Saturday, June 30, 2012

Less Than Twenty Four Hours Left! Some Last Minute Hopes & Fears

Create / Consume begins for me tomorrow. I'm definitely feeling a combination of excitement and anxiety. Why is that? Well it comes from knowing that I'm about to embark on an incredibly difficult challenge that I'm sure to struggle with. But I also know that once it's over, I'll come out the other side with a strong sense of accomplishment and hopefully some hard-won new routines like the ones I got when I quit playing video games for a year.

I'd like to share with you the jumbled mess of hopes and fears running through my head right now:

FEAR: I fail to maintain a proper Create / Consume balance, leaning far too heavily on consumption and causing an insurmountable imbalance.

This is obviously the worst-case scenario. I try my best to create whenever I can, but I slip and give in to temptation more often than I should. If my consumption remains consistently higher than my creations, even by just a little, I will fail the challenge. Should this happen, well, it will certainly still be a learning experience. And maybe I'd try again and redouble my efforts come August.

HOPE: I come out of the month with some work I'm genuinely proud of.

I've started a lot of projects. I've got dozens of first drafts of things. But lack of persistence has kept me from returning to a lot of my work and really polishing it. If things go well, I'll be able to develop a laser focus to improve upon a good portion of my material that I'll be proud to show the world some day.

FEAR: I'll be miserable the entire time, leading to some crappy creations and anxious, guilt-ridden consumption.

This is another big one. Forcing myself to write or otherwise create when I'm not in the mood is obviously a recipe for uninspired work. And if I have to sit with an ever-judging clock ticking higher and higher in the background every time I allow myself to consume things, I'm obviously going to enjoy myself far less that I was before. The best solution I've come up with so far is embrace a lot of the neutral activities I have set up during the month - social time, exercise, and things I've put off for many months, like going through old boxes and cleaning up my apartment. Additionally, I have other "creations," such as the books I purchased on memoir-writing and game design (two fields I'm focused on), that will allow me to generate some creation time without taxing my brain as much.

HOPE: Once the month is over, I'll naturally live a mostly balanced Create/ Consume life on my own.

How's that for a dream? They say you break a bad habit in as little as 21 days. I've committed myself to 31. If I can train myself to naturally wake up and start writing regularly (as opposed to opening my gmail or turning on my iPhone), and generally spend less of my downtime being unproductive, then even if i end the month one the wrong side of creation and consumption, I'll still consider the project a success. Of course, this is currently just wishful-thinking. When I finished "Paused" and allowed myself playing video games again, I kept writing but after losing my job and wound up clocking in a record-breaking number of hours playing video games again. It's very easy to slide back to old habits, so I'll need to continue being diligent, and not allow myself a "victory month" of massive consumption, as tempting as that will be.

FEAR: I'll cheat or find ways to work around the rules of the challenge.

I'm pretty disciplined when it comes to this kind of stuff (I accidentally clinked on a link during my year off from games and freaked out and quickly closed my browser when I found out I was suddenly playing a flash game) but I've never set the bar this high before. There's a reason people hire trainers when they trying to be serious about working out at the gym. It's just way too easy to blow it off. I can totally see myself saying: "I'm just gonna tweet a blog post real quick," and find myself checking my twitter feed or facebook without clocking it. I haven't gone a day without looking at my google reader while I'm at work - how will I function with my fix? How will I fight so many temptations on a daily basis? And what if I decide to spend the month not consuming but just hanging out with friends constantly, avoiding any real creations while working within my own rules? I honestly have no answer to this other than A) lying to myself and those who are following me seems much worse than simply failing, so I'll always keep that in mind and B) I can only assume my friends will eventually get sick of me, and hopefully a nagging guilt will always get me back on track.

HOPE: This will be something I do every year, and I'm able to encourage many others to do it with me.

For better or for worse, these kinds of life experiments / gimmicks work wonders for me, mostly because I find discipline much easier when there are actual stakes at play. In other words, when I can make kind of a game out it. My friends make fun of me about this the time, but I've found a way to lean in to this particular quirk. If the month goes well for me and I don't hate every single second of it, I can see it becoming something I do every year, or perhaps even more. I also genuinely hope to get others interested in the project, and for word to spread through stories from myself and from others doing the experiment. It would honestly be a dream come true if just one person told me Create / Consume changed their life in a positive way.


That's everything on my mind at the moment, though I'm sure other things will come up that I haven't even thought of. As I finish this post, the project starts for me in a little over six hours. I'm as mentally prepared as I'm ever going to be. So on that note, I'm going to go now and enjoy my last remaining hours of guilt-free consumption time, which will actually mostly be spent on a neutral activity, spending time hanging out with friends. I wish any of you joining me tomorrow the best of luck, and remember to keep me posted on your progress as I will here on this blog. I won't be doing daily updates, but I'll probably be posting a lot in general this coming week.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Are Mini/Side Creations Worth Counting?

I was talking with some friends last night about Create / Consume and I jokingly mentioned that I'd be picking up an Etch-A-Sketch to have on me at all times so that I could invest a few quick minutes into something if I was low on 'Creation time' for the day and wasn't necessarily in the mood (or didn't have a nice chunk of time set aside) for doing any writing, which is my likely go-to for creative output next month.
Jesus. I couldn't even draw the circle surrounding the Presidential seal with this thing.
My friend Dan laughed at the idea and quickly said: "that'd be a real waste of time, wouldn't it?" And at the time I shrugged, but since then I've been thinking about the idea of mini/side creations - things like doodles, iPhone camera pictures and the like - things that under the letter of the law count as "artistic creations" that are not exactly works of art with any real passion behind them. Should they count as highly as anything else? Is creation time still creation time, no matter what is being created?

When I initially ironing out the details for Create / Consume, I had a few items that fell under the area of '1/2  consumption,' like watching tv or playing video games with friends (since it was somewhat social). I also had items that counted as '1/2 creation,' like rehearsals and classes (since we were just learning and not technically creating anything to be presented). In the end I decided to just draw a hard line in the sand and count everything as all or nothing, if for no other reason than I didn't want to have to deal with a lot of annoying math all month.

So I'm not really interested idea that some creation counts less than other kinds of creation (this is me personally - like I've stressed in the past, everyone has their own priorities with this project). Especially since I'd like to be open to the idea of discovery over the course of July. Maybe after drawing ten crappy doodles of Batman, I rediscover the love for drawing I haven't had since I was a child. Maybe after taking a few barely-artistic shots of the view outside my bedroom window I'll discover a newfound love for photography. Who knows what thirty days of semi-forced artistic expression can do to a man.

Still, I also don't want the month to be about me finding clever ways to avoid doing the things I know deserve my focus. If I spend the same (or less than) eight hours a week writing as I did before, and the rest of my free time making a Play-Doh village featuring miniature models of all my enemies that I will eventually stomp into oblivion, well...actually that sounds pretty awesome. Bad example. Point is, I definitely want to focus the majority of my attention on my writing, my performances, and the game I'm designing, so those things should and will get priority.

My friend Karen actually came up with a great suggestion, which is allowing for "creative exploration" each day, but putting a cap - say an hour - on it so that ultimately I still have a focus. I actually think it's a great compromise (and no real increase in math, just time awareness). And that mean the Etch-A-Sketch is still on the table. Now, if only I was able to draw something better than this: 

That's PRESIDENT Squiggle-Mess to you, friendo.
What do you guys think? Should Create / Consumers have a focus with what they want to create? Or let their imagination flow...even if that means lots of time spent carving their name into windows on the subway?


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Breaking Down My Control Week

A few weeks ago, in anticipation of Create / Consume, I decided to run a 'control' week where I kept track of how I spent my time. Over the course of these seven days, I deliberately did not adjust my behavior at all. Rather, I just kept careful track of my time from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to sleep, specifically tracking any instances of what I would eventually be counting as "creation" and "consumption." Here's how the week broke down:

That's 44 hours and 38 minutes of consumption, which absolutely crushes my 17 hours and 43 minutes of creation. Now mind you, this was not a particularly bad week for me. In fact, I daresay it was what I normally call a good week. I wrote for more than 8 hours, I had improv practice, a show, and a meeting with my writing group. But I also spent a ton of time surfing the web (at home and at my job), and I very much kept up with all my iPhone games. And clearly by the end of that long week, I felt entitled to a nice relaxing day, which meant bouncing around between my Xbox, TV and computer during most every spare moment.

I recommend that anyone who is planning on attempting Create / Consume run a test week like this (or just a few days, since we're now at less than a week until the project officially begins!) to both become aware of your creation and consumption habits and to get into the habit of keeping track of your time. It will definitely take a while to get used to pulling out your iPhone (or a stop watch, if you're kicking it old school) whenever you're about to do anything that falls under either category. The very act of tracking may adjust your scores too - as you can see it did on my first day when I opted to mostly do things that weren't being tracked all (exercising, napping, hanging out with friends). Finally, it's actually kind of fun to see the results if you're any kind of stat geek like me.

By the way - the app I used to track my time was called Eternity (technically it was the free version, Eternity Lite, though I liked it enough to buy the full version and all it's functionality for July). It lets you track multiple activities and it logs your total time while you're stopping and starting the clock over and over during the day. There's reports available too that I didn't use and would likely compile a better spreadsheet than I did before. You can break down the categories into more than just "create" and "consume" and really track how much of everything you're doing. Cool stuff.

Like I said a little further up, Create / Consume starts in less than a week! And it looks like a fair number of you will be joining me, so I'm super stoked. I'm going to go spend some time enjoying my last week of guilt-free consumption for a while while also continuing to spread the word and also coming up with some clever alternative creation ideas to keep me busy next month when I'm not in the mood to write, perform, or work on designing my card game. Those of you doing it with me - how do you plan on spending your last week preparing for this ambitious undertaking?


Monday, June 18, 2012

An Animated Feature For Your Viewing Pleasure

Still wondering how this whole Create / Consume thing works? Too lazy to use your eyes for reading? Perhaps this video will help set things straight:

I hope you enjoyed that, if for nothing else than to see me in a tutu. And also sculpting an ice T-Rex.

One last update: I've got a Facebook page set up for the project now too. Subscribe to it, like it, and help spread the word. Thanks!


Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Master List - Breaking Down Creations and Consumptions

I spent a fair amount of time thinking about what I want to count as "creation" and what I wanting to count as "consumption." For those of you interested in my thought process behind everything, here's the full list I've come up with so far. I'll update this if I make any changes before July 1st:

Writing - blog post, short story, working on my novel, etc.
Performing - improv or live storytelling set
Working on "Placebo" - a card game I created and am currently playtesting
Research on Writing/Performing/Game Design - with books, or online
Improv Practice - generally once a week for two hours
Writing Group Meeting - similarly once a week for two hours
Classes - any kind of writing or performance class I'm currently enrolled in

Video Games - Xbox, Wii, iPhone, any electronic game
Internet - Everything that is not email or some kind of research
Books - Again, anything considered leisure and not research
Newspapers / Magazines
Podcasts - I subscribe to way too many of these. 'Cause they're free!

Neutral Activities
My Day Job
Socializing with Friends & Family / Dating
Cooking / Eating

Gray Area Items / Exceptions
Board Games with Friends
Email / IM

The gray area items are the ones that gave me the most trouble, since it's pretty easy to label them all under the blanket of consumption. But after careful deliberation, I've decided to count them as an exception. Unlike every other form of media, I am actually able to focus and work while listening to music, so I'm not counting that. I play board games once a week with friends, and I've decided to label that as socializing time, not consumption. I'm also exempting them because unlike movies and TV shows, I actually couldn't play/experience them alone. Technically I guess I should say: I would no longer play them alone, since I actually did play boards games alone a very long time ago when I was young, desperate and unnaturally obsessed with Monopoly.

Email was the trickiest category, as I have been guilty of checking my email far too often as an excuse to not work. But I write and receive many important emails as part of my daily life, so I didn't feel right penalizing myself for something I can't really choose to avoid entirely. So I'm going to do my best to limiting myself to a handful of email checks per day, and if I stick to it, then it remains an exception. If I find myself replacing lost internet time with time spent instant messaging and looking through every little shred of data from emails from all the game and comedy sites I'm subscribed to, I'll adjust accordingly.

There are situations that I know are going to be tricky with this experiment once I start tracking my time. I come up with lots of ideas at random times, when I'm out running, when I'm dozing off/waking up, while I'm in the kitchen, and especially while I'm in the shower. Should I start the clock whenever I let my mind wander? It's tempting, but I think I'm going to only specifically count "creation" time when I've got my notepad (or iPhone) out and I'm actively writing down my thoughts. It's just easier to track this way. Conversely, if I've got nothing in particular to work on at the moment, I can sit down at my desk (or wherever I am) with just a pad and a pen and regardless of how many ideas I'm generating at that moment (I could wind up just doodling pictures of ninjas fighting dinosaurs) I'll still count that time as creation.

What do you guys think? Did I miss anything? Should I have not counted something the way I did?

And if you have your own list, let's see it! Post it in the comments.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

An Introduction

Hi there. My name's Matt Shafeek. I'm a writer and performer living in New York City, and I have a little life experiment coming up that I want to tell you about. It's called "Create / Consume," and I'm very excited about it.

For the entire month of July 2012, I am committing myself to creating as much as I consume. This means that for every minute I spend watching TV, playing video games or browsing the internet, I have to match that time with a minute of writing, performing, or otherwise 'creating.'

This will not be easy. I'll have to keep track of every minute of my free time, and I'll be have to be vigilant about staying ahead of my consumption. But that's precisely the point of doing this - to become more aware of how I use my time and to hold myself more accountable for it.

I have a strong tendency to misuse my free time. I'll spend hours blowing through my Google Reader, on Facebook, or on my iPhone. I have a pretty unhealthy addiction to Words with Friends and Hero Academy, and I can easily justify spending an afternoon catching up on a season of Breaking Bad. And I certainly would never think to fully deprive myself of these things. Like a dieter who eschews all his favorite delicious meals and desserts, I understand that simply forgoing all of life's pleasures would be a recipe for disaster. Instead, I'm simply looking to find a better balance, because right now the pendulum is simply swinging too far in the wrong direction.

Four years ago I decided to give up video games for a year to see what I'd do with my time. The goal was to read more, write more, exercise more, cook more and travel more. And I did all those things - it was great! I blogged about the whole experience and even got interviewed by a few people when I successfully finished the year. Clearly I enjoy doing this kind of thing. But this time around I'm encouraging other people to join me in my wacky little experiment, tweaking it to fit their own needs, and sharing their experience with the world just like I'm doing.

So how about you? Are you a creative person looking to find better ways to your time? Do you enjoy kooky little life projects in general? Well then - hop on board the crazy train with me and let's see what happens. You're free to make what you want of your "Create/Consume" experience. I already have a friend who I told about that will be incorporating riding her bike and avoiding using her car for the month, which I think is awesome, and I'd totally be doing that too if I owned either of those things.

That's my spiel. Are you curious? Intrigued? Then keep an eye on this blog. I'll have more details and specifics coming soon. If you're looking to reach out to me, to sign up or ask any questions, email me at, and if you're interested in getting the latest updates on the experiment, follow me on twitter @create_consume.

Have a wonderfully productive and/or lazy day.