I'm sure you can think of some more!
Of course sometimes we come up with "what if's" that are more fun: "What if it's a best-seller? What if it makes me a LOT of money? What if it turns out as well as I hope it will?"
If we spend too much time on either (or both) what if's, it can hold us back, according to professors and co-authors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans in this video.
The five-hour rule refers to spending at least five hours a week on improving your skill, and it's something practiced by Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates and other very successful people, according to an article at inc.com.
The article's author, Michael Simmons, says he found that these leaders usually spent those five hours doing three things:
1. Reading. Oprah's dedication to reading is well known, and Simmons says entrepreneur Mark Cuban spends three hours a day reading.
2. Reflecting. This can take the form of meditation, brainstorming alone or with others, journaling, focusing on a particular issue while taking a walk, etc.
3. Experimenting. Simmons traces this back to Ben Franklin, who famously listed the qualities he wanted to exhibit and tracked his success daily. A modern example might be Richard Branson, who starts lots of businesses and quickly drops the ones that don't work out.
These days the unglamorous task of improving your skills, which often is not a lot of fun, tends to be overshadowed by stories of very young entrepreneurs and writers and artists who have huge success right away.
Unfortunately, for me and maybe for you it's too late to be a young genius, and I have to face the fact that i'm not even a middle-age genius. So continuing to try to improve is what's left. I'd better get started on this week's five hours...
PS: How to make sure you do it: I've found that the only way I consistently spend time on these kinds of tasks is to keep track of them day by day. You can do this on your calendar or whichever simple way works best for you.
Pixar has the most consistent record of success of any current studio. Why is that? Songwriter and composer Randy Newman said this:
"The Pixar people always emphasize that the characters in their films are adults and deal with adult emotions. That’s really kind of a big idea. I always worry toward the end of their process when the picture is about to lock in terms of story, script and form if it’s funny enough. They never worry about that. They worry about emotion. Whether an audience will feel it. Whether it’s got, I think it’s called heart."
What's the source of this heart? Newman says, "And, about heart, you can’t put it there, like you sometimes can a joke. It’s got to proceed from who’s up there on the screen and if we care about what happens to them. It must be hard to do, but they’ve done it over and over like no other studio ever has."
When I was story editing a sitcom, I had the same philosophy: first, let's make sure the story works, meaning that it presents a conflict that we will care about in terms of how it might affect our protagonist, and it has a beginning, middle, and end. Then we'll make it funny. If you concentrate on the funny first, it's easy to get distracted from the story.
Randy Newman's quotes above come from the notes with the new Walt Disney Records Legacy Collection, which has 20 hours worth of rarities in 12 discs. Each disc comes with an illustrated book, adding up to almost 50,000 words. You can read more about it here. Warning: it'll put a dent into your pocketbook: £222.96 (on Amazon.co.uk) or $240.03 (Amazon.com).
This short film from The Atlantic magazine animates some of film director David Lynch's thoughts on creativity (recorded in 2008):
Entering the Zone of Nothing can free you from this, that's the message in a fifteen minute talk by musician Peter Himmelman. It's at a great site I just discovered, Chicago Ideas.
His talk includes observations about how music influences how we perceive things, how the power of Nothing banishes fear, and a song he wrote for his dying father.
You can watch it here.
In the video, he suggests that the people in the audience turn on their phones and spend two minutes writing a text to someone they love, because you never know what tomorrow will bring.
I've had two friends who died instantly of heart attacks (neither had a history of heart disease), a good friend's son who drowned, and a nephew whose life was transformed in an instant when he was hit by a drunk driver, so I know what he means. Oh yeah, my house also burned down once.
If you've lived for a while, you probably have your own examples.
Might be a good time to fire up your phone, too.
ps: Himmelman talks about the inner critic (his is called Marv) who sends you messages of fear. I have an audio track that can help you tame your inner critic. If you want me to send to you as an mp3, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org little present, no charge.
In the 48 Hour Film Project, teams are given that amount of time to make a short film incorporating several elements that aren't revealed until just before the event starts. These include a genre, a character, a prop, and a line of dialogue.
Those who deliver late will not be eligible to compete for a prize but get a screening of their films anyway.
Two genres are offered, and the group can decide which one they want to use or they can combine the two.
Genres include road movie, romance, sci-fi, and horror in one group, and more specific categories like buddy film, martial arts, mystery, period piece and war or anti-war in the second group. The films have to be between four and seven minutes long.
For a look at some of the films made by London groups in previous years, see this page.
Winners get a trophy and a shot at the $5000 top prize in the international event where all the local winners compete. The overall winners also get a screening at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017.
In addition, the creators have something that shows what they can do, as well as the fun and satisfaction of the process itself.
WHEN IS IT HAPPENING NEAR YOU?
The weekends are scheduled throughout the year. For London, it will probably be in September (they haven't set a firm date yet). To see when it is in the city nearest you, check out the list here.
WHAT CAN YOU DO IN 48 HOURS?
This challenge is a good example of what people can do when they have a deadline, some givens, and the energy of a team.
What could you achieve in 48 hours? Could you write a short story? The core outline of a novel? Several chapters of a book? A painting or even series of paintings?
Those examples are not usually team efforts, but you could build in a few sessions in which you get and give feedback on each other's projects.
It doesn't have to be film or writing related. Could you transform a vacant lot into a tiny park (with the permission of the owners and any necessary licenses, of course), or--going back to films--make a mini-documentary that a local charity can use to help promote its work?
CONCENTRATING YOUR MIND
There's a Samuel Johnson quote to the effect that knowing that one is about to be hanged in a fortnight's time concentrates the mind wonderfully. Knowing that one can achieve something useful in 48 hours and have fun at the same time can have the same benefit--without the drawback.
The Upworthy Generator is a tool that comes up with the kinds of clickbait headlines you see online all the time. It creates a headline and an image that actually has nothing to do with the headline. It's not that funny because the headlines it generates are no stranger than the "real" headlines you see online on Upworthy and other sites every day. (It's a parody site, it's not affiliated with Upworthy.com.)
Here are three from the Upworthy Generator:
"You Won't Believe the Troubling Music Video This Angry Talk Show Host Made"
"Think Things Used to be Better When You Were a Kid? Maybe You Should Listen to This Trailblazing Talk Show Host."
"What This Fearless Physician Did Is Genius"
Just to prove to you that these aren't any worse than what's on the real Upworthy.com site, here are three from there:
"This heroic man 'hugged' a terrorist. And it likely saved hundreds of lives." (Unfortunately, the terrorist was wearing a suicide vest)
"How a Woman Named 'Unbreakable Flower' Discovered Wrestling and Became an Unlikely Hero."
"How 5 Diabolical Parents Called Their Kids' Bluff in Hilarious Ways"
You can use such headlines, or parts of them, to prompt ideas of your own.
The first one, "angry talk show host," might suggest a short film or a short story about the home life of an angry talk show host. It could be funny because he's just as angry at home as he is on the air, or because he's totally the opposite at home.
"Think things were better when you were a kid..." could lead to a story set in the future, when somebody looks back to 2016 and how great it was compared to whatever's happening then. This could work as sci-fi, comedy, even romance (ah, the innocent days of Tinder, before Sexbots came onto the dating scene...).
The "fearless physician" headline might lead to a screenplay about a real or fictional doctor or inventor who was ahead of his or her time.
Of course, you can use the real Upworthy headlines the same way. For instance, "Diabolical Parents" could inspire a comedy horror film in which a chapter of the PTA is gripped by demons. Actually, Diabolical Parents would be a pretty good title for a movie.
It's always easier to come up with ideas when you have a starting point, even a random one. But whatever you do, if you use the real Upworthy site, don't click on the headlines or you may find yourself both frustrated and annoyed. That's why the parody site is much better--there are no stories to go with the headlines...unless you make them up yourself.
Is willpower something you just have or don't have, or it is something that we have in a certain quantity that diminishes over the course of a day, as we use it?
Today I read an account of a study that has been interpreted as suggesting the latter, but reading about how the study was conducted makes me wonder whether there could have been something else at play.
There were two groups of participants. One was given chocolate treats. The other could see the treats but was allowed to eat only radishes.
Afterward, they were both given what was represented as a puzzle that measures intelligence, but the point was actually to measure how long they stuck with it before giving up.
The chocolate group worked on the puzzle for an average of 20 minutes.
The group that had radishes worked on it for an average of 8 minutes.
The conclusion of the study: "Thus, those people who had to resist the confectionary and eat the plain vegetables could not engage in a second demanding task. Their willpower was already drained and they were too tired."
Wait a minute. The article says:
Many of the people who were left to eat radishes “exhibit[ed] clear interest in the chocolates, to the point of looking longingly at the chocolate display and in a few cases even picking up the cookies to sniff at them,” the scientists wrote in their Journal of Personality and Social Psychology paper.
I have an alternate explanation. You make me watch other people eat chocolate treats, you even let me sniff the cookies, but you give me only radishes and then you want me to solve your damn puzzle? Forget it, I'm outta here at the first opportunity.
I'm not fatigued or lacking willpower. In fact, it takes all the willpower I have to stay for even eight minutes.
My scientific conclusion:
If you annoy people, they won't put much effort into doing what you ask them to do.
The director Luc Besson (Fifth Element) is using Instagram to document every step of making his next film, Valerian.
Besson's Instagrams show storyboards, costumes, blue-screen action, and more.
You can take a look here: https://www.instagram.com/lucbesson/
If you click on the individual images you'll see a title or description by Besson and comments from visitors to the site. As of this writing, he's on day 87.
Technology allows us to bend reality in many ways. One example:
One of Kanga's more promising ideas is a "Disneyland dementia village," with a fake butcher and grocery store, based on a Dutch model where dementia patients live in a Truman Show-esque village that mirrors outside life as closely as possible and savings are made through automation.*
Kanga is an artist turned materials scientist, and I'm not sure whether this idea is a dream or a nightmare. Of course, creating an illusion in which people suffering from dementia are comforted is a worthy goal. But what came to mind when I read this is that it will soon be possible, with the help of artificial intelligence and virtual reality, to create just about any fake version of reality that you wish.
Do you yearn for 50's America--you know, no bothersome civil rights, and the little lady is happy being a homemaker? Come live in Eisenhower Estates! Episodes of "Father Knows Best" and "Leave It to Beaver" loop on your television, there's a virtual 1957 Chevy Bel-Air parked in your driveway, and the sound of a dozen dads mowing their lawns wafts in through the window.
If you prefer the 60's, welcome to your new home at Hippie Heights. The Grateful Dead (holograms) are playing a gig in your back yard! That's a fine collection of tie-dies on your washing line, and the smell of patchouli oil and you-know-what permeates the air.
Still under construction: Mullet Manor for fans of the 70's.
Perhaps today's young people will want to end up in Kardashian Korners, where there's dysfunctional family fun 24/7.
Maybe it's just a progression of bending reality to our preferences, as we can do now by getting all our news only from Fox, or MSNBC, or The Daily Mail...and while we're distracted, the powers that be can carry on as usual.