I’m Not Lost!

Scarf1I walked downtown this morning to make a bank deposit, return a book to the library, and send a Christmas package to a dear friend. The walk was lovely with old lampposts decorated in garland and red ribbons. But something was a bit different on the next lamppost I approached.

A scarf was wrapped around it with a note attached that read: “I’m not lost! If you find yourself in the cold, take this to keep yourself warm!”

I witnessed Christmas in action. The brand new, warm scarf being made available for someone in need was a great demonstration of unconditional love. The recipient’s finances or lack thereof wouldn’t be judged, nor would the gift leverage a lesson to illuminate their poor choices or lifestyle. The gift was given out of grace alone with no strings attached.

The kind donor deserved to be blessed for such an act of kindness, but the generous gift was anonymous. Joy filled my soul as I thought how fun it would be to determine what I could provide. A spark of imagination flooded my thoughts as I walked further down the street.

Scarf2Then I spotted another scarf, and another. Glancing across the street I noticed others scattered among various lampposts. The Christmas cheer was plentiful and I wondered how long it would be until those in need received comfort and warmth. I turned back to my path and continued toward the library.

A man huddled in the small alley between buildings acknowledged me. He was wearing old, dirty clothes that were dark blue and charcoal in color. His hat looked well worn and grungy, but the bright yellow and green scarf wrapped around his neck was brand new. He had watched me take pictures of the scarfs around the lampposts and smiled as he nodded with his hand patting the new scarf.

Next to the library sat another homeless man. His dark brown clothes were as dirty as one might expect, with the exception of the bright red scarf around his neck. I smiled at him and wished him a Merry Christmas. He returned the greeting as he adjusted his scarf to reveal his huge smile.

I had seen Christmas this morning and I felt compelled to share the experience. While you might not have homeless people in your town, I’m sure there is someone in need this winter that would love to smile from a demonstration of unconditional love. Maybe an elderly woman needs an errand done, or a sick child needs a new stuffed animal for play.

The answers are as numerous as the needs that rise out of the blue. Taking action to demonstrate love not only helps the recipient, but also encourages others to act in a similar manner. This is the season of compassion and only you can do your part in turning someone’s holiday sorrows into a beaming smile.

Let me know what you decide to do to help others this season. I’d love to hear that there are lots of people who care enough to participate in being someone’s Christmas wish.

If I’ve spoken into your life, would you…

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Copyright 2017 by CJ Powers
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NaNoWriMo Turns Crazies into Winners

NaNo-2017-Winner-BadgeNational Novel Writing Month is about a half a million authors writing novels during the month of November worldwide. The organization provided numerous “write-in” locations for the competition. Some provided incentives, while others provided food and caffeine.

To cross the finish line each author had to write 50,000 words in 30 days, which takes a lot of encouragement from others. A little over 4,000 people in my general area attempted the daunting task. In my specific local area 440 writers went after the win. With only a day or so left to go, only 15 writers have crossed the finish line so far with about 20 positioned to do so if all continues as planned.

Right now I have the third highest number of words completed at 56,352 with hopes of crossing the 60,000 mark on Thursday. The first highest has 120,144 words and the second highest has 76,285 words. Or, a better way to view the stats is to consider the number of total words written by local authors in this area, which are 7,846,619 words written so far—The equivalent of 100 novels.

I remember back to November 6th, the day I started. I was six days behind schedule and that white sheet of blank paper was looking up at me wondering if I had enough creativity to toss 50,000 words onto the page in the remaining 24 days. The sensation I felt when I made that mental leap to move forward was intoxicating and a bit foolish.

Once reduced enough ideas to writing and the numbers got up to around 18,000 words, I wanted to quit. There was no reason to continue the exercise since I had no way of finishing, let alone find an audience to buy my finished book. But, I received encouragement from strangers who were also participating. To honor their words of encouragement, I put one foot in front of the other and pushed through.

When I hit around 24,000 words life was pressing against me and everything was falling apart. I had to quit, but my new friends cheered me on and I broke through the 25,000 word barrier. By the time I hit 26,000 words, I found myself captivated by the story and had to continue writing to see what happened next.

I received a winner’s t-shirt after hitting 50,000 words (Yes, I had won!) and found myself compelled to forgo my breaks and keep writing. I had to tweak the words and polish the story. Everything was working in the plot points and the character development was far better than I had expected. The adventure was exciting and the romance … let’s just say women are going to love it.

NaNoWriMoCoverBOOM! The explosion and raging flames licked up toward the crashed Cessna dangling in the tall trees over the level six rapids … A few guys might enjoy the action scenes. Oops, am I saying too much?

Hmm, do I share which of the two men win Brianna’s heart? Nah.

I couldn’t have written an entire novel in one month (first draft only—lots of rewrites ahead) without the encouragement of my new friends. Thank you! And, for those of you who might be interested in reading The Tree Jumper, I’ll have more details in a future post.

In the meantime, if you see an author who wrote a novel in November, do take time to congratulate them on a job well done. It’s an impossible task for normal people, but us crazy creatives are foolish enough to entertain the masses. Oh, and for those of you who think it’s easy, I’ll see you next November.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

NaNoWriMo Spurs On Creativity

Spiderman_NotebookThis month I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo along with over 400,000 other creative people across the world. Within a 10-15 mile radius of where I live 4,068 people are participating in National Novel Writing Month. Each writer is committed to pen a 50,000 word first draft novel by the end of November.

This national event was founded in 1999 and has since gone international. It is a great way to stretch one’s creativity and dream up an adventure that future fans would be interested in reading. My novel is titled: Tree Jumper. It’s a young adult novel that carries a conservative theme about unconditional love.

During the process, numerous area libraries have supported NaNoWriMo with Write-Ins. Last Friday after the library in a nearby town closed for the night, NaNoWriMo authors got to sneak back in and write until we dropped. For me it was about 2,400 words. We had three writing competitions of which I took first place during the last heat. My prize was a Spiderman journal and pen.

We celebrated everyone’s success and the library provided free pizza to keep us fueled for the three-hour evening. We even had virtual authors show up via an Internet connection that allowed us to communicate and track each other’s efforts. The coolest part was supporting each other’s achievements.

Writing a novel is no small task. To hit the first draft writing goal of 50,000 words, we each have to write an average of about 1,700 words a day. That works out to two hours of writing a day for topics familiar to the author. Any research or story structure work requires more hours. Character development is also additional time spent. Not to mention all the rewrites necessary to make a title sales worthy.

The goal for most of us participating is to refine and expand our creativity. In fact, after talking with several of the authors, I felt like my story was the least creative. That’s right, Mr. Creativity was the least creative. But don’t let that idea fool you, as my story will surprise you at least seven or eight times. Being the least creative in the room didn’t stop me from creating a great adventure ride for my readers.

Let me know if anyone is interested in reading my novel once it’s finished. I plan to release it in the beginning of 2018. If there is enough of you that would like a copy, I’ll set up a presale program that will keep you up to date. In the meantime, I’ll accept any encouraging words as I endeavor to meet the monstrous goal of completing my first draft by end of month.

Copyright © 2017 by CJ Powers

#NaNoWriMo

Creativity: Gift or Craft

I heard a podcast with stand up comedians Ken Davis and Bob Stromberg talking about creativity. The one thing that stood out worth sharing was that neither man felt creativity was a gift. To clarify, they defined the “gift” as the capacity and desire to create, while they said “creativity” is a learned craft that everyone can practice.

I agree that everyone can be creative especially when following these 5 practical steps that I use:

1. Capture

The first step in being creative is capturing the things that stir the emotions. When I capture in a quick note or sketch the thing that impacted me or moved me, I’m able to remember it and give it my full consideration.

2. Explore

Once I’ve captured the moment, I then explore why it touched me. I ask myself questions in an attempt to learn the truth about why I felt the humorous or dramatic moment.

3. Birth an Idea

When I contemplate or meditate on the very thing that I chose to explore, new creative ideas pop into my mind. The one that makes the greatest impression fuels the fire of passion, giving me an opportunity to flesh out the concept in the form of an artistic expression.

4. Play

People stop being creative when they stop playing. It’s therefore important to play around with variations of the new artistic idea. Rather than searching for the one “right” answer to present, playfulness requires exploring multiple right answers to find the most entertaining one that clarifies the message.

5. Polish

Assessing the presentation or performance with a test audience helps me figure out what worked and what didn’t work. More importantly, I learn what the audience understood or missed. This new gained knowledge gives me a chance to tweak and polish my creative idea for its final and official production.

Being creative is a choice that requires a playful viewpoint while developing the craft. Everyone is capable of being creative, but not everyone chooses to work hard at capturing the emotional elements required to be successful. Fortunately the first step is child’s play, which everyone is capable of because we all know what its like having been a child.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Creatives Are Driven To Live

OklahomaBill Hybels, a legendary spiritual leader, once talked about a “holy discontentment” and how it drives the spiritual to continually look for ways to help others. Choreographer Martha Graham spoke of an artist’s “divine dissatisfaction” that drives all creative work.

Prose writer Rachel Carson also spoke of this unrest that leads to creative activity, “No writer can stand still. He continues to create or he perishes. Each task completed carries its own obligation to go on to something new.”

Dancer and choreographer Agnes De Mille, known for her original choreography in Oklahoma!, a musical that generated numerous awards including a record setting 2,212 performances, found herself struggling with her “fairly good work” when critics touted it as a “flamboyant success.”

De Mille received clarity concerning this disconnect in her life when she bumped into Graham and shared her sense of dissatisfaction. De Mille started the conversation with a confession that she had a burning desire to be excellent, but had no faith to achieve it.

Graham: “There is vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”

De Mille: “But, when I see my work, I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”

Graham: “No artist is pleased.”

De Mille: “But then there is no satisfaction?”

Graham: “No satisfaction whatever at any time, there is only queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

Graham and Hybels had hit on something fascinating. Both saw the activity rising from creative discontentment as divinely inspired for the good of others. While artists long for satisfaction with their work, the blessed only receive a drive to move on to another work.

Julia Cameron, known as a artist, poet, playwright, novelist, filmmaker, composer, journalist and teacher, learned through her studies of the human condition that, “Art is a spiritual transaction. Artists are visionaries. We routinely practice a form of faith, seeing clearly and moving toward a creative goal that shimmers in the distance—often visible to us, but invisible to those around us.”

When I meditate on what I’ve observed, whether information from life or scripture, and many times the combination of both, I receive a divine awareness that helps me to understand a perspective that most have never considered. The excitement contained within the moment drives me to share it with others. But they don’t get it.

The only way for people to understand what I’ve seen is to create art that can demonstrate it or move a person to consider something outside of their reality. It therefore compels me to create art, always hoping it reaches the people it was intended to reach.

This continual drive that most of my friends label as passion, breathes life into me daily. It forces me to try and try again so everyone gets the gift of understanding that I received, but my attempts always fall short. The cycle begins again and again. While I can’t complain because of the life that stirs within me, I am always dissatisfied in my feeble ability to communicate such an important understanding.

And there lies the truth of an artist’s dilemma. Filled with life overflowing, always driven, but never arriving with any form of satisfaction. I’ll call this curse a blessing for it is who I am.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

 

 

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Creative Child’s Game Simplifies Value Decisions

How to Assign Value to Disparate Projects for Equal Consideration

Have you ever wanted to know which project to start next? Did you get frustrated comparing unrelated activities in an attempt to determine which provided the greatest value? The solution is as simple as a child’s game.

No, I’m not talking about a Six Sigma Pugh Concept Matrix to determine which potential alternative solution can more quickly and easily be engineered into a viable product for just-in-time manufacturing.

I’m talking about a simple game that boutique tech businesses use to prioritize projects by overall value.

It’s called a weighted decision matrix and its fun to use.

Picture a simple table with the name of the projects listed down the far left column. Across the top of each column is the criteria that you’ll use to measure a projects overall value. Where each project and column intersects are the letters H, M, and L. The far right column holds the total of the criteria scores for each project.

Slide1

STEP ONE:

Name each project in the first column. Name the criteria being considered at the top of each column.

The H M and L represent the importance level of the criteria for the project—giving it a high, medium or low level of importance for each particular criterion. Circle the level of importance that each project holds based on the given criteria.

Slide2

 

STEP TWO:

Give a value to each H, M and L. With less complex decisions I use the following values: H=4, M=2, and L=1. If the decision is more complex I use: H=9, M=3, and L=1. Then total the score by adding the values from each cell. The decision is obvious—I need to write a blog on Decision Matrix (see below table).

Slide3

 

But many times life is not so simple because some criteria are more important than others, which requires some form of weighting.

STEP THREE:

When criteria are not equal, a numeric value must be attached that will work as a multiplier. I use a 5-point scale to make sure each criteria receives its due credit or strength in the formula. However, when sorting through a large number of projects, I switch to a 10-point scale in order to pick up on the value of subtle nuances for each criterion.

In the below table I’ve given each criteria a numerical value. In the first cell the M was circled and is valued as a 2. I then multiply it with the weighted criterion value of 4 and get a new total cell value of 8. Each cell is added together for a total score of 40.

Slide4

The weighting has clarified what’s more important and shifted the score to a tie. In this case I would’ve been better off using the larger spread of values: H=9, M=3, and L=1 as in the below table. However, the scoring is so close that the decision of what blog to write had an original score of 10, shifted to a tie, followed by coming in second place (see below table).

Slide5

Here’s where the game gets tricky. You have to be totally honest with yourself whenever assigning values to what’s important. Deciding between H, M, L is pretty easy, but the choice is more difficult with a 5-point criteria value—even more tricky with a 10-point value.

In the table below I changed the weighted amount for the third criterion from 3 to 4. Why? Well, since most of my readers run families, small businesses and departments, I thought the category should hold a higher level of importance.

Slide6

Now look at what happened to the scores. The numbers made the decision very clear, but only because I was being truthful about the third column’s actual value of importance.

WARNING: As in all games that use numbers, a person can cheat to make things read anyway they want, which defeats the purpose of playing.

STEP 1A:

It’s important to use only the criteria that are truly important to a project. Extra criteria that’s not seriously weighted only complicates your decision making process.

If you’re an artist, consider some of these criteria:

• Passion Zone
• Stretch Comfort Levels
• Gain Knowledge
• Generate Money
• Advance Career
• Network Expansion
• Develop Skills
• Touch Lives
• Build Relationships
• Fun & Games

The above factors can all impact a decision for an artist deciding whether or not he or she is interested in signing on to a film project. Sometimes it’s worth doing if it expands your network or you can learn something significant from the experience. Other times making money is the number one weighted factor.

In business, other criteria might be considered like:

• Meets Objectives
• Forwards Career
• Meets Boss’ Bonus Requirements
• Generates Commission
• Creates Double Digit Growth

The above list can go on and on, but the idea is sound. Figuring out what criteria is important for the projects being considered helps change the decision from an aggravating dilemma to a child’s game that’s easy to solve with a quick hand written table or spreadsheet.

Members of different departments that make up a special team can also play this game. Each can add a few criteria to the table to make sure their area of expertise is well considered by the decision maker.

The biggest decision I faced was sorting through 11 projects with 32 criteria. Thankfully it was on an automated spreadsheet and the answers were quick and sound.

Let me know what other games or tools you use to decide which project should be next.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Crisis Energy to Feed Stamina

Turning the Adrenaline Rush of a Disaster into Energy for the Solution

Years ago my company created art for a museum that had a specific deadline. Everything needed to be mounted and in place for the grand opening of the new display. The press was coming out in full force and the curator just hung up the phone after pushing me for a specific delivery time. He made it clear that I had 42 minutes left to deliver the final artwork.

Museum_PhotoI felt my muscles tighten and worried about the onset of a heart attack, even though I had no family history. The emotional drama within my body felt like a tsunami was collapsing all around me and I was unable to surface for a breath of air. The worst pressure came while I waited for the subcontractor to finish the arduous process of laminating the art to meet ultra high museum archival standards.

Everything around me started to waver and the room sounds dropped to a deafening quiet—I was passing out. I asked the person next to me if she would mind me lying down on the floor. She looked concerned and nodded a willing “yes.” I dropped to the floor, turned onto my back and wondered how I got in such a spot.

Staring up at the lights was a weird phenomenon, especially when I realized that there were four things that I could do to change my response to the circumstances.

Accept the Worst – Everyone who feels they are falling into an abyss of the unknown needs a solid baseline from which to start their recovery. By accepting the worst-case scenario that my imagination could realistically paint, I was able to stop the sense of pending doom. I no longer felt like I was in a free fall and could work on my choice of thoughts.

Change the Perspective – Turning the corner from a negative perspective to a positive one forces my feelings to follow. A small sense of glee rises when a person stops thinking about their cup of lemonade being half gone and decides to savor a second half-cup more of delight. The positive person can even pick up on how the second half of the drink tastes a tad sweeter due to the sugar settling over time.

Release the Rigid – Facts typically raise its ugly head the moment a person tries to see an opportunity in its best light. After all, we’re taught from an early age to think logically about the situation when a swift deadline appears to be statistically out of reach. The choice to turn the ridged facts into a moment of flexibility brings relief and experimentation—the very thing that fuels creativity and solutions.

Think Creatively – Taking advantage of the freedom found in flexibility energizes the creative soul to see the circumstances as an opportunity to be a hero. Once pulled off, the client will trust their vendor no matter how unrealistic the schedule. And, they’ll even be willing to pay higher dollars for “miracles” knowing the job will get done right and on time.

Strength surged through my bones as I stood up and brushed the dirt from my slacks. I suddenly had the stamina to complete the task and I was ready to be a hero. I had the opportunity to prove my team’s skills and commitment levels. Oddly enough, I also felt comfortable in the middle of the calamity.

Within seconds the subcontractor handed me the pieces of art and apologized for the delay. I thanked him and smiled when he handed me the invoice that read “No Charge.” He thanked me for the opportunity and asked that I consider his firm for future work.

I pulled into the customer’s loading dock and was met by specialists who care for archival quality art. They were ecstatic that the quality exceeded their requirements and worked diligently to install the new display.

The client pulled me to the side and apologized for the pressure he had placed on our team. He learned ten minutes prior that his boss gave an earlier deadline to avoid being embarrassed in front of the media.

I left with a large check that included a bonus. More importantly, I left more capable of managing my emotions based on choice, rather than arbitrary circumstances. And, I had learned how to turn crisis energy into the stamina necessary to complete a project in the midst of turmoil.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

 

 

 

 

 

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