In the creative process, importing is faster.

Let me explain.

When I create an online course, I import a previous course’s outline, to use as a guide. Using the same form, I create the new course around the placeholders of the old one. Importing makes life oh-so-much easier.

When I create a beat sheet for a screenplay, I import a previous beat sheet, to use as a quick guide. Using the same form, I create the new beat sheet within the same headings. Doing so speeds it up — and even gives me ideas, based on the old ideas’ categories and form.

When I create a new book’s outline — or build a new world — the same thing applies: I import a previous outline, creating the new around the form by my handy-dandy highlight-delete-write over function.

Do you do the same? Because everything that we do has form, or format. And if we use a previously-successful format as a guide, it saves time and energy.

The same thing, for ideas. Now, I’m not advocating stealing ideas. But form for ideas is everywhere — and able to be used as a guide, too.

Think about your favorite authors. What is his or her “form,” when introducing a character? Just for fun (and learning), go to your favorite author’s most recent book and look at the first sentences each and every time a new character arrives on the page. Do you see any patterns? Oftentimes, as in character introductions or the first time we are dropped into a setting, successful authors employ form in elements of story.

What’s cool is this: Any form can be copied. Not the content — the form. (Repeat after me: Plagiarism is b.a.d.) Content — the exact words chosen — is off limits. But form is not.

You can even take a super-cool sentence and, breaking it down into its form of verbs, nouns, and adjectives, create a sentence in the same form. If the adjective is a cross-sensory word, you can create a cross-sensory word in its place (e.g., smooth melody is a combination of senses: smooth is tactile/touch and melody is sound). This kind of word form copying is a great way to learn to create your own unique style and content.

Cool fact: Importing is a technique that can be used in just about any field or endeavor. Think about it. I bet that, today, you’re going to interact with form that you can import and use, to make life smoother.

Successful form is everywhere.

* Thup

NOTE: The self-talk message today is brought to you by our valuable sponsor, Swift Kick in the Bum, who’s visiting my house and thought he’d share the wealth.

*clears throat*
Here we go.

The value of momentum can’t be overstated.

It’s not so hard to start a project, is it? Okay, procrastination aside, beginning a project is fairly easy. Ideas burst and jump in playful imaginations. Images holding near perfection float freely in our minds. Then we sit down to work, anticipation fueling our hands. This should be easy, we say. After all, we have an idea — and the idea feels alive.

So, with verve, the idea splashes onto the page. And we feel good.

The next day, waterfalls still play in our minds. The work continues, and we feel good.

The next day, idea rivulets move into tertiary streams. Ideas still flow, so we’re okay.

But then. Droplets. And dry spells. And maybe it even all-out-full-stops. GAH.

Maybe you were pulled away by schedule. Or relationships. Or health. Responsibilities in another area of your life fluxed and bulged, pressing and pushing time in a way that didn’t allow you to get back to it.

Whatever the reason, momentum stopped. And once it stops, it can be hard to get going again. Most of the time, the reason that I don’t begin again isn’t physical. I’m physically capable, even if it’s just putting in a little time. Oh, no. The reason I don’t begin again is emotional.

Frozen is  more than the title of a blockbuster movie. It’s our state, when momentum stops.

It’s time to get momentum going again.
With One. Little. Piece. Of. Movement.
One push.
Dig your heels in. (Go.)
(Simply get past the emotional and mental state, and let the physical momentum take over.)

Momentum is an asset that we can’t afford to be without.
* Thup

Decisions, decisions.

They’re everywhere, on micro and macro levels. Hundreds and thousands and millions of decisions are made by our brains over time, most of them split second and off-the-cuff.

I always wonder: What if an off-the-cuff decision has far-reaching implications? And what if, in the moment, I don’t get it? I don’t understand the impact. And then. Then something veers the micro degree in a way that, years down the road, leaves me stranded, far off course. Or, at the least, missing a mark that could have been hit.

It happens.

Now, I don’t worry. I’m not an obsessive person. But sometimes I do wonder.

As I stood at the coffee counter pondering whether or not ceramic or paper would do, I doubted if my choice mattered. But what if? What if I chose paper, and after I sat down at my table, I bumped the tall, thin container, and it splashed (a small splash) right onto my laptop’s keys. And my computer went POP and quit. And $800 and two weeks and seventy-five headaches later, I had my new computer innards again. Far fetched? Three months ago, this happened to me.

I now choose ceramic. Fat, squat, and non-tippy ceramic.
(Little decisions matter.)

It’s your character’s little decisions early on that can expand into great plot — and show up in a plot twist later.

It’s your first lines early on that can expand into new, crisp form.

It’s your frame’s slight tilt that makes the viewer’s eye move exactly to where you want it to go.

It’s that plosive or swish of assonance that gives your line bite or melted music.

It’s that clean foot that makes the leap exquisite.

No matter how small, they can make a difference.

What’s the best way to not miss the significance of a decision? Perhaps it’s to be fully present. Aware. In the moment. Alive.

* Thup
coffeeMar 26 14

There are three kinds of out that shake up our lives.

Out of commission.
At some point in time, all of us are thrown out of commission. We’re absent: either slipped out or torn out of what used to be.

We face challenges, trials, and off-the-grid events that pluck us from “normal life” (whatever that was). And the new day-to-day that results, in this intermediary land of out of commission, is downright weird. Bizarre. Unsettling.

Some pull back. Some lash out. But no one stays the same.
(All have some kind of response.)

Outside the norm.
At some point in our lives, we get a jolt: Something that we thought was okay is not.

We face new challenges, new ideas, and in-the-face reactions that spin us into “fresh perspective” (whatever that is). And the new day-to-day glimpse at the nuances of this revealed life, in the land of outside the norm, is downright disassociating.

Some pull back. Some lash out. And some reject the jolt — and stay the same. They avoid change, purposefully or by default (ignoring).
(And, someday, the jolt will rise up again…most likely, worse.)

Out from under.
At some point in our lives, if we’re lucky or blessed or smart enough, we realize we’re free to choose how to respond. No one can make us (on the inside) think or believe anything. And no one can make us (on the outside) react in any way. No matter how an event presents itself in our lives, we alone create the meaning of the event. We frame an idea, and our perspective comes on the heels of our beliefs. Our actions, then, follow.

No doubt: We’ll face people, places, and events that challenge.  But (again, if we’re grown-up enough), try-as-they-might, those events (or people) won’t be able to push us down, hold us back, or mold us into something we’re not. And the new freedom, in this fresh understanding of how we are free to choose our response — no matter what happens — is downright grace-filled.

Knowing when to change and when to stand in your boots is the definition of wisdom.

Authors. Screenwriters. Storytellers of any kind.
These are the realizations that your Hero goes through, in story.

Your Hero will be thrust out of commission. He will be pushed outside the norm. He will be faced with ideas and actions and decisions that make him question his core. I hope. And, at some point he will emerge, out from under someone else’s indictments. I hope. Because “out” is part of the character’s arc.

(It’s in our arc that we grow.)

* Thup

When you first meet someone,
what makes that person memorable?
(What’s unique?)

I met a woman this morning. At the bank.

I stood in line. She sat in a chair, off to the side,
waiting for assistance.

She wore a beautiful black felt hat, its curve soft,
with a small buckle tucked to the side of the black ribbon
wound round the hat’s base.
(The hat caught my eye.)

Then I saw her white hair, waves set with care,
flowing to frame her face.

Then her glasses, petite and silver-rimmed,
and her eyes, smiling in half-almond arcs beneath.

Then her scarf, flowers wound in loose layers of silk
falling down to her hands, folded, in black leather gloves.

I smiled back. “What a beautiful hat,” I said.

“Thank you.” Her words were measured,
her tone as one cultured, with a slight Asian accent.
“It keeps me warm.” She paused, lips pressed,
her grey eyes looking straight into mine in a way that didn’t carry threat.
“I have Parkinson’s. A coat is difficult. So a hat is necessary.”

It’s then that I noticed: she didn’t wear a coat.
Instead, she wore a thick sweater.
(I could only imagine the physical struggles she faced.)

“Well,” I said, “it is beautiful.”

With a smile that made more wrinkles, she closed her eyes and leaned with a slight nod forward, as if to honor me.
(It’s I who should honor her.)

The hat made an impression. But the way she responded, in her words and actions, told me so much more. I wanted to ask her to join me for cup of tea or coffee and hear her life story. I suspect I’d find a woman of grace, through joy and pain.

In the book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell says that our first impression is a true one.

Your character intro (the first time we meet a character on the page) is critical.

A student asked me this week, how do I create a character introduction that’s really great? My answer: Check out successful authors’ works. Study the first time a character walks onto the page. Some authors have a pattern, a formula (check out Rick Riordan’s character intros for this).

And there’s more.
As with the woman in the bank, look. Really pay attention.
(Write in the hat. And see beneath the hat.)

For life.
Oh, that we could all see beneath the hat.

* Thup

I’m finishing up a “Hero’s Journey” course today.
(not taking it…teaching it)

I’ve been designing this course for an online school
using Christopher Vogler’s
The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers,
where teens come and learn…and write…and write some more…
and grow.

So important.
(passing it on)

In fact, just for fun, I counted the number of courses that I’ve had the
distinct and fabulous honor of creating over the past two years for these cool people.
27. (my jaw dropped)
You see, I wasn’t keeping track. I just kept going. Creating.
(passing it on)

Back when I was a kid, eons ago,
we had a song called Pass it On that we sang around the campfire.
The song begins, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going.”

Sparks ignite. New creativity, new beauty.

You see,
to pass it on is part of my mental blueprint.

I believe.
I do believe.
We’re all gifted in some way.
We all have something amazing.
Precious. A spark that’s only our own.

To share of ourselves is to be fully human.

And it’s through the sharing,
back and forth,
in and out,
through the ups and downs,
that we become fully ourselves.

You are unique.
(And it’s good.)
Pass it on.

* Thup

Most will not argue:
Clutter diminishes productivity.

With clutter, you can’t find it.
With clutter, you waste time.
With clutter, you’re distracted.
With clutter, you lose things.
With clutter, you’re embarrassed
when someone has to wait for you as you rifle through the mess.
With clutter, you lose focus.
With clutter, you get behind.

Maybe two minutes of rearranging is what’s needed,
before you begin today.


* Thup

“Plan B”
Just the sound of it rings disappointment.
(“This is SO not what I wanted.”)

Your Hero will face Plan B.
(He will want Plan A, and Plan A will fall through.)

He will struggle.
He will doubt himself.
He will question his decision making.
If he made a mistake, forcing Plan B into his life, he will beat himself up a little bit.
(This is what we do in real life.)

This is all good.
(in story)

So, yeah,
when your Hero is faced with Plan B, all is not peachy-keeny.
Give him angst.
Bad dreams.

And, finally, resolve.
(Firm resolve, to make Plan B work.)

Because we all face Plan Bs, and it’s good to have a Hero who’s like us.

Oh. And, by the way.
When I face Plan B, pull up the bootstraps, and walk forward,
it’s nice to have friends nearby.
(Do you feel that way, too? I thought so.)

So give your Hero a friend.
To listen.
To nod.
To simply be there.
(Or to play a big role.)

(That’s what being together in the big, messy world is all about.)

* Thup

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try,
you can’t hide it.
The everyday camouflage isn’t working.

Like this.
(“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”)
<<Pay no attention to the scone beneath the lid.>>

Who are we fooling?

In good story, your Hero’s shoving down the Capital-P Pain.
In good story, your Hero thinks he’s okay.
He thinks he has this handled.
(“No worries. It’s not that bad. I’m okay.”)

But we all know.
<<he’s not okay>>

If our Hero doesn’t take care of whatever it is,
it’s all going to come crashing down.
(As I always say, good for story, bad for real life.)

We all have things we hide,
under the big bad umbrella of Capital-P Pain.

People walk all around us, sit next to us, talk to us…
(maybe it’s even us)…
All trying to cover up Hidden Pain.

What Hidden Pain is your Hero trying to cover up?
(And what-cup-lid-circumstance is he trying to put on top,
but it isn’t big enough?)

Write that.
That’s your character motivation. That’s your character arc.
Maybe that’s even the root of your plot twist.
(Pay attention to the man behind the curtain.)

Oh. And, friend.
We all carry Capital-P Pain. Yours. Mine. Ours.
Pulling back the curtain and looking it in the eye
is a good thing.
(Don’t let it get you. You’re bigger than that.)

* Thup

It’s a coconut milk latte triple shot kind of day.

You know what I mean? No? Well, let me tell you.
It’s when you’ve been in the “fun and games” part of the script
and then you flip into Bad Guys Close In and All is Lost.  

Blake Snyder, God rest his soul, knows what I mean.
(Read Save the Cat. Or, at least, read the super-short version here.)
Many of you know what I mean.
(professionally and personally)


This is one of the toughest parts of the story to write.
(Or live.)

You just gotta keep on.
* Thup


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