Why Censorship Can Be Good for Creativity

Censorship destroys ideas. Take, for example, a creative writing workshop where a small group deems a topic offensive and out of bounds. When that happens, a line is drawn, and the room for exploration is limited. Ideas that could’ve been will never be. In this new world where we’re redefining how we should speak and what subjects are appropriate, we writers need to walk that fine line without stepping on others. 

This type of sensitivity within a trusting group doesn’t only harm writing workshops but also workplaces, friendships, and even families. When one side is considered correct and the other wrong, even in the realm of creativity and art, the fun of creation is gone. But is it? 

In an interview with J Thorn on the Writers, Ink podcast, author Chuck Palahniuk describes how this type of censorship caused the demise of a writing group he had been a part of that lasted almost thirty years. 

“It’s a tragedy,” said Palahniuk, “but nothing lasts forever.” 

Values, words, or perspectives that you considered appropriate today can be offensive in the future. All it takes is a culture shift. 

Palahniuk recalled that after 9/11, transgressive fiction fell out of favor. Transgressive fictions are stories that focus on characters that feel oppressed by conformity and the expectations of society. Stories like Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, and, of course, Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (Amazon) are all examples of transgressive fiction. 

In early 2000, the culture no longer wanted to be associated with a whole genre — not just a word, but an entire creative style. These novels suddenly looked terrorist-y, and anyone reading them would appear to be promoting real-world violence. Authors were worried about being labeled terrorists because of themes in their books, much like how someone today can come across as racist, sexist, homophobic, or body-shaming because they used a word or phrase. Transgressive fiction faded from the shelves, but as Palahniuk illuminated, in its place came horror fiction. 

Photo by Freddy Kearney on Unsplash

Transgressive fiction also fell out of style at the end of the ‘60s. While serial killers such as Charles Manson and the Zodiac killer were terrorizing society, the public tried to come to terms with those events. This climate led to a slew of paranormal horror, slasher, and thriller movies. When there is a void, creativity will fill that space. People will always be curious about the darkness within a person’s soul. And while some genres make it raw and blatant, horror focuses less on the subject and more on the emotions during those frightening times.

Those who wrote transgressive fiction to share their message could now communicate through horror. Horror fiction acts as a cloak for those darker themes without directly reflecting the realism of current events. 

We can approach all censorship the same way. 

“A certain amount of censorship is creative,” said Palaniuk. “Because it does allow writers to veil their message. So their message needs to be a little more indirect.” 

Should your work ever be targeted by censorship, know that it’s not a war you could win. Instead, learn to cloak your message so it’s palatable for a greater audience. Your idea gets shared, but it’s not a confronting act. 

Give it a shot. If you’re exploring a topic that is frowned upon — something you wouldn’t talk about at a party — something political, religious, or your readership would be sensitive to, try to hide the message below the surface. Make your point without screaming it at the top of your lungs. Refrain, cloak, and see if you can write great work that makes a point without doing more harm. 

There is a lot of evil out in the world today. Although censorship might not be the cure for all of it, censorship can be a bandage that helps people heal. You don’t need to be the one to pull it off. But you can tell your story without causing scars. Do that by masking your message within another genre and allowing your creativity to conceal the reality of our troubled times. That way, you can convey your ideas and explore the topic you’re interested in, and nobody gets hurt in the process. 

Good art comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable. Good art does not do unnecessary damage. Learn to dance with censorship and see it not as the enemy of creativity but as a road less traveled. 

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How Do You Make Something So Bad It’s Good?

When there’s a fight scene in a cartoon, exaggerated kicks and punches with “POW!” and “KABLAM!” popping up are expected. 

Or if you’re watching a cartoon and there’s a horror scene and the monster eats the cheerleader — and her body is bloodied and gushing. That’s all right. 

Or you’re watching a cartoon of a detective standing over a dead body, realizing a critical piece of evidence on the crime scene. And when he pulls off his glasses and says — “Well, I guess he died of a broken heart!” — that won’t be too jarring. 

However, when these scenes are happening in a live-action movie or television show, with actors portraying these exaggerated characters, you can describe this experience as campy. 

Cartoons are inherently over-emphasized. That is the nature of the medium. A key principle of animation, after all, is “exaggeration”. However, when we watch real people in the real world, behaviour and emotions are often dialed down. Generally speaking, people are subtle. 

Subtly is great! Subtly is The Godfather saying, “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse,” without causing us to cringe. 

Subtly is in Gone with the Wind when Clark Gable says “Frankly My Dear, I don’t give a damn!” and we feel the pain. 

Subtly is the snow globe falling out of Charles Foster Kane’s hand and being an emphasis without it being exaggerated. 

The refined nature of a subtle performance or design is often regarded as high art, and it can be associated with a bit of pretentiousness. 

As you can already tell, campy is the opposite. Campy is not subtle. Campy is flashy. Campy is exaggerated. And because of this, it’s often perceived as being in bad taste or ironic. 

The argument against camp is that it’s the result of incompetence and inexperience. If they can’t do it well, so they’ll do it bad. To say you’re trying to make something campy is to say that you want to make something poorly by being ostentatious, sensational, and excessive. That’s why many campy cult classics are described as being “so bad it’s good.” 

Photo by Dominik Vanyi on Unsplash

Proponents of campiness will tell you that the style, in fact, challenges the audience, pushing them to experience the genre, theme, aesthetic, and milieu in an unfamiliar way. It’s not trying to replicate life, it’s attempting to stretch the boundary of our comfort and security. It allows us to lower the mask of seriousness we constantly hold up to the world. 

For many years, “camp” was the style adopted by the gay culture. It was a catalyst to have a deeper conversation about the narrow-mindedness that a middle-class society could often trap itself in. 

In Susan Sontag’s essay entitled “Notes on “Camp” [Amazon], she describes camp as the love for the unnatural. It is not fake elegance but rather a surreal occurrence of beauty, and it can be applied with intention.

Today, there is a slight difference in usage between the terms: campy and camp. “Campy” describes the misuse of an exaggerated element in a piece, while “camp” is a well-thought design emphasis or aspect that offers an unconventional view.   

It’s this gray area that causes many campy works to be so polarizing. Was The Room by Tommy Wiseau a masterpiece created by a visionary of camp? Or was it a troubled project built upon rudimentary plot devices and unfit performances? 

Yes, while it’s common for critics to hate campy entertainments, audiences often flock to them. 

Horror is one of the most popular genres that thrive on camp. One reason is that we go in not taking it too seriously. We watch horror movies through a cartoon lens, distancing ourselves from the actors on the screen and accepting that those people aren’t real, and their certain demise will not be a tragedy. We can just sit back and enjoy the blood and gore. 

Of course, not all horrors rely on camp. Some resemble the anxiousness of reality. Slow and tense.  That’s a physiological thriller. That’s Silence of the Lamb. That’s not an amusement ride the way a campy horror movie is. 

Audiences love campy movies because it’s not serious. It’s fun — and the moment you start analyzing it is the moment you kill the spirit. However, people are smart, and they can often tell if an element of camp was intentionally added or if it was a clumsy mistake. 

A poorly dubbed movie. An out-of-placed romance. An over-the-top fight scene. 

Campiness can also ruin an experience when the audience’s expectations are not met. They would wonder what was going on if the actor gives an exaggerated performance in a moment that was supposed to feel real.

Photo by Marc Schaefer on Unsplash

That’s why campiness is best done with the audience in mind. You cannot throw a campy element into a piece and expect everyone to respond in the same way. Campiness, in its nature, is a bright color or an eye-catching pattern. So when you use it, make sure it’s pointing the attention at the right thing, because the viewers will notice. 

So, let’s get back to the ultimate question. How do you make something so bad it’s good? There is no secret formula. But being purposeful with camp is certainly one strategy. 

When you’re judging a piece of work, ask what criteria you’re using to evaluate it. Those that will criticize a movie as campy are those looking for elevated conventional traits. Anything outside of those bounds is deemed bad. They’re comparing it to great movies of the past. However, a good campy movie isn’t like anything they’ve seen before. 

Those who appreciate a campy movie are analyzing it through a completely different lens. They are seeking something outside of convention. A novel ride or the surrealness of beauty. If you want to reach this crowd, ask what hasn’t existed before and then bring it to life — and make it fabulous. 

Campy has a bad connotation. And it’s not fair, because while something may not be to your taste, it may also not be made for you. So whenever you see camp, ask yourself, “What is the artist trying to portray?” Examine whether it’s done intentionally to make a statement or to give you a surreal experience. Or perhaps it was just a sloppy exaggeration. 

Entertainment is riddled with camp. The longer you search, the more you will find. By seeking out camp, you begin to recognize your own taste for genre and style. How can you use camp to highlight a point in your next story? 

And for more in this series, check out these articles here:

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Optimistic Nihilism and Creativity

Okay… let’s go there right away: What is the meaning of life? 

Is it to multiple? Is it to find happiness? Is it to save people from an eternity in hell? 

For many of us, the answer is to be creative. To make something, leave it behind, and be remembered for it. 

But look around you. Hear all the music. Read all the books. Watch all the videos. You can spend the rest of your life consuming other people’s creations and not even come close to enjoying it all. There is so much out there that it calls into the question our answer to the meaning of life: to create… for who? Who will see this? Who will remember this? 

We now know how unlikely it is for us — regardless of talent — to have our creative works enshrined in a pantheon for all of history. There is too much out there! There are too many different tastes, genres, languages, cultures, and traditions. The only hope for you is to pave your own path and be the first or get lucky and hit the market at the perfect time. But there’s still hope. 

However, know this: regardless of what you make, how great it is, how wealthy you become, how revered you are by your contemporary — none of it matters.  

As Conan O’Brien recalled from a conversation he had with Albert Brooks, where the late-night host lamented to the filmmaker that movies have the sustainability to last forever, while his late-night shows are forgotten and never seen again. To which, Albert Brooks responded: 

“What are you talking about? None of it matters.” None of it matters? No, that’s the secret. In 1940, people said Clark Gable is the face of the 20th Century. Who [expletive] thinks about Clark Gable? It doesn’t matter. You’ll be forgotten. I’ll be forgotten. We’ll all be forgotten.”

As a creative, it’s helpful to be an optimistic nihilist. I remind myself that there is no meaning. There’s no great thing that I need to create — and in the meaninglessness — I’m free. I look around and see all these people moving purposely as if they know the answer. There is no answer, except the story we tell ourselves. Their creative stories are as valid as mine — they might not be writing, drawing, or making music, but their creativity might be raising a family, starting a business, or traveling the world. Everyone is creative; a creator of experiences. Everyone’s choices are valid. And it’s because of all these experiences spinning in all directions, hitting off of each other that new stories and new creations are generated. Surely if there was a meaning to this life, and we know it, there would be some order by now.

When we think of nihilists, we think of cynical assholes or depressed alcoholics, and while there are some, those who are nihilistic have found an escape from the pressure of existence. Sure, some people thrive under pressure. Some people sell big businesses, some people hit home runs, and some people launch bombs at civilians. However, for many of us, the pressures are fabricated for ourselves by ourselves as guidelines to follow. 

We are supposed to graduate, get a job, get married, have a family, and retire. We are supposed to pass on traditions. But why? No, there is nothing wrong with those pursuits, inherently, but those are not necessarily the only pursuits worthy. In fact, there are no pursuits worthy. 

We can be vegetarian. We can travel to space. We can have children. All of these are worthwhile but none of it will change the outcome of the universe. This is doubly true for the novel you’re writing. This is doubly true for the movie you’re making. This is doubly true for the painting you’re painting. Don’t do these things to alter the universe. Do these things for yourself. Do these things for those who are present. Don’t worry about legacies. Now is the only moment there is. Creativity is a small acknowledgment of this moment. To set something in a time and place. To merely wave back at the abyss. 

Optimistic nihilism is the hopefulness that you can make a difference and it’s the knowledge that it doesn’t matter. Life is an exhibition game. And while we’re keeping score. It’s not going to count for anything other than our participation. Go for it. Write that story… make that video… paint that painting, because as Albert Brook said, “Who [expletive] thinks about Clark Gable? It doesn’t matter.” 

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Making A Video As Quickly As I Can

This is a timelapse of me making a video from beginning to end. I love behind-the-scenes content — even if it’s just someone sitting at a desk. Seeing how something is made is such an essential part of learning how to do it yourself, so I thought I’d share my process. 

Also, I’ve been pretty busy recently, so I thought making a video of me making a video would be a good way to kill two birds. 

Writing Script

Writing a script is all about taking an idea and running with it. Don’t overthink, just write. Sometimes I’ll take a break to do some research, but the goal is to get a page and a half of written material. The more — the better. I can always cut what I won’t use. It’s easier to cut during the editing phase than create during the editing phase. So the more you have, the easier the next step will be. 

Editing Script

I realize that each step is all about making the following step easier. Editing can determine whether recording the audio will be a regular painful process or a terribly excruciating process. The editing phase is where you can set yourself up for success and sound smarter than you actually are. Knowing that I’m recording the voice-over after, I make it a habit of reading out loud when editing, which I’m guilty of not always doing. 

Recording Audio

Recording audio is the most draining part. Mainly because there’s nobody around to direct me. Sometimes I don’t know if I’ve said a word wrong or if my tone is off. However, I try to perform the section three times solidly and move on. You must move on at some point, if you’re not careful you can end up working on one paragraph for way too long with no guarantee you’re making it better. Get three good runs and go onto the next part. 

Audio Editing

To be as efficient as possible when audio editing, I’d skip ahead and listen to the last take first and then I compare it with the second last. If one is better than the other, I choose that one. If they’re both the same, I choose the last one. If both are bad, I’d go and listen to the third last and so on towards the first take. The first take is often the shittiest. After I’m done with the voice-over, I then get the music. I’m currently using Upbeat for my music. They offer 10 free downloads every month and that’s more than I need. Give it a shot!

Video Editing

Recording only an audio voice-over instead of a video of my face in full talking-head shot is about 20 times easier. Maybe 40 times because I won’t have to watch myself. Instead I get to scroll through stock footage to fill in the visual content. I use Storyblocks. It’s fine. They can use more footage with people writing, in my opinion. 

Polish and Upload

Lastly, I polish up the edit. This part is all about making minor adjustments and cleaning up the cut. If text is needed, I’ll add that here. If colour correction is needed I do that here. I’d watch it a few times to make sure there are no embarrassing mistakes. I don’t always catch them. Especially if I pronounced something wrong. After I give the imperfectionist’s seal of approval, I export, create the thumbnail, and upload to my YouTube channel

That’s it! That’s my current process for creating a video as quickly as I can. What was the video I made about? It was about editing. You can watch it here!

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The Saturday Story: Overcoming The Weekend Distractions

Has this ever happened to you? All week you look forward to Saturday, a free day for you to work on your project. You don’t have to attend any meetings or go to any appointments. It’s finally time for you to catch up or get ahead. You can write, you can read, you can finally make some progress. 

But then — suddenly, it’s Sunday night — and you realize, you barely did any of that. You didn’t catch up or get ahead. You feel discouraged and exhausted because you know that another grueling week is ahead. You eye the next weekend. Yes, the next one will be different. But will it? 

There’s a reason why your free days can often be less productive than the days where you have to squeeze your project into a busy schedule. On those busy weekdays, you may need to wake up early to do a bit of writing or edit a draft during lunch or stay up a bit later to outline. On busy days, you don’t get a lot done, but you do a little. However, on Saturdays when there is nothing to anchor your day, you may find yourself drifting away from your desk, only to return when the weekend is over. 

Why is that?

When we have a free day to do anything, we may put things off. We may wake up and decide, hey, it’s a beautiful day, let’s go get breakfast, once we come back we’ll do some work. When we come back we realize that we haven’t vacuumed in a few weeks. We should probably attend to that first. Then we feel a little tired from our breakfast and chores, why don’t we take a power nap, and as soon as we wake up, we’ll tackle the project. We take a nap and when we wake up, our friend calls and we talk for an hour. Suddenly, it’s dinner time, so we’ll eat, and it just so happens that after, the better halves want to watch this new movie. We can’t miss that. In a flash, we successfully had a day off. However, we failed in doing anything productive with our personal project. 

This issue occurs when there’s no schedule. On workdays, you do have a schedule, you clock in, answer calls, attend meetings, and then sign off. However, on Saturdays, you can do your project whenever you want. Whenever you want may sound like total freedom, but it actually creates friction within, or as Steven Pressfield calls it, resistance. 

Saturday is the day we have all to ourselves, we can make the rules. The thing is, there needs to be rules. There needs to be at the very least a schedule for when you will work on your personal project, it’s something you need to be accountable for. Whether it’s first thing in the morning, immediately after lunch, or before you do your chores in the afternoon, you need to put down on paper or on your calendar or tell your spouse that at this time, you will be working on your project. You need to set the time aside to do it. Not wait for the perfect time, because the perfect time will be swallowed up by distractions. 

Scheduling it in is about making a promise to your Wednesday self. It’s about making the person you are on Monday proud. The weekday versions of you are working hard to pay the bills, but the weekend self is for the soul. Don’t waste it on frivolous activities, there will always be time for that stuff, but there will never be enough time for the work you really need to make, the work nobody else can do, the work you must practice on, the work that comes from your heart. So don’t waste time when it’s available.

Procrastination comes in many forms and there’s no magic solution, but setting a schedule, a chunk of time, where you sit down and work, shows the world you’re serious. There will be distractions on Saturdays, you know this now, so be prepared, don’t let it catch you off guard again. 

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How Aaron Sorkin Beats Writer’s Block

Aaron Sorkin, the writer of A Few Good Men, The Social Network, and The Trial of the Chicago 7, is one of the greatest screenwriters of our generation. Best known for his snappy, fast-paced dialogue, Sorkin treats conversations like musical arrangements. Yet, today, we’re not talking about Sorkin’s writing style, today we’re talking about one of his funny writing quirks. 

Interviewed in 2014, during publicity for his upcoming movie Steve Jobs, he was asked a variation of the question that creatives are familiar with, “What do you do when you get stuck?” 

To the surprise of some, Sorkin gave a genuine answer, and said that in order to feel as though he was getting a fresh start, he would take a shower. On the more challenging days, he could end up taking six to eight showers. This might sound wild to some — perhaps even a little wasteful — but what Sorkin did was an effective way of clearing his mind and getting the creative juices flowing again. After all, don’t great ideas come in the shower? 

Because today, we’re writing everything digitally, the act of crumpling up a piece of paper and throwing it into the wastepaper basket no longer exists. We don’t get the gratifying feeling of resetting. We hit the backspace, continue to stare at that blinking vertical line, and wait in agony for the next word to materialize. It’s as painful as it sounds. 

Stop. Do what Aaron Sorkin does — it doesn’t have to be taking a shower — but do something that refreshes your mental state. Do something where your mind gets to settle down, focus on something else — or nothing at all — and wander. 

Physically remove yourself from the computer chair. Don’t just scroll Instagram or watch a YouTube video (unless it’s this video), actually get up and go to a different room. Go to the bathroom and splash some water on your face if you don’t want to take a shower — or if you don’t have the luxury of Aaron Sorkin, who has a shower installed in his office. Don’t want to splash water on your face? Maybe bring a change of clothes and change into something more comfortable, which is another one of Sorkin’s resetting tactics

One of the greatest screenwriters of our time admits to constantly being in a state of writer’s block. Yet, he is clearly still producing. The key is to recognize when is a good time to step aside and take a break, to rip the paper from the typewriter, crumple it up, and toss it into the trash. To take a hot shower and change into something comfortable. Don’t allow yourself to sit at your computer and continue feeling discouraged, draining yourself of your energy, trying to plow through only to then delete everything you wrote. When it feels futile, take a breather, change up your physical state and refresh your mindset, and return as if it’s a brand new opportunity to write something great without the baggage of the previous attempt. 

Confronting writer’s block is something every writer has to deal with, but confront you must! Don’t let the threat of writer’s block stop you from writing, instead, learn how to take it’s punches, regroup, and most importantly, come back fresh every time for another fight. 

Want to start a habit in writing? Here is a 30-day writing challenge that can get you going!

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What If Nobody Cares About What You’ve Created?

I remember being in school and working on a project for hours and hours. I’d hand it in. The teacher would read it or I’d present it in front of the class — and then… it’s done. What I had spent so many hours researching, producing, and polishing was essentially made for one person. And even then, that person who saw what I made was paid to be there. If my classmate saw it, well, they were forced to. 

I think about that experience often when I do anything creative, because — unlike school — I know that the audience is not guaranteed and the work I put into it might not yield any returns. 

Yet, today we focus so much on creating something that will be seen by hundreds and thousands and millions of people. Reaching a large audience is great! That is how we measure success, right? By the number of eyeballs and thumbs ups we get. However, this is a dangerous treadmill we’re running on if we constantly chase numbers. 

This mentality stops us from sharing our work. We have an expectation. We worry that when other people do see it, and they notice the lack of views and engagement, they will think of it as unworthy. It’s like inviting the world to your party and it’s just you, your mom, and maybe a couple of people you knew from high school. It’s embarrassing, I get it. Why aren’t people watching it? Why aren’t people reading it? I put so much work in, why doesn’t anyone care? 

Whenever I’m working on a project today, as an adult, I remember those horrible years in school, where I worked hours and hours on a project only to hand it in to the teacher — but now, instead of sitting back and waiting anxiously for the grades — I feel grateful that I’m not there anymore. When I’m working on my creative projects, it’s not an assignment and I’m not being evaluated. I’m creating something I want, and because I’m doing that, there is no guarantee that even one person will notice, because it’s for me first, and nobody is being paid or forced to see it. The people who will come and see my work are making that choice themselves. That makes what I’m doing now so much more important. A person who chooses to see your work is worth much more than a person who is forced to see your work.

Before you’ve built an audience, nobody cares what you’ve made. And that’s freeing. Be creative. Break rules. Try new things. There are no teachers stopping you! And when you’re ready, and when the time is right, people will start to care. Keep doing it and people will notice. Anybody can hand in an assignment to the teacher, but on their own, without self-discipline, not everyone can keep creating. It’s going to be pretty impressive when you do! So enjoy this period when nobody cares, because just like the classroom, it’s not going to last forever. You’re going to look back and be glad you went through it. But you gotta graduate first. Good luck! 

Need a break from your work, but still be productive? Here is an article about 5 productive ways to procrastinate.

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Improve Your Writing By Copying

Three weeks ago, I started my journey to type out The Great Gatsby. I remember reading an interview from Johnny Depp saying that this was something Hunter S Thompson did because he wanted to know what it would be like to write a masterpiece. Since then, I was eager to give it a shot, thinking that it would be an enlightening experience. As unpleasant as the current situation is, it had given me some extra hours in the week to put my anxious energy into a new project, so I decided, now is the time.

I’ve read The Great Gatsby exactly ten years ago and remembered feeling little about it. That goes to show how little I knew when I was younger. It was like listening to The Beatles’ Hey Jude and then going, “Who’s Jude?” I’ve missed the point. 

It takes practice in order to have an appreciation for craft, especially when the world is full of junk. Like food, after you limit the amount of sugar you consume, you’d begin to appreciate the complex flavour of vegetables. It’s a beautiful moment when that happens. The same goes for art. When we start noticing the qualities of a craft, we begin to see junk lacking in substance. 

I was confident there was something I could learn from copy The Great Gatsby, as there is copying any masterpiece, regardless of the craft. Learning by replicating is an effective way of recognizing the little details that make up a full piece. A great piece of writing, in the end, is just a combination of words. When you acknowledge each individual word, giving a real moment to type it out, you see each brick for what it is — a unique piece in a mosaic that is easy to miss when looking top down. I wanted to see everything Fitzgerald put into his story that I wouldn’t if I was speeding through it, as I did a decade ago… 

With all that in mind, here are six key areas of The Great Gatsby I wanted to focus on while I’m going through this copying process: 

Word choices: 

Vocabulary is to a writer as to what colours are to a painter. From descriptions to dialogue, I was curious to see all the words that Fitzgerald chose. Some, I’m sure, will confuse me and others will surprise me. When writing, I find myself using the same words over and over again — using colours I’m comfortable with — but by typing out every specific word in someone else’s novel, I’ll hopefully discover new ones and widen the spectrum of my vocabulary. 

Variety of sentences and paragraphs: 

When we read, we are absorbing information, but at that speed, we might miss the rhythm of the language — or at least not be conscious about it. By typing out a story, I will slow down the process of consumption and see the varying lengths of words, sentences and paragraphs. If this was music, I’d not only focused on the lyrics, but I’d also be hearing the tempo of the drumbeat, the harmony of the bass, and the cadence of the melody. I’d see how Fitzgerald draws out a detail in a long expository sentence or increases the pacing in a heated dialogue. 

The order of information: 

Good communication is the delivery of information in a coherent and logical order. Good storytelling, however, is the strategic reveal of details that increases drama and evokes an emotional response. A good story isn’t simply a sequential order of events: this happened and then this happened and then afterward this happened. No! Great writing is magic, because like magic, the principles are the same but instead of sleight of hand it’s with words: hiding, switching and misdirecting. By typing out the novel, I’m hoping to catch F Scott in the act and see what tricks he used to keep us turning the pages.  

Narrator and characters: 

One of the biggest challenges while writing is making sure your characters don’t all sound the same, so that in the readers’ minds, they are all individual people, with personalities, feelings, and beliefs so realistic that they’ll feel as though they’re sitting next to them. It’s certainly a challenge I have, so I’m going to be paying attention to the character construction while typing out The Great Gatsby and see how Fitzgerald helped us identify with Nick, Daisy, and Gatsby. 

Hidden details: 

When you are writing, everything slows down, you begin to notice each sentence, each phrase, and even every syllable. This aspect is fun because you feel a bit like an archaeologist or like the Tom Hanks character in The Da Vinci Code. You study the writing, like The Last Supper, looking for hidden messages and wondering whether the creator expected it to be there at all. 

Is typing out The Great Gatsby as valuable as a creative writing course? Hmmm… That’s a question for another time, but I truly believe that there is a lot to learn from this exercise. You will see how the story is constructed. Like a painting, you’ll experience each brushstroke. Like a song, you’ll be able to hear each note. Like a house, you’ll notice each nail, and that is what copying a piece of work offers you. Additionally, it’s a therapeutic activity, much like knitting, building a LEGO miniature, and solving a jigsaw puzzle. 

If you are interested in following my typing out the Great Gatsby journey, please join me via my YouTube channel every Saturday at 11am PDT. We can chat about all things writing and creativity, or whatever else is on your mind!

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5 Productive Procrastination Tasks for Writers

Sometimes, you don’t feel like writing. You’ve been sitting in front of the computer and nothing is coming out. If you sit for another minute, it’ll be another minute wasted. You resist the urge to scroll social media or clean the junk drawer, because that is, for sure, a waste of time, but what is there to do? 

Stop writing. That’s fine. 

Today might not be the day that you get a lot of words down, but that doesn’t mean it’s a write-off. You CAN procrastinate and still be productive. I’m going to share with you five procrastinating tasks you can do that doesn’t involve increasing your word count. 

1. Research

As a writer, there is always something to research whether it’s detail for your story, publications to submit your work to, or events or courses that you might be interested in attending. What I like to do when I really don’t feel like writing is to find a writing contest and spend some time reading the guideline — and maybe a few of the past winners and the works of the judges. In fact, I procrastinate using this technique so often that I have a whole blog post dedicated to writing contests, check it out, the link is in the description below. 

So give this a shot, next time you don’t feel like writing, look up places to submit your work. It might feel as though you are putting the cart before the horse, but I don’t, I feel this is a good way to understand the market, especially if your writing goal is to get published. 

2. Organize

If you’re like me you may have multiple drafts, multiple stories, and multiple submissions all up in the air. If you do, then this is a good opportunity to organize your folders and make sure you can easily locate the most recent draft of your story when you need it. The better you have access to your work, the more likely you’ll be able to find it and work on it. 

I have a spreadsheet with all my work in progress on it. I have their status (is it still in the works, is the first draft completed and I’m letting it marinate before returning for a second edit, or have I submitted it to a publication and am awaiting the result). I also include other details about the piece including word count and whether it is fiction or nonfiction. If you are using Google Drive, you can just add a link to the draft or the folder it’s in for easy accessibility. Staying organized had made my whole writing process so much more efficient, so I really recommend giving this method a shot if you feel like taking a break from actually writing. 

3. Consume

You should never feel guilty for taking a break from creating to consume, but that is only if you do it right. When I say consume, I don’t mean eating — I mean reading a book, watching a movie, or listening to music — in other words, enjoying something someone else made. And when I say you should consume it in a right way, what I mean is that you should do it actively. Approach it critically to find aspects of the work you like and dislike. Really absorb it so that you are able to reflect on it properly afterwards and record it so you can use some of what you do like in your own work in the future. 

Many successful writers will tell you that in order to be any good, you are going to have to read. Yes, you should definitely read, but there is certainly value in watching movies, television shows, and listening to music or audio books as well. This is if you do it actively.  

4. Revisit Old Work

Now if you really feel like punishing yourself for procrastinating, I recommend that you find a piece of work from your past and reread it. Approach it like you’ve never seen it before and enjoy it. It might feel like you’re taking a trip to cringe city, but there is always a lot you can get from this torturous exercise. 

First, you’ll get to see how your writing has evolved over time. The thoughts you had when you were younger might not be the same as the ones you have now. I like this because I get to see my progress. Second, if this piece is something that I gave up on, maybe now I have the ability to fix it and make it better. If I feel so inspired, I can take this procrastination opportunity to edit it, which would be incredibly productive. But don’t approach it with that intention, approach it as your ideal reader, not your critic. 

5. Be Creative

If the words simply aren’t coming to you today, but you still want to be creative, you can! Draw a picture, paint a painting, play an instrument, grab your camera and take some photos, film a video — there are many things you can do to still be creative and through those other artistic endeavours you do to see the world in a different way. 

After all, the way you show something in writing may be very different from a drawing. What I’ve been doing a lot of is trying to illustrate an idea I have. I’m not a great illustrator, but it takes my mind off of words for a bit. If you really want to get your creative juices flowing, that’s a really good way. 

There you go! Those are 5 productive procrastination ideas for when you don’t feel like writing. Are there any you are currently doing? Let me know in the comments! 

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Is Reading a Creative Process?

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When you sit down and read a book — a novel specifically — are you being creative? This is a question worth debating. On one hand, you aren’t really creating anything. There is nothing visible to show for it when you close the book and put it aside. On the other hand, the ideas you are getting from the book, the visuals you are weaving and constructing in your mind, are all intangible materials that can be applied to your creations.

With that being said, is watching a television show being creative? Is listening to an album being creative? Is watching a hockey game being creative? Where does one draw the line between entertainment and creative research?

For me, the creative process is an intent-driven process. You are present with all that is happening. You aren’t simply walking through an art gallery, but you are stopping to admire each painting and sculpture along the way. You are processing it.

If a novel, a television show, or an album is being consumed with the same frame of mind as one simply moving through it as quickly as possible, as a means to an end, then it is not a creative act. However, if one pauses occasionally and consider why the writer, cinematographer, or artist chose to use this word, this lighting, or that note, then what is being done is perhaps the most important aspect of being a creator.

Yes, I consider reading a creative process, but not everyone does. Some will simply read for pleasure. A filmmaker will watch a movie and consider it a part of the creative process while a mere civilian will watch a movie as a means to escape.

There is this hallway and you get to walk through it at your own speed. That is how I see a piece of work. What you get out of that experience is up to you.

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