An excerpt from Someday Is Today by Matthew Dicks | Posted 6/14/22
"Don't be fancy, just get dancy." —P!nk
* * *
I'm sitting beneath a small, leafless sapling on a concrete median in the middle of a parking lot in West Hartford, Connecticut.
My computer is resting on my lap, and I'm typing away when I hear someone call my name. I look up and see the parent of a former student approaching. She's pushing a cart filled with groceries and waving at me.
"Are you okay?" she asks.
"I'm fine," I say. "I'm writing."
"In the Whole Foods parking lot? On the ground?"
I shake my head and point to the building behind me. "No. I'm early for my dentist appointment. So I thought I'd squeeze in a little writing."
"Here?" she says. "On the median?"
"I didn't want to sit in my car," I say. "It's too nice a day. And the waiting room is even worse. All those chairs. Why so many chairs?"
She shakes her head and laughs. "I never envisioned you writing your books in the middle of a parking lot."
"Envisioned" is why I remember that moment so clearly in my mind's eye. It's the problem that faces so many people trying to create things and make their dreams come true: they envision a creative process that is idealized, unrealistic, cinematic, and inefficient.
If you want to make your dreams come true, a concrete median with a struggling, leafless sapling makes a perfect place to write a couple of pages before having your teeth cleaned. Any place that contains a reasonable amount of oxygen and terrestrial gravity works just fine. A concrete median is admittedly not ideal, but people who wait for the ideal circumstance in order to create usually die before their dreams are ever realized.
An author once told me about a writers' retreat in upstate New York where each writer is given a small well-appointed cabin in a forest glade in which to work. Breakfast and lunch are left in picnic baskets outside the cabin door, and in the evenings, writers gather for cocktails, a gourmet dinner, scintillating conversation, and a late-night campfire.
It sounds idyllic. It also sounds a little silly. A little much for my taste.
Don't get me wrong: I wouldn't complain if you want to gift me a week at this writers' retreat. I'll happily spend a few days in the woods on your dime, but I suspect that I could get a lot more work done by eliminating the four-hour drive to and from upstate New York and just sticking my rear on a parking-lot median instead.
If you want to make things as desperately as I do, you don't need picnic baskets full of warm treats, idyllic mountaintop settings, and whiskey-fueled campfires. I wrote the majority of this book at the end of my dining-room table, opposite my wife's laptop, surrounded by folded laundry, small piles of books, and sleeping cats.
Other locations included the desk in my classroom, a table on my deck, a flight to and from San Francisco, a fourteen-hour layover in the Detroit airport, several aging picnic tables adjacent to Little League fields, and a pavilion on the edge of Dunning Lake, where my family and I spend many a summer day.
Another author I know escapes the interruptions of her husband, children, and dogs by renting a room in a Holiday Inn Express less than a mile from her home for the weekend. She orders room service and writes until she is exhausted, then she collapses on the bed and sleeps. When she wakes up, she orders breakfast and resumes writing. No picnic baskets. No woodland settings. No roaring campfires. Just a cheap, clean room and a couple of days of peace and quiet.
This strikes me as far more sensible.
* * *
My friend Rachel recently told me about the joys of drinking a glass of bourbon while in the shower. This is, of course, a ridiculous idea.
Not ridiculous in concept. Even though I don't really drink anymore (and you know how I feel about showering), I certainly understand the desire to combine two passions in an effort to enhance an already beloved experience. In this way, the joy of a glass of bourbon paired with a shower is understandable. Sort of like watching my favorite movie while riding the exercise bike or devouring bacon-wrapped chicken at a tailgate before heading into the stadium to watch the Patriots beat up on the Jets.
As a concept, bourbon in the shower is fine. Not my thing but probably lovely for a certain type of person. But bourbon in the shower is indicative of something that seems to be gaining purchase in society that I would like to take a stand against: making something out of everything.
It's happening all around us, and it must stop.
Can you remember a time when guacamole was prepared in the restaurant's kitchen and delivered to your table by a member of the waitstaff rather than at your table by a member of the kitchen staff, momentarily stifling your conversation so you can watch someone do their job in a display that's ultimately meaningless and slightly awkward?
Remember when wedding receptions didn't require a signature drink named after the bride and groom?
Showers can just be soap and shampoo and water.
Coffee can simply be a beverage.
Soccer can be a sport that kids play after school and on Saturdays on the field around the block or even across town.
We are all important enough already. Life is sufficiently complex. There is already great meaning in simple things if you pay attention. There is no need to make food or drink or sports so ostentatious and grand that we impute undeserved meaning to them.
Things are already things. See them as such. Embrace them for what they already are.
This is important to you as a maker of things, because all too often, people who want to lead a creative life become ensnared in the perceived trappings of the creative life instead of the hard reality that gets things done. They forget that almost every person who ever created anything great did not have six hours per day at a farmhouse table made of reclaimed birch in a Manhattan Starbucks alongside a tall almond-milk latte, heated to 153 degrees, easy on the foam.
Creation requires going into the mines. Digging deep. Working hard. Getting your hands dirty. If your act of creation is an image fit for Instagram, you're probably doing it all wrong.
In the late 1980s, with a busy job as a lawyer and a wife and kids at home, John Grisham started to write his first novel. Every day for a span of three years, Grisham woke up at 5:00 a.m. to write a page of what would eventually become the bestselling novel A Time to Kill. His second novel, The Firm, was the breakout success that enabled Grisham to quit his day job.
Author Jeff Goins explains that Grisham became a writer by "stealing away a little time, thirty minutes to an hour each day. That was it. With a growing family and a new career, it would have been reckless to quit law and become a fulltime author. In fact, that wasn't even his goal; he was just writing to see if he could do it. He took one step at a time, and three years later he had a book."
On a delayed train from Manchester to London's King's Cross station, J. K. Rowling came up with the idea for her Harry Potter series. Over the next five years, she outlined the plots for seven books in the series, writing in longhand and amassing scraps of notes written on different papers. A single mom surviving on government benefits, she wrote when her child was asleep, at home, and in cafes, on an old-fashioned typewriter.
Back in 1976, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne started a business out of Jobs's parents' garage in Cupertino, California, putting together one of the first prototypes of their Apple personal computers. Though starting a business in a garage seems sexy today, there was nothing sexy about a garage in 1976. It was simply the cheapest solution to the problem of space.
Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and one of the wealthiest people in America, still lives in the same home in Omaha, Nebraska, that he bought in 1958 for $31,500. Buffett and I start our days similarly: a five-minute commute to work with a stop at McDonald's for breakfast.
Buffett purchases used cars and clips coupons, and when his first child was born, he converted a dresser drawer into a space for the baby to sleep instead of spending money on a bassinet. When his second child was born, he borrowed a crib rather than buying one.
Warren Buffett does not believe in ostentatiousness, pretentiousness, or extravagance. He spends his life building his company, increasing shareholder value, playing bridge, strumming a ukulele, and singing.
A true creator. A maker of things.
Remember: The thing you are making should be precious. It should be fancy-pants beyond compare. This makes sense. It's the thing that represents — it's the end product of — your effort, talent, and vision. Your art, your business, or your invention is deserving of every ounce of your attention and should be treated as supremely precious, but the act of making it — the location, timing, and process — should not.
The making should be ordinary. The results should be extraordinary.
Copyright ©2022 by Matthew Dicks. All rights reserved.
Matthew Dicks is the author of Someday Is Today and nine other books. ...
Excerpted from the book Someday Is Today: 22 Simple, Actionable Ways to Propel Your Creative Life. Copyright ©2022 by Matthew Dicks. Published with with permission from NewWorldLibrary.com.