Simple Fluid Portable Musical

If I had my druthers, I would have a writing shed. Some windows, a power outlet for my laptop and some speakers, and a desk wide enough to spread out some notebooks and a coffee mug. A wall for a cork board and dry erase board. Maybe even a second outlet for a space heater.

There have been lots of different ways I’ve defined the ideal writing space. There were a string of coffee shops I thought were ideal back when I was living in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area where I did a lot of work. Sometimes a library would be my ideal spot to sit and attack the keyboard. I’ve even made efforts to make whatever desk space I have where I live meet some kind of ideal conception of what it is that I want to make it feel like The Happiest, Most Productive Writing Space On The Planet.

But there’s only so much you can really control. For me, the days of having wide open hours for work are gone (at least for a while). It’s an any port in a storm mentality, where the dining table is as good as a desk, or the phone needs to be as good as a laptop. Five minutes by itself needs to be as useful as five minutes in a full hour of work.

While listening to a podcast on the Four Noble Truths, the speaker mentioned how there is a lot of discussion from the Buddha on the cause of suffering, but the speaker is often asked why Buddha didn’t also explain the cause of happiness. He responds:

When there is a cause, your happiness… is dependent on the cause being there. […] and to feel relaxed and at home, it’s best for there not to be a condition that’s required. Because then you’re able to bring your happiness, your peace into any situation. It’s portable.

-Gil Fronsdal

It reminded me of this quote which puts it another way:

Don’t let your happiness depend on something you may lose.

-C.S. Lewis

It’s not always possible or helpful to remove all conditions when you’re undertaking a task like writing. For example, writing without a writing implement. However, the principle is the same: attach your writing space and your process to as few conditions as possible. Be fluid. If you need an anchor, find one that’s easily portable, like music.

I’ve always worked while listening to music. It’s a way to create a writing space anywhere you have access to headphones. And if you make music as portable as possible (no streams, so lack of internet doesn’t interfere), it’s something always available to you.

Maybe it’s a certain song or album that puts you in the headspace for a project. A well-curated playlist that, or a shuffled selection of familiar favorites. The music can be that small luxury that helps keep your focus off the larger, frequently unnecessary desires that may feel important to your workspace or Your Process.

What is truly essential to you getting the work done? What are the things that you tell yourself are necessary, and how many of them can you go without? There is value in ritual, and to actions that create a transition from non-work to work time, but ask yourself: What’s the most portable version?

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The Four Noble Truths (for Protagonists)

This is a play on the Four Noble Truths of the Buddha, making some alterations to suggest a way of looking at character and storytelling.

1. All protagonists suffer.

We don’t watch movies about people who are content unless those people are about to have their world shattered. The key here is content. A character can be happy or cheerful and still be suffering.

Content people don’t have inner drives leading them to action. They don’t have unfulfilled dreams that nag at them, searching for a form of expression. Content people eat breakfast, go to work, run errands, and maybe watch a little television.

Content people are boring. We will not pay $11 to sit in a theater and watch a person start watching American Idol, only to doze off because they had a big, satisfying dinner. We don’t set the DVR to record the full season of Jack Enjoys Reading In His Peaceful Backyard.

A protagonist shouldn’t be content. Something should be bothering them, large or small. But what, and why?

2. A protagonist’s suffering is caused by their desire.

They want something. Something specific. It could be to go on a date with their secret crush, land a big promotion, or get revenge by finding and murdering the person who killed their family. The status quo of their lives is different from what they wish it was.

But there is a limitation to what kind of desire a protagonist should have.

3. There is an end to the protagonist’s suffering.

There needs to be an end game. Under what conditions does the protagonist get the win? What does it look like for them to no longer suffer from their desire?

There are clear cut situations like winning a tournament or catching a criminal. There are less clear cut end game conditions that are no less real, like a character getting over a loss who learns to find happiness or love again. The key here is that there is either a definitive point where the character wins or loses, or the character at least believes there is a point where they will achieve their desire.

4. There is a way for the protagonist to end their suffering.

If the protagonist’s goal isn’t something concrete that they can achieve through their own effort, it’s not a story. Sure, they may have something that they want, and they may be suffering because of it, but you still need to fill 90+ minutes of screen time. There must be something that they can do to determine whether or not they succeed in achieving their desire.

Say your character wants to win the World Series. They can’t just wish it to be true. They have to train. They have to make sure their team works well together. They have to win games during the regular season. And let’s get specific. Say your protagonist is getting old. Their career should have been over last season. They’re also fighting their own body in order to achieve this goal.

This way of looking at storytelling taps in to something about how we, as humans, relate to stories. We all have desires. We all have things we wish were different. Tapping into that aspect of human nature can not only work to create more believable characters, but can make sure those characters have something to do.