JSeliger.com Getting in front of the story, and sometimes behind it! 2018-03-21T22:08:16Z http://jseliger.com/feed/atom/ WordPress John <![CDATA[Citing Is Major For The Aspiring Writer]]> http://jseliger.com/?p=56 2015-06-13T16:49:04Z 2015-07-05T15:36:14Z aspiringwritingIn the recent movie Seven, Brad Pitt tracked down a killer who modeled his crimes after the seven deadly sins. If the killer had taken a more professional view of sin, he might have plotted quite differently. For a doctor, I suppose, the great sin is leaving a sponge in the patient. For an accountant, it’s got to be moving money from your clients’ ledgers to your own. And for a writer, of course, the deadliest sin is plagiarism.

Every writer has heard stories of careers ruined by a single, inexplicable slip of passing someone else’s work off as his or her own. Yet every writer also knows the importance of thorough research, including hitting the books with secondary sources–in short, using other writers’ work. So where’s the line between deadly sin and dogged reporting? And how do you keep from crossing it without losing your own readers in an ocean of attribution (“according to a story by Jane Schmoe on page 4, column 3, in the Jan. 20, 1993, New York Times, the President of the United States is Bill Clinton”)–or, heaven forbid, resorting to footnotes?

You’ll find gray areas throughout this topic, to be sure, but you can pick your way through most such dilemmas if you’re prepared with, first, a basic understanding of copyrights and, second, some general principles of attribution.

Author, May 1?

A grasp of copyrights comes first because these rules govern what and how much you can safely copy into your own work–regardless of how you attribute the source. It may not be plagiarism to include a huge hunk of another author’s writing in one of your articles, dutifully giving credit where credit is due, but if you failed to obtain permission to reprint that text the result is equally sinful in the eyes of the courts.

Now, I don’t pretend to be a copyright expert–nor do you need to become one in order to author articles that cite secondary sources. But consider this my disclaimer that the advice herein represents merely practical, hands-on guidelines for general copyright issues from a working writer’s perspective. And please don’t sue me if I steer you wrong!

As a working writer with a stack of articles and three books out there, I occasionally get requests to reprint my work. When the request comes from a writing teacher wanting to photocopy one of my Nonfiction columns for her class, I always say yes. (Because it’s only a few copies, I’m not even certain such use requires my permission–so much for my copyright expertise–but some copy-store franchises are particularly vigilant about this.) If it’s a commercial publication wanting to rerun something I’ve written, I’ll usually ask for a fee.

Those are the easy cases. And the extremes of copyright are similarly clear: Copying an entire work requires the writer’s permission (unless–and this shows how nothing’s truly easy in this arena–the writer has been dead long enough for the copyright to expire). The opposite extreme is equally easy to accept, if harder to define: You need not obtain the author’s permission to quote just a few words from a work. This falls loosely under the fair use provisions of copyright protection.

Fair or Foul?

But what’s brief enough to constitute “fair use”? Whole court cases have been wrangled over this issue, so please go back and reread my “I’m no lawyer” disclaimer before proceeding. These are my general rules of thumb in deciding whether a quotation is fair:

* For most quotations from other writers’ works, a selection of about 25 words or fewer seems safe to use without obtaining permission. It’s hard to see how borrowing such a small portion of a book or article damages the author. If you need to cite more than a few sentences to make your point, try paraphrasing and summarizing in your own words those parts that don’t require the author’s exact phrasing to carry their original weight or wit. (Paraphrased humor, for example, tends to lose its punch in translation; mostly factual material can be recast more readily. Fair use or not, though, don’t forget the attribution (which I’ll discuss below).

* If you are writing about what you are quoting–for example, reviewing a book–longer and more numerous quotations from the original are generally acceptable. This is the “spirit of review” in copyright: It’s fair to quote from a work you are reviewing.

* Be careful of quoting too much from such brief works as popular songs. Reprinting 25 words from a book of 100,000 words barely dents the original, but reproducing one verse from a song that boasts only three plus a chorus means you’re parroting perhaps a fourth of the whole. Because of that threat, and the dollars at stake in the pop-music business, music publishers take copyright wrongs much more seriously.

* If in doubt, make the extra effort to obtain written permission from the author or other holder of copyright. When citing a magazine article where you don’t know how to contact the writer, start by writing to the magazine. If obtaining permission becomes too difficult, time consuming or costly, rewrite and Vigorously paraphrase. For my book How to Write Fast (While Writing Well), one magazine demanded several hundred dollars in exchange for its permission to reprint about 50 words that I wanted to quote as an example of effective writing; I opted instead to rewrite the whole section, boiling down the quotation in question to a couple of words.

He Said, She Said

Once you’ve battled through the bramble of copyrights and wrongs, you still have to make some decisions about attribution. As with how much to quote, there’s a happy medium to be found in how much to attribute and how thoroughly.

If You’ve obtained written permission to quote something, the copyright holder will probably request specific verbiage as part of granting permission. This notice need not go in the body of your book or article, however: For books, it generally goes in an acknowledgments page at the front; for articles, it usually takes the form of fine print at the end.

Again, that’s the easy part. It’s the gray areas that’ll get you.

We’ll have to rely on more generalizations here, since (disclaimer ahead! every instance is different. As one general rule, then, whenever you are quoting another writer’s actual words–as signaled by surrounding them in quotation marks–attribute them to the writer by name, just as you would with a spoken quotation.

This isn’t as obvious as it might seem. Recently a columnist I know decided to opine about the movie version Of The Scarlet Letter, in which the filmmakers substituted a happy ending for Hawthorne’s original. The columnist quoted what the movie’s director had told “a reporter” about the happy-facing of Hawthorne. Unfortunately, that anonymous “reporter” happened to be the movie critic at the columnist’s own publication–and the critic was understandably miffed about being cited at length without credit by name.

John <![CDATA[Talking Skin Tag Removal Creams And Their Effectiveness]]> http://jseliger.com/?p=53 2018-03-21T22:03:46Z 2015-06-29T15:31:43Z skintrcsSkin tags are small, harmless, soft pieces of hanging skin. The have a short, narrow peduncle (stalk) that connects it to the surface of the skin. They can appear virtually on any part of the body, but normally show up in the areas where the skin rubs up against other skin. Typical areas where they can appear are:
• Armpits
• Eyelids
• Under the breasts
• In the groin area
• On the upper chest
• On the neck

Skin tags are characteristically small, benign, non-cancerous tumors of the skin that don’t exhibit any type of symptoms. They are also known as a acrochordon.

A person generally doesn’t notice a skin tag until it has been scratched or rubbed off which can cause pain or discomfort. However, in some cases, depending on the location of the skin tag, they can cause irritation or pain and may not be aesthetically pleasing.

Over 46% of the population experience incidences of skin tags. Some people are pre-disposed to the condition. They are common in people who are overweight or have diabetes.

There are a vast number of commercial over the counter skin tag removal products available, including such names as Revitol Skin Tag Remover and Wart& Mole Vanish.

You should always consult your doctor before trying any product and to verify that in fact what you are experiencing is a skin tag. In some cases skin tags can look very similar to certain types of skin cancer.

The following are the best products I recommend to remove skin tags. Full and comprehensive reviews of these skin tag removal creams are here.

Tee Tree Oil: One of the best and highly recommended products available for skin tags is tea tree oil. You can purchase it in your local health food store or online.

Revitol: Made with all natural ingredients and Thuja Occidentalis (essential oil from the evergreen coniferous tree). It boasts that it works by attacking the root of the skin tag, instead of the surface and eliminates the skin tag without pain or scarring. It is slightly more expensive at $32 dollars a bottle. However, it does have a 90 day back guarantee which is long enough to ensure it works to remove your skin tag.

Wart & Mole Vanish: A safe, effective treatment made with all natural ingredients. This product guarantees to remove the skin tag in just one treatment. It cauterizes the skin tag by using natural herbal extracts. I checked to verify how effective this product was, I was surprised to see it had over 3000 positive reviews online. It is significantly higher in price at $69.95, but if you are looking for fast results, versus applying a product over the course of a few weeks. This might be a viable option and worth the cost

Miracle Skin Tag Remover: This product is made with Aloe Vera. It is easy to apply, you simply brush it on the skin tag with a small brush. The downside is, it takes 3-5 weeks. This might be a good option for skin tags that are not visible in the armpit or groin areas. However, it didn’t have as many positive reviews as Wart & Mole Vanish. You can purchase it for $29.99.

Tag Away: I thought I would add another product that uses Thuja Occidentalis, a pure essential oil recognized for its tag-removing properties. You apply it to the skin tag three times a day with a cotton swab. You should see results in a few weeks.

Skin tags are embarrassing and unsightly, especially if they are in areas visible to the naked eye. They can affect how you feel about yourself, and how others see you. If you choose to remove them using an over the counter product, I recommend highly that you read the reviews about the product, and NOT on the manufacturers website, but an independent source like Amazon. See what others have to say about their experience that can help you make a sound and educated decision on how to best remove your skin tags. Good luck!

John <![CDATA[Writing For Business Takes Guts]]> http://jseliger.com/?p=12 2016-03-07T16:59:06Z 2015-06-25T05:25:25Z writingIn 2014 Americans spent more than $2 billion on business-related books.

You can get a share of that business.

The market is so hot that writing a business-related book has become one of the best ways to break into print. Many topics can be explored by authors who wouldn’t consider themselves “business” experts. Editors actively seek manuscripts covering job and technical skills training, starting and running a business, market trends, sales training and coaching, performance improvement, business letter writing, financial and investment advice, time management, company case studies, leadership styles, new management philosophies, career guidance, and much more — including computer operation manuals, guides for women and minorities and biographies of famous business personalities. According to Launchscore.com, strong writing is essential for almost all of the top 10 startups-most-likely-to-succeed in the US.

The Root of All Success

Most business books are related in a fundamental way to career enhancement Readers buy these books for the information they need to win a promotion, master a specific job-related skill, outsmart the competition, learn performance secrets, master a management technique, stand out among fellow employees, learn what the other outfit did wrong, become magically equipped to start and run an enterprise, and so forth.

I turn these raw goals into specific books by reading and talking with business leaders. I routinely read The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Forbes, The Harvard Business Review and many other publications, including local newspapers. I interview senior-level business executives, middle managers, supervisors and company line employees. I attend conventions and seminars. And I listen. The questions asked by attendees at these sessions reveal current management concerns. For a business writer, the questions are as illuminating as the experts’ answers.

I use this informal research to spot business trends that might become subjects for a book.

Get to the Point

Once you develop a topic for your book, your task is to make it easy and painless for your readers to learn. To do that, you must keep your writing uncomplicated. Your readers are ambitious, bottom-line oriented business executives with limited time and less patience. No matter how complex the issue, write with clarity and simplicity. Get to the heart of the matter quickly.

Be direct, says Tom Power, senior editor for the Business & Professional Division of Prentice Hall. “Don’t make the mistake of writing all around the subject without getting down to the nitty-gritty details. Be specific, particularly when writing the `how-to’ business book.”

Your organization of the book is important. Except for a few editors at the publishing house and a few members of your immediate family, not many people are going to read your book from cover to cover. Business-people will pluck from the work the material they consider important and ignore the rest.

To accommodate them, you must make the information easy to find. Readers don’t want to memorize information, they just want to refer to it as required.

The most popular business books organize their subjects in ways that attract readers. They use step-by-step programs, practical guidelines, proven techniques, organized systems, pinpointed suggestions, working tools and real-life examples. These structures help writers “get down to the nitty-pitty details,” as Power suggests. They help the reader get from business point A to business point B.

I also include a very detailed table of contents in my books. For The Sales Manager’s Portable Answer Book, the table of contents is 15 pages long. Preparing them in such detail benefits me as well as the readers. I’m forced to think through, step-by-step, all the material I intend to cover. When I finish, the contents pages become my outline for writing the book. I’m also confident that I have enough to say on the selected topic to justify a book-length project.

Confidence in your topic is crucial to writing a successful business book. If there’s a place to pontificate, it’s in this genre. Readers look for wisdom, authority, certainty, surefire formulas, absolute truths and arcane knowledge. Make your points positively with little equivocation. The fewer ifs, ands and on-the-other-hands, the better. Reach conclusions. Be positive, but be practical.

What editors look for in any business book project is value to readers. Your book must provide advice, information, training or a system of doing things that readers can adapt or apply to their own situations.

It all comes back to the basic theme behind most business books: career enhancement. Your readers want to reap a substantial reward for the money they’ll invest in buying your book and the time they spend reading it.

Do that well, and you’ll be reaping some substantial rewards for yourself.

Inside the Manuscript

There are certain conventions editors like to see included in business book manuscripts.

Checklists and other lists deliver information in concise “bullets.” They satisfy the business readers’ demand for information in concentrated form. Lists also cultivate reader curiosity. Offer “50 ways to close a sale,” or “25 management mistakes that lead to disaster,” and readers will buy the book to learn these secrets.

Charts present information in a visual way. They make it easier for readers to understand relationships and draw comparisons. Similarly, illustrations, graphs, sample forms and tables are wonderful when providing quantitative data. Such graphics help sell a project to an editor and help sell the book to readers.

Quotes from authorities establish credibility, obviously, but also direction. I often use a quotation at the beginning of a chapter that reflects the theme of the pages that follow. My quotes aren’t always from business personalities. Politicians, military leaders, philosophers and sports coaches offer many observations that fit business situations.

Anecdotes are popular in business books for two reasons. First, they use actual events to illuminate theory. If you’re writing about a revolutionary distribution idea, your manuscript should include stories from the companies that use the scheme. Business readers want to know that proposed systems actually work in real life. Anecdotes also illustrate the reasons for failure. The horror story of what went wrong at one company can help another avoid the same errors.

Anecdotes also keep the text from becoming dull. Business books aren’t suspense thrillers or romances, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be entertaining. Randy Voorhees, sales manager for the literary agency and book packager Mountain Lion Productions, says, “There can’t be too many anecdotes. The more relevant stories, the better.”

Finding pertinent anecdotes requires observation and curiosity. Whenever I see a company doing something different from others in the same field, I ask its employees why they’re doing it, when they started and what their experience has been. I also look for corporate hubris. Arrogance and pride are usually the forerunners of disaster. I don’t use all the stories I collect, but the collection process is a learning experience itself.

A catchy title “is incredibly important,” offers Voorhees. “A title with a gimmick, like Harvey Mackay’s Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, grabs the attention of book buyers.”

Mackay’s title promises readers they will receive insider knowledge enabling them to survive in a tough, eat-or-be-eaten business world. Also implied is the idea that readers can become business sharks themselves.

The One Minute Manager, a bestseller by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, holds out the lure of instant wisdom. Not only will this book offer important information, the title suggests, it will be dispensed in easy-to-swallow capsules. This is attractive to harried business executives whose most valuable commodity is time.

Gimmicks that produce blockbuster sales aren’t limited to eye-catching titles. Rapid changes in business structures have created an audience for radical ideas. Creative authors have applied the “philosophies” of Attila the Hun, Sun Tzu, Jesus Christ, Sitting Bull, Machiavelli and even Winnie-the-pooh to modern business.

John <![CDATA[Getting Organized Is Everything With Article Writing]]> http://jseliger.com/?p=48 2018-03-21T22:04:50Z 2015-06-22T15:23:21Z begoniasUse this seven-step “building block” process to keep your articles on track, without getting locked into the rigidity of a commanding outline. Here’s the plan that I tend to roll with:

* Let’s say you’re writing a piece titled “How to Grow Bigger and Brighter Begonias.” Before you start writing, organize your research material through a system of indexing and filing; you must know where everything is and how to get at it easily. (If your notes or interview transcripts aren’t extensive, you can simply number your notebook pages, then make a list of broad information categories with references to page numbers.

* Stop thinking of your article as an article. Concentrate only on the first step-your opening. What is it about growing begonias that most interests you? What will be most interesting and valuable to your target reader?

Start writing with a good begonia-related line that will grab readers’ attention, set the right tone and get to the point quickly (be sure you know what the main point of the piece is). If your lead and what follows feels right, keep writing, all the way to the end.

However, if you sense that the article is getting away from you and you’ve lost your focus, stop.

* Look at the writing as a construction process of informational blocks.

Make a 3 x 5 index card for each block and label it accordingly. For our example article, you might have index cards labeled “Joy of Growing Begonias,” “How to Get Started” “Types of Begonias,” “Seasonal/Weather Factors,” “Special Tools,” “Fertilizers,” “Common Mistakes,” “Costs Involved” and so on.

* Lay out your cards in the order of the article you envision writing. Step back and look your cards over, start to finish. Think of them as a blueprint.

Does your article introduce your angle clearly (beginning), develop your main points in logical progression (middle), conclude satisfactorily (end)? Do your blocks seem to fit seamlessly, focusing in on your angle and theme, or have you gone off on tangents? Are related pieces of information scattered or grouped together? Have you duplicated certain information or points? Do cards suggest sections that could be trimmed, deleted, turned into sidebars?

* Create new cards for points you may have overlooked but want to cover; delete unnecessary blocks/cards that stray from your angle.

Rearrange the cards until the sequence feels right to you. As you do this, ask yourself: “What is my next, logical block?” (Logic is invariably the key to effective transition.) “Where should my article logically go from here?”

For instance, are you writing about fertilizers without first identifying different begonia types, basic information that might more logically be placed near the top? When you’ve finished your sections on special tools and fertilizers, would it be appropriate to discuss costs? Or would costs be more smoothly included along the way, with each product? Should tools be handled separately in a sidebar? And so on.

* Resume writing, from the top. Write until a block feels complete, relying on your organized research files when necessary. Keep writing block after block, building your article a section at a time, until you feel you’ve told the readers exactly what they need to know about growing bigger and brighter begonias, but nothing more.

* Rearrange the cards as necessary as you revise the article. Don’t be surprised if you delete whole blocks–or material within blocks–that are extraneous to the narrow focus you’ve chosen. Remember; you’re writing an article on a particular angle of begonia growing, not a book on the general topic.

“Organization” can be taken too far, of course. Beware of becoming so meticulous and rigid that the process becomes paralyzing, robbing your writing of its natural energy and rhythms. Your goal is to get your piece down on paper in as continuous and natural a process as possible, letting logic be your guide.

John <![CDATA[Get Bibilical When It Comes To Series Creation]]> http://jseliger.com/?p=44 2015-06-13T16:52:42Z 2015-06-15T15:05:13Z If you drank a gallon of gasoline and then sat in a hot tub filled with napalm to have a cigarette, your chances of survival would be better than your chances of selling an original series idea to television.

The best way to do it is still to work your way up in the world of episodic television by successfully peddling scripts to other people’s shows, then become a staff writer on a series, then a story editor, an executive story editor, an associate producer, a supervising producer, a co-producer, a producer and finally an executive producer. Why, in five or ten years …

Despite these odds, creating a TV series is not categorically beyond the realm of freelancers. You will, however, most often be working on someone else’s ideas.

The Nature of the Beast

Development is a strange beast in the show-biz jungle and without it, there’d be a lot fewer professional writers making a living. It is, in effect, the R&D division of the industry. For writers it’s a way to pick up some survival bucks while waiting for the next script job; for producers, it’s a way to keep a good writer close when there are no scripts to be written. As a bonus, producers also get ideas–or even complete treatments–for salable projects. Some of the shows I developed were produced, but they weren’t original ideas.

A development deal is a first step in the series process and it invariably involves people who have “Great Ideas” or a “Presold Concept”–and the writing talent of a dead chipmunk.

These folks (who may be established producers, studio executives, toy company reps or just idiots with money) hire a writer to develop their great ideas into a pitch bible. This is the prime tool for presenting a series idea to those who can buy such things.

The pitch bible is a magic act performed by writers for people who know how all Hollywood tricks are done. You must use TV Guide phrases like “groundbreaking” and “provocative” to describe your series. Other industry folk like to call it “sizzle,” as in “Sell me the sizzle, not the steak.” Whatever one calls it, it’s basically bull and everyone involved is aware of it.

Characters Are All

The presentation of the bible’s elements should run something like this: A page or two up front that synopsizes the series, descriptions of your protagonists and antagonists including the relationships between them (if any), a summary of the continuing story (if any) and a series of sample story lines. The number of story lines is variable; I usually shoot for 6-13. If you cannot come up with six story lines fairly easily, you better rethink your series, it’s obviously not inspiring you.

The real meat of the bible is the description of the characters and the setting they appear in. If these are presented with careful regard to commercial appeal and project cost, you have a better-than-average shot to go on to the next phase. This is usually a second bible (expanding on concepts in the pitch bible), a pilot story, a pilot script and–if you’re lucky–a pilot show.

Let’s set aside business considerations and talk about the actual process involved in writing a show bible. In the beginning is the concept: A family copes with modem life, two vice cops work the streets, an interspecies crew pilots a starship lost in an unknown galaxy, a mythical hero has adventures in ancient New Zealand, five young friends cope with modern life, etc. Such one-line descriptions are the foundation on which every television series is built. They tell you, without frills or hype, exactly what you have to work with. So now you get to work.

How hard you must work depends on the nature of the concept. Most mainstream series concepts, whether comedy or drama, involve contemporary characters in contemporary settings. In this base, writers spend no time at all worrying about how their fictional world “works,” and can concentrate on characters. These series are the easiest to create, sell and produce.

On the other hand, if you have something in the fantastic genre such as a Star Trek or Babylon 5, you must build a world in which things do not always happen as they do in New York City or a small town in the Midwest. In this case, your setting (and the time and cost of creating it) becomes almost as important as your characters.

Falling somewhere to the right of that genre is the series with a fantastic element in an otherwise recognizable setting. Most Twilight Zone episodes and comedies like I Dream of Jeannie fall into this realm. In these instances, the writer need not create a whole new world but merely set some sort of rules for the handling of the fantastic element.

Finally we have the period piece like Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and Anne of Green Gables. Anything that deals with the past requires careful handling. Writers must pay attention to historical detail and speech patterns, while at the same time giving the characters appeal to contemporary viewers.

If your show bible does require more attention to the setting (or arena as we Horyweird types call it), build it with great care. It’s not enough to create economics, politics, language, morality, technology, transportation, history, culture, recreation, and so on, that merely seem different, they must also work effectively within your story context.

Here’s an example from the original Star Trek series. The creators had a simple problem to solve–how to move the characters from the Enterprise to other locations, They decided to create the “Transporter,” a device that scrambles molecules and transmits them intact to other locations. This idea was nothing new, but applying it to a TV show in which timing is all important was a master stroke.

Its benefit was obvious; it moved characters quickly and seamlessly into the action, a big plus for what was at heart an action show. This solved many story problems, but in the bargain created one as well–if the Enterprise could literally move its people at will, any sense of jeopardy was effectively scotched. The solution was to find a variety of ways in which the transporter could be nullified, such as ion fields, magnetic storms and force shields. Transporter technology even generated stories as writers asked questions like “what if the transporter malfunctioned while one of the crew was being transported?”

Thus a small piece of the Star Trek universe creatively expanded that universe.

Characters to invite In–Every Week

Characters in a television series have a much tougher job than those in a feature film. The characters in a movie have you trapped. You pay to see them, you’re sitting in the dark and they’re ten feet high and glowing. Plus, they only demand your attention for two hours.

Characters on a television show compete with constant interruptions, are a helluva lot smaller than even their youngest viewers, and you can remove them with a click of a button. Moreover, they want you to stay. with them week after week; they want, in essence, to become part of your life. Tall order.

You’re the person who must fill this order. Start with your lead. This is the character you’re counting on to hook viewers. He or she is crucial to a comedy series and invaluable to a “lone wolf” show (a show that concentrates almost exclusively on a single character, such as The Fugitive or Nowhere Man). Even when writing an ensemble show such as E.R, there are characters who are considered leads.

A lead character must have a variety of layers–physical, psychological and, above all, emotional. A lead must be active. And if he or she is a one-note character, the finest troupe of supporting players will not save the series.

The writer must know his or her lead in great depth. Beyond what goes down on the paper, you must always be able to answer the question “What would so-and-so do if . . . ”

Much of that if has to do with the supporting cast. Supporting characters should be as lively and colorful as you can make them, so long as they don’t overshadow the lead. In order to prevent this, always view supporting characters in relationship to the lead. They may be relatives, friends, lovers, allies, rivals, neighbors or colleagues of the lead, but whoever they are, their strength is in illuminating the lead’s position and creating complications in the story. For this purpose, you must also consider their relationship to each other. A good bible will follow each individual character description with a brief summary of the character’s relationships to all the other characters in the show (if any).

Your lead and your supporting characters together constitute the protagonists. Characters directly opposed 3 to them are antagonists. Description of antagonists depends on the type of show you’re doing. In comedies, the antagonists are usually foils for the lead and his supporters, and are part of the support cast (Newman on Seinfeld, for instance). Dramatic antagonists vary. In a police or hospital drama they’re often guest stars involved in the crime or medical dilemma of the week; in a prime-time soap they’re often regulars who fall into the category of folks you love to hate; in a legal drama they are often attorneys opposing the lead (such as D.A. Hamilton Burger, Perry Mason’s eternal foe). Science fiction shows often opt for whole species of villains (such as Star Trek’s Klingons).

If your antagonists are not regulars–or at the very least recurring characters–then the bible need not go into great detail about them. If they are, then they should be described in as much detail as the leads. If such antagonists have a regular crew of henchmen as well, they should be treated just like the lead’s supporting characters.

Now is the time to reiterate what I said about TV characters wanting you to watch them week after week. There is only one way to make this happen: The protagonists must be likable. Let me take a radical example of this from All in the Family, a past groundbreaking show. Archie Bunker, the bigoted, sexist head of the household, is on the surface an unlikable character. Yet the show and the character were monster hits. Why? Archie, for all his faults, was likable. His bigotry and his sexism, though perfectly serious, never became harmful and were always played to be mocked. In addition, he truly loved his family in his gruff way and this was apparent throughout the show. He was, in a nutshell, a man with all the shortcomings of humanity, but with some real measure of the positives. This was why we liked him, even when he said things that made us wince. It is this spectrum of humanity you must strive for in creating characters for a series.

So What Will They Do?

The next step in writing a show bible is story lines. This again is dictated by the type of show.

In a pitch bible, story lines are generally eschewed for a simple summary of the types of stories the show hopes to do. This is generally a better way of working, because things will change in the development process that will affect story lines.

In a full show bible, the writer may still write a small summary of types of stories, but will then follow this up with several story premises, usually about a paragraph each. This sets a tone for other writers to follow, something that’s necessary only for a new show. Once a show has been on for a season, the tone can pretty well be viewed on the air.

If the show has a continuing story the bible should also contain the key points in that continuing story and how they’ll be handled from episode to episode. You might even consider including a time line for the various events that will take place throughout the telling of the story.

Outside of those nuts and bolts there are a few extras you can throw into the bible. The first is artwork: It you’re developing a project through a production company, there will no doubt be graphic artists about who can turn the verbal into the visual to help buyers get a clearer vision of the series. If you’re creating a series on your own, then you’ll have to con an artist friend into helping you out (or hire one).

The second extra is budget and production speculations. It helps to have some idea of what the show might cost and how hard or easy it will be to produce. One of the selling points of Babylon 5 was a production cost of less than $1 million, an incredibly low figure for a science fiction show. Beginners won’t know the ins and outs of budget; it’s something that one picks up through experience. However, common sense tells you whether or not a show is doable, and if you manage to break through to a buyer you better have some sound answers as to whether or not your vision will cost $500,000 an episode or $3 million.

What you must strive to turn out in the end is a good read, a summation of your series that excites readers and indicates the show has legs–that is, good characters and a range of stories. If you are new to the industry, I strongly urge adding a spec script to go with the bible; not a pilot but a “typical episode.” This can give prospective buyers a clearer idea of the series and your ability to write it.

Yes, it’s tough. But if you’re one of those demented souls who nurtures a passion to add one more show to the hungry maw of television, I say go for it. And may you be always in bocca al lupo.

John <![CDATA[Keeping A Strong Balance]]> http://jseliger.com/?p=39 2016-07-20T15:46:22Z 2015-06-05T07:06:49Z It was 9:30 at night and I was driving north on a quiet road, hooked to a cell phone. My 6-year-old son, Lucas, sleepy and tearful, was on the line.

Do you love writing better than me?” The asked.

Peering into the darkness, I increased my speed. I had just walked out in the middle of a blue-ribbon publishing panel so I could be home in time to put Lucas and his older sister to bed.

“I love you and my work,” I explained. They’re two different kinds of love. Mommy has lots of love inside.”

I listened to his shortened breathing. “It’s just like your hockey,” I went on. “You love hockey so much, but you also love Mommy.”

uniwritingtimeFor the moment, Lucas seemed content. Now I was the one feeling off-balance. I hadn’t expected to be explaining Freudian concepts of love, economic freedom and work to my first grader from the shadowy womb of the car. The need to write and the need to mother were on a collision course that evening. The clash seemed particularly jarring because it came amid the holiday season’s heightened expectations. It was the week before Thanksgiving, and my children were looking forward to their upcoming vacation in Florida with their father. I would miss them, but I welcomed nights of uninterrupted writing time.

Their flight was scheduled for Friday afternoon. Most of my week was filled with odd computer problems and evening writing events — all of them promising to be interesting and stimulating. As usual, I did mental gymnastics, trying to figure out how to vault to my writing events and still stick my landings at home.

I forced myself to make choices. I’d forgo my ongoing fiction class; I’d attend a new screenwriting workshop. But the real crunch came with the publishing panel, scheduled for Thursday, the night before my children were leaving.

I planned an early, cozy dinner together and arranged for the children’s favorite sitter. On Thursday morning, however, my daughter woke up with a horrible, hacking cough, and I left work early so we could go to the doctor. At 10, Elissa considers doctors’ visits a fate worse than losing telephone privileges. Her mood was bleak, and when she was diagnosed with bronchitis, she turned sullen. We waited for a prescription for nearly an hour. When I was curt with the pharmacist, Elissa ducked down the nearest aisle, embarrassed.

Our cozy dinner became a hasty affair of some good homemade soup and half-eaten sandwiches. The sitter came and I rushed out to the publishing program with promises of being home in time to read bedtime books. In one coat pocket I held my notebook and pen, in the other, my cell phone.

In the university auditorium, immersed in the world of writers and book lovers, I felt energized and inspired. Behind me, I saw my former journalism professor, author William Kennedy. I got up to greet him. Unexpectedly, he invited me to join him and the panel member — agents, editors, publishers — for a drink after the workshop.

It isn’t often that I’m invited out with a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and other top literary people. It was an entree into the mysterious and intimidating arena of publishing. In my fantasies, I heard laughter and witty repartee. I saw my smiling, well-read self sharing revelations with these pundits of the written word. I felt new relationships blossoming.

I could also picture my children at home, waiting for the sound of the garage door to open and me to sail in.

“I can’t,” I said to William Kennedy.

Ironically, the biggest message from the panel seemed to be about the importance of networking and making contacts. By 9:15, when I knew I should be on the road, I started to think more about that invitation.

Phone in hand, I ducked into the nearest bathroom and called home. My daughter sounded fine. But then Lucas took the phone.

When are you coming home?” he asked, his voice unnaturally highpitched.

“I thought you’d be sleeping,” I said, trying not to convey my disappointment that he wasn’t. “Aren’t you tired?”

“Come home.”

Kristin, the sitter, said she would lie down with Lucas and try to calm him. But I could still hear him whimpering.

“I’m on my way,” I said.

During the 15-minute drive home, my thinking was reduced to that of a first grader. Life isn’t fair. Then a new thought took hold: Perhaps I could put both kids to bed, convince the sitter to stay and rush out again.

I called home once more, fearful that by the time I got there, Lucas would be asleep. The fear emanated from opposing parts of me: from the mother who wanted her son to know she was going to be there for him, and from the writer who didn’t want to forgo an opportunity.

And so I spent the drive home talking to Lucas, trying to keep him awake until I could hug him. I told him about running into the author who wrote the children’s book he loves, Charley Malarkey and the Belly Button Machine. I mentioned friends’ houses I passed along the road, trees that resembled giant monsters — anything to keep the conversation going.

And then: “Do you love writing better than me?’

By the time I clicked open my garage, the world of writing, writers and publisher’s seemed like a distant fantasy.

My daughter was reading in bed. “I’m glad you’re home,” she said. I kissed her forehead and promised to read another chapter to her.

But first, I lay down with Lucas. I listened to his breathing and felt the warmth of his body. I smelled his newly shampooed hair. It was one of those moments when everything should have been clear — but wasn’t. I tried to convince myself I was where I should be and where I wanted to be. The rest — publishing, networking, marketing — would somehow follow.

Or would it? Writers who are mothers always have to make choices, and they aren’t necessarily choices that advance their writing, or their mothering. “Tell me again about the poems you lost and the babies you saved,” poet/mother Laura Apol writes in homage to another poet and mother, Lucille Clifton. “Tell me you couldn’t replace the children, tell me you could replace the poems; please tell me that he because 1, too, have poems and children and some days they play side by side, tossing back and forth while I listen; some days they fight to the death.”

My daughter often complains about my lack of complete attention. In the rolled-eye way. of preadolescents, she says all I ever do is write. Her perception amazes me, since it is the one thing I never have enough time for, and most of it I do late at night, long after she’s asleep.

In a more pointed manner, Lucas has accused me of having the audacity to write while attending his 6:30 a.m. weekend hockey practice. How he manages to see me scribble while I’m huddled high in the bleachers and he’s busy chasing a puck, I don’t know. But I do know that the urge to write is often incurable, and like other less desirable addictions, it has a way of taking over one’s fife, motherhood notwithstanding.

After Lucas fell asleep, I watched him for a long time. Then I read with Elissa and held her until she fell into her dreams. Sometime after 10, when they were both in a deep sleep, I asked my patiently waiting sitter if it was possible for her to stay, and headed out again. I felt foolish, but my literary opportunity still beckoned.

I sped back downtown, heading for a popular local pub where I’d heard Kennedy often goes. When I pulled up, my heart was pounding. I stood outside for a few minutes, debating on whether to go in, and then, mustering my nerve, I just did.

My eyes scanned both sides of the front room. I walked past the hostess, college students and others. I reached the back room. There was no Kennedy, no post-publishing panel get-together, no opportunity.

The next morning, I called a friend and we discussed bad timing and good mothering, all in the context of the writing life.

“Lucas can go on a fabulous trip and come home with tons of Disney paraphernalia and a dozen stuffed animals,” my friend said, “but his mom gave up an evening with William Kennedy for him. What does that tell him?”

When Lucas called from Florida several days later, he had lots to tell me about his plane ride, Mickey and the man-o’wars at Coconut Grove. Alone with my books and my computer that holiday week, I tried to do as much writing as possible. There were no invitations to anything that had to do with writing or publishing.

I’m still plugging away — at my novel, short stories, essays and a screenplay. I like to think that one day some or all of these will make their mark somewhere. I try not to think about the words that will never get written or published.

My friend likes to believe that in about 12 years, when Lucas is studying Ironweed or Very Old Bones in college lit, he can tell his classmates about the night his writer mother chose coming home to him over going out with William Kennedy.

Talk about fantasies. It is more likely that my son will remember that I was the only mother who wrote during hockey practice.

John <![CDATA[Getting Smart With Sources]]> http://jseliger.com/?p=34 2018-03-21T22:05:27Z 2015-05-27T06:40:13Z smartwsIt’s a writer’s nightmare: That magazine you’ve been angling to write for, that editor you’ve been courting so assiduously, finally comes through with a plum assignment. Your big chance to break into some coveted market is at hand at last.

And then you can’t deliver.

It’s not your fault, of course. Maybe Your source takes a six-month fellowship in Zimbabwe. Perhaps a crucial interviewee gets cold feet about talking to you. Or, worst of all, maybe you start researching your story and discover it’s not the story you sold to the editor — what you promised m your query just isn’t so. That hot trend sweeping the country turns out to be colder than Hula-Hoops, or the medical miracle promising relief to minions gets deflated by a contradictory study.

Whatever the reason, your article goes awry and you can’t deliver on an assignment. What should you do? Can this marriage of query and reality be saved?

As with most such cosmic questions, the answer is: It depends. The important thing is not to panic, to think creatively, to be honest with your editor, and to never, ever deliver an apple when your assignment asks for an orange.

Being honest with your editor and sticking to the assignment doesn’t mean giving up at the first detour, The immediate thing to do when an assignment goes awry is to evaluate the damage and see if the “patient” might pull through with quick emergency treatment.

Tight Lips Sink Ships

Let’s take the simplest and probably most common cause of article anxieties: losing a key source. You built your query around plans to interview a professor at the local university, and when the editor finally says yes, the professor says no.

First, probe the reasons for the prof’s refusal. Quite likely it’s just the familiar “I don’t have the time.” Of course, you’ll make reassurances and minimize the time demands of your interview. (It’s your editor you need to be completely straight with — with sources, you need to get your foot in the door!) Offer to meet your subject any time, any place; I’ve done interviews riding in a limo on the way to the airport.

If your pleas don’t work, fall back on a request for a phone interview. “Can you just spare me a few minutes on die phone?” You’re playing to a (false) perception here: that phone interviews take less time than in-person interviews. Sure, they take less of your time — no need to drive someplace, find your subject’s office, drive home again — and they’re less satisf-actory for getting a feel of your subject and his surroundings. But phone interviews don’t necessarily mean less actual time talking to your subject; you can always just keep asking one more question.

So push hard for the phone-interview fallback. It seems rude not to be willing to spare just a “few minutes” on the phone with an interviewer, even for the famous and unapproachable. In extreme circumstances when you absolutely must have something from this source, you can even fall way, way back on the written “interview.” You mail, fax or e-mail a list of questions, and your harried source can write. his responses when he can squeeze in the time. In this e-mail era, this is a particularly seductive gambit: Responding to e-mail seems so effortless, it’s hard to resist.

Of course, this is even more of a false perception than the phone interview: Crafting written responses takes more time and certainly more care than answering a few questions in person off the top of one’s head. But you’re trying to rescue your article here, not make life easy for a source.

With phone interviews and especially with written answers, you need to make extra efforts to keep your article from reading like a phone call or from being as flat as the piece of paper that was your “interview.” Dig deep into secondary sources for color and detail about your subject. You might visit the professor’s campus, for example, just to get a sense of place. Ask other sources about your reluctant interviewee. Hunt down a recent photo.

Don’t deceive readers or your editor when you pour this material into print: Never combine facts to create scenes you didn’t see, for instance. But neither do you need to advertise the fact that you weren’t there. Many writers will append “he said in a phone interview” to quotes — but that’s seldom necessary. Readers don’t care as long as you make the subject come alive in print.

Substituting Sources

Sometimes an important source simply can’t be persuaded to answer your questions, or can’t be reached. If you specifically pegged your query to this source your assignment may indeed be history. Let your editor know sooner rather than later, even if you can concoct a backup plan.

But if your query was more general, even if you had a specific source in mind, the assignment might still be saved. Start a hunt for a substitute source — and start with the source that just stiffed you. “Can you suggest someone else who might be able to talk to me on this subject?” is a good parting shot when an interviewee turns you down flat. (And being able to drop Source #1’s name when you call suggested Source #2 may help open the door to an interview.)

If you can’t find a single perfect substitute for a main source, try filling in with several different, albeit not quite as good, interviewees. Together, these lesser interviews may add up to as complete a picture as you would have gotten from your ideal source.

If your key source does agree to talk to you — just not as soon as you need the interview — again, full and early disclosure to your editor is the best policy. The first rude of keeping editors happy is to never, ever miss a deadline. The second rule is to give plenty of warning when you do miss a deadline. Tell your editor why you can’t deliver on time, promise perfect copy on the earliest possible date, and maybe you can save that hard-won assignment Offer to e-mail the article, then follow with an express-mailed manuscript.

Articles That Do an About-face

Another case where honest — yearly-is the best policy is when an assignment takes an unexpected twist. Sometimes an article turns out to be different from what you expected (and different from what your query promised). Maybe it’s still interesting — but never assume it’s as interesting to your editor as the original query. Come clean and try to re-pitch the new take on your subject.

This prince-into-frog transformation happens to articles more than you might guess. Even if you’ve done your homework before crafting a query, you run the risk of reality running your idea off the road.

My favorite example of an article turning upside-down was my interview with the maestro of the Dubuque symphony. He was marking one of those anniversary milestones in his conducting career, and the local symphony boosters pitched me on an interview to celebrate the maestro’s years of artistic triumph. Unfortunately, when I sat down to chat up the maestro, he proved to be anything but triumphant. Instead, he was bitter and begrudging, complaining that he’d wasted the prime years of his career in an artistic backwater with a fifth-rate orchestra. The next step in his career? The graveyard, he answered.

It made a heckuva story, but hardly the story I’d promised my editor at the Dubuque daily newspaper. To try to shoehorn the unhappy maestro into a milestone-celebration story would have been a disaster. So my first stop the next morning was at my editor’s desk, to sell him on the new story. (He went for it, I wrote my story, and soon the unhappy symphony backers were seeking a new maestro.)

Anniversary stories rarely blow up in your face like that, but articles pegged to trends are prime for a “boom” to go bust. Nothing deflates a good trend story like the facts: Maybe sales of your “hot” product are actually cooling, or that promising program to combat juvenile crime seems less promising when you learn teen crime rates have soared since the program’s inception. Oops.

What do you do? Confess to your editor — now. The only thing worse than not being able to deliver on an assignment is delivering the wrong story. Don’t try to hide the awful truth; editors are smart people, and they’ll sniff out an article that can’t support its key contentions. And don’t turn in some other, only tangentially related story: A travel piece on Miami, say, when you pitched a terrifying tale of surviving a hurricane (and then Florida goes and has the mildest storm season in memory).

That doesn’t mean you can’t still try to make lemonade out of lemons. Just as my maestro story turned out to be interesting — more interesting, in fact, if utterly different — so, too, might your prince-into-frog story reveal a darned interesting frog. It’s still not the prince you promised your editor, but maybe the editor — or some other editor — will want it.

After all, the basic elements that made the subject query-worthy are still there. If that breakthrough against heart disease failed to pan out, you’ve nonetheless learned a lot about heart disease that might be spun into an article about prevention — or about how resistant such ailments are to quick cures. If your boom went bust or your boy wonder went broke, well, spectacular failure can be as dramatic as success.

Similarly, failure can be as educational as success. When an assignment takes a detour, try to keep your eyes open to the possibilities that detour may have brought you to.

John <![CDATA[Scriptwriting Ain’t As Easy As It Looks!]]> http://jseliger.com/?p=28 2015-06-13T17:01:15Z 2015-05-17T06:05:17Z scriptwritingPlymouth, Michigan, doesn’t have much in common with Hollywood. But from there Burnstein tickled Tinseltown’s funny bone with his script for Renaissance Man, the film that started his career. Since then, he co-wrote Mighty Ducks 3 and is currently writing an original science-fiction film for Avnet/Kerner, the production team behind Ducks.

“At the start, the odds are against you because you don’t live in Hollywood,” says Burnstein. “But you can distinguish yourself because of it. The most important thing is to have a screenplay worthy of reading, one that is really your best shot.

“Don’t fall in love with the first draft. Rewriting is critical because so many scripts are floating around Hollywood,” he says. Burnstein claims only the title and lead character’s first name remain from his first draft of Renaissance Man. “You could write 19 first drafts for 19 different movies and sell none, or rewrite one project 19 times and be in a position to sell it.”

Finding Connections — and Making Your Own

As in most things in life, personal connections can be crucial. And if you’re not on Speilberg’s dinner list, you’ll need to be creative — and diligent.

Friends. A friend introduced Burnstein to Michigan screenwriter Kurt Luedtke (who penned Absence of Malice and Out of Africa). Luedtke suggested Burnstein write what he knew. That advice led him to Renaissance Man, which is based on his experiences teaching Shakespeare to soldiers at Selfridge Air National Guard Base.

Use your experiences to pen the script, suggests Burnstein, and your connections to get it in the Hollywood loop. Make a list of 50 people you know. One of them, he says, likely knows somebody who knows someone connected to the business. Ask that person to pass your script along or connect you directly to the Hollywood contact.

“All you’re asking for is a favor. If you get it to a producer or agent and it’s rejected, don’t worry. You need that no before you get a yes,” says Burnstein.

The Guild. Connect yourself by requesting the Writers Guild of America’s list of agents soliciting new screenplays (send $2.50 to the Guild at 7000 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles 90048-4329).

Don’t be shy about contacting agents. “For agents soliciting new screenplays, send a cover letter and die script,” says Burnstein. “Choose ten; don’t go broke mailing your script. For those not soliciting, send an enticing letter with either a line, a paragraph, or a one-page script synopsis. Then, for both, follow up with a phone call begging them to look at it.”

Also, send the script with the letter to agents who aren’t accepting new material. If they like the letter, then they already have the screenplay. Don’t try this with every agent, Burnstein advises; pick a couple and see what works for you.

Agents are one reason “why rewriting is so important,” says Burnstein, who rewrote Renaissance Man four times before showing it. “When you’re contacting them, you’re saying, `Sure, everybody’s written a screenplay, but this one will be worth your time.'”

Stay in touch. Stay in touch with Hollywood through its many industry mags. Read Entertainment Weekly, Premiere, The Living Arts section of The New York Times, Variety (both Weekly and Daily editions) and The Hollywood Reporter.

“By reading these publications, you’ll know which studios and producers are hot and what they’re looking for,” says Burnstein. “And you’ll educate yourself as to how the business works by learning how other writers have made it.”

Read screenplays. Burnstein recommends the quarterly Scenario Magazine, which typically prints four complete scripts.

Scripts and scriptwriting advice can also be found on the Internet. A good site is the Screenwriters and Playwrights Home Page (http://www.teleport.com/~cdeemer/ scrwriter.html), which houses classic and current scripts, as well as tips on writing and marketing your own script. There’s also advice on how to write a query letter and how to submit, as well as a fist of online agents (and a fink to a site that fists agencies interested in new writers), producers, production companies and screenwriting contests. The Writers Guild also has a site; it’s at http://www.wga-org.

It All Comes Back to the Script

Living outside of Hollywood can even be an advantage, says Burnstein. He believes Hollywood natives tend to submit scripts before they’re ready just to quicken the process.

“Many Hollywood writers think producers are the ultimate audience. But a screenwriter must write movies for people who pay to see them.”

Living elsewhere can also broaden a writer’s perspective. Renaissance Man producer Sara Colleton says, “One out of 50 scripts has what I saw Jim’s. He writes with heart, integrity and honesty by keeping his feet firmly planted in the real world and being in touch with family values and the movie-going audience.

“Writers outside of Hollywood seem to have better lives, and this provides a source of creative energy. They have freer thoughts and don’t get caught up in the recycled ideas that flow from studio to studio.”

But to ultimately succeed you must stay true to the material you really want to write. Trends change but good writing is always marketable, says Burnstein. Colleton claims passion is the secret. “Good material surfaces,” she says. “When agents get hold of it, your phone will ring off the hook.”

And think career,, says Burnstein. “Everybody wants their movie made, but if you get an agent and your screenplay never gets produced, who cares? Now you’re in the game. Your minimum goal with your first screenplay should be to get and agent, because an agent can get you work in Hollywood.”

And once you have an agent on your side, it doesn’t matter if you live in Plymouth, Michigan, or in Plymouth, Massachusetts. You’ll be working in Hollywood.

Burnstein’s Thumb’s Up

To write movies, you must watch as many as possible. Jim Burnstein’s three must-sees:

Pulp Fiction

Shows how dialogue defines character. “What makes it work is how Quentin Tarantino plays with structure. Told in a linear format, the movie would lose its theme.”


Sylvester Stallone’s script knows exactly what it’s about. “It’s a character-driven movie that reflects the picture’s theme. It all comes together when Rocky creates a goal for himself. He knows he can’t win; but if he goes the distance, he’ll know he’s not just another bum.”


Scriptwriters William Kelly, Pamela Wallace and Earl Wallace combined a police thriller and love story to make a statement on violence. “Witness executes the three-act structure flawlessly. it has strong characters, important themes and great dialogue.”

John <![CDATA[Creative Exercises #2 – Get Clear]]> http://jseliger.com/?p=23 2018-03-21T22:08:16Z 2015-05-09T05:53:36Z creativeexFor many writers, noise inhibits creativity. How do you reduce this potential distraction and focus on your writing? In just the same way you can ignore background sounds when you’re caught up in a good book or movie: You devote yourself to the story. To have the same keen attention, you must block out annoying racket and sharpen your concentration.

William Faulkner ignored the constant ear-splitting roar of a dynamo as he wrote “Sanctuary” during his midnight to 4 a.m. shift in a Power plant’s boiler room. Dr. Albert Schweitzer penned numerous articles and books amid the clamor of his jungle surroundings.

You can use a steady noise to cover up other abrasive ones. An air conditioner or fan drowns out practicing musicians, dogs barking or carpenters hammering next door. Many writers find that it’s easier to concentrate on their work with an inoffensive background sound.

Music helps, too. Certain types of music written by Baroque composers (Bach, Vivaldi and others) are particularly relaxing. The stringed instruments and the tempo of 55-60 beats a minute produce a conducive setting for writing.

Sounds aren’t the only noise a writer must deal with. Interruptions come in all shapes and sizes, but focusing on your work can help you deal with any distraction.

Trying a new approach to solving some of your old writing problems can boost your creativity and productivity. Your writing will become as Henry Miller said, “like life itself, a voyage of discovery.”

Sleep, Perchance to Write

To produce dreams that enhance your creativity, you must first conjure a mental picture of your writing goal and then create a statement affirming that the goal has been achieved. Then follow these steps:

* Get comfortable. Noise should be at a minimum. Close your eyes. Inhale through your nose. Take the air down to the diaphragm. Count to three. Exhale through the mouth. Do this three times.

* Imagine yourself within a pleasing scene. For me, it’s lying on a lounge chair near a pond on a warm fall day. The water reflects the colors of the surrounding tree leaves. All of nature is in harmony.

* Push your heels down on your chair or bed. Feel the tension; now relax them. Do the same thing with your hips, back, shoulders, neck, head, arms and hands. Push down against whatever surface they’re touching, then relax. Tighten and relax the muscles while taking three deep breaths. Repeat silently ten times: “I am becoming more and more relaxed.” (The main objective is to relax your mind and body so that the subconscious will accept your affirming statement.)

* If procrastination is the problem, picture yourself doing something you enjoy — gardening, reading, whatever. Immerse yourself in the activity and feel the pleasure that you derive from it. Next, see yourself going to your desk with the same enthusiasm for your writing. For other writing goals, picture yourself accomplishing them.

* Silently repeat this statement ten times: “Because writing is important to me, I approach it with the same interest I have in (name activity). Other things will be done after I finish my writing.” For other writing goals, repeat a statement that affirms that your goal is achieved. Keep the statement positive and in the present tense. If you do the exercise during the day, finish by saying, “When I open my eyes, I’ll feel great.” Otherwise, allow yourself to drop off to sleep.

One Character to Go, Please

To achieve specific goals for your writing, you must “program” your mind to work on the problem as you sleep. You may, for instance, want to develop a character for a story.

* Before going to sleep, review everything you’ve written about the character. Then do the first three steps above. When your mind and body are relaxed, the critical (conscious) mind becomes nonjudgmental and the inner (subconscious) mind will accept what you say.

* Picture your goal as achieved. See your character in detail as you’ve described him. Finally, say several times silently: “I see my character as a fully-developed person in my dream.”

* When you wake up, keep your eyes closed and try to re-create the dream. Then write down everything you can remember. Do this before you get out of bed; otherwise, you’ll forget the dream.

It’s best to do your dream planning when you’re not under a lot of stress and when you can wake up without an alarm clock (they can make you forget your dreams). It might take several nights or longer, but keep a positive feeling that you will have your desired dream.

You can use this method to help reach any writing goal. The point is to relax your critical, conscious mind and allow your subconscious to offer suggestions.

John <![CDATA[Creativity Exercises Part 1: The Basics]]> http://jseliger.com/?p=18 2015-06-13T05:53:00Z 2015-05-02T05:41:20Z crativityRobert Frost defined creativity as “looking at something old in a new way.” Often our own creative batteries need recharging in order to develop new solutions to old writing problems: finding time and ideas, getting started, and dealing with distractions. The following tips will get your creative gears in motion.

Finding the Write Time

Life circumstances can limit both your writing time and your creativity. How often have you said, “I’d get so much writing done if I just had an extra hour in my day”?

To find that extra hour — or even just 15 minutes — to nurture your creativity, try examining how you’re spending the time you have. On a sheet of paper, list all your waking hours. For each hour record your activities — and be specific. For a week, make a note of everything — taking a walk, reading, preparing dinner and commuting to work.

At the end of the week, look back on the daily logs and circle each day’s leisure time. Then go through the daily logs again and draw a fine under those leisure times when you’re absolutely free of distractions and interruptions — these are potential writing times. You’ll probably notice that you’ve made time for watching television, talking on the phone, going out to dinner. If you can do it for those activities, then it’s not unrealistic to find and devote 15-60 minutes a day to writing.

Look first at the hours from about 7 to 11 p.m. Is there a television program you watch faithfully each week? The news? A sitcom? Do you watch a show before or after that one? Could that time be used for writing?

Next, look for uninterrupted chunks of time throughout your day. Do you take a bus or train to work? If your round-trip travel time is 45 minutes, can you use 30 of those minutes as writing time?

Dan, a student in one of my classes, used his commute to think through and write a story. Every day on the bus, Dan focused on his story and concentrated on his character. He didn’t waste 10 or 15 minutes trying to out what to write about; he simply took notes on the thoughts he had about his story.

After a few months, the plot line began falling into place. Dan’s character became more and more believable. In fact, most of the story was written using those 20-minute sessions on the bus.

Marjorie Holmes is the author of numerous books and articles, as well as the mother of four children. How did she manage to do both? “There were thousands of times when I thought I would go mad, mad, mad, with interruptions and frustrations,” Holmes said. “Yet no matter what, I managed to turn out a little something almost every day. Even a scrap of an idea or an observation.”

Curiouser and Curiouser

Curiosity is one of the most permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect,” said Samuel Johnson. Writers who lack it — or stifle it — are at a disadvantage.

One powerful idea generator that activates curiosity is the daily newspaper. It pulls you into a whirlwind of emotions and events. Crime, death, advice and laughter are discussed, documented and delivered to your doorstep. Reading the paper can be a routine exercise or a treasure hunt for ideas.

Become a creative reader. Tackle those pages with a pen in your hand and this question in your mind: How can I use this in my writing.? Jot notes in the margin. Put check marks next to articles to clip for future use.

As you read about the teenager who unexpectedly inherited $3 million from an eccentric neighbor he’d befriended, your active mind should ask questions: How will this change his life? How would the average person spend that much money? What would I do with it? You can explore the answers to these questions and others in your own articles, stories and poems.

Advice columns such as Dear Abby suggest a host of potential topics. Many even provide a story fine. What could you develop from these questions: How do I deal with a child who is on drugs? A jealous spouse? A workaholic husband?

Interviews on TV talk shows range from the informative to the bizarre and can stimulate your creativity. A show that reunites high school sweethearts after 30 years might prompt you to consider whether you’d marry your high school sweetheart today.

Of course, your daily newspaper and favorite talk shows are only two places to apply this technique. Once you develop your curiosity, you’ll question everything around you and imagine all the possibilities.

Sleep on it

A stimulated imagination works nonstop. Even when you’re not awake, you’re thinking and creating and dreaming. Ideas for stories and ways to develop them can be revealed in dreams. Plots can be acted out by your characters on your mind’s movie screen. Why not tap into this source?

Even people who say they don’t dream really do; they just don’t remember. We spend 20% of our sleeping hours dreaming. Adults may dream for up to 90 minutes during an eight-hour period. This can be a very creative and productive time, especially if other duties limit your writing time.

Authors, scientists and artists throughout history have looked to dreams for ideas and insights. Dante, Goethe, Milton, Blake and Tolstoy were influenced by their dreams. J. B. Priestly dreamed his three essays “The Berkshire Beast,” “The Strange Outfitter” and “The Dream” in detail.

Researchers agree that whatever thoughts you have right before sleep greatly influence the content of your dreams. After thinking for several nights about a poem that could convey her feelings about depression, Anne, a beginning writer, had a dream: “I was alone in a large Victorian house. A foot of snow had fallen during the day — the wind drifted it against the door. As I looked out the window, I felt an overwhelming sense of isolation and depression. The blizzard became the metaphor for depression in my poem.”

With practice, you can deliberately induce dreams of artistic creations or dreams that solve problems. “Your dreams can become your own source of inspiration,” says Dr. Patricia Garfield, author and dream researcher. (See the sidebar on page 31 for advice on how to influence your dreams.)

Warming Up Your Writing Muscles

Perhaps your creative roadblock isn’t in getting an idea, but in how to get it on paper.

These five exercises will help you break the ice at the start of a writing session. I recommend you spend a minimum of 15 minutes warning up for every hour you intend to write.

* Pick a word that defines your mood at the time you’re writing (such as sad) happy, romantic). Write several paragraphs about how you feel and why. This exercise can act as a catharsis to clear away emotional blocks that inhibit your creativity.

* Read a favorite poem or quotation and write your reaction to it. A literary shot in the arm or an insightful comment can stimulate an idea. It can cause you to recall an experience, a person or an emotion you could write about.

* If you’re planning to write a story during your regular writing session, use journalism’s five Ws to help you figure out what to say: Who is the story about? What is the plot? Where does it take place? When does the action happen? Why are you writing it? Write a rough outline based the five Ws.

* As you look at your high school year-book picture (or one taken when you were a teenager), ask yourself these questions: How have your priorities changed since then? What career did you want to pursue in high school? Did you do it? What three important life lessons have you learned since you graduated?

* Open your journal. Keeping a journal or diary or writing letters may be especially helpful if you have trouble developing an idea. A journal serves many purposes. It can be a trusted friend to confide in or a sounding board for solving problems.

“Creative people in many fields have traditionally kept journals because the form encourages the creative process,” wrote Tristine Rainer in her book The New Diary. “The journal provides a place to deposit the first flash of creative imagination or experience.”

Cecilia, a former student, writes articles about teenagers and their problems. Before beginning a piece, she writes letters to her niece and nephew who are in high school. Cecilia never mails these letters, but they help her picture her readers and their needs. They let her express her ideas in a way that would interest teens.

“No writing is a waste of time,” author Brenda Ueland assures us. “With every sentence you write, you have learned something. It has stretched your understanding.”