Why I Wrote UNFINISHED: A Guide to Dream, Complete and Repeat Your Life’s Work

Why I Wrote UNFINISHED: A Guide to Dream, Complete and Repeat Your Life’s Work

UNFINISHED: WHY I WROTE A GUIDE FOR THE FRUSTRATED CREATIVE TYPES

WHY I WROTE THE BOOK, UNFINISHED

Watch a three-year-old draw or sing. Very rarely will you see a toddler stop to erase and start over or be phased by messing up a lyric. They are prolific creators. Insatiable artists and performers who are unaware of the word ‘edit’ or the phrase ‘it needs revision’. I know, I have a three-year-old. Now watch a seven or eight-year-old. You’ll notice more changes. More “it’s not good enough” and more comparison to others who they feel are more talented than themselves. I also know this because I have a seven-year-old.

Both of my daughters are in two completely different phases as little artists. On one hand, I’m so proud of my seven-year-old for trying harder and honing her skills. On the other hand, it’s crushing to know that she beats herself up if she feels her art isn’t great or as good as other students in her class. It’s crushing because I know that feeling of inadequacy doesn’t tend to go away as she progresses. It just grows like a virus and may stay with her all the way into adulthood.

Comparison and the feeling of inadequacy are only a couple of the many reasons adults tend to put their personal creative work in life’s proverbial time capsule only to find it years later and look on it with feelings of regret and remorse for leaving the work unfinished. That’s exactly why two years ago, I wrote the book, UNFINISHED. I wanted to give practical tips for busy adults and parents to help them pursue their own creative fulfillment and complete projects they’ve set aside because of life circumstances. I wanted to give encouragement to creatives that fear even the thought of putting their work out for all the world to judge. I also wanted to write this book to prove the methods in UNFINISHED actually work. I used every idea in the book to write UNFINISHED all while working fulltime and raising two children under the age of four with my wife.

Torschlusspanik (GERMAN)

“The fear that time is running out to act, often regarding a life goal or opportunity.”

IS YOUR WORK UNFINISHED?

Have you abandoned your passion projects? My hope with this book was always that people like yourself could pick up this short read and get inspired to attack their passion projects where they left off. I want you to feel the rush of joy that comes from completing a project and get hooked on the process — to enter into a life of artistry again as we were when we were three-year-olds creating without worry about what others thought of our work or if it is ‘good enough’. That’s why I titled this website ‘Unfinished.life’. I believe the process of dreaming, completing and repeating our life’s work if done right, continues till the day we die.

We are coming up on a New Year. A fresh start for you and your work. I’ve dropped the price as low as I could for UNFINISHED on Amazon in paperback and Kindle

I’ve also created a COACHING section as a service to you if you would like one-on-one coaching and accountability through your goals this coming year. I talk a lot in my book about how accountability and consequences for not completing my goals are key foundations for an approach toward ‘finished’. If you’d like help in 2018, LET’S CHAT!

 

“A bursting happiness and peace encountered after a task has been finished and there is nothing left to be done.”

Suaimhneas Croi (IRISH)

“We are not in a position in which we have nothing to work with. We already have capacities, talents, direction, missions, callings.”

Abraham Maslow

Your Last Best Idea: Why We Need to Approach Generating Great Ideas Like We Approach Making Money

Your Last Best Idea: Why We Need to Approach Generating Great Ideas Like We Approach Making Money

YOUR LAST BEST IDEA

If you’ve worked in a creative team, there’s a moment that occurs for every person at some point in time. Maybe you’ve presented an idea to a small group of coworkers and then a member of your team is tasked to elevate the idea. In turn, the co-worker may have received all praise for the idea.

This doesn’t feel good and our natural response is to be hurt or angry. We all just want to be appreciated for the work we’ve contributed. The coworker may have had zero ill intentions, but it doesn’t make it sting less.

Our reactions take many forms; one is to try and sabotage the project while another may be to take shots at those running with the idea. If I’m honest, I’ve had ideas for projects that others had the opportunity to run with and my reaction was to be hyper-critical of the end product. “They didn’t get where I was trying to go with that idea”. Or if someone is saying something nice about the end result, I would try to force my name into the conversation “Yea, when I came up with the idea, I was really seeing it as X, but they did the best they could”.

 

How we react may have origins in fear and insecurity that the idea you just saw get away may have been our last best idea and we won’t ever get our due credit.

Why do we do this? Our brains can be greedy when we subconsciously think that greatness in our creative thinking won’t happen again.

 

How Good Are You At Cultivating and Budgeting Your Ideas?

The issue of my last best idea didn’t change for me until I began to look at ideas as money and sharing the ideas as the outpouring of a budget well kept. Let me explain.

How do you get money? We gain money mostly by working for it and sometimes it comes in a form of a surprise (extra money at tax time, gifts etc.). But for the most part, the more we work, the more money we have (in an ideal world).

How do you get ideas? We get ideas by working at it and only every so often by chance. By routinely setting time aside for brainstorming. Making it a habit. The more we work at it, the more ideas we’ll have. I’m a big fan of Morning Pages by Julia Cameron. This strategy keeps me constantly mining for ideas.

 

How do you become generous with your money? If you budget your money wisely, you should have plenty after all your needs are met to share with others. (See also my conversation with Author/Speaker, Todd Henry on creating margin financially HERE)

How do you become generous with ideas? If you’ve built up a stockpile of ideas and continue to do so, you should have plenty to share with others.

That was a lightbulb moment for me. I was greedy with my ideas because, at the time, they really were my last ideas. We would all practice the same selfishness if we were down to our last dollar. If we have an abundance of ideas, that one that our coworker took credit for wouldn’t sting as bad.

 

Being Generous with Our Ideas

What are the benefits of being generous with your money? You give others the means to live. You allow others a chance to succeed.

What are the benefits of giving ideas away freely? You give others a chance to succeed and create trust within relationships that will last a lifetime.

Routinely mine for ideas. Find the times in your days where you are free of distraction and are at your creative peak. Free write ideas that come to your mind. Keep a folder (digital or analog) full of these ideas. A person who has a million dollars will rarely mourn when losing a buck. How much more would a person mourn who has a million ideas and only loses one?

The Case for Reading Fewer Books Next Year

The Case for Reading Fewer Books Next Year

I love setting yearly goals. I talk about the process often and wrote a lot about my methods in my book UNFINISHED. One of my yearly goals for the past eight years has been to read a minimum of 20 books a year by different authors. Depending on how busy the year, I’ll typically read around 25-30 books by December. I’ve used a ‘4x4′ method of reading where I’ll read four books at a time in four different categories: Fiction, Self-Development, Spiritual, and Business/Craft Development. This was my routine for years until I realized there may be much more to gain by reading fewer books and working to retain, comprehend, implement and reread a handful of authors’ writings.

My realization came from reading Seneca: Letters from a Stoic when I came across this section that made me rethink my approach:

“…Be careful, however, lest this reading of many authors and books of every sort may tend to make you discursive and unsteady. You must linger among a limited number of master thinkers, and digest their works…”

This section made me ask four questions of myself:

Reading a broad spectrum of authors can be good if I’m retaining the knowledge from all the works. Am I? Not really.

If authors were mentors, would I have 20-30 different mentors with differing opinions/styles in my life YEARLY? Nope.

Can I give you a detailed synopsis of all the books I’ve read in the past year? Also no.

Have I exercised at least 10% of what I’ve found in all the books I’ve read? Again. Negative.

 

“Everywhere means nowhere. When a person spends all his time in foreign travel, he ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends. And the same thing must hold true of men who seek intimate acquaintance with no single author but visit them in a hasty and hurried manner.” -Seneca

 

There’s a trend I’m seeing a lot on social media of different personalities teaching you to read more books faster, but to what end? If you read 150 books a year, is it to any value except in the accomplishment itself? What are you retaining? Can you implement every principle or practice found in every book?

So here’s my solution for myself in 2018. I’m calling it the 6x3. I’m picking six books, by six different authors that I would already consider highly influential and masters of their craft, and I’m reading each book three times. I’ll be using Ryan Holiday’s Notecard system for retaining knowledge from the books found here: The Notecard System. I’ll also be building action steps after each read to implement what I’ve read into my life as sub-goals for the year.

The first pass of each book: Getting familiar with the content and subject.

The second pass of each book: Taking extensive notes, questioning content and researching the validity.

The third pass of each book: Retaining and implementing.

This is, of course, a personal experiment and may not be the best solution for everyone, but I would love to know your findings if you try it out.

 

 

 

The Accomplishment High: What Happens to Our Brains When We Complete Goals

The Accomplishment High: What Happens to Our Brains When We Complete Goals

Back in the early 1980s, Curtis Tyler, Alex Smith, and Conrad Will decided that the distances that make up the most mind-boggling endurance challenge, The Ironman just wasn’t long enough: 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2-mile (42.2 km) run. From this incomprehensible notion, the first Ultraman Race was born in 1983.

This event is limited to 40 athletes by invite only. The athletes converge on the big island of Hawaii for this three-day race. Day one consists of a 6.2-mile ocean swim followed by a 90-mile cross-country bike ride. Day two gets just a ‘little’ tougher with a 171.4-mile (276-km) bike ride with a vertical climb of 4,000 feet. Day three, the final leg of the race, consists of a Double. Marathon. You read that right — 52.4-mile run. This is, as its name suggests, the absolute pinnacle of testing the endurance of a human’s limits.

When you watch an Olympic race, what’s the first thing the winner does? The top finisher throws his or her hands in the air in victory. Observing athletes cross the finish line of the Ultraman race, many throw their hands up in victory because the race isn’t about first.

 

It’s about finishing.

 

Throwing the hands in the air is the product of a chemical reaction happening at that moment in each competitor’s brain. Minds are pushed past the mental limits to maintain focus and keep the legs moving, and crossing the finish line is the equivalent of releasing the air from a balloon. Tension leaves the body, and arms stretch to the air. Milliseconds before the hands raise, exhausted bodies are treated with a massive surge of the chemical dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for the warm, fuzzy feeling of achievement we get when we are presented with gifts, rewards, or upon completion of a difficult task. The more monumental the task is perceived, the more we feel the effects of dopamine. Illegal narcotics also release the same chemical. If the effects of dopamine can hook someone on an illegal substance, it may also have the power to hook us on completing our goals.

To do this, it makes sense to turn our large goal into a collection of sub-goals thus providing us with positive reinforcement along the way towards finishing our work. The more progress we make towards completing the large goal, the larger our motivation grows.

When I started tracking my goals back in 2009, I started with five main goals. In 2016, I realized I set 23 main goals for myself, which meant at least 276 sub goals had been set. If completing goals releases dopamine like an illegal narcotic, that only meant one thing: I was legitimately addicted to goal setting.

Think of setting smaller goals as setting live (humane) traps for your brain. To catch a wild animal with a live trap, you have to lead it to a cache of food with smaller morsels along the way. The animal will first pick up the scent of the smaller morsels, then begin nibbling at the first piece in the trail, followed by the second piece and so on until it’s led into the cage by the sight of a feast. Once the animal steps on a trigger plate, the cage closes, and it’s caught without injury. When we set smaller goals for ourselves that lead to the big payoff, we are giving our brains bait to keep it pushing our work forward.

 

THE CHECKLIST TRAP

When you watch an animal pick up the scent and approach the first morsel, it’s tentative. It looks around to make sure it’s not going to be attacked by a larger animal in search of the same food. It will sniff around for any alien scents. If the coast is clear, it will try the first bite.

When planning out your smaller goals, you’ll want to set them up like a live trap – a Checklist Trap. Your first task should be something easy, something that won’t cause you to run in the opposite direction of your work. Make this task something that can be completed in under an hour with very little brainpower or creative thought. You might feel a little silly at first writing examples like the following:

“String up and tune guitars.”

 “Clear desk of clutter, set out the laptop.”

 “Buy 10 11x14 Canvases.”

From here, make the next step toward completing your goal a bit tougher — something that will take some creative brainpower and a little more time:

“Compile a list of songs for creative inspiration.”

 “Set aside two hours to write a rough synopsis.”

“Begin a mood board of styles and textures for inspiration.”

Through the process, we are leading our brains toward the big goal. We are earning trust and confidence in the process. We are completing very easy tasks to build momentum.

To complete the first draft of my book, UNFINISHED, I broke it down to the following steps:

  1. Read two books about writing a work of non-fiction.
  2. Take 2 hours to do a short synopsis on the subject.
  3. Create an outline.
  4. Break the book down into chapters.
  5. Break the chapters down into sections.

Once I completed these tasks, I then set a schedule to finish each section. I would sit down and try to write 2 sections, typically in a 2-3 hour block twice a week, using this template from Eviatar Zerubavel’s book, The Clockwork Muse:

Section Length

(words)

Words Per Day Days to complete Deadline
Introduction 1,000 500 2 3/02/15
Chapter 1 2,000 500 4 3/20/15
Chapter 2 2,500 1,000 2.5 4/07/15
Chapter 3 2,500 1,000 2.5 4/21/15
Chapter 4 2,500 500 5 5/15/15
Chapter 5 4,000 1000 4 5/30/15

 

A Checklist Trap can work with any creative project as long as it can be broken down into small tasks you can check off along the way. If you are skeptical, here’s an example of a short project broken down into very easy-to-complete tasks:

PAINTING A LANDSCAPE

  1. Pin 20 pictures on Pinterest for inspiration.
  2. Buy an 11x11 canvas.
  3. Make sure I have enough paint.
  4. Take 15 minutes to set up my workstation.
  5. Sketch a rough idea for 20 minutes.
  6. Work for 30 minutes on the left quadrant of the painting.

…and so on.

Checklist Traps are the reason we LOVE the late artist, Bob Ross. Ross was one of the first artists to reveal his Checklist Traps on national television. Before the show, if I saw a completed Bob Ross painting, I would laugh at you if you told me I could make a fairly decent rendition of his work in 30 minutes.

He broke the process down into the smallest tasks — the simplest brush strokes, the “happiest little tree.” If you could put paint on your brush and move it from side to side, you could have a serene forest scene fit for Bambi in as much time as it took to watch Family Ties.

Deconstructing large bodies of work down to their smallest tasks puts us that much closer to being as prolific and masterful as the great Bob Ross.

4 Things You Haven’t Heard About Writing Your First Book

4 Things You Haven’t Heard About Writing Your First Book

I wrote my first book back in 2015. It was children’s book meant to be a gift to my daughter. It took me about a year from start to finish. I had no clue about how to publish a book. I have no background in the process. I also didn’t know anyone else among my circle of friends or acquaintances that had released a book so I didn’t have anyone to learn from. I ended up self-publishing my first work with the help of Artbookbindery.com. By my 2nd and 3rd books, I had established my own publishing company under 5th Corner Media LLC and handled most of the ‘nuts and bolts’ myself.
I’ve made a LOT of mistakes through those three books, but every part of the process made me want to repeat the experience again and again. I have also had many people approach me about starting their own journey toward becoming an author. I’ve enjoyed coaching first-time authors so much that I’ve started a 1-year program through my website.

Many people are surprised to hear some of my thoughts on becoming an author. I wanted to share four of those thoughts here:

#1: NOT EVERYONE WILL BE HAPPY FOR YOU

I had a conversation with a friend recently about when I released UNFINISHED. He mentioned a conversation he had with a mutual friend who was unhappy that I “focused on writing a book instead of my day job” where this person volunteered. I immediately chuckled because I knew that person’s perception of an author is that they are writing eight hours a day or working long, painful hours neglecting their families and responsibilities. The reality was that I set a schedule to write UNFINISHED in eight months that was only four hours of writing a week. FOUR! Most authors, even the most successful, full-time ones are only writing in 2-4 hour blocks per day.

I set goals, deadlines, and word counts per session and mostly ended the sessions after those two-hour blocks were over. I actually wrote the book about these goal-completing methods I used.

#2: IT’S NOT A FULL-TIME JOB

As mentioned above, writing is rarely a full-time job. Nor does it come with full-time pay, or part time pay…or even just ‘pay’. I didn’t make any money on writing until my third book and even at that, it was still way south of 500.00 bucks. Not even close. There’s so much overhead for printing, formatting, editing, illustrating, and typesetting that you have to sell typically at least 300 copies to break even. Take my children’s book, Twinkle, Twinkle, All The Stars. After printing and Amazon fees, myself and illustrator Ruth Oosterman profit 1.00 per book each.

So why would I keep doing it if it’s not making me any real money? I think that’s the definition of ‘finding your passion’. I could care less if I make any money on my next book. I’m just in love with the process and the format. I’ll keep doing it until I run out of good ideas. It was never for any type of pay.

#3: DON’T EXPECT PEOPLE TO CARE

You’ve spent a year of your life in writing this book. You are writing things down that leaves you vulnerable. You imagine a future sitting behind the table at book signings with people walking up, tears streaming down their face, telling you how much your work impacted your life. That gives you the motivation to push through. You get to release day and you are devastated to find that the only people that care are a few family members and friends. You may have received 50 Likes on your announcement, but the next day, people haven’t even purchased the book and have moved on. Your book falls from #308,755 on Amazon down to #756,345.

You can’t go into your first work expecting everyone to care. You have to ask yourself, “Am I writing to be to known or am I writing because I love the process?”  The latter will sustain you. If you think you are going to be on the New York Times Bestseller list on your first book, the odds are against you. If you write for the right reasons, the outcome won’t let you down.

#4: IF IT’S GOOD, IT WILL FIND AN AUDIENCE

The initial release of a book is very exciting, but I actually get way more joy out the random purchases that come a year or two after I’ve released the book. I stop and think, “Wow, people still care about something I made two years ago!”

Interest in your work goes in peaks and valleys. I can go a couple months with no one buying my books and then, like last week, someone will put in an order for 17 books! It’s a great feeling. It drives me to create work that is lasting, or as author Ryan Holiday would call it, being a ‘Perennial Seller’. We all want our work to last past our lifetime. For now, I’m just happy it has lasted a couple of years.

If you’d like more help through the process of writing your first book, I’m offering a discount on my coaching sessions HERE.

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