In wandering around the Internet, I ran across a column by Tim Bienkowski in The Buffalo News. The title is, Let’s Return to the Days of Entertaining Ourselves. Here’s part of what he wrote:
“This spring, I had the privilege of attending a poetry marathon called the Urban Epiphany, held at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo. The event featured 100 local poets invited to read for about two minutes each in a rotating feast of poetic appetizers.
I was excited to participate and toward the end of the evening I had an epiphany of my own. What if everyone had to write and share two minutes of poetry? Not just practicing poets, mind you, but everyone.
What if this event was an expected achievement for most people, like passing your driver's exam? Let's just pretend that in our age of consumerism and careerism, our society also placed equal value on creativity. Imagine the possibilities: You could learn much about a person by his choice of subjects, tone, rhythm and style. You could spot the egotistical by their 10-minute rants or humorists by their unexpected punch lines. Singles would trade poems on the Internet, the more daring offering their performance in video format.
Of course, any new trends always produce winners and losers. Winners would include the ink and paper industries, opticians and academia. Losers would include consumer technology and reality TV.
On the other hand, people would live more conscious lives, be better able to recognize their own problems and discover solutions from within. They would be less able to be manipulated by the news media, advertising and the government, and would be more likely to develop their own voice.
Many might find this whole idea a bit off the wall. But if you think about it, we have become a nation of listeners and watchers. We leave the creativity to the professionals.
Prior to the 20th century, there were very few professional entertainers. People found a way to entertain each other through storytelling, singing and writing their thoughts down for others to read.
Isn't it time we all get involved in the magical pursuit of capturing our own ideas and sharing them?
Ideas are like stars. Isn't it time to let the clouds clear?”
Chris Stewart is the author of the international best-seller, Driving Over Lemons. In Writing Magazine (www.writingmagazine.co.uk) he talked about his writing routine, or rather his lack of one: "Every day I think, This is the beginning of a new me. And it isn't. It is a miracle that I get anything done, really. I fear that if I mess around too much with the old me, I might lose whatever shadow of talent it is I have. I might lose the spontaneity. So I think it is best to leave the inner man alone and go sailing through the waters of chaos."
Still, he's written a lot and he says, "Little by little, I'm coming to think of myself as a writer. I find it quite hard to take on board because I've spent all my life making a living out of manual labor of one kind or another. But it's nice to have a complete change of career around mid-life." (During the three years he was writing Driving Over Lemons, he was farming and shearing sheep.)
In a recent issue of The Writer, Jeffrey Yamaguchi (www.52projects.com) wrote a little article called “A Writer’s NOT-to-do List.” He included “do not check your e-mail, do not organize your CD rack, and do not Google all your exes.” Here are some more I thought of (feel free to add your own by adding a comment):
• Do not watch daytime TV “for just a little while”
• Do not brood about why you don’t have an agent
• If you have an agent, do not brood about why he/she isn’t doing anything for you
• Do not think about how much money John Grisham/ J.K. Rowling/ that new kid that just got a big publishing deal make
• Do not review your file of rejection letters
• Do not think about how many writers made it when they were younger than you
• Do not alphabetize your books
• Do not read the paper or your favorite magazine “for inspiration”
• Do not start shaving any of your body parts because it’s easier than writing
I recently read about a motivational and presentation technique called “shading.” It comes from presentation coach Jennifer Scott. She suggests that when you’re giving a presentation, you augment what you say out loud with something you say silently, to yourself. For example, she might introduce herself by saying, “Good morning, I’m Jennifer Scott,” and pause and say to herself, “and I’m a warm and friendly person.” Then, out loud: “I work for a company called Theater Techniques for Business,” followed by the silent, “and I love what I do.” She says most of us talk to ourselves anyway, so why not make that work for us.
It occurs to me we can use the same technique when writing. For example, when you sit down to write, what are you saying to yourself? If it’s hesitant or negative, maybe something else would be better. For example, after writing your first sentence, instead of saying, “This isn’t really a very good opening,” you might try, “This gets me started, and I can always change it later.”
The thing that tends to scare a writer the most is a blank page.
Especially a blank first page.
Maybe we can learn something from the Circque de Soleil. If you've ever seen one of their performances, you'll know it's hard to imagine anything more polished. That's why it was interesting to read (in an article on USAToday.com) what gymnast Mitch Head had to say about how they develop their seemingly effortless routines: "We start out with something basic, we tweak and build it up."
Cirque executive Lyn Heward adds that it usually takes 18 months to two years for a show to hit its creative stride. "It's rarely fine-tuned before a year."
Maybe we all face a blank page of one kind or another. The courage is in putting something down--anything--and then putting in the time and effort to tweak and polish and hone.
Maybe when you were in high school or college a teacher 'graded on a curve.' Basically that meant that he or she would allocate a few low grades, a few high grades, and most in the middle. If you put this on a graph, it looks like a bell, and it's known as the Bell Curve.
How does this relate to writing? In films and books, the bell has become a well. Take movies, for example. There used to be a few low-budget movies out, a few high-budget movies, but most were medium-budget. Now there are lots of low-budget movies, lots of high-budget blockbusters, and very few medium-budget films. (If you plot this distribution on a graph, it looks like a well.)
The same is true with novels. There used to be a few very literary or experimental novels, and a few block-busters, but most were mid-list kinds of books, a good, comfortable read--not junky, but not too demanding, either. That mid-list has just about disappeared. There are literary books which win the prizes, and thrillers and romances and chick-lit by big-name novelists, but what we might call "the well-made novel" has undergone a major decline. Maybe not welcome news, but if you're wanting to write novels, you have to take this into account.
According to the May 29, 2006 issue of Fortune, something similar is happening in TV. An article on Fox Network's Peter Chernin notes: "Lately, the executives in charge of Fox's TV production unit have found that pleasing but inoffensive, middle-of-the-road TV shows are tougher sells than ever. 'You have to be creatively adventurous,' says Dana Walden, who, with Gary Newman, runs Fox's TV unit."
This reversal of the Bell Curve into a Well Curve seems to be taking place in many contexts. The stores that are doing well are the big discount places like Wal-Mart, and the premium stores; it's the ones in the middle that are struggling.
The moral seems to be 'get extreme.'
Speaking at this year's FUSE Brand Identity Conference, Cheryl Swanson (founder of 'brand strategy firm' Toniq) had this to say about creativity and the pressure for speed:
"Creativity tends to be flattened when we are harried, when we need to boil it down fast, get it done, get it good enough, and then move on to the next crisis, to the next item on the agenda, to the next project that must be completed in typical, under-budgeted, under-resourced, under time-lined fashion. This puts powerful pressures on us to deliver without going out on a limb, without tapping the true wellsprings of our creativity, doing just enough to get by. In fairness, speed ultimately disconnects us from the passions that fuel our creativity. One might call it 'succeeding by not screwing up too badly.'"
Of course, even Michelangelo had the Pope rushing him--but sometimes we need to resist the pressure to do it fast and take the time to get out of the usual channels of thinking and creating.
Writer Beware is a service that warns writers about agents, publishers, and others who do not serve the writing community well. Sometimes they uncover outright scams, other times they just expose those who don't keep promises. Recently they ran a feature about the 20 literary agencies about which they have had the most complaints. They published the email addresses of the agencies, and one of them, Barbara Bauer, then threatened them with legal action. As a result the website, absolutewrite.com, has had a world of trouble. They are fighting this intimidation. In the meantime, I thought it might be good to let you know these twenty agencies. I won't include any email addresses, I know you're fully capable of finding those on your own...here is the material as it appeared on Writer Beware:
Below is a list of the 20 literary agencies about which Writer Beware has received the greatest number of advisories/complaints over the past several years.
None of these agencies has a significant track record of sales to commercial (advance-paying) publishers, and most have virtually no documented and verified sales at all (book placements claimed by some of these agencies turn out to be "sales" to vanity publishers). All charge clients before a sale is made--whether directly, by levying fees such as reading or administrative fees, or indirectly, for editing or other adjunct services.
Writer Beware recommends that writers avoid questionable literary agencies, and instead query agencies that have verifiable track records of sales to commercial publishing houses.
Note that while the 20 agencies listed here account for the bulk of the complaints we receive, they're just the tip of the iceberg. Writer Beware has files on nearly 400 questionable agencies, and we learn about a new one every few weeks.
The Abacus Group Literary Agency
Allred and Allred Literary Agents (refers clients to "book doctor" Victor West of Pacific Literary Services)
Barbara Bauer Literary Agency
Benedict Associates (also d/b/a B.A. Literary Agency)
Sherwood Broome, Inc.
Capital Literary Agency (formerly American Literary Agents of Washington, Inc.)
Desert Rose Literary Agency
Arthur Fleming Associates
Finesse Literary Agency (Karen Carr)
Brock Gannon Literary Agency
Harris Literary Agency
The Literary Agency Group, which includes the following:
-Children's Literary Agency
-Christian Literary Agency
-New York Literary Agency
-Poets Literary Agency
-The Screenplay Agency
-Stylus Literary Agency (formerly ST Literary Agency, formerly Sydra-Techniques)
-Writers Literary & Publishing Services Company (the editing arm of the above-mentioned agencies)
Martin-McLean Literary Associates
Mocknick Productions Literary Agency, Inc.
B.K. Nelson, Inc.
The Robins Agency (Cris Robins)
Michele Rooney Literary Agency (also d/b/a Creative Literary Agency, Simply Nonfiction, and Michele Glance Rooney Literary Agency)
Southeast Literary Agency
Mark Sullivan Associates
West Coast Literary Associates (also d/b/a California Literary Services)
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Boris Akunin, Russian author of a successful series of mystery novels, says before he begins writing he plays recorded music: "I have to put on the right sort of music, to listen to it for five or 10 minutes just to get tuned to the right mood." For a tragic mood, he likes Mahler, for a tender mood, it's early Beatles albums.
There's another way to use music. That is to wait until you naturally get into a good writing mood, then put on a song or an album that you don't normally play but that supports the writing mood. Do this two or three times, each time using the same music.
Thereafter, when you don't feel in a great writing mood, but want to, you put on that music, and it should create the mood by association. In NLP, this is called an anchor. (Of course, before there was NLP, Pavlov did something similar with dogs and food.)
For more writing tips, see my site, www.timetowrite.com.