paper every morning from 6:00 am — 6:30 am before the rest of the world, or at least your family rises.

Perhaps you work until you’ve written 500 words.

Whatever the case, setting a criterion can help immensely. Constraints inspire creativity.
Don’t be thwarted by the criticism of others
“The strength of a person’s spirit would then be measured by how much ‘truth’ he could tolerate…” — Friedrich Nietzsche

Playwright Edward Albee once told a critic, “I didn’t stop writing because you didn’t like it.”
If you’re writing consistently, chances are the work is not always going to be great.

In fact, a lot of it will likely be underwhelming. The key is to not let that stop you from trying.

As playwright David Mamet once said, “You gotta stand being bad if you want to be a writer cause if you don’t you’re never going to write anything good.”

One of the greatest obstacles to becoming a master craftsman is the inability to tolerate something not being great. The key is to appreciate the road to mastery is a long and fleeting journey, but you can only get there if you keep going.

Set up small “wins.”

Author, photographer, and weightlifter James Clear talks a great deal about small wins. His weekly newsletter devoted to uncovering habits and routines that make people extraordinary goes out every week come rain, sleet, or snow.

He understands there will be days where he just doesn’t feel like writing, lifting, or snapping photos.

But he’s disciplined himself to think better than he feels.

You may write 5 sentences one day, or 2 the next. But rather than criticizing yourself for not being Shakespeare you can honor the effort.

And if you feel like you’re in a perpetual state of aggravation it’s likely your expectations are too high.

Don’t be afraid to lower the bar and redefine what success looks like. If you’ve sat down and written anything you can tally that up as a win for the day and gradually build from there.

When we’re frustrated we often surrender too quickly, resorting instead to emails, texts, and other distractions.But it takes courage to sit with something when it’s not going well. Over time, that courage evolves into grit.

Whether we write one word or a thousand, focusing on being proactive regardless of how significant the output is a fundamental part of writing consistently.

Just get started.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Make Content Relevant

Onthe first day of class, I could have easily droned on about notable ancient Greek plays, peppering the lecture with dates and quotes from people who died 2,500 years ago.
The result would have likely been a class longing for relevance from a teacher puffed up with self-importance.
Instead, I talked about how the Greeks believed their words held up the pillars of the universe; that if their prose weren’t expressed with enough vitality and passion those pillars, along with humanity, would perish forever.
Sharing that story invited my students to share their own.
Too often in school, we’re taught to memorize facts and events that have no context to our personal lives.
As a result, we become good company at cocktail parties but lack skills transferable to our everyday lives.
The lessons we tend to remember are the ones reinforced through personal experience, or have principles we can directly connect to our lives.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Don't Judge

“Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge.”
— Carl Jung
Every week, I hop in my car and make the 30-minute drive to a city named after the more famous version of its namesake nestled somewhere between New York and Ohio.
And though the towns are separated by nearly 3,000 miles, both cities bear a striking resemblance when it comes to their values.
Hard work and grit are the currency in these parts.
My first day at the college was met by nervous jitters, uncertainty, and if I’m honest, some preconceived ideas about my students.
But it only took me a few minutes to realize, opportunity, not intellect, is often the culprit of immobility.
Hard work and grit are the currency in these parts.
My first day at the college was met by nervous jitters, uncertainty, and if I’m honest, some preconceived ideas about my students.
But it only took me a few minutes to realize, opportunity, not intellect, is often the culprit of immobility.
That knowledge alone altered any mental hierarchy I may have mistakenly been clinging to.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

How Returning to My Birth Place Made Me Wonder About the Life I Might Have Lived

“You can leave Hong Kong, but it will never leave you.” — Nury Vittachi, Hong Kong: The City of Dreams

I was born to a mother from Seoul, Korea and an Italian American father from Brooklyn. 
I grew up nestled in the hills of Oakland, California, one of the most remarkable yet misunderstood communities in the country. 
My friends were of all colors, shapes, sizes, socio-economic backgrounds, and interests. Some came from families that worshipped one god, two gods, or no gods. 
But all influenced me in ways I’m just beginning to appreciate as the second half of my life not so gradually creeps up. 
All of this to say, I rarely consider how my birth place has played a role in my evolution. 
If at all. 
What’s in a birth place anyway? 

This was a question I longed to know as I hopped on a flight for Hong Kong four summers ago.

The first stop on my journey was the hospital of my birth. Canossa Hospital was originally founded in 1929 by the Canossian Daughters of Charity. In fact, the original building had just 16 beds, which were all destroyed during the Second World War. 
Thankfully, I was born in a less tumultuous time though my entry into the world was not without controversy. 
“You’re the reason your mother missed my wedding!”an old family friend joked. “She was giving birth to you when I was tying the knot!”
Just minutes into my life I was already inconveniencing someone’s plans. 

Because my family moved to California when I was just eleven months old, my memories are replaced by inventions of what life might have been like had we stayed.
I thought about the schools I might have attended. 

Would it have been some fancy international academy filled with the children of bankers and diplomats?

Would I have spent my days playing hooky, watching the horses at the Happy Valley Racecourse?

How soon, if at all, would that extraordinary view from Hong Kong’s peak have grown old?
I wonder if such a thing is even possible.
As I ambled through the cramped and muggy streets of Kowloon, I also recalled an opportunity I’d passed up to study in this remarkable city during my junior year of college.

My friends had practically begged me to tag along for a semester of carousing during a reliably laughable workload. But for some reason, running for student body president took precedence over having my passport stamped. 

What was I thinking?
When the final votes were tallied, it was clear I’d lost more than an election. 
A few weeks upon their arrival, I received a phone call from a beach in Thailand. My friends had called to inform me they were sitting on a beach sipping cocktails as I stared blankly at a six foot pile of snow just outside my upstate New York apartment. 
It’s good to have friends. 
But whether studying abroad or traveling for work, Hong Kong is a magical place filled with typhoons, tycoons, and nearly 8,000 glittering skyscrapers. 

It is a foodie paradise that boasts the highest number of restaurants per capita in the world. 
It is a place where dreams are both realized and lost. 
But to me, it remains mostly a place of wonder. 
Of what if’s?
What different life might I lived had we stayed behind?

What, if anything, is in a birth place? 

Monday, June 18, 2018

3 Lessons Our Ancestors Can Teach us About Grit

100 million Americans can trace their roots to Ellis Island.

Including me.

My father’s grandparents arrived from Sicily and Calabria just a few years into the start of the 20th century.
Like many before and many after, they brought with them lofty dreams, ambitions, but mostly a desire to give their children a better life.

As a boy, whenever I failed to appreciate all I had, my folks would remind me of the great sacrifices made by those before.

I’d nod my head and promise to shape up, pretending I had some semblance of what they were talking about.
I didn’t.
How could I?

The struggles of our predecessors were on a COMPLETELY different plain.

— At the turn of the 20th century, life expectancy hovered around 49.
— Diseases and epidemics of the early 1900s included a smörgåsbord of ailments including cholera, small pox, and and typhus.
— And upon arriving in New York City, one had to navigate their way through a very strange land, while quickly securing work, and avoiding the scores of conmen trying to swindle vulnerable new settlers.
To put it plainly, life was hard.
In a time where survival no longer depends on leaving the comfort of our homes, it’s easy to lose perspective on the sacrifices that ushered in that very progress.

But by taking a look at the past, our forefathers can teach us a thing or two about the importance of cultivating grit.

Here are a 3 lessons my great-grandparents taught me about tightening my belt and moving forward.
If you’re unhappy with your life, have the courage to change something about it

“Being requires becoming.”

Int he late 19th century, Italy experienced calamity of almost biblical proportions. In Calabria and Sicily bread riots broke out in 1880.

Earthquakes, drought, landslides, excessive heat, and a plant lice calledphylloxera wiped out most of the wine industry that many Italians depended on for their livelihood.

Between 1884 and 1887 there was a cholera epidemic that killed fifty-five thousand people.

These were just some of the factors that led nearly 5.3 million Italians to leave for America by the end of the 19th century.

Simply put, they’d had enough.

As a result, they rented horse drawn-carts or walked, carrying everything they owned to the seaports of Naples and Genoa.

They left with hope but also heavy hearts. Many knew it would be the last time they ever saw their families again.

The trip across the Atlantic took two to three weeks, demanding an unbreakable spirit and equally durable stomach.

Narrow corridors, poor ventilation, low-ceilings, and crowded spaces were expected parts of the journey.

Still, they forged on.

They understood that vision without action was delusion and that meaningful change and progress was only possible if they started from a place of truth.

Their circumstances needed to changed.

They fixed what they could, consulted their unhappiness, and knew what they did today would influence tomorrow.

Just begin
“It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.” — J.R.R. Tolkien

Upon arriving at Ellis Island, immigrants were exhausted physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
Assuming they survived the worst of the journey, travelers were then surrounded by men sporting military-looking uniforms for an eye inspection.

One of the most common reasons immigrants were barred from entering the United States was because of a contagious eye disease called, trachoma.

If you failed the exam, you were sent right back home.

Needless to say, this was not only heart-breaking but tore many families apart.

Medical examiners also placed large chalk marks on the weary travelers who appeared to have a disability or unchecked ailment.

There was then a verbal examination, which preceded the fate of thousands of immigrants as they waited anxiously in the Great Hall.

If you were able to pass all the necessary requirements you then walked down a narrow corridor towards a door, which had a sign that simply read:
Push. To New York.
So, what did they do?
They pushed.
They had to.

Today, too many people live with untapped potential, unrealized dreams, and abandon the belief they have value to offer the world.

They claim they don’t know where to start.

But if our forefathers had believed the same, you wouldn’t be reading this.
Instead, they took chances amidst the ambiguity and chaos of their new world.

— They settled in urban areas
— They worked in construction
— They worked as ditch-diggers
— They built roads
— They laid cable
— They started families
 They learned to avoid swindlers
— They toughened up
— They wised up
They figured it out because they got started.
3. Don’t Settle
“Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.” — Angela Duckworth

Life didn’t magically improve once the new settlers arrived in America.

Far from it.

At the start of the 20th century, the Lower East Side of New York City had nearly 300,000 people living per square mile.

In “Mulberry Bend,” the worst slum in the city, there were 1,200 people living in one block of tenements.
It was common for up to ten people to be living in a single room.

Places like Hell’s Kitchen where my grandfather was from, were tough neighborhoods where street gangs and crime were rampant.

Ramshackle houses in the Lower East Side were literally known as “Dens of Death,” because of the unsanitary living conditions.

This was a place where the sun literally never shined.

But despite these enormous challenges, most immigrants pulled themselves together and moved out within a year.
They didn’t leave their homes, travel 4,000 miles across a choppy Atlantic, and sacrifice everything they had just to settle.

In other words, they didn’t come this far just to come this far.
Instead, the immigrants relied on one another.
— They sought family support.
— They chose work, regardless of how menial, over charity.
— And if they couldn’t secure work, they sold rags or just about anything they could find on the streets.
Once again, they found a way.

As a result, many Italians were able to upgrade to better living conditions in places like south Brooklyn, Greenwich Village, Harlem, and even places as faraway as California.

My great-grandparents, like many of yours, understood the greatest impediment to succeeding was complacency and taking false comfort in the notion that life had no more to offer.

They did work that was uncelebrated, worked collectively to make their circumstances better, and ultimately rose to what they were capable of.