Writers need to read and painters need to visit galleries

My friend Jeff Goins recently wrote Why Writers Need to Read if They Want to Be Good, in which he explained how important it is for anyone who writes to spend time reading, because it helps your own writing. It keeps you from using bad grammar, spelling, and the like, much less from writing something boring.

It hit me between the eyes, because I haven’t visited galleries as much as I used to, or as much as I should.

No wonder I haven’t painted in a year. The inspiration and excitement ran out. The well has run dry. Empty.

Sure, I’ve been to an Untitled show a time or two, a couple of First Saturday Art Crawls, and The Frist occasionally. All under the excuse that the quality of art in Nashville is poor compared to big art cities like New York or Los Angeles, neither of which I have ever visited.

Yep, I noticed the lack of quality local art about 4 years ago and kinda quit looking at it since then.

(Here is where I achieve total lame-o status.)

So it should come as no surprise that I haven’t done any art in the past year.

The last time I got excited about art was December 2010, when I went to see the Dali exhibit at the High Muesuem in Atlanta. Well over a year ago.

Let my experience be a warning and a lesson to you: surround yourself with art. Even if you have to travel four or five hours to see something interesting.

As a writer needs to read, an artist needs to feed his/her creativity. Restock the pond, and refill the well. Do it long before it starts to run out.

Once the water level starts to drop, it doesn’t take long for it to all evaporate.

Simple system for color-coding your files

I have a dead-simple color-coding system for my digital files. It’s based somewhat on Jamie Phelps’ system, “Dynamic Digital Organization” except I don’t bother using Smart Folders or even Jamie’s Eureka for Mac app, nice as it is. (Personally, I don’t find Finder replacements to be all that necessary, but you may differ.)

When I read Jamie’s post 4 years ago, I didn’t see much application for me. Now, however, I’m a full-time freelancer, so I have to play project manager and business developer as well as designer and web developer, so it helps to have some sort of system in place to track the status of my projects. When I worked for someone else, if it was on my desk, I had to work on it. If it wasn’t on my desk, I didn’t worry about it. Now, I have to think about all of it.

With physical files, it’s easy to physically place project folders into a stack reserved for projects that are currently in play, or a stack of projects you’re waiting to hear back on. Everything gets a project number, even things I only write a quote for.

Plus, there are several different kinds of “@waiting-on.”

Since I pretty much keep everything with me at all times as I live out of my messenger bag, I can’t easily sort the folders that way. So while every project has a digital and physical counterpart, I can manage everything’s status digitally.

Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Red: It’s finished, I’ve billed it, and I’m waiting for final payment.
  • Orange: The project is at the client and I’m waiting for feedback.
  • Yellow: I haven’t verified that I’ve got the project yet. It’s tentatively a project.
  • Green: This is an active project that I need to work on, today if possible.
  • Blue: A personal project involving one of my own brands or something more personal than that.
  • Purple: currently not used.
  • Gray: Projects that I made a quote for but didn’t get.

Once things are paid for, or it’s been confirmed that I didn’t win the project, the folders move from the Projects folder to the Archive folder, where they remain until I decide it’s time to clean house and back it up onto a DVD or external drive.

How do you manage your digital projects?

Simplify your reading

My friend Patrick Rhone posted a neat article the other day on Minimal Mac about simplifying his RSS system. He reduced his RSS feeds to just two folders, Important and Unimportant, and will gradually delete the unimportant ones as he sees fit. If he isn’t interested in reading it anymore, he won’t read it anymore.

It sounds stupidly obvious, but it’s amazing how much unneccesary stuff we let into our lives because we think we have to. (Is it time to ditch that sitcom you no longer enjoy but only watch out of habit?)

I made a similar move, putting everything in two folders: “Important,” and “It Can Wait.” Either I need to read these posts, or I can wait and read them. Or I can just mark them all as read and not worry about it. I believe that if something is worth knowing, it will come to my attention at some point. I might not be the first to know, but that’s OK with me.

As I was doing this, I eliminated about a dozen feeds that are infrequently updated or just no longer have much value to me. The end result is a less stressful visit to my feed reader. No more slogging through feeds I don’t really want to read.

(And if you’ve deleted this feed from your feed reader, I can’t blame you. My feelings aren’t that easily hurt and I don’t post here much. I’d rather post something of good quality than churn out something of poor quality on a daily basis.)

What’s a Mysterious Flame? (or, where I got the name)

I’ve been “running” this site (despite several long lapses in activity) for three-and-a-half years now, and I have never mentioned where I got the name for the site.

It comes from a book I read back in the fall of 2007 or so, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, by Umberto Eco. I was brainstorming all sorts of names for a “site for artists” and everything I thought of was taken or didn’t really work.

Then I remembered La Misteriosa Fiamma della Regina LoanaThe Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana.

When I first encountered the book at Borders, the grunged Gotham Bold and Trade Gothic Bold No 20 type caught my eye, as did the vintage comic book and advertising art. Being cheap (and poor) I reserved a copy at the library. I was immediately drawn into the story as soon as I began reading it.

A 59-year old Milanese bookseller nicknamed Yambo has lost his memory after a stroke. He can’t even remember his own name, though he is able to write Giambattista with a flourish. But he can remember absolutely everything he’s read. In order to try to remember his life before his stroke, he goes to the house where he grew up in the 1940s, and uncovers a lot of documents from his childhood.

Memories come to him in little sparks, mysterious flames, but nothing truly emerges until a dramatic turn. It’s very dense and layered, but not so much that it is difficult to read. It’s a lot of fun, and the colorful illustrations of 1930s and 40s Italian and American comic books, advertisements, and sheet music sprinkled throughout make for a unique literary experience. The three parts are constructed in a unique way that I think establish this book as both a love letter to both highbrow and lowbrow literature as well as making it a piece of great literature in its own right.

Begin again (again)

After nearly two years of quiet, I’m back. It’s been an interesting time, with lots of starts and setbacks. The same goes for this site as well.

I could spend a lot of time telling you why I quit posting here, saying it had something to do with the death of productivity (long live productivity) and the rise and fall of work.life.creativity, various personal/family/financial things, or trying to get my fine art career going (along with a year-long project that has gotten bogged down — I can’t decide if I’m stuck or empty or some combination thereof, or if I’m just distracted by paying the bills with freelance design, art direction, and web development projects.)

Phew. What a string of parenthetical remarks. I talk that way sometimes, and it drives my Dad nuts.

But what I will tell you is that lately I’ve been inspired to pick this little blog back up based on some things I’ve read from some really sharp guys who live here in Nashville: Jeff Goins and Kenny Silva. They’re both Christian guys with a passion for Jesus as well as a drive to create. The simplified version is that Jeff is a writer who leads teenagers on mission trips, and Kenny is a Realtor interested in leadership and vocational ministry. (Again, that’s the simplified version.)

So, after a few e-mail conversations with Jeff and meeting both Jeff and Kenny for coffee, I’ve decided to get back into writing here on Mysterious Flame.

What’s different now?

Apart from the aforementioned life experiences (and then some) I think a lot of the reason I left MF behind was my focus had changed.

  • I pretty much gave up on (by-the-book) GTD.
  • I’ve gotten more focused on painting (while I’ve lapsed on the Nashville365 project I expect to start back up again soon, with a vengeance.)
  • I’m less focused on productivity as a personal fetish (yes, I just quoted Merlin Mann.)
  • There were too many productivity blogs out there, and it seemed like everyone was maxed out on topics, myself included.

Now, just because I quit blogging here, it doesn’t mean I quit blogging altogether. I’ve been blogging all along on my fine art site. Granted, the kind of writing that belongs here is different from my art blog, which is built more around imagery and art theory. (I’m also starting a blog on my freelance design site, which is another thing, too.)

Okay, Blackman — wrap it up. What’s the bottom line?

The bottom line is that I’m going to focus creativity and inspiration instead of productivity. I’ll probably touch on some bigger life issues that don’t really apply to urban landscapes or design/marketing.

I do hope you’ll stick around and join me on this new ride. I think it’ll be fun to explore creativity as a means and an end.