Slow Down to Speed Up

🦊 #67 — The double-edged sword of creative independence

Hey friends,

I hope you’re doing well and staying safe. It’s been a wild few months — I’ve had a full plate of creative projects, and it’s been tough to juggle them all at once. Thankfully, the load has lightened a bit, and it’s a great time to share some updates and learnings with you on my creative journey. Additionally, today’s letter includes some thoughts and resources on the craft of writing.

As always, I appreciate you trusting me with your time and attention. I’m so glad to have you with me on this creative journey!

A Teacher Awakens

I’ve just wrapped up my stint as a Mentor in the latest Write of Passage online cohort. It was exhilarating, rewarding, inspiring and exhausting at all once. What a ride! I took this mentoring opportunity primarily as a means of dipping my toes back into teaching. I wanted to see how it felt after so many years away from it. In the past, I spent a lot of time teaching, including an incredible experience leading a coding bootcamp in South Africa. (I wrote an in-depth piece on that whole experience in an essay, Teaching in Paradise.)

Within a few days of getting into Mentor mode for Write of Passage, I could feel my inner teacher awaken, stretch his legs, and start dancing. I can safely say that I still love teaching. And based on the overwhelmingly positive feedback, I’ve still got a knack for it! My favorite part was spending an hour each week with the 40-50 students who attended my mentor sessions. I shared opening meditations, silly slides, cute comics, and even philosophical quotes from Lao Tzu. I love bringing playfulness, philosophy, and creativity into everything I do. I was so thankful to have a platform that gave me the creative freedom to play.

Teaching is such a joy, for so many reasons. You get to help others in their journey, watch them grow, see their “unlock moments”, and it’s just a heck of a lot of fun. Most of all, teaching is one of the best ways to learn.

Over the coming months, I’ll be exploring ways to share my ideas on writing and creativity in a course format. I’m not exactly sure what it looks like, but it will likely focus on writing, creativity, and self-discovery. I’m excited to see where my teaching journey takes me next!

(Side Note: I am planning to send a survey out to QBF readers soon, to get an understanding of what parts of my work resonate with you most. That will be crucial input to inform some of my decisions around the course going forward. That said, if you have ideas/suggestions, or just want give me a little nudge to keep going, I’d love to hear from you! Just shoot me a reply or leave a comment.)

Flash Fables

The teaching experiment is not alone in my docket of ideas. Another big one on my radar is going deeper with flash fables (very short stories, typically less than a thousand words, with embedded lessons). I started writing flash fables somewhere along the journey of writing my book of fables (the fables for the book are much longer, in the ~3K words range.) Since then, I’ve been reading lots of short story collections, journals and learning from a variety of resources on the short story format.

I’m planning to launch a flash fables newsletter. It would be a paid subscription-driven newsletter sharing fresh, original fables I’ve written, alongside classic fables with some commentary and interpretation. The timing for starting this depends on balancing other projects (more on that below), but it will likely end up sometime early next year. I’d love to include a rough sketch with each story, but that depends on how many letters I’d be sending in a month (I’m thinking 3 times a month, or weekly). I’m also debating whether to launch this as part of my existing newsletter or as a separate newsletter — there are tradeoffs across each of these options. Lots of open questions! We’ll see how it plays out. I just need to remind myself it’s an experiment, not overthinking these, and give it a try. I’m curious to see what the appetite is for something like this. (If you have specific thoughts or advice on this newsletter idea, I’m all ears!)

On a related note, I’m preparing to do a live reading of one of my flash fables at a local bookstore later tonight! The Boat of Stillness was selected to be part of Flash Night, an event celebrating flash fiction. If you’d like to watch the event online, you can still register for the Zoom livestream, happening tonight (Saturday the 23rd) from 6:30PM to 8:30PM PST. I’m really excited for it!

I thought about it recently, and realized that almost all of the engagement on my writing has been entirely online. I’m really looking forward to engaging with folks in-person. Somehow, it makes this whole creator journey I’ve been on feel more real.

Slow Down to Speed Up

Given all these exciting opportunities, my biggest struggle is always pacing myself. On top of my part-time startup work, I’ve been writing and illustrating a book, publishing a newsletter and essays, mentoring in an online course, and dabbling with flash fables. It’s a lot. I know I can’t do everything all at once. But there are so many tempting experiments to run! 

Putting aside my “fixed workload”, these are the three major creative experiments / ideas that are top of mind:

  1. (In Progress) Book of Fables

  2. (Planning) Flash Fables Newsletter

  3. (Ideation) Course on Writing & Creativity

I’ve been working on #1 for about 6-8 months now. I started dabbling with #2 over the past 3-4 months. And #3 really grew as an idea after mentoring in Write of Passage. Each one has different goals, inputs and potential outputs. I’m lucky to be blessed with opportunities like these. I believe my consistent investment in writing and showing up online has yielded better and better opportunities over time. These aren’t just random projects — they are aligned with what I do best and what I enjoy most. That’s what makes the decisions so damn tough!

Given my existing workload, I can probably only do one (maybe two?) creative experiments on top of my existing plate. Practically speaking, it means I can’t really explore #2 or #3 in earnest until I’ve finished editing my book. (Once the book is edited, I believe the work to get it published can happen in parallel with another project, but that could be a flawed assumption.)

The benefit of independence is that I get to choose what to work on.

The cost of independence is that I have to choose what to work on.

Recently, I hit a bit of fatigue as my load of parallel projects became too much to handle. I started to feel the effects of exhaustion, both physically and mentally. Whenever this happens, I find myself in two mindsets. Half of me wants to slow down, and the other half wants to speed up.

You might be wondering: Why would you want to speed up when you feel exhausted?

When I start to feel really tired, it’s as if I can taste my own mortality. It reminds me of the truths that I spend my days mostly ignorant of:

My energy won’t last forever.

My abilities won’t last forever.

My time on this Earth won’t last forever.

I’ve gotta make the most of my opportunities. I have to do the things that only I can do. I have to discover what is meant for me to be doing, rather than what will merely keep me occupied. In moments like this, the words of Mary Oliver often come to mind:

“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”

—Mary Oliver

This quote has never resonated more strongly than it does in this moment. I can literally feel the inner expansion of my creative self, and it is begging, pleading, shouting to be heard.

And so we come back to it: Lots to do, little time to do it. Tough choices must be made. I don’t want to waste time and energy on things that don’t truly have meaning for me. Khe Hy refers to this kind of work as “10K work.” In a recent letter, Coleen Baik wrote of her approach to bridging the gap between skill and vision, sharing this powerful quote:

“I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. And I am horribly limited.”

—Sylvia Plath

Whatever the framing may be, the conclusion is the same:

I have to slow down in the short term in order to speed up in the long term.

I have to shut off my ship’s engines and wait for the storm to pass, so I can get my bearings and adjust my course.

In this moment, I am relieved to reflect, and excited to act.

On Writing

I’ve got a bunch of resources on writing to share with you today! For starters, here a couple of thoughts I shared recently on Twitter:

On patience:

Most of my writing finds an audience months or years after I write it.

I can’t look at today’s validation as motive. I have to trust my gut on what to explore, and hope that it will be useful to others some day.

Trust of my output builds over time, fed by discipline of my input

On passion:

When you write about things you truly care about, readers can tell.

When you write about things you don’t really care about, readers can tell.

There is no poker face in writing. Your hand is revealed in the tone of your every word.

You might as well play a game you enjoy.

A few pieces I’ve enjoyed recently:

A Revolution in Creativity: On Slow Writing“I’ll invite you to read this slowly. To remember that a voice is embodied in this text, that in this process of following the sentence towards its meaning, in a kind of walking, as in a procession or parade, the writer’s creative process will emerge, a deliberate motion with care…”

Should I Quit My Job to Focus on My Writing?“Students ask me if I think they should quit their day jobs and focus on their writing. It almost always feels like a cart before the horse situation. The list of questions we should be asking ourselves as writers before we can get to that point is long…”

Tao Te Ching Paths to Writing — There are so, so many gems in this piece. I can’t recommend it enough. Also, I’ve tried reading Tao Te Ching before without success, but translation this author uses (from Jonathan Star) is an excellent one that I find much more approachable. The verse below really spoke to me in terms of my journey with writing my book. I’m really far into it, but still have a long way to go. It’s easy to get discouraged at this stage. But now is the time to for steadiness:

People on the verge of success often lose patience

and fail in their undertakings

Be steady from the beginning to the end

—Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (Jonathan Star’s Translation)

For even more tips on writing, check out my online writing guide. I’ve been slowly expanding it over the past 3 years of writing online:

Read the Writing Guide

I’ll leave you with this incredible, adorable, and lovable cuckoo clock, designed and built from scratch by Glen Brogan: