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!

Three Wishes When You Are Stuck In The Middle.

Via Seth Godin.

We all get stuck.

And it’s not always in mud with some friends to get us out, as in the playground game.

Normally, when we are in a creative ‘stuck’ there aren’t other people to ‘free’ us.

If you have a group of other creatives around you who can do this, then never let them get away from you – if they move city, so do you!

Seth Godin has the antidote to ‘stuck’ thankfully.

It is simple and priceless.

Read it in his own words.

I think you will agree – enough said . . .

. . . Now I’m off to do it!

To Be A Great Writer, Be A Cook.

Photo by Michael Wave on Unsplash

Ingredients, Flavour, and Cooking – Words, Structure, and Writing.

In The Script Lab‘s interview with Scott Neustadter (500 Days of Summer), one of the pieces of advice he gives is that writers should learn to ‘be a cook’.

His point is that, particularly in screenwriting, there is always going to be collaboration. You need to learn to work with others to produce the best script you can.

In any professional kitchen there are any number of ‘cooks’ and together they produce the finished plate of food which you eat.

In combining your expertise with that of others you make your writing/script better – the best that you can make it.

You learn new techniques. You try different combinations of ingredients. You taste different flavourings.

You experiment and refine.

There is a tv show in the UK called Masterchef. There is an amateur, professional, and celebrity version, but they all follow the same format – everybody cooks and some go through and others don’t. Not all of the prettiest food goes through, but the food which has the best taste and shows the better technique is chosen.

As the rounds progress, the remaining cooks are given the opportunity to work in real restaurants. They learn from some of the greatest cooks in the world. They listen to feedback from the best food and restaurant writers.

Towards the final places, the cooks are expected to show their understanding of new techniques and new flavours. They are now being judged on what they have learnt as well as how great the food looks and tastes.

I get Scott Neustadter’s point.

I also get that my ability to produce the finest beans on toast wouldn’t get me very far in Masterchef.

I also get that in making that comparison my writing might not match up to my beans on toast!

So how do we be better cooks/writers?

To be a great cook you need to understand your ingredients, flavour combinations, presentation, recipes. You need to experiment and practice. One contestant in Masterchef was asked how confident they were feeling about their food and they replied that the seventeen times they had cooked it that week had all gone well!

As writers we have to understand words and how they combine with others. We need to understand the structure which binds the words together. We need to know the recipes – the greatest books in our genre or story type – and how we can tweak here and there to produce something as equal or better.

We need to practise over and over again.

That might even be at a sentence or paragraph level.

Experiment. Learn from other writers.

Try styles of writing you have never done before. Look at how they use their ingredients to produce the final dish.

What can you take and use in your own writing?

Write and experiment. Write and refine. Write and practise until you get it how you want it.

Create those amazing new plates of food.

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.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 16.

The final week of the Tour has begun. The end is near. Expectations of a French victor – Alaphilippe or Pinot – has the home crowd on a high, but there is still plenty of opportunity for the non-French riders in the top six on GC. Team Ineos had two possible winners, with one being Geraint Thomas last year’s winner.

This stage is Nimes to Nimes. The last opportunity for sprinters before the Champs-Elysees. 177km with only one 4 Cat climb, so there will be breakaways but they are unlikely to stay away, despite those riders being very unlikely to be a GC threat.

The end of any long project can be full of mixed emotions. There is the anticipation and desire for the end, but also apprehension at the end of the routine you’ve made part of your life. You may feel that you have exceeded expectation, or that you have missed opportunities and could have done better. However, looking back you will acknowledge that you have completed a ‘Tour’ and that in itself will be a major accomplishment.

Stage Summary:

177km – Nimes to Nimes.

Caleb Ewan taking his second stage victory of this year’s Tour, coming from a long way back but making it looking convincing on the line, Breakaways did come but the riders were most 2 hours down on the GC standings, so were allowed their TV time, but the sprinters weren’t keen to give them too much of a lead. In the end they were hauled back in with just under 3k left.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 11.

Like the anticipation of any big event, the few days before are nervous and conservative. In a bike race like the Tour de France all of the GC favourites become chess players, mindful and trying to think ahead as many moves as they are able. The difference being their eventual execution of those moves will rely on their physical capabilities to match their intellectual efforts.

Any creative mind embarked upon a project will exhibit similar tendencies. There is a natural state of anticipation, nerves, euphoria, a sense of what might have been if only we had done this or that. There is a flow and ebb. We need to recognise this and react accordingly.

I’ve written already about preparation and scheduling. We are on a journey, like the Tour. Mountains and flats. Sprints and individual races against the clock.

Caleb Ewan has been there or there abouts on pretty much all the stages where there has been a main group sprint. Up until now he has not had the ‘luck’. Still he has persisted. That persistence paid off today. He is a young rider who had to leave his wife and newborn child, still in the hospital, to go to the Tour. He has a job and that dictates your life at times. I am sure he will dedicate that stage win to his wife and daughter.

Creativity can be a career or a hobby. For one you have to make sacrifices, for the other you can easily place it to one side. If you are pursuing the former it can be difficult to make that transition from the latter. Like Caleb Ewan, this is where persistence brings you the win.

Stage Summary:

167km – Albi to Toulouse.

A 4th Cat and a a 3rd Cat climb, so generally should be a sprinters’ day.

Caleb Ewan took his first major tour stage win with a good sprint from a long way out. He held onto the right wheels and made it across the line to take his first major tour, let alone his first Tour de France stage, win. The French are still cheering on Julian Alaphilippe in the Maillot Jaune. Interestingly, the French seem to be holding out for Thibaut Pinot, but evert Tour commentator which mentions him immediately follows it up with the assertion that he does not have the mental edge to win the Tour. It has been a long time sine Bernard Hinault last won the race in 1985, and maybe the French are used to wanting to win so are banking on Pinot, or probably won’t win, because they don’t know what to do if a Frenchman does actually win it.

Day 423 – Back Catalogue.

As soon as we find a new artist who captures our attention we look for their back catalogue.

For some writers/artists/musicians there is a lot to see/hear/read. For others, not so much.

For some, the back catalogue is diverse and wide ranging. For others, not so much.

There isn’t a ‘right’ back catalogue. There just is what there is.

What’s your back catalogue like?

Is it what you want it to be? If someone discovers your creative endeavours, would they find a body of work which reflects your creativity?

Day 419 – Why Are You Doing This?

Why?

I am a writer, therefore I write.

You maybe a painter, therefore you paint.

Simple.

A writer might see stories where ever they look.

A painter might see the colours and textures around them.

A musician hears the melodies in conversations and noises of life.

The ‘this’ is whatever it is you are doing creatively – imagine it is a blank line and you need to insert your creative project or endeavour.

Why you write, or draw, or play an instrument, might just be because it gives you joy.

Or it might be because it is your career, or you want it to be your career.

Both reasons are fine.

But both have different expectations of you.

Realising this might help you save time in the long run.

Know why you are doing your creative thing and act accordingly.

One is a job and needs to be treated as such. The other has wriggle room and can be the subject of whim.

Day 413 – The Friday Question.

It’s Friday and there’s a question.

Simple enough concept.

However, I set the question and I’ve spent the last half hour trying to answer it!

The Friday Question is:

What is the one immediate thing you need to do for your creative endeavour to improve?

I’ve decided that I will give my answer on Saturday in a post probably handily entitled The Saturday Answer.

See you tomorrow!