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 typing scene in Misery:
What can we learn?
If you do it right, you never start with nothing. Everyone has the equivalent to a blank page in their lives. It’s that intimidating, torturous, paralyzing and dreadful part of the work that requires you to confront an empty canvas and create something from whole cloth. Cartoonists even have a name for it. They call it the blazing island of white. But while many artists romanticize the notion of the blank page, it’s actually a profoundly unhealthy and inefficient way to work. What’s smarter is to dig your well before you’re thirsty. To accumulate an ongoing reference file for your brain to work on through a passive, unconscious process. Think of it as forced savings account for your ideas that always has a high enough balance to make withdrawals. That way, when you sit down to create, the blank page is no longer ground zero, your life is. Because your intellectual reservoir is constantly replenished, the blank page has become a moot point instead of a massive pain. Paul, on the other hand, doesn’t have a choice. Instead of completing the first draft of his novel in his usual historical, elegant hotel room, now his most loyal, but most psychotic fan is holding him captive. And when he fails to populate that blazing island of white, she smashes his ankles with a sledgehammer. A good reminder that our creative blocks could always be worse. Are you fortifying your intellectual inventory with an organized, trusted and robust system?
Pave the way for prolificacy. Paul’s writing process may be interesting for the screen, but it’s impractical for the career. No wonder he has writer’s block. Sitting down at a blank page is a cold start. It’s too overwhelming to the brain, which pushes a person to do too much work inside their head. And it creates too many outstanding thoughts that plague the consciousness, which makes it harder for a person to think creatively. It’s like walking into a factory and forcing the machine to run before it’s been brought up to operating temperature. Talk about misery. And so, the smarter approach to creating is much more gradualistic. Digging your well before you’re thirsty. Living your life in a way that your art gets done over and over. Making sure that the heavy lifting is everything that comes before your eyeballs stare at the blank canvas. That way, as soon as your butt hits the chair, you can hit the ground running instead of killing yourself trying to will ideas into existence. It’s the difference between sitting down because you have something to say, and sitting down because you just have to say something. Are you making it too hard on yourself to allow for psychic fuel to show up?
Be interesting before you open your mouth. I wrote my first book during my senior year of college. Not bad for my literary maiden voyage, but overall, it was a paragon of imperfection. It had design flaws, grammatical inconsistencies, even a couple of printing errors. But it didn’t matter. It was done and it was mine. I could touch it and smell it and hold it. And nobody could take that away from me. The best part was, because of the book, I now had something to do the talking for me. It was a hundred page calling card. A proxy that could do a lot of the heavy lifting before I opened my mouth. And that was something my mentor always stressed. He said that the greatest competitive advantage is, they’ve heard of you before. Meaning, your strategy as a creator isn’t to build a hype engine around your idea, but to physically make that idea. To build a prototype people can smell and touch. That way, when the time comes, you can slap it down on the table and let it do the talking for you. That’s not high concept, that’s high context. And it’s what makes your work stick. What could I you do to establish instant credibility in this moment?
What did you learn?
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That Guy with the Nametag
Author. Speaker. Strategist. Filmmaker. Publisher. Songwriter.
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