Excitement Lives in the Young

Every week we go to youth group. We play games, have lesson and small group times, and try to help two or three dozen high-schoolers understand that they’re not alone, they’re not as awkward as they feel (and even if they are it’s totally okay—spinach gets stuck in everybody’s teeth sometimes), and not knowing what you’re going to be doing in two years isn’t the end of the world.

They’re fun, they’re kind, they’re smart. They play sports, they do drama, they read books, one of them even volunteers at a museum in her spare time. They’re learning what growing up is in a safe environment, one where they are reminded of what matters, their parents keep them safe, and they don’t have to pay their own electricity bills.

They’re excited about life, because it’s full of possibilities.

They’re excited because they’re young enough to sleep well and forget the hard things.

They’re excited because they haven’t had a job they didn’t like, a boss who was unkind, or a college roommate who doesn’t understand what being courteous is.

And they should be. Writing excitement into young people is crucial (unless you’re styling the moody artist type—that’s a whole different set of attitudes), because it’s so relevant to the young, and so refreshing for everyone else.

Learn to capture their excitement, because excitement is half of what makes life… Well, exciting.

Advertisements

How I Beat Writer’s Block

Classic writers block takes two forms:

  1. Getting up to a certain point then not being able to continue. You’ve written long and hard, and suddenly, at the end of the sentence, you can’t think of what comes next. It doesn’t matter how hard you try, the villain won’t pick up the gun and the heroine stays home in her pajamas. After hours of staring at the screen, you decide maybe you’d make a good chef (writing is for pale bookworms and nervous journalists with big glasses, after all), so you buy a cookbook from Amazon and start googling french cooking terms.
  2. Nothing to say. You’ve sat down to write, and you’ve written forty-five first sentences—and you don’t like any of them. None of them catch on, each one more flaccid than the last, and every time you come up with something maybe even a little good, the burst of inspiration dies out like a shooting star landing in the ocean. Dead. Completely. Sunken to the dark seaweed-y depths to live with bottom dwellers and pale fish with large eyes. You get it.

I don’t know of any diehard methods to beat writers block, but I can tell you what I do: Write. About writers block. I write about how I despise it, how it makes me feel worthless and miserable, how it robs me of all inspiration and love for writing that usually comes so naturally. I write about how frustrating it is to want to say something and not be able to, like the boy who wants to ask the pretty girl to dance but he just… can’t… get… the… words… out… there… Pretty soon, I’ve written a paragraph. If I’m feeling particularly spiteful (which is rare—I may have ditzy spells, but I’m not vindictive by nature), I’ll have a page. Suddenly (while my brain was learning french and my fingers were flying with wrathful vengeance against something so small and obnoxious), the heroine has put on her super-suit, the villain is holding up a bank, and the shooting star is resurrected in blazing glory.

It may not work for everyone—but it’s better than staring at the screen in doleful misery.

Maybe it will work for you.

Build It

 

Building requires work and planning.

Building a building takes an architect, and blueprints, and construction teams, and hundreds of other things that I don’t know about, because I wear glasses and use a computer keyboard, instead of a hardhat and a shovel.

Making a cake takes a recipe (or some plan, at least), ingredients, an oven, and some previous knowledge about baking (don’t put the egg shells in, mix it enough or not too much).

Building a relationship takes time, and energy, and sacrifice. Friends don’t become friends overnight, and once they get there it’s still work.

Making a story means creating characters, formulating plot, setting the stage. It doesn’t happen without a fair amount of thinking and planning.

Sports teams don’t become champions overnight, an ice rink doesn’t freeze in one minute, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Putting the work into building something is worth it. It is an accomplishment, and achievement, an exercise of will. Sometimes there is a reward for completion, but often, finishing is its own reward. It is the ability to step back and say, “I made this,” and to recognize that perceived value aside, it is good because you made it.

Build with the value of the finished product in mind. It’s worth it.

The Real Thing

People love a good reason to celebrate (see Cubs victory this week; it shouldn’t be hard, it’s the only thing everyone’s been talking about since Wednesday night.).

img_1654-jpg

Even more than that, people love to talk about what they’ve seen and celebrated—it’s something that defines us as humans, being able to chronicle what we’ve done and been through. It goes back to the very beginning of time. Before people just wrote things down or took a picture, civilization passed down story from generation to generation, to preserve the history of who they’d become out of who they’d been. It comes from the deep desire to know and be known, and it is who we are.

Now, it’s different. It’s the wireless age, and we share where we are and what we’re doing immediately. While this is an amazing way to communicate and share information, it’s also harder to remember to experience the real thing first hand. It’s important to feel the real-ness of life, because while the virtual can be pretty amazing, the real is, well. Real. And nothing is as good as experiencing real life while it’s happening.

So take pictures, and videos, and write things down. All of that is great.

But also hold your phone out to the side, or over your head, or right up close to your chest, and watch what happens with your eyes—because no one else’s picture or video or blog or article can tell the story of what you saw quite like you can, with your mouth and your expressions and your hand motions.

 

Go Cubs, Go

All of Chicago stayed awake till the small hours of the morning last night, nail-biting, rocking back and forth on seats and couches and stadium chairs, shivering in the cold outside of Wrigley Field, being hurled from the heights of delight to the depths of woe, watching pitch after agonizing pitch of one of the closest and most torturous games that’s been in the World Series. Ever (there are likely statistics to refine or contest the truth of this statement, but if you don’t believe me, just ask anyone who saw the game).

And after all the tension, and drama, and a 17 minute rain delay that gave everyone (by which I mean the Cubs) time to refocus and regroup, and an extra inning that turned plenty of heads gray, the Cubs won.

Chicago went wild.

History in the making, and that is all I have to say about that.

Don’t Copy This

There’s currently a case in the Supreme Court about… Cheerleader uniforms. According to columnist Brent Kendall, of the Wall Street Journal,

“In a vigorous debate on Monday, the high court spent an hour considering when the design elements of clothing can be eligible for copyright protection, an issue that required the justices to consider the qualities that make a cheerleading uniform what it is.”

I need news condensed into simple terms, so if I asked, here’s what’s happening: Someone had a great design for a uniform. Someone else duplicated it. The first guy felt like he got ripped off, because he wasn’t getting credit or money for his ideas. He was unhappy. Very, very unhappy.

I’m not law-savvy enough to know who is right in this argument. I do know that imitation is “one of the sincerest forms of flattery (see this kid’s halloween costume),” but that getting copied feels like a rip off.

While I am a big proponent of seeing something that worked well for someone else, borrowing ideas, and sharing creativity, I recognize that duplicating someone else’s work without crediting them is, in loose terms, stealing.

But it’s hard to be creative on your own. That’s why it’s so important to work in unison, to create surrounded by other creative people, to make things that matter for important causes. If someone else does something amazing, share their work. Don’t copy it. Use their idea to start your own project, but make it different, make it you, and give them credit for the original.

We go farther together than we go alone.

The Dreaded ‘What If’s’

At some point in your life (hopefully sooner than later), some wise person likely sat you down and told you not to entertain the ‘What if’s.’ They’re a lousy bunch of mental guests, always coming before the party is ready, and overstaying their welcome. They track mud in at the door (even when it’s not raining), eat all the biggest cookies (and leave crumbs all over your new sherpa blanket), and loudly overpower everyone else’s stories with tales of their own exploits (you ME, you ME, yo-ME, y-ME, ME, ME). They’re not worth inviting to any get-together, small or large, because even after they leave you’re stuck cleaning up the wreckage until the next time they come around.

In life, if you’re smart, you’ll keep out the ‘What if’s.”

In story, if you’re smart, you’ll invite them in.

Story loves to appeal to the imagination; good story will reach out to the reader (or viewer, or listener) and trigger the faint nudges, both the uneasy and the delighted whispers. A story that triggers the imagination is a story that pulls you in and carries you along, sparking your curiosity, and making you think and plan—story—along with it. A story that leaves nothing up to the imagination is like reading board meeting minutes: too long, too many details, and too boring. It doesn’t leave any room for free space in the mind, for it to wander at will. Inviting imagination into your story is like inviting the ‘What if’s.’ But surprisingly, in story form, they’re quite docile; like the friend who always brings good wine to your dinner party, the colleague who tells you when there’s spinach in your teeth before you make a presentation to the VP, and the driver in the front of a long line of cars who stops at the crosswalk to let you cross when you’re carrying 5 large Bloomingdales bags. You want ‘What if’s’ in your story.

How do you invite them?

#) Don’t over-explain. One of the joys of writing story is that many times, people can relate to situations that you’re describing—that means they’re acting it out in their heads. If you describe every detail, they’ll get tired of trying to stick to your over-demanding script, and they won’t enjoy immersing themselves in the story. Bring nuance into your story, but don’t describe every single blink and attitude. Fill in the big lines, but leave the little spaces blank, for the imagination to play with.

#) Watch. One of the best ways to learn to write good nuance is to observe social interaction (this absolutely is not an excuse to be creepy). Watch people talk to each other. Watch them greet. Watch them say goodbye. Watch them fight, make up, make decisions, make shallow conversation, make other people cry, make other people laugh, make gossip more interesting, make it boring, and make friends. Watch all of it, see what they do and how they do it, and practice describing it, with sparse language, but still a clear point.

#) Practice. As always, the only way that you’ll get better at something is if you do it all the time. Not once a week, not every third day, but every day. For more than just a minute or two. It’s a commonly accepted theory that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something.

You’d better get started.