Archive for the ‘collaboration’ Category

“Creation is not a moment of inspiration . . .”

March 24th, 2015 No Comments



. . . but a lifetime of endurance.” That’s what author Kevin Ashton says in his book on creativity and innovation titled “How To Fly A Horse.”

While Ashton, an MIT engineer who coined the term “the internet of things”, is not talking about writing but invention, particularly the Wright Brothers, his book describes the long slog of the creative process in a way similar to how Cary Tennis and I have experienced it in working with students at Finishing School.

“Creation is not a moment of inspiration, but a lifetime of endurance. The drawers of the world are full of things begun: unfinished sketches pieces of innovation, incomplete product ideas, notebooks with half formed hypotheses, abandoned patents, partial manuscripts. Creating is more monotony than adventure. It is early mornings and late nights. Long hours doing work that will likely fail or be deleted or erased, a process without progress that must be repeated daily for years. Beginning is hard but continuing is harder. Those who seek a glamorous life should not peruse art, science, innovation or invention anything else that needs new. Creation is a long journey where most turns are wrong and most ends are dead. The most important thing creators do is work. The most important thing they don’t do is quit.”

But how do you stay on this lonely task when repeated failures can be so discouraging? Finishing School helps you define your task to be completed, keep regular appointments with yourself to continue to wrestle with the problem and, gloriously, finish.

Ashton’s interview with Joshua Johnson, who is an excellent and well-prepared interviewer, explores many stories of how inventors persisted, even without the help of Finishing School.

Finishing School Book Goes Out For Sale!

March 10th, 2015 No Comments


Why don’t we finish the projects we love? We start out with high hopes and a big burst of energy, but then doubt, judgment and fear overtake that strong beginning. The sparkling idea becomes source of shame, but yet we can’t let it go. After a while this beloved expression of our creativity hangs around in an undefined space somewhere between procrastination and giving up. It nags at us. It makes us feel bad about our past and our future. We fear we’ll never finish and we also fear what will happen if we do. This is the pervasive agony that Cary Tennis decided to address when he thought up Finishing School and we decided to write a book about his method of getting that project done.

Today “Finishing School: The Happy Ending To That Project You Just Can’t Seem To Get Done” goes out to publishers for sale, and we’re very excited about it.

Finishing School worked for me, someone who usually has no trouble finishing things. Being a journalist my whole professional life has given me a very practical approach to my work. I turn things in on deadline knowing it is as good as I could make it in the time I had. Yet I ended up in Finishing School when found myself with a project close to my heart that dragged for years. The occasional attempts to finish it forced me into all the dodges and vanities. After two months in Finishing School I’d completed a second draft.

I was amazed that Cary’s method worked for people who had abandoned their novel eighteen years ago as well as for someone like me. In the two months I was in Finishing School people were more productive, more decisive about their work, than I’d ever seen in another writing group.

When Cary and I decided to write this book, we started to analyze all the emotional factors that prevent people from finishing. As a result we came up with a fresh take on the writers block. I can share more of that once the book is sold but for now, all of you out there with half completed novels in a dusty corner of your desktop, don’t lose hope. Finishing School doesn’t require you to become a better person who is more organized, more disciplined and has life under control. You also don’t have to undergo years of therapy. Finishing School frees you up and you can simply write.

Today our agent Linda Loewenthal sent it out to ten publishers and we’ve got our fingers crossed to contain our excitement.

Reporting In Public, 2

April 17th, 2011 1 Comment

Most people hate to hear their voices on a recording.  The voice they hear on the audio sounds very different from the voice that they hear when they speak.

For journalists, this can be excruciating.  Journalists have been trained to think that we are not the story, just the  servant of it.  Yet an interview is a conversation and often the give-and-take of that  exchange slips out of the bounds of professionalism and into the easy tone of two people exploring a topic.  Establishing a climate of trust is important, as are gentle remarks along the way that make your subject knows that he or she is being heard.

Often when  I hear my voice on a recording, I’ve cringed at my inelegant phrasing of a question, or the obsequious way I sometimes encourage the person I’m speaking with to go further.   I think I’ve never been more discomforted by my presence on a  recording than I was in my interview with the two young women I spoke with for, “I Rode Suicide.”

In my reporting on the Gutter Punks story, I’m nowhere near being a neutral observer.  I was nearly undone by my daughter choosing to hop trains, and having a chance to ask her friends the questions I didn’t ask my daughter at the time brought out fierce maternal feelings.  When I was editing this interview down from and hour and a half to the three clips that total fourteen minutes, there were moments where I actually said to the young women, “speaking as a mother” in that same high moral tone of all mothers who are about to deliver the “young lady, this is a serious matter” lesson.  I cut those.

Yet these young women are not my daughters.  Simultaneous with the fear I felt at the danger they were putting themselves in, and my shock at their casual law breaking, I could hear in my voice a little bit of admiration for their outlaw life: bombing down the road in a stolen car that they’d disguised with graffiti, raising their fists at the sky, getting away with it.  I was drawn to that feeling, the “fuck it, I’m outta here” that so many of us dream about, but so few do.  As I listened to the recording, I heard myself drawn in at one moment and horrified in the next.

There’s are also several passages in the tape that I considered cutting, but left in.  These are places where, if it was my daughter telling me the story, I might have started to disapprove. Yet in the recording, I’m laughing. And there is a passage where I describe one of the many, many fears I had when Marissa was riding the rails, trying to provoke an answer to the question, “What if you stay out so long in this life, you can never come back?”

When I heard that passage, my professional self immediately hovered over the delete button. What will my colleagues think of me being so personal, so candid about how I feel, in my questions?  This is not something I would ask, or at least not something I would ask in that tone, if this was a different story, a story where I was detached.

In the end, I left it in. This is a story where I cannot proclaim I am objective. The passionate feelings in these questions are the passion of a mother who loves her daughter and cares about her daughter’s friends.  That’s a feeling that I cannot hide and won’t  disguise.

This is another facet of reporting in public, then: revealing the bias and being clear about the point of view. Let the chips fall where they will.