Friday, July 18, 2014

Moments of Conception 053 -- The Manuscript Scene from Wonder Boys

All creativity begins with the moment of conception.

That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.


And so, in this new blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.

Today's clip comes from the car scene in Wonder Boys:



What can we learn?

Matching footprints with heartspace. Grady teaches creative writing at the university level. But in the process of trying to repeat the critical acclaim of his first novel, he becomes sidelined by a severe case of writer’s block. Shocking. It’s a classic case of the cobbler’s kid syndrome. We neglect those closest to us. Due to our utter dedication to wider market demands, we fail to note the needs of our intimate ecosystem. Because nobody wants to hire outside help in something they’re supposedly experts in. There’s too much cognitive dissonance. And so, the kids go barefoot. What’s interesting is, this phenomenon of operational farsightedness is extremely common. Especially with creative types. It’s almost comical. You don’t need a supreme sense of irony to see the humor in the blocked creative writing professor. But it is a pointed reminder that what we’re good at, we’re bad at. Nobody is impervious to the peril they advise others against. Are you smoking what you’re selling?
Recognize when life is giving you a gift. Grady just watched two thousand pages of his latest manuscript flutter out of the window like a flock of white doves. Seven years of work, down the tube. What a profoundly sad, sinking and searing pain that is. It’s like Hemingway’s wife, who famously misplaced and lost a suitcase filled with her husband’s manuscripts. Ouch. If you’ve never had the pleasure of losing everything, of laboring in vain, wait a while. It’s only a matter of time before the delete button depresses. But as the book agent suggests, it’s for the best. It’s a sign. In fact, the benefit of burning everything to the ground is, you get to salt the earth and see if you can do it again. You get to test how much faith you have in yourself. And you get to start from scratch, letting go of everything except the person you’ve become, and reinvest that into something new and better. Grady’s loss of the manuscript, devastating as it is, forces him to rework his second novel into something even better. At the end of the movie, we watch as he finishes typing his new book, now using a computer rather than a typewriter, of course. What’s your secret for finding the silver lining in every situation?

Practice aggressive pondering. Crabtree suggests that subconsciously, a person will put themselves in a situation, perhaps even create that situation, in order to have an arena in which to work out an unresolved issue. It’s a covert way of addressing a problem. Love this idea. In fact, the process can even be more deliberate. Often times when I exercise, right before I step into the gym or the yoga studio or the running trail, I set an intention. I plant a seed in my brain. I take a particular thought or problem or issue that I’m currently struggling with and use that as a framing device to guide my experience. And by the time I’m done, the mental prompt I’ve layered on top of the rhythmic, repetitive action will produce an insight I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. It’s the same reasoning behind traveling with your romantic partner within the first three months of the relationship. The road, after all, is the ultimate testing ground. The arena where the truth surfaces. The wringer through which successful relationships endure. How will you use your situation as a catalyst to grow and evolve?

What's your favorite movie moment of conception?