Tag Archives: Thomas Stafford

A Writing Month to Remember — And 7 Tips for Continuous Productivity

When I was working on One Giant Leap for Mankind, NASA’s 25th anniversary salute to the Apollo 11 moon landing, Apollo 10 commander Thomas Stafford introduced me to the “forcing function”. He said that many great achievements and accomplishments in our lives, and our society, come from a motivating factor that “forces” us beyond our limits. Or, it propels us to reach a target due date that might seem impossible at first glance.

Stafford was talking specifically about the race to the Moon in the 1960s, to fulfill President John F. Kennedy’s proclamation that we would land a man on the lunar surface and return him safely before the end of the decade. However, he added, “it (the forcing function) works for everything you really want to accomplish.”

That’s how November has felt to me: one big forcing function. I’ve been working with four deadlines all month. Last week, we finished producing The Legacy Series: Celebrating Innovation & Technology, a year-long project that will be released next week in print, online, mobile and tablet form. What a blast! Besides editing the publication, I wrote articles on the Future of Filmmaking, the late Steve Jobs’ long-term legacy, our “Innovation Nation”, and the Crowdfunding phenomenon. I also conducted wonderful interviews with some truly innovative, creative business and technology leaders: Jeanniey Mullen, a trailblazer and key international figure in digital publishing and email marketing; Chris Voss, one of Forbes magazine’s Top 50 social media experts; Craig Perkins, winner of the iPhone Film Fest; Dr. Gustavo Rabin, author of Becoming A Leader and a man with whom I worked last year; and two giants of industry, GE senior VP Beth Comstock, the woman who masterminded the online TV and movie viewing site hulu.com when she was at NBC Universal; and the one and only Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, a co-star of Shark Tank — and co-owner of Magnolia Pictures and the Landmark Theaters, two components of a 21st century version of the old movie studio system.

More on The Legacy Series in a release celebration blog next week.

On Tuesday, I reached the 50,000-word goal for National Novel Writer’s Month (NaNoWriMo), an international online event where you, well, write 50,000 or more words in a month. I used the occasion to write part of a rough manuscript for my memoir, Do I Have A Story for You!, which friends, associates and two literary agents have suggested I write for 10 years. Now, I am finishing book proposals for a biography I am writing, as well as my sweetheart Martha Halda’s memoir, A Taste of Eternity, concerning her near death experience and increased purpose of her life since.

And people say we slow down in our 50s, that it’s impossible to crank it out in this busy world. This month reminded me of something filmmaker George Lucas told me years ago about his least favorite word in the English language. “I made a career out of people telling me it was impossible,” he said. “It’s not a good word to use around me.”

It’s been a very creative and productive month, during which I have been reminded of six tried-and-true rules about writing, creativity and productivity:

1)   Write every day. If we commit ourselves to writing for even 1 to 2 hours per day, pages get written and books and articles get finished.

2)   Write or create something new. Try a new form of writing, or a new type of art or craft. Bring play into your work. The key to a great story is to make the ordinary seem extraordinary. So it is with our lives.

3)   Set daily goals. What do you want to accomplish today? Set a specific, measurable goal that is attainable, realistic and timely. They’re known in business as SMART goals.

4)   Connect. Spend time each day connecting by e-mail and social media. Blog, Tweet, post on Facebook, build Google + and LinkedIn accounts, and follow people with large follower networks. The phone works great, too.

5)   Focus. Practice focusing on one thing for long periods of time. Use visualization or meditation to build greater concentration. The more we focus, the more organized we become, and the deeper we can move into our subject.

6)   Eat Well and Work Out. Working out is the perfect accompaniment to creativity. It burns stressful energy, clears our minds, and rejuvenates us. That goes for food as well. Eat high-protein, low-carb diets — especially when powering through major projects.

7)   Enjoy. Enjoy. Enjoy. As ultramarathoner Pam Reed told me once about the pain that comes with long races, “You know it’s gonna hurt. But enjoy the experience.” Same holds for writing books or dealing with tough projects. Enjoy the experience.









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NaNoWriMo and the Forcing Function

In 1993, when I was working on One Giant Leap for Mankind, the silver anniversary commemoration publication to the Apollo 11 lunar landing that I developed and edited, Apollo 10 astronaut Thomas Stafford used a term I’d never heard before: “The forcing function.” In Stafford’s view, if you want to create something truly innovative or creative, you need a forcing function — an outside force that propels you past your own preconceived notions or limitations and into higher performance and excellence. In the case of Stafford and his fellow Apollo astronauts, the forcing function was laid down in 1961, when President Kennedy proclaimed the mission of landing on the moon before the decade was out.

I think of the forcing function often, especially during some of the innovative, deadline-based projects on which I have worked. It is true that when our backs are to the wall, many creative types put together their very best work. We suspend our doubts, distractions and tangents, focus deeply on the matter at hand, and put together books, pieces of music, paintings, sculptures, dance performances and illustrations that reflect our higher potential. Since I grew into adulthood while on a daily newspaper staff, I know all about forcing functions: we faced them every day, required to produce pages and stories between 6 and 9 a.m., when the newspaper was typeset and plated for the presses.

Some things never change.

That’s why I love NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month. What became an honorary month for novelists has grown into a program that celebrates the novel-writing process and encourages writers of all ages and persuasions to sit down and create a work of fiction — by using the forcing function as an impetus. By signing up on the official website, you become part of a supportive world of other writers in your region that are trying to do the same thing — write a novel in a month (or at least much of a novel). It has been deeply inspiring to read emails and Facebook posts from writing friends who have cranked out 10,000 to 30,000 words this month in their efforts to complete their work of fiction.

As of today, more than 1.75 billion words have been composed by authors nationwide as part of the NaNoWriMo program. Jump in and add to it!

As for me? Crazy writing, client and teaching schedule and all, I’ve taken the plunge. I finally signed up yesterday and am 3,000 words into my next novel, “Open Mic Night at Boccaccio’s,” which I have wanted to write for a couple of years. Will share excerpts on here in future blogs, but suffice to say, the forcing function kicked in and I’ve got 12 days to shape this idea into the makings of a novel.

Which reminds me: time to sign on to the NaNoWriMo website, log my word count to date, and write some more.

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