Posts Tagged With: CreativeMornings/Raleigh

CreativeMornings: The Update

The local lecture series CreativeMornings Raleigh was kind enough to have me as a guest in the spring of 2021, when I did a full-length speech via Zoom. And because that was online rather than in-person, they brought me back the morning of Nov. 18, 2022, for a quick in-person update during their monthly presentation at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh. It’s below, a brief overview of what I’ve been up to since last year.

# # # #

Greetings! I was a CreativeMornings guest speaker back in April of 2021, when I did a presentation about procrastination as part of the creative process. And I guess I’ve spent a lot of time procrastinating over the past year and a half, because I’ve kept pretty busy.

At the time of that presentation, I had just published a book called “Step It Up & Go,” about the history of North Carolina music – which I don’t believe is in the museum gift shop here although I wish it was, hint hint – and I was pleasantly surprised to win a couple of awards for it. The paperback edition should be out next spring.

Since that last CreativeMornings appearance, my main accomplishment was finishing another book, this one a history of Rounder Records. Rounder is a folk-music label that has had some big-selling acts like Alison Krauss. But mostly it puts out esoteric records of banjo music or field hollers. Rounder’s founders were basically hippies who spent the ’60s hopping freight trains and hitchhiking to folk festivals, so of course they started a record company, because why not? “Oh Didn’t They Ramble: Rounder Records and the Transformation of American Music” will be out in time for us to launch it at the big World of Bluegrass festival in late September of 2023, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.

Perhaps inevitably, given my demographic, I’ve also been doing a podcast. “Carolina Calling” is a new podcast about the music and history of North Carolina, produced by The Bluegrass Situation, and I am the host. This past spring’s first season had episodes about Asheville, Shelby, Greensboro, Durham and Wilmington. Season two is coming in 2023 with episodes about Nina Simone, Doc Watson, Libba Cotten and more. You should be able to find “Carolina Calling” wherever you get your podcasts. Come find me after this, and I’ll give you one of these very spiffy stickers.

Otherwise, I keep busy writing for area arts councils, magazines and websites. You can find me most months in Walter magazine,, The Bluegrass Situation and various university alumni publications. I’m also on That Station 95.7-FM twice daily, 8:30 a.m. and p.m., with “North Carolina Backtracks.” Coming up on four years since I left the News & Observer, I occupy a sort of netherworld between marketing, PR, journalism, criticism and I don’t know what else. But hey, it works.

I hope to see you out there.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A few thoughts on procrastination

CreativeMornings/Raleigh was kind enough to have me as speaker for their monthly meeting on April 30, giving a talk on the theme of procrastination. It’s a topic I had some affinity for, because every book I’ve ever written has involved long stretches of me procrastinating to no apparent purpose — except there actually is a purpose to it. For more, read on. Here is the talk that I gave.

# # # #

I have published four books over the past 20 years, with a fifth in progress. So while I don’t exactly have a track record, I’ve been around the block enough times to recognize process patterns when they come up. And those process patterns used to alarm me a great deal, especially when it came to procrastination.

With every book, I always wind up at some point contemplating a large mass of background material – papers, notecards, recordings & random gewgaws with a lot of post-it notes, stuffed into folders and piled into mail tubs. And for a long time, just the sight of that will bring on something like narcolepsy. All I have to do is see or even think about it, and I want to pass out and take a nap.

Eventually, however, I do get around to going through everything and arranging it into enough of an order to be useful. Then it’s time to get to work generating even more material, by interviewing a bunch of people – and the same thing happens all over again. The prospect of picking up the phone and calling somebody fills me with exhaustion, even dread. I’d say I have to experience at least a half-dozen instances of this, maybe more, before I can summon the gumption to actually begin conducting interviews.

But that finally happens, too. Then it’s time to take all this old & new material, put it together and actually write the book. And here we go again. Waves upon waves of fatigue come crashing down as I fret and I nap, and it takes a while to actually get underway.

Now I used to be puzzled by this three-step process, because it’s not how I’ve ever operated with the dayjob. I worked in newspaper newsrooms for more than 30 years, and there was never enough time to do anything. So you just put your head down, plowed ahead and got it done. The result might not be the most artful thing in the world, but it was still better than having a blank white space in the next day’s paper where your story was supposed to be.

Books, however, are different, at least for me. And one big reason is they’re a lot longer. Where most newspaper or magazine articles I write come in at a thousand words or less, my most recent book ran to almost 100,000 words. I’m working on another one at the moment that will probably clock in at about 80,000 words.

Not only are books longer, they’re also supposed to have more staying power, at least in theory. So that means you put more into them, working up enough energy to tackle them with a higher degree of focus. Which takes, yes, procrastination, although I don’t think of it as wasting time so much as letting the tank fill up.

And so I have come to recognize these bouts of paralysis, filled by naps or puttering around the house rearranging the silverware drawer, as a necessary phase. I used to try and just power through them, only to discover that I always seemed to write myself into a corner. So I’d have to stop for a while – go cut the grass, rearrange the CD collection or the bookshelf – and come back to it. And then a way out always seemed to present itself.

One problem with this recent book, “Step It Up and Go,” was: How to begin? I tried all sorts of approaches for the opening prologue, from big-picture at-a-distance to up-close and personal. After wadding up and throwing away a half-dozen opening scenes and napping on it, I decided it needed a remembered scene involving a relevant person, place and thing.

Two and a half years of writing later, figuring out how to end it was just as difficult. I could not seem to hit the right closing note with the end of Chapter 16, about North Carolina’s “American Idols.” So after some puttering around, what came to me was closing with a postscript epilogue: another scene, this one from the streets of downtown Raleigh during the big fall bluegrass festival. That turned out to be just the thing to tie up a few thematic loose ends.

I’ve always wished I could blast out a first draft from start to finish without going back to edit as I go. But that’s just never worked for me. For me, at least, book-writing is a slow and torturous process that goes chapter by chapter, section by section, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence and even word by word. The only way I can do this is to write and rewrite something over and over, trying to figure out the best way to say something.

Each of the 16 chapters in “Step It Up and Go” is 5-6,000 words, broken up into about a half-dozen sections. My process was to start writing a section and get as far as I could. Initially, it would break down into something that looked like a rough outline after not too many paragraphs. So I’d go back to the beginning of that section and start over, again and again, as many drafts as it took. I’d get a little farther each time, and eventually that section would be solid enough to where I could go on to the next one.

I’d liken it to building a ridge of dirt with a shovel. You have to pat down, firm up and stabilize each section before it’s strong enough to bear your weight and allow you to move on to the next part. So yeah, it’s the literary equivalent of ditch-digging – interspersed with procrastination naps. Two/three years later, there’s your book.

And for the record: I procrastinated LIKE HELL before writing this.

Notes by Abra Millsaps.
Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Create a free website or blog at