Friday, July 24, 2009

Creativity - An Organized Approach

Welcome guest blogger Dan Wilson--playwright, actor, director, producer, improv comedian and all-around overachiever. Oh, yeah. And he also just happened to be the best man at my wedding. - Adrienne
Every writer talks about what every writer is asked: "where do you get your ideas?" Recently, I felt that the well of ideas had run dry. I have numerous half finished and barely started projects, but my mind wasn't brimming with ideas the way it usually is. I considered this a bit of a blessing, actually, as it meant I might be able to focus long enough to get some serious work done on older scripts.
The reason for the mental freeze was easy to pinpoint. I had recently bought my first house and my day job was going through an especially intense period. Add to that the trials of being in a struggling relationship, and it's no wonder that brain wasn't doing much in the way of creating new and tantalizing characters and scenarios.
So, the first thing is to get enough rest. An exhausted, emotionally stressed writer isn't a productive one. The second thing is to listen to people. I'm a huge fan of the voice notes feature on my iPhone. A sign, people on the street, an acquaintance telling me about an odd experience at work, or even odd things about what they do... all this becomes fodder. If I waited for even an hour, I'd forget the details, so I grab my phone, hit "Record" and make a note. People have quit introducing me as an actor and refer to me as "playwright", so no one is shocked, surprised, or offended that I'm blatantly mining their lives for material. Far from it, most people are pleased to know that their lives make for good fiction.
The second thing is also the third thing. Having a way to quickly grab moments of inspiration is vital. A pen and pad next to the bed is good, but I find that relying on my phone works better since it's regularly backed up and is with me everywhere I go. I use the phone as an alarm in the morning as well, so it's even available for those half-dream ideas that jerk me awake at night. Even better, I don't have to decipher my horrid handwriting later on down the road.
Finally, revisit all these notes when you have downtime. A character from a trip on the bus might suddenly bump up against a bizarre anecdote you saw in the news three years later, or meet up with the insane coworker a friend told you about. It's a party inside your head, and it's good to let everyone mingle ever now and again.

Dan Wilson has artistic A.D.D. In this venue he can be identified as a playwright. His works include "Sweetie Tanya: the Demon Barista of Valencia Street", "Get it? Got it. Good!", "Vagina Dentata", "411", and "Pinch", which have all been produced at various venues in San Francisco. He has also written and directed adaptations of the work of Neil GaimanMartha Soukup, and Ursula K. LeGuin (usually with their permission). His first play, "In a Distant Country" was first produced in Evanston, IL. Dan is the screenwriter of the oddest "educational films" ever created for  school superintendents: "Goode to Greate", and "The Adventures of Tom Sup: The Courage Squad versus The League of Blame". Both of these were done under a joint partnership between WestEd, ACSA and Dan's production company "Cassandra's Call Productions." He is a prolific improv comedy performer and can be heard on most of the podcasts at


Unknown said...

Hey Dan--
Welcome to the Pens Fatales and thanks for guest blogging! :) Did you live in Evanston? We lived there from 1989-1991. Loved that town!

Sophie Littlefield said...

I lived in Evanston too! 1990 -1998.

Thanks for the reminder about how life intrudes. Recently I couldn't write for a few days and it took me a while to realize it was because of eight kinds of chaos that had picked that moment to descend on me. Good tips.

Adrienne Bell said...

Sleep is indeed the key to creativity. That's why I haven't had a good idea in the last 5 years. ;-)

Martha Flynn said...

whoa whoa - if we start offering practical advice on this blog than readers are going to develop expectations

oh adrienne, this insomniac is similarly challenged on the sleep/creativity arena.