Remember, Everything Begins as a Draft

As consumers of entertainment, we have become accustomed to seeing the best version of what is being presented to us.  Whether it’s a novel, a movie, a TV series, or a play, we are witnessing this project at its highest level of completeness and – for lack of a better word – perfection.

You may read a novel and think to yourself, I could never write something that good.  Maybe you’ve come out of a movie thinking, I don’t think I could create a screenplay that great.  This is the big mental block that can invade the minds of creative people in any medium.  We see what has been produced, printed, or staged and our minds begin to doubt our own creativity.  

We wonder if we can ever be that good at what we do.

Consider this: Every film we see, every novel we read, every play we watch started as a draft at some point. Whoever wrote it had to start just like you: with an idea.  They had to cultivate it in their mind, then begin jotting down ideas that bloomed into a rough outline that was then filled with things crossed-out and put in that were better.

We often forget that prolific authors like Stephen King or Judy Blume deal with creative highs and lows while they are crafting a story.  And everyone has to tackle a rough draft at some point in order to get to the next step of revision and editing.  Yes, even the greats have to go through the same process every time they write.

It’s easy to get hung up on what has been published or produced and be intimidated.  But you have to remember that even people who are well-versed in their craft often struggle the same way all creative people do.  It’s just how the creativity game is played.

Creating is hard work for anyone.  We look at artists we admire and think that it comes easy to them.  It really doesn’t.  They, too, put in hundreds of hours to create what we are watching, reading, or listening to. With that perspective in mind, it’s easier to realize that we also have the ability to do great works; as long as we are willing to invest the time, effort, and creative energy to do so.

So, the next time you finish reading a novel or watching a movie and begin to wonder how you could ever write something as good, remember that at one point that brilliant work began as a rough draft that evolved into what you just read or saw.  

You, too, can begin at the draft phase and watch it evolve into something greater.  You just have to take the first step and begin writing and creating.

You can do it!

The video below is a snippet of an interview with Wings and Frasier co-creator David Lee discussing the evolution of the Wings pilot into what it eventually became.  A perfect example of how even those we revere as talented creative types often have to work hard to create something that works.  Enjoy!

Enhancing Your Creativity

As creative people, we sometimes allow ourselves to get trapped in a particular box.  I’m a writer.  I’m an actor.  I’m a painter.  And while it’s always good to have a clear idea of what your primary creative skill and talent is, I also think it’s important to tackle other creative pursuits that can help enhance and influence what you already love to do.

If you are a screenwriter or playwright, consider taking an acting class to see how actors interpret and interact with the words on the page.  This can help you as a writer see how to make your writing clearer and subject to the interpretation you intended.  It also will help you gain a new perspective on the collaborative process that goes into filmmaking or producing a play.

I would also recommend taking a class about directing to see how a director reads and interprets a script. This can also help you as you refine your script to make sure what is being communicated is what you intend.

If you’re a novelist, you could take an improv class and develop skills that help you connect ideas and concepts quickly that can help you when writing a rough or first draft.  This can definitely help when your characters take the wheel when your writing.  One of the basic concepts of improv is the never saying no to concept that’s introduced; it’s always “Yes, and then what” instead of negating any ideas presented.  

I highly recommend the series Whose Line is it, Anyway?to see pro improv performers in action.  With practice, you can get to that level, too and enhance your writing along the way.

These are just a few examples, but it never hurts to explore an alternate skill-set that is related, or even unrelated to what you love to do creatively.  Maybe a class on cooking, or wine making, or music could give you the inspiration you need to give your primary creative pursuit an injection of excitement and energy.

I have taken acting classes, improv, and directing classes and they have definitely helped me gain greater insight into the writing process when it comes to the collaborative process.  And they’re also a lot of fun!

What types of classes or activities have you done to help enhance your primary creative interests?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Story Exercise: My Story

Below is the draft of the story I wrote for this exercise. It’s a little longer than 500 words – I got carried away – but it was fun to write. Please feel free to include yours in ther comments and share them with others!

I put the items, location, and animal I chose in BOLD.

            This was it.  Leila stood looking out at the night sky, a blanket of stars before her, emptiness below her in the darkness.  She didn’t want to do it; but she knew she had no other choice.  An icy wind whipped through her body and she felt her fingers and toes grow numb.  There was only one way out of this situation.  For too long she had waited.  Agonized. Suffered.  

            And now it came down to this.

            Her phone buzzed to life in her pocket, which startled her.  She fumbled with her numbed fingers to grasp the phone in her jacket pocket.  She saw the name on the screen, closed her eyes, then answered.

            “Hello,” she said as her teeth chattered.

            “Are you coming down the slope soon?” the voice on the other end began.  “We’d like to go get food sometime tonight.”

            “Okay, okay,” Leila said with frustration.  She looked down the snowy hillside of the ski slope.  She was alone and the ski lift had come to a halt.  It was just her.  

            At the edge of a double-black diamond ski slope!

            Why did I think I could do this? she thought to herself.  To impress your sister, duh!

            Her sister who was not impatiently waiting for her with the rest of the group at the bottom of the run.  Her sister who was now calling her to get her to come down.  

            “On my way,” Leila said as she disconnected and put the phone back in her pocket.  “Hope they have good food in the hospital cafeteria,” she said to herself.  “Because this isn’t gonna end well!” 

            She heard a growl.  Was it her stomach?  No, she would have felt that, too.  She looked to her right.  Nothing there.  She heard the growl again.  To her left. She swallowed and looked to her left. A coyotecrept toward her.  It’s mouth in a snarl.

            Leila did her best to stay calm, and reached into a pocket on her ski pants and pulled out a half-eaten candy bar.  “I know chocolate is bad for dogs,” she said, “but I think you can handle this.”  She tossed the candy bar in the coyote’s direction. It looked at the sugary bribe, then back at her.

            “Darn!” she said, then looked down the slope.  “And down we go,” she said in a low voice, hoping the animal eyeing her would stay put.

Leila leaned forward quickly, her skissliding inch-by-inch toward the edge.  She gripped the poles tight, took a deep breath, and felt her body descend.  

The powder churning up around her skis was a comforting sight; she had been terrified it was ice all the way down.  

            Leila felt herself picking up speed.  She wavered a bit, but maintained her balance…at least for the moment.

            Then the ice came.  Her once seemingly sensible speed went from manageable to uncontrollable. The wind whipped through her hair and around her goggles.  Her blue beanie was ripped from her head as she careened faster and faster down the slope.

            With all her might she attempted to form a wedge with the front of her skis to slow herself down, but she hit a bump in the icy terrain that sent her sprawling off balance.  She felt herself launch into the air, her body like a wayward missile with no clear target.

            And she landed on her side, but continued to slide downward.  Pain radiated from her side and the arm she landed on, but she was grateful her phone was in the opposite pocket.  However, she had her sister’s “lucky charm” in her other pocket…of the side she landed on. She shifted as she slid and pulled the lucky charm out to look at it: a small Funko Pop! of Wonder Woman.  

            She chucked it up the slope only to see the coyote making its own slip-sliding way down toward her.  

            Leila’s legs were heavy from her ski boots; her skis were on two separate solo runs down the hill, and from her viewpoint it looked like they would arrive at the bottom before she did!

            Not wanting to wait around for her new friend, Leila shifted head-first down the slope and “swam” the rest of the way down the mountain.

            As she arrived at the bottom of the hill – still on her side – her sister stood over her.  “You couldn’t have done thattwo hours ago?”  her sister said.

            “If I knew it would be that easy,” Leila replied, “I would have!”

            “Where’s my lucky charm?” her sister asked.

            “On the mountain,” Leila said as she awkwardly stood. “But I think the coyote up there will try and get it first.”

            Her sister considered the news.  “I’m good,” Leila’s sister said.  “Dinner?”

            “Yes!” Leila said.

I look forward to reading yours! Have a great weekend!

Short Story Exercise…

I did the following writing exercise in one of my creative writing classes and I thought I would share it with all of you:

  • Write down three random objects
  • Write down an animal
  • Write down a location

Using those items, animal, and location, create a short story (~500 words) that incorporates all the things you have listed.  It can be in any genre you want, any POV you want, and time period you want, the key is to utilize the items you have written down in a creative and fun way.

I will post mine by Friday. 

Feel free to post yours in the comments on this post or on my story when it’s up later this week!

Happy Writing!

The Power of Words

Dr. Solomon (John Lithgow) makes a great point in this short clip above.  The dictionary is not only a great resource to check one’s spelling – although spellcheck does most of the heavy lifting for us these days – but it’s also a storehouse of the millions of words that we as writers implement through our own creativity to produce stories, characters, locations, and descriptions designed to entertain audiences.

Too often we will read a great novel, see a well-written film or play, and be intimidated by the awesome creative forces at work before us.  But then we need to step back and remember the above clip from 3rdRock from the Sun.  Every writer, screenwriter, and playwright is using the same dictionary of words that we have at our disposal.  

With practice, determination, and editing, we can also be at the same level of skill and talent as those who have gone before us.  It’s all the same words, it’s how they’re organized that makes the difference.

Today, go and organize some words into a great short story and see what happens!

A Message to All “Aspiring” Creative People

If you’ve ever seen an interview with a creative person that has a Q&A session at the end, there’s usually a person who asks a question like this: “I’m an aspiring author.  What advice would you give to someone like me?” If I were the person being asked this question, my response would be: “Are you currently writing?”  If they answered yes, then I would reply: “Then you’re not aspiring to be a writer, you ARE a writer.”  Seems simple enough.

And it really is.

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of ASPIRE is “to seek to attain or accomplish a particular goal,” which means that if you are writing in any capacity in the genre or medium you desire to write in, you are no longer aspiring to do so.  Now, if you aspire to be a published author, or aspire to have one of your screenplays produced, that’s a different thing entirely.

And that’s where setting goals comes into play.  

We are living in a golden age of independent media content production.  No longer do we have to sit idly by and merely hope to have something published or produced.  We can do it ourselves!  Podcasts, self-publishing, blogs, YouTube, Vimeo, and dozens of other outlets allow creative types like us to make our dreams a reality without having to wade through rejection letters, unreturned phone calls, and the dreaded silent “no.”  

Don’t just ASPIRE to do it.  Do it! You want to get your book out there? There are ways to make it happen on your own.  Want to be on the radio?  Do a podcast and get it out there for others to listen to and enjoy.  Like writing and directing films?  YouTube can give you a platform and an audience without having to spend hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars.  

Every person reading this needs to know that we have the power to not just ASPIRE to do things. No, we can do them and then INSPIRE others to get their creativity out for the world to see.  

In a world that can be so mired in cynicism and negativity, it’s time for all creative people to bring their positivity and influence out in the open to help make the world a better place.

Let’s all move beyond aspiring to inspiring and motivate yourself and others to be agents of positive creativity!

Leave a comment below and let me know what you think!

When it Comes to Your Writing, Who’s Really in Control?

Where do you want your characters to go…or where should they take you?

So, you’ve finally done it. You’ve completed your outline for your novel or short story and you’re ready to sit down and write.  Your fingers are poised over the keys of your computer – or typewriter, if you’re old school – you take a deep breath, and dive into the story.

As you start to dig into story, you realize that your main character is taking you down a storyline that you didn’t outline or anticipate.  In fact, it’s almost as if your protagonist is in control of what they’re saying and doing.  It’s as if you are only there to transcribe the events as they unfold.  A mere voyeur to a story you hadn’t even planned.

This is a good thing!

I’ve had these moments happen many times while writing.  I think I’m going to take the story one place due to planning ahead, and then the main character takes the wheel and we go off on a weed-infested dirt road that I never even knew was there.  It’s at these moments while writing – especially during the drafting process – that it’s best to just sit back and see where things go.

Sometimes you’ll hit a dead end.  Sometimes you’ll learn something new about the character and the choices they make that can have an impact on the story and in turn the character’s interactions with others in the story.  The key during these moments is not to fight the creativity taking hold of your brain and your fingers as the rapidly pound the keys to get every sentence down as fast as possible.

And it’s not only a great method of discovery for your main character.  Supporting characters can benefit and develop greatly during this process of creative surrender.  Maybe you have a character who you feel isn’t strong or dimensional enough; but while writing a sequence that includes them they begin to say things and do things that make them far more interesting and instrumental to the overall story.  That’s always an exciting time!

While I do support writing outlines, I also believe that as creative people we must allow ourselves to give into the temptation of going where our roadmap doesn’t.  Even if you do return to the road you previously paved, you may have learned a thing or two that can benefit your characters – and your story – in the long run.

Have you ever let your characters take the wheel and take your story down a trail you never expected? Leave a comment and let me know!

JOIN ME ON TWITTER TOMORROW!

Tomorrow, join me for my Twitter Takeover of @YoungEntmag Thursday, February 7 from 2p to 4p PST about my YA novel, The Field, writing, and other things!

Looking forward to your questions! #YAauthorTakeover

UPDATE: Thank you everyone who stopped by for the my #YATwitterTakeover!

THE TRUE STORY BEHIND “THE FIELD” BY IAN DAWSON – PART Two

We continue now with the police report of my abduction from May 1, 1993.

Twenty-five years ago, this corner was the location of the clearing where I was taken by my abductors.
After I was released, I raced down Shasta View on my bike toward home. Was very happy to be alive!

I often wonder what ever became of my two abductors. They were never found, which means that they are still out there over two decades later. I hope that no other kid encountered them after my situation in May of 1993. One can only hope.