Thursday, April 9, 2015

How to mentor a new writer through a creative state change.

My G+ friend Kim said some insightful things a few posts ago that had me thinking about the change she is going through in her writing development as a creator.

I realized I could offer her something from my writing life experience that might help her identify the creative state change she is coming onto, and offer her a tool I developed and the accompanying technique to use with it I felt might help her transition successfully.

I didn't realize I would go almost 3900 words, but it's important.

You know Kim, I was thinking a couple nights ago about what a wonderful comment you made and how I should draw upon my experience to offer you another technique I've used over the years to keep creatively on track as I was developing into a more seasoned writer.

I call it the 'wall technique.'  Just go to an Aaron Brother's Art Mart (or any artist supply store if you don't have one of those nearby) and go to the drawing paper section.

Most drawing paper is more expensive than it needs to be, but there is one type of paper that is just right and just the right price for what I am going to share with you.

I mentioned this to Janet K. West some time back and I hope she tries it cause it works great for me, though I an not representative of the 'general kind of writer' in any sense - if there is such a thing given we are all unique individuals.

You said recently in a comment or a blog that you had been confused and had some stuff you were putting in a box to work out.

This is a great way to work all that out and best of all, it has no deadline and it has no real formatting requirements.  It is a tool that works with how your mind wants to work the way it wants to work - or not - if you are tired or written out.

Now, how easy peasy is that?  I like it simple and straightforward when it comes to creativity, because creativity's nature is rather sophisticated to interpret, much less work with.

Please don't let that simplicity in any way mean that this is not a very, very powerful technique.

It has to do with 'letting yourself work' instead of making yourself work, which is the first step in tuning yourself for working with the flow - which is another explanation entirely.  You may have heard of it elsewhere in creativity talk, but most people frankly rationalize it to death and that doesn't work for it or well.

At the art supply store is a type of paper called 'newsprint', a leftover type of paper from the publishing era, but fine and graphic artists latched onto it because it comes in bundles of 100 sheets, is 20 inches by 30 inches in size and is less than ten bucks a pad.

Beat that for fundamental and inexpensive art supplies!

It's corporation proof, almost.  That's saying something these days.  I can see the day when we are making installment payments on writing supplies if we aren't culturally careful.

While you are at the store, get the kind of tape that will hold it to the wall well and not damage the wall.  There are several kinds - get the one that works for you and your budget.

Bring it home and make sure that one wall where you work on your writing is cleared off of posters and paintings and everything else.

Also make sure that there is nothing in front of the wall your feet may bump into.  Just a clean wall and a clean approach.  Leave it that way.

Tape up one sheet in the upper left hand corner of the wall high enough so that you can reach up to write without over extending your arm.  This is intended to be a comfortable, functional easy process.

Sit down across the room and relax.  Just stare at that one piece of paper on the blank wall and let yourself relax and enjoy the fact you are about to add a new tool to your creative skill set that is so simple, so powerful and so deceptively intelligent you will wonder why you didn't do it before.

I've told people this for decades now, and I don't think any of them have tried it.  I think they didn't because they are used to thinking of writing in terms of a blank eight and a half by eleven piece of white twenty pound bond paper and that is the paper you should be writing one.

Silly people, hobbling their creative process by a simple format choice imposed by nothing more than an industrial standard from a publishing industry that is thankfully for culture, nearly extinct.

Well, we hunt and bag big creative game on Planet Arthur, but it is perfectly acceptable to start small in tiny steps down the creativity road.  And, it's probably wise to start that way if you can.

I did.  I started with poetry, and moved to short stories after several years.  One day I realized I was writing a short story that was really, really long.

It then dawned on me that I was not writing a short story anymore, I was writing a novelette, and learned that as a writer grows, there is a format designed for that growth.

I went from novelettes back then into screenplays, because they were comparable size in terms of workload.  Though the format is entirely different, and the approach to writing is visual.

That is why it is called filmic storytelling and not regular storytelling.  Semantically, a story is a story, but technique and approach can vastly vary.

After many scripts and a few Hollywood successes on a very small scale (but more than good enough for me), I stayed at that scale of format (20,000 to 70,00 words each) for awhile while my story sense and type of story I wanted to write changed scale.

The stories were then pretty long like mentioned above, but the scale became more epic and adventurous.  Soon I found myself writing not just science fiction and surrealism, but big, epic historical fantasy adventures.

What a thrill it was to grow into new areas of creativity for me literarily.  This is kinda what I am sensing is happening to you on a smaller scale.  I loved what was happening to me creatively playing with detective, mystery and historical adventure/fantasy during this process.

It was not easy to tackle each new kind of challenge, but I made it easier because I was following my creative inner compass to almost the exclusion of everything else, like market trends, which everyone I knew in the business took for granted and perhaps erroneously took as a weather vane as well in terms of the cyclic nature of genre as a profitable choice in the film business.

By developing methods of data management assisting my manuscript manufacturing and creative changes artistically simultaneously, I was never lost in the work as it evolved.

This is a common writer's problem, and is also true in other high art disciplines like painting, film, dance, sculpture and so on rounding out the classic high art disciplines.

This is not the same thing as being lost in the work in the context of being in the middle of it and working it through and out in any one given creative work session period.

That is a totally different phenomenon deserving treatment in a separate treatise.  I'll talk about that in a different blog later on.

This technique was what I developed.  You can alter it any way you want later, but start with a basic system now and as you evolve artistically and productively, you can easily see what kinds of layout and format changes you may need to make to work best with your particular artistic way.

So while you sit on the chair across the room looking at a blank wall, relax.  Don't worry about it being blank like the blank page that brings fear to so many writers when they think, "What am I supposed to do next?" or, "How am I going to fix this present passage?"


That's not the point of the blank wall.  What the point of the blank wall is for is so you to develop a rudimentary mind map.  There are dozens of mind mapping programs and methods developed out there.

Stick with this basic one and you will see why you should and don't waste time on a bunch of boxes and arrows when you are not mapping a specific application yet.  Besides, technology loves to develop interface experiences that doesn't serve the creative process well at all some of the time.  This is probably why the creativity AI is so difficult to develop.  I'm working on it as well and it is a bear of a problem.

You are mapping your mind.  It has all kinds of things on it.  Dinner, bills, in my case, jokes or paragraphs or statements.

The purpose of the blank pages on the wall on the blank wall is to just walk across the room and jot down any old thing that comes into your head.  Anything at all.

It doesn't have to makes sense.  There is no continuity required with other ideas or within one you are working on currently.  It doesn't even have to be spelled correctly or have proper grammatical structure.

I don't care if the things you write up there are emotional, psychological, intellectual, creative, banal or boorish, and you must not either.  I don't care if the size of the letter change from big to little to big again to little again, and you shouldn't either.  I don't care if you start to make little drawings of people you know in silly faces or poses, and you shouldn't either.  I don't care if you make fifty exclamation points after a thought like a teenager frustrated at school would in a posted comment.

You are not to judge yourself in any way one bit, and that is an ironclad rule.  We get enough of that from the world, and this is your place to write (or design or emote or doodle or stab the pen into the wall if that is what it takes to get it out of you onto the map - well I would be concerned a little if you were stabbing the wall with your pen) - your sanctuary where you get to be you any way you want to be, anytime you want to be.

Unrestricted and unjudged.  Pretty much unlike the rest of the world isn't, actually.

It is your wall, for your thoughts.  Unedited, unadulterated, pure and simple and totally exclusively and ideally you.

Just start throwing them up there without a care, without worrying where they go or what sense they do or do not make - that will work itself out over time.  Trust me on that.

Keep putting it up there and pretty soon, you are going to have to add another piece of paper.  In fact, if you relaxed enough the first time you put the first piece of paper up there by itself, something is going to tell you another should go up, maybe two.  Maybe twelve.

I have gotten to the point when I have a new idea to write about, I say to myself or anyone that happens to be listening, "That's going to be at LEAST a twelve sheet proof of concept!"

Frankly though, Kim, I tend to keep my writing sanctuary sanctified with solitude, but it is your choice.  I recommend at first nobody, but nobody come into your sacred space, and nobody, but nobody can ever, ever, never read what you put up there.

This is where you work things out in private BEFORE you bring it public in a graduated way.  That is a separate process I'll talk about later.

Your writing sanctuary is your writing sanctuary, and that is that is that.  It's yours. You control it.

You use it as you see fit, not the way somebody else says, describes or recommends.  Each writer and each creative mind is unique, and you need a simple tableaux to express the parameters of thought you individually want or must create for.

About five to six sheets of paper into the process, consistent areas of thought will appear, usually not on the same place on the wall.  This is not uncommon, for as I have written about before.  The creative mind isn't always producing thoughts on similar ideas in a nice linear narrative like we would like, and why should it always?

For one, one thought on an idea may be more complex an expression and require more thinking time.  Yet it may be the next sentence in the paragraph that has not been completed yet.  You have to allow for the mind's way of creatively working if you are going to be a creator of even rudimentary skill level.

Not all life or civilization for that matter is rational or reasonable, why would the mental processes be any different in certain faculties like creativity?

Once several related thoughts appear on enough pieces of newsprint, take a pad on a clipboard and transcribe them one by one onto the pad of paper, numbering the sheets as you go.  When a thought is transcribed, strike it off the wall so you know it is done.  Make it a physical act to engage your total self (mind, body and spirit) into the development process.

Work on your feet and when the mind pauses, go an sit down and stare at the wall some more.  Play some music, cook some food if you want, hum a tune, whistle, throw darts at a board, whatever.  Just don't do something so engaging it diverts your attention away from the creative process.

Like my friend George says about fishing is a good metaphor for the amount of complexity of distraction you can and cannot allow into a process, "You can't write a novel while fishing, but you can drink a beer.  The fish are not going to be where your hook is cast forever so pay some attention."

Once those notes on one topic are described, archive them in a manila folder and on the tab put a working title on the idea's concept logically capturing the context.

Working title, not the final title.  Sometimes that comes to you right off the bat, sometimes it needs several iterations to get right. Just make sure you know what is in there by simply referencing the blurb you wrote.

I can't emphasize enough how important good archiving skills are.  But there is an illustration that demonstrates the point.  Two artists of equal talent competing for the same dollar in the market will favor the artist with better archiving skills.  Not to mention if you get a large body of work going like I have, you'll need to get to a file fast and easy if creative lightening strikes.

Heh, wait until we get to the lesson on branding, chuckle chuckle.  Or should I say, "Mua-ha-ha-haah!"

As you begin to strike off things from the wall, you will see you will have to put up new sheets and build more manila files.  Make sure, and I repeat, make sure that manila folder gets put into a green file folder holder and gets a clear label on it and gets filed properly in one of those five dollar plastic things from Walmart, or a two hundred dollar file cabinet, either one. Just physically transform the ideas on the wall into a working writing jacket, even if it is just handwritten paper for now.

At a later time, when big picture creativity mind mapping play time is over, you turn to the writing professional activity of typing it up.

You begin to flesh out, edit or proof more logic, or other things that are on the list of to dos at that stage of manuscript development.

Because you physically changed what were initially only thoughts into another format of writing (this time on eight and a half by eleven paper in a folder) you will have advanced your writing process forward one professional step.

More importantly, you have laid two foundations.  One is, how to get it out of your head in a non-tooth pulling or brain surgery way, and even more importantly, have signaled your creative faculty that you are processing the data it gives you in the way it gave it to you into a forwarding development form, and it knows it can now stop thinking about what you don't write down.

This clears the memory and lowers worry and anxiety about the writing process and creativity itself having to worry about you dropping the ball every time it gives you material.

You see, it is a cooperative process, and you have to honor yourself by taking what your creativity comes up with and working it through as best as you can.  By just leaving it on the wall, you are setting up a stall.

Creative flow does not like a distracting stall.  It loves extra room in your mind for more creative processing power.

Do not underestimate this process because it serves you on key levels in your mind and without in your studio's production queue.

That growing file cabinet is the cache of ideas that will serve you your entire writing and creative careers.

As that pile of files grow, another important thing happens.  You glance at the rows of files in the cabinet and as you glimpse at each file title, not even the pages themselves, your mind will filter creative priorities for you and you will know which file to grab out and work on.

It all doesn't have to be done today.

It knows which one to grab because in terms of creative instincts, it knows which ideas are in it written down, and thus which concepts are closer to completion than others. It will cue you as to which one is to be worked on because your eyes will run across the working title and a tiny thrill will pass through you if you are self aware at all.

That is a mental signal you are excited about this because not only is it exciting, but the degree to which it is exciting is a measurement of both how enthused you are to work on it in motivational terms, but also how far along you are with the final thesis of the idea.

I trust my creative faculty implicitly.  It has literally physically saved my life and I know this is true to the bone.  "You know it in your bones", as the Oracle said about love in The Matrix.

This is not always so, but if you are exited about being a creative writer, then the presence of excitement ought to be a clue you should notice when it appears.

If you are feeling dread, pause or anxiety about a title, perhaps it is not time to work on it, or, it is a sign that it may not be something exciting, but instead something important you should work through, not work on.  We are living life and creating at the same time.

Oftentimes, we also write what we have to as much as we write what we desire to.  I believe that this is part of growth both humanistically and creatively, and is an excellent way to become more authentic.  You can't avoid life anyway, so why deny it or fight it?

I had to write this new comedy album, no matter how excited I was about finishing my macabre historical fantasy screenplay.  First things first.  Personal growth is a great help to creativity growth.

There's really no getting around that unless you want to cheat creativity and then you are not honoring your creativity and it will not be so cooperative until you get back to a state of self honor.

I suppose you can write something that is really not significant to your creative growth or experiential development, but why blunt yourself?  Creativity doesn't like turbulence except in it's creations.  And who needs banality or triviality  in terms of personal evolution?

That is not to say one should not play for the sake of joy when you are.  But keep clear.

I think this lack of creative cooperation by working on things that are not significant or trivial to begin with just pisses your creative faculty off, making it wonder what kind of idiot it is serving.

In fact it is one of my writing rules not to start anything that I can't finish.

Your creativity lives in your subconscious, and the subconscious is nine times smarter than your waking self. If you are working on a fool's errand of a notion or idea, why would your creative faculty intelligently choose to cooperate?

It probably would not, and then you would crutch out and tell other people you had writer's block, which is an excuse at best for not working functionally within yourself.

Using this sheet of paper on the wall allows you to map your mind in terms of what it is thinking about, not necessarily what you are thinking about.  Eventually, what is important to you that you did not initially diagnose will emerge and present itself.  Write it down.

Don't worry about how long it takes, or how many gaps in logic there are, the process will see you through if you allow it; not by forcing it.

Sometimes pushing it out is useful, in some kinds of creative work and as an exercise of the faculty.  But forcing things is dicey at best.  Do your force yourself in the gym?  Injury may result.  Forcing yourself is different from challenging yourself.

I didn't expect to come up with this idea for you - the idea of coming up with something to help my friend Kim was all I started with two days ago.  What to do and how to do it and putting that all down, well, that started about an hour and a half ago and was not really planned.

But I trusted my creativity and talent, and they delivered as they almost always do.  This is the place you can get to, Kim, in every single thing you creatively produce.

And, its a great place to get to in your creative life.

But you have to start with the fundamentals.

And the most fundamental thing of all in any creative person's productive capacity, productive approach, style and technique is a solid foundation of a data tableaux permitting you the basic tool for self discovery, so that you can find the creative your behind the person you (technically underneath) so you can grow, thrive creatively and produce professionally what is meaningful to you.

This is the way to mastery and audience.

And as the Chinese say, "Great good fortune would be yours" if you get there.

Sincerely your friend always,

The Lone Comic TM
Defender of Creativity SM

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