Observation Thursday

Every Thursday I post something I’ve observed. I don’t know when or where I’ll use it but that doesn’t matter. What matters is the consistent habit of making an observation and writing it down. When you start to do that, everything becomes an idea for the future.

Observation Thursday

 

The Cows are found. The Beagle is lost.

When: August 3rd in the car.

Observation: I was listening to This American Life  on a drive (thankfully I was not at the wheel so I could jot this down right away) and the show had a corespondent talking about Swap and Shop. It’s a radio show commonly found in rural areas where people call in with things they have for sale, things they’re looking for, and things they want to swap. And one person calling into the show said the words: “The four cows have been found. That beagle we found, we lost her again.”

What you can do with it: Well come on. 4 cows found. 1 beagle lost. Where were the cows found? Who lost the cows? Who lost the beagle? How did the beagle get found and then lost? Who is the person calling into the show? What if sentence is actually code for something else entirely. I like that the best – write a scene where the words “The four cows have been found. That beagle we found, we lost her again” is actually code for something else. What does it actually mean? Who is listening for that code and what is their response?

Time Never Magically Appears

Time is what we want most, but what we use worst. – William Penn (1699)

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Even in the 17th century they worried about time. We always want more and no one’s figured out yet how to make the day longer.

If you are overwhelmed, if you take on too many projects, the first place to look is time. How do you manage your time as a writer?

I’ll get to it…. later…..

Many artists suffer from the misuse of time. Whether it’s not buckling down to consistent work day after day, a disorganized calendar which makes us too busy to be productive. Do you know someone who constantly cries I need more time!

Time management is your best friend as a free lance artist. Because you don’t have a traditional nine to five job, you have to figure out not only when you’re going to work but how long projects are going to take.

Get control of you time

Put writing time in your schedule or calendar. 

If you’re not writing consistently, start thinking of it as an appointment you can’t miss. You wouldn’t blow off your doctor (I’ll get there…later) don’t blow off your writing time. If it’s in the schedule, don’t cancel it. Don’t put something else in it’s place, don’t agree to go for coffee. Keep that appointment.

If you don’t like the rigidity of an appointed writing time in your day – then block off times in the calendar where you’re not allowed to schedule anything else. The last week of the month for example.

Overestimate your time. If you’re teaching a workshop, or giving a presentation, don’t just schedule the day. Block off two days before hand. That way you give yourself time to review notes, to prepare, to even just think about what you’re going to do. There’s nothing worse than feeling unprepared or looking unprepared for an event.

Look at your calendar daily. It’s great if you’ve got everything mapped out on your calendar. It’s not great if you never look at it and you make plans on the fly. That’s how you end up double booking, or not giving yourself fully to a project because you’re swamped. Put your calendar on your phone. Have it at your finger tips so that if someone wants you to do a reading, or wants to set up a meeting you can be honest about your time. Which leads to the best tip for time management….

Say no. If someone asks you to do something, and you’re booked up, say no. Don’t imagine you’re going to re-organize your time to make it work. Or that time will magically appear to make it happen. Time never magically appears.

Give yourself time to have a life

 Time management is not about being rigid. It’s about being organized, productive, and ultimately giving yourself time to have a life. As artists it’s important that we get out into the world. That we examine humanity. How can we do that if we’re hunched over our work 24/7?

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana. Groucho Marx

Observation Thursday

Every Thursday I post something I’ve observed. I don’t know when or where I’ll use it but that doesn’t matter. What matters is the consistent habit of making an observation and writing it down. When you start to do that, everything becomes an idea for the future.

 

Hello

 

Talking to a four year old.

When: August 7th, in the pool.

Observation:  If you want to know how to be creative and never back down from your creative world, talk to a kid.  Nine times out of ten they say the weirdest thing and when you question them, they look at you like you’re from Mars. You’re the crazy one. You’re wrong, and they’re right. Forget logic. Forget reality.  This is one of those conversations. It happened between my husband and my four year old niece.

NIECE:… and then we met up with her friend and we went to dinner.

HUSBAND: What did you have?

NIECE: Guess.

HUSBAND: Chicken fingers.

NIECE: Um….. what’s that when you go to McDonald’s?

HUSBAND: Chicken Nuggets?

NIECE: (looking at him like he’s from Mars) No! Burger and Fries!

HUSBAND: So you went to McDonald’s?

NIECE: (now looking at him like he has two heads) Nooooooooo.

What you can do with it:  I like a conversation like this because it’s so non linear. It jumps and goes in directions you don’t expect. That’s what it’s like talking to a kid. And that’s what our works need sometimes. They need to be less linear. Less Point A to point B. An observation like this is a great reminder for me to practice writing conversations that don’t make total sense. That’s going to make them more human and more interesting to watch. It’s not about being wacky, just unpredictable. Write a conversation that doesn’t exactly make sense. Point A to Point Q to Point C.

Do you keep the rule of three sacred?

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I could be talking about Aristotle’s Three Unities of Tragedy, or the rule of three in comedy (although if you can go to 17, it’s even better), or even the pattern of writing where the flow works best when events come in threes.

Those are great. This rule of three will save your brain from overload.

Last week I talked about Overdoing it and now it’s time to turn the boat around. Let’s get into the solutions for overdoing it.  What can you do to keep your writing life fulfilled but sane?

 

The Rule of Three

When you’re considering a new job or a new project,  answer the following three questions:

  1. Will it make you happy?
  2. Will it provide a unique challenge?
  3. Will it make you money?

In an ideal world, we should answer YES! to all three questions. We’re happy, we’re challenged, and we’re paying the bills. But let’s face it, we’re artists. I’ll bet you can name dozens and dozens of projects that made you happy and offered a unique challenge. It becomes harder to name those projects made money and also brought happiness or challenge.

New Project = Time

But these are the things you need to think about. New projects take up your time.  Your valuable time.

You want to be wary about are the projects where you’re answering NO! to all three questions. Those are the red flags. There’s many reasons we take on new projects. Maybe you’re helping out a friend or a relative. Maybe someone wants you to do just one more thing. Maybe you’re trying out a project just one more time to make it work. If you’re miserable, if you’re not challenged, and if you’re not being financially compensated, then why are you doing it?

Worse are those projects where not only are you not being financially compensated, you’re expected to pay in. There are many playwriting contests and theatre groups that expect playwrights to pay if they want play. We’re supposed to be grateful for the experience. The experience of performance is not enough. It’s not worth your time.

Money, money, money…

You want to be wary too of the money only projects. I’m just doing it for the money, I know I’m doing it for the money, it’s ok. It can become a mantra when you’re working long days on something that doesn’t serve your soul.

I applaud anyone who can just do it for the money.

Seriously, I wish I could do it and maintain my happiness. But I can’t. I’ve done it twice. Both times were total misery. Damaging my health misery. Sucking up months of my time. It wasn’t worth it.

Is happiness enough?

Of course that brings us back to being happy and challenged but maybe not being paid. You have to consider that as well. Your time is valuable. Only you can answer the question - Is happiness and creative challenge enough? 

It all depends on how you define happiness. In my early years when I wasn’t making money as a writer I would temp. I would work full time as a secretary for six weeks and then write for two. That made me very happy – the bills were paid and I was working to make writing time.

Recently I’ve started adjudicating festivals. Some for free because I’m a beginner. The act makes me happy because I’m developing a skill.

Here’s the bottom line.

Never flippantly take on something new without thinking it through. Every project sounds interesting on the surface.  But what are you getting out of the experience? What is your time worth?

  1. Will it make you happy?
  2. Will it provide a unique challenge?
  3. Will it make you money?

 

 

Observation Thursday

A little side note today. I use Google Keep on my phone to keep hold of random observations I make when I’m out and about. It’s important to get into the habit of SEE! RECORD! with an observation. Don’t trust your memory. Memory is unreliable and that observation is going to fade and morph over time. Sure, it might morph into something better. But nine times out of ten, that initial point of contact is the best moment.

I went looking for an observation today in my Google Keep and this one just jumped out at me. Mostly because I have no idea of context. This is a perfect example of how things fade. Usually I write down where I am and if I have time what’s going on. This one is just a sentence. Maybe I over heard it. Hard to think of the context of this particular sentence. But either way have fun with it!

Observation Thursday

What the What?

When: Who knows?

Observation:  “Shut up and squeeze my tea bag.” That’s it. That’s all.

What you can do with it:  Well putting aside why someone would say this to another person, start with character and scenario. Who is saying this sentence, where are they, and who are they saying it too. That alone should have you writing for days. Who would say this? Who’s squeezing their tea bag? (I’m a bag dipper myself)

Happy writing!

 

Do you need to join Overdoers Anonymous?

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Do you do too much?  Does it affect your writing?

I, Lindsay Price, am an overdoer. In the month of July I was doing the following things:

  • Worked on a play that is going into production this upcoming season.
  • Adjudicated a one-act festival.
  • Led a workshop for a community project, gave feedback for the plays being written for said community project, read 11 final drafts for said community project and chose 4 to be performed.
  • Worked on the largest project of my life for my day job over at Theatrefolk.
  • Recorded and put together 4 podcasts for said day job.
  • AND…. AND…. maintained a blog, an email list, a facebook page and twitter.
  • Let’s not even talk about that “dealing with life” thing.

And that’s just July. I’m not talking about the completely fully month of June. And May. And April. I don’t put out that list to say “Whooee look at me, look at what I’m doing!” It actually makes me a little nauseous. We’re not talking a bunch of little projects. We’re talking time consuming, brain power consuming, life shut outing projects.

It’s too much. And it’s my fault for sure.

I don’t know how to say no.

I want to do it all – if an awesome project comes may I want to make sure I experience that project. The past three years have been filled with wonderful challenges, activities I’ve never done before, all of which have made my creative life richer. But do I need to do every, single, solitary project that comes my way?  If I take every, single, solitary project doesn’t that mean at least one of those projects is going to get short shrift?

Yes. I think it does.

Learning how to say no is valuable to not only keeping sane but making sure every project you’re working on gets the same value, the same quality and nothing gets half done because of a lack of time. What’s more important – being the person with a million projects, or being the person with three quality projects?

I don’t use my calendar wisely.

It’s one thing to mark out a day – this day is when I adjudicate! This day is when my draft is due! Marking out time for a project on your calendar is never just about the day. How many prep days do you need – or better still, how many prep hours. How many days do you need to work on that play? If you’re giving individual feedback, how many emails will you answer.

So while I’m great about not double booking a particular day, I need to work on taking my time into consideration leading up to that day.

I want to do a good job.

Yes, this is a self-criticism. When I’m on a project my number one goal is to make it the best it can be. But if I have multiple projects and I’m trying to do the best for all of them that means I’m working long days, long nights – many of them in a row – because I want my work to be good.

I’m not saying you should do lesser work, not at all. But if you’re working from morning to night, there’s something wrong with that. If you’re working without a break, there’s something wrong.

Writers use their brains pretty exclusively. Our brains do all the heavy lifting.  And if we overwork that muscle it’s going to rebel. If you have a broken brain, nothing’s going to get done.

It’s important to take breaks, to go outside, to do something that isn’t writing. Because when you do, your brain will be better for it, your work will be too.

It’s good to take on projects. It’s good to have a full calendar. And it’s good to want to do a good job.

BUT

If you’re burning the candle at both ends, take a good look at what’s going on. I’ve already decided to take most of September off, and I’m already making changes to my fall calendar. I want to do this for the long haul, so no broken brain for me.

How about you? Are you an overachiever? If so, what are you going to do about it?

Observation Thursday

Observation is my number one method of finding play ideas. If you’re ever at a loss for coming up with something to write about, start logging observations. I write down observations on a daily basis and on Thursdays, I’m going to share one with you what I’ve seen and then you could do with it.

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THE SURVIVAL KIT

When: July  23. Morning

Observation:  A young couple, I’m guessing boyfriend/girlfriend arguing over the price of a Costco sized container survival kit. It was a 72 hour food and cooking kit. It cost 39.97

What you can do with it: Well the obvious question is, why does this couple think they need a survival kit? What do they need to survive from? They don’t need to survive that badly if they can argue over the price.

So take it from there – it’s the evening of the Apocalypse. There’s chaos all around and this couple is standing in Costco, arguing over the price of the survival kit. The most mundane conversation in the middle of chaos.

Or there is no apocalypse, but one of them fears quite deeply that it’s coming and they need something to be prepared. Write the scene once where the fearful one is the girl and then again where the fearful one is the guy. Give them each something specific and something different to fear that would cause them to think about survival. How does that change the argument about price?

Happy writing!

 

Going in the File

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Do you have a file? You know the one. It’s on the corner of your desk. Maybe you use Evernote. Maybe it’s something on your phone – I just started using Google Keep and that is working nicely.

It’s the place you keep the “oooooh” and the “hmmmm” and the “maybe later.” Something comes across your world view and you know in an instant – that’s going in a play. I don’t know when or where or how or why. But someday it’s going to be used and you don’t want to lose it.

This is my most recent “oooooh”

It’s a Consumerist post about 15 product trademarks that have become victims (okay) of Genericization.  I had to get my dictionary out for that word and then realized – Generic!. These are products that either never applied for trademark, abandoned their trademark or had their trademarks canceled in court.

And while this list of 15 is interesting – did you know that cellophane used to be a product and not just a type of plastic wrap? Or how about Thermos or escalator? – it’s the products that aren’t yet out of trademark that are even more interesting. Mostly because it includes products you sure were already “victims” of genericization:

  • bandaid
  • bubble wrap
  • Crock-pot
  • onesies
  • popsicle
  • Putt Putt Golf

The list goes on. It’s things like this that make me go hmmmmmm. What if I had a character who was obsessed with trademarks? Or wanted to make their own crock-pot and got sued for some reason? Or disagreed with another character whether or not you could use bubble wrap in a story?  Or… something. I don’t have an idea yet and I don’t have a character in mind. But I certainly don’t want to lose a detail like this. This is the kind of story or fact or, well, detail that makes a character unique, specific and gives them drive.

And isn’t that what we all want for our characters? To have them be like no one else? 

 

 

 

Observation Thursday

Observation is my number one method of finding play ideas. If you’re ever at a loss for coming up with something to write about, start logging observations. I write down observations on a daily basis and on Thursdays, I’m going to share one with you what I’ve seen and then you could do with it.

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WHAT WERE THEY SELLING?

When: Tuesday July 15, lunch time.

Observation: Three boys, in the street, yelling out side the post office. They’re selling something – I don’t know what. Whatever it is, is $4. And they’re trying to figure out if the guy they just got money from, gave them $4.  (The Loonie is a dollar coin in Canada and the Twonie is a two dollar coin)

“He gave me two loonies”

“Then he didn’t – !”

“No – Two Loonies and a Twonie.  Two and two! We’re good, we’re good!”

Whatever it was they were selling, one of the ladies from the post office then came out and told them to clear out. The boys were apologetic and polite.

What you can do with it: Doesn’t this one write itself? What were they selling? Why were they so bad at math? And why would the post office lady shoo them off? Write the conversation between the three boys before they get to the post office to set up their wares, the conversation with whoever it was who gave them $4 and the conversation between the ladies in the post office as they watch the boys and decide to shoo them off. Have the boys been there before?

Of course that’s the realistic approach. Think about the fantastical approach. What fantastical thing could these boys have? What if the ladies in the post office were not just clearing the street but maybe were jealous of the boys? How does that change things?

Happy writing!

 

Words are sneaky

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”  - Diane Setterfield

I’m always amazed at the power of words. I’ve had schools pull productions not because of anything done, not because of any threat, but the mere presence of words and what they might do. Isn’t that what censorship is all about? The fear of what might happen? The fear that those sneaky, sneaky words might cause havoc in the streets?

When have you felt the power of words?

The thing is that words are sneaky.  They can sneak into our consciousness and make us do things. Think things. Words sweep us away into imaginative worlds. Words make us stand up and stand behind a leader. Words can be so powerful that even if we know we’re being lied to, we believe. That is so sneaky.

As writers, it’s important to know the power of words and respect them. And not to be afraid to use words to their utmost. Words are our job. Words, for some of us, are our lives. Know the power, use the power. Write for the best effect possible.

Are you aware of the power of words when you write?

It’s important to know that “writing for the best effect” doesn’t mean manipulative writing. You want your audience to have a genuine emotional response, not one manufactured by sneaky words. I cried while watching My Girl when Macaulay Culkin died and I hated it because it wasn’t a good  movie at all.

Has a movie ever made you feel something, you knew was fake?

But you absolutely want characters who are sneaky with words. Characters who lie. Characters who manufacture emotion in other characters. These are human traits and further fascinating traits.

This episode of Penn and Teller’s Bullsh*t is a perfect of the power of words and that words can be sneaky. The premise is simple, will people believe the food they’re eating is high class if they’re told it’s high class?

Check out some exercises for this concept below the video

 Exercises

  • Make a list of convincing words. What words hold the most power for you?
  • Think of a time when someone was able to convince you to do something simply because of words. Not anything that they did, but what they said.
  • Think of a time that you used words to convince someone. What were you trying to accomplish? What words did you use?
  • Create a character description of a good liar. What words do they use when they lie? Why do they lie? What makes them a good liar?
  • Write a scene between the Liar and their significant other. What lie is being told in the scene? What sneaky words do they use?