Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Get Out of The Coffeehouse!

You think I’m kidding, don’t you?

I’m not kidding.

Gather up your laptop, latte and backpack.  Do it now.

Walk out the door and in to the greater world.

I coach a lot of writers: screenwriters, novelists and playwrights and I find we all have this inherent, hunker -down mentality.  We believe that in order to write our best creative, most pure work, we have to concentrate on creating that feeling of truth and reality that makes a great story.

This concept, for the most part, is complete crap.

The truth is, we can only draw from our own experiences and extrapolate from there.  The more of life that we experience, the more tools we have with which to write

The personal story arc, a concept I deeply believe in, says that the strength of your writing - the real powerhouse of creativity from which every writer draws - comes from your own personal experiences and your unique emotional reactions to what has happened to you. This isn’t really anything new, but it’s seems to be something that newer writers tend to discount about themselves and their work

There’s this phrase that came up through the ranks of the 1980’s Japanese managerial style that I think works well here. 

It was called Genchi gembutsu or “Go and see for yourself” It suggests that in order to truly understand a situation, one needs to go to the gemba or, the 'real place' - where work is done.

This has to be true for writers, whether they work on the page, stage or screen.  There is no substitute for seeing or living a situation to be able to bring that all-important authenticity to the writing. It is vital to creating that protagonist-audience connection which turns causal readers and viewer into true fans.

This doesn’t mean that you have to be an astronaut in order to write a story or script about traveling in space – although it would certainly help. However, the point of all writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, is to engage the emotions of the audience.  You are taking them on an emotional journey through your story and the more you can relate to the real and visceral emotions of your characters, the more relatable the work becomes.

We are, after all, talking about human beings and the lives they live. And your own separate, individual life (as important as that is) can only carry you so far. You need to get out there, look around, see the world for what it is and incorporate that into your stories.

So here’s the challenge:  Take at least one afternoon a month or more to just get out into the world.  Take notes, talk to people you would never talk to and engage in part of the world you might not normally see.

Here are some suggestions on how to get out there:

·         The Walk:  Go out and take a walk somewhere you’ve never been. With no plan in mind and no real agenda, go and just see what you can see.  Watch people as they interact. Let the mind wander and see where it leads you.

·         The Destination: I live in southern California and I sometimes go to Disneyland with no other thought but to be in a crowd of people.  I watch and consider.  I find people to use as characters and look for those real human interactions that always lead my mind to a whole slew of story ideas.  Money well spent! There is almost certainly a place or event near you where you can just immerse yourself in a sea of humanity.

·         The Conversation: Go and have a serious conversation with a stranger or loved one.  Look deeply into their eyes as they speak.  Seek the real nature of what they’re saying.  Hear them, perhaps for the very first time. You will be very surprise at what you experience.

Remember: You are the dreamer but also the chronicler.  You job, your passion as a writer, to reflect the nature of the human experience back to us in a way that will make us feel. Always try to take me to a place I have never been before. 

You can’t do it well without getting out there yourself.

Don’t worry.  The laptop will still be here when you get back.

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