Monthly Archives: February 2011

“Top Ten Tuesdays” — Please Welcome Ollin Morales

Ollin runs {Courage2Create}, one of the best writing blogs I’ve come across.  Maybe that opinion is an affinity thing, because he writes (like me) with passion and encouragement and (perhaps unlike me) unflagging positive energy.  I encourage you to visit his site and get pumped for the writing life.

Why “Idea Scarcity” is A Big Fat Myth

By Ollin Morales

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Apparently, humanity has run out of new ideas.

As Americans we’ve become inundated with sequels, and prequels, and sequels to prequels, and spin-offs, and remakes, and “reality shows” and it seems like today’s mainstream media is sending us a clear message:

“Hey, we tried looking for them, but there’s not a single original idea out there to be found! So, here, enjoy this steaming pile of recycled dog crap that looks like a burrito, but we’re gonna call it a ‘wrap’ so that you think its an original product!”

First of all, a wrap IS a burrito that for some reason is filled with ham and cheese. (Which, by the way, is gross.) A burrito isn’t a new product at all!

Second of all, the truth is that there ARE tons of original ideas out there, ripe for our picking.

So, why do we keep getting the message that the world is running out of ideas and its running out of them fast?

The answer is a pretty obvious: developing an original idea requires a lot of time, effort, and courage, and not everyone is willing to put forth that amount of energy.

Original Ideas Require That You Take BIG RISKS

First of all, trying out a brand new idea is risky. You have no standard of measurement. You have no way of knowing how people will react to your idea. You have no clue whether your idea will be successful or whether it will bomb big time.

Because there is so much risk involved with a new idea, it makes complete sense that most people would rather lie and say they’ve run out of original ideas, than admit the truth, that they have several original ideas but they’re too afraid to try them out because of the high risks involved.

Original Ideas Are NOT EASILY VISIBLE

First of all, you need to pay real close attention to the world around you in order to catch really great, original ideas. You have to be able to see things most people can’t, or don’t want to see. Writers know that there is something in everything to write about–you can call it a writer’s “sixth sense”–and a real writer will stop everything they are doing just to listen very closely to what others are misinterpreting as white noise.

Real writers won’t discriminate against sources either. They know an original idea can come from their grandmother, as much as it can come from their boss. For a writer who listens closely, an original story can come from a neighbor and his girlfriend as they carry their fight into the middle of the street; or, from the dirty, stray dog that sprints beside them as they take their morning jog. All of this may not seem crucial or pertinent to most people, but, for a writer who listens, these moments carry new, original ideas tucked underneath the surface.

Original Ideas Require INTENSIVE RESEARCH

For instance, the novel I am currently writing is based on Mayan and Aztec mythology. Now, in order to really delve deep into this culture, I took a class on Mesoamerican archeology. I read all the books on the subject and, yes, I traveled to Mexico City and witnessed the remnants of that ancient civilization first hand.

The knowledge I gained through this whole process was priceless, but it was knowledge that was only gained through my intensive research.

When you do your research, you can uncover ideas that most people are too lazy to discover. This is why explorers are more likely to find buried treasure by diving into the depths of uncharted oceans all over the world, than by sitting at home and doing a quick Google Search for “pirate booty.”

What people won’t tell you is that original ideas don’t have “treasure maps” to help you find them. They are not a “Google search” away. Original ideas are located in the places that are the hardest to get to, where only the most determined and hardworking treasure hunters are willing to reach.

Original Ideas Require that You Be VULNERABLE

You know why? Because the points of vulnerability in every human being are the places where the vast majority of people do not want to explore. In those vulnerable spots of humanity, you will find vast stretches of original, unexplored territory.

There are still islands in the human heart that have not been mapped, still some blank slates in the human spirit that have not been filled, and still some wrinkled fabric in the human mind that has not been ironed out.

But all this requires you to be open, and being open means you have to be vulnerable–vulnerable to failure, vulnerable to rejection, and vulnerable to misunderstanding.

I have experienced all three of these in my writing career.

I wrote and produced an original one-man show almost four years ago, and because I acted in it, wrote it and produced it, I was incredibly vulnerable to attack. Once the show made its debut, I was bit in the heart by rejection. I closed myself off artistically for three years because of the rejection, criticism, and misunderstanding that resulted after presenting my original work to the public.

After the show ended, I wrote a poem that I shared with my writing mentor, and in that poem I vowed not to write for anyone but myself–ever again. My mentor thought I was just having a bad day, but I was serious. I was convinced at the time that my original writing had no right to be attacked, criticized, or worst of all, misunderstood.

But the truth was, whether my original work was criticized, misunderstood, or attacked was beside the point. In fact, it was really none of my business.

Almost four years later, I now understand the truth: it was I who had no right to stop producing original work, despite some of the negative, unconstructive, feedback I had received.

Rejection, personal attacks, criticism, gross misunderstandings are just part of the work that we writers do. Sure, we can retreat from all of the unfairness we might experience by sticking to what is safe, but then we would never allow ourselves to try anything new.

The Bottom Line

You’re telling me I have to take risks, listen all the time, work really hard, and open myself up to rejection, criticism, failure and misunderstanding in order to be original?”

Yes.

This is why most original ideas don’t get claimed. Most people don’t want to take risks (they want to play it safe), they don’t want to listen all the time (they want to hear themselves talk), they don’t want to do all the hard work (they want to write a novel and publish it in one month), and the last thing they want to do is be vulnerable (they’re too afraid of criticism and failure).

If you are not willing to take risks, listen, work hard, and be vulnerable then that’s fine by me, but don’t tell me the lie that you keep telling everyone else: that you’ve run out of ideas.

Because it isn’t true.

Look at the list above and see what it takes to find an original idea, then be honest with yourself. Realize that you have not run out of original ideas, you have just run out of the courage to pursue the ideas that are really worth your time.

You can keep calling your wanna-be burrito a “wrap,” but meanwhile, I’ll be over here, cooking up something new.

much love,

Ollin

Do you agree with me that “Idea Scarcity” is a big fat myth? Or do you think that there is some truth to the old saying: “There’s nothing new under the sun”?

Larry’s add: what risks are you taking in your current WIP?

Ollin Morales is a writer and a blogger. {Courage 2 Create} chronicles the author’s journey as he writes his first novel. This blog offers writing advice as well as strategies to deal with life’s toughest challenges. Through his blog he also offers blogging and writing consultation services designed to help writers and artists build better platforms for their work.

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The Writing World According to American Idol

I tend to view the world through the lens of a writer.  Which means I’m constantly assigning meaning to things while scanning for hooks and nuances and story opportunities.

What some people mistake as a dumb blank stare and others as stand-offishness is really me trying to read between the lines.

I view the writing journey as just that – a journey – something to be savored and struggled with.  Anything we commit ourselves to – writing, love, a day job, a fitness program – becomes a seminar complete with exercises and feedback and broken intentions, all of it imparting available wisdom for those who take the time to notice. 

Like American Idol, for example.  

A guilty pleasure of mine.  Which is perhaps why I’m writing about it here, trying to attach some measure of meaning to it.

It’s art, it’s craft, it’s talent.  Or not.  It’s a dream struggling for breath. 

Sounds a lot like writing to me.

I can’t help but notice the parallel between what these kids are trying to accomplish and what anyone who has sat down to pour a story onto a page is faced with. 

That includes the jokesters who don’t take it seriously, who wrap a gimmick around their voice, usually to mask inadequacies.  The self-deluded few who can’t carry a tune yet believe themselves to be supremely gifted, who are invariably indignant finger-flippers as they storm out of the facility.  The good-but-not-great aspirants who fail to realize they need a non-gimmick hook to stand out.  The inconsistencies and prejudices of the judges who wield the gavel on it all.

It isn’t fair.  A lot a great talent goes home.  But it is life itself playing out on that stage.

In life, everybody gets rejected.  Everybody.  It’s who comes back for the next audition that counts.

I just finished watching the first two Hollywood week installments. 

What we see are those who seemed worthy, breaking the promise of their first impression.  We watch them beg for their lives after Randy has sent them packing.  We witness back stabbing, elitism and ego, style trumping substance, and substance trampled beneath a veneer of glitter and bluster.

We see hearts splattering and dreams shattering.  And we see doors open as an emerging light ignites hope.

We see life.  We see ourselves, and we wonder how we might fare if there was an equivalent competitive venue for our storytelling.

Which there is, by the way.  Absolutely. 

It’s called publishing, however you wish to define it.

Because what we put out there – either through submission to publishers or our declaration of self-publishing – is subject to the same fickle whims and inequities as those kids on AI are facing.

So what of it?  Life hasn’t been fair for a long time, and yet, there are the very consistent physics of intention-leading-to-consequence manifesting all around us.  What’s to be learned from this ear-candy analogy for writers looking for an edge to get into the next round?

What makes a dream come true?

There are four variables play on AI.

I broke it down this week.  Those singers – and those writers tracking with this analogous parallel universe – have only four weapons at their disposal.  Four arrows in the quiver.  Four hammers in the toolbox.

They have their voice.

They have their look.

They have their stage presence.

And they have, or at least they need, an indefinable something else.  What the departed Simon Cowell called “the it factor.”

Do all four need to be there?  Yes, to some degree.  Can you make it if one of them is only mediocre in comparison to the competition?  Sometimes.  If you saw the Grammys you know after watching Bob Dylan that a singing voice is sometimes optional.

But can you make it if all four are simply good, yet none of them stand out and scream, “I’m the next American Idol!” rather than, “I’m the next winner of the weekend karaoke-a-thon at Sparky’s Bar and Grill!”

Something needs to pop.  To explode. 

And as it sizzles, the others need to be conjured and presented at a professional level.

Look closely at next week’s cuts, and notice who gets on the show and who doesn’t.  One of those four things will be off-the-charts compelling for those going on to the next round.  The rest… hey, they were good.  They got this far.

But it wasn’t enough. 

Maybe it’ll be that cute chubby kid we can’t help but root for.  Love that guy.  Sure, he sings wonderfully, but his stage presence is, well, under development.  But he has an off-the-charts X-factor, if not an It-factor. 

Maybe it’s the cheery guy with the beard whose voice sounds like a loofa being scraped over a microphone.  A growl that sounds good because it translates to passion and soul.  His stage presence recalls an orgasm you wish you had.  And the sum of it – a guy who looks like he should be driving George Clooney’s car – is astoundingly charismatic. 

Josh Groban isn’t threatened, but I bet he’s a toe-tapping fan.

And of course, there is the bevy of hot young starlets betting their dream on their shoes and eye-liner.  Is that enough?  Not when it’s a commodity.  And yet, when you have a two singers of equal talent, one who looks like Britney Spears and the other who looks like Flo at the mall Starbucks, who’s gonna get the nod?

Like I said, life isn’t fair.

And neither is the world of publishing your writing. 

But it’s fair enough, because there are laws of physics in play.  Dynamics of expectation.  They are, in fact, the same imprecise forces we see up on that American Idol stage.

The wise writer notices and makes a plan.

In our case, there are six variables in play. 

All six need to be good, even great.  But if all six are simply good – even great –that probably isn’t enough.  Just like the auditions for AI, in which hundreds of pretty darn good singers are sent packing, it takes more.

It takes at least one of those six things to pop.  To explode.  To differentiate.  To grab and intrigue and seduce.

I call them the Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling. 

They are: concept, character, theme, story structure (plot), scene execution and writing voice.  They are non-negotiable, yet flexible.

Voice is a commodity.  Just like on Idol.  You are not the next Josh Groban of literature, Jonathan Franzen grabbed that golden ring and ran with it.  You need something else to establish your differentiated brand, your talent.

Chances are you’re pretty good at most if not all of the Six Core Competencies.  Hey, you’re not in this game because you struggle with sentence structure.

But simply knowing that you have to swing for the fences with at least one of those Six Core Competencies could be the thing that launches your career into a higher orbit.

Too many writers don’t embrace that challenge.  They try to write just like their favorite author.  To blend in to a published crowed.

What do you do better in your stories than any other writer, and that an editor or reader hasn’t seen in a long time, or in that form?  That is the question.

The karaoke bars are full of people who sound every bit as good as the lead singer of Lady Antebellum.  Trust me, you do not want to be just another storyteller who can write well.

No, you want to be the next Chuck Palahnuik.  Who writes like nobody else out there. 

So keep singing.  Keep going to the audition.  Keep working on craft.  But do it while thinking Big, and strategically.

Whether in traditional publishing or the emerging self-publishing arena, good isn’t good enough anymore.   At least to break in and make your name.

Sometimes you have to scream.  And look good in the process. 

My new book, “Story Engineering: Mastering The Six Core Competencies of Successful Writing,” is available now on Amazon.com and other online venues, and will be in bookstores by early March.

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