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.
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.
When you're stuck for what a character in your novel or screenplay would do next, there's a simple question that can help you decide.
As novelist Lili Wright ("Dancing With the Tiger") points out in an interview in The National Book Review, how you phrase the question is important. She credits it to screenwriting guru Robert McKee:
"Don't think, What would I do?
Or, what would the character do?
But: If I were him or her, what would I do?"
It's when you put yourself into the character's shoes and interpret the situation from his or her perspective that you're most likely to hit upon the most logical and true next action.
For instance, if you (the writer) came across somebody fell into some bushes and obviously is in need of help, probably you'd go to their aid. But what about your character's reaction to such a situation?
Let's assume your character has a good reason to want to stay out of the spotlight.
If you ask yourself simply, "What would the character do?" you might conclude that she hurries on, hoping someone else will come along and help the injured person.
However, if you imagine yourself to be the character and create that image of the injured person in your imagination, you might find that simply leaving the injured person and doing nothing else makes you feel too guilty.
As this character, what else could you do? For instance, maybe you'd hurry on but, keeping your head down, say to the next person you encounter, "I think there's somebody over there who's injured," hoping that person would choose to look and help.
Vividly imagining any situation from the perspective of your character allows you to tune in to their emotion as well as the logic of how they'd react, and that will make it more authentic.
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.
“All good ideas start out as bad ideas, that’s why it takes so long.”
To which I would add: if you think your first draft is really, really, really good...oh oh.
Normally brainstorming is all about generating ideas as fast as you can, not judging them as they come up (write them all down), and later assessing which ones are worth pursuing.
A different approach is catching on, according to an article at Fastdesign.com: generating questions.
Let's say you want to come up with ideas for how to overcome your habit of procrastinating.
In the usual brainstorming approach you'd come up with a lot of possible solutions:
In the questioning approach, you'd come up with lots of related questions:
As with ideas, don't judge the questions, write them all down.
The let some time go by, at least a couple of hours, and move to a different location than the one where you generated the questions (even if it's just across the room).
Go through and mark the questions that you feel are most useful--that is, the ones that would help you most if you could answer them.
At this stage, don't worry if you don't know the answers. Go with your gut as much as with your brain.
ANSWER THE MOST USEFUL QUESTIONS
With your list of the potentially most useful questions, write down the answers that come to mind. These may lead to additional questions (and answers).
If you don't know, consider who might help you. For example, if you're not sure what you procrastinate about the most, I'm guessing your spouse, partner, or work colleague will be only too glad to help.
If all else fails, guess. Your intuition often is your best guide.
APPLY THE ANSWERS
It's likely that the answers to the questions will lead to some specific ideas for dealing with the challenge.
Try them out, one by one. If one doesn't work, before you give up on it try another question session with queries like these:
Even if you find brainstorming the usual way to be productive (as I do), it's worth trying this alternative.
There are lots of things you can ask yourself when creating three-dimensional characters for your novel or screenplay, but one of the best was suggested in a New York Times essay on marriage:
We seem normal only to those who don’t know us very well. In a wiser, more self-aware society than our own, a standard question on any early dinner date would be: “And how are you crazy?”
The article, titled, Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person, by Alain de Botton, is well worth a read, but I mention it here because "How is your character crazy?" is an excellent question that will help you create a character who comes alive on the page.
What kind of craziness? Botton gives these examples:
Perhaps we have a latent tendency to get furious when someone disagrees with us or can relax only when we are working; perhaps we’re tricky about intimacy after sex or clam up in response to humiliation. Nobody’s perfect.
You can warm up by thinking about how the people in your personal life are crazy--what imperfections set them apart? And how are those imperfections occasionally beneficial rather than harmful?
If you like living dangerously, ask a couple of people to whom you are close how YOU are crazy...but only if you're sure the relationship will survive their obviously mistaken impressions of you.
One of my challenges in writing prose is coming up with good descriptions, because in screenwriting (which has been the bulk of my work) you tend to keep descriptions extremely short and don't get much into how things feel or smell. Before we can describe, we have to see (and smell, and hear, and feel). Visual perception is the topic of this five-minute illustrated TED-Ed talk.
The speaker is Amy Herman, who teaches, police officers, FBI agents, nurses, medical students and others how to develop their observational skills. Her main tool is art from all over the world.
(The "full" version of this lesson on the TED-Ed site is exactly the same)
Amy Herman has written a book called Visual Intelligence. The subtitle is "Sharpen your perception, change your life." Well, I guess getting really good at describing characters and settings could change a writer's life. I haven't read the book yet, but I'll return with a review when I have.
Next Post: How to write descriptively - Nalo Hopkinson
However, that doesn't mean it's going to feel good when it happens. Having been wrong only turns into something noble when you eventually are right (the old Edison quote about his lightbulb experiments applies here). Until then, it's no fun at all. But, like dental check-ups and eating our greens, it's necessary. Hmm, better call my dentist...
Finding a quiet place to work is harder these days, and one alternative is to generate sounds you find less distracting than the ambient ones.
For that purpose, a site I've discovered recently, Noisli.com, is useful and it features some attractive extra functions. The desktop version is free, the Web app/iOS app costs $1.99.
The sounds available:
You can also combine sounds, share your combinations with others, set a timer, and even have access to a distraction-free text editor (plain text or Markdown syntax). The latter will save your material locally and you can export it as well. The background colours change gradually but you can turn that feature off.
And the best way to have a lot of ideas is to give your inner critic time off when you are generating ideas.
Come up with as many as possible, write the all down (yes, even the bad ones), and put them aside.
Have a separate session for evaluating which ones you want to develop further.
(You'll find lots of tips about getting into a creative mindset, methods for generating ideas, and turning your ideas into action in my book, Creativity Now, publishing by Pearson and available from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller.)
It’s Depression Week, not a week for everybody to get depressed but rather to make people more aware of the illness. I have personal experience with it, so I thought I’d share my thoughts.
At a low level, it saps your strength and confidence so you’re operating at maybe 70% of your capacity. It can sneak up on you and it can take a long time before you realize what’s happening.
At a medium level, you’re operating at 50% or so. Things pile up, you slow down or stop making contacts with friends, box sets of TV series have a sudden appeal.
At a high level, it can be a kind of paralysis, making getting out of bed or doing the simplest things seem like a huge undertaking.
It’s usually only if you’re at the high level that other people notice.
Medication can be helpful, but there is still a lot of controversy about the drugs’ effectiveness and side effects. In my experience, they can take a bit of the edge off but they’re far from a cure. Counselling, especially cognitive behaviour therapy, can be useful. Exercise has been shown to help, although it can be hard of motivate yourself to do it when you’re in the midst of depression.
There are some things NOT to say to a depressed person, no matter how well-intentioned these comments may be:
1: ”You really have nothing to be depressed about.”
Depression doesn’t have to be about any specific incident or situation, so this is like saying, “You have nothing to have measles about.”
2: “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”
Possibly, but there may be several shades of darker coming from where that person is at the time.
3: “Lots of people are in worse situations than you.”
Let me just poke you in the eye and remind you that some people have been poked in BOTH eyes, and we’ll see how much better that makes you feel.
4: “You should get out more, have more fun!”
That’s a bit like telling a person with a broken leg, “You should run more.”
5: “This, too, shall pass.”
Yep, and then the better times, too, shall pass. However, one of the few advantages of having survived a number of episodes of depression is the awareness that it will pass—the first time it hits you, you assume you’re going to feel like that forever, which is what leads to many suicides.
6: You should try St. John’s Wort/ get acupuncture / have Reiki treatments / take long baths --it really helped my cousin/ uncle/ sister/ brother.
Actually, there’s nothing wrong with suggesting treatments because some of these things do seem to help some people. The problem is that sometimes this is said in a tone that suggests you’re dealing with an easily solved little condition.
I think the only thing that is helpful to say is that you care about the person and you’re there for them if they would like to talk or take refuge if things get too difficult for them to handle.
The problem is that in the darkest phases of depression it’s not that you think there’s nobody willing to help, it’s that you believe nobody can help. Even so, knowing there are people in your life who stand by you even when you’re not functioning fully can be comforting.
If a depressed person chooses to talk about their feelings, understanding and empathy is helpful. Trying to rebut their feelings with logic isn’t. And sometimes a hug is better than a lot of words.
If you are suffering from depression, do reach out to your doctor and consider getting counselling even if you feel there’s no point. That’s one of the symptoms of deep depression, and leaving it untreated is no different from trying to ignore a broken arm. At worst, you have nothing to lose; at best, you'll find that people care and there are methods that help you get back to feeling better and participating fully in life.