Tuesday, July 10, 2018

How to Get Started... with Anything

 “Good Morning. My name is Denis LaComb and I’ll be conducting this workshop.”

I’ve done several of these (‘How to Get Started Writing’) workshops now and the response has always been very positive. I’ve tried to take the mystery and confusion out of writing by presenting an approach that focuses on the best techniques that work for each individual in my class. I stress that there is no one way, no direct approach, no simple technique to use for everyone. In other words, not one approach works for everyone. I try to hammer home the idea that ‘whatever works for you, go for it!’

Writing is a craft, an art form and a learned skill. But above everything else it is a discipline. Like anything worth pursuing, writing takes time and effort. There are no shortcuts or magic pills to take. It’s only the time spent with fingers on the keyboard or pencil in hand that counts in the end.

I think the same can be said for a lot of other ventures in our lives. It might be forging strong relationships, building wealth, raising kids right, or living a full and satisfying life. Too often we become distracted or bogged down by simplistic, trite clich├ęs that substitute for solid realistic advice.

I tell my audience that you need three things to become a writer:
            Desire…you won’t know if you have it unless you give it a try.
            Perseverance…you won’t know if you have it unless you try.
            Talent…you won’t know if you have it unless you complete your project.

These three points can be the same for just about any other goal or aspiration you have in life. In my workshop I equate writing to building a house.

Building a House                                         Beginning to Write your Story
1.      Start with the foundation                              1. Decide what to write about - the topic.
2.      Build up from there with the framing           2. Gather up all the elements of your story
3.      Finish the project                                          3. Write out your elements in a story form

Some folks might see this correlation between writing and other goals in life as a bit of a stretch. Lord knows I’m no expert. I’ve stumbled more times than I’ve advanced. I’ve gone backwards as often as I’ve advanced a step or two. Yet I’ve been persistent and determined to reach that elusive, ever changing, ever-shifting nebulous goal in front of me. And it’s worked for me.

So to take that analogy a little further I’ve captured the main points from my workshop and tried to translate them into this generic approach to reaching one’s goals.

  •  How to Choose your Genre (or goal)?

What form of writing and what style of writing is best for you? There are many forms of writing including journaling, poetry, memoir-writing, fiction, non-fiction or even letter writing as you discover your own unique writing voice, style and purpose.

The caveat here for writing or any other goal you have in mind is to answer: what is your passion, what drives you, what topic/s  make you want to get up each morning and write. Remember, you are not writing for anyone else but yourself.

So translated, what is it that you really want? A better relationship with someone, creating a comfortable nest egg for retirement, raising ambitious, stable children, finding a purpose for being here on earth, etc.

1.      Begin by writing down your ideas, helpful phrases, relevant facts, etc.
2.       Capture those thoughts and ideas that are central to your goal.
3.       Do whatever research is necessary.
4.       At some point, these ideas will organize themselves and give you clearer picture of exactly what it is that you want.

In my workshop, Points Two and Three deal with organizing those ideas, goals, aspirations. Finally it is time to build on your foundation. In the workshop, we move on to number 4.

  •  How to Build a Treatment (or Plan of Action.)

Once you have enough information then begin to organize ‘plan of action’ with a beginning, middle and end or by chapters, or in chronological or sequential order. A few examples might be:

Building Relationships
            Make connections that bind
            Try to see their point of view
            Be kind and understanding
            Be patient

Creating Wealth
            Spend less than you make
            Make saving money an intricate part of your lifestyle
            Go above and beyond in your work (9 – 5 simply doesn’t cut it)
            Ancillary income is one approach

Raising kids
            Give them unconditional love always
            Push them to go beyond their perceived abilities
            Give them experiences in lieu of material things

Granted, these are overly simplistic steps but I think you get the idea. Nothing worthwhile has ever been accomplished without trial and error, hard work and bumps along the way. Persistence is the answer.

If you hustle harder than the next person you will succeed. Let’s face it, there is no better way to live your life than to do whatever it is that you love to do.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Hard Labor

Hard labor is a good thing…especially for kids.

I was reminded of that when a local contractor (and neighbor) removed my over-grown hedge this last weekend. He has a snow plowing, lawn service business on the side while still working a full-time job and acting as a volunteer fireman too. He often brings his two sons along to help him in his projects.

This particular weekend the temperatures were hovering in the mid-nineties with humidity plus. He and his sons labored for two days and got the job done. As they were sawing the twisted branches, yanking out stumps with a chain and hauling the refuse away I thought about my own experiences growing up and doing hard labor.

Me in grade school

Beginning in seventh grade, it might have been a paper route in the middle of winter and twenty-below zero temps that put a crunch in my step. It might have been summers working in a steel factory and stuffing paper towels down my shirt so the sparks didn’t burn my belly. It might have been winters unloading furniture trucks with a wind chill factor of eighty below zero outside which limited our time outdoors to ten minute stretches at best.

Whatever happened to making the kids work while growing up? I think what happened was too much screen time, fear of hurting the little ones feelings by pushing them and wanting to be their best friend instead of a parent with all the trials and tribulations that are a part of that job.

Florence's curio shop

Beginning at age six, Sharon was working alongside her father doing farm chores. She continued that pattern by working in her Aunt’s curio shop on the North Shore, summer waitressing jobs, and receptionist work all during college. After graduation, it was a series of extra tasks associated with her teaching career until local and national politics grabbed the lion’s share of her attention.

Brian and Melanie haven’t had a problem putting their kids to work with chores around the house and other assorted tasks outside. When Brennan and Charlotte come to visit Nana and Papa there are always projects to complete outside. Thus far, it hasn’t seemed to have hurt or maimed them in any way.

Whatever happened to old fashion hustle?  I’m sure I’m dating myself but it’s almost as if ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘outdated’ are dirty words now. The idea that the old way of doing things has now been replaced by algorithms and screen time is as outdated as the notion that ‘new’ is really new.

The Colorado twins were on skis while still in diapers and doing black diamonds shortly thereafter. Each of them following the lead of their older sister. Brian knew that if that’s what his kids wanted, they’d have to hustle for it…and they did exactly that.

Borrowing liberally from an excellent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune by guest columnist Harvey Mackay:

“There are a number of attributes a person needs to succeed in life. Two of them are outside of our control – talent and luck. Hustle is the third component, and it can definitely be developed and cultivated.” He goes on to say: “Good things may come to those who wait, but only those things left by people who hustle. I’ve always felt that it doesn’t take special ability to hustle, just a burning desire to get ahead. Anything you lack in talent can be made up with desire.” That’s exactly the message I’m trying to get across to my grandchildren. ‘Thank you, Harvey Mackay.’

The past does repeat itself. New today is old tomorrow. But basic values like truth and honesty and real work are as basic as the oxygen we breathe every moment of our lives. As old-fashioned and outdated as we often saw our parents and grandparents, their simplistic take on the world still holds value today.

The only down side of hard labor are sore muscles and exhaustion. Both will pass but the knowledge that one hustled and persisted is something you can hold on to forever.  I want that for my children and their children. It’s a nice legacy to have.