Ideas. We all have them. Billions of people all around the planet have ideas every day. Some good. Some bad. Some brilliant. Some ridiculous. From kids to the elderly, ideas are racing through the minds of people 24/7. But what are they doing with them?
A coworker of mine used to pitch me several game show ideas a week. And every time, I would tell him to write them down. He never did. Just kept coming up with them week after week. But what if he had written them down? What if one of them had actually been an idea worth exploring further?
If you think of an idea, write it down. You can use a notebook, the Notes app on your phone, or a computer file. Sounds simple enough. But most people don’t take the time to do this.
And they need to.
There are tens of millions of creative people out there. Still, most don’t take the time to write down their ideas and cultivate the good ones into possible stories.
Having an idea is easy. Building on an idea is the hard part.
Good ideas deserve action. If you have a story idea that intrigues you, something that makes you pause and wonder what happens next, this is the time to act and get to work. The biggest mistake is to let the idea dissolve into memory, only to be forgotten and never expanded upon.
Sit down and take the time to brainstorm and hash out the idea’s finer points and details. Possible characters, conflicts, locations. How the story begins. How it ends. Is there something compelling for you to continue the journey to make it more than an simple idea?
If so, continue. If not, move on but don’t throw any of those notes away. You never know when something from one idea could be merged into another. It happens.
An idea is actionable when you decide for it to be. No one can stop you from developing what you’ve thought of into a more dimensional creative work.
The ideas start and stop with you. It is your choice what to do with them.
I like to watch interviews with writers, actors, and other people in the arts. I find them fascinating and very educational. One of the things I find interesting is when they have a Q&A with the audience after their initial interview or talk. At the end, there’s usually an audience member who says, “I’m an aspiring writer” or “I’m an aspiring actor/actress.” This has always been a curiosity to me.
The word “aspire” or “aspiring,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, means “desiring and working to achieve a particular goal: having aspirations to attain a specified profession, position, etc.” I would like to change the thinking about labeling oneself as an “aspiring artist” and show you that the act of creating is not, in fact, what you are aspiring to achieve.
Are You Doing It?
If you are writing, acting, painting, sculpting, writing music, or pursuing any other endeavor, you have moved out of the aspirational category and are now actively doing that particular activity. If you’re aspiring to write, why? What’s preventing you from taking those steps toward writing a story, a poem, a play, or a song?
When we put the word “aspiring” in front of the creative activity we wish to do, there’s the perception that it lends importance to what we want to do. I don’t believe it does. If you can do it, don’t dream about doing it, do it. If you are doing it, you no longer aspire to do the activity because you are actually doing it.
Working Toward an Artistic Goal
If you have mapped out plans to write a novel or a play, are working on an album, or are working on writing and shooting a short film, these are goals within the creative realm you inhabit. But, again, you are working toward these goals, not just thinking or hoping for them to happen on their own.
What You Really Might Want…
The truth is that we don’t aspire to be a writer, an actor/actress, a painter, or a musician. Our aspiration lies beyond that. It lies in our aspirations for success, money, and the ability to quit our day jobs and create full time. This is what we want. This is what we aspire toward.
But this should be secondary in your overarching aspirational plan. Why?
Putting in the time, work, effort, energy, sweat, tears, frustration, excitement, and other emotions that come with creating makes you better at the art you are doing. Your drive to create should be your focus when you’re starting out.
Art should be your motivation, not money or fame.
Success is a byproduct of all the time you’ve spent honing your craft on your own, at home, for free. It’s these thousands of hours of hard work that can eventually get you to where you aspire to be.
But you have to do the work.
Aspiring toward something positive involving your art is excellent, but it should be something you can’t quickly achieve in the present. You can write right now. You can paint right now. You can be creative right now. It’s the steps after the hard work of creation are done that we aspire to: the published novel, the produced play, the award-winning poem.
Everyone dreams of some level of success. But the first step to getting there is to stop dreaming about it and start doing it.
We hear about them often in the media. They’re the overnight success who appeared seemingly out of nowhere and are now on every magazine cover, talk show, and everywhere else you look. It can be frustrating to see someone like this. Someone who has been allegedly picked out of obscurity to become the latest Next Big Thing.
But before you get jealous or frustrated, take a closer look.
The idea of an Overnight Success is misleading and a myth. No one just pops up one day, is found by chance, and suddenly makes it big (and even if they do, it’s very, very rare). That person has a story. Probably one similar to yours when it comes to being an artist. Maybe they struggled for years to write, act, sing, and get their work out to the public. Perhaps they did have a hard time for a decade or more as they worked a day job and created at night.
It’s all a matter of perspective.
The hype over an Overnight Success is a marketing gimmick. If you watch or read biographies about famous people, most of them struggled and worked hard to get to where they are now. Even an Overnight Success had to fight and claw their way to get that title.
The best way to fight against having envy or jealously over someone deemed an Overnight Success is to find out the real story. Don’t rely on social media or those making them into something that looks good on a glossy magazine at the grocery store checkout.
Who is this person? Where did they come from? What were their goals? What were their struggles to reach those goals? What path did they take? What setbacks did they encounter that eventually led them to be named an Overnight Success?
Finding the real story and discovering the truth can help you in your efforts to write, act, sing, or create. You can see what tools and tactics they used. How they found a balance between work, family, and being creative. This is an opportunity to learn from this person, not become discouraged by their sudden Overnight Success.
Because you’ll quickly see that is never the case.
So, the next time you see a story where people are fawning over a sudden Overnight Success, take a step back and find out how long it took them to be awarded that title. I’m sure that “overnight” was years or even decades in the making.
Next week, I’ll explore another Myth. See you then!
Happy 2021! I’m sure by now you’ve thought about some goals you’d like to achieve in the new year. Whether those goals are big or small, it’s always good to have something new and exciting to look forward to as the calendar turns back to January.
For many people, this may involve taking up and new hobby or learning a new skill, which can lead many down a fascinating rabbit hole of reading and research that may not be as productive as they may think.
Let’s start with an example of this: You want to learn how to play the guitar in 2021.
A great goal. You’ve thought about playing the guitar for a while. You’ve seen people you know, and also famous people do it so effortlessly that you want to enjoy making music as much as they do. You go online and decide to buy several books about playing the guitar.
You wait for the books to arrive, eagerly awaiting the guitar-playing wisdom each book will reveal. Upon their arrival, you read three, and all three present different methods about how to play the guitar.
Now, this whole time, despite having the guitar, you haven’t picked it up once. Sure, you’ve looked at it, thought about playing it, but every time you read a book about playing the guitar and feel confident about playing, you still feel you need to find the “best” way to play.
And so, you read about playing the guitar. And the guitar sits there, alone, un-played.
Now, you’ve finished the books. You’ve highlighted paragraphs, bookmarked pages, told people about the books and how exciting guitar playing is…and suddenly you feel an unforeseen pressure. Not to pick up the guitar. It’s the pressure that with all the tips, tricks, tools, and methods you’ve just learned, your brain is suddenly overwhelmed.
Now that thing you wanted to do, that wonderful music you wanted to create, your passion for actually learning is stamped out because you spent so long reading and not doing, and you psyched yourself out of it.
This can happen to aspiring writers, too. In fact, anything creative can have the excitement and adventure of discovery killed off by reading about it instead of doing it.
I’m guilty of this, too.
I’ve written many screenplays and have dozens of screenwriting books. Each one has a different methodology of how a screenplay’s structure is composed. While the outcome is the same – a 110-page screenplay – the rules set forth by each author differ. Read a few of these books in succession, and you’ll be confused and terrified to break the “rules” you’ve read about screenwriting.
Put the books down.
Do you have a story you want to write? Do you know the basics? Beginning? Middle? End? Do you have characters and a setting to go with those three pieces? A central conflict? If you do, great. Sit down and write it out. No books. No rules. No worksheets.
Now, as you expand and craft the story, if you need guidance about how to craft good dialogue or how to show and not tell, these are when those books can come in handy. They should be seen as reference guides to help your writing, not tutorials on how to write.
We are all storytellers. We know the basics. We’ve seen movies, TV shows, plays, short films, documentaries, and read novels. As a writer, your job is to take what you already know about how stories work and make it your own.
Much like the guitar analogy, writers must do the work to get the experience. We all start as amateurs or beginners, but you will get better with time, patience, and actual hands-on practice. While reading about it or listening to interviews is fine, don’t let that take away from doing the work yourself. Those books and interviews will always be around.
Whether it’s writing, playing the guitar, sculpting, or running a marathon, take the time to invest your time in learning by doing. Future you will be grateful.
Whether writing a novel or a TV series, the creative process can involve a multitude of ideas and concepts that evolve over time. What we see on the page or on the screen often differs a lot from what the creator initially had in mind when they set out to create their story.
Below is a clip from a Television Academy Foundation interview with writer David Lee who co-created Wings and Frasier with David Angell and Peter Casey. Listen to how the concept of Wings and its characters evolved from an idea, to initial script, to the final pilot.
Do you have story ideas that you feel need to evolve and change to make your writing stronger and more compelling? Don’t be afraid to take risks and make the necessary changes to get your story to work!
It’s been over eight months since the Coronavirus pandemic shut down businesses and schools, locked down communities, and created a culture of wearing masks, caused us to use hand sanitizer everywhere, and made us wary of being close to anyone we don’t know. Add to that protests for social change, a crazy political climate, and financial uncertainty for millions, and the very thought of sitting down to write and be creative can be off-putting to some.
While I understand that the world has its ebbs and flows of chaotic news and events, as writers, artists, musicians, and other creatives, we have an obligation to ourselves and our own mental health to continue to indulge in the creative process. Through our art, we can help ourselves and others make sense of the world, understand our emotions and feelings, and get our thoughts out in a tangible form.
It can also allow you the opportunity to escape the negativity of the world for an hour or two, to embrace an activity that provides a sense of normalcy in a world that keeps throwing pessimism at you 24/7. Like you, I get overwhelmed with the news, the images, the statistics, and the political noise, which is why I’m happy to share some of what I do to keep the world out and keep my sanity and creativity in play.
This has become a ritual for me on Saturdays. I turn off my phone, put it out of view, and either read, write, or do something that doesn’t involve continually scrolling my newsfeed or social media. It seems like a crazy idea at first since we all seem to be glued to our devices, but it can be mentally refreshing to distance yourself from your phone and not have the constant beeps, buzzes, and chimes of alerts attacking your brain every few seconds.
Even if you can only sit down and write, read a book, or even binge-watch a couple of episodes of something uninterrupted for an hour (not the news) or two, you will find that a lot of the noise in your mind will dissipate. You quite possibly will feel a bit calmer thanks to your phone being off and away.
Remember, even if you turn off your phone for a few hours to write or do something else, it’s not like the chaos will go anywhere.
If you have a family and they all have phones, plan a few hours each weekend to do things without phones and other devices. Connecting with people and not screens is a challenge these days for sure, but it’s a welcome respite from the constant barrage of news, politics, and pandemics.
Create a Creative Space
Maybe you’re not ready to sit down and write or create at the moment. That’s fine. Unplugging can benefit you no matter what you do with the time away from your phone. However, if you are looking for an escape to a creative place, I recommend creating a space for you to work and be creative in your home or apartment.
It doesn’t have to be big, just a place where you can go and sit with a laptop, a pad and paper – or, if you’re really old school, a typewriter – and write for an hour or two. This should be a space void of your phone, social media, and the internet (yes, you can turn it off on your laptop or desktop), especially the news.
In this space, you are the boss. You make the rules. And you are there for one job: to create.
So, I have a studio apartment, but I have a space where I keep my laptop and a VARIDESK to stand if I feel like it. I have a comfy chair, as well. I have a legal pad and pen to jot down questions to look up later online, and a bottle of water. That’s it. Everything in the space is geared toward writing and creating with as few distractions as possible.
Now, once you’ve created your space, choose a time that best suits your schedule. If you have young kids, this might be in the evening once they’ve gone to bed, but the key is to enter the creative space and make the time to create. I write best at night, so I usually work for a couple of hours in the evening as often as possible.
Use Music/White Noise to Stay Focused
I just started doing this this past year and have found that it really helps me stay focused when I’m reading or writing. There are many, many ambient noise choices available on YouTube, but devices like Alexa also provide a library of ambient noises as well (and yes, if you want to use the ambient noises found on YouTube, you can leave the Wi-Fi on on your computer, but do your best not to go down the dreaded YouTube rabbit hole and become distracted).
Personally, I prefer listening to a thunderstorm or snowstorm, but there are hundreds of these ambient noise videos to choose from that you can have on in the background as you write. Most of these videos range from one hour in length to ten hours, and the ones I have used don’t have ads that blare to life in the middle of the video. I highly recommend headphones or earbuds to help immerse yourself and block out any external noises.
Here are two that I use most when writing and reading:
Music is also a great choice, but make sure what you choose isn’t distracting. It should be music that helps you focus on your creativity and not pull you out of it. Music can also be a great way to set the tone or mood for what you will be writing.
Consider Your Time Writing as an Escape for Your Own Mental Health
Being creative is not a selfish act. It is a way to refresh yourself and your mind. We use films, TV, and books to escape reality, so being creative should be seen as another form of healthy escapism.
As a writer and artist, you form new worlds, new characters, new stories, and new relationships. You can’t control the world around you, but you can – even for an hour – be the creator of your own worlds and give the real world a timeout.
Stay Positive. Enjoy the Time Creating
Even though 2020 hasn’t been a great year for most of us, we have to remember to stay positive. It is the arts that have sustained societies for generations through song, dance, painting, sculpting, the written word, theater, film, and TV. Humans who love to create and have a passion for creating must take the time to create.
You must give yourself permission to enjoy the time when you are writing and creating. It’s a welcome respite from the chaos that has enveloped us this year. You can’t let doom and gloom consume you. It’s no way to live, it’s not a healthy way to think, and it can be detrimental to the creative process.
There’s an exercise I once read about for people who overthink when they are trying to sleep. They are to keep and pad and pen by their bed, then write down what is keeping them up, and that is supposed to help them sleep better, knowing they can now save that worry for the next day. In the spirit of that exercise, if you feel the world creeping into your creative space, keep a pad and pen handy and jot that item down. Then if you want to think about it later, it’s written down for you to think about once you’re down writing or creating.
Finally, If You Still Have Anxiety or Anger About What’s Going on In the World…
Write about it. Get your thoughts, your emotions, your solutions down on paper or on your computer screen. Venting about the world is okay. It’s a healthy way to process what you are feeling, and you should take the time (maybe the first ten minutes of your creative time, if needed) to get these thoughts out.
You could also practice journaling as a way to express these thoughts and ideas.
I’m human, just like you. I see things on the news or read about events in the U.S. or around that world that upset me, anger me, and sadden me. But as I said before, you can’t allow those negative emotions to consume you, especially if you need to write and create. If you can channel those feelings into what you’re writing, do it. Just don’t let the world creep in and prevent you from being creative.
I hope you found these tips insightful and helpful. If you have other tips about how you have stayed positive and focused on creativity during 2020, please leave a comment.
Should your main characters ever feel comfortable? Should they ever feel like everything is okay and their life is going just fine? Of course, the answer to these questions – especially when dealing with fictional characters – is an emphatic NO. Over the course of the story, it is your job as a writer to keep them as off-balance as possible.
In the real world, we often have a strong desire for balance and calm in our daily lives. Too much stress or anxiety can take its toll on the human mind, body, and spirit, so we often escape to places where we can refresh and recharge. With fictional characters, this sense of calm should be a constant struggle to obtain. It not only can make them more in-depth as characters, it can also make for a better story.
The old adage is that Conflict = Drama. And drama is what drives the story forward. Like most writers, I tend to want to protect my main characters from harm. But in doing so you do a great disservice to your characters and your readers. Putting your characters in harm’s way, giving them impossible situations to get out of, and relentlessly giving them obstacles to overcome makes for a better story and can help strengthen and add dimension to your characters.
This is where the concept of the Character Arc comes into play. Your characters should evolve and change over the course of the story, and keeping them off-balance and having to find ways to try and resolve their problems helps them grow as characters. Don’t forget that your main character should go through some sort of change or metamorphosis over the course of the story.
Granted, you want to give the reader a sense of what is a normal day for your characters before the inciting incident turns their world upside down. That’s fine. It’s what Joseph Campbell refers to as The Ordinary World. But once that Ordinary World is thrown off, it’s time to take your characters on a very bumpy ride.
Your main character’s primary goal – aside from the goals your set forth for them once the story gets underway – is to return to their normal as fast as possible. Don’t let them get there. And even once the goal of the story has been achieved and their world seems to be back to normal, the journey they have taken over the course of the story has forever changed them ion some significant way.
They can never return to the Old Normal they had before the story began. And that’s a good thing. They have grown as a character. They have overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. And they have come out the other side a stronger, more realized person because of their journey.
It is often during times of great stress or trauma that real people show their true colors. It is your job as a writer to create these types of situations for your characters to keep them off-balance. It doesn’t have to be a life-threatening event, but it should be something that will forever change them for the better…or worse.
What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know.
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!
My ideal time to write is at night. Late at night. Like, I’m writing this post at 3 a.m., late at night. There’s something peaceful and serene for me when it comes to writing at this time. Work is done. Most people are asleep. There are fewer distractions. It’s just me and my ideas. Me and my brain in creative overdrive. I love it!
Of course, this late at night is the best time to write on a weekend. So, if it’s not late night or early morning, I do like to write in the evening as opposed to the morning.
Writing time comes down to two major factors: your availability to write, and your best time to avoid distractions. If you know you have a couple hours in the afternoon to write before the kids come home, write then. If it’s in the evening right before bed, do it then. There’s no hard and fast rule about when to write. To me it’s whenever is right for you that helps you maximize your creativity and output.
When do you like to write? Why does that time of day work best for you? Leave a comment and let me know!