Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

Tennessee Williams felt that ‘apparent failure’ motivated him. He said it ‘sends me back to my typewriter that very night, before the reviews are out. I am more compelled to get back to work than if I had a success.’ Many have heard that Thomas Edison told his assistant, incredulous at the inventor’s perseverance through millions of aborted attempts to create an incandescent light bulb, ‘I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’ ‘Only one look is enough. Hardly one copy would sell here. Hardly one. Hardly one. Many thanks…’ read part of the rejection letter that Gertrude Stein received from a publisher in 1912.”
Sarah Lewis
The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery

Related posts:
Embracing the Near Win (part 1) 
Embracing the Near Win (part 2)
Tennessee Williams’ Start
Writing Quote #45 (Tennessee Williams)
Commitment in the Face of Failure
J.K. Rowling on the Benefits of Failure

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“Just because it’s a worthy cause doesn’t make it interesting.”
Audio journalist Alex Blumberg

Alex Blumberg is a rock star. At least a rock star in finding authentic emotions.

Between Thursday and Sunday night I caught chunks of Blumberg’s live (and then rebroadcast) CreativeLive seminar Power Your Podcast with Storytelling and was enthralled with what he pulled off with the help of his class.

Don’t get caught up in the podcast part of his title if that’s not your thing, but focus on the storytelling aspect. While Blumberg’s background includes producing for NPR’s This American Life and most recently the podcast StartUp, his ability to talk storytelling was not only informative but moving.

In my last post, I covered some of the nuts and blots I took away from the sections of the talks I heard. Today I’ll fill in a little bit why I think it was one of the top creative seminars I’ve ever seen. (It was no surprise when I later found out that it is the same material that Blumberg presents when he teaches at Columbia University.)

While my last post mentioned the pre-interview process Blumberg did (with San Francisco-based artist Ann Rea), over the weekend I caught the full interview 90 minute he did with Rea and it was 100% engaging.

If you can, buy the $99 class just to salute Blumberg’s and Rea’s gamble and boldness. (A heck of a lot cheaper that taking it at Columbia.) I’ll try here to synopsize what made it special. Though this was meant to be a NPR-like radio program, I swear you could at least write a Lifetime movie script as you listen to Rea’s life story unfold.

What made it such a powerful tag team effort was the framework of questions that Blumberg asked and Rea’s honest answers. You could say the structure broke down into four acts. (I’m flying from my notes so some of the actual details may be a little off.)

1) The desire for Rea to paint at a young age, and the early support she got from her artistic talent. She won a scholarship to art school where she was an Industrial Design major. After graduating she moved to Dayton, Ohio and expectations for an artistic career fell away with the reality that student loans needed paid. (Downbeat)

2) But while in Dayton she met a man who would change her life. She met him the day she moved into her apartment and thought, “He’s my neighbor? Nice.” They got married and eventually dreamed about a life beyond the Midwest and agreed on trying the California dream. He landed a job in San Francisco and they took their goldfish and drove west. Life was full of positive expectations. (Upbeat)

3) The San Fran dream faded when his job was actually in Sacramento and they eventually settled in the suburb of Elk Grove where she spent years working various cubicle jobs with no satisfaction or artistic expression. Financial and marital problems followed until she decided for her own physical safety it was time to leave her marriage. She’d be starting over as their savings were depleted. (Double Downbeat)

4)  She started to paint again and as she talked about that process it reminded me of that line in Jerry Maguire where he’s writing his mission statement and says, “Suddenly, I was my father’s son again.” Rea wrote a business plan because she didn’t want to just paint—she wanted to make a living painting. In her first year as a full time painter she made more than she’d ever made before, and continues to grow her business. And now she helps others turn their artistic efforts into profit. (Double Upbeat)

What you don’t get from my overview is the authentic emotions that were tapped into—in real time over the course of the interview. The laughter and joy of their trip west, the pain of finding out her husband was a closet alcoholic, and the tears of rediscovering her artistic talents—of finding new life.

As a bonus at the end of the second day of the workshop, Blumberg played some edited clips from the interview thereby completing the whole creative process of showing pre-production, production, and post-production.

There were many valuable takeaways for any storyteller. Perhaps none more valuable than asking a question and shutting up. Just letting the person you’re interviewing give raw and honest answers as they tell their story. That’s how you capture the magic—how you find authentic emotions.

You can follow Blumberg on Twitter @abexlumberg.

P.S. I promise you I don’t make a penny from talking about CreativeLive (or Lynda.com or KelbyOne training) but it turns out Ann Rea has a class on CreativeLive called Make Money Making Art. I have not seen that, but based on her interview with Blumberg it’s worth at least checking out.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

Read Full Post »

“What is a story, exactly?”
Alex Blumberg

What were you doing at 4:16 this morning? I was watching a story unfold  about a woman who married the hunk who lived next door to her in Dayton, Ohio and moved west to live the California dream.  She found her dream, but not until she went through years of despair.

“Everyone wants to find a way out of pain.”
Alex Blumberg

It wasn’t a movie, a TV show, or even a radio program, but the CreativeLive online class Power Your Podcast with Storytelling with Alex Blumberg. It was intriguing because you were able to watch how Blumberg takes a person out of the audience and shows how he would learn and tell her story for a program like This American Life (the NPR program where Blumberg was once a producer). Great stuff for anybody wanting to develop and tell better stories.

You can watch part two of the class for free today (and the rebroadcast tonight), or buy both days today for $79 (or $99 after today). I don’t recommend a lot of things to buy, but what I caught of Blumberg’s talk yesterday (and again early this morning) it’s solid material that you’ll find helpful and engaging if your storytelling is for features, TV, documentaries, radio, corporate videos, non-profit/NGO, or podcasts.

“Go where the medium lets you go.”
Alex Blumberg

He covers aspects like finding the core of the story, what hooks the audience into the narrative, what details do you need to tell, what surprises can you find, and what areas need explored. With the woman in the audience some of those areas were her dream of living in San Francisco turned into living in a suburb outside of Davis,CA. Her marriage and plans of 2.5 kids turned into a divorce and no kids. But there is a revelation and discovery on her way to finally living her California dream life—being a painter in San Francisco. If there’s a theme to her story it could be, “The road to happiness travels through many unhappy places.” (How’s that for a universal theme that would resonate with a few people worldwide?)

A few thoughts that I’ll pass on from Blumberg are his formula for nailing the thumbnail version of the story is, “This is a story about X, and it’s interesting because of Y.” When you tell people this framework for your story it must hit them at the gut level—they want to hear the story. It’s instantly intriguing.

“Boredom is the enemy.”
Alex Blumberg

In telling your story look for the unexpected twists, contrasts, We like to hear about the pain, the a-ha moments, and the resolution/triumph.For true stories he looks for someone with direct experience rather than just an expert in the field.

Blumberg also said what he’s looking for when interviewing people is “authentic emotions.” Finding someone who went bankrupt because of a subprime loan they couldn’t afford to pay will tend to have more authentic emotion versus an expert on the topic. (Boots on the ground stuff, versus the view from afar.)

While it was a risk to interview an audience member in front of a live Internet audience, he certainly found “authentic emotions.”

If you can check it out today for free.

Related post:
Finding Authentic Emotions (Part 2) 
40 Days of Emotions
Ira Glass on Storytelling
Creative Learning 2.0
Chase Jarvis—A Creative Force on of the co-founders of CreativeLive
The End of the Rope Club (Oscars ’14) The California dreamer story belongs in the end of the rope club.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

Read Full Post »

“Success motivates us, but a near win can propel us in an ongoing quest. One of the most vivid examples of this comes when we look at the difference between Olympic silver medalists and bronze medalists after a competition. Thomas Gilovich and his team from Cornell studied this difference and found that the frustration silver medalists feel compared to bronze, who are typically a bit more happy to have just not received fourth place and not medaled at all, gives silver medalists a focus on follow-up competition. We see it even in the gambling industry that once picked up on this phenomenon of the near win and created these scratch-off tickets that had a higher than average rate of near wins and so compelled people to buy more tickets that they were called heart-stoppers, and were set on a gambling industry set of abuses in Britain in the 1970s. The reason the near win has a propulsion is because it changes our view of the landscape and puts our goals, which we tend to put at a distance, into more proximate vicinity to where we stand….[A near win] gets us to focus on what, right now, we plan to do to address that mountain in our sights. It’s Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who in 1984 missed taking the gold in the heptathlon by one third of a second, and her husband predicted that would give her the tenacity she needed in follow-up competition. In 1988, she won the gold in the heptathlon and set a record of 7,291 points, a score that no athlete has come very close to since. We thrive not when we’ve done it all, but when we still have more to do.”
Sarah Lewis 
2014 TED talk Embrace the near win

Read Full Post »

“Mastery is in the reaching, not the arriving. It’s in constantly wanting to close that gap between where you are and where you want to be. Mastery is about sacrificing for your craft and not for the sake of crafting your career.”
Sarah Lewis 

“What gets us to convert success into mastery? This is a question I’ve long asked myself. I think it comes when we start to value the gift of a near win.”
Sarah Lewis

There’s been a resurgence in archery in the last few years. In pop culture archery has even figured prominently in some of the biggest box office movies of this century;  Lord of the Rings, Brave, The Hunger Games.

In 10-zone target archery competitions the targets consist of ten rings and points are scored on a one to 10 basis depending on what circle your arrow lands on. (Of course, if you miss the target altogether that is called a miss and zero points are awarded.) The 10 ring in the center of the target is the smallest ring and most difficult to hit.

Archery-target-

“So success is hitting that ten ring, but mastery is knowing that it means nothing if you can’t do it again and again. Mastery is not just the same as excellence, though. It’s not the same as success, which I see as an event, a moment in time, and a label that the world confers upon you. Mastery is not a commitment to a goal but to a constant pursuit. What gets us to do this, what get us to forward thrust more is to value the near win. How many times have we designated something a classic, a masterpiece even, while its creator considers it hopelessly unfinished, riddled with difficulties and flaws, in other words, a near win? Painter Paul Cézanne so often thought his works were incomplete that he would deliberately leave them aside with the intention of picking them back up again, but at the end of his life, the result was that he had only signed 10 percent of his paintings. His favorite novel was The [Unknown] Masterpiece by Honoré de Balzac, and he felt the protagonist was the painter himself.”
Sarah Lewis TED talk Embrace the near win
Author of The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery

Tomorrow we’ll look at how, according to Lewis, the near win has inspired others.

P.S. “The aim of art is not to copy nature, but to express it. You are not a servile copyist, but a poet!”—Master painter in The Unknown Masterpiece

Related posts:
Failure is an option.’
Aaron Sorkin on Failure
Commitment in the Face of Failure
J.K. Rowling on the Benefits of Failure

Scott W. Smith

 

 

Read Full Post »

“No one wants to be laid off; it feels embarrassing.”
Author Gillian Flynn

When Up in the Air hit theaters in 2009 it was timely because many people in America were experiencing being laid off from their jobs. The fictious character played by George Clooney tried to encourage people he was firing in Up in the Air by telling them:

“Anybody who ever built an empire, or changed the world, sat where you are now. And it’s because they sat there that they were able to do it. That’s the truth.”
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) in Up in the Air

You know who was fired in real life in 2009? Gillian Flynn. She worked ten years with Entertainment Weekly. I bet if she saw Up in the Air the week after she was let go the first thing she thought was, “I wish George Clooney would have been the one to let me go.” The second thing she thought was probably in line with, “What a load of BS.”

But if she saw Up in the Air tonight, she’s say Clooney was absolutely correct. It was because she was let go that it allowed her to write the novel Gone Girl that became a best selling book in 2012 (over 6 million copies sold), was option to be made into a film for $1.5 million, and she was also paid to write the screenplay. The last two weeks Gone Girl has has sat at #1 at the box office and made $140 million worldwide in 10 days.

She may not have built an empire yet, or changed the world, but in just five short years she’s had about as much of a positive shift one can have after being laid off.

“I was a Missouri kid in New York working at my dream magazine and got laid off and had to figure out what to do with my life next. I did have more time to write; [Gone Girl] was the first of the three books that I wrote while I didn’t have a day job.”
Gillian Flynn
The Hollywood Reporter

Now Flynn already had a novel published before she was laid off and one shortly after, and was thankful at the time she was laid off that her lawyer husband still had a job, so there are a few variables unique to her sudden rise to fame and success. But don’t let that overshadow the fact that she wrote two novels while working a day job.

As screenwriter Bob DeRosa wrote,“There are no shortcuts. There is only hard work. Perseverance. Luck. Craft. Failure. Success. Mistakes. And yes, dreams that come true.”

Related posts:
How Gillian Flynn Killed It
Bob DeRosa’s ‘Shortcuts’ 

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

“I had always, always, always wanted to write, and pictured myself as an author. From third grade on, my mom kept those scrapbooks about ‘what do you want to be when you grow up.’ I always said, ‘An author.’ Either an author or a farmer. But that was my aspiration. I was a big reader. My mom’s a reading professor — she literally taught reading for a living — so I was always surrounded by books and was a bookworm, which is where I think all writers start, with a love for books.

“I got into journalism because I was a practical Midwesterner and thought, ‘I can’t actually write books for a living so I’m going to do journalism, and that’ll be great too.’ And I loved it. I was at Entertainment Weekly for ten years and just had an absolutely great time. Then I started working on Sharp Objects just on my evenings and weekends. I would write at Entertainment Weekly all day doing interviews and going to set visits. I’d be on the set of Jackass: The Movie by day and then come back at night and try my hand at writing the book.”
Author/Screenwriter Gillian Flynn Gone Girl
2013 Interview with Brendan Dowling

Flynn’s debut novel in 2006 was Sharp Objects

Related Post: Don’t Quit Your Day Job (2.0)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: