Tips & Exercises for the Creative Mind

Tips, Writing

Getting Up Bright & Early with Morning Pages

What is it?

From a practical sense, it’s writing every morning without fail. That’s it. Everyone has their own requirements when it comes to methods (how much? using what? what about?) but don’t let the details get you down. Just write.
For me, that currently involves a pad of paper and a pen (17 days straight so far). I find it helps me avoid the distractions that a computer might put in front of me. There’s no email or Facebook or Twitter calling to me. If you don’t have that particular issue, feel free to try typing (or use a device that makes it difficult to multitask, like an iPad). Be sure to use a fullscreen editor (such as Byword) to avoid visual distractions and really focus on putting those words down. There’s also something to be said for the tactile nature of writing by hand. It seems to engage a different part of the brain than typing. I don’t know if it’s actually any better for my writing, but I’m going with it for now. (more…)

Tech, Useful

Meditation & Writing

This may be old hat to others, but I just recently experienced the combination of meditation and writing. Well, meditation and then writing, to be more specific.

As part of this Whole Life Challenge thing, I’ve been required to do a different mini-challenge every two weeks. The first was drinking half your weight in ounces in water every day (a healthy recipe for becoming very familiar with your nearest restroom). The second was getting at least 7 hours of sleep (relatively easy for me, but apparently others power through life on very little rest). The current one is to experience 10 minutes of mindfulness every day.

I’m only two days in, but I can already tell the difference in regards to my writing productivity (and my mental well being, of course). I’m currently using an iOS app called Buddhify 2, but I imagine any guided meditation will work. Using it yesterday I was able to hammer out more than 1000 words on a tv concept that’s been gestating with me for some time. My fingers never left the keys, my typing didn’t slow until around 900 words in. It was a pleasant, flowing, drug free sprint. I have no idea if this is sustainable, but even if it only comes in spurts, that’s a promising result for only 10 minutes of time listening to someone speak in a calming voice.

Let me know what your results are if you try it. Or if this is your goto method already.

{edit} I should also note that I wrote my 1000+ word spurt in Ommwriter, which is a full screen text editor that plays calming music. Mostly I think I just like that it plays a noise for each keystroke. Makes me feel classy.


Movies & TV, Useful

Beverly Hills Cop 1 – Action Sequences

Beverly Hills Cop PosterIf you want to write films, you must read scripts and watch movies. Simple. With that in mind, I sat down to watch Beverly Hills Cop (probably for the 7th or 8th time) for just one purpose. Let’s call it a Single Purpose Viewing (SPV). That purpose? How the action scenes moved the story along.

I’ve read that one of the many cardinal sins of action films is that the action sequences (you know, those things from the trailer that got you to buy a ticket) only exist to show action. They don’t actually advance the plot, develop the characters, or do anything for the story. If you took them out of the film, the story would still make perfect sense.

Since I’m in the process of outlining an action-comedy, I want to do it right. That’s where Eddie Murphy and Beverly Hills Cop fits in.

Our fast talking hero is introduced in the back of a truck full of illegal cigarrettes. He’s a quick talker that doesn’t want to be ripped off. Quickly it transforms into a chase with crashes, an explosion, and cop cars wrecked wrapped around lightpoles. Not exactly what he’d planned.

At the end of the chase, the line: “Foley, we shoulda known it was you.” is uttered. It’s the first time his name is mentioned. Now we know:
1) He’s viewed as a screwup.
2) He takes risks.
3) His schemes get out of hand.
4) He probably has disregard for the rules.
This is all confirmed by the next scene with his boss.

The non-action scenes set things up, establish relationships, make the consequences of the action scenes matter. We see that he and his friend are true pals, so we’re saddened when he gets shot. This scene makes the entire movie happen, so there’s no possibility of it being inconsequential. It is brutal though. The henchman seems like he’ll let him go, only to shoot him in the back of the head. So now we feel, just a little bit more, Foley’s need for justice/revenge.

Foley visits his prime suspect, only to be thrown out of an office window by 6 guys. The absurdity of this happening (as opposed to someone opening the damned door instead) isn’t lost on anyone. Foley immediately comments on it. It also serves to get Foley together with our friends at the Bervely Hills Police Department. Now we have:
1) Added suspicion on the guy who tossed him out.
2) Connections with the local police.

Beverly Hills Cop doesn’t have a great number of major action sequences (the sequel packs them in a bit more). But the ones it does have serves their purpose. The strip joint robbery attempt may seem like a throway scene, but it does many things:
1) Establish that Foley is a good detective, observant.
2) Shows that Foley can be serious when required.
3) Foley is now respected by the Beverly Hills cops, instead of being seen as a fool.
Lessers movies could have done all of these things with dialogue or flashbacks, but the audience would much rather see them come to light with shotguns and bare breasts.

When Foley and his friend are captured (a quick reversal of fortunes), it’s up to Billy, the “nice guy cop” to step up. It gives him the responsibility, him the power. He steps up, showing that he’s grown and isn’t as beholden to the rules & regulations of his world. The student saves the teacher.

The final action sequence culminates in a grand shootout. The other Beverly Hills cops show up, crossing over that line that held them back previously (search warrants, telling the truth, etc.). They’ve overcome a handicap, of sorts, by helping Foley on his quest. It’s an interesting twist in which the protagonist doesn’t grow an awful lot, but his supporting characters come to see the wisdom in his choices instead.

Just to make this post 60% more 80’s, here’s the theme song for your enjoyment.

Tips, Writing

Don’t Delay the 1st Draft

Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft. You want to write a story? Fine. Put away your dictionary, your encyclopedias, your World Almanac, and your thesaurus. […] O.K., so here is your choice: either look it up in the dictionary, thereby making sure you have it right – and breaking your train of thought and the writer’s trance in the bargain – or just spell it phonetically and correct it later. Why not? Did you think it was going to go somewhere? […] You can check it … but later. When you sit down to write, write. Don’t do anything else except go to the bathroom, and only do that if it absolutely cannot be put off.

Stephen King

{from the inspirational ‘Advice to Writers’ site}

Tips, Writing

How Scott Myers Writes a Script

I’m always interested in how creative people work. What do they do first? Do they outline? What applications do they use? Do they do it in silence or with music? In a crowded coffee shop or in a reinforced bunker? If you post a blurb about how others create (especially when it comes to writing) I am there. John August has a nice series going about writers and their worskpaces – . It might focus too much on the nitty gritty for some (“I will only write on a mahogany desk with my Macbook and Final Draft while sipping earl grey tea, hot.”), but I love that stuff too.

Scott Myers, however, recently concluded a 10 part series about his own writing process (screenplays specifically). Read about how he goes from the concept to the outline to the 2nd draft and everything in-between. It’s quite educational. You can find links to all 10 parts here: “How I Write A Script” by Scott Myers.

Tips, Writing

Soak Your Brain for Creativity

Turns out, being sleepy or drunk can be a great thing for the creative type. A scientific study says so. Hooray for science for reinforcing “bad” habits!

Wired found a study from the University of Illinois at Chicago where they gave students alcohol (they get credits for that?) and tested them at various times to see how they performed on creative tasks. It turns out that being able to focus, using all those rules/tricks you’ve developed over the decades, can sometimes be detrimental to the creative process. Turn that off, allow your mind to not limit itself, and you might stumble upon the answer more quickly. Of course, if you need to suss out a math problem or even outline your entire story, you probably want a bit of that structure back.

Their summary was particularly apt for me:[quote]Don’t chain yourself to your desk. Instead, set the alarm a few minutes early and wallow in your groggy thoughts. And if that doesn’t work, chug a beer.[/quote]

I find that groggy half hour when you first wake up to be a great time to write. Don’t talk, don’t listen to music, don’t do anything but get your computer (or your pen/pad) ready and start. It’s amazing what an unrestricted brain will come up with (sometimes amazingly bad, but still, amazing).

Full Article

Tips, Writing

Start at the Beginning

Much like you can’t jump right into the middle of a film and make complete sense of it, you can’t bypass the first 195 steps of storytelling and get straight to the wrap party (writers are invited to that, right?). It all has to begin somewhere.

In taking those first steps, it is all too easy to slip down a different yet enticing path. So let’s take a look at some of the distractions that I’ll often find myself stumbling over on the way to a finished product (these are specific to screenwriting, but the lessons are pretty universal). There is a lot to be said for self-control, but sometimes mental repetition of what NOT to do is enough motivation to do the right thing. The mind is a terribly fickle and easily distracted tool. It loves input and hates being denied the opportunity to run amok. Give it free reign and instead of an unforgettable story, it may just give you:

The Movie Poster

“What?” I hear you saying. How can you have any sort of movie poster without even the slimmest bit of a story? Text my dear, text. MOVIE TITLE plastered dead center in silver letters on a black backdrop. A release date at the bottom. A frustratingly vague tagline at the top. Something like: [box]When the world turned its back on him, he turned his back on the world.[/box] or [box]We didn’t know what we were dealing with.[/box] or even [box]I’ll take the salad AND the soup.[/box]

The point is, a movie poster represents a finished product. Not only have you finished your screenplay, but the movie is already being filmed and actively marketed. It’s a comforting but distracting fantasy. Don’t try to market your film before you’ve written the title page. In fact, don’t try to market your film at all. You may find yourself wondering if a more “marketable” idea would be more worthwhile (that debate is big enough for another few pages).

The Fame

Not everyone wants to be “paparazzi hiding in your garbage can” famous, but most everyone wants to be at the top of their field. Well-respected and considered talented among your peers. This leads to more work and better connections. You want more work right? If writing brings you enjoyment, what better what to further your career than to earn more fun, well-paying assignments. A bit of fame also means that your next script will sell for more. Which leads us to…

The Financial Stability (Wealth)

“If I sell this thing, I will totally be able to afford health insurance!” The depressingly practical take on wealth and riches. Once you let yourself wander down this path, it has a tendency to let finances seep into the process. I personally don’t enjoy thinking about money, taxes or investing. Unless you’re writing about Wall Street, you should suppress it when it pops up for you as well. “Will I be able to pay the rent if this doesn’t sell?” “Would this be a $500 million movie?” [quote]People love movies with kids speaking like 25 year old grad students, right? That should give it at least a $200 million boost at the B.O.”[/quote]

Bringing money into the picture can skew your creativity toward the commercial and depress you if you’re not where you want to be from an earning standpoint. You don’t need that. Especially not when you’re trying to ramp things up.

Now that we know where NOT to start, where do we begin? Pretty much anywhere. Inspiration comes from the damnedest of places. These are my four most common starting points:


The driver on the bus you take to work every day has never said a word. He overhears a thousand crazy conversations a week. Does he write them down in his journal? Maybe he acts them out with puppets once he gets home, making sense of the snippets he overhears as he goes about his job.

Find an intriguing character (or traits) and see where it goes. Not everything can easily be formed into a screenplay, but plenty can. If it dead ends, fine. You’ve just created a backstory for a minor character down the road. Mark it (tag: backstory goodness). If the character speaks to you more and more, you’ll uncover more depth, some logical story lines, and even additional characters (your driver might need an arch nemesis, like say…a bicyclist).


A witty or poignant turn of phrase sticks with you. This is a favorite of mine even though it is seemingly the weakest. I have hundreds of lines of dialogue (usually one or two lines at a time) that are unattached to any project. There are no characters, no names, no storyline, no situation, nothing. The danger here is trying to force your clever words into becoming a story. It’s not always going to fit. Sometimes you’re just going to have to let it go. But when it does work, it can really pay off. Your dialogue wasn’t just witty, it was insightful. It pulled back a curtain on the human condition, and the human condition stared right back at you with its dead, haunted eyes. The character who speaks these words is on the verge of a personal discovery, but the man she’s talking to is secretly working against her. Expand and explore it.


Two housewives lock themselves in a pantry as thieves ransack the house, looking for a safe. The twist? One of the women suspects the other is sleeping with her husband. It boils down to a simple domestic dispute. An argument and confrontation. The robbery is just a stressor (and a time constraint). Find something unusual and take it halfway to the finish. If it doesn’t pan out, maybe you can still use it for a short. If it does, consider how your characters got there in the first place. What would logically lead them there? You may very well change the scene (or cut it) after learning all about your characters and story, but starting is the important part.

The End

Yes, the end. The beginning of the process doesn’t mean the start of your story. The beginning is merely your first step (see above) in the creative process. The end of your story can be a great starting point. How does it all end? Does a couple wind up together? Does the world collapse? Is a lesson learned? Are there tears? Deaths? Party favors?

Here’s an exercise: [highlight]What has been your dominant emotion for the past day or so? Ok, grab ahold of that. Now end your story on that note (or the resolution of that emotion). Feeling inspired? Give us an ending that is inspiring both to the audience and the lead character. Feeling downtrodden? Show us the difficulty of life, of a situation, of a character in over their head. Or show them overcoming that obstacle to break through and see a tiny glimmer of hope. Keep going.[/highlight]

This is just a small sample of what is possible. Which is a good lesson in itself. So much is possible, so many stories are there, ready to be discovered. Don’t let mental distractions keep you from exploring your creative depths. We all have to start somewhere, and keeping a few tricks at the ready can help get the ball rolling.