John Cleese on creativity

John Cleese discussing writing, creativity, and getting in the zone for creative work. One of his main points is the importance of not being interrupted while writing – once you are distracted from your task, it’s very difficult to get back on the moving train of thought. So closing yourself off to disruptions is a key to creative work.

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Tails and Tales

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Tim O’Brian In The Atlantic – discussing the sources of creativity and how to tell a well-imagined story:

My sons, Timmy and Tad–both fans of Winnie the Pooh–have taken lately to wearing tails. At our local Wal-Mart, and occasionally at church, the boys sport lengths of clothesline dangling from their trousers. They prowl the neighborhood trailing an assortment of ribbons, coat hangers, telephone cords, fishing line, belts, blankets, drapery tassels, and electrical extension cords. People notice. Things have gotten out of hand. Alas, we have become a family of tails, and, though I’m embarrassed to make this confession, even my wife and I have been persuaded to spruce up our fashion acts. Meredith jogs in a tail. I write in a tail. Yesterday, in a most undignified moment, I answered the doorbell having forgotten the Slinky jiggling restlessly at my buttocks. Imagine the judgments taking shape in the eyes of the UPS man.

Our household seems caught up in a kind of reverse evolution, tumbling backward through the millennia, alighting in an age in which the ancestral tail was both common and quietly useful. Like our tree-dwelling relatives, the O’Brien tribe has grown comfortable with its tails. We groom them. We miss them at bath time. We view their absence in our fellow man with pity and suspicion.

Now, as I sit here with my coffee at the kitchen table, I find myself wondering if something about this tail business might smack of the unwholesome, even of the aberrant and fanatical.

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A Kite That Couldn’t Be Tied Down

This is beautiful:

I swooned at the thought of her reading something undoubtedly wonderful in the adjoining compartment but forced myself to nod. We looked out the window: a herd of camels, for a flash of a second. We were in the Gobi Desert.

Nights were hard. She was inevitably inches away, sleeping peacefully as my desire for her boiled. In Ulan Bator, under a sky thick and white with stars, we decided to sleep in a yurt on the steppe. As her brother slept, she whispered to me: “Have you heard about that hand-built, nine-grotto Virgin Mary shrine some priest spent 42 years piecing together in Iowa?”

I told her I’d build her a bigger one if she wanted.

She laughed and played with my hair, knowing it was true but not wanting to show it. The shrine I had already built for her was painfully exposed; in two years my mainstream existence had been razed to the ground to make room for a garden in which her every eccentricity was welcomed to bloom. What was I doing in Mongolia? It seemed I would follow her anywhere.

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Could be worse.

I could write like Nicholas Sparks.

I write like
Cory Doctorow

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Update: after running a few more samples of my text through, the site suggests I now write like both David Foster Wallace and James Joyce.

I write like
James Joyce

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Continue ReadingCould be worse.

The Lost Finale

Kottke does a nice round-up of sites’s comments on the Lost finale. Many of them express what I’ve heard as a common theme among fans – it’s okay that all of the questions weren’t answered, because most of them were. The major storylines were wrapped up.

io9, on the other hand, came up a with a list of 50 questions that they felt Lost really did need to answer with their series ending show, and a tally of what was actually covered and what was left open (more questions than not, unfortunately).

I’m with io9 on this one. Sure, red herrings are a mystery tradition. But they’re always exposed as red herrings in the end. That’s just good storytelling to wrap up the loose ends. Lost left way too many of them. Writing them off as unimportant is just yanking people’s chains. People who don’t think much may be okay without all the mind-benders solved. But thoughtful people want real closure in their storytelling. I wonder how many of the “it’s okay, they don’t have to explain everything” folks read novels regularly.

And I’m really dissatisfied with the ending as well. If you’re going to sell me a series of religious programming, label it as such so I can watch the sci-fi channel instead. Don’t disguise your religious blah blah blah as science fiction for 5 and a half seasons and then zing me with mysticism at the end. It’s pretty clear that the writers very much wrote themselves into a corner. They didn’t have an end in mind when they started, and they got a giant kick out people’s excitement at the layer-upon-layer of mysterious events, so they kept laying it on thick even after they had laid out so much they couldn’t explain it all. I cry deus ex machina foul. My fierce belief in free will over fate leaves me feeling this series was ultimately a giant turd.

I’m hoping that with on-demand technologies, television writing will start moving in the direction of series treated as long mini-series – with a completely plotted story line from beginning to end and more tightly written detail, rather that completely open-ended affairs that peter off after awhile. Television programs do have a predictable end point, no matter how popular they are. Using that to create a real story that holds together throughout would be much more satisfying.

Continue ReadingThe Lost Finale

links for 2010-04-06

Continue Readinglinks for 2010-04-06

In search of the next Lost

Entertainment Weekly has an interesting article in their current issue about all of the shows written to be the next big Lost and how none of them seem to be taking off in the way the networks are hoping. I am watching FlashFoward, and it’s interesting, but most of the shows are missing a key ingredient to the formula…

The reason I got hooked on Lost was because I had no idea at first that it was a mystery. The first episodes seemed like a scripted version of Survivor (an interesting idea by itself) – and when strange stuff started happening, there were tons of “Wow, what the heck just happened?” moments. A mystery is a mystery because you don’t realize at first that’s what it is – you think you’re going along with life, an you start noticing little stuff that just doesn’t make any sense. You pull the string, and it all unravels into one big pile.

All of these Lost imitator shows – FlashFoward especially – are coming out of the gate with “hey look at this big mystery! We’re gonna solve it, yay!” scripts that just seem too self-conscious. When you have to tell people you’re really cool – probably not so much. Start by telling an interesting story first.
I don’t know that there’s any way to really “fix” this about FlashFoward – they started off on the wrong foot to begin with. It’s interesting enough, but the constant references to how mysterious all of it is – over the top.

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December? Oh my.

Wow – time to wrap up the year, and I’m utterly at loose ends with various projects. I’ve been working steadily on knitting projects, and organizing the house, two areas where we’ve made some pretty big gains. We’re steadily getting through the mounds of papers that need to be filed or thrown out, with the help of our organization lady. The room is becoming what we want it to be – a guest room where people can visit from out of town, and a crafting room where we can sit and work on craft projects. Don’t get me wrong – it still needs LOTS of work – there are still tons of boxes to go through and purge, and we’re in danger of acquiring new crap to replace all the old, but it’s starting to look more like what it should look like.

The knitting is fun and very relaxing. I’m concerned though, about what I really want to do with it. It’s enjoyable to make things for people, but it’s not exactly a lever that will move the world.
We’ve spend all the weekends of November bagging leaves for the most part (we really grabbed a lot of time back by paying someone to pick them up last year!) which is really satisfying, until the next round of them fall off the trees. We currently need to redo the backyard. I’m completely frustrated by how much time and energy this takes, and we don’t even have that many trees; they’re mostly from the neighbors.

I’ve lost complete track of what I’ve read and am woefully behind on photo editing.

I attempted a brief stint at NaNoWriMo but gave up after a few days. That seems to happen at the utterly wrong time of year for me. Why don’t they do it in March? Except that’s about the time I’m driving hard to get a painting project done somewhere in the house though; last year in March I was painting the staircase room I’m in now. But the writing – it’s so hard to do, and my life is too chaotic to achieve it, I think.

And web projects. Boy oh boy. I’ve been neglecting this blog, and my photoblog, and several other domains to remain nameless.

I think I need to make different use of my time at times. I’m frustrated with how little time I have to accomplish things I think are important, and how much time we spend doing stuff that doesn’t move us forward. I’m frustrated by the sheer number of projects we have that remain unfinished, as well.

Continue ReadingDecember? Oh my.

links for 2009-10-31

  • Second Story is a non-profit writing project serving kids, schools and community organizations in Indianapolis, Ind. Programs include in-class writing instruction at local schools, as well as after-school tutoring, creative-writing workshops and other events.
  • Dr. Fredric Rinehart has been credited with developing the first Secret Headquarters in 1932, in the city of Los Angeles. His breakthrough in concealment technology met with suspicion from the local authorities, because of which the project, then known as "SHQ", was shelved. It was suspected that SHQ technology could be used to generateunrest in the city. The original purpose of these hidden facilities is unclear to this day. Some believe, as the government-backed authorities did, that the Secret Headquarters were used as housing facilities for the growing espionage network in Southern California.
  • 826 National is a family of seven nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping students, ages 6-18, with expository and creative writing.
  • Founded in 1979, The Writers' Center is Indiana's only comprehensive community-based literary service organization. The Center's outstanding roster of classes offers writers at any level new approaches and ideas to further their journey in writing.
Continue Readinglinks for 2009-10-31

Vonnegut’s eight rules for writing a short story

Cribbed from Kurt Vonnegut’s Wikipedia entry:

In his book Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction, Vonnegut listed eight rules for writing a short story:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them–in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Vonnegut qualifies the list by adding that Flannery O’Connor broke all these rules except the first, and that great writers tend to do that.

Also via kottke.org, How to Write With Style by Kurt Vonnegut.

Continue ReadingVonnegut’s eight rules for writing a short story