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.
IF DONALD TRUMP WERE A TRAGIC PROTAGONIST...
I can imagine two types of ending.
One is YOU DON’T DESERVE ME, I QUIT.
The protagonist, feeling betrayed, quits but remains defiant. Secretly he hopes people will come crawling back, begging him to return, at which point he’ll have the satisfaction of telling them no.
The other is I’LL GO DOWN BUT I’LL TAKE THEM WITH ME.
Feeling that the opposition has him surrounded, the protagonist decides on a scorched earth policy, leaving as much destruction behind him as possible.
Both ways out leave him the option of believing that if only the people had backed him, he would have been great.
At the moment, it looks like the real Donald Trump is opting for the latter but I wouldn’t totally rule out a last-minute switch to You Don’t Deserve Me, I Quit.
How do YOU think this drama will end?
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).
Did you know that people used to personalize their books by adding illustrations to them? Sometimes they drew or painted these or pasted in maps, engravings, letters, stamps, autographs or photographs.
Just like now, somebody figured out how to monetize the trend, although I doubt James Granger used that word.
In 1769, he published the Biographical History of England, from Egbert the Great to the Revolution of 1796. It featured blank pages to which you could add your own prints, which you could buy from London print stalls.
This became so popular that the process was called Grangerizing and fans of the process were called Grangerites.
Many Grangerites were women. As a fascinating article by Amy Stewart in the Literary Hub points out, "It's one of those interesting, mostly forgotten domestic arts practiced by women at a time when they were barred from participating in so much of the arts, culture, and scholarship of their day."
As happens with most trends today as well, there was a backlash. Some people trolled the Grangerites, calling them "knights of the shear and paste," and made fun of the Grangerites who went to extremes and had books taken apart and rebound incorporating prints, turning one volume into six or seven.
It's an interesting footnote to popular history, but I wonder whether in this increasingly digital age, Grangerizing might make a comeback?
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 email@example.com little present, no charge.
Take a look at some of the amazing art at this year's Burning Man festival...even more impressive when you realize it's all created to exist for one week only. When the festival is over, the desert landscape is returned to the natural state and there is no sign that these things ever existed.
It reminds me of the story of an artist who wanted to explore new directions. Every day for a month he created something and at the end of the day destroyed it. This freed him from worrying about making judgments about the work as it evolved and to experiment more than he normally might have.
Also, if you need inspiration for a sci-fi or fantasy story, these pictures should do the job.
If you love cartoons, in this case strip or single panel, not animated, check out theNib.com.
They offer cartoons that are political, journalistic, or just plain funny.
You can also sign up for a daily email infusion of cartoons.
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.