A lot has been written in the past few years about the state of "flow," in which whatever you're doing seems to come to you effortlessly. I had a rare experience of it yesterday, on a ten-hour flight back to London from Los Angeles.
I wrote about six thousand words during that time, on a new idea for a kids' book. I'm sure the work is rough but it was great to have it pouring out.
THE CONDITIONS FOR FLOW
The conditions seem to be:
I'm not sure whether having a general idea about where the story is going is important. In this case, the same character is involved in a lot of short stories, which is an easier structure to handle.
That's not to say that flow happens every time those conditions are met. I've made that flight many times, and have been very productive on only one out of five or six.
It's made me wonder to create such conditions without getting on an airplane. Some writers do it by going to a hotel for a few days or weeks, not turning on the TV, not hooking up to the wi-fi, and taking at least some of their meals via room service. That's a fairly drastic approach, though (as well as expensive).
Working in a cafe, ideally without internet access, can be a mini-version of that, although here in the center of London it's hard to find one that doesn't have the distraction of people-watching and the obligation to move on after you've had a couple of cups of coffee. Maybe I just need to look harder for an unpopular place.
Getting on a train (obviously not during peak times) for a couple of hours might do it, although given the price of train travel it could be an expensive option.
If you'd care to share how you get into a flow state, please leave a comment. I'll be experimenting more with this and will let you know how it turns out.
I got an email the other day from an aspiring screenwriter who had an idea for an unusual structure for her screenplay. She asked whether I thought it would be safer to stick to the traditional three-act structure and "maybe just drop in a few more unusual elements."
Of course it's hard to give advice on a specific project when you don't know the story or the details of the alternative structure, but in general I agree with this advice from painter Courtney Jordan about mixed media artwork:
"Mixed media artists can't be faint of heart. You have to be brave to try mixed media techniques that you've never tried before, but I've discovered that you won't get anywhere--and you kind of feel let down--if you don't push it enough to show you are actually mixing media."
I think the same is true for screenwriters and novelists. If you have an unconventional way to tell your story--and you're using it because it's the best way, not just to be different for the sake of it--go for it.
Trying to stick to the rules and be just a little unconventional probably will make your novel or script just as muddy and unconvincing as a mixed media artwork by an artist who lacked the confidence to go all the way.
In the world of screenwriting, scripts that stand out often are not the first ones to be bought, but they capture the attention of those who read them. Those readers know they're dealing with a writer who has the courage to venture out of the safe territory. Ironically, they may then hire you to write something more conventional, but at least you'll have your foot in the door.
(For tips on writing, from inspiration through to publication, get a copy of my book, Your Writing Coach, published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller.)
August 12, 2015 in Feed Your Head, Getting Ideas to Flow, Marketing Your Book or Other Writing, Pitching, Screenwriting, Self-publishing, Writing a Novel, writing a play, Writing for Children, Writing for Young Adults (YA), Writing methods, Writing Motivation, writing non-fiction, Writing your autobiography | Permalink | Comments (0)
| | | | | |
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.)
Should you write that novel or screenplay that's burning a hole in your head but probably isn't commercial, or should you opt for a safer story that doesn't ignite your passion as much?
In an interview on the Get Into the Story blog, screenwriter Gary Whitta had this to say:
"I think in the end, it’s a lesson that in trying to find that balance between creative and commercial appeal, you always err on the side of what excites you creatively. That’s the only way to write honestly. A lot of people like to chase trends. They see a hit movie, and then they want to try to emulate that movie. That does not feel creatively satisfying to me at all."
The lesson he refers to was that he wrote "The Book of Eli" as a spec script without discussing it with his agent or manager, thinking they'd talk him out of it since the idea didn't have obvious commercial appeal. Going with his passion paid off, since the movie was made, with Denzel Washington in the lead role.
He mentions a couple of other scripts that were much more obviously commercial and sold, but haven't been made.
In an article on the fastcompany.com site, Mad Man creator Matthew Weiner mentions that Coleridge's claim that his classic poem, Kubla Khan, came to him in a rush when he woke up from an opium-inspired dream was a lie.
Apparently there's evidence that he had been working on it for months and even gave it to some of his friends for feedback.
As Weiner points out, often writers and artists like to give the impression that they're so brilliant or inspired that their work just flows easily from their pen or brush. In fact, in most cases they put in a lot of hard work--but that's not as glamorous a story.
The same holds true for people who are hailed in the media as overnight successes. If you dig a little deeper, often you'll find years of work with no recognition before the big break. Again, that's not as interesting a story for the media.
These lies can be discouraging for the aspiring writers and artists who begin to wonder whether they should give up because obviously they don't have that magic spark.
Weiner, however, was happy to share the story of his struggles: his writing samples weren't considered good enough to get him into a writing class at Wesleyan College, his thesis was totally destroyed by the cruel remarks of a humanities professor, and his films never won the prizes at his film school.
He did develop a survival strategy: "thrive on rejection and hold on to compliments. Rejection enrages me, but that 'I’ll show you!' feeling is an extremely powerful motivator."
There was plenty of rejection--three years of writing spec scripts while his wife supported both of them. Enough rejection that he gave up for a while.
What turned things around was making a low-budget, small, quirky comedy in which he played himself and used his wife, his apartment, and his car to finish the film.
After that, his career started to take off, but it took seven years from the time he wrote Mad Men until it was produced. He says, "I lived every day with that script as if it were going to happen tomorrow. That's the faith you have to have."
And if you're beating yourself up for not being farther along, this comment might help: "The greatest regret I have is that, early in my career, I showed myself such cruelty for not having accomplished anything significant."
(The interview is excerpted from Getting There: A Book of Mentors, by Gillian Zoe Segal, published by Abrams Image.)
thrive on rejection and hold on to compliments. Rejection enrages me, but that "I’ll show you!" feeling is an extremely powerful motivator.
Is there such a thing as getting out of writing shape? I read the other day that if you exercise regularly and then stop, it takes three to five weeks before you lose general strength but specialized (sport-specific) strength diminishes in as little as two weeks.
There's no doubt that taking a break from anything you do a lot can be beneficial, but if you stop writing for an extended period is there a danger that you'll lose "writing strength"? Well, I doubt that you will suddenly not be able to string words together, but I think there is a danger that you'll lose momentum and some of the passion you had for the project you were working on when you stopped.
After all, the writing habit is like any other, it gets stronger the more we do it, but weakens when we stop. Of course sometimes life gets in our way and we have to stop. In that case, a few strategies might help:
1. Schedule your re-start. Put it in your calendar and clear the time needed on that date and afterward. It may be that you'll have to change this date and that's fine, but at least this way you have a specific target.
2. When you stop, jot down the next few things you'll write when you resume. For instance, this could be a note about what happens next in your novel or screenplay.
3. Unless you want or need a total break (when you go on vacation, for example) take a few minutes each day to think about the project and note any new ideas. When you resume, these ideas will help you get started again.
I don't listen to classical music very often. If you don't, either, maybe we should start. Here's a summary of a University of Helskinki study of the influence of classical music on our genes, as reported in Science Daily:
Although listening to music is common in all societies, the biological determinants of listening to music are largely unknown. According to a new study, listening to classical music enhanced the activity of genes involved in dopamine secretion and transport, synaptic neurotransmission, learning and memory, and down-regulated the genes mediating neurodegeneration. Several of the up-regulated genes were known to be responsible for song learning and singing in songbirds, suggesting a common evolutionary background of sound perception across species.
It would be interesting to find out whether other kinds of music have the same effect. In the meantime, I'm listening to Mozart's Violin Sonata No. 32 in B-Flat Major and I feel better already...
If there is a piece of classical music that you feel is especially powerful, feel free to share it in the comments.
"What I'd really like, in fact, is to be young and middle-aged, and perhaps even very old, all at the same time--and to be dark- and fair-skinned, deaf and hearing, gay and straight, male and female. I can't do that in life, but I can do it in writing, and so can you."
-- Andrew Solomon in The New Yorker, March 11, 2015
I see that somebody has an ebook out called "8 Hour Bestseller: How to Write Your Bestselling Book in Record Time." I guess in an era of the supposed 4-hour work week, 8 hours is a long time.
The author says his ebook will show you how to write 2000 words an hour. Wait a minute, that means your book will be only 16,000 words long. That's kind of short. Oh wait, his book has a print length of 59 pages. Allowing for the title page, table of contents, etc. probably it's only 50 pages...times, say, 300 words per page...equals 15,000 words. OK, I guess he considers that a book.
Oh wait, his book has a print length of 59 pages. Allowing for the title page, table of contents, etc. probably it's only 50 pages... times, say, 300 words per page...equals 15,000 words. OK, I guess he considers that a book.
By the way, his definition of "bestseller" is a book that reaches number one in its category on Amazon, which isn't hard to do if you get a bunch of people to buy your book at the same time. It has no relationship to the normal definition of bestseller.
I don't necessarily mean to be harsh with this author, it may be that his book has lots of useful information. What annoys me is the emphasis on how to write a book in the fastest possible time, rather than one that actually is as good as you can make it...and that won't happen in 8 hours.
If you want to write a book, you'll find friendly guidance in my book, Your Writing Coach, published by Nicholas Brealey and available from your favorite bookseller. Warning: it emphasizes quality over speed..
The interpretation of these rules is mine, not the Dalai Lama’s, but I hope I’ve stayed within the spirit of his intention.
1: Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk
Yes, there’s a chance nobody will want to publish your book or buy your screenplay. If you self-publish, there’s a possibility few will buy your book. But if you are passionate about writing, these risks are worth it.
2: When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.
Rejection is part of the writing process. Sometimes it doesn’t even take someone else to reject our work, we may realize when a project is done that it’s not our best work and put it aside. But there are lessons within each rejection, whether they be about writing or marketing, and if we can gain those, we’ve not lost.
3: Follow the three Rs:
Respect for self
If writing is important to you, go for it even if others are sceptical or unsupportive. Respect your dream.
Respect for others
There will always be people who don’t get it. These could be family members who don’t understand why you’re spending so much time on something they can’t relate to, or editors who fail to appreciate your work, or people who make rude or stupid comments on your blog or in a review. Don’t waste time trying to win them over. Respect their right to have an opinion…and your right to ignore it. But also be open to the possibility that sometimes criticism stated the wrong way may still have something useful at its core.
Responsibility for all your actions
If you’re not writing, it’s nobody else’s fault. Yes, you have pressures and demands but many who have had as many or more obstacles have managed to write books and scripts and plays.
4: Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.
There are many successful writers who desperately wanted their first novel to be published and it wasn’t. Years later they look back and say thank goodness, because it wasn’t good enough. Had it been published, probably it would have failed and delayed their eventual success.
5: Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
The so-called rules of writing have evolved from the experience of many writers over many years, and they will stand you in good stead most of the time. Once you understand them, you can feel free to experiment and break them.
6: Don’t let a little dispute injure a great friendship.
Never ask for anyone's opinion about your work unless you're ready to hear it--good or bad--and not let negative feedback affect your relationship. As I said above, some people in your life won't get it. If you value those people for other reasons, keep your writing life as separate as possible from your interactions with them.
(next post: rules 7-12)
"The only blank paper in the house was hers, and if she found out I touched it she’d go crazy. I sometimes stole paper from school and even that made her mad. I think it’s why I hoard paper to this day. I have so much blank paper everywhere, in every drawer, on every shelf, and still when I need a sheet I look in the garbage first. I agonize over using a “good” sheet of paper for anything. I have good drawing paper I’ve been dragging around for twenty years because I’m not good enough to use it yet. Yes, I know this is insane."
Embarrassing confession: I have some notebooks about which I feel the same, and I can't even blame my mother. But reading Barry's confession has made me realize that the best time to use the good paper is now.
Of course "the good paper" is also a metaphor for anything you've been denying yourself because you're not good enough yet, or the time is not right yet, or some other excuse.
Do you think maybe it's time for you to "use the good paper", too?
If you've been putting off writing that book you've been thinking about, you'll find friendly guidance and useful tips in my book, Your Writing Coach, published by Nicholas Brealey and available from your favorite bookseller.
As reported in The Atlantic, buying experiences rather than things leads to greater happiness, and the anticipation of those experiences can make you even happier than the experiences themselves.
If you're looking forward to a winter break in a villa in the Canary Islands, for example, you don't anticipate the appearance of some cockroaches, a mouse, and a homeless guy you find one morning sleeping snuggled up next to the glass door to the living room. (As you may have gathered, I'm not speaking hypothetically; I'm writing this from a villa in Fuerteventura.)
There's a related saying that has always stuck in my mind: "It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive."
Experiences also bring more happiness after the fact, the studies show. That's because even if the experience turns out differently than you expected, at the very least it gives you something to talk (or write) about.
EXPERIENCES VS. POSSESSIONS
Looking forward to acquiring material things doesn't bring as much happiness, maybe because with those you pretty much know what you're going to get, and the odds are low that it will be better than you expect, while there's a good chance that it will not be as satisfying as you anticipated.
Furthermore, in thinking about an upcoming experience you can image lots of different positive outcomes, whereas with a material possession the expectations may be more predictable.
Of course this is why advertisers try to convince you that you're buying an experience when you're buying a product: "Use XYZ deodorant and women/men will flock to you, just imagine all the sexual adventures you'll have!" Actually, the only thing that will happen is that your armpits will smell better, but that doesn't get the merchandise flying off the shelves.
The studies also found that while people generally will be interested to hear about your experiences, they're not so keen to hear about the material things you have acquired. Since talking about ourselves and having people listen also brings us happiness, that's another plus.
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER MORE FONDLY?
This rings true when you think about what people talk about fondly in relating their past.
It's relatively rare that somebody will say, "Boy, I remember that great computer I had...so much internal memory and a retina screen!"
They do say thing like, "I remember that time some friends and I drove across the country..."
THE MORAL OF THE STORY
The moral of the story is to embrace having new experiences. That will give you something to look forward to and something to look back on. And that will make you happy.
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.)
We all know how it goes: resolutions are made on January 1st and generally they’re forgotten by February 1st. If we don’t take action, we’ll end 2015 making exactly the same resolutions again. That doesn’t mean you’re lazy or lack ambition, it means you’re human and nobody’s helped you do it right.
HERE’S WHAT NOT TO DO
Do not just try to do the same thing, only this time on February 1st! It didn’t work in January, it’s not going to work in February or March or April. There’s a better way.
FOUR SIMPLE STEPS? REALLY?
How come books on achieving your goals make it so complicated? Well, you wouldn’t pay for a book as short as this email, would you? People have to pad it out and give it some kind of fancy name so that you’ll hand over some money. I make my money doing other stuff, so I can be concise. I’m not selling anything. Weird, huh?
Imagine it’s New Year’s Eve, 2015. What’s the ONE THING you want to have be different? What do you want to feel proud that you did? For instance:
* you got your weight and fitness levels where you want them
* you started your own business
* you wrote that book you’ve been thinking about
* you improved your relationship with your kids
* you learned a new language
* you got your finances in order
STEP ONE. Complete this sentence, in writing:
“By the end of this year, the one thing I definitely want to achieve is________________________.”
That doesn’t mean you can’t achieve other things as well, but this is going to be your highest priority, so pick something you’d really be proud to have done. If you achieve it in less than a year, great! You can move on to your next goal.
You’ve heard the saying, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Well, it continues with a single step, too. Lots of single steps.
One of the main reasons people fail to achieve their resolutions is they don’t chunk down their goal into small enough bits. They start out big--maybe taking an hour a day to exercise, for instance...but then life takes over. The stuff you used to do in the time you’re now spending on exercising still needs to be done, so you fall behind. And before you know it, it’s too hard to keep up the new effort and you stop.
STEP TWO. Fill in these two sentences once a week, in writing:
This week, here’s what I’m going to do to move toward my goal during just one session of 15 minutes a day:________________________________________. To make this possible here’s what i’m going to do 15 minutes a day less: __________________________________.
First, what can you achieve in only 15 minutes? If you’re learning a language, you can learn a new word or two. If you want to write a book, you can jot down notes about the plot, the characters, the theme. If you want to improve your relationship with somebody, you can spend 15 minutes a day listening--not talking or judging or giving advice, just listening--to them. If you want to get your finances in order, you can set up a filing system and use it on all the receipts and other documents that are in a big jumble at the moment.
The reason you fill in these sentences once a week is that what you will be doing will change as you make progress. Once you’ve spent a few weeks jotting down general ideas about your book, you may decide to spend that 15 minutesa day working on the main plot points. Once you’ve learned a bunch of new words in another language you may decide to spend 15 minutes a day listening to audio lessons on how to form simple sentences, Most of the time you’ll find it easy to figure out the next logical thing to do.
Second, what can you do less of? If you’re getting more than 7 or 8 hours a night of sleep, you can sleep 15 minutes less. Set your alarm 15 minutes earlier, or go to bed 15 minutes later. Or you may choose to eliminate 15 minutes a day of TV, Facebook or Twitter time, or something else. There isn’t anybody who can’t find a spare fifteen minutes a day.
You may think there’s no danger that you’ll forget to do your 15 minutes a day, but there is. Trust me, I’ve done it myself.
We need to remind ourselves to do it. One way is to link it to something we do already--something we like or need to do, so we never forget to do it. For instance, you might decide:
* I will not have breakfast until I’ve done the 15 minutes. Put a note on your box of cereal or on your fridge to remind you.
* I will not watch any TV until I’ve done the 15 minutes. Put the note on your remote control.
* I will not look at Facebook/ Twitter/ Pinterest / Whatever until I’ve done the 15 minutes Put the note on your computer screen or your tablet or phone.
* I will not put on my shoes until I’ve done the 15 minutes. Put the note on your shoes.
You can also set an alarm, or authorize somebody in your household to remind you every day, or make a pact with a buddy to phone or email each other every day, or email yourself at the end of every day. It’s a good idea to use two or three methods at first, to make sure that you’re remembering to do the fifteen minutes. Eventually it will become a habit, but that may take six weeks or more.
Also set up a way to remind yourself to review your progress once a week and set out the plan for the next week. Put it into your calendar, add an alarm to that day, schedule a call with a buddy so you can compare progress and support each other in setting up the following week, or whatever works best for you. It may take a few tries until you find the method that works every time.
STEP THREE. Fill in the following:
To remind myself to do this every day, I will: _________________________________. If that doesn’t work, I will:________________________________________. To remind myself to review the week and set out the plan for the next week, I will:___________________________________________.
If you ever lapse, take that as a signal to try something else, not to give up doing the 15 minutes!
STEP FOUR. Do it now.
I lied. There are really only three steps, but I’m making the fourth one do it today. Ideally, NOW. Skip reading the rest of your emails for the next fifteen minutes. If you haven’t filled in the sentences above, that can be your fifteen minute task for the day. That, plus setting up whatever kind of reminders you’re going to use. If you’d like to have a goals buddy, forward this email to them and invite them to join you.
Did you notice that I asked you to fill in the sentences “in writing”? You need to write or print out those completed sentences and keep them where you can see them every day. That’s an important part of the method, please don’t skip it.
By putting in lots of daily short sessions, you will gain momentum. You will see your goal starting to become real. You will feel proud of yourself. You will have greater motivation to keep going.
You may reach a point where 15 minutes a day isn’t the ideal way to spend time on your project. That’s fine, then you can get creative about how to find bigger chunks of time. Maybe you will decide to spend 30 minutes every other day. Or maybe you will be excited enough by your progress to give up an hour a night of TV in favor of working on your project. Or maybe your project now seems more desirable than however you used to spend your Saturdays, and you give it a full day every week.
The process will be basically the same, though. For every new chunk of time, you decide on something to give up, you work out each week what you’re going to do, you set up reminders for yourself, and you keep going. The closer you get to your goal, the more exciting and easier this gets.
If you have any questions about how you can apply this to your own situation, feel free to email me:email@example.com. If I can help, I will.