Recording my newest album hit an unexpected snag. All of the songs were written. All of the instruments were recorded, and then, boom. Upper respiratory infection. Vocals were not happening. Like, for awhile. I’ve been shut down for a month and a half. 😦
The good news? I’m getting better. I’m probably going to restart tracking vocals this week. But, what do you do when you can’t be musically creative?
You be creative any way you can.
In the downtime, I’ve started a novel, worked on producing a board game, and started playing with my church’s praise and worship band. These things have helped me to not lose my mind while I have been unable to work on The Lesson of I.
Be creative any way you can.
The concept is golden. I can’t divulge much, because you will gradually uncover these things as the book progresses – and I don’t want to ruin that! (Should you actually ever read it, that is.) I have never actually completed a novel, so I am hesitant to promise its release. But, so far, so good. I’ve had a lot of help.
This tutorial from Dan Harmon was incredibly eye opening on how the magic of storytelling is accomplished. Some PG-13 language warning, by the way. I mean, I knew some simple concepts, like all story is conflict. Otherwise, it’s “happily ever after.” But Harmon takes this all a step or two farther. This chart above, he claims, isn’t just how to write a good story. It is the very definition of a story. In other words, without it, it is almost impossible to even recognize something as a story. Fascinating.
All story is conflict, otherwise it’s “happily ever after.”
I’ve also been aided tremendously from the Better Novel Project and YouTube channels, like this one. If writing a novel is an unfulfilled dream of yours, I encourage you to go for it. There has never been more resources readily available to assist you.
The Board Game
Around the year 2000, I designed a medieval era warfare board game named Castle Valley. I repurposed some old Stratego game pieces, gathered a plethora of colored dice and sketched out a game map of a 20×20 grid onto yellow construction paper. I even laminated it! I typed up the rules in Microsoft Word and played several heated games with my wonderful wifey. I know everyone believes their ideas and creations are great, but I truly think this game is amazing and deserves a wider audience. That being said, I put the project on the back burner back then and promised myself eventually I’d seek out a way to publish the game. That hadn’t happened until recently.
Around a month ago, my son Logan discovered the bag of repurposed Stratego pieces and asked me about them. This has evolved into a lengthy father/son odyssey determined to bring Castle Valley back to life. We have: designed 3D pieces for computer games and printing, tweaked gameplay, rewrote the rule book. Logan has even sourced out the materials we need to produce all of the components needed at home.
I’ve never successfully produced a board game, either. But, I am confident this project possesses every possibility for success. As a bonus, it has been a wonderful shared experience with my son. Look for additional news in the future on this, as well!
The Praise and Worship Band
It had been a few years since being on stage in any capacity. It is easy to forget the thrill of interacting with fellow musicians. I had missed it all. The camaraderie and hanging out backstage, the fun of learning new songs, the “live” experience of being “in the arena.” It’s good times.
I had been assisting in the sound booth, where my experience was most needed. However, a sudden lack of church guitarists necessitated at least a temporary change of responsibility.
Our church does the Hillsong, Bethel, Elevation stuff – as well as some originals. It’s simplistic, but also a great open canvas you can paint upon. I’ve enjoyed it, for sure!
Don’t Stop Being Creative!
When you hit a stop sign, ignore it.
When you hit a stop sign, ignore it. If you can’t break through, detour into something else! Don’t stop learning and improving yourself. Whether or not you reach your “goal,” or destination, you’re going to have more fun on the journey than the people who opted out!
I’ve recently hit over 1,200 paid streams on Pandora. Listen to the hottest single right here!
A congratulations is in order for my wife, Lora Bratton, who has successfully navigated the legal hurdles standing in the way of forming her non-profit organization.
She lives out Galations 6:9, the scripture where it says, “be not weary in well doing.” As long as I have known her, she has always had her hand toward making the world better for someone less fortunate. Now, she has her own organization to grow and lead for that purpose.
Our children and I are happy to have the opportunity to serve alongside Lora as we fulfill the mission to bring resources, empowerment, and purpose to the neglected by demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ through hope, education, and the arts.
I hope you find a moment to visit the website, take a look at what we are doing, and consider partnering with us as we minister to some of the communities and neighborhoods that need it the most!
I think the very best times of elementary school were the days when the Scholastic Books orders came in. Ah, nothing like that wood pulp smell. I’m getting a little teary just thinking about it. 😉
I was blessed enough to have been born to a reasonably well-off family with an appreciation for the importance of reading. I typically had carte blanche to choose as many books as I thought I could actually read.
Rarely did I get a book I did not enjoy. They were all very, very good. But for me, the creme de la creme of the Scholastic library was the Choose Your Own Adventure series. I am not at all surprised to see they are still quite active and going strong.
So, just the other day I was in my attic and saw my forgotten collection of classic Choose Your Own Adventure books. I grabbed the closest one.
It’s a little beat up and well-loved, but more or less intact. I scanned the title page to see when it was produced.
My naturally curious mind demanded a little digging. I found an author named Sean Munger who wrote an incredibly in-depth review which filled in a lot of blanks concerning the real-life story the book was based upon. This was great reading, but not really where my interest was centered.
I’ve attempted this in the past, but fell short of my goals. Taking on a 700 page novel proved to be too great a task for me. The Case of the Silk King however, only weighed in at a slim and trim 115.
This didn’t seem so daunting. I wondered, was this something I could do with my existing time and talent stack?
I needed to figure out what makes a Choose Your Own Adventure book tick. Just reading a few dozen of them isn’t the same as forensically analyzing one under a microscope. This time-tested process is a oft-overlooked key to obtaining real knowledge and understanding. So, let’s get started!
“You” are the star of the story. You are a young girl who operates a well-known detective agency. You receive a mysterious package in the mail directing you to investigate the disappearance of an American businessman in Thailand. You are immediately tasked with deciding to trust the anonymous sender and boarding an international flight, or staying home and trying to find out more about the case from there.
This drops you right into a world of mystery with two reasonable choices. A bold choice, and a cautious choice. This ‘bold or cautious’ motif occurs often throughout the book.
Little time is spent establishing extensive character backstories. This seems appropriate, sense the story is about “you.” No need to agonize over the protagonist’s motives and aspirations. “You” already know them! The author quickly gets into the action while allowing your imagination to fill in any missing detail.
By the way, if you want a copy of your own, there is a modern remake of the same story available here.
The cover boasts of “19 Possible Endings.” I decided to read and grade each one based on quality of “your” life and the fulfillment of the stated objective. My results were very interesting.
No ending scored an “A,” in my opinion.
The most shocking finding is that there is no “home run” ending. I suppose this keeps the fictional story in line with its real-life unsolvable counterpart, but that did not mitigate my surprise. I wondered if withholding an A+ result could keep eager readers longer engaged in the story? Perhaps they hoped you would go down each and every rabbit hole searching for a better result?
In the back of my mind, I assumed as a game maker, you were obligated to provide an opportunity to “win.” Dissecting this story turned this idea on its head. Interesting.
Also interesting from a cultural perspective was the writer’s willingness to graphically kill the main character. (You.) It even boasts on the back cover, “You might find yourself dumped into a snakepit or fed to the sharks.” This seems to harken back to a less-snowflakey time. I wonder if the modern remake tempers the violent endings a bit?
But, what is the path to arrive at these endings?
The Decision Tree
First, let me explain the chart. You start at the top on page 1. You go down the next two pages, 2 and 3, and then you leap over to page 8 where you are faced with your first decision. This comes at the 4th page you read, as indicated by the leftmost column. You must then decide to turn to page 4 or 12 to continue your story.
Now, some facts the tree illuminates:
The “Best” Endings
There is a “best” ending down each of the major trunks of the decision tree. They are highlighted in green. This means you do not doom yourself with your first choice of the game.
The number of “correct” choices you must make to arrive at one of the best conclusions are 6, and 5, respectively.
Choices Made Per Game
There is one possible ending that can be reached by making only 2 choices. There are 2 endings that occur after 3 choices. The most popular choice length is 5. The range is 2-6 choices, with 4.68 being the average.
Pages Read Per Ending
There is a broad range of story lengths. You could read as few as 11 pages, or as many as 25. There is a fairly even distribution, averaging out to 18.68 written pages per adventure. But the story isn’t only told in words.
There are 25 high quality, full-page black and white drawings by Frank Bolle sprinkled throughout the book. That means almost 22% of the book is illustrated. In addition, there are 3 pages where artwork and text coexist.
I think it would be difficult to overstate how important these drawings were in providing the immersion necessary to become emotionally invested within the story. Perhaps, if I want to pull one of these things off, I’m going to need to brush up on my drawing skillz.
I counted a little over 20 characters. Only a dozen or so are given names. Many of the characters fill obvious roles, simplifying the verbiage needed to describe their significance. For example, a Librarian, a Police Chief, etc. Remember, the author is attempting to convey a complete story within 11-25 pages. Brevity is essential! With that in mind…
Average story is 4.68 choices, 18.68 pages, and has a 61% chance of reaching a “bad” ending
The “best” endings require many “right” choices
Don’t take too long establishing the story
Start with the hook (mysterious envelope, immediate choice)
Often offer the option to be bold or cautious
Keep characters mostly one-dimensional
You don’t have to offer a “100% win” conclusion
Good artwork is as important as a good story
I have no idea what copyright claims the Choose Your Own Adventure series may hold precluding any commercial use. My interest in one day formulating a story experience is not motivated by money, however. Maybe I can resurrect “Ricky Rockstar” to, I don’t know, …Rock Your Own Way On The Road…
Don’t worry, I doubt I’ll attempt to make you pay to play out Ricky’s adventures. I’ll probably just add some links at the bottom to my music…umm, like I’m doing now.
Here is his concept told in my own way, which I am sure he elaborates upon with much more eloquence in his new book:
So, here goes.
When I was a kid, I put posters up on my walls of people I thought were the best in the world. Mine were mostly guitarists. Maybe yours were sports stars, or super models.
I aspired to be the greatest, just like them. Maybe you did, too.
What happened? If you relentlessly ran after your dreams, and had enough genetic and environmental fortuitousness, you probably got pretty good at whatever that was. I believe I can say without too much boasting, I have become a world-class guitarist. But, greatest in the world? Ummm, no. Not by a long shot.
So, is that dream even still achievable? It is not completely impossible, but even if I were to muster up a 10-year dedication to 24/7 day-to-night boot camps of practicing scales, soloing, and other related skills; I would only reasonably expect to end up somewhere within the top 1,000 of guitar players worldwide when all was said and done. And, I’m guessing that if you started naming every guitar player you ever knew – including your weird uncle, and that guy from that band you used to go to school with – you’d be hard pressed to list even 100 guitar players without consulting the Google box.
So, am I saying dedication to becoming the best in the world at a skill is a waste of time? Of course not. But, what I am saying is that it is a very impractical way to develop marketable value.
For many skills, there isn’t even 100 people earning a living doing what they are the greatest in the world at. Take the chess world, for instance. Most people regard the study of chess as a noble pursuit, and consider top tier players to be walking geniuses. That skill does not equal automatic riches, however, unless you are playing for World Championships. This article lists potential earnings for chess players close to the bottom of the top-100 as potentially earning $50-70k annually, and then, only if they were to maximize their talent’s value in giving lessons, writing books, and hustling.
So, yeah, brevity. I need to get to the point.
The First Benchmark – Top 10% of the general population
It is insanely hard to become the best at anything. Conversely, it is insanely easy to be in the top 5%-10% of a skill compared to the general population. Quite often, simply habitually doing the skill will be enough. I will attempt to not bore you with statistics, but what percentage of the population do you believe routinely takes an easel out by the lake and paints landscapes? A tenth of one percent? Less?
Just purchasing the supplies needed to get started puts you reasonably close to the magical 10% mark! With even marginal intelligence and aptitude, you would sail into the upper-echelons of the general population within just a matter of weeks.
The problem begins when we stop comparing ourselves to the general population, and start comparing ourselves to the masters of our chosen field.
My wife and I threw a painting party for our kids. We built a couple dozen wooden easels, bought a crapload of paint and brushes, and let the kids go at it.
I can honestly say, I was super impressed with the group effort that came out of that experience. I thought the work was extremely talented. That being said, I do not paint professionally. I do recognize the fact that nothing looked quite as elaborate as Mr. Ross’ efforts seen above – but that didn’t make the kid’s paintings garbage. In fact, that one night of painting was probably enough to put them ahead of about 50-60% of the population who has never painted at all.
The Second Benchmark – Top 50% of skilled practitioners
Reaching this second benchmark is also an achievable reality. You don’t need much but passion and determination. Reaching this second benchmark is even possible in sports if you are at a genetic disadvantage. This is the classic, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” scenario.
You should expect to only spend 6 months to a year to reach this milestone. You see, the skill level of people in your chosen field usually follows the classic bell curve.
The people you pass at the -2 and -1 deviations are not even actively pursuing the skill. You will pass them so fast, your head will spin. Most of the people that populate that 34% between the -1 deviation and your 50% milestone are completely stagnant in their education and advancement. You, on the other hand, are improving every day! Reaching the midpoint is simply a matter of will. Making further progress, however, is not an easy endeavor.
The Third Benchmark – World-Class (top 5-10% of skilled practitioners)
There is a multitude of material about this subject. In the interest of brevity again…
(Geez, I know, I know…)
It takes 10 years and/or 10,000 repetitions to become world-class
The classic belief is it takes at least 10 years and/or 10,000 repetitions to become world-class at any skill. If you want to go past that, and attempt to become the greatest in the world at that talent, well, good luck. But, this column is not about that. In fact, it is about how every one of us has the potential to become valuable in our own way, at this same world-class level.
The Talent Stack
Back to Scott Adams. He says there’s 2 ways to make yourself valuable. The first way is to be like Tiger Woods, and be the best in the world at something. That isn’t achievable for most of us. The second way is to develop a variety of skills that work well together. He calls this your “talent stack.”
Perhaps it would behoove you to start listing out your talent stack as it stands today?
I just finished recording my 3rd CD. I did each of these completely by myself. Without really thinking about it, I developed a complimentary talent stack in pursuit of this goal. I have educated myself on audio engineering. I have learned to play a variety of instruments other than the guitar. I have learned to sing. I studied songwriting and arranging. I learned enough about computers to build the machine I use to record. I watched some Photoshop tutorials so I could design my album covers. I worked enough with visuals to be able to create lyric videos for YouTube. And, I did just enough carpentry to be able to assemble a rudimentary work desk to hold it all together.
To market my music, I put together this basic website and started actively participating in social media. I even started writing a weekly blog post full of valuable info to lure people in. ahem…
Now realize, I would consider NONE of these skills to be in the “world-class” category. Some barely pass the ‘greater than 90% of the population’ mark! Nevertheless, here I am with my 3rd completed project in hand.
What if I waited until I was world-class at each skill before attempting my first project?
Trick question. I don’t think it is even possible to become world-class at anything without exercising that skill in a real-world way. The short answer however would be, you’d still be waiting for project 1.
Most successful people you know are not the best in the world at any one thing. Some talents, like persuasion or charisma, are actually a collection of various social abilities and can be difficult to measure. For example, here is Mr. Adams’ take on our President-elect.
I think Scott Adams may be short-changing Trump’s negotiating ability a bit. Very few people on this planet work out multi-million dollar deals with any sort of regularity. So, that may be at a world-class level, but the rest most certainly is not. No matter what you think of him, this humble talent stack (and a corrupt DNC) won him the most powerful office on Earth.
Your talent stack, when laid out on paper, is probably equally impressive to Mr. Trumps. It may even look much, much better. If it isn’t, we’ve already discovered it isn’t too difficult to improve your talent stacks with minimal effort. Get to it!
Your collection of abilities probably make you pretty uniquely valuable already.
I personally chased after skills in pursuit of a goal. Is there a skill set you could learn that would make a dream goal possible?
Could your skills work well together to create something useful?
Also, apparently I have some work to do on my talent for brevity… But, since you’re still here, you should… (follow the instructions below the line)
Pre-order your copy of Gregory’s new CD, Almost Alive, on iTunes.
I am surrounded by amazing, talented, creative people. Being around amazing, talented, creative people is infectious.
Within the small community of City Church Savannah, I have been afforded the friendship of individuals who have worked on major Hollywood films, people who have taken creative jobs with Pixar and Disney, a young man who was mentored by John Legend, and a team of award-winning filmmakers. The bar is set high if you want to garner any praise or attention within my circle of friends. The entry level is literally, world-class. I am not certain how many places outside of Nashville or Hollywood can boast such a population glut of talent.
It was one of these talented people who led me to write this column. Dylan is a captivating soulful vocalist and an exceptionally smart guitarist. I knew these things. What I didn’t know was that he is also an avid doodler. With a wide-eyed excitement, he showed me a diverse cast of hand-drawn characters he has been creating over the last few days. Now keep in mind, one of Dylan’s roommates is a prestigous art college graduate with a major in animation. And while Dylan seems to possess a raw artistic ability, I believe he would be the first to admit he is still early on in his study of the craft.
The more I thought about Dylan’s doodle endeavors, the more mental health benefits I began to realize in the idea of seeking out these new sorts of creative outlets.
REASON 1: CREATIVITY IS GOOD FOR YOUR WELL BEING
Dylan, as I said before, is a proficient guitarist. It would be easy and natural for him to express himself creatively on this instrument. Many years of discipline and practice got him to that point. It would also be natural, however, to wonder how someone who has successfully “climbed that skill mountain” as a musician could take pleasure as a novice artist, especially while surrounded with people who are more talented and experienced than he is. It reminds me of a story from Robert Fulghum’s book, Uh-Oh: Some Observations From Both Sides of the Refrigerator Door.
Ask a kindergarten class, “How many of you can draw?” and all hands shoot up. Yes, of course we can draw—all of us. What can you draw? Anything! How about a dog eating a fire truck in a jungle? Sure! How big you want it?
How many of you can sing? All hands. Of course we sing! What can you sing? Anything! What if you don’t know the words? No problem, we make them up. Let’s sing! Now? Why not!
How many of you dance? Unanimous again. What kind of music do you like to dance to? Any kind! Let’s dance! Now? Sure, why not?
Do you like to act in plays? Yes! Do you play musical instruments? Yes! Do you write poetry? Yes! Can you read and write and count? Yes! We’re learning that stuff now.
Their answer is Yes! Over and over again, Yes! The children are confident in spirit, infinite in resources, and eager to learn. Everything is still possible.
Try those same questions on a college audience. A small percentage of the students will raise their hands when asked if they draw or dance or sing or paint or act or play an instrument. Not infrequently, those who do raise their hands will want to qualify their response with their limitations: “I only play piano, I only draw horses, I only dance to rock and roll, I only sing in the shower.”
When asked why the limitations, college students answer they do not have talent, are not majoring in the subject, or have not done any of these things since about third grade, or worse, that they are embarrassed for others to see them sing or dance or act. You can imagine the response to the same questions asked of an older audience. The answer: No, none of the above.
What went wrong between kindergarten and college?
What happened to YES! of course I can?
And who can forget the words of Jesus written in Matthew 18:3?
Maybe that seems like a turbulent segue to you, but it truly is not. For we were CREATED in the image of our CREATOR. (Genesis 1:27-28) Creativity is interwoven within your very DNA because you were made ‘reflecting God’s nature.’ I even suspect that you might not achieve everything you were appointed to accomplish in this life until you purpose to unlock your inner creative potential.
…Creative activity contributes to successful aging by fostering a sense of competence, purpose, and growth. Artistic creativity also facilitates successful aging by encouraging the development of problem-solving skills, motivation, and perceptions that translate into a practical creativity in the way these individuals manage their everyday lives.
So yeah, back to Dylan and I discussing cartooning. I shared with him that waaaaay back when I was in music college I farted around with making a comic strip revolving around the lives of eager, yet hapless kids trying to start a rock and roll band. It was perhaps a way to laugh off the daily struggles of managing crazy musician personalities.
Class, meet Ricky Rockstar. (that’s his stage name, of course)
I confessed to Dylan that I was never able to convincingly draw my characters when they turned their heads. This made character interaction seem unnatural, and this ‘skill hurdle’ grew from a pesky obstacle into a decades-long stop sign. Upon hearing my struggles, Dylan excitedly found a pen and a scrap of paper, and began frantically drawing a series of 3D cylinders with rotated guide lines and features. In about 30 seconds, Dylan showed me how I could have overcome my limitations. And that brings me to the 2nd reason to create.
REASON 2: YOUR CREATIVITY CAN HELP OTHERS
You may have never stopped long enough to realize that practically every thing you experience each day was meticulously created for your consumption. You woke up in a bed that was designed for your maximum comfort. You took a shower thanks to a system of water treatment and distribution that didn’t ‘just happen.’ You brushed your teeth with a toothpaste that was specifically-formulated using ingredients from all over the planet to give you fresh breath. (at least I hope you did.) Then you put on clothes that may have went through a thousand tweaks and revisions during conceptualization. You may have taken a car or bus to work. That invention alone is a combination of a million ideas working in harmony to facilitate your safe arrival to your destination.
I could continue this, but I think you get it now. Your entire day is spent consuming the creativity of others. Even when we turn it all off and go enjoy nature, there is a supernatural hand at work. What I suggest, is for you take a break from consumption, and try a hand at production. Produce something. Make something out of nothing. There’s truly nothing like it.
I can hear you now. You’re never going to be able to learn to sing, play an instrument, write a novel, design a car… And even if you tried, no one would be blessed by it. My answer is simple. You are wrong. You may not have discovered it yet, but there are people desperate to consume what you are meant to produce. Finding out exactly what that looks like is one of the great mysteries and secrets of life.
Take my friend, Sarah, also originally from City Church. She is a top-notch vocalist – can harmonize on the fly, and leads worship with effortless command of the stage. But it was the blog she created that really blew me away. In it, she opens up about her struggles with bipolar disorder. Not just the sanitized Christiany parts we can all easily digest – but the real tortured struggle she fights each day.
That is such an inspiration to me. I am shamed by my struggles. I always attempt to project an image that I always have it together even when I do not. Sarah, on the other hand, is willing to open up about her private life for the betterment of others. And, that isn’t the only thing she writes about on her website. She also has recipes, detox, beauty tips, and a whole lot more! (check it out) She and her husband, Max, have created something capable of sharing her learned experiences with the entire world. This is valuable, and something worth emulating. And this leads us to the 3rd reason…
REASON 3: YOUR CREATIVITY IS VALUABLE
A funny thing happens when you become a producer. People start consuming your work. Some people may actually like it and begin seeking it out. This is wondrously fulfilling and presents opportunity for monetization. At this point, you should seek out a more business-minded person to maximize your earning potential. I am sadly not yet an expert in that field. 😉
That being said, it isn’t all sunshine and roses when you release your creation to the big, bad, ugly world. Be prepared for the haters. No matter what you make, some people won’t like it, get it, or want to be bothered by it. This is okay, and part of the process. Vincent van Gogh sold a grand total of 1 painting in his lifetime. Steven Spielberg was denied entry into USC’s film school twice. Dr. Suess’ first children’s book was rejected by 27 publishers.
How do you find the confidence and perseverance to mail out that 28th manuscript? I am not sure. I can tell you, as an artist, the compliments often mean little and the criticisms can hurt too much. It takes courage to create. This process makes you stronger. Strong people become leaders, and leaders are infinitely valuable – whether you get a paycheck for it or not. You can use this hard-earned personal value to greatly affect your world.
When you become mindful of what it is like to be a producer, you take this unique worldview with you into your daily consumer life. Did you really like that book you read from that independent author? Send him an email and let him know.
Is there someone on your social media who always goes the extra mile to make you laugh? Don’t just “like” it. Express to them how their efforts make your world a little better place.
Has this column inspired you to flex your dormant creative muscles? Awesome! Maybe then, you could…
Pre-order your copy of Gregory’s new CD, Almost Alive, on iTunes.