Posts filed under “Personal”

Off to write HUSTLE & FLOAT! See you in SEPT!

This post, is a part of my thinking and research for my new book, HUSTLE & FLOAT that centres around the tensions between productivity and creativity. You can follow other related entries here

Doodles - 15

 

WRITING: THE NEED FOR SPEED

For the next few weeks I’ll be in my writer’s cave working on Hustle and Float with my co-author Riwa. I’ll be splitting my time between the deserted cafes of Paris, where most people have left for their annual vacation, and Muskoka, Ontario, where Jesse and I have rented a lake-front cottage.  It’s the perfect venue to contemplate creativity, productivity, and the importance of being unplugged.

I’m pretty excited to start this phase of the project because by the end of the month, I’ll have a very, very, early draft of the whole book. I always print out the first copy of the draft, no matter how awful it is (and it’s usually pretty heinous) because it marks the transition of something from an idea to a physical reality.

Speed is the name of the game for first drafts and so I’ll be doing a month-long writing sprint: a dedicated period of intense focus where I’ll do nothing but hit my daily wordcount: about 2000-3500 words per day. If that sounds like a lot, consider that when I was working on Decoded, I was averaging about 4000-5000 words per day.

I learned this process, called Fast Draft, in a workshop run by Candace Haven a few years ago. I was averaging close to 8,000-10,000 words per day and it was the most intense writing I’ve ever done. Add to that a couple of years of NANOWRIMO   and suddenly 3,000 words per day feels like a vacation!

On that note – there won’t be any new content here on the blog until September when I’ll be sharing chapter excerpts, research notes and more. (The best stuff always goes out to subscribers first!)

 

 A note on process: it’s not magic. 

Reading Show Your Work by Austin Kleon has taught me the importance of peeling back the layers and sharing what goes on behind the scenes of my writing. So, I’ve included a few notes on my own process and some tips if you want to try Fast Drafting yourself.

TL:DR: Hitting high word count consistently isn’t magic – it requires preparation and practice. For me, I try to make sure that I have as much of the prep work done as possible in advance.

 

1. Outlines are your friends.

I’ve been working on the research outline for Hustle and Float for close to a year now, and I’m finally ready to start putting words on the page. If you have a solid outline this process becomes a joy because you’ve basically created a map for yourself to follow.

word countOutlines are the touchstones of my process. I cannot (and will not) do anything without an outline whether it’s a 700 word post or a 70,000 word manuscript. I like to plan everything out in advance before I write anything on a page. The outline is probably the most intensive part of the process because it forces you to chart your course and figure out how your ideas will unfold beforehand.

Not every writer uses outlines but I swear by them. I’ve had too many friends  in the middle of writing a massive chapter, only to realize they forgot crucial research, have over/under estimated their word count or discover their chapter is missing a logical flow. For me, an outline addresses all of these problems. It helps me to organize my thoughts, forces me to be thorough in my research and makes sure I don’t forget  important details. My outlines include detailed research summaries of articles I want to reference, notes and thoughts, even snippets of unfinished sentences that I want to include.

I developed my outline process as a survival mechanism against the crippling anxiety that writers often experience when starting a new project and faced with a blank page. This way, I have a guide to help me move from chapter to chapter, and I can immerse myself in the writing, knowing that I’ve done the work and checked the research beforehand.

 2. Realistic Expectations 

Image result for you can fix anything but a blank page

Nora Roberts

Fast drafting is a process that addresses the biggest hurdle a writer must overcome: their own doubts. The speed adds an intensity that gets your mind off whether or not you’re using too many adverbs, or if your vocabulary sucks and it forces you to just start writing.

From an expectation perspective, a fast draft will need several revisions, but that’s ok. The goal isn’t to craft perfect prose, but to get everything out on the page in it’s messiest, ugliest form so you can take a look at an early version of the work to spot any weaknesses. The Fast Draft of Decoded made us realize we needed to make some massive structural changes and we were able to do so before we’d invested too much time polishing and editing. And I firmly believe it resulted in a stronger book!

 

I’ll report back in a few weeks to let you know how it went! Wish me luck!

 

 

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May 2014 – Ottawa, New York, DC, Florence

I spent the large part of May on the road doing what I love best: writing, talking about technology and hanging out with some of my best friends. I’ve been “rediscovering my relationship with blogging” over the past few weeks, and have been happy to get back into the regular routine of sharing what I’ve been working on.  It involves a lot of writing – which as it turns out is my favorite thing to do both for work and for play.

In that vein, I’ve been toying around with an editorial calendar, trying to give myself some structure about the type of content I want to produce. As of next month, you’ll be seeing regular themes, generally pulled from the projects I’m researching now. Oh, and I’ve also finally set up my newsletter, so if you haven’t already, sign up now to stay updated. Subscribers will receive some free and awesome goodies from me over the course of the year. It’s going to be fabulous, so don’t miss out.

Ottawa, Canada: How Technology is Redefining Rurality

I was delighted to be invited to speak at the Ontario Rural Economic Summit to talk about how technology was impacting the notion of rurality. Many rural communities have been, traditionally, isolated due to their physical location. Now, thanks to the Internet, we have the ability to build communities, access information, and conduct business without being limited by proximity.

A very interesting discussion took place after my keynote about how the digital economy could breathe new life into struggling rural municipalities. I spoke to the Mayor of one small town in Ontario who wanted to explore bringing fiber-optic internet to residents and businesses. Now that people can work from anywhere, he reasoned, some of them will want to leave the city life behind for the picturesque small towns of Ontario. People who wanted a different pace of life, parents who wanted more space and open air to raise their families, those who wanted the more intimate feel of a small town. “They don’t have to choose anymore,” he said to me. “They can work for some of the best companies, while living in some of the best small towns.”

I loved this idea, and the notion of giving people location freedom to pursue their goals. After all, commuting is actually costing us more than we think both in terms of health and money. It’s no surprise that telecommuting is on the rise.

 

New York, USA : Potlucks, Highline & Story

I flew to New York for a couple of meetings and to reconnect with the vibrant community of innovators and entrepreneurs. While I love living in Paris, New York has a very distinctive buzz, a level of energy that just makes you excited about all the possibilities that exist. The weather was gorgeous, and I loved watching the city embrace the first tentative days of spring.

Jesse ended up surprising me in NYC and we spent a few days exploring the city together. He had never been on the highline before and we had a great time walking around enjoying the sunshine. Of course, any New York trip is never complete without a visit to my lovely Niamh who works at Shutterstock (and who lets me stay with her every time I’m in town!). Their new office at the Empire State Building is just gorgeous.

One of my favorite places to visit in NYC is Story, in Chelsea.  Story is a retail space that reinvents itself every six weeks with a theme. The theme this time was Impact, so everything in the store was curated to include products that also have a positive impact on the world around us. There were products by Charity:Water, Pencils for Promise, and my favorite little solar powered lamp, LUCI. I love the idea of buying something that also helps someone in need.

A big thanks goes out to my friend Dan Dzombak  for organizing a delicious Sandbox Potluck, giving me the opportunity to hang out with some of my favorite boxies. A night of great conversations with friends combined with delicious food is my idea of the best time.  Other trip highlights included seeing a jogging Clare Danes and a grumpy looking Kanye West.  (WHY U SO GRUMPY KANYE?)

 

 

DC, USA : Sweetlife Music Festival

I wrapped up my trip to the US with a weekend jaunt out to D.C. to attend the Sweetlife Music Festival.  In addition to the great line-up of artists, the organizers, Sweetgreen, made sure that there was a steady supply of green juices and quinoa salad. It was great fun, but by about 8pm I was ready to call it a day. What can I say, I’m an old now and I just can’t keep up with these young punks. A group of us did escape a little early and went back to our hotel to enjoy a civilized glass of wine and high speed internet.

Lifestyle brands are so interesting to me, and seeing companies like Sweetgreen extend their positioning to include a mindful and positive outlook on life in addition to health-concisous food is fascinating. My friends from Holstee were also there, and Jessica Alba’s Honest company had a giant tent with free goodies like bio-degradable and toxic-free wipes which I loved.

 

Florence, Italy : Pizza, Pasta, Pisa

Jesse and finished the month of May off with a quick weekend trip to Florence, a short hour and a half plane ride away. It was my first time seeing the majestic Duomo, the narrow cobbled stone streets and of course, the David. My enjoyment was dulled somewhat by the insane amount of giant tour groups. Packs of tourists roaming the streets en masse made it difficult to navigate the city sometimes. We escaped to the other side of the Ponte Vecchio and spent some time in local neighborhoods watching artisans make hand crafted leather shoes and bespoke suit jackets. That was a calmer side of Florence I enjoyed so much more.  The city is small, you can walk around easily on foot and is the perfect city to explore in two days. My favorite sight was gorgeous pharmacy that has been in business since the 11th century! Once run by monks who specialized in herbology, it was eventually taken over by the state and then acquired by an Italian family who have run it for several generations.

On our last night, we went up to the rooftop bar at the Westin Excelsior hotel, which offered stunning panoramic views of the city, well worth the steep price of the cocktails.

 

Paris – Pixel & Nalini Singh!

At last, I was back at home and Paris rewarded me with…cold damp weather. Still, there were some notable moments!

Pixel, my furry little shadow, turned 3 years old! I can’t believe how fast time has gone by, it seems like yesterday that we brought her home for the first time. I can’t imagine my life without her. While I am a huge animal lover, I have to say that nothing in my experience ever truly compares between the bond of a girl and her dog. Dogs are such miraculous creatures, and (if I may wax poetic for a moment) are in my opinion, the physical manifestation of unconditional love.

Nalini was in Paris!

As if this month wasn’t exciting enough, I was beyond thrilled to hear that my talented friend, the unparallelled Nalini Singh would be in Paris, as a part of her European book tour. Nalini is the author of one of my all time favorite series of books, called the Psy Changling Series. I discovered the books in 2007, corresponded on and off with Nalini for a few years. Then, in 2011, the stars aligned and we both attended the same writer’s conference. We met up for a coffee, which turned into drinks, which turned into dinner and a friendship was born. In 2012, I was able to hang out with her in New Zealand (she lives in beautiful Auckland) and now 2014 I got to show her around my city! We walked around and ate macarons, really, what more could a girl ask for?

Nalini’s latest release in the series is out next month, and I have already blocked out an entire day to sit somewhere sunny (hopefully) and read it. SO. EXCITED.

As a writer, there is nothing that compares with spending such quality time with someone who has created a world and characters you love. It’s so inspiring and motivating – it made me even more determined to finish those pesky novel rewrites of mine!

And so, that was quite a jampacked 30 days!

Other bits and pieces:

I wrote about how FOMO helped me reclaim my creative process. 

I’ve just finished week 9, of the Artist’s Way, one of my ongoing creativity series.

 

Next month I welcome a slew of friends to the City of Light, have a weekend trip planned to Fontaine Bleu, and will finally have an announcement about my next book project! Newsletter subscribers will be the first to know!

 

 

 

April 2014: Istanbul and the secret of happy work.

It’s finally really spring! I spent the first week back home embracing a more relaxed pace. After spending the past two years working on “The Decoded Company,” it felt a little surreal to not have to write or research anything that was big data and culture related. The completion of a big creative project is always an emotional transition for me. Happiness that I’ve seen something through to the end, elation (and relief) at the positive reception but also a little sad that it’s over.

I know myself enough by now to recognize that I need a few weeks to just let all of those emotions settle in order to be able to move on to the next adventure.That being said, once I was at home, I  ignored everything I knew to be true and threw myself into a frantic and borderline insane state of mind by putting pressure on myself to immediately figure out what the next thing was going to be. It didn’t go well, and I ended up feeling very unhappy.

After pounding my head against the wall, Jesse rationally suggested that I should just relax and enjoy the feeling of having completed an intensely challenging and very rewarding project.  So, I decided to give my brain a rest and go play on the Internet. I stumbled upon a very timely TED Talk by positive psychologist Shawn Achor called “The Happy Secret to Better Work.”   He talks about how most of us follow a formula for success that argues that working harder will yield more success which in turn will make us happier.

Achor thinks this formula is flawed. “First, every time your brain has a success, you just changed the goalpost of what success looks like. You got good grades now you have to get better grades…you got a good job, now you have to get a better job,” he says. “And if happiness is on the opposite side of success, your brain never gets there. What we’ve done is we’ve pushed happiness over the cognitive horizon as a society.”

He argues that we have linked success to happiness in a way that has become detrimental to our mental health. He recommends cultivating a more positive mindset in the present, where happiness isn’t linked to any necessary output. Activities like exercising, journaling, and even meditation have been shown to help boost mood, and overall perspective. Even a simple trick of writing down 3 simple things you’re grateful for every day for 21 days will create a shift in your brain that will train it to scan for positives in the world instead of negatives.

 

 

Funnily enough, the second I decided to cultivate that sense of daily happiness, I got an idea that I think is going to be my next book project. 😉 It reminds of me of trying to chase a butterfly: to catch it, we just have to sit and be still.

 

Istanbul, Turkey: Private Corporate Event & Adventure

I was invited to speak at a private corporate event mid-April about technology and the financial sector, which is one of my favorite topics. Our relationship with money is something that I find fascinating, and I love looking at  how technology is influencing the way we interact with our financial institutions. I had never been to Turkey before and Jesse and I decided to extend the trip by a few days in order to explore this amazing country.

I haven’t fallen for a city this hard since Paris. Istanbul just completely blew me away. The hip vibe, the history, the food, the people, everything just called to me and I loved it so much I’ve already planned another trip in the fall with my parents.  We cruised up the Bospherous, visited the bazaars and stood in awe of the great Mosques. I even tried a traditional Turkish Hammam, which was…a little weird, but I was into it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We left Istanbul and headed to Cappadocia where we stayed in one of the coolest hotels I’ve ever been in. The Argos is an authentic cave village that has been converted into a hotel. When the owner found the property, it was being used as the city dump, with residents having moved away from hilly landscape to flatter ground. When they started restorations they uncovered something amazing: a two kilometer underground tunnel, and a monastery that was 1,500 years old! The property is nestled into the side of the  mountain and overlooks the beautiful “fairy chimneys” that the region is well known for. The staff were unbelievably friendly, especially the adorable resort dog, Badem, who has his own instagram account!

We took a tour of some of the carved stone villages and lounged around sipping turkish Chai. It was wonderful.

 

More pictures can always be found here.

 

Paris: The Orient Express and Some Cafe Inspiration

 

Coming back to Paris, I visited an amazing exhibit at the Institute du Monde Arabe about the Orient Express – including the actual train itself! It was fun to walk through it, especially since we watched Murder on the Orient Express, the night before. It was especially relevant since we had just come back from Istanbul, the most iconic journey the train was known for.

I felt inspired and energized after my trip and I was ready to work on some new ideas, with my VP of Innovation, Pixel.

Other Updates: Artist’s Way, Novel News and Upcoming Travel

I am just about finished the Artist’s Way, though I am a little behind on posting about it. I can’t emphasize how helpful this process has been and if you’re feeling stuck or just want to get a creative boost, the program is stellar. You can read about my progress in detail here.

I finished my novel manuscript and sent it out to a structural editor. It was nerve wracking but I’m expecting feedback in the next few days!

May is gearing up to be busy, I’ll be heading to Ottawa, New York, DC for work and to Florence for a little weekend trip away. I have some fun announcements in the works, so stay tuned and come again soon!

 

The Artist’s Way: Week 8 – Recovery a Sense of Strength

This is an ongoing series about my experiences with Julia Cameron’s program, The Artist’s Way: A spiritual path to higher creativity. It’s a 12 week program designed to help reboot your creative process and after hearing about it from several friends over the past few years, I gathered a group of like minded creatives and we are embarking on this journey together! You can find the other related entries HERE

The Art of Surviving

This week’s reading focused on time as a potent creative block as well as introducing the concept of “artistic survival” and how we deal with losses in our creative endeavors. As many psychologists have pointed out, in order to move through grief we have to acknowledge it, and yet so many artists never do that. Instead, we carry around the scars of losses that were never fully mourned or released. “If artistic creations are our brainchildren, artistic losses are our miscarriages,” Cameron writes. “Women often suffer terribly, and privately from losing a child who doesn’t come to term. And as Artists we suffer terrible losses when the book doesn’t sell, the film doesn’t get picked up.”

Some of these artistic losses can come from non-constructive criticism. That is, words said not with the intent to help the artist or improve the work, but for other agendas that can often have nothing to do with us. In fact, as we’ve learned from previous weeks,  this lashing out is often a reaction of someone who is themselves block and who is feeling the pain and jealousy of seeing an artist  do something they secretly yearn for. Remember, jealousy and anger are very powerful guides that indicate our dissatisfaction with a situation and can point us in the right path towards creative recovery. Cameron makes the point that while criticism is an essential part of an artist’s development, at least in the early stages one should only solicit that type of advice from trusted individuals who want to help you develop and evolve.

Another way to navigate through artistic losses is to change the framing of the situation. Instead of asking “why me?” we should instead ask ourselves “what next?” (Which is a classic and often repeated phrase said by my favorite President, Jed Bartlett.) What I love about this idea is that you simply step aside from the set back and focus on the possible terrain still open to you. For many, that has meant exploring new avenues in publishing, film making, etc. However, before doing this, we are advised to make a gesture of self care towards our artist who is hurting in the face of this loss. “Immediately take one small action to support your artist,” Cameron urges. “Even if all you are doing is buying a bunch of tulips and a sketchpad.”

 

The Artistic Journey:

The question of time also becomes a great escape for blocked creatives.  We think we’re too old or something will take too long and as Cameron puts it: “Instead of allowing ourselves a creative journey, we focus on the length of the trip.” I’ve done this myself. “It’ll take so long to write a novel,” I’ve thought. “What’s the point?” And yet, when broken down into a few hours of writing each day, I inched towards my goal and ended up there far earlier than I thought it would be, and this was while I was writing The Decoded Company! This is because we like to concentrate too much on something called process denial, which is the idea that we like to focus on the end state without really wanting to do the heavy lifting required to get there. This was one of the most powerful quotes in the chapter for me:

“Focused on process, our creative life retains a sense of adventure. Focused on product, the same creative life can feel foolish or barren. We inherit the obsession with product and the idea that art produces finish products from a consumer oriented society. This focus creates a great deal of creative block. We, as working artists, may want to explore a new artistic area, but we don’t see where it will get us. We wonder if it will be good for our career. Fixated on the need to have something to show for our labors, we often deny our curiosities. Every time we do this, we are blocked.”

 

Filling the form:

Finally, Cameron ends the chapter by reminding us that we should stop thinking that every action is going to be a giant shake up of our very foundations. “Rather than take a scary baby step towards our dreams, we rush to the edge of the cliff and then stand there, quaking, saying ‘I can’t leap. I can’t. I can’t,” Cameron writes. “No one is asking you to leap. That’s just drama, and for the purposes of a creative recovery, drama belongs on the page of a canvas. Creativity requires activity, and this is not good news for most of us. It makes us responsible and we tend to hate that.”

And isn’t that the truth? We’d rather feel angst about the fact that we aren’t writing or what will happen if we write and fail, or even write and succeed instead of actually just writing. We should just take that one small daily action, instead of worrying over the big questions.

For me, this chapter was  intense. I’ve spent the last two years working with a great group of people on an amazing business book. The work kept me challenged and engaged, I learned so much during the process both about my own writing and from my kickass co-authors. Now that we’ve wrapped up that process, I’ve been wondering what to work on next. Instead of doing what I usually do, which is experiment until I find something that catches my interest, I’ve been freaking out asking the “big questions” and wondering what my next step professionally should be. Reading this chapter has made me realize that I can just take some small steps every day and eventually the bigger picture will reveal itself to me.

For my Artist Date this week I am going back to my drawing class. I did the first session and had to draw a self portrait. I won’t post it here, it’s too embarrassing, but it was hilarious and fun and it felt so good to pick up a pencil and a piece of paper and engage my brain in a different way. I’ve been promised that my work will improve, but even if it doesn’t, I’m still having a blast.

 

 

 

The Artist’s Way: Week 7 – Recovering a Sense of Connection

This is an ongoing series about my experiences with Julia Cameron’s program, The Artist’s Way: A spiritual path to higher creativity. It’s a 12 week program designed to help reboot your creative process and after hearing about it from several friends over the past few years, I gathered a group of like minded creatives and we are embarking on this journey together! You can find the other related entries HERE

 

The Perfectionist Trap

This week’s chapter was focused on establishing the right attitudes for creativity. Part of that attitude shift comes from changing our perception with how we tap into our artistic spirit. “Art is not about thinking something up,” Cameron writes. “It is about the opposite – getting something down.” The emphasis on this directionality is an essential one: in thinking something up we are straining, putting the effort on ourselves to try and create something meaningful, we are the doers. If you’re getting something down it’s already there we just have to get it, something else is doing the “doing.” This was an odd notion to puzzle over but the more I thought about it, the more comforting it became despite my initial resistance.

I realized that if I truly thought about this, I’ve experienced this myself in a poem or a short story where it feels like the story already exists, and I just have to get it down on paper. Sometimes I keep messing around with a chapter or a scene until finally something clicks and I think to myself, “oh, that’s what it’s supposed to be.” Sometimes those ideas come fully formed. During our trip to Australia I had the opportunity to experience this first hand in a very big way. We were driving along and suddenly – and I do mean suddenly- this scene jumped into my head of a character I had never thought of before. It came on so strongly that I asked Jesse to pull over so that I could get my computer out so I could write it down. What happened next was truly exhilarating: for the next two hours, I typed furiously and without pause. I ended up with twenty pages of a story where the world and the characters were just fully formed. I read pieces of it Jesse and he was incredulous. “Where did this come from? How are the details of this world so specific?” I really had no answer, but it was amazing and when I was in that zone I really felt as though I had tapped into some higher purpose, like I was fully embracing my calling.

Isn’t it funny how I can have that type of experience and then forget about it and feel resistance when reading about the exact same phenomenon? The second piece of the puzzle, in addition to tuning into to this frequency more often, was to avoid the perfectionism trap. This trap says that everything you do has to be perfect from the get go. I don’t suffer from this as much as I used to because as a writer you have to fully embrace the fact that your first draft will be garbage, otherwise you’ll never write anything. So I don’t even worry about it and give myself full permission to write something awful. Just get it down on paper, I tell myself, and we can fix it later. Famous author (and personal hero) Nora Roberts has said: you can fix anything but a blank page.

Jealousy as an Ally: A breakthrough

One of the more uncomfortable exercises in the book was called the jealousy map. We were tasked with identifying people who were were jealous of, followed by why we were jealous and an action we could take to minimize that jealousy. “Jealousy is always a mask for fear: fear that we aren’t able get what we want; frustration that somebody else seems to be getting what is rightfully ours even if we are too frightened to reach for it,” Cameron writes. “At it’s root, jealousy is a stingy emotion. It doesn’t around for the abundance and multiplicity of the universe.”

Welcome to the DRSB web!That was a hard one to explore, but it was ultimately very healing because the message is clear: for every instant where you feel like someone has something of “yours,” there is an action you can take to neutralize that emotion and push it in a positive direction. Much like anger, jealousy can be an ally to help reveal the things that we are too scared to verbalize or reach for. And it doesn’t even have to be something professional.

One of the entries of my jealousy map was a friend who has the most beautifully visual notebooks. (An obsession of mine. I’m always checking this Flickr pool.) I envied his talent for creating such gorgeous visual books. I realized that I just wanted to be able to express myself in that way too – so badly – but I never felt like I could do it. My action was quite simple, I went to the Google machine and looked up new and innovative ways for people to learn how to draw. I stumbled upon Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and downloaded the book on my iPad.

My artist date this week will be to read it and start teaching myself this skill. When I downloaded the book, something in my head just clicked. I have had this weird habit for years: buying empty notebooks that just sit on my shelf. The notebooks are always blank pages, no lines or squares for me thanks! I could never figure out why I kept buying them, but I literally have an entire shelf just sitting there and now I know: I was hoping and waiting that someday I would magically gain this ability to draw and be able to fill them up with a different sort of creative expression. That “aha! moment” really made me aware of how sometimes we can want something so bad and not be able to fully express that desire – not even to ourselves.