Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Lessons Of Compressed Mango

Here's the lesson that MuchoMangoMayo tries to teach me every single year: Get the goddamned shows done before May!

Not only have I refused to learn that lesson, but this year I was less prepared than ever! There was the additional work brought about by the new subscription feed, Beware the Elitist Mango; there was my burst of short story frenzy at the beginning of the year; and there was my move across town in March.

MuchoMangoMayo is thirty-one shows in thirty-one days and each five minute show is fully scripted. It can take three and a half hours to write, record, edit, upload,and schedule one show. The farthest ahead of the conveyor belt I've been this year is maybe three episodes. Many days I'm doing the episode hours or minutes before it goes up.

This happens every year, but this time it's been happening since almost the beginning of the month, even though I took a week off from the day job and worked on Mangoes five hours a day. I was nine minutes late with one show early on, but I otherwise have ridden the wave, and continue to ride it. My goal for today, after some sleep, is to finish four scripts and produce one show. We'll see how that goes.

But all that is just set-up for the point of this post: the lessons this year's MuchoMangoMayo has taught me.

1) I can work harder than I thought I could. Working five hours or more a day on my days off and two to three hours a day around my day job has taught me that I can work harder than I thought I could. One of the reasons I've been writing for decades with relatively poor results is that I've been slow, inconsistent, and have had to wrestle with my ADD self always to get any work done at all. The past three weeks have been my most intense creative period ever, and that includes NaNoWriMo, which I finished the first time I did it some years ago.

2) It feels fantastic. Working at this level is what I've always wanted to do and I feel more creatively satisfied than I ever have in my life. I'm more tired (and that's saying a lot, because I'm always tired), but less cranky. I'm a little less anxious and way less stressed. For thirty years, I've been wanting to make creative work my life and although I've always done the work, I've never done enough of it to feel like I'm at the level I want. But now I feel like I'm living the dream. I'm squeezing more than ever out of myself and I'm getting good work done consistently. I've arrived at the life I've always wanted.

Don't get me wrong, the ultimate teenage dream involved much more money and fans and no day job, but the day to day work and satisfaction is all there.

3) I need to ship on time.  In the world of manufacturing, shipping a new product on time means getting the thing designed, mass-produced and out the door on the day you say you're going to do it. I've known for many years that I work better with deadlines than without, so I started setting deadlines. I almost always missed them, but I worked harder knowing they were there.

I've known for less years than that that I'll work harder for someone else than I will for myself. For a couple of years I told other people my deadlines—my dear friends Emily and Diane—so I'd feel obligated to get the stuff done on time and not disappoint them. I'd still blow deadlines, but not as many.

With MuchoMangoMayo I've promised people I don't even know that I will ship on time. Every day in May, they will get a show, delivered at midnight. That is my promise. People donate more money to the show in May than in any other month because I'm delivering something special. I sure as hell don't want to disappoint them and so far I haven't.

So there's my lesson for future projects: tell people what you're doing and when it's going to ship and make sure that happens. There's creative power in time limits and I heard Ian Boothby talk about this just hours ago in the latest episode of the Sneaky Dragon podcast. When you've got to hustle to get something done for someone else, you'll deliver something that's less than perfect. The beauty is you won't have time to fret over imperfection because you'll have already moved onto the next thing. You'll never make one perfect thing, no matter how long you work and how much you stress. Say that to yourself a few thousand times while you're making many, many imperfect things and chilling.

4) The fountain's got to sit down. When you're kicking off into a creative life, you have a tendency to think that it's possible to run out of ideas. After a while you realize that's not true, but you don't really feel it in your gut yet. A few years ago, I began to feel it in my gut. I never worry about the ideas anymore. They always come even though I burn through a shitload of them with every project. But even though ideas flow from a never-ending fountain, that fountain needs occasional maintenance, some chlorine, a cleaning out of the spigots or whatever it is fountains have. Sometimes the fountain has to go sit down over there for a while.

I'd put in about nine or ten days straight when one day I had stuff to do. I did that stuff and then problems happened. I dealt with the problems and it was getting late in the day and I wasn't getting to work. This is normally the point where I wrestle myself into a foam of paralysis, guilt, and despair. This time I said to myself, "I think I accidentally gave myself the day off." I didn't freak. I relaxed and read and screwed around online. The next day I was back at it.

Normally when I take a vacation, I dread going back to work. I'm sure many of you do too. This time I didn't. As each day passed, I was working and I knew when I went back to the day job I'd still be working. Come Sunday I was a little bent out of shape that I wasn't going to have enough time to work on the show, but my destructive emotions just weren't hitting the highs that they normally do.

The alien thing was that when I went back to work, I was almost relieved. I was going to have an excuse not to think creatively for hours! I just slid in and did my job without a bit of frustration. That was weird. Normally I'm bubbling with ideas at work and I'm writing the best ones down, but it took me about four days before that started kicking in again. I'd worked my making-things-up muscle hard for a week and it needed to rest up a bit. Once it was rested, it started flexing again. This doesn't mean I stopped creating for a few days. It means I had many waking hours when I wasn't creating, couldn't create, and didn't have to create.

I had finally, for the first time in my life, sated this appetite within myself. It felt great. My bubbling demons were at peace for a while.

If you can do it, work your mind hard. Run a long distance race with it. It's wonderful.