So I think I have a problem.
I can identify exactly when it started, and exactly when it escalated, and I’m not sure I know what to do about it. It started just before Christmas, and it escalated late last week.
Every year at Christmas for the past goodness knows how long we’ve done a Carol Service at the Church, which we’ve invited the local schools to, and various other community people/organisations etc. For the last five or six years, it’s been my role, my job, to stand up at the end of the evening, and do a five-ten minute talk. I have used this as my once a year opportunity to be funny, or at least to try to be funny.
Five minutes is not a long time for me. Usually if I’m speaking on a Sunday morning I have about three hours worth of stuff that then has to be condensed down into thirty odd minutes. To condense things down into five minutes is a much more complex task, especially when being aware that you have a large group of people, most of whom aren’t accustomed to listening to a guy speaking, and also the difficulty of me trying to be funny.
So I did what I usually do in these circumstances, pick a theme, and write some jokes. Then once I’ve got a huge amount of jokes, I viciously cull them based on the following rules:
- Do I think it’s hilarious? If Yes: Cut it, no one else will even find it even slightly funny.
- Does it make reference to certain geek culture icons, concepts or jokes? If Yes: Cut it, no one will get the reference.
- Is is self-deprecating? If Yes: It stays, people enjoy laughing at me for some reason.
- Will my wife subject me to physical pain after the service for telling the joke? If Yes: reluctantly cut it, it’s probably incredibly funny, but not worth the pain.
- Does it reference Justin Hawkins, or the Darkness? If Yes: It stays, no matter what, no matter what other rules it breaks, IT STAYS.
Usually this process is one of me wandering around my living room talking to myself. It’s how I tend to prepare for most things, I mutter under my breath as I wander around, waving my arms about. Some people who’ve watched me talk might comment that it’s not all that dissimilar to the way I preach. However the problem I often have is that I tend to start to forget what I’ve done, what I’ve liked, the turn of phrase, the pauses. So this year I tried something different.
Now I hate the sound of my voice when it’s been recorded, but over the years I’ve managed to protect myself from the instant self-loathing that is triggered by hearing myself enough to use it as a tool, albeit one that isn’t used all that often. So on a whim, a spur of the moment, I decided that I would record my random mutterings, so that I could go back, and cull the very best bits of those mutterings at a later date, and get the very best of all I’ve done. That decided it was the work of a moment to find my tablet (Tablet PC, not tablets, however relevant that might have been) find a voice recording app, set it up, hit record, and start to mutter.
It utterly shocked me, just how useful it was. I type pretty fast, but I don’t think all that well sitting behind a computer screen typing. If I scribbled it on paper no-one, including me would ever be able to read it again. This gave me a way to get my thoughts recorded, literally, while still allowing me to do what I need to do to let the thought process flow, to let my creativity flow.
Over the last couple of months I’ve tried it for a few other things, and apart from feeling really odd at points, and apart from wondering just what our downstairs neighbour thinks of us (although I think that ship sailed as soon as we started having small group at our house) it’s always been incredibly helpful, and worth the time to do it.
Then last week it escalated. For the last couple of weeks some thoughts have been percolating in my mind, I’ve been brewing up a couple of different ideas, what’s more whilst they felt like very different ideas to start with I’m increasingly realising that in fact they are just two different aspects of the same idea. I’ve been here before, a big idea, something that forms in my mind, something I know I can achieve, something I know I can make awesome, something I’ve rushed into starting before I’ve really understood what it was, something that’s stopped, and never started again, and I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again.
My wife asked me, I’m not sure if facetiously or not, whether part of my job search was going to involve sending a chapter/excerpt from my book to publishers. My instant response was “Nope”, then she had the gall to ask why? My first response was that “It wasn’t good enough.” and while I still stand by that response, it was a little flippant of me, so I repented and explained why it wasn’t good enough.
Telling people that I’ve got an idea, that I’m working on something is always the hardest thing for me to do. I guess like a painter who doesn’t want someone to see their work until they’re finished, I want to be happy with something before someone else sees it, because once someone else sees it or knows about it, it’s real, it exists, I’ll get asked how far along am I with it. So it took great effort, and in fact I tried to do it subtly last night, to tell Rowena the other part of the reason for me not sending a chapter of my book to a publisher, is that I’m writing something new, something better, something special.
Bernard Cornwall in the preface to the second or third edition of Sharpe’s Eagle, wrote that this book was the only book he had written that he had never gone back and read…because he didn’t dare to. He didn’t want to see it, and think about how terrible it was, how many mistakes he made. He knew if he went back to read it, that he would hate it. I understand that, I have gone back to read my book, and I do hate it, I can see how terrible it is, and I can see the mistakes I’ve made, but instead of feeling bad about myself it’s driven me on to not make those same mistakes.
So here’s the thing, for the last week or so, I’ve been wandering around my living room talking to myself. My faithful tablet has recorded all my thoughts, ready for me to come back to. Something is brewing, I’m not entirely sure I know what it looks like yet, I don’t know what it will feel like yet, but I do know this. This time, before anything goes down on paper, before anything is written, I’m going to allow the creative process to take it’s time. If that means I end up with fifty hours of me babbling to myself to work through (I already have about four hours) so be it.
I’m pretty excited about it already, even if my internal editor is laughing hilariously, and thinking I’m going insane at the sight of me wandering around my living room talking about these things to my tablet. Well as much as I enjoy his presence usually he can bite me. If sounding a little crazy, if acting a little crazy gets it done…just call me crazy, all the best people were. I might have a problem, and it might be escalating, the trouble is I was lying before when I said I didn’t know what to do about it, I do. I should run with it, this is the best bit about being a Christian, I believe that God made me who I am, so it’s his fault if he made me do my best work when everyone around me thinks I’m going nuts! There’s a timing thing going on, so if this is the way it works for me, then just call me crazy!