conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

On Creating: “Hello Problem, Please Sit with Me”

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From Distraction to Focus

We stare at the problem until we can’t think straight. And when blood runs from our ears, then we have just begun.

This quote from a Minneapolis copywriter describes the creative process that drives his role in the industry. What does it take to come up with a creative solution that is beyond the first 5, 10 or 20 thoughts that pop into anyone’s head? What is creativity, anyway, and why should I care?

  • First the bad news: creativity requires deep focus.
  • And now the good news: you are capable of deep focus.
"Look Again: Expanding Feminist Possibilities," Groot Gallery, St. Olaf College

“Look Again: Expanding Feminist Possibilities,” Groot Gallery, St. Olaf College

In our age of near constant distraction, how does anyone slip into the focus-cave? How does anyone keep distraction at bay, apply sustained attention, and lose track of time in the process? It turns out there are solid answers to those questions. Those answers arrive from a mix of personal experience from people who create regularly, from a bit of theory, and then from experimentation with what works for you.

One thing is certain about focus: it can bring a healing wholeness with it. Just ask any person who regularly creates, and hear them talk about “flow” or the zone or getting into that space of just doing it.

Creating is not for the faint of heart. Because to create is to dwell with ambiguity: could be this. Could be that. If you change this piece—or flip the entire story or image—everything looks different and maybe even makes more sense. Very little is defined when creating and, in fact, you are doing your own defining

A group of students and I have turned a corner this week. We’ve gone from feeding the internet with content that builds communities to feeding creativity that can solve real-world problems. And just like when we work different muscles with cardiovascular versus weight training, this move from rapid creation to deep problem-solving wants a different set of brainwaves. We’re moving from intense listening and rapid creation to sitting with a problem and iterating our way out.

One of our bigger tasks is to train ourselves not be satisfied with the first, easy solution. We’ll learn how to bend time and write fast while you still know nothing, and how to lift and separate and how to map your way around a problem and how to start at the top again and again. And how to grind through to get to a better solution.

But all that needs focus.

And focus means not picking your phone up for 60 minutes.

And that is a struggle.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Writing Through and To

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Rinse and Repeat.

Today's Writing Task

Today’s Writing Task

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Dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

January 13, 2016 at 11:52 am

How to Go Out of Your Mind

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Hint: It’s a crazy idea that just might work

Can you ever see from someone else’s point of view?

“No,” some say. We are entirely bound by our own way of seeing. All the world lays before us—all the friends and enemies and acquaintances and mobs, the institutions, the physical world, all the influences, everything that is, was and ever will be (amen)—all of which we perceive from our own vantage point. We fill our brain pan using our eyes, our ears, our sense of touch, our taste buds, our sense of smell.

It’s always me looking out at you.

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There are manufactured instances, though. Huge numbers have already bought Star Wars: The Force Awakens tickets for the very experience of looking out at a favorite world through JJ Abram’s eyes, who happens to be channeling George Lucas’ story-brain. We reread Harry Potter or Tom Sawyer for the joy of seeing from someone else’s perspective.

Stories get us close to seeing from someone else’s eyes.

A primary challenge in teaching copywriting to English students is asking them to see from someone else’s perspective. It’s an invitation to awaken the force (as it were) of caring about someone else’s issues and feeling the weight they feel. And though we see and feel imperfectly, it is enough to begin to engage our imagination. And it is precisely the imagination-engaged that produces satisfying, potentially useful copy that has a chance of meeting some human need.

I want to think that as we age, we become better able to see from someone else’s perspective. But my experience says otherwise: it is all too easy to let my world close in to include only what impacts me directly.

Hard work, it is, to begin to see from someone else’s perspective.

And good work.

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Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

Listen to Your Story

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What I Learned from NaNoWriMo 2015

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Just do this to write a novel.

How much different is writing from life?

In both we make decisions that carry us forward. Sometimes those choices work out well. Sometimes they drop us in a dead end. Mostly it is not clear where the choice leads, and so we carry on.

Writing 1667 words a day through November’s National Novel Writing Month forced me to look at every scene and imagine how it might move the story forward. Within the first few days, every scene, every action, nearly every word seemed full of, well, pivot. The story could turn 180 degrees—except the commitments my characters held worked time and again as a rudder, pulling their choices along a true direction.

Choice after choice makes the story. Along the way we interact with characters who enter the story because of our choices. And these characters bring with them yet more choices. Our commitments impact how we choose, drawing us like a lodestar consistently one way or another. But even those long-term commitments enter the choice-making machinery of writing and life.

Do you agree that writing and life move forward in a similar way? One difference is that with writing you get to go back and change the story.

You can’t do that with life.

Or can you?

Producing my story brought to mind Parker Palmer’s book Let Your Life Speak, a book I’ve recommended to many friends. Palmer’s advice gets at the nub of both writing and living: peering into the facts so far and taking a courageous view on where those facts could lead. Palmer realized, in looking back over his life, that a particular commitment had been leading him in ways that did not fit with what was happening and where he was meant to be.

In writing you lop off a sentence (or paragraph or chapter) to move the story forward. In life you make tough but wise choices that put you on a better trajectory.

 

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Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

December 1, 2015 at 8:55 am

And we’re back

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As a big old winner, mind you.

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Written by kirkistan

November 30, 2015 at 8:25 am

The Naked Copywriter (NaNoWriMo)

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I’ll be absent for a month or so.

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November is National Novel Writing Month. Last year I wrote the 50,000 word Fresh Water Fetish. This year’s 50,000 words are dedicated to story and explication around what it means to live a creative life. This may be a novel. It may be creative non-fiction. But in 30 days and 50,000 words I’ll have a better idea.

If, in my absence, you wonder what “conversation is an engine” might say about any particular topic, just type your term in the search bar. There are more than 1130 posts here–feel free to browse.

Alternatively: write your own novel for NaNoWriMo!

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Written by kirkistan

November 1, 2015 at 5:00 am

First Person Tooter

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Let others pull philosophy out of your story

It turns out the story of a person’s life is interesting in a way that we have a hard time looking away from.

  • How they got to where they are.
  • Who were their influences?
  • What were the shaping forces that drove them: poverty as a child? Loneliness? Were they ostracized or bullied?
  • What was behind their particular quest?

All of this is story.

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We each tell our stories in different ways.

I’m reading Louis L’Amour’s Education of a Wandering Man despite myself.

I’m not a particular fan of L’Amour’s writing. I have no great interest in cowboys and western shoot-em-up stuff, still I cannot put down his biography. It’s how his personal story unfolds and his depiction of the times he lived that are so gripping. And because I know where it all leads—at least to some degree. L’Amour’s education consisted of working on migrant fields across the U.S., and the merchant marine, and boxing and in reading whatever little blue books he could lay his hands on. He listened to hobo stories and seamen stories and drinking stories and murder stories. He also wrote very clearly—so that I almost don’t even realize I am reading.

This strikes me because much of what I read calls attention to itself in thousands of ways, from pedantic language to detailed concepts that demand rapt attention to self-indulgent fluff to the simply boring. And I’ll confess to committing some of those very language sins myself on pages.

But what if a philosophy book told a story rather than parsing dry doctrines and tentative tenets? In fact, that is exactly what stories and novels and films do: package thought into a compelling narrative.

Story keeps pulling us back in.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

October 15, 2015 at 9:33 am

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