Lichtenbergianism: Building the online empire

Back to work.

When last we looked in on Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy, I was reading through The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published [EGGYBP] and working on all the advice contained therein.  Chapter 2 deals with one’s online presence and how to capitalize on that.

Okay, I’ve read the chapter a couple of times and I have to admit I’m kind of stuck in a little mental eddy.  I know what they’re talking about, of course, and I’ve seen all of the strategies and platforms in action, but where I’m stuck is figuring out how best to proceed.

There are a couple of stumbling blocks.  The first is deciding on who I want to be in this endeavor.  I already have this blog, and accounts with Twitter, Tumblr, Imgr, and Instagram, not that I use them (because I don’t have to.)

But I think it’s wise—and smart—to split Dale Lyles from Lichtenbergianism.  I can post my liberal rants or muse on the aspects of ritual in the 3 Old Men or post my music and William Blake’s Inn sketches—but that’s muddying the waters when it comes to attracting a “permission base” to Lichtenbergianism.  Anyone who heads to the intertubes looking for Lichtenbergianism ought to be able to be immersed in it.

That means a separate website/internet presence based completely on the book and any services/goods I might be offering.  (What, you don’t want to buy a Lichtenbergian brand Waste Book? Or a Cras melior est hoodie?)

So there’s the first stumbling block.  Do I want to go to the trouble of establishing lichtenbergianism.com and @TheLichtenbergian and all that before anyone shows any interest in the book, or do I need to do that in order to attract interest in the book?  Ugh.  Around and around I go.

The second stumbling block is the incredible amount of time/work it takes to establish that permission base of online followers.  I’m going to be posting about the different strategies in Chapter 2, but a lot of them deal with joining one’s online community.

Who, exactly, is that?  I work in a vacuum here in Newnan, and of course that’s my own fault for not looking for my “community” online, but which community is that?  Writers?  Painters?  Gardeners?  Efficiency experts? Creativity gurus?  All of the above?

Thinking that I have to spend hours a day checking on these communities and establishing a presence there just gives me the fantods.

Oh well.  Excelsior.

Ghosts

Very few alive have seen this:

It is the dot matrix (!) printout of the young adult novel I wrote back in the 1980s as part of my master’s degree in media education.  It was the Adolescent Lit course, and the final project was either read and review 70 of the things or to write one yourself.  Hmph, I thought to myself, if S. E. Hinton can do it, I can do it.

So every Sunday, sitting in the choir at First Baptist, I outlined a chapter during the sermon then typed it up during the week.  Before I knew it, I had a novel.  Odd.

It’s called Twelfth Night, New Day, and it is a completely unremarkable piece of work.  It’s about a bunch of teenagers in a community theatre group—if you can imagine such a thing—and every character in it was based on the kids in my company at the time, all of whom are pushing 50 if not already past it at this point. (The plot was a poor thing but mine own.)

I had a good time writing it, and I even started a sequel, but if the truth be told I am not a fiction writer.  I don’t think I even have a copy of that one, which was called I Love You in Earnest.

Anyway, I needed space in the filing cabinet for this year’s tax documents, and when I discovered that I actually had two complete copies of this it was easy enough to decide to ditch one of them.

Yes, I’ve flipped through it.  No, it’s not worth dragging out and revising, I don’t think.  And no, I didn’t find a copy of the suppressed Chapter 13.

Lichtenbergianism: more competition

Today we have another book that I would want to include in any book proposal for Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy.  It is Get It Done: from procrastination to creative genius in 15 minutes a day, by Sam Bennett.

This is a really good book, folks.  The author delves into many of the same areas as Lichtenbergianism and in many of the same ways.  She addresses structured procrastination, the impostor syndrome, RITUAL, ABANDONMENT, even STEAL FROM THE BEST, and she does it in a fluid, witty, conversational style.

One major way Get It Done differs from Lichtenbergianism, though, is that Bennett gives many do-able exercises to help the procrastinator move into a productive state.  It is not my intention to be so prescriptive or so helpful.

Bennett also aims to show people how to become at least semi-professional artists, and I am so far from being able to help in that department that I shan’t even try.

Where I think I differ most significantly is in aiming Lichtenbergianism at more than fine artists: people can use the Nine Precepts in more than the creative life.

I do like the sidebar features, which has always been a part of my concept as well.  Probably that’s where all the personal testimonials from my fellow Lichtenbergians will go.

Summary: a very good book on procrastination for artists of all stripes.

Lichtenbergianism: Chapter Three, part 3

As I work my way through the text of my putative book on the creative process, you might like to read the rest of the text so far here. Also, the rest of my meditations on the process here.

There are many ways to manage TASK AVOIDANCE.

xxx <— this is my place holder for “needs more cowbell,” in this case some examples of structured procrastination before I get to kanban. (You can leave your system in comments if you’d like me to include it!)

My favorite way of making sure that my TASK AVOIDANCE is productive (and not just laziness) is the Japanese system known as kanban.

Kanban was originally developed at Toyota as an inventory control system and has been adapted for use in other areas, such as software design. Jim Benson and Tonianne Demaria Barry have developed a “personal kanban,” and I highly recommend their website (personalkanban.com) and their accompanying book.

Kanban involves writing down your tasks and subtasks on cards or sticky notes, then subdividing them into workflow stages such as Ready, Doing, and Done. (Benson/Barry emphasize that the system is ultimately adaptable to your workflow, terminology, and needs.)

This first key concept is called “visualizing your workflow,” and the first time you do a kanban dump it’s scary: all those sticky notes with all those things to do! But take a deep breath and remember: you’re going to procrastinate on most of this. You’re just getting organized about it.

The second key concept is “limit your work-in-progress.” Decide on how many of the sticky notes you’re going to actually work on at a time. The usual number is three, certainly no more than five.

As you complete a task, move the sticky note over to the Done column.

That’s all there is to it. (Of course there’s more to it, but that’s it for the basics.)

As Benson/Barry describe the process, the rest of the value of kanban manifests itself through these two key concepts. You’ll begin to get an idea of the tasks you’re avoiding and why. You’ll begin to examine your work practices as you watch the flow of sticky notes.[1] You’ll begin to adapt the system to your needs.

There are a lot of ways to implement a kanban. The easiest way is simply to take a white board and stick sticky notes on it. (The important thing to remember is that your kanban has to be where you can see it as you work.)

There are of course software versions, including free add-on apps for Google Drive.

For a while, I used my laptop, creating a desktop image and using Apple’s Notes app to create sticky notes there.

Let’s take a look at this for a moment and see how I modified the three-phase model for my own workflow.

Across the top are the three standard columns: To Do, Doing, and Done.

Across the bottom are the modifications I made to the kanban to fit my workflow: Holding, Daily, and Future.

Holding is where I’d put the tasks in the Doing column that I couldn’t work on until someone else did their thing, e.g., budget figures or travel plans or something they had to get done before I could finish the task.

In the Daily section, I put things like blogging that I did on a daily basis, stuff that it didn’t make sense to keep creating in To Do and then move across the screen every single day. Notice the small vertical line: the Daily section was like a mini-kanban loop inside the Doing column. I could move my blogging sticky from one side of the line to the other to check it off—then move it back.

The Future area was stuff I knew I needed or wanted to work on—just not right now.

Your mileage may vary. It should vary.

Note that kanban is not a to-do list. I still have my to-do’s on my phone: mow the lawn, do the laundry, prep the labyrinth. My kanban is for MAKING THE THING THAT IS NOT and keeping my TASK AVOIDANCE on track.

XXX… <— some kind of conclusion


 

(Each of the chapters on the Nine Precepts ends with a SO… summary.)

Task Avoidance- SO…

  • Use “structured procrastination” by alternating your projects—avoid working on one project by tinkering with another.
  • Kanban[2] your projects—know what you’re putting off and why.
  • Don’t be afraid to let projects simmer.
  • Don’t grind your gears: give yourself some slack.

—————

[1] see RITUAL

[2] Start with http://personalkanban.com

Lichtenbergianism: Chapter Three, part 2

As I work my way through the text of my putative book on the creative process, you might like to read the rest of the text so far here. Also, the rest of my meditations on the process here.

The other secret to successful TASK AVOIDANCE is that gestation is a necessary part of the creative process in any model worth the study—and a smart artist uses TASK AVOIDANCE to let ideas fully form. For the Lichtenbergian, it is part of the joke—procrastination is a key to creativity—Cras melior est—but make no mistake: we know when we’re wasting time and when we’re allowing an idea to mature or a problem to percolate unseen.

It is a mistake to think that “creativity” is somehow limited to the actual actions involved in finishing a work. Planning—working out the kinks—developing a framework—sketching, doodling, warming up—daydreaming about possibilities [1]—these are as responsible for the quality of the finished product as the actual acts of painting or sculpting or composing or writing are.

As Danish mathematician/poet/designer Piet Hein put it in one of his aphoristic poems he called grooks:

TWIN MYSTERY

To many people artists seem
undisciplined and lawless.
Such laziness, with such great gifts
seems little short of crime.
One mystery is how they make
the things they make so flawless;
another, what they’re doing with
their energy and time.[2]

It’s also true that simply walking away from a project[3] will sometimes allow your subconscious to work in the background on a solution to whatever has been puzzling you. History is replete with examples of great thinkers whose biggest ideas came upon them when they weren’t directly thinking about the problem. So absolutely, put down that sonnet and go get in the hot tub. You can thank me for it later.

Another important benefit of TASK AVOIDANCE is slack. Slack is that extra bit of rope that allows you to make adjustments in whatever it is you’re doing with that rope—in Lichtenbergianism, slack is extra time, and it is critical to any adaptive system like creativity.

One of my favorite fables about the importance of slack concerns a secretary in a large firm who was a wonder: she could schedule meetings, make calls, make copies, organize—you name it, she could get it all done for you at the drop of a hat. Then the company hired an efficiency consultant who found that the secretary often had nothing to do, large stretches of time which were not productive. They advised the company to schedule her workload more tightly so that she could get more done.

To everyone’s astonishment, her usefulness to the company plummeted. She couldn’t get to all the things she was asked to do and was often behind. No one could understand it.

They had taken her slack. All that time she was observed doing nothing was actually her being available to take on any task that was asked of her. When her whole day was scheduled, she was no longer able to pivot from one task to another and get them all done.[4]

In Lichtenbergianism, whenever you feel over-structured, rushed, or swamped, it’s time for a little TASK AVOIDANCE. Clear out some time for reading, or thinking about another project. Or, if worse comes to worse, clean your house. Ugh.

Just remember that filling every moment with work is not actually being efficient.

Tomorrow: Task Avoidance, part 3

—————

[1] This is of course distinct from daydreaming about appearing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to promote your book.

[2] Piet Hein, Grooks 3.

[3] see also: ABANDONMENT

[4] still trying to ferret out attribution for this story; it may be from Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency , except I don’t think I’ve ever read that book; book’s on order

Lichtenbergianism: Chapter Three, part 1

As I work my way through the text of my putative book on the creative process, you might like to read the rest of the text so far here. Also, the rest of my meditations on the process here.


 

Chapter Three: Task Avoidance

 

The sure conviction that we could if we wanted to is the reason so many good minds are idle. —GCL, K.27

A parable: He always wears spurs but never rides. —GCL, J.127

Cras melior est. —motto of The Lichtenbergian Society

—————

The core value of Lichtenbergianism is procrastination, not doing All The Things.

 

  [1]

 

Procrastination is generally supposed to be a bad thing. “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today” is the sturdy, Puritanical maxim. Clean that house, compose that song, write that chapter, update that website—and do it now! After all, won’t you feel better when it’s done?

Well, yes, of course you’ll feel better when it’s done, but first you have to do it. Ugh.

To a Lichtenbergian, though, procrastination is a core principle. Avoiding that symphony, that second draft, that new series of photographs… That’s a lot more comfortable. Cras melior est. Tomorrow is better.

Avoid that task.

But why is TASK AVOIDANCE considered to be a critical Precept of Lichtenbergianism?

Part of the joke is that we think that the world be better served if artists of all stripes thought twice before releasing their works on an unsuspecting public. It’s a matter of quality control, really. It’s one thing to crank out the ABORTIVE ATTEMPTS; it’s quite another to assemble them and release them as your band’s CD. Or book of poetry. Or Southern gothic novel.[4]

We call it the “Better as a T-Shirt Rule,” e.g., a Cafe Press t-shirt vs. the permanence of a snarky tattoo. Don’t commit to permanence when there’s still SUCCESSIVE APPROXIMATION to be done. You can always take a t-shirt off; you can always go back to an unpublished poem and take another look at it. Not so much with an hastily-considered tattoo, nor with a published collection of unrevised diary entries posing as poetry.


It is good when young people are in certain years attacked by the poetic infection, only one must, for Heaven’s sake, not neglect to inoculate them against it. GCL, L.69


Let’s face it: 90% of everything is pure dreck. Dreck is fine—see “The Bad Penny” in the previous chapter—because without people having the courage to put their dreck out there, we’d never get the 10% that’s actually worth something.  God bless all the lesser but nevertheless competent composers that dotted the musical landscape of the Age of Enlightenment, as Professor Peter Schickele called them—without them, Mozart wouldn’t have had a market for his perfection.[5]

But if we, as creators, can hold back our dreck until it’s worth at least as much as the bottom 90%, then let’s do that. Cras melior est!

I want to make it clear that I am not telling you not to write bad poetry. On the contrary: you should write bad poetry, the more the better. You should write execrable death metal music. You should make uninspired pottery. That’s the whole purpose of Lichtenbergianism.

But, I hear you ask, how do we get from “create a lot of bad dreck, but put off finishing or publishing it for the love of humankind” to “create successful dreck by putting off finishing or publishing it”?

Here is the secret to successful TASK AVOIDANCE: because you are an artist, you have more than one Task to Avoid, each one nagging for your attention. The trick is to play them off against each other, avoiding one by working on another.

This very book (at least at the time of writing this sentence) is being written to avoid the pain of writing music.[6] Not only that, but in the process of writing every section of this book, every other section proved a suitable distraction. Stuck on the AUDIENCE chapter? Jot down that note in your head on GESTALT that has been doing its best to distract you.

The very first full year of the Lichtenbergian Society I failed to achieve a single goal, mainly because I got distracted and built a labyrinth in my back yard instead:

Click to see it in all its glory

In fact, often the Lichtenbergians will find that although we didn’t achieve what we said we wanted to achieve in any given year, we have done something else of value while avoiding our actual goals.

This is what John Perry calls “structured procrastination” in his charming and perfect The Art of Procrastination. I would say that Dr. Perry had beaten me to the draw on the concept, but as I said in Chapter One, none of this is new— he himself quotes a 1930 Robert Benchley column as defining the concept even earlier: “Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.”

As Dr. Perry puts it, “The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing… The procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely, and important tasks… as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.”[7]

In 2003, for example, I was given permission by poet Nancy Willard to set her Newbery Award winning A Visit to William Blake’s Inn to music. Since there was some interest in performing this piece as part of an international sister city thing, you would think that I would have gotten right down to it.

Instead, I spent 2004 writing a children’s opera for a competition in Germany—which needless to say I did not win.

The good news is that I went on to finish William Blake’s Inn with an increased confidence in my abilities to orchestrate, and the final result is still my proudest achievement.[8]

Tomorrow: Task Avoidance, part 2

—————

[1] This is one of those “memes” you’ve heard tell about. I will be using lots of similar pop culture allusion. I may be old (spoiler alert:[2] I’m old) but I try to stay aware of all internet traditions.[3]

[2] That’s another meme.

[3] So is that.

[4] We call these premature releases Corroborative Evidence and we shake our heads sympathetically—there but for the grace of Apollo—as we consign them to the flames. [see RITUAL]

[5] Peter Schickele. The definitive biography of P. D. Q. Bach, p.23.

[6] The opera Seven Dreams of Falling.

[7] John Perry, The Art of Procrastination, p. 3

[8] And if you’re looking for a world premiere piece for your organization, call me.

Lichtenbergianism: some ponderings

Before I start posting the next chapters of Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy, I have some pondering to do.

I’m fairly happy with the first two chapters, “Introduction to Lichtenbergianism” and “Framework,” but the chapters on the Nine Precepts are still not making me completely happy.  I know, one’s writing never makes one completely happy, but I’m not sure I’m saying what I want to say the way I want to say it.

For example, I think I need more anecdotes from my fellow Lichtenbergians about how the Precept has functioned in their work.  At this point, a book supposedly about a group of creative men is merely about me and I think that creates an uncomfortable disjuncture between the reader and the text.  Certainly, it was the participation and sharing of the assembled Lichtenbergians at the GHP seminar that made the topic so fascinating and inspired me to think that it was worth a book.

In Chapter 3, “TASK AVOIDANCE,” I wonder if I get bogged down with procrastination management.  There doesn’t seem to be a conclusion to the chapter yet.  Have I made the point effectively?  Is it funny enough?

So here’s what we’re going to do.  I’m going to brush up the chapter as best as I can and go ahead and post it in pieces.  That’s what this experiment is all about, isn’t it?  Sharing, beta-testing, audience engagement?  (see SUCCESSIVE APPROXIMATION, Chapter 5; and AUDIENCE,  Chapter 10.)

Any place I feel that there’s a gap in the texture, I will leave an XXX to indicate that someday I may write something to fill that gap.

In turn, you will comment helpfully to let me know what you think is missing.  (see GESTALT, Chapter 9.)

See you tomorrow!

Lichtenbergianism: Salability

Hey, we’ve made it up to p. 13 of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published [EGGYBP]. The authors ask Why would anyone buy your book?

Fair question.

Beyond the usual suspects of family, friends, and former students, I think that most people would buy Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy because the hankering to Make the Thing That Is Not is pretty strong in humans.  As Ellen Dissanayake posits in Art & Intimacy and Homo Æstheticus, the creative spirit is evolutionary, i.e., not only is it genetic, it exists because it helped us survive and prevail.  The creative spirit is universally human.  And as I’ve already written, there is no shortage of books which will help you develop and improve your creative skills in every area of human endeavor.

Likewise, there is no shortage of books which will help you deal with your tendency to procrastinate.  Why, just yesterday I was contacted by a writer who is writing his own meditation on the subject and who felt compelled to get in touch with the Chair of the Lichtenbergian Society in order to find out more about us—just as I was editing the chapter on TASK AVOIDANCE.[1] Ironic, isn’t it, that I got to put off editing that chapter in order to chat with and befriend my newest competitor?[2]

However, Lichtenbergianism won’t scold you like most of the books on procrastination will, nor will it offer you tons of prescriptive exercises to free your creativity, which you will not do and then feel bad about.

No, a reader who buys my book will be soothed to find out that we do not expect him or her to flog themselves into creative genius or even to eat their creative vegetables.  Instead, we will offer him the soft, comfy chair of Lichtenbergianism, which gently teases him into greater productivity through the haphazard application of Nine (easy) Precepts.[3]

Plus, it will have a cool cover.  What’s not to like?

—————

[1] Coming soon to a blog near you.

[2] He even may or may not be joining the Lichtenbergian Society in a couple of weeks.  He may out himself in comments if he likes.

[3]  Sure, easy.  Creativity is always easy, right? We’ll go with that.

Lichtenbergianism: Permission granted

In today’s adventures in publishing, I was prepared to write an extended comic piece about dealing with Penguin UK in trying to contact Frances Hollingdale, representative of R. J. Hollingdale’s estate.  I had emailed her at an address I had hoped was correct, but assiduity is the better part of something or other, and so I sent out feelers to the original publisher.

The first person who responded directed me to the actual permissions department, which responded with an automated email with a form attached, along with a stern warning not to bother without a publishing date.  Since I knew that I was not asking Penguin UK for permission for anything but just trying to locate Frances, this was verkakte.  I went back to the first human respondent, who then directed me to Penguin USA, which I knew was wrong since they were in no way involved in the publication of The Waste Books.  (I will note that everyone has been very kind and trying to be very helpful in all of this.)  Mercy.

Anyway, it is a moot email chain,—and no comedy for you—since yesterday evening I heard from Frances Hollingdale herself, cheering me on in that polite British way and offering a very do-able fee for the 21 aphorisms I’d like to use.  The deal also includes my sending her two copies of Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy, one for her and one for her brother.  I think that’s sweet.

So that’s the major permission-getting done.  Yes, I could have translated the things myself if need be, but why bother when R. J. Hollingdale has done such a nice job already?

But wait—there’s more!

I also heard yesterday from Hugo Piet Hein, who responded to my request for permission to use Piet Hein’s grook “Twin Mystery.”  Again, very reasonable fee, and that was my second major permission accomplished.

Why, next thing you know, some agent will be emailing me and inquiring about the availability of this amazing new work.

Lichtenbergianism: Marketability? Ha.

As we continue our journey through The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published—and we’re just on page 9—we’re examining the marketability of Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy.[1]

The question posed by the authors is Is Your Idea Publicity-Friendly?  The short answer is, “Are you kidding me?  Just watch this!”

First of all, Lichtenbergianism is the antithesis of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  I am the anti-Marie Kondo.  Instead of sternly ordering you to touch everything you love and to scrap everything that you don’t, I give you permission to admit that SLACK is critical to your creative life.  You’ll know when you need to give away that pile of lumber scraps that you thought you might turn into a garden sculpture… one day.  It doesn’t have to be today.  Or tomorrow.

So right away we have a media hook that would intrigue outlets looking for something to separate their content from the current fascination with “tidiness.”  Ride that pendulum, baby!

TED Talk?  Me, talk to an audience and charm them?  Without even trying.  You can book me for your garden club too, if you like.

Articles for blogs/magazines?  You mean like this blog?

Interviews?  I am one of the best subjects you will ever interview—I give good quote.

Now, I imagine that most of the publicity gigs will focus on the first Precept of TASK AVOIDANCE, because that’s the most amusing part of the whole book.  Plus which, time is always limited when one is speaking to the Rotary Club or the American Crafts Council convention, so trying to outline all nine Precepts would be a bit much—why not focus on the oddly counterintuitive first bit, and let them buy the book if they want to know more?

It looks as if my degree in theatre could finally earn me an income after all.

—————

[1] No, it doesn’t drive me crazy to type these long titles—thank you for asking—because I have set up macros to do it for me.  I use a program called Keyboard Maestro, and it can automate just about anything your Mac can do. I can type Lichtenbergian or Lichtenbergianism or Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy with four keystrokes each: l-l-l-l gives me Lichtenbergian, etc.  Likewise, the footnotes—after seeing how the footnotes from a Word document translate to HTML, I set up macros so that I can do it practically automatically myself.  It’s a magical world.