This short film from The Atlantic magazine animates some of film director David Lynch's thoughts on creativity (recorded in 2008):
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.
Two Types of Self-doubt
In a TED talk, organizational psychologist Adam Grant mentions that there are two types of doubt. One is positive, one is negative.
Self-doubt tends to be paralyzing. If you continually question whether you are up to a task, the odds are that you’ll get stuck and give up, perhaps continually moving on to different projects instead of seeing any through.
However, “idea doubt” can be useful because it leads you to think about all the possible things that could go wrong and develop backup plans and alternatives.
We sabotage ourselves when we get the two kinds of doubt mixed up. For example, if you write a first draft of something and decide it’s really bad, you can come to either of these conclusions:
“I’m a crappy writer.”
“This is a crappy first draft.”
The draft itself only provides evidence for the second conclusion. But what if this is the fifth or tenth first draft that you’ve written, and they’ve all be bad, and you’ve given up on all of them? You still have a choice of beliefs:
“I’m a crappy writer.” This kind of conclusion often spirals down into depression and existential angst.
“I’m crappy writer of first drafts.” By putting a fence around your crappiness, this conclusion is not so damaging—in fact, it implies a solution.
Again, the evidence supports the second conclusion, and there’s something you can do about it: find an appropriate book, writing group, course, or writing coach so that you get help in identifying what you’re not doing well enough, and find out how to do it better.
I’m no stranger to self-doubt but when I start to jump to conclusions I try to remember to use the best friend solution: describe the situation as though it pertained to your best friend.
We know that men and women typically respond a bit differently to hearing a problem. Women tend to empathize, men tend to give advice.
Embrace both your feminine side and your masculine side. First, if you’re beating yourself up, be kinder to yourself—just as you would be with your best friend.
Then come up with the constructive advice you’d give them. This harnesses the fact that we are always better at giving other people advice than knowing what to do ourselves.
If you write down that advice and follow it as though it came from an expert (it did), often that gives you the confidence to move forward and engage in the constructive kind of doubt that focuses on the task, not on your basic right to exist.
This can be a rough time of year for some people. If that's you, I'd like to encourage you to give yourself this gift:
Be as kind to yourself as you are to your friends.
Once a day or so, check how you've been treating yourself.
If you find yourself hosting a harsh inner critic and you haven't been able to overcome it, send me an email (email@example.com) this month--December 2015--and I'll send you a present: my downloadable mp3 program on how to tame your harsh inner critic.
Usually this costs $69, but there's no catch, I won't bombard you with offers of paid products, I won't share your email address with anybody else, it's just a little gift. Hmm, according to the principle...now I have to give myself a present, too. Win-win!
Psyblog reports on a study that showed positive memories can help overcome depression...at least if you're a mouse.
Yes, this study was conducted with mice. They gave male mice a positive experience--exposure to a female mouse. They were able to locate this experience in the brain so they could access it again later.
Next, the mice were given a stressful experience that put them into a depression-like state. The article doesn't say exactly what this was. Maybe a researcher read them the news headlines.
Then they used light to stimulate the part of the brain that held the positive memory of the female mouse. The male mice quickly recovered from their depression.
Knowing how the male brain works, this didn't surprise me all that much. I wonder whether it would work as well with female mice who are exposed to a handsome male mouse.
When I felt a bit down, I decided to give it a try. My first attempt failed because exposing myself to a female mouse didn't make me happy and it seemed to frighten the mouse. Then I realized I already had happy memories, none involving rodents, I could call upon.
I think this is a bit more complicated in humans than in mice. For instance, remembering a happy time with another person can come attached with all kinds of negative thoughts as well, particularly if you're already in a down mood.
Thoughts like, "Yes, that was a happy time, but she's not in my life anymore!" or "Yes, but stupid me, I should have appreciated him at the time," or "Yes, we had a great time on that vacation, but now I don't have enough money to do that kind of thing," etc.
The positive memory would have to be unencumbered by any of those kinds of additions. A depressed person is really good at finding the "yes, but" view.
My non-scientific conclusion is that this could work when you're feeling slightly down in the dumps, but could actually backfire if you're seriously depressed. (If you are, please get some help. You may think your view of reality is accurate but when you're depressed you're seeing things through a deceptive filter.)
No matter how dark things may appear at the moment, it's very likely you still have some things to be grateful for. They may be large or small. They could include:
* the support of a friend
* being appreciated by someone you've helped
* a delicious snack
* a job you like
* earning enough to pay your bills
* a park near your home
* good health
* a music track that makes you feel good
* a favorite shirt or dress
* a smile from a stranger
* a brilliant idea
Even if your general circumstances are not so good, focus on what is good at this moment. For instance, maybe you worry about debts, but at this moment what can you enjoy anyway? A chat with a friend, listening to a favorite music track, watching a favorite TV show, writing a poem or a short story, watering your lovely plants?
The idea isn't to avoid the negative, but often we forget the good things even in the moments we can't do anything about the not so good ones.
YOUR ACTION PLAN:
Rate your happiness on a scale from one to ten, one being absolutely miserable, ten being overjoyed most of the time. Yes, this is subjective, but you'll be comparing yourself only to yourself.
Every day take one minute to jot down at least five things you are grateful for right then. If you do it at breakfast and are enjoying your muffin, that can go on the list. Some items may appear on the list every day, that's fine. Do this for two weeks at whatever time of day works best, ideally roughly the same time every day, and written by hand. You don't need to keep the lists, although you may want to.
At the end of two weeks, rate your happiness again. If you feel you'd continue to get benefit from making your gratitude lists daily, do so. Otherwise, put it in your calendar to do it at least once a week.
Note for writers: Rejections getting you down? Use this tool to remind yourself what aspects of being a writer you are grateful for: your ideas, the time to write, the support of your writing group, etc.
(If you are having a hard time getting over a traumatic or stressful event, check out the method recommended here.)
Below is a link to a short video in which children's picture book writer Pat Zietlow-Miller talks about how she came to realize her writing dream.
She was 39 when she started going for it seriously, and she had 126 rejections. What's more, even though she's now had several books published, she still gets rejections.
The secret of her persistence: she loved writing so much that she'd do it whether or not it ever got published.
(If you want to write, find tips and support in my book, Your Writing Coach, published by Nicholas Brealey and available from your favorite bookseller.)
The late Alert Ellis, founder of Rational-Emotive Therapy, pointed out that a great deal of stress comes from being upset that life isn't meeting our expectations...and that often these expectations are irrational.
Ellis' thinking was that we know that not everybody is honest, so why are we so surprised when we encounter someone who isn't?
WHY (NOT) ME?
It's natural to be annoyed about it, but sometimes people get hung up about "Why did this have to happen to ME?!"
Actually, it happens to just about everybody at some stage, so feeling that we have somehow been targeted by fate also is irrational. (Plus, we seldom ask that question when something good happens to us.)
The more rational approach is to take reasonable precautions against being cheated, learn from it when it happens, and not expect people who cheat us once to do something different next time.
WHY IS OUR GENIUS NOT BEING RECOGNIZED THE WAY IT SHOULD?!
If we think about this in terms of writing, we can get upset that our writing isn't getting the attention it SHOULD.
History is full of excellent artists and writers whose work didn't get any attention until after they died, and probably even more whose work didn't get any attention after they died, either.
THREE WAYS WE CAN RESPOND
How are we to respond when people (like agents and publishers) aren't responding to our work the way we think they should?
* We can become bitter. I've met a few people who took that route. It's not much fun, and possibly bad for your health as well, certainly for your mental health.
* We can try to think of a different way to approach our writing or marketing, to see whether that gives us the response we'd like to get. For writers, that could mean self-publishing, publishing collaboratively, trying a different genre, performing their work, and many other options.
* We can consider redefining our definition of success. Is only the best-selling writer successful? Or does writing something that reaches a few thousand or a few hundred people qualify? How about something that changes just one person's life for the better? Could what we learn and experience from writing be enough of a benefit, regardless of how many people read our work?
What is not a good solution, as Ellis used to say, is "shoulding ourselves."
This is the time of year when resolutions are wearing off and your Inner Critic may be waking up...
If you're getting negative messages from your Inner Critic about whatever goal you'd like to achieve, talk back to it. Challenge it by standing up in a strong stance (your physiology has a lot to do with your mood) and remember:
* If you don't try, you can't succeed
* You've taken on challenges before and succeeded
* Others have done what you hope to do, why shouldn't you?
Then immediately get to work.
If you nip it in the bud, your Inner Critic will slink back into its lair.
(You'll find more tips and strategies in my book, Your Writing Coach, published by Nicholas Brealey and available from your favorite bookseller.)
Here are some great tips, some serious, some silly (but no less useful) about how to free your imagination. They were published on The Painter's Keys, the site of the painters Robert Genn and his daughter Sara:
Books, magazines, media give the "mix and match" advantage.
If you are invited to tell lies, save them for paintings.
Work in places such as the gondolas of hot-air balloons.
Don't always try to get it right. Try to get it wrong.
Fall gently in love with the world of your imagination.
Listen to music. It's abstract. Anything can happen.
Practice "syntagma"--things that suggest other things.
Watch children at play: acting, watching, morphing.
Take off your clothes and roll around in the snow.
Pause often and fire up the "what could be" mode.
Consider doing one or two works with your foot.
Understand the terms "Metaphor" and "Simile."
Never underestimate the value of alcohol.
Use your funny bone--incongruity rules.
Try to learn something new every day.
Don't keep doing the same old stuff.
Don't take yourself too seriously.
Don't worry, be silly.
Taking melatonin at bedtime makes little, if any, difference. I still take it because a doctor I trust told me it may help stave off dementia and Alzheimer's.
I've tried herbal supplements, too. No effect.
I've stayed away from prescription sleep aids because they are habit-forming, can have side effects, and tend to be less effective the longer you take them.
That's why I was happy to find a non-drug approach (and, no, I'm not selling anything). It's an app that uses brain entrainment to guide your brainwaves down to the levels associated with sleep. I've found that it helps me to get to sleep in the first place, and also to get back to sleep if I wake up in the middle of the night.
You can play this on a smartphone or tablet (I use an iPad) that you tuck under your pillow. Keep the volume just high enough to be able to hear the tones--it won't be loud enough to disturb anybody with whom you share a bed. If you have wireless earbuds that are comfortable enough, you can use those to get the stereo effect that is supposed to be what makes the process effective. But whether or not it's the placebo effect, the under-the-pillow placement works for me!
The app I use is called Binaural Beats Master Collection. It has tracks for general sleep induction, power nap, and from high stress to deep sleep. It lets you adjust the amount of time you want the selected track to play. You can click off the screen display to save battery power.
It also has settings for energy boosts, meditation, increased creativity, and ridding yourself of a headache. I haven't tried any of these yet, but I'll report back when I have.
The basic version just for sleep, Binaural Sleep Beats, is free and you can upgrade to the additional tracks if you like (at least that's true at the time of this writing).
This particular app combines the binaural tones with other sounds--not quite music but not annoying, either, at least to me. Some of the others available don't have music or additional sounds at all, while some use classical music (for instance, binaural Beethoven). It's a matter of finding which works best for you.
There are apps that claim to use the same principle to improve your IQ, prompt lucid dreams, increase your motivation, and lose weight. I'm more skeptical about those, but probably I'll try a few just out of curiosity.
There are similar apps available for Android and the other operating systems.
Some of you may remember that some time ago I wrote about using a brain machine. Those work in the same way, but add blinking lights to the sounds. I'm finding using the audio app much more convenient.
If you give one of these a try, please let me know whether it helps, either in the comments section or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
"When his apprentice wants to know which route he should choose, the Yaqui brujo answers, "Any path is only a path...All paths are the same: they all lead nowhere. The only important question you must ask is: 'Does this path have heart?'
If a path has heart for you, then dare to follow it. It is important to give up on irrelevant questioning, to take care not to waste yourself."
--Sheldon Kopp in "If You Meet the Buddha On the Road, Kill Him!"
Does what you are writing have heart for you? Then dare to follow it. It may or may not lead you to publication; for sure it will lead you to yourself.
December 07, 2014 in Feed Your Head, Getting Ideas to Flow, Screenwriting, Self-publishing, Time to Write, Writer's block, Writers to Admire, Writing a Novel, writing a play, Writing for children, Writing for Children, Writing for Young Adults (YA), Writing Motivation | Permalink | Comments (0)
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"Freedom is cumulative. One choice made with an element of freedom makes even greater freedom possible for the next choice. Each exercise of freedom enlarges the circle of oneself." - Rollo May
I think this applies to what we write as well as to the rest of our lives. When you refuse to self-censor based on what others might think or whether something is more or less likely to sell (do we ever predict that correctly?) you make your circle of freedom smaller.
The Fall 1975 issue of Paris Review featured an interview with novelist John Steinbeck. He won the Pulitzer Prize and was a Nobel laureate, and The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men are still required reading in many English and literature classes. I'm sharing six tips from that interview (culled by the excellent Brain Pickings blog), with a few additional comments by me. This is number four of six:
"If a scene or section gets the better of you and you still think you want it--bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find the reason it gave trouble is because it didn't belong there."
If you still want the scene but are still unsure of how to write it, asking the following questions can be useful:
* What does each character in this scene want?
* In this scene, what is each character afraid of?
* What's the difference between what the character says or does and what he or she would like to do or say?
* What is each character's emotional state at the start of this scene?
* What's different at the end of this scene?
The Fall 1975 issue of Paris Review featured an interview with novelist John Steinbeck. He won the Pulitzer Prize and was a Nobel laureate, and The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men are still required reading in many English and literature classes. I'm sharing six tips from that interview (culled by the excellent Brain Pickings blog), with a few additional comments by me. This is number three of six:
"Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn't exist. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person--a real person you know, or an imagined person, and write to that one."
It's important NOT to think of specific persons, too, sometimes. Some authors think "My mother's going to read this!" and it creates a block. When the time comes, you can tell your mother not to read it. Anyway, she's probably read Fifty Shades of Grey, so just get on with it!
(Great advice from great writers, along with tips on how to apply it to your own writing is what you get in my book, Your Creative Writing Masterclass, published by Nicholas Brealey and available from your favorite bookseller.)