I have been thinking a lot about curiously wandering toward creative success, and also about bicycling as a metaphor, and so I read with great interest (as they say), this recent article in the NY Times, Living the Good Life on the Tour de Whatever (unlocked link). It’s about Ashton Lambie, a cyclist who has set world records and competes in new-to-me bike races like individual pursuit (a race in a wood, gravel, or grass velodrome) and randonneuring.
Rather than continually grinding toward bigger records in one type of race, Lambie tries different things. After he was the world individual pursuit champion, he said, “I already did that. Why do I need to do it again?” and now wants to “explore.” He even tried out for a racing sailboat team (apparently they power the winches on the boats with their legs, so why not?).
The article says his “exploration has been marked by what, from the outside, looks like failure.” He didn’t make the sailing team. He finished 105th in a race he had won a previous version of. “But Lambie does not feel he has failed. He sometimes looks at athletic achievements as a mountain to summit. He spent years climbing the mountain in track cycling, and he’s wary of immediately going for another summit.”
Ok, so this is good stuff, right? I love the idea of trying new things, of not locking in to one type of output just because it’s been successful in the past. For me, it would mean writing different types of books, not relying on the kinds of stories I’ve already done. I even like the term “individual pursuit,” which I know refers to a specific bike race, but it also sounds like a creative life goal. Let’s all be champions of individual pursuit. Let’s individually pursue our goals and dreams. We can work with other people, sure, but individual pursuit is what I’m most interested in. (Anyone who did all the work in a school group project understands the value of individual pursuit.) Lambie is (like Paul Simon, as we discussed earlier) following his curiosity, and working really hard.
And then there’s one more important point:
“Outdoor enthusiasts often refer to the fun scale, with three types of fun. Type I is something that is fun while it is happening, like eating cake; Type II is only fun in retrospect, like a hard workout; Type III is not fun at all.
Hughes, Lambie’s old boss from the bike shop, believes Lambie’s secret is that what is Type III fun for most people is Type II fun for him.”
A blog post about the fun scale on REI.com points out that which category you put an activity in is highly subjective. Clearly – since, in that blog post, they place “working out till you puke” as Type II fun, and “writing a book” as Type III fun, designations I would switch so hard I’d leave a bruise.
Categorizing fun doesn’t only have to be for outdoorsy activities. We can – and I am honestly excited about this – categorize our fun now. Surely the hard, fun work of writing has its own fun scale.
Here’s how I see it breaking down for me:
Type I: Fun texts to a friend. Story ideas I try even though they’re ridiculous. That last stage of editing when I’m rewriting for the perfect word or phrase. When the writing is flowing.
Type II: Stories I know can be good but which require a great deal of revision and exploration to finish. A hard draft or revision, but where I feel good about the book and my ability to pull it off.
Type III: When I’m working on an idea I’m not a good enough writer for yet. When I stubbornly keep trying to write a story that will likely never be good. When I’m trying for flow and I’m too tired/hungry/distracted/angry/sad to surrender to it.
What’s an ideal mix for a satisfying and successful writing life? I want the cake, I want the workout, I want the challenge. 40/50/10 between I, II, and III? 20/65/15? 80/15/5?
A few weeks ago, my daughter Ramona and I spent the day sewing. I made a skirt, she made a shirt. Toward the end of the day, when we were pushing on to finish our projects so we could clean up (because the sewing room is also my bedroom), Ramona said, “This is Type 1.5 fun, I think.” It’s possible she was being generous, that categorizing something as 1.5 is really saying “this is Type II but I’m pretending it’s more fun than it is.” And maybe there’s a place for that, too. Not as self deception, but as hope.
The point, as far as I can tell, is to keep pushing ourselves. I don’t know that writing ever needs to be grueling, but if it occasionally is very, very, hard, I think that’s ok. What I’m thinking about now is how to get to a place where what is Type III fun for other people (a complicated structure? a completely unexpected story?) feels like Type II to me, because I keep challenging myself and playing around in the space of hard and sometimes frustrating work. It’s about letting myself fail with a story to see what happens next. Creativity continues (especially this year, which is about quantity) to be about straddling the line between freedom and hope – the hope that, someday, these words will make their way into something I get paid for. Eventually I set the hope into its own bucket and I enjoy the freedom of writing and playing. Am I there yet? Sometimes. I continually build to this place of not worrying so much about succeeding, where I am enjoying the writing, the work, the play. I continue to push through the struggles (gently! with ease!) so that I know I’m able to, and then when I face another challenge/struggle/obstacle, I’ll have strengthened the muscles that let me work through to the other side. I do know that if something is more fun to write, it’s more fun to read, and that right there is motivation for building my writing muscles — so more of writing is fun for me.
How about you? What’s Type I, II, and III writing for you?
This is your reminder that you have until March 31 to try a paid subscription to Do the Work free for 30 days. I have some new fun things planned for paid posts:
A few weeks ago I got a book at a used bookstore, and it turned out to be a college creative writing textbook, and I’m working my way through the chapters and assignments, so one thing I’m going to share for some upcoming paid essays is my rundown of what the chapter was about, and some of the assignments. I never took a creative writing class in college, so it’s fun to do a DIY class. If that interests you, you might want to upgrade or grab the free trial toward the end of March (the essay will go up in April).
I’m also working on an online class about picture book revision (one of my favorite parts of writing!), and paying subscribers will get a discount code for that. I’m in the “finishing touches” stage of it, which is taking a while as there are ninety billion finishing touches. It’s coming, though, I promise. You can wait to see what that’s about before upgrading (or, like, you can not upgrade at all! I get it! I’m just being honest about what you get), since it won’t be ready by the end of March, probably.
Thoughts and Links
A24 is rereleasing Stop Making Sense in theaters, and this promo trailer is fun.
I love this comic/essay fromabout getting shampooed (and shampoo shamed) at the hairdresser. Relatedly, my own hairdresser once told me that the key to a good hair-washing is to get a scalp scrubber, and she was right. I used to have to wash my hair every day or else it was limp and sad, now I shampoo every other day, or even every two days. I got this one from the drugstore. I use dry shampoo on my not-washing days, usually the one from Lush because it smells like grapefruit and lime (second favorite is the one from Fat and the Moon, which smells like chocolate).
One thousand blessings onfor sharing Titanic with a Cat.
I was not familiar with poet Bernadette Mayer beforewrote about her -- she was a poet and has a list of "famous" writing prompts. I'm not a writing prompt lover, but these are good! I have now printed out the first few pages of the 1973 document they’re from, which is very 1973 looking, and the presence of its retro font on my desk is making me happy.
I have seen so much recently about the importance of dreams (and sleep!) to creativity. This article in Nautilus says the most creative time for brains is that transitional stage between being awake and being asleep: what scientists call N1, and what the French call “entre chien et loup” (between dog and wolf) (the French win this one). Interesting points: people with narcolepsy are often great at coming up with creative solutions or ideas, because they experience entre chien et loup several times a day. Crucially, also, “belief in one’s powers of creativity becomes self-fulfilling,” which in the article is talking specifically about getting inspired by dreams, but it applies to everything, probably. Some scientists tried to replicate Thomas Edison’s trick of taking a nap with a ball in his hand by napping with a plastic water bottle. It seemed to work. I love this idea, love the idea of a nap, and yet most days when I need a nap, I forget about it, and suddenly its dinnertime. Do you nap? Have you tried any of these methods to harness your dreams for creative purposes?
Books I read recently and loved
Disclosure: book links in this newsletter are affiliate links to Bookshop.org, a site which supports independent bookshops.
This week I read an advance copy of the graphic novel Saving Chupie, which is as cute as its cover. A girl goes to Puerto Rico to help her grandmother rebuild her restaurant, and she and some other kids catch the chupacabra that’s attacking livestock. But it’s a baby and it’s adorable.
I love how Little Free Libraries are a great way to find books an algorithm would never show me. I read The Psychopath Test thanks to a neighborhood LFL, and it was riveting and often hilarious. I was an annoying font of psychopath facts at dinnertime for several days while reading this.
I really loved Getting to Center — lots to think about as far as navigating the world as a creative and complicated human. You’ll like it if any of this appeals to you: boundaries, wonder, creating your own path, writing your own prayerful manifesto, learning to be nicer to yourself, figuring out who you are and how you are. You’ll also like it if you like the author, Marlee Grace’s, newsletter.
As someone who went to boarding school in New England, I devoured I Have Some Questions for You by. I went to NMH, where we had no murders, but which is name-checked in the book. Also the book isn't really about murder. Sort of. You'll have to read it.
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Love this post. Never heard this classification of Fun.
Type I: Final stages of revision. Or earlier stages where the light blub has gone off. Ideas in my notebook (few lines, a title that makes me laugh). Collecting/Analyzing feedback --> making to-do list.
Type II: Revising big picture items.
Type 2.5: Taking an existing polished story and having to break it apart and start over. First Drafts.
Type III: Not not knowing what to do or which way to go next. Overworked story.
I've known for some time that I write broadly. Now I have a new word to describe it: individual pursuit. I enjoy it but at the same time you are having to learn new skills every time, hence I feel it takes me longer to get a book to polished state. But I don't think I can or would want to write the same type of story again and again. It wouldn't hold my interest, I think.
Wow it is actually so helpful to think about fun on a scale this way. I think as an author/illustrator so much of my work is objectively "fun" but doesn't often feel like it in the moment, although sometimes it does. Now I have a clearer way of explaining this in my brain. Thank you!