What’s New in September?

A new month. The summer is over.

Autumn may be beginning but this month is also a time for beginnings.

In the UK, September is the start of the new academic year.

New uniforms, new teachers, moving up age grades.

New knowledge and skills being learnt.

I decided to start a few new things out of a like-minded habit.

You may have noticed a couple of additional pages on the website?

First, there is Bible Reading Plans.

I’ve used the app YouVersion for a longtime now – it is awesome. There are so many translations in so many languages available, as well as a good deal of audio accompaniments, plus reading plans and prayer guides. The app allows you to join together as a community and share verses and notes.

On the Bible Reading Plans page I will put up the latest plan I am working through, and if you connect with me on the app then you can read my notes and share yours with me.

Second, there is Art Study – Weekly.

With this I am going to choose an art work each week and over the course of the seven days I will write any thoughts, feelings, insights, I have regarding the piece.

Primarily, this is to force me to be slower in considering other works of art and using them to be more informed in my own artistic endeavours.

Over on on my Instagram account @herbiecreative I will be sharing 30 days of my sketchbook – warts and all!

I am not a trained artist and I will be attempting to use lots of different mediums to create and learn new techniques.

It is going to be a busy September, but I hope there is something amongst this which will make a connection with you as well as inspire you.

God Bless You!

Herbie.

Daily Verse – Walking with the Wise.

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.

Proverbs 13:20 NIVUK

In this recent technological era we can gain unparralleled access to the very best people in our field of interest.

Most of them even do Masterclasses to teach you everything they have learnt on their journey.

We are often told in the marketing blurb ‘they have made the mistakes so now you don’t need to’.

According to Proverbs, however, this will not make us wise.

We are instructed to walk with the wise – hō·w·lêḵ – to go along with, keep pace with, to be conversant with.

Rabbi’s like Jesus did not just ‘teach’ in the synagogues, as we might here a preacher in a pulpit, but every footstep, every conversation, every gesture, even the way he ate his meals, would be observed by his disciples and imitated.

A teacher’s wisdom was the sum of every part of them, physical, spiritual, and thought.

Literally, walking in the footsteps of those wiser than ourselves in our field of interest, creativity, spiritually, or our work, will help us to become yeḥ·kām – to be wise in word, action, or thoughts. This word only occurs three times in the Old Testament, with all of them occuring in Proverbs.

I am not suggesting that we ignore every bit of wisdom which isn’t given to us in person – as much as I might like it, I cannot take a walk with Claude Monet if I want to paint ponds – but we should perhaps make more of an effort to form relationships/friendships – mentors – where we can experience their gifts in proximity.

Find a mentor/teacher and howlek them!

Chase Jarvis – Creative Calling – Pt.2

Last week I shared some takeaways from the first session of Chase Jarvis’ Creative Calling Bookclub – if you missed it then click here!

Week 2 was about focusing on the I.

  • I – Imagine what you want
  • D – Design a system to do it
  • E – execute the plan
  • A – Amplify

So Imagine what you want.

Then be creative and take it further – take it as far as it will go. Push the envelope. What does the want look like now?

As a writer my want might be to get book(s) published. I can push this further to, publish enough books to mean I can write full time. Plus, I want to publish a fiction book one year and a non-fiction book the next year.

Let’s keep being creative!

The fiction books I want to write will be a series and some stand alones. The non-fiction books I want to write will be sport based, focused on the teams I follow, spending a season with each. Other creative arts as well.

More creative!

Let’s not worry about bestsellers but add in a podcast and still sharing writer’s knowledge to help others on the journey. I’m pretty keen on music as well – and art – so maybe the odd book or the podcast can cover these subjects?

Where does this all leave me?

Planning!

I might not be a full time writer yet, but I can sure plan as if I was!

I can set out a three, five, or ten year plan – or all of them.

What books do I plan to write first? Fiction series – more chance of catching a book deal when there is the easy sell, several more similar to the one an editor/publisher might like. I want the fourth book I write to be non-fiction.

I’m going to develop a podcast alongside those first few books – writer’s craft and the other creative arts I’m interested in. Part of this development is to start talking with other creatives in these different fields. This is preparing the way for the non-fiction books.

All the time I’m developing and adding to the blog/website.

The timeline is the guide for me to get my butt in the seat researching and writing! It all might be completed slightly sooner or later. It almost doesn’t matter. I can adapt and adjust, so long as I keep researching and writing.

Whilst doing all of this I need to keep learning and take on board new stuff.

For this Chase Jarvis recommends the following – DEAR.

  • D – Deconstruct
  • E – Emulate
  • A – Action
  • R – Review

In all of the areas I have identified I need to Deconstruct – Look at the best in craft in the type of fiction and non-fiction I want to write. Listen to the best podcasts similar to what I want to produce.

Then I need to Emulate – I need to practice all of those good things I deconstructed from the best in the business.

I need to take Action – by analysing what I have produced and checking it against the guides and teachers from that original deconstructing.

Finally, Review – go back to the beginning and start all over again, with the new writers/podcasters who have risen to the top since I last looked.

Now it’s your turn!

What’s your 3 or 5 of 10 year plan?

To Know Your Story or To Not Know Your Story – That Is My Question?

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https://thescriptlab.com/features/screenwriting-101/9700-10-simple-steps-to-writing-a-final-draft-in-10-days/

Usually I would advise you to read this article before you continue with my thoughts, but not today. There is enough in Ken Miyamoto’s excellent article to keep you going for days!

I’ve been researching movie/play scripts for a little while now.

There are many ways in which novels and movies differ, but what I do appreciate that the later has to have a really tight hand on moving the story on and getting the audience to care about their characters.

Plot and character, the cornerstones of any story.

You are not going to write a novel in ten days – although there might be a challenge! – but one of the points Miyamoto makes early on is that you should have visualised at least 75% of your story before you sit down to write.

I think I’ve plotted every which way you can, as I am sure you probably have.

I seem to need the excitement of letting the story unfold and the characters lead me, but I acknowledge that sometimes I am not plotting as tightly as I probably should.

I suppose there has to be a purpose for the editing process, other than to spotting typos!

I find that if I plot too much then I know the story and getting the story down is like wading through deep mud. Putting the words in becomes the hard work, rather than working out where I am going next.

How about you? Strong plotters or the adventure of discovery?

Perhaps stronger discipline in plotting will produce a stronger story from the first draft?

I don’t know.

Visualising 75% of the story first means that both plot and characters should be fully developed.

The writing then becomes the how do I show this to the reader?

Much like a director framing the story from the page to the screen.

Maybe on my next book, I will try it . . .

Writer’s Routine – Recommended!

 

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Writer’s Routine with Dan Simpson.

 

This is a recommendation.

Dan doesn’t know me and I’m not getting any kickbacks.

This is just a really great podcast and you should check it out.

This is the first thing I listen to on a Saturday morning when I’m fixing breakfast.

The format quickly becomes familiar and I defy you not to shout out ‘I do that’ at a similarity in routine, like you would shouting out ‘snap’ in the card game.

He starts by getting the writer to describe their writing place surroundings and then ask for clues about their current projects.

– standing desk, books, posters/paintings, pantser so all plotting in my head, notebook, music, and a timer . . .

This is followed up, generally, by a revealing of their working day.

– lots of promises of a better routine but generally write during the evening, use of a timer, minimum word count, lots of dog interruptions . . .

Plotting, characterisation, ideas, and all sorts of other nuggets – like the business of writing – come out of their conversation.

– pantser so often the characters know before the plot before me . . .ideas will be a character  or piece of dialogue or a mood from a piece of music . . .

There is quite a back catalogue of episodes now, so plenty to get yourself into.

I don’t believe that copying another writer’s routine will ‘channel’ their success, but I definitely come away from these episodes with a sense of ‘maybe I’m not doing too badly after all’.

When you share a number of habits with writer’s you admire, or even have never heard of before, you gain that sense of community which often is missing in what is, on the whole, still a fairly solitary profession. Especially, if you aren’t even published yet.

 

 

 

Improving Your Character(s)!

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Photo by David Iskander on Unsplash

It is difficult in these days of movies and tv series not to associate actors with the fictional people they portray.

Or is it the other way around?

An honest actor will tell you that if the writing is good then they just say the lines. Which is them being very generous. Their art is a truly skilful one.

But, if the lines of their characters are true to their part within the story, then they may ‘play’ the role rather than having to ‘invent’ the role.

I’ve been concentrating on character within my own stories a lot more recently.

I tend write and reveal character through dialogue. Which, for me, is fine; mostly due to the fact that these characters have been hanging out with me and following me around, talking non-stop to me.

I’ve started to think much more about how much I am actually revealing about these characters. I think I might not be doing as good a job as I think.

One of the articles I came across whilst deliberating this issue offered ‘five ways to improving your characters’.

In my notebook, I neglected to write down where the article was from . . . but when I track it down again, I will attribute it properly so you can check the whole thing out.

Until then I offer you the notes I made.

  1. Get in touch with your character on a personal level – If you were describing having met this person to a friend of yours, what would you tell them? Your reader probably should know that much too.
  2. Understand their backstory deeply – You probably will not tell this story in your novel/script but all of the things that have happened to them up to this point, will effect their decision making within your story.
  3. Drive your story with your characters – Plot is obviously important, but how your main characters get to that end point, might be different if you let them find their way there, rather than driving them there yourself.
  4. Study how character change impacts plot – Back to school! – pick up those books/articles, listen/watch those interviews with your favourite authors. Keep learning your craft!
  5. Be persistent – Unless you want your characters to give up, don’t you give up learning and understanding them, so together you build the best story you can.

One of my favourite movies is Lethal Weapon and the introduction to the characters of Riggs and Murtaugh is one of the best there is.

We discover that Riggs has nothing left to live for and wants to die. We discover that Murtaugh has a family he wants to live for and worries that he might die if he isn’t careful.

The tension between these two characters and their motivations are what we watch. The plot line almost becomes something that  just moves them from one place to another.

We see them rubbing the edges off each other.

They will only survive to the end of the story by doing it together. Murtaugh has to take chances and Riggs has to have something to live for.

Just writing those last couple of paragraphs reminds me I need to keep going back to point 4!

Let me know how your characters are going and what you have done to improve them.

Productivity isn’t always what you think.

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Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

Choose twenty books about being creative and they will tell you to produce!

They aren’t wrong.

If you are a creative then create.

I think it was Seth Godin who said, real artists ship.

I am not arguing with him.

If I am a writer, then I need to stand at my desk and write. I need to complete that novel.

Recently though, I’ve become more persuaded that productivity isn’t just the end product.

If I write with a fountain pen, at some point I need to load it with ink. Without that ink, the words on the page will be invisible.

The ink is the books I’ve read, the drafts which have drifted towards the electronic storeroom or the recycling bin, the interviews I’ve heard or seen with authors, the ideas sparked by the movies and tv series I’ve watched, the conversations I’ve overheard, waking up in the middle of the night with words like a whisper in my ear . . .

Being creative is your way of life. It is you being productive.

Don’t always judge yourself by the final product.

If I write 200 words less than my target, I can easily judge myself a failure, but the interview I heard with John Le Carre, or Ian Rankin, could fuel my next two books.

Don’t stop shipping, but don’t begrudge stocktaking either.

 

Day 467 – Creative Like Bill Belichick, Pt.2.

So yesterday I suggested that relatives could take inspiration/lessons from sports and hopefully I will convince you today.

Bill Belichick is the most successful NFL coach ever because:

  • He stays focused on the overall goal and works hard to achieve it
  • He never goes through the motions and always trains with purpose
  • He makes sure that he puts the right players on the pitch at the right time
  • He doesn’t panic if things don’t seem to be working early on in the season and understands the importance of late on in the game and the season
  • He doesn’t waste time talking about the game

So how does this translate into being creative?

Be really clear about what you are trying to achieve.

Belichick knows the season is about winning the Super Bowl and so is the pre-season and the post-season. If you want to write a novel then that is the goal, nothing else. Prepare. Execute. Analyse to make next year’s performance better. It is hard work so put in the hours. Be focused and cut out distractions. Commit and achieve.

Practise with purpose and put what you learn into action.

A very underestimated part of what Belichick does is the practice field. The Patriots train with crowd noise. They train with old and scuffed up balls, removing as much of the grip as they can. They try to recreate conditions similar to the ones they will play in. All practice is purposeful.

It can be hard if you are time pressed for your creative pursuit but you need to practice. If you are a writer then try and find an extra couple of hundred words which are based on what you are writing, or will write in the next chapter. It might be character descriptions, or scene setting, or dialogue. If you are an artist you might need to experiment with colour, or sketch certain body parts, or try different techniques for applying the paint.

Use the creativity you need for that particular moment.

Don’t get distracted or show off. Use the skills to produce the elements you need to make that particular chapter, or picture, or composition, exactly as you need it. Be prepared and execute. If the scene is your chapter is heavy on dialogue, then make sure you have been practicing that element. Listen to good movies or tv, listen to or read good scenes from books and plays.

Don’t Panic!

Sometimes, particularly in the early stages, things might not go quite the way you had planned. It happens. Work out why and fix the issue. Sometimes there might not be a specific problem, you just didn’t execute well enough, so make sure you do the next time. Keep pressing on and know everything will come together late on in the season when it really matters. You may have zigged when you wanted to zag but keep the process going and remain focused on the end result.

Don’t waste time and energy.

Monosyllabic answers and repetitive phrases at press conferences are communicating that this isn’t where we win championships and Super Bowls.

As creatives we have platforms which can really boost the audience for our creativity in ways which no other writers/artists have had before, but it can also be a massive distraction. Social Media is the press conference. Learn from Bill. Don’t waste your energy and know it is taking time away from your main job. It is necessary, which why even he does them, but his conduct tells you that he knows what is important. The end result.

So Create Like Bill! And I hope to see you all in the Hall of Fame! (But don’t be surprised if Bill doesn’t speak with us!)

Day 466 – Creative Like Bill Belichick, Pt.1.

I’m not trying to alienate anyone here by mentioning the New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick. I understand that the franchise and the coach are like Marmite – you love them or you hate them.

For full disclosure I am a San Francisco 49ers fan, but as a sports coach you have got to learn from the best and the 6 Super Bowl victories simply make him the best.

I was listening to the Sky Sports NFL podcast, with the excellent Neil Reynolds and Jeff Reinebold, where they were finishing up their pre-season ‘state of the franchise’ thoughts and the final team being mentioned was the Patriots.

It occurred to me that surely the secrets of Belichick’s success could be applied to being creative.

Hear me out.

Players on a team are ultimately a set of skills and experiences. The coach uses those skills and experiences to craft a win. You get enough wins in a season then you get the big prize at the end; but even if you don’t, those wins remain achievements in themselves.

As a creative you gather together as many skills and experiences as you can. You use those to produce a piece of work. You put together a good enough body of work then you are often acknowledged/rewarded/awarded titles and prizes.

Let me be more specific.

You are a writer. You gather your group of players – in this case authors/books/characters/plots from across all your years of reading. You use this knowledge, these skills and experiences, to write a chapter – to win. You win as many regular season games as you can – you write as many chapters as successfully as you can. Losses and ties mean you need to do some revision. The post-season is where you hone it all down to that last championship game – the finished novel.

Perhaps, alternatively, the different games in the normal season are different types of writing. The post-season is your overall body of work.

The head coach is the natural editor in your brain. A little more of this. A little less of that. Those elements for that particular match, or these elements for this piece of writing, in order to be successful.

Hopefully, you can see where I am going with this.

Tomorrow, I will try and convince you of what Bill Belichick can bring to our creative endeavours.

Day 463 – Sunday Reflection.

I’ve been busy revamping my study.

Basically, I’ve got rid of more stuff I had forgotten I even had, or had kept because it might be useful at some point. I decided that some point had been reached and that the stuff wasn’t useful after all.

A family desk taken by my eldest son, freed up space for an armchair I’ve been looking at with fondness for a while now. I write at a standing desk, but I was hankering after a seat to muse, imagine, read, in.

I thoroughly recommend a standing desk if you don’t usually use one. Some are very pricey but mine is about the size of your laptop and does the job perfectly.

Revamping and tidying up are often necessary but also serve as perfect actions for not writing.

I sway between being really frustrated when I don’t write and just accepting that sometimes my brain needs a pause to fix something in a story, or make the necessary links to the next stage of the story.

I’ve probably mentioned this before but I don’t plot/plan in a James Patterson kind of way. Once the plot is down on paper then I know the story and my brain is off to the next one. The discipline to then take an extended plot and write it up into the finished novel eludes me. Be honest though, James Patterson probably feels the same way, which is why he has all of those co-authors.

I plan more like Lee Childs. I turn up, like Jack Reacher (okay – like a Jack Reacher who has been placed on too warm a wash cycle than the label directs!), meet a couple of people – good or bad – and the rest happens from there.

I am currently writing something new and it is requiring a little more thinking than I am used to. I think? Or I am doing a good job of pulling the wool over my own eyes. Sometimes, kicking back into the habit of hitting a word count each day, no matter what, really does get the job done.

I confess that all my normal habits have gone a bit wayward, with the only one remaining intact is the one where I listen to a new album everyday. Writing 1000 words a day has become disjointed. French language learning hasn’t been learnt for almost three weeks now. Exercise has not been what it should be. I have read more, and listened to podcasts and audio books more frequently.

My cotton-wash-when-it-should-have-been-a-wool-wash Reacher gives a Gallic shrug (as he can’t remember the phrase he was looking for) and wanders off into the night to regain his writing habit and his credibility . . .