Wade Walton is a television producer, photographer, writer, musician and motivational trainer based in Southeast Pennsylvania. He’s especially interested in human interaction in the natural world and how each affects the other.
Matty Dalrymple: To discuss that topic, this episode’s guest is Wade Walton. Wade is a television producer, photographer, writer, musician and motivational trainer based in Southeast Pennsylvania. He’s especially interested in human interaction in the natural world and how each affects the other. Hello, Wade.
Wade Walton: Hi, happy to be here.
Matty: For authors who are writing part time, which I think is probably the situation a lot of our listeners are in, maybe writing in the evenings after a long day at work, how can they quickly get into that creative mindset?
Wade: Well, I was thinking about this question a lot and I came to writing through my main career which is as a television producer. I approached it from that standpoint first and thought about how do I write when I’m producing television. That came, especially early in my career, in the form of assignments. So, I thought about how did I get in the sense of turning my assignment in without getting fired and getting it in on time. As I thought through that, I realized that, that could apply to my part time writing, as well.
My television writing started out in the form of mainly documentaries where we would go to a museum that would hire us to do a documentary. We would spend time there learning about it and looking through the exhibits and walking the grounds and interviewing the people that were there. Only then, did we do any kind of writing. So, I thought through what was that process for me, and for me it was gathering knowledge, then, reflecting on that knowledge and then putting the script together for the production.
Later on, it turned out to be more short form commercials, promotions, things like that for a national TV network. Those intended to be things where some of them were guidelines and some of them were a little more free form but you still had to be able to write them very quickly. So, as I thought through that assignment approach to writing, I realized that it applies a little bit to my part time writing as well. I would think through during my day job, I would be working Monday through Friday and then trying to get in the mode of writing in the evenings. Thinking about it from an assignment-based perspective, I would almost give myself an assignment saying, “Okay, let’s complete this page today because I’m tired, I’ve worked all day. I know I’m not going to want to devote a lot of time to it.”
So that’s really how I’m approaching my writing now part time is almost giving myself an assignment and saying, “Let’s complete this small piece of that today.” Then, think about completing a small piece of it later in the week.
Matty: Do you think that the benefits of giving yourself an assignment outweigh the pressure that that creates to produce on a schedule, when the schedule is self-imposed?
Wade: I think for me it has only helped because I’ve realized that one thing I’m working on in my part time writing is actually showing up. Having a day job does take a lot of energy. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of mental focus. I realized that for myself, by the time I’ve completed a day of work, or most of a week of work, I have found myself at times with very little energy left to devote to my creative writing which is something that I think is very important and I want to keep in my life.
So, for me, the assignment-based approach has only helped not only is it something that I’m used to from a professional standpoint, it almost gets my mind in that professional mindset on my creative writing as well so I think it has only helped me.
Matty: Do you ever give yourself a break in the sense that maybe you get home from a particularly rough day at work and you’re just not feeling it at all but you have given yourself an assignment to do a certain amount of time or a number of words or something like that? Do you ever give yourself an out?
Wade: I would say, I probably give myself an out too many times. I do believe that we are often too hard on ourselves and so in the sense of being kind to yourself and not beating yourself up, if I personally fail to get my assignment done, I’m not going to spiral into depression or negativity but I will say, “Wow! I didn’t get my assignment done, and that’s a pretty important part of my life. I want to make it happen.” So that’s really just a sense of recommitting to doing better next time.
Matty: Can you give, and I should have asked this before but, can you give a little bit of background on exactly what you’re working on so the listeners have a context for where you’re coming from in your own creative work?
Wade: Would this be for my main job or my side creative work?
Matty: Your side creative work.
Wade: Right now, I’m working on a couple of things. The one thing that I’m trying to complete pretty quickly here is a book that I’ve been working on for several years. For me that’s too long. I would like to have had it done already but I’ve realized through writes and rewrites and now I’m into the third draft of this book, that it’s all been a good process and learning for me.
The book is a sort of a photo essay. I’m a photographer, as well as a writer, and I travel to Acadia National Park a good bit. I’ve taken thousands of pictures over the years there, that I realized were telling a story that I didn’t start out trying to tell, but that started to develop over time.
This photo essay is a combination of my photographs and my very short prose or poetry, as well as a few quotes from people that existed in Acadia over the years. What it started out was a travel book. Basically, a tourist book of here’s Acadia, here’s what it looks like, here’s where you should go and isn’t this beautiful? I was out walking one fall morning in Acadia and I realized, “Wow! That’s been done before,” and I didn’t really want to tread that same ground again. I wasn’t really satisfied with where it was going so I basically threw that first draft out and started over.
The second draft was closer. It was still very wordy and still had a lot of descriptions about the pictures and it turned out to be more of the standard coffee table book, which would have been photos and descriptions of the pictures. There, too, I just wasn’t feeling it. I got about halfway through that draft and started over for a third time and this one I’m much more happy with.
With the third draft, I really tried to make every word count. This spoke to me from a spiritual sense, as well as a sense of telling what I really wanted to tell about the photographs and what I was feeling at the time of taking the pictures. It’s turning out to be something I’m very proud of. Some of the very short almost haiku-like poems are things I didn’t realize I had in me. The quotes that I’ve pulled out of the writings of John Muir, George Dorr and people like that really, I think, matched the photographs well and I’m very pleased with it.
There are some long form writing at the beginning and the end of the book which really just sets up what the reader and the viewer is about to see. So that’s what I’m working on right now.
Matty: When you have a book like that, that is very short textual parts, how do you measure yourself—give an example of what an assignment would be?
Wade: I think back to this past weekend, for example. One of the ways I give myself an assignment as I put a calendar entry on my Outlook Calendar. I have one of those standing assignments every Saturday at 9 AM. The appointment goes and thinking like a professional I go and sit down at the desk, and last week’s assignment was really to refine the preface. I went into my book and brought up that page—and it’s about three pages long—and really thought through am I saying what I want to say with this? And let’s really try and nail this down.
So, I read through it carefully and realized that this section was too wordy or this section, I need to check the accuracy. So last week’s particular assignment was just trying to bring that front part of the book to completion, to where I felt like it was ready to go.
Other assignments tend to be, “Let’s look at the middle section and find photographs that seem to echo the right theme that I’m trying to put together here in the middle of the book.” So, for this particular book, the assignments tend to be, at this point and as we’re so close to completion, they tend to be really refining particular sections to make sure that they’re saying what I want them to say.
Matty: You had mentioned another important part of creativity, which is being willing to throw away something that you worked really hard on. What was that experience like? Did you realize that it had to be done so you just went ahead with it? Was it painful? Describe that a little bit.
Wade: I really do think that being very willing to throw away things is an important part of creativity. That’s something that I’ve gotten very comfortable with over the years. One of my previous positions in television was a video editor, and I worked a second shift that started at 4 PM until 12 AM and that was a lot of fun. That was at the time in my life where I had a lot of friends at work and we would all wrap up at midnight and then we’d go out and have beers and whatnot. Just having a good time.
But there were some nights and I would have basically two promotions that I would need to complete in the course of that evening, in the course of that eight hours. I had a lot of free rein as an editor at that time to really do something creative that I felt like I was telling the right story and that was doing the right things for the business. There would be times that I would get close to 11:30 PM and my editing day would be ending at midnight, and I’d be partway through the second spot, the second promotional piece, and it just wasn’t working for me or wasn’t telling the story that I thought it would tell or it just really was failing as a creative endeavor and I got very comfortable with laying television black over the whole thing and starting over. I would sometimes be there until three or four o’clock in the morning till I could get it right.
So, over the years, the rewrite process, and that really was a rewrite in video terms, is something I got very comfortable with and really I’m pretty easy going about if I have to start over on something. I think, it can get taken too far though and I believe that at times with this book, I’ve fiddled a little bit too long. You could do that for the rest of your life and I’m really trying to get it perfect and refine and get it perfect. I’m the type of person that if I don’t think it’s perfect, I don’t bring it out. So, that’s something I’m working on as well, saying, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.”
Matty: How do you make that judgment about when it’s reached a level that you’re willing to share it with other people, share it publicly?
Wade: I think with this particular book, part of it is that I just have a sense or I have a feeling that it’s done. The last few sessions, the last few assignments, really have started to be less creating and more refining. That to me is one of the ways I know it’s reaching completion. If I’m doing more fiddling than actually creating, that’s telling me that I’m reaching a point where maybe the particular string on this project has run out and it’s time to start bringing it out.
Matty: We’ve been talking a little bit. This is have been sort of in the context of if you have a day job and you’re trying to find ways to motivate yourself to get that creative output in the times available to you outside your day job. As time goes on, our listeners might become more successful in their indy publishing efforts and to the extent that they’re actually able to leave their day job and now, they are writing full time.
So, they get up in the morning and now they have ahead of them four, or eight, or twelve, or how many hours’ worth of output that they have to create. It’s still a creative challenge but now it’s sort of a different kind of creative challenge because rather than trying to fit your creativity in to the slots available, now you have a big slot of time and you’re sort of required to be creative during that time. I guess this would be more analogous to your job as a video producer, how do you go into that job day after day for a full time gig and continue to encourage your creativity?
Wade: I haven’t experienced being a full time writer and so I’ve always been fitting it in around another job, around another career. I think it would really be interesting to apply the same professional standards to a creative endeavor like writing, as you would do to a job where someone else is paying you to do it. In a sense you’re in business for yourself at that point, and I think, again, the level of dedication you can bring to your own business is going to determine how successful you are.
So, I really think that the assignment-based approach for me would work well in that case. I would have to set some parameters for myself saying, “I’m in the chair at 9 AM,” if planning to write for half a day or a full day, and really try and structure my day in a similar way that I would structure my day working for a television station. I think, that’s what I would try to do.
Matty: When I was introducing you, one of the things you had mentioned was that you’re interested in human interaction in the natural world and how each affects the other. Are there any tips you can offer in terms of capitalizing on that, if someone has sat down at the desk at nine o’clock and now it’s eleven-thirty, and they haven’t done anything? Any tips for getting the creative juices flowing?
Wade: As I think about my work and when I talk about the inner section between humans and the natural world, a lot of that fascination comes out in my photographs, which tend to be two things. One is I like big, sweeping landscapes but those are a little more common. A lot of my close-ups tend to be of buildings falling apart and what’s happening there and human creations and then what nature does to them over time.
Applying that to the creative work, I think that how would you let nature help you if that’s what motivates you. For me, I really do get inspired by nature and so my creative desk at home is by a window and for me, it really helps to not have my desk away from the window because I get inspired by nature. So, speaking for myself, if I put my desk in a basement with no windows around, with no breeze blowing in, I can’t see myself being very creative and so I’m giving myself the gift of understanding how I interact with nature. So, if I can sit by a window with the breeze coming in and the birds singing, I’m naturally going to be more inspired than if I don’t have that at my disposal. I even find that in my day job is that the further away I get my desk from the window, the more I have to go to the window to re-inspire myself.
Matty: It sounds like there are two tips there. One is know what works for you so for you it’s being near a window and having a breeze blowing, and for other people maybe that’s a distraction so they need to go to the basement so they can completely focus. But each person just being aware of what that is for them.
Wade: I think that’s absolutely crucial. I think, that everybody is different. Everybody has different things that fire their creative sense and so absolutely, knowing what works for you. I know people that are most inspired when they’re in a crowded Starbucks with lots of conversation going on, a lot of things to look at, cars bustling by in the street. That just wouldn’t work for me.
I happen to know I’m very much an introvert and so going off by myself, being in nature, being in a quiet space is absolutely what works for me, whereas, other people who have a more extroverted sense would absolutely be more comfortable in a crowded place, and probably be more creative there than I would be.
Matty: It seems like the other thing I was hearing is that you have your photography and the writing. So that when maybe you’re blocked on one, you can go to the other, and so maybe another tip is even if people’s primary creative outlet is writing, if there’s something else that they enjoyed doing that will keep the creative juices flowing but give them a little break from their writing, that might be beneficial too. So that you’re not just hammering away at trying to get some words on a page if the words on the page just aren’t coming.
Wade: I agree with that. I think that it really comes back to knowing yourself. One of the things I talk about in the motivational seminars that I give is knowing yourself and really giving yourself the gift of what works for you. We even do a quick exercise verbally where we say, “Okay, call out some things that work for you.” Coffee always comes up, as something to inspire some people.
Other people it’s a walk in nature. Some people like to sit in the sun for a few minutes. Others find a friend. You know, finding a friend is a great idea for being blocked on something if you’re able to find somebody you trust and can run an idea by, that’s a great way to go about it. But it really does come down to knowing yourself—knowing those triggers that can inspire creativity for you. Also, knowing maybe what blocks you.
I think at times, we just don’t know why we’re blocked or why we’re having such a hard time getting those words on the page. But then I think for other people, it really is just saying, “If I get my 2000 words for the day, I can go have a beer.” I think there’s just a really broad spectrum of ways that we can spark creativity for ourselves and the key is really knowing ourselves and what works.
Matty: What’s your feeling about the approach of at least get some words on the paper even if they’re not very good versus at least half the words you get on the page be good. I guess I’m revealing my bias a little bit because my fear is always if I follow the advice about, at least get some words on the page even if they aren’t very good. I’ll lock myself in in some way. My story will take a plot turn that I didn’t really want just because I had to get my 2000 words down for the day. Do you feel from a creativity point of view, there are pros and cons of at least having something to work with versus, maybe I’m locking myself into something that’s not high quality?
Wade: I think what I’m hearing in that question is a difference between scarcity and plenty. For me, I’ve always felt as a creative person that I will never run out of ideas. Going back to the example I shared earlier of being a video editor and being willing to just black out what I’ve been working on and start over, a couple of things. The first part I realized from those experiences and I had to do them quite a bit. It wasn’t every day, but it would be a couple times a year where I just wouldn’t be feeling it and I would start over.
I found that what I did the second time was without question better than what I did the first time. So that’s one thing is I realized that at times by starting over or rewriting or redoing a section, oftentimes, the second try at the creative approach to what I was working on ended up being more appropriate for the project I was working on. So, that experience over time taught me that I’m never going to run out of ideas. So that’s one.
The second piece of that that I thought was fascinating was, oftentimes, the idea that I would black out as a video editor, ended up coming back in some other form or it ended up being used in a later project or it turned out not to be right for this particular project but was just perfect for something that came down the road. So, I think that the rewrite process, and even the writing in the first place, is great because you’re accessing creativity and you might find a way to use it later. So, that’s another value, I think, of being willing to start over or rewrite or take a section and throw it out because to me nothing’s ever really thrown away. Oftentimes, if you take a section out as you realize this just isn’t working for this particular story, whether you’re story is thirty seconds in a television commercial or an 80,000 word book, I think that all the ideas are valuable. They just not might not be right for this particular place and so that rewrite process, not only is valuable in making your particular story or working on better but also even in almost workshopping ideas for future projects.
Matty: I like that tie-in between the necessity of being willing to throw away or store away if at least you’re getting something down on paper so you’re not locked into something that turns out not to be high quality.
I know that in my own writing, sometimes, I’ll write something and I’ll think, “Well, that’s barely even a first draft.” You know, it might be 2000 words but that’s not the 2000 words I want and I’ll color-code it. So you’re talking about blacking out. I sort of literally brown out because I changed the text to brown if I’ve written it and I don’t quite want to delete it but I know that it needs a lot more work. I guess part of the reason is sometimes I’m afraid of just getting 2000 words on the pages, I’m afraid in a longer work, like a novel, it’ll get lost and I’ll forget to go back and fix it. But if I’ve coded it in some way, I know that I’ve eliminated the risk of that happening.
Wade: Yes, and I think to go back to your first original question with this topic was is it better to get the words down and not have them be any good, or not put them down at all? I would always opt for getting them down and putting that idea out there because you just never know where it will lead you. I would even think that even if your book takes an unexpected twist, I would think that something that is valuable. It might tell you something about your character that you might not have otherwise known. Even if it doesn’t end up making the final draft, it might help expose, even if it’s only in your own mind, something that you didn’t know about your character.
When I was producing video for a national television network, I would often sit with an editor at night and some of these pieces would be silent. They wouldn’t have audio to them. They would be rolled into a live show and then the program host or the talent on camera would be saying something about the pictures we were showing.
But, invariably, this editor and I would sit there and have a story arc for this silent video that was just pictures, just moving video about the particular subject we were creating. That was very helpful. It wasn’t anything that the program host would ever hear and it certainly wasn’t anything that the end television viewer was going to hear. But for us it really was helpful in telling the right story and telling something that made sense to us that had a true story arc and that really did tell the right story in the end.
Matty: One of the pieces of advice I’ve heard that I really like is the idea that if your character is really well-fleshed out, then you can answer any question about them: Where they went to college? What their favorite food is? What they like to do on the weekends? Even if none of those things ever appear in the story, they all sort of feed into the portrayal of a well-rounded and interesting character.
Wade: I think that some of my favorite books that I’ve read have characters exactly like that. I’m thinking of a Stephen King book that I read recently. I think, 11.22.63 was the title. It was the one about the guy that goes back in time to try and stop JFK’s killing. I fell in love with one of those characters and I could picture their whole life basically because Stephen King had done such a good job in framing that character up. I have no doubt that if you were to ask Stephen King about this character, he would be able to give you a whole back story of what happened before or after.
Matty: One of the other things I had mentioned in the intro is the fact that you are a musician and are a member of the Walton Marquette group and as a faithful follower of Walton Marquette myself, I know that you not only play gigs out but you also do a lot of practice for those gigs and my last question is do you find the practices as creatively rewarding as the performances? And is there any lesson you feel like you can carry forward from whatever that answer is to the creation of a novel, let’s say?
Wade: The Walton Marquette Project is a cover band and what that means is that we play songs that were written by others and originally performed by other groups. I find playing other people’s songs very rewarding, where I think other people might say, “Well, you know what about the originals? Why wouldn’t you rather replaying things that you wrote?”
For me, I really enjoy playing other people’s work because not only is it fun and it is incredibly fun whether practicing or performing out, it’s also a great way to learn more about yourself and how you play and can you play something that somebody else wrote. It makes me a better musician. It also helps me learn more about music, which is something that I’ve been fascinated with my whole life.
So, playing at practice is for me is extremely rewarding. I got this particular group, is a group of people that are great friends as well, and so just being able to be with people that I enjoy so much doing something that I enjoy so much was just playing music, and actually getting better at it, is incredibly rewarding.
Playing in front of people, of course, is a completely different rush, and when people enjoy that and applaud for you, well, that’s just absolutely, incredibly rewarding. So, it’s really two different ways of rewarding. The practices themselves are crucial in being able to do something in front of people because when you’re doing it in actual performing mode, you really have to know your stuff. So, practicing and practicing and going over it is really important for me. I’m not the type of person that can learn something and just play it the first time. I have to have it really under my fingers because performing is also a different mode. You have to really be in a different level of concentration. The music almost has to just happen because you’re concentrating on other things and entertaining a crowd. Is everything sounding right? Or is the balance right?
For us, we are a small outfit and we tend to perform in places without a dedicated sound person and so that’s another thing we’re concentrating on when we’re playing out. Are we getting the right balance? Does it look like they’re having a good time? These kind of things that you have to concentrate on performing out means that you have to really have the practicing down, whether that’s practicing with the band or playing by myself and I find all pieces of that rewarding in different ways.
Matty: It does seem like one analogy is that you are doing the music as yet another thing outside your day job and outside your book creation. It’s obviously something you’re doing for the love of it. I think if people can bring that attitude toward their writing, then all the better. One of the things that attracted me about indy publishing rather than traditional publishing is you’re guarantee that it’s never going to be a grind. You can do it as long as it’s interesting to you and if it stops being interesting to you, you can move on to something else.
Also the benefit of having another source of income, while you’re doing your writing. As you were talking about the experience of performing and getting that feedback, that sort of felt to me like perhaps a beta reader experience. You know, you write your work and you give it to a beta reader and then you get that hopefully positive reinforcement of them really enjoying the story and also you get some feedback that’s the equivalent of adjusting sound level.
As they discuss what gripped them and what didn’t grip them, then you can adjust accordingly, and that the practice is maybe analogous to the actual writing up the work. That, if you can bring that same sort of joy to the experience of writing the book, then it’s going to pan out in your performance, in your output, and in the book you create.
I was also trying to see if there was an analogy there between your discussions about how much you enjoy playing with people who are friends and writing, which is oftentimes a solitary endeavor. So do you think that there’s anything to be learned in terms of working with other people while you’re putting your creative work together—and let’s say your creative work is writing—that you can learn from the enjoyment you’ve gotten from working with your friends on the Walton Marquette Project?
Wade: I think, this is a really interesting parallel and while you were framing up that question, I was really able to think about the similarities between practicing guitar by yourself and maybe writing by yourself at a computer. Then, practicing with other people and then maybe the analogy to that from a writing standpoint is going to a writer’s group and having your work critique or sharing your work around and getting feedback on that.
Then, the musical performing in front of people, I think that there is a literary equivalent to that too, and I’ve been to a number of readings of authors. yours being one of them, where you read in front of people and how they appreciate that and then you’re able to sign their books and sell your product to them.
It really was interesting for me as you were framing that up to think about the parallels between a musical creative track and a writing creative track because I think you’re right. Those are absolutely there.
The other thing I was thinking about while you were talking was you mentioned having several creative outlets—if something isn’t working you, move on to something else. That is another thing I think that works for me is I do have a number of things I’m interested in in life. I do just think life is extremely interesting and so I end up doing a little bit on a lot of different things. A lot of different interests and so I end up pushing a lot of things forward but getting incremental progress.
I think there’s probably other types of people that would rather just dive very deeply into one thing and focus on that and focus on that and really become a master at it. I think that, that’s equally valuable if that’s the type of person you are. I’ve never been the type that could just focus on one thing, but I really envy somebody that can be so interested in something that’s what they do and they really can achieve mastery.
Matty: That’s great. I think the theme I’m really hearing through all this is the importance of bringing the joy of creation to what you’re doing and not having it be a grind, which I think is another benefit of indy authorship. I think, it creates the environment to enable that to happen.
Wade: I really think that that’s another key part of creating is life should be fun. It shouldn’t be something that’s a drag or a bore or it shouldn’t be something that we beat ourselves up over if we only did 1500 words instead of the 1800 we wanted to do. If it’s not fun, why do it? I think that we do these things because we think we have something to share or because it’s something we’re good at or because it’s just an innate talent we have. I think, that such an important part of living is to have fun doing it. That’s why for me, it just wouldn’t be so much fun to focus on one thing. For me it’s just fun to experience as many things as possible. But again, knowing yourself and if you’re the type of person that it’s more fun to just dive very deeply into something, go for it. But absolutely, have fun doing it.
Matty: Thank you so much. This has been extremely helpful.
Wade: Thanks for having me.