Posted on April 15, 2014 by Colin

Visible Brush Strokes

The uncomfortable reality of perfectionism is that it encourages creative-sequestration: if you know you won’t be able to do something well, you’re less likely to try, in order to avoid failure (or less-than-perfection).

This was true in my case, at least. When I was younger I was terrified of coming across as less than I was capable of, and that meant I seldom emerged from my comfort zone. It was a small world I lived in, but everything was where it was supposed to be. A closet-sized room without a mote of dust in sight.

I’m going to be 29-years-old tomorrow, and something I’ve learned in the time between now and when I was perfect is that real growth is found in showing your brush strokes. There’s value in presenting a finished work, of course, and in knowing how to polish something so that it’s equal to your current level of expertise. But just like a painting, your process and flaws and experiments with the medium add personality to the work you do. They’re what bring texture to the transparent; density to the intangible.

The moment I began to allow my flaws to shine through was the moment I began to have a style that was really, truly my own. That style has evolved, and will continue to do so, but it’s something that allows me to look at my work and say, “Yes, this is mine. This is me.”

Even when looking back at works I’ve done in the past that no longer meet my standards (which have also evolved), I can see it there, swirling and wisping and flooding the canvas (whatever the metaphorical canvas might be) with hints of my voice. Signatures that are invisible unless you know what you’re looking for, and that are integral to what makes the work special.

Today, perfection is a moving target. An idea that means something different for every single thing I produce. Showing my brush strokes has given me more than just a voice within my work: It’s given me the freedom to take that work in whichever direction I choose, and recognizing the good in whatever emerges at the other end.

To celebrate the big 29, I’m giving away one of my favorite things I’ve written: a book called Trialogue, which also happens to be the first book in the A Tale of More series (which currently contains five novella-length books, and to which I’ll be adding five more in just a few months).

I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it, and if you have a spare second, a review up on Amazon and/or Goodreads would be very much appreciated!

Posted on April 14, 2014 by Colin

Be the Machete

There’s a confidence that comes with blazing trails. Knowing that you can set off into the woods with nothing but your wits and ambitions, with a damn good chance of not just surviving, but thriving. Carving a trail from one place to another; one way of living to another.

The path you shape will be there for future travelers to discover and wonder over; to follow partway and popularize among their friends; to explore more fully, the sharp bits safely whittled down to stumps.

The path you sculpt will, if it’s interesting or useful or leads someplace amazing, eventually become a highway. A rail for high-speed bullet trains. Someplace we’ve all been and would go again.

But at first it’s just a tangle of trees and gnarled underbrush and thorns and rocks and possible danger. Before you, it was an unexplored jungle. You were the machete the cut through the vines. You were the cartographer who chiseled meaning from an otherwise nebulous nothingness.

There’s a confidence that comes from blazing trails because it’s so easy to fail. Whether you make it all the way through or have to backtrack, seeking a more traversable landscape, you tried. You hurled yourself against something unfriendly and difficult and dangerous, and survived to tell the tale.

And you’ll do so again. You know this. That’s what will keep your head up, no matter what comes next.

Posted on April 3, 2014 by Colin

Watching the Periphery

I’m in publishing, but I’m watching the video game world closely.

There’s some really interesting stuff going on in that industry. Valve has innovated along multiple fronts. Amazon is a barbarian at the gate. Even the big players — Microsoft and Sony and Nintendo — are making moves like rookies with something to prove. It’s been an interesting couple of years in video games, and the next few years should be even more so.

I’m also watching the film and TV industries. Both are very different creatures, but share many of the same concerns and issues as the publishing world. By paying attention to what they do — fields that are both ahead and behind publishing in terms of problems they’re coping with and solutions they’ve innovated — I may be able to glean answers to the problems the publishing industry is struggling through. Or predict issues before they come issues. Or maybe even just bring back something really cool for people to enjoy.

Watching the periphery is not wasted time: it’s research. The hurdles are not exactly the same, the solutions are not transferable, and the people involved don’t necessarily understand professional complexities outside their immediate sphere of influence, but there’re still lessons to be learned. There’re still suppositions to be made and ‘what if’s to be posited.

Worst case scenario, I’m a little richer with knowledge about fields I may someday enter. Best case, I’m able to expand my current horizons by making use of the knowledge-cartography my fellow explorers have mapped, even though the cartographers come from different lands.

Posted on March 31, 2014 by Colin

Set the Goal, Enjoy the Journey

When I write, I start with a framework. A skeleton of what I’m doing, to establish the rough shape, size, and purpose of what I’ll eventually end up with.

With a blog post, that means I figure out what point I want to make, and establish how best to express it. With a book, I determine who the characters are, what kind of world they live in, and what important things happen in each chapter.

In between these milestones — these pre-determined landmarks in my work — anything could happen. The story I’m telling might take a sharp right turn, and I may end up explaining a critical point in a different way than I originally intended. Maybe a character surprises me with how they respond to a difficult situation, or perhaps the situation isn’t what I thought it would be, either.

Setting these goals ahead of time, these entrances and exits to a written project, I’m better able to enjoy the space between. I know where I am, and I know where I’m going, and with that knowledge at hand, I can settle in and enjoy the process; sink my teeth into characterization, prose, and style.

Like with travel, determining a beginning and end point allows you to focus on the middle. That framework is best left malleable, of course, because who knows what you’ll discover in the interim? But having it built — having something concrete from which to jump — allows you to focus on the meat of your work and less on the bones.

Posted on March 26, 2014 by Colin

The Authority of Experience

There are a whole lot of blogs and articles and even books written by folks who don’t know what they’re talking about.

Or rather, they know some aspect of what they’re talking about, but lack the authority of experience. They’ve read a lot about a particular subject and have re-spun the information into something new. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this — it’s what we’re taught to do in school, year after year — but it can be detrimental if the positive feedback received for remixing borrowed experience diminishes the author’s desire (or ability) to go out and learn something firsthand. To collect new knowledge for the next generation of information collage-makers to work with.

This idea — that one should go out and pursue novel information, rather than depending on what’s already been documented by others — extends beyond business and money and relationship advice and the myriad other things upon which we tend to give advice, sometimes based solely on the advice others have given to us. It also applies to personal things: our philosophy, spirituality, emotional stability.

Perhaps most importantly, going out into the world and experiencing something grants knowledge of how you’d respond to certain stimuli, in situ. How you’d actually respond if held at gunpoint. Or found yourself in an unfamiliar country without access to money. Or had a massive opportunity you could pursue, but only through great effort and sacrifice.

We all have theories about how we’ll respond in these situations, but they’re generally based on the experiences of others (or experiences they’ve borrowed and delivered to you).

Books, movies, blogs, and all the other media through which we can transfer information and ideas are wonderful, but you can’t truly know what you’re made of, what’s real and what’s supposition, until you go out and earn your authority.

Posted on March 24, 2014 by Colin

Good People

As a kid, I was convinced that I would always be a gamer. I liked games for the challenge they provided, and the immense sense of satisfaction I gained by learning the rules, methodically increasing my skill, and eventually teaching others to enjoy a game’s complexities on the same level I did.

That feeling hasn’t gone away, it’s just expanded in scope. Rather than attempting to teach everyone the strategic complexity of chess, I promote literacy and encourage folks to self-educate about anything that seems interesting. Rather than studying tournament games and memorizing Starcraft build orders, I travel as much as possible, seeking out new ideas and learning all about myself and unfamiliar facets of the world.

Despite this shift, one thing has stayed very consistent: I still work hard to surround myself with good people.

‘Good’ is generally a horrible word to use when trying to describe something accurately, as it lacks quantifiable definition, but in this context, that’s perfect. To me, a good person is someone who is a net positive for the world. Their existence doesn’t drain others, it strengthens them. Their attitude about life is upbeat — things will continue to get better — and they treat others with the respect owed to other members of the same species. These are people of varying skill sets, points of view, faiths, cultures, and economic backgrounds, but all share a certain something that adds up to ‘good person,’ according to my definition.

Part of what I loved about playing games was that they allowed me to pull free of reality for a bit, and imagine ‘what if.’ You can be the nicest person in the world, but when you sit down for a game of Risk, chances are you’ll be just as back-stabby as anyone else at the table.

The fantasy world you dive into while gaming is only fun, however, if the game is different from real life. Competition is a pleasure with good people, but if the people you’re playing with are antagonistic to begin with, chances are the game will become just another stressor. Slaughtering each other’s armies will hit too close to home.

Games are a challenge you face together, even if you’re on opposite teams for the duration. They give you the opportunity to think with cold cunning in an environment where you can stand up at any time and extract yourself from that world. Where you can test your mettle and your wits, without needing to actually be the kind of person who callously conquers South America for fun.

I often view life as a game, and one that can be far more strategic and rewarding than any of the tabletop or video variety I’ve ever encountered. But just like playing Risk, the challenges real life presents are a million times more enjoyable when there are good people nearby, facing them at your side.

In the same way you can choose the people with whom you play games, you can also choose the people with whom you share your life. Make sure they’re people who’ll keep things exciting and challenging, but avoid surrounding yourself with excellent competitors who also happen to be horrible human beings.

Posted on March 11, 2014 by Colin

Tasks and Work

There’s a big difference between the work you do, and the tasks you perform.

The two often blend together, at least in how we perceive our work and how our time is spent. But recognizing the difference can be quite impactful.

Consider an accountant, working for a clothing company that cuts out the marketing and manufacturing middle-men so they can pay local workers an excellent wage. The accountant performs the normal accounting tasks — tallying, multiplying, filling in spreadsheets — but what she’s doing is helping to shake up a stagnant industry, making higher-end, durable clothing accessible to the masses, and ensuring that a factory full of people are able to pay their bills and keep food on the table.

Note that the tasks she’s performing aren’t different from those performed by any other accountant: she could be working for clients with completely different values, and she’d still have essentially the same duties.

But the work being done — the process she’s a part of — is very different, depending on where she flexes her numerical muscles; that’s a powerful thing.

It’s easy to view the tasks you perform as cog-like, which could mean your work feels unimportant, and as a result, the big picture doesn’t seem to matter too much. You might as well work for the company that pays the most, or is largest, and therefore least likely to fail and leave you job-less. You’re just an accountant; you can’t help it if that safe, reliable employer also happens to be destroying the rain forests, or hiring sweatshop labor to produce their good.

This view is based on the tasks you perform, but lacks consideration for the work that you do. It leaves out the fact that your effort, combined with that of others, has consequences. Change things. Your work has an impact, and what happens because of it is therefore worth your attention.

We live in a world where the results of our actions, good or bad, are measurable, should we choose to acknowledge them. And though this can mean taking responsibility for things outside your control (such as the actions of the corporation you work for), it also means that, if enough people take such responsibility, there will be fewer negative consequences to track.

Wars can’t be fought without the participation of soldiers, even if politicians are the ones who send them into battle. Likewise, business interests can make all the plans they want, but unless they can find people willing to work for them — willing to do their dirty work, task by task — they’ll be left stranded, numbers un-crunched, spreadsheets empty.

Perform your tasks responsibly, and acknowledge — and take pride in — the work you’re doing as a result.

Book four in my A Tale of More series, entitled Ink and Sand, hits shelves today. Go snag yourself a copy for the price of a cup of coffee, or start with the first book in the series, Trialogue.

Posted on March 4, 2014 by Colin

Who They’re For

Throughout my life, I’ve worked primarily within industries in which my work is put on public display. As a columnist, a painter, a designer, a web develop, a blogger, and an author, everything I’ve done is out in the world with my name on it. Like a street-level billboard with a face on it attracts Sharpie-drawn Hitler mustaches, my work, by its nature, has always attracted critique.

This is both boon and bane. It’s a good thing, sometimes, because the right critique at the right time can lead to improvement. Something I wasn’t seeing because I was to close to the work being done, or something I never would have thought of because it derived from a perspective different from my own.

On the other hand, day-ruining feedback is common, and you either have to develop thick skin to deal with it, embrace the hurt and try to channel it into something useful, or avoid all feedback, hoping there isn’t any glimmer of helpfulness in your book reviews or online commentary that will go unnoticed, lost in a sea of mean-spiritedness and disdain.

I’ve opted for the thick-skin route. That doesn’t mean the angry, upset, sometimes troll-ish comments don’t hurt, but it does mean they’re less likely to ruin my day.

The best advice I can offer in dealing with negative critique, other than acknowledging that such is the nature of some businesses, is to stop and ask yourself a simple question any time you’re given a negative review:

Who is this for?

In some cases, the person criticizing is doing so for themselves. They want to appear superior or smart, or to elevate themselves by putting you down. They want to be a person capable of dishing out criticism. If this is the case, recognize that it’s human nature to want to do so, and that it’s how some people (perhaps many people) cope with difficulties in their own lives. It may be the only time they get to feel big and strong. Let them have that. The critique isn’t for you.

Some criticisms, though, are very clearly meant to help in some way. Perhaps by pointing out something that could use improvement, or telling potential readers of your book what was done well and what was done not-so-well. They may say it nicely, they may be terse or cold about it, but if the critique contains useful information rather than just contemptuous opinion, it’s probably meant for you and worth your time to acknowledge and consider. A negative review of this flavor is only negative if you take nothing away from it; the right course of action is to filter the useful stuff and silently thank the kind soul who both read your work and took the time to provide useful feedback. It’s a gift, even if it may not seem like one instinctually.

This is one of the better ways I’ve come up with to stave off the downer-feeling some critiques inspire, without filtering out the potential useful bits that are included in otherwise ‘bad’ reviews of my work.

Consider how the same might apply to your own work, and analyze feedback critically, not emotionally.

I wanted to write this piece at a time when I was getting a lot of excellent reviews, so that it wouldn’t seem like it was in response to anything in particular. I wanted it to serve as a reminder (to myself, as much as anyone) that even when you’re getting a lot of love (on Amazon, in the newspaper, online, or wherever else your work might be judged) that the next negative review is just around the corner, and it’s best to be ready to take what you can from it, if there is indeed anything to take.

I’ve been thrilled with the reviews that have been coming in for my A Tale of More series, and the third book, entitled Beige Man, just hit shelves today.

If you’re looking to join in on the fun (I’m releasing a new book in the series each week until I leave Iceland on March 18), Trialogue is the first book in the series, and is where you’ll want to start (and all the books in the series are the price of a cup of coffee).

Posted on February 25, 2014 by Colin

Telling Stories

The first words I published were on entrepreneurship and branding and other things I knew more about than most people, and that means of communication worked well. I could convey information damn quickly: this works, do this, here’s some information on how to do such things better.

Narrative nonfiction was the next step.

I thought, at first, that it was incredibly pretentious to tell stories about myself and my life. I thought, “Who cares? These are tales about me and my experiences. They can’t possibly be relevant to others.” A sufficient number of people who I respected told me they found value in the stories, though, so I started writing them down.

I’m glad I listened to their advice, because the end result was my being able to communicate even more through narrative than I could by strictly communicating data. There’s a subtlety in storytelling which allows you to touch on difficult to reach facets, and which leaves plenty of room for interpretation on the part of the reader.

Fiction is still a strange cat in a new house, to me. It’s something I’ve come to love, but I’m still a little weirded out by its presence in my life.

That being said, it’s become quite clear, quite quickly, that the attributes I appreciate in narrative nonfiction are even more pronounced in fiction writing. No longer am I limited by my own experiences in telling stories that communicate the ideas I want to communicate. No longer am I limited by my own habits or mannerisms or politeness in asking questions that I think should be asked. No longer do I worry over the perceived (and very real) bias that permeates any piece of narrative nonfiction work.

The filter of an experience is no longer the author, but the reader. The work I’m creating is the experience, and that gives me the opportunity to make it a very real, very entertaining or educational or uncomfortable or whatever experience for those who rifle through the words I’ve written.

That’s not to say that fiction or nonfiction or narrative nonfiction or any other style of writing is inherently better than the others. It all depends on what you want to say, how you want to say it, and who is on the receiving end of your message.

But it’s a powerful thing, telling stories through fiction. I’m still coming to grips with that power, the same way any kid does, the moment they realize they’re not a gangly adolescent anymore, and have come into possession of a full accompaniment of longer arms, bigger muscles, and the hesitancy of experience that hinders one in confidently knowing what to do with them. Yet.

Speaking of fiction, I’m publishing a new book every week until I leave Iceland on March 18. Rave Domino, the second book in the A Tale of More series, hit shelves today. Pop on over if you’re curious what kind of stories I’m engrossed in telling at the moment.

Posted on February 20, 2014 by Colin


Writing, to me, is like building a bridge.

I’m here, on this bank, and you’re over there, somewhere off in space. There may be fog between us, or we may have been aware for each other for some time, waving across the water from shore to shore, looking forward to eventual contact.

I have specific resources, traditions, ideas, and perspectives, and you have the same. By building a bridge, I’m able to share with you these resources of mine. I’m able to present what makes up ‘The Island of Colin’ to a much larger world; a whole chain of islands, each with a population of one; the inhabitants of each offering up their own collection of resources when we finally come into contact with one another.

There is a chance I’ll meet someone by accident. A metaphorical boat in a storm, washing up on shore, putting me in touch with someone new who I can influence and who can influence me. But I don’t like to depend on luck when it comes to expanding my horizons and pushing my boundaries.

Instead, I prefer to build ever up and ever out, while continuing to grow inward, as well. Doing my best to figure out who I am and what I have to offer. This ensures I have something to say — have plenty of bridge materials — and am always growing through contact with others who are doing the same.

Older Posts