#MondayMusings – Luck to Start the New Year

I was doing an end of year clean-up on my computer and stumbled across a very old newsletter article from http://www.makemorelivemoregivemore.com/

This article on luck is a great post to open the New Year.  Make 2013 your luckiest year yet by following these simple guidelines.

There are people who seem to have been born lucky. They know what they want, set out to get it, and somehow, everything falls into place. Even if something goes wrong along the way, they still manage to land on their feet.

Some people, on the other hand, who just can’t seem to catch a break. These are the people who believe that someday their luck will turn, and that someday, the “lucky ones” will run out of luck too. Some of them will simply blame the stars – they believe they’re fated to be unlucky, and they can’t do anything about it.

In a strange way, the unlucky ones are right, or so says Drawk Kwast. In his article Science of Luck on Small Business CEO Magazine, he explains that “The biggest reason you don’t have the life you want is because you are focused on what you aren’t getting. You see only your lack of luck. Successful people live life as they desire because they focus on what they are getting.”

The unlucky ones are unlucky because they believe they’re unlucky. Makes sense, right?

Drawk shares the results of a study conducted by Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire. In the study, he asked two groups of people, a “lucky” group and an “unlucky” one, to look through a newspaper and tell him how many photographs were in it. On average, the lucky people had their answers in seconds, while the unlucky ones took two minutes.

Luck is about keeping your eyes open

The lucky ones saw a large message taking up half of the second page that said: “Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” The unlucky ones totally missed it and kept counting.

The key, as Drawk puts it is this: “It’s not about luck. It’s about keeping your eyes open.” He goes on to say that he’s among the lucky ones, “not that I have better luck than other people; it’s that I can see things that others can’t.” Drawk can identify opportunities for growth and success that many others can’t, and he also interacts with as many people as possible to create those opportunities.

Luck is about extending your hand

This idea is shared by other lucky people. One of them is Tom McCarthy, whom was interviewed a few months back for a NOBS TALK on Increasing Your Luck. Tom explains: “One of the things lucky people do that unlucky people tend not to do is they maximize the number of opportunities that come to them.” By being outgoing, by introducing yourself to others, and by expanding your network, you create opportunities for yourself, and improve your luck.

Luck is about listening to your gut

Tom also shares that lucky people listen to their “lucky hunches,” while unlucky ones go against them. If that doesn’t quite make sense, replace “lucky hunches” with gut or intuition. You improve your luck by following your gut – it might not get it 100% right, but more often than not, your intuition will steer you in the right direction, and you’ll be happier for it.

Luck is about keeping a smile on your face

This brings us two the idea that lucky people are happier. The idea seems so obvious – if things just seem to fall in place for you, of course you’ll be happy about that. What most people don’t see, however, is that it works when you flip things around – happy people are luckier too.

J.D. Roth discusses this on Zen Habits in his article How to Make the Most Out of Luck in Your Career and Life. “A person who leads a balanced life is happier, more relaxed, more open to new experiences,” J.D. Explains. “If you maintain good relationships, pursue satisfying hobbies, go out of your way to help others, and continue to pursue personal growth, you will become a well-rounded person, just the sort that ‘luck’ favors.”

Michael Levy also discusses this briefly in his article The Five Principles for Prosperity. The first principle he shares is to Enjoy Everything. Enthusiasm and exploration, he says, “leave the door open for future development.”

Drawk Kwast really sums it up well: “This has nothing to do with luck. It’s pure science.” Luck is all about your attitude and your outlook. It’s about opening your eyes, creating opportunities, following your gut, and maintaining a positive attitude. The question now is this:

Will you create your own luck, or will you be one of those who do nothing but complain?

Photo by billaday www.flickr.com/photos/billselak/2067139101/

What Gangnam Style Tells Us about Writing

Gangnam Style by Psy became the first YouTube video to cross the one billion view threshold, making it the most popular viral video in history.  In case you’re not familiar with this sensation– What’s Gangnam Style?

According to Wikipedia–

“Gangnam Style” (Korean: 강남스타일, IPA: [kaŋnam sɯtʰail]) is a K-pop single by the South Korean musician PSY. The song was released in July 2012 as the lead single of his sixth studio album PSY 6 (Six Rules), Part 1, and debuted at number one on South Korea’s Gaon Chart. On December 21, 2012, at around 15:50 UTC, “Gangnam Style” became the first video in the history of the Internet to be viewed more than a billion times. As of December 25, 2012, the music video has been viewed over 1 billion times on YouTube, and it is the site’s most watched video after surpassing Justin Bieber’s single “Baby”.

There have been pages and pages of analysis as to the odd-ball video’s popularity.  My take comes down to one word– Enthusiasm.

Psy is a short chubby guy with very unsophisticated, slightly awkward dance moves.  But he sings his songs and repeats his moves with absolute conviction and, most important, with wholehearted energy and individuality.

What does this song and dance video have to do with writing?   Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best–

“When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it.
Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic and faithful,
and you will accomplish your object. “

Does everything you write and the way you approach your writing have this crackling enthusiasm, passion, and authenticity?

Can you make everything you do in 2013 reflect your very own unique take on Gangnam Style?  If you do so you will be much more likely to succeed and to have more fun along the way!

#ThinkpieceThursday – Zig Ziglar Rules for Success

Zig Ziglar recently passed away.  He was a motivational speaker and author.  My father was a Mad Men era ad man.  He always liked Ziglar’s comments and books.  Here are Ziglar’s top ten rules for success– with my comments on how they apply to writing.

10) “Remember that failure is an event, not a person.”  This is a great one to remember when rejection feels like failure.  Just because you have a bunch of pitches or scripts that haven’t sold doesn’t make YOU a failure.

9) “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.”  When you are pitching a project are you clear about the company’s mandate?  Have you researched their past films or television shows?  How does your project fit in with their goals? How would it enhance their portfolio?  Different producers and production companies have very different taste.  Don’t waste their time or yours by pitching something that doesn’t fit in with what they want to achieve.

8 ) “People often say motivation doesn’t last. Neither does bathing—that’s why we recommend it daily.” Write for at least one hour every day. Find ways to keep yourself motivated every day.

7) “There has never been a statue erected to honor a critic.” Be a creator as well as a critic.

6) “People don’t buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons.”  Does your story have a strong emotional through line?  The definition of entertainment is to feel something.  What does your story make people feel?

5) “Expect the best. Prepare for the worst. Capitalize on what comes.”  Be hopeful and optimistic, be prepared, and be flexible.  Most people miss opportunities because they can’t see them coming.  The best goal going o into a pitch meeting is to create a relationship, not sell a project.  Getting another meeting should be the objective.  The longer you can engage others enough to ask “tell me more” the better chance you have of success.

4) “If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.”  To have a friend you must be a friend.  Writing tends to be isolating.  Find ways to be of service to others.  A generous spirit is always repaid ten-fold and in very unexpected ways.

3) “A goal properly set is halfway reached.” Set small achievable incremental goals every day.  Find time to write every day even if it is only for an hour.

2) “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” A good attitude is crucial to being a success and appreciating success once you are there.

1) “If you can dream it, you can achieve it.”  This speaks for itself.

Half of being a writer is selling yourself and your projects.  Learning how to sell with authenticity and integrity is crucial to success.  Ziglar is a great mentor.

#MondayMusings – Nordkapp Film Festival

Monday, 10 September 2012

I arrived in Tromso and am having dinner with the festival organizers.  Had a brief tour of the local area.  I must say that Norway makes my heart sing.  Its beauty is breathtaking and its people are open and friendly.  Also the fish is the best in the world.  Fish restaurant for me tonight.

For the next several weeks this blog will be a sort of travelogue along with musing and observations in my consulting and teaching travels.

Here are a couple of observations from the plane:

1.  Nordic men are stunningly handsome. Just sayin’

2.  Scandinavians love America. I sat next to two Norwegian plumbers on the plan.  They were part of a group of 15 plumbers who were wrapping up a trip to New York.  They saved their money and met company performance goals– so off all the plumbers went as a company reward.  (Would this happen in America as a reward?) They had a fabulous time and the guy I sat next to is eager to return for a longer stay with his wife.

3.  The Norwegians are open and friendly observation is totally true.  Tall blond and handsome guy sitting one row forward helped me put my iPhone on non-roaming International mode so I wouldn’t rack up thousand of AT&T charge while in Europe.

Here is a look at Tromso–

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Tony Soprano is a Mafia Power of Will character. He believes that expanding his power base, extending his territory, protecting and defending what is rightfully his (according to Tony) and swiftly avenging any wrong (or perceived wrong) is how one gets along, gets ahead and stays ahead in the world. Life is a battleground.

J.K. Rowling’s Handwritten Plot Sheet

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Always interesting to see how other writer’s think and conceptualize.  Even more interesting when the novel is a hit.

Brave from Pixar – How Good is Good Enough?

Pixar_Brave_1I saw Brave this weekend along with a surging box office crowd.  It’s Pixar after all and their first film with a female protagonist in the studio’s 17 year history.

Settling down in the theater seat I saw what seemed like a dozen trailers for upcoming animated films. There is a lot of competition out there!

All of the visuals for the coming attractions looked great, and so does Brave.  Every review of Brave (even the bad ones) wax poetic about  the lush scenery, the gorgeous colors, the spectacular hair, the realistic fur, and the impressive claws!

Folks, I’m here to tell you– The technology war is OVER. How much more realistic can you make rippling water, wind-whipped tresses, galloping horses, and  sleek bear pelts?  Great visuals are now the norm. Every animated studio film has them and the incremental improvements, unless they are game-changing, don’t add up to very much in my book. Are technological advances in fur, hair, and water really the reason why we go to movies? Is it to watch a fabulous moving painting?

We go to movies for the same reason people sat around the castle hearth in 10th century Scotland– for a great story filled with memorable characters! Brave, set in that very time and place, repeats over and over “Legends are lessons.” That is true of the best stories. They tell us what it is to be human in all our fragility and strength, blindness and insight, and selfishness and transcendence.

What story exactly is Brave telling? What is the lesson in this legend? The film’s very muddled narrative adds up to a lack of complexity and not enough heart. If the film’s visuals were on a par with the story we’d be watching stick figures.

I knew Brave was in trouble from the first few words spoken in voice over as the film began. Merida (Kelly Macdonald) uses the words “fate” and “destiny” interchangeably.  This muddle-headedness is at the heart of the film’s problem.

What’s the difference between fate and destiny? Philosophers through the ages have distinguished the two based on choice. Fate is something that happens TO you. Destiny is something that happens BECAUSE of you.

Fate is at the root of such words as “fatal” and “fatalistic.” It implies LACK of choice. Philosopher Rollo May says fate is what we are born into, something that cannot be changed and that we have no control over, such as race.

May says destiny is what we create based on what we were given. Destiny is all about CHOICE. It’s what we choose to do with what we have.

imagesMerida is born a princess. She can’t change that. Her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), is grooming Merida for a role as future queen. After a long series of wars King Fergus (Billy Connolly) has united the four clans. Merida’s duty is to help keep the clans unified though a judicious marriage.

Merida is a wild rebellious child with special talent as a rider and archer. The demonstrations of her skills are absolutely breath-taking.  She is unique and extraordinary and initially looks very much like a Power of Idealism character.

These kinds of characters are driven by their passion. They abhor what they consider to be a mundane, boring, or mediocre life. They want to seize some grand destiny that is uniquely theirs.

The film starts out like a Power of Idealism Coming of Age story. The deeper human questions at the heart of these stories are: How can I be true to myself and find my rightful place in the world? What is my own special destiny?

Well drawn female protagonists in this vein are:

Paikea (Keisha Castle-Hughes) in Whale Rider. This film, for those who haven’t seen it is described on IMDB as “A contemporary story of (family) love, rejection and triumph as a young Maori girl fights to fulfill a destiny her grandfather refuses to recognize.”

Jess Kaur Bhamra (Parminder Nagra) in Bend it Like Beckham is another example. IMDB states the film’s log line as “The (talented) daughter of an orthodox Sikh rebels against her parents’ traditionalism by running off to Germany to play with a girl’s football team (soccer in America).”

Unlike Paikea or Jess, Merida doesn’t fight for what she believes is HER destiny. Merida, instead, decides to change her mother!  Perhaps this is because Merida has no clue about what she is really called to do.

tdy-120613-brave.380Now the story gets even muddier. With the help of an old witch’s spell Merida does indeed change her mother — into a bear.

Instead of figuring out who she is and what she uniquely is called to do, Merida must again deal with who her mother is. In the struggle over the middle part of Brave, Queen Elinor becomes the protagonist.

The definition of a protagonist, in my book, is the person who makes the biggest emotional sacrifice in the story. It is the person who undergoes the most profound transformation. This is clearly Elinor on every front.

Queen Elinor is a Power of Conscience character. She is a strict and demanding taskmaster, a perfectionist, and is driven by a strong sense of tradition and duty. Over the course of the story she recognizes her daughter’s uniqueness and fully appreciates Merida for who she is.

The first important glimpse of Elinor’s change of heart is the brawl in the great hall after Merida has disappeared.  When Merida strides back into the hall it is Elinor who puts words in Merida’s mouth. Elinor speaks through her surrogate about going against tradition and marrying for love. It is Elinor who makes an eloquent plea for choice and following one’s heart. Merida is just her passive interpreter. At the end of the film Elinor is willing to sacrifice her own life in a battle with the ancient cursed bear, who one would assume, was the monster who took off her husband’s leg. Or not? Who knows?

Even more confusingly this monster turns out to be the legendary brother, it would seem, who destroyed the ancient kingdom so long ago because of his pride and selfishness.  How did he turn into a bear? Was it mother love or something else that breaks his curse?

When a legend and curse is set up so carefully it should have a pay-off having to do with Merida or her destiny– if the film is really about Merida.

And what does Merida do that is so brave?  She scurries around looking for the witch’s house after her mother turns into a bear.  She stitches up (with big clumsy childish stitches) the tapestry she slashed separating her from her mother.  She does a lot of running away and running around. She is ineffective in battling the monstrous cursed bear. And she collapses in tears remembering her mother’s loving kindness as the second sunrise threatens to make her mother’s bear curse permanent. In other words, she acts like a child– or worse a girl.

At the end of the film, Elinor has changed but not Merida.  Merida is the same galloping wild child as she was in the beginning.  This refusal to accept restrictions, grow up, or take responsibility is Power of Excitement territory. It is a sinking back into childhood rather than striding toward an adulthood based both on duty and and an individualistic sense of self. If you are a young woman, what is the lesson here?

Brave offers no alternative vision of how Merida might help unify the clan in some way that is uniquely hers. It provides a very unsatisfying resolution. How has Merida changed or grown? What happens when King Fergus and Queen Elinor are too old to rule? What is Merida’s role going forward?

MANOHLA DARGIS NY TIMES–  discouragingly uninspired script by Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman and Irene Mecchi. (Ms. Chapman, the first woman hired to direct a Pixar feature, either left or was removed from “Brave” and now shares directing credit with Mr. Andrews.)
The association of Merida with the natural world accounts for some of the movie’s most beautifully animated sequences, and in other, smarter or maybe just braver, hands it might have also inspired new thinking about women, men, nature and culture. Here, however, the nature-culture divide is drawn along traditional gender

There is so much missed opportunity in Brave.  Manohla Dargis writing in The New York Times laments:  “The association of Merida with the natural world accounts for some of the movie’s most beautifully animated sequences, and in other, smarter or maybe just braver, hands it might have also inspired new thinking about women, men, nature and culture.”

BraveThe story thuds along on the surface. None of the characters in Brave is particularly complex or have much emotional depth. Although Elinor and King Fergus are a love match now, theirs was an arranged marriage. Did either ever love another? How does either feel about the fact neither might have chosen the other if it was up to choice? How did they eventually find love together? That is rich emotional territory that never factors into the story– or in Elinor’s advice or lessons to Merida. It seems incredible that a loving mother wouldn’t speak of her own experience on the eve of arranged betrothal, especially if it was a struggle that ultimately lead to happiness.

King Fergus himself, is a simple lovable loud-mouth lout. He is the very broadest brush-stroke Power of Will character. He’s a big, larger than life presence. He is a man of lusty appetite– for food, wine, and brawling.

Merida’s three suitors are a joke. None of them is remotely appealing.  This is a huge mistake and gives Merida no pause for thought nor any temptation to chose a different path.  It removes essential inner conflict for her. All the conflict in the story is the simplest external conflict. No one has self-doubts. No one struggles within themselves.

How did the film go so wrong, except for the visuals?  Joe Morgenstern writing in The Wall Street Journal reports: “Brave was a notoriously troubled production, with a change of directors that clearly led to a change of narrative direction. (The complexity of the final credits reflects the tortuous history: directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman and co-directed by Steve Purcell, from a script written by Messrs. Andrews and Purcell, Ms. Chapman and Irene Mecchi.)

Colin Covert writing for The Minneapolis Star Tribune pretty much sums it up: “The standout characters, exciting set pieces and memorable songs that we’ve come to expect are absent. The truest advertising tagline would be, “From the studio that brought you ‘Cars 2.’

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Getting to the Heart of the Story

I talk a lot about the Heart of the Story in my workshops and consulting. The Heart of the Story is the simplest emotional statement distilling the story’s essence.

At UCLA I always had my students do a poster for their movie. The image and logline was to be the distilled essence of their screenplay. I recently came across a blog post by Edan Leucki about another kind of assignment for the same purpose. This assignment was for a rewrite class where writers were stuck.

Go wild, I said.  Do whatever it takes, to keep writing this thing.
Melissa came to class with these…boxes.
They were cardboard jewelry gift boxes, and there were three of them, one inside the next. The first bore the title of her novel, A Tiny Upward Shove, on its face. The inside of this box contained a smaller box, decorated with a monkey (“Because…duh,” Melissa said, or something like it), and a piece of paper, which described her book’s premise.
Inside the monkey box was an even smaller box, this one decorated with a plastic heart. On the inside of the monkey box, Melissa had written a shorter version of the novel description, distilled from the notes on the piece of paper.  The smallest box — we all leaned forward to see — was empty, except Melissa had written the book’s premise on its inside.
She’d distilled it to a single sentence: “Chronicles the life of a woman who was separated from her bipolar mother and placed into foster care at 15.”
She told us she’d been struggling with how to describe her book to people who asked about it. This project forced her to find the book’s main idea, its essence.  It ended up thrilling everyone in the room.
The boxes were funny, and strange, and beautiful, and important. I keep imagining Melissa struggling to write in the margins of the smallest box, and it moves me. Making this project wasn’t novel writing, of course, but it enabled Melissa to return to her book with a fresh perspective. It helped her to keep going. That’s what we’re after, isn’t it?
Go wild, I said.  Do whatever it takes, to keep writing this thing.
Melissa came to class with these…boxes.
.
M41They were cardboard jewelry gift boxes, and there were three of them, one inside the next. The first bore the title of her novel, A Tiny Upward Shove, on its face. The inside of this box contained a smaller box, decorated with a monkey (“Because…duh,” Melissa said, or something like it), and a piece of paper, which described her book’s premise.
.
.
.
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M5Inside the monkey box was an even smaller box, this one decorated with a plastic heart. On the inside of the monkey box, Melissa had written a shorter version of the novel description, distilled from the notes on the piece of paper.  The smallest box — we all leaned forward to see — was empty, except Melissa had written the book’s premise on its inside.
.
.
.
.
M6She’d distilled it to a single sentence: “Chronicles the life of a woman who was separated from her bipolar mother and placed into foster care at 15.”
.
She told us she’d been struggling with how to describe her book to people who asked about it. This project forced her to find the book’s main idea, its essence.  It ended up thrilling everyone in the room.
.
The boxes were funny, and strange, and beautiful, and important. I keep imagining Melissa struggling to write in the margins of the smallest box, and it moves me. Making this project wasn’t novel writing, of course, but it enabled Melissa to return to her book with a fresh perspective. It helped her to keep going. That’s what we’re after, isn’t it?
What kind of project would help you get to the Heart of the Story?
Okay, so here’s the homework part of this post:  Make … something as unwriterly as possible. No outlines, no character sketches. Instead, do something surprising and weird and beautiful and fun; the only requirement is that it provides you with a new outlook on your work, and gets you pumped to write.

Advice from John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck — Pulitzer Prize winner, Nobel laureate, love guru — with six tips on writing, culled from his altogether excellent interview it the Fall 1975 issue of The Paris Review.
Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.
If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.
Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.
http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4156/the-art-of-fiction-no-45-continued-john-steinbeck

john-steinbeckJohn Steinbeck, a Pulitzer Prize winning author (Grapes of Wrath) and Nobel laureate offers six basic tips on writing in his interview it the Fall 1975 issue of The Paris Review.

1.  Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised. (This concept of small daily incremental progress is key to long term writing success.)

2.  Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.  (Self-censorship and a constant reworking of material day-by-day is absolutely antithetical to finishing anything!)

3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one. (This helps to tell a story with real intimacy.  It’s just you and one other person.)

4.  If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there. (Constant forward momentum is the only way anything gets done.  Don’t let any one scene, or sequence stop or stymie you.)

5.  Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing. (Kill kill kill your darlings.)

6.  If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech. (This is excellent advice even for purely narrative passages too!)

The whole interview is here– http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4156/the-art-of-fiction-no-45-continued-john-steinbeck