Monday, November 26, 2018

Why I do what I do and not just sleep more

My office in Rome
Here’s a Friday Question that became an entire post.

mdv59 asks:

To what do you credit your work ethic? I'm about 10 years behind you and I'm already exhausted-- how the hell do you have the energy to continuously write plays, create blog posts, record podcasts and still pursue writing?

I’ve always been goal-oriented. And it drives me crazy if I don’t accomplish “things.” Maybe if I were more athletically inclined I’d be playing sports, but short of that I’m just compelled to be productive. Are there drugs for that?

I also work on projects I enjoy. Writing has become far more enjoyable when I can work at my own speed at home in my underwear, not having to satisfy network and studio executives.

The hardest part of writing full-length plays for me is coming up with an idea and story that I feel is worthy of an entire evening of theatre. If I get lucky I get one a year. But when I do and I’m actually writing the draft, unless I hit a big snag (which happens) I actually find the process somewhat stimulating – way more stimulating than watching NCIS reruns 24 hours a day.  I even like to write when I'm vacation.  Sitting in an outdoor cafe, people watching, and writing is a great way to pass the time.   (I know -- I'm nuts.) 

But the key is to not force it. I don’t have to come up with an idea for my next play by Tuesday. I find the best ideas come when I’m relaxed and just open to possibilities. A good idea will come. It might not be for a couple of months but it’ll materialize. All I have to do is keep my radar up.

And in the meantime, crafting blog posts and ten-minute plays are like stretching exercises for writers. They don’t require that much time and it relieves the pressure off of having to find that million-dollar full-length play idea.

Plus, I feel you always have to challenge yourself to continue to grow. So I try to take on projects that might not totally be in my comfort zone but hopefully I can conquer. An example is the one-day play festival at the Ruskin Theatre that I try to participate in several times a year. Having to write a ten-minute play on a given topic in three hours, knowing it will be performed that night is a daunting task but also exhilarating.

And as for the podcast, I’ve always loved broadcasting and this gives me a chance to be “on the air,” doing what I want without a program director telling me to shut up and stop trying to be funny. The fact that my podcast can be heard around the world is also pretty cool. This wasn’t the case when I was on the air in Syracuse and the station couldn’t be heard in the parking lot.

Bottom line: I just hate to be bored… even if that means accomplishing something.


Rick Hannon said...

" ... way more stimulating than watching NCIS reruns 24 hours a day ...(I know -- I'm nuts.)" [Edited for clarity and accuracy] Self-awareness is the first step towards healing. Tip from a pro: mix in some The Big Bang Theory reruns. They're almost equally accessible. The combination will cure you of this "productivity" madness. Your couch will become your best friend.

SteveJayCanada said...

It’s never work if you love what you do.

Cowboy Surfer said...

Still trying to shake the visual of Ken writing at home...

Janet Ybarra said...

You have really achieved something special. I've known too many in the journalism business who, like you, stay busy for years... but often at the expense of marriages or children.

You, sir, seem to be one of those truly fortunate people who keep working but also takes time to enjoy everything else life has to offer.

Dhruv said...

26 Nov 2005 was the first post.

13 years of daily blogging.

Thanks Ken :)

Jeff said...

A transcript of the podcast would be great for us hearing impaired. Yes, I know, very small audience.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Even though that wasn't my F.Q. it touched on many of the points of one of my questions.

Being "goal-oriented" is a two-edged-sword. Especially if one is a perfectionist. I loathe THE PROCESS. (except for sex) Cooking, for example. I'm a pretty good cook, but I don't like cooking. The goal is the end result. So, if the meal or dish doesn't turn out just right it can be very disheartening. (Even if no one notices and enjoys it) Many people may use that as incentive to improve. While others find it discouraging. The old, "What's the point?" mentality. That's also why so many kids hate taking music lessons. You can't play songs right away and practicing is a boring pain. Writing is very similar. I never got into the mindset of writing for writing sake. So, if a sketch or other writing isn't brilliant its very difficult to just shake it off with a, "Better luck next time."
Finally, "bored" is a subjective term. Doing nothing is not boring to me. I'm not one of those people that can't sit still. Doing something tedious or something I dislike is the most boring.

Off topic: Did you watch 48Hours Saturday night? It was about Casey Kasem's kids and their battles with his ex, Jean Kasem. I've never heard you mention if you knew Casey, but I know you know Jean from CHEERS. Any opinions?

E. Yarber said...

Following Oliver Hardy's death, Stan Laurel still kept writing gags for their movies, even though he had decided he would never appear on screen again. After a lifetime of working out comedy routines, he simply couldn't stop devising new material.

If writing isn't a natural action for someone, they're not going to be able to put in the hours necessary. In fact, all their energy is going to be spent fighting the process instead of directed toward creating something. You have to be inexorably drawn toward the work, continually stirred toward new challenges. It has to be a total commitment.

Scott Cason said...

I just had a thought. Take YOUR favorite episode of any show you've worked on. Cheers, MASH, which ever. While you are watching it on DVD, record a running commentary of the show. The post it like a podcast. We can pull up the show on youtube, DVD or VHS start the commentary with the show and ..... ta' da! Have your running commentary while we watch the show.

Jahn Ghalt said...

Some of us may remember Isaac Asimov, who died in 1992. Depending on how you count a "book", he wrote perhaps 500 - and for sure, 400 books.

By his count he wrote 10 non-fiction books for every book-of-fiction.

Like you, Ken, he loved to write - so much that he resisted taking "vacations" - and when he did, he thought a lot about the next books he would write.

Unlike you, he rarely outlined - not even his novels - but then few of us have that kind of 180+ IQ. He may never have admitted to taking an IQ test, but I clearly remember that he said such tests were good for indicating how one would perform on a IQ test.

And, unlike you, most of his writerly life he did not have deadlines. Mostly, he would write a book and submit it to Doubleday. Few were bestsellers but most (all?) made money for them (so goes the rumor.)

And like you, he readily admitted that writing fiction was by far more difficult and took much longer than writing non-fiction.

Also (like you) he was an occasional lecturer - though, IIRC from his autobiography, he managed to lecture infrequently while still on the payroll at Boston U.

So, you are (were) in good company - in that you love to write, get to choose your projects, and do not depend on writing (or "a job") to make a living.

Nice "work" if you can get it!

Stephen Marks said...

I remember reading some advice about conquering fear while giving a speech by picturing the audience in their underwear. Unfortunately it seems the opposite is true in this comment section as I'm mentally paralyzed by the image of Ken Sampson Levine sitting around in his fruit of the looms. YIKES! I....can't....write....another...word. This may be my last comment, this will never go away. Ken sitting on the sofa in his whites while Mrs. Levine and Earl Pomerantz chat about Xmas decorations is too much. Look I realize that some of the greats wrote semi or totally nude, but they didn't have comment sections. Ernest Hemingway used to write in the nude, so did Neal Simon. Shakespeare wrote all his plays while wearing nothing but boxers, much to his wife's discontent. Carl Reiner wrote all those Dick Van Dyke episodes in his bedroom fully clothed......but his wife was nude, go figure.

Now the hard part. The Friday question I have to ask. The Friday question that will set Friday questions back 20 years. The Friday question where the answer may have me running over to Earl's blog, getting into the fetal position, and sucking my thumb as I rock back and forth. Ken, do you podcast in the nude?

Janet Ybarra said...

Yes, essentially Asimov spent days with the blinds down just typing away.

He definitely was gone too soon.

Janet Ybarra said...

Actually, the "process" of an activity provides an excellent opportunity for mindfulness and meditation.

Thich That Nanh, a venerated Buddhist monk and himself a prolific author, says, "Do you wash the dishes to wash dishes or just to have clean dishes?"

In other words, are you actually paying attention to the activity of washing the dishes? Do you pay attention to things like the hot water on your hands? Do you smell the soap?

Or do you just go through the activity with your thoughts going here and there, thinking about your day or what you are going to wear tomorrow?

Just different ways of looking at your activities and different ways of looking at your life.

Janet Ybarra said...

Oh, and I get your quip about the NCIS reruns, Ken. But one thing I do I think is interesting about that series is the fact the regular cast acts with so many guest stars and have to make it look believable and seamless.

I would love to get your much more educated and experienced thoughts.

Pete Grossman said...

When you're creative you just can't turn it off. Stuff is always coming. A sound, a unusual visual, a phrase heard, when one of these things resonates, it's off to the races! Deciding which horse to bet on though, that's the key!

Markus said...

Ken, do you ever work in parallel on more than one play or script that you have in the pipe, and if so why? I would think it helps to have somewhere else to go when you're stuck in one piece of work. And have you ever considered trying to write other forms of fiction, such as, say, short stories?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Janet: Yes...and - little-known fact - Asimov was an early victim of AIDS, which he got from a blood transfusion he had during a triple bypass operation. Right around the same time as the tennis player Arthur Ashe. His doctors and wife advised Asimov not to make it public because of the stress involved. (I really wish he had because the combination of Ashe and Asimov would have done an enormous amount to change public attitudes and speed up government support for research.)


Johnny Walker said...

You’re a true inspiration in this regard, Ken.

To follow Mike’s comment, I’ve come to realise that you have to enjoy the process. Sure you could rely on your own attempts creating deadlines for yourself, but the truth is that you most likely won’t be motivated without SOME external pressure.

If you were being paid, or were taking a course, you’d get the thing done. If you don’t, then you’ll find yourself wanting to spend your spare time doing things you enjoy. And what’s wrong with that?

The only solution I’ve found is to try and find enjoyment in the process. I took a sketch writing course here in London and I discovered that I really enjoyed the process, and it made me want to continue after the course ended.

I wasn’t very good, but why is that a reason not to do something you enjoy?

Tom Galloway said...

With respect to Asimov's non-fiction, he had a style that managed to combine:
1) Rock solid information.
2) Entertainment/storytelling
3) A combination of a lack of fancied up prose and using very precise words when needed.
4) Clearness and conciseness.

I manage a team of technical writers who also write training material. Due to a combination of age and both coming from and being based outside the US, they weren't familiar with Asimov. So for my last visit to the main office, I made a point of giving each of them a copy of one of the collections of Asimov's science columns from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and urging them to read it with a critical eye to how he wrote.

Janet Ybarra said...

He also wrote history, mysteries and other subjects as well.