2 Things About the Creator Mindset

2 Things About the Creator Mindset

I have been sick for two weeks and my foggy brain and the forced rest has made philosophical. For me there are two things I always relearn from listening to other creative people. From established writers, to newbies, my clients, and myself, it seems like these are universal struggles.

1. Don’t judge yourself by other people’s careers or other people’s work. There are no overnight successes. You don’t know how hard someone worked to get where they are. You don’t know if they have 25 unsold screenplays in their drawer before they’re suddenly the hot screenwriter. You don’t know if someone wrote their novel 15 minutes at a time over five years or in 5 weeks. Just keep your head down and keep creating. The more you do, the better you’ll get, and the bigger your body of work will get. There is no I should be where she is or I should have done X by now. Everybody’s life unfolds at their own pace. Which lead me to…

2. It is never too late. Some people have been creators their whole life, making movies in their basement when they were seven. Some people start writing at 25; some people start writing at 55. You can be a YouTube star at 25 or you can be a YouTube star at 75. Just start.


One final bit of advice, as a creator, always be consuming the kind of content you want to create.

Read at the level at which you want to write. Reading is the nourishment that feeds the kind of writing you want to do.

Jennifer Egan, novelist

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Procrastination can be good!

Procrastination can be good!

Creative people are known procrastinators. We will spend three hours on the Internet researching, walk the dog, and organize our desk drawer all before we start working. Interestingly, that procrastination often serves a purpose. While we are doing other things, our brains are working on our creative problems. So when we finally sit down to work, the solutions appear like magic. This process is called creative procrastination.

The Shower Principle

Activities where you can let your mind wander like driving, walking, or showing work best. So many people get ideas when they take a shower that it is a real psychological phenomenon called the shower principle. Scott Barry Kaufman, a cognitive scientist and coauthor of Wired to Create, did a study that showed 72% of people get creative ideas in the shower. I know one writer who keeps a white board marker in his shower so that he can jot his ideas on the tile. Another writer friend of mine made a sale pitching over the phone an idea straight from the shower with soap still in his hair. For me, I get my ideas walking my dog or in the shower. Bestselling novelist Tess Gerritsen goes for a long boring drive whenever she gets stuck in a story. (She calls being stuck plot blocked, which is my new favorite story term.)

When you are stuck on a creative problem, the best thing to do is to get up from your computer. By focusing on something else you let your subconscious mind work on the problem. This is often when our greatest ideas come to us.

You call it procrastination. I call it thinking.

Aaron Sorkin

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright dodged a client for nine months, until the man drove 140 miles to confront him about his missed deadlines. Knowing his patron was on his way, Wright sketched his masterpiece Fallingwater in two hours.

Sleep On It

Just like mindless tasks help your unconscious brain solve problems, sleep can do the same thing. The phrase let’s sleep on it, exists for a reason; it really works. Thomas Edison was a famous napper. He would often take a nap during the day and wake up with a solution for whatever project he was working on. Early on in my career, I figured out that this is one of the ways my creative brain likes to solve problems. When I am reacting to written material, I read it once, make notes, sleep on it, and come up with more solutions. In fact, I ask my clients to turn in their projects for feedback 48 hours in advance of our meetings so that I can sleep on it.

A Caveat

Both the shower principal and sleeping on it only work if you have given some conscious thought and conscious work to your project. You need to have wrestled with the problem a bit before you disconnect. In other words, you have given your unconscious brain direction about what to think about when you’re not thinking about it. If I am really struggling with a story problem, I will tell myself to think about it right before I go to sleep. I almost always wake up with a solution.

Non-procrastination

Ironically, not practicing creative procrastination can be a problem. People that compulsively finish things early are called precrastinators. And while being organized is wonderful, never allowing things to percolate means you’re missing a big step of the creative process. I encourage you when you finish projects, whether you are a precrastinator or a procrastinator, to let them lie fallow. Put them in a drawer for a little while and come back and look at them with fresh eyes. If you can take a couple of weeks, that’s ideal. But even a couple of hours can be helpful. It’s just another way to let your unconscious brain work its magic.

What is your favorite way to creatively procrastinate? Comment and let me know.


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I Don’t Want to Grow Up

I Don’t Want to Grow Up

This weekend I saw the Houston ballet production of Peter Pan. It was magical. The dancing was gorgeous and the flying sequences otherworldly. It was my first time seeing this ballet and there was a big chunk of the story that I didn’t remember. It was so odd that I had to read the synopsis during one of the intermissions to figure out exactly what was going on and reassure myself that I was not misremembering Peter Pan.

In the ballet, which was created in 2004, Captain Hook shows Wendy a movie of his childhood. He is beaten by a mean teacher which misshapes his hand into this weird skeleton hook. In this version there was no Tigerlily and Tinkerbelle made a brief appearance. Those two strong sassy girls were always my favorite characters and I missed them. These strange story choices lead me to a deep dive into Peter Pan.

Neverland

Peter Pan in Neverland: a Never-ending Story

Did you know that the story of Peter Pan is over a hundred years old? He really is the boy that never grew up. Peter Pan first appeared in 1902 the novel The Little White Bird by J. M. Barrie. In 1904, Barrie’s play Peter Pan debuted and was a huge hit both in London and New York. Barrie expanded his play’s story into the book Peter and Wendy, published in 1911.

Peter Pan and his adventures in Neverland has been told many ways in many mediums from live action and animated movies to plays, musicals and even an award-winning web series. Disney’s latest live action version of their animated classics, Peter Pan & Wendy is slated to come out next year with Jude Law as Captain Hook. There is the grown up Peter Pan movie (Hook). The true story behind Peter Pan, Finding Neverland, which begin as a play, then a movie, and finally a musical. There are scores of books that reimagine the story including Peter & the Starcatchers, which became a play.

Peter Pan List

Movies & TV Specials

  1. Peter Pan & Wendy (2023) live action version of Disney cartoon with Jude Law as Captain Hook
  2. Pan (2016) Warner Brothers
  3. Peter & Wendy (2015) British movie
  4. The New Adventures of Peter & Wendy (2014-16) web series set in the present with the characters in their 20s
  5. Peter Pan Live! NBC musical TV special (2014) Allison Williams as Peter
  6. Neverland SyFy mini-series (2011)
  7. Finding Neverland (2004)
  8. Peter Pan (2003) Universal
  9. Return to Neverland (2002) Disney animated
  10. Peter Pan musical TV special (2000) Cathy Rigby as Peter
  11. Hook (1991)
  12. Peter Pan musical TV special (1960) NBC Mary Martin as Peter
  13. Walt Disney’s Peter Pan (1953) animated
  14. Peter Pan (1924) Paramount, silent

Peter Pan book list

Musicals

  1. Peter Pan (1954)
  2. Finding Neverland (2012)

Plays

  1. Wendy & Peter Pan by Ella Hickson 2013, 2015 Royal Shakespeare Company
  2. Peter & the Starcatcher by Rick Elice based on the book series by Dave Barry &  Ridley Pearson (2009)
  3. The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee (1998)
  4. Peter Pan (1904) original

Ballet

Peter Pan (2004)

The Magic of Peter Pan

Why has the story of Peter Pan not only endured, but been expanded and reimagined over and over again through out the years?  Why does this story continue to resonate with new generations of parents and children?  I believe it is that magical combination of concept, characters, setting and theme that every writer dreams of creating.   The bittersweet dream of never growing up and remaining a child forever.  A magical land full of fairies, mermaids, pirates, a native American princess, and a group of best friends.  And the lure of a lovely family waiting for you.  Just like Dorothy said in another timeless magical adventure – there is no place like home. 

What is your favorite Peter Pan version?  Maybe you have an idea for a new one.  Do you have a favorite childhood story? 


More Peter Pan Fun Facts

Peter Pan was played by a woman in the original play because child actors had limited working hours. This tradition continued through the many iterations of the stage musical which debuted in 1954.

The Dark Side of Peter Pan. Maybe one of the reasons for Peter Pan’s longevity is the story has a dark side, giving the reimaginings grit and angst. Neverland is a violent place with the boys fighting adult pirates. The Lost Boys are alone in this hostile place without a family.

Peter Pan is a pop psychology term. Coined in 1983 by psychologist Dan Kiley in his book The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up, calling a man a Peter Pan has come to mean a man who doesn’t want to live a grown up life including marriage and fatherhood.

Don’t forget The Lost Boys (1987) my favorite vampire movie. There is not Peter Pan, but the Lost Boys are a group of teenage vampires.


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Steal From the Best

Steal From the Best

If you have a project and you’re struggling to get started, spend some time looking at other people’s work. You will find unexpected inspiration from this exercise.

Here’s My Aha Moment

When I was redesigning my website, I felt overwhelmed because website design is not my area of expertise. After brainstorming for a couple of hours and getting nowhere, I decided to look at the websites of other coaches to see how they were organized. It was life changing.

First of all, I noticed that no matter what their subject matter most of the websites had some of the same things. There was a common structure that people were using. For example, everyone had a welcome banner with their picture. Everyone talked directly to their audience about how they could help them. Some people had icons to explain their different services.

Suddenly my website made sense to me. I took everything that I had seen and liked and made it my own. The site came together very quickly after that and was up in a few days. A job that I did not feel qualified for became something I was proud of. What a relief! Ever since, I have used this technique when I feel stuck.

Let’s break it down.

The steps for taking inspiration from others’ work are:

  1. Notice what works.
  2. Ask why it works.
  3. Notice the structure.
  4. Ask how can I apply what works to my task/industry/writing.
  5. Use what you have learned and put your own spin on it.

Other Places You Can Steal From the Best

  1. Your bio
  2. Your Linked In profile
  3. Your book cover
  4. Your book blurb
  5. Great writing

Stealing From Great Writing

Break it down. What makes it great? How and why does it grab you?

A personal logline or brand moto that hooks you. Why is it memorable?

An article that teaches you, spurring you to action. How did it motivate you?

A scene in a book or movie that moves you. Are you sad, terrified, awestruck? How did the scene make you feel these emotions?

Always be on the Lookout for Inspiration

The other day I had a flat tire. While I was waiting for my new tire to be installed, I noticed the clever way National Tire & Battery list their services with icons and catchy headlines. I immediately thought how can I use this example to level up my descriptions of who I am and what I do? I liked the service list so much I snapped a picture to keep for reference.

National Tire & Battery’s service list

There is good work everywhere and you can find inspiration in the oddest places. Adopt the practice of noticing, analyzing, dissecting, and copying, to improve your own creative work.

Do you have a favorite technique of stealing from the best? Comment below and let me know.


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Make Feedback Your Friend

Make Feedback Your Friend

The best way to quickly improve is to get feedback. Businesses know this. Everybody from Amazon to Walgreens uses customer insights. I even got a survey from the Astros after I went to a game. But lots of people feel that getting feedback on yourself and your projects about as fun as a trip to the dentist.

What if you made feedback your friend and got excited about it, instead of dreading it? That’s my philosophy. I always want to be improving for my clients, my audience (you guys), and myself.

When you are a creator, feedback is important because it gives you perspective. You have lived with your (story, painting computer program) for so long that you can’t see the forest for the trees. A good critique can help you see the trees and even the spaces between them. It can point out weak spots that need to be improved. Feedback is the best way to find out what is working and what isn’t in your project.

Without feedback you can stagnate or get worse. Look at Empire Strikes Back versus The Phantom Menace. George Lucas collaborated with Lawrence Kasdan, who ended up writing the screenplay for Empire Strikes Back. It is many fans’ favorite Star Wars movie. Years later he showed the script of The Phantom Menace to no one. He wasn’t interested in getting story notes. As a result, the movie is terrible. I wonder what kind of film he would have made if he had had his old feedback crew of Lawrence Kasdan, Francis Ford Coppola, and Stephen Spielberg read the script? So next time you’re balking at having somebody read your stuff, ask yourself do I want to write the next Empire Strikes Back or the next Phantom Menace?

There are two kinds of feedback:

  • Constructive criticism that helps you improve and succeed.
  • Destructive criticism designed to disempower, destabilize, and destroy you.

How to take Constructive Feedback

Go in with a positive attitude. Be excited to hear what they have to say. Have an open mind.

Put your emotions aside and be present. I hate the advice not to take things personally because when it’s happening to you it is personal. Instead, make a conscious decision not to react emotionally while you’re getting the feedback. Save that reaction for when you are alone or decompressing with a good friend. If you’re too emotional in the moment, you may not hear some good advice.

Don’t be defensive. It’s okay to explain what you mean or give more information. But don’t dig in your heels and argue your point of view. Listening to the critique, does not mean that you are agreeing to it.

Be gracious. Practice having grace under fire. Even if you are getting way more negative suggestions then you were expecting, have a smile on your face and an open mind. Someone once told me I take feedback like a champ and I consider that a high compliment. Be a champ.

Ask a lot of questions. Use questions to clarify your critiquer’s points and get them to expand on their thinking.

Always end the meeting or phone call with a thank you. When appropriate, follow up and let them know what you implemented and how it’s going.

Which feedback do you try?

  • If you see that it will immediately bring improvement.
  • If it will clarify something that was confusing.
  • If you hear it more than once from different sources.

Which feedback do you ignore?

  • If it will change the intent and feel of a story.
  • If it doesn’t resonate with you.
  • If it doesn’t make sense.

I hope these tips make your next performance review or story meeting a more pleasant experience.


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The Creative Secret of Writing Longhand

The Creative Secret of Writing Longhand

It seems every time I turn around these days, there is a new app, software, or digital tool to help me manage my creative life. Whether it is a new social media scheduler, writing software, or a to do list app, the tools for us as creatives keep expanding. I’ve tried a lot of different productivity apps and they just don’t work for me. I still do best when I handwrite my to do list. Similarly, I have always brainstormed with pen and paper, refining the ideas into a handwritten outline. Also, I hand edit my own writing and my clients’.

For me, “going analog” and handwriting with my cursive scrawl feeds my creativity and helps my brain organize ideas.

The Handwriting Hack That Changed My Creative Life

The downside of my handwritten notes was that they were scattered across many legal pads with different ones for each project and usually two or three kinds of to do lists. I often couldn’t find a list when I needed it. My life changed a couple years ago when I found the bullet journal method. The bullet journal focuses on the joy and satisfaction of writing things by hand. What made it revolutionary for me is the idea of writing everything in one place from your to do list to projects and brainstorming. The way you find things is simple and brilliant – you number the pages.

The great thing about the bullet journal is that there are no rules. You can adapt the system to whatever works for you. I use a large notebook with wide-spaced lines which easily fit my handwriting. I like to have big pages to fill.

For more information on how to bullet journal go to bulletjournal.com, read the book, and check out YouTube videos.

In an informal survey, I’ve noticed that a lot of people still like to hand write their to do list. And that led me to ask why use handwriting in an age where we can dictate and type on our phones and computers? With all of these choices and tools, why are people are still writing by hand? The reasons may surprise you.

Handwriting Helps Your Brain

Handwriting has been shown in multiple studies in the last ten years to improve your brain function. Taking notes by hand aids your memory because you have to synthesize and organize the information, which helps you retain it. The sensory experience of writing – feeling the pen in your hand, hearing the pen scratch on the paper – fire off different parts of your brain that help you remember and create.

All of these studies including a recent one out of Norway, show that cursive has such a positive effect on brain development it’s really puzzling why we have chosen to stop teaching it in our school system. If you were born after 1995 and would like to learn cursive, or have children that you would like to learn cursive, check out this free video course.

Handwriting Helps Your Creativity

When you are brainstorming by hand it easy to let the ideas flow. Write everything down as it comes to you and then take the time to separate the good from the bad. Writing by hand forces your brain to slow down. The act of thinking through what you’re writing makes the words come out differently and sometimes better. It is as if during the time it takes for the words and ideas to travel from your brain to your hand to the paper there is self-editing happening without you being aware. It feels almost magical. As an added bonus, when you transcribe your written draft, you edit as you go, often discovering new ideas.

To exercise your brain and jumpstart creativity, write in cursive every day. Something as simple as your grocery list or signature is enough to reap the brain benefits of handwriting. Next time you want to thank someone, instead of firing off a quick text, try writing a thank you note. You’ll make someone’s day and help your brain.

I can’t write poetry on a computer, man.

Quentin Tarantino

A lot of writers innately know the power of handwriting. Here are a few that write their first drafts by hand.

What is Your Writing Process?

Do you ever write in longhand? If not, next time you’re stuck, why not give it a try? Let me know how it goes.


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