NaNoWriMo Spurs On Creativity

Spiderman_NotebookThis month I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo along with over 400,000 other creative people across the world. Within a 10-15 mile radius of where I live 4,068 people are participating in National Novel Writing Month. Each writer is committed to pen a 50,000 word first draft novel by the end of November.

This national event was founded in 1999 and has since gone international. It is a great way to stretch one’s creativity and dream up an adventure that future fans would be interested in reading. My novel is titled: Tree Jumper. It’s a young adult novel that carries a conservative theme about unconditional love.

During the process, numerous area libraries have supported NaNoWriMo with Write-Ins. Last Friday after the library in a nearby town closed for the night, NaNoWriMo authors got to sneak back in and write until we dropped. For me it was about 2,400 words. We had three writing competitions of which I took first place during the last heat. My prize was a Spiderman journal and pen.

We celebrated everyone’s success and the library provided free pizza to keep us fueled for the three-hour evening. We even had virtual authors show up via an Internet connection that allowed us to communicate and track each other’s efforts. The coolest part was supporting each other’s achievements.

Writing a novel is no small task. To hit the first draft writing goal of 50,000 words, we each have to write an average of about 1,700 words a day. That works out to two hours of writing a day for topics familiar to the author. Any research or story structure work requires more hours. Character development is also additional time spent. Not to mention all the rewrites necessary to make a title sales worthy.

The goal for most of us participating is to refine and expand our creativity. In fact, after talking with several of the authors, I felt like my story was the least creative. That’s right, Mr. Creativity was the least creative. But don’t let that idea fool you, as my story will surprise you at least seven or eight times. Being the least creative in the room didn’t stop me from creating a great adventure ride for my readers.

Let me know if anyone is interested in reading my novel once it’s finished. I plan to release it in the beginning of 2018. If there is enough of you that would like a copy, I’ll set up a presale program that will keep you up to date. In the meantime, I’ll accept any encouraging words as I endeavor to meet the monstrous goal of completing my first draft by end of month.

Copyright © 2017 by CJ Powers

#NaNoWriMo

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Work Hard, Someone is Watching

Work Hard,Someone isWatching

I climbed the stadium seats at the dolphin aquarium in Baltimore and spotted one of my favorite actors sitting with her three kids and mother. I smiled and walked past, not wanting to interfere with her mom time. Unfortunately, the guy sitting behind her finally figured out where he had seen her and chatted it up. She politely responded and then collected her family and left before the show started.

Her kids were not upset because they left the dolphin show; they were upset because a man tried to pull their mother away from their precious time together. Thankfully she made the right choice and put family before fans. After all, fans come and go, but family is still present in the aftermath of one’s career.

Colin Powell came to mind after the actor left, fully functioning in her mom role. Powell is a man who quickly gains respect from most everyone he meets, not because he’s so awesome, which many would say he is, but because he lives by his own words with integrity.

Had he been present during the decision to work hard in her role as a mom in that moment, he would’ve agreed with her decision. Powell’s great work ethic was not altered by the fans that surrounded him, but by his own focus on life. He owned the moral decisions he made daily and shared his simple viewpoint when he said…

“Always do your very best. Even when no one else is looking, you always are.”
Colin Powell

If You Take the Pay, Earn It

When I was in high school, I spent the early hours on weekends delivering newspapers to fund my art. The team would start at 4:00 a.m. stuffing inserts into the paper, and then stuffing the sections together into a lightweight plastic bag for ease of delivery. I did the prep work quickly because the goal was the delivery process, not the stuffing, as we were paid per paper delivered.

The college drivers got to pick the teen they wanted to ride with. The guys were jealous because the best-looking woman always picked me first—I’ll call her Beth. Some thought it was my charm or the good looks I sported back in the day, but I knew it was about the money.

You see, the teens moaned about stuffing the papers and dawdled in the process. Since the drivers got half the pay, they wanted the teen that worked hard and fast. Beth was smarter than the rest. Her motto was that if you’re going to take the pay, you needed to earn it. So, instead of hassling me like the other drivers did to get their teen helpers in gear, Beth encouraged me to find faster streamlined ways of stuffing the papers. I always ended up with three times more papers for delivery than my peers.

Beth also stepped away from the other jeering drivers and quietly stuffed additional papers herself. Due to her speed and the slowness of most teens, she typically stuffed an equal amount. Our truck was always packed with four times more papers than any other truck, which gave us four times more pay.

Always do Your Best

Not only was the stuffing process important in providing our potential pay, but also how we delivered the papers was important in determining which drivers got extra pick up routes at a bonus pay rate. To gain more opportunities, Beth memorized the entire map and knew where every street address was located in relationship to our current location.

If we were within a half-mile, she’d send me out of the truck with enough papers to walk 5-10 houses, while she drove off to cover the customer service issue. Beth’s timing always amazed me. Every time I’d get to the last house, I’d see her pulling up along side of me.

We had polished our process to the point of excellence. Beth had even determined my jogging speed and matched it, so I could jump in and out of the truck while it continued moving down the street. I’d basically jog a “V” pattern. On our approach to a given house, I’d grab the paper and jump off the truck jogging on an angle to their front door and return on an angle to be picked up a little past the house.

This allowed me to place the paper on every front stoop, giving the customer a great experience. Most of my peers tossed the papers from the truck, which scattered many sections across several lawns.

Don’t Disappoint Yourself

The process that Beth and I worked out allowed us to achieve our financial goals. She loved the opportunity of making extra cash and was disappointed when someone else got to pick a rider first, as it meant that our team would be broken up and our pay would drop to a fourth of our goal.

Regardless of how much our peers struggled to understand our drive, we never eased up. We were in it to achieve our goals and we didn’t want to ever let ourselves down. We were successful because we worked hard.

Beth always said that if she were too often stuck with an uncaring teen, she’d quit and find a new job. She was in it to accomplish her goals and made sure that she did her part in adding to the team’s success.

As for me, I never wanted to fall short of my goals or disappoint my partner. I had no problem hustling in order to achieve what we deemed as success. But boy, the disappointment that came from working with a lazy driver felt almost as bad as getting handed a measly check on an earlier lackadaisical day of work before meeting Beth.

Copyright 2017 by CJ Powers

 

The “It” Factor

The

Casting is critical to the success of a film. Each story requires just the right combination of talent and chemistry, plus the lead star must have the “It” factor. Without it, the film cannot be anything more than a nice story. But with it, the film can rise to become a box office sensation or a classic that endures the test of time.

To stay fresh with my ability to spot the “It” factor in performers, I decided to follow last season’s America’s Got Talent. I watched the first episode that each artist appeared in and determined my picks for the top five acts. I then watched each corresponding middle episode to determine who would win by the end of the season. And then, I watched the finale.

The “It” factor influenced America’s voting and matched my top five picks. And yes, I guessed winner Darci Lynne after watching her second performance.

So, what is this illusive “It” factor?

Paul Strikwerda, voice actor and author of Nethervoice refers to it as charisma when he wrote, “Originally, the word charisma meant “grace” or “talent from God.” Later on it became the “gift of leadership, power of authority, or charm that can inspire, influence, and motivate others.”

However, the factor to which I refer is much more than charisma, although charisma plays a very important role. Other noted elements that make up the “It” factor include:

Confidence Built from Passion.

The person who is fascinated by some element of life and pursues it with gusto gains a great deal of insight and a certain level of expertise in that area. This gives him the ability to draw from a depth of knowledge and from his own subconscious when placed in a performance arena. The wealth instilled in his heart and mind boosts his confidence beyond the average person who works within any given field.

Ability to Connect with the Audience.

The vulnerable talent draws others to his performance through an emotional connection that few people are able to make with strangers. The connection comes from the performer’s perception that he is just like the people in the audience and he has something important or of value that he wants to generously give the audience. The desire to connect with the audience is always more powerful than the performer’s fear of failure.

Great Observation Skills.

The performer is able to constantly take in information about the audience through watching body movement or listening to their reactions. He then quickly makes slight modifications to the presentation on the fly so the audience can capture every nuance of the performance.

Purpose Driven Performances.

The talent draws motivation from deep within, which is so highly treasured that he’s willing to make a complete fool of himself in order to give the audience his precious message. He becomes relentless in making sure he is understood and the audience receives the benefit he set out to gift them. His purpose far exceeds the talent’s own personal value, giving him an ability to lay down his future for the sake of the audience he blesses in the moment.

Integrity of Mind, Body and Spirit.

The physicality of his facial expressions, his shared words, and the content of his message quickly flow together in unison with little thought. The talent is so consumed with understanding his piece and perfecting it so he can consistently present it live at every performance in the exact same way as if it were being performed fresh for the first time. And, when necessary, can completely change it on the fly based on any given audience’s circumstances, while maintaining its meaning and quality.

These above skills are intuitive to the talent. Many performers learn these skills in order to survive negative circumstances in their childhood. They chose to look at life positively in spite of their suffering and learn how to connect and communicate to improve life for all around. This subconscious “It” factor becomes the powerful tool that can make or break an entertainers career, as those with the “It” factor will always out perform and out last the highly skilled that lack it.

Copyright 2017 by CJ Powers

Networking for the Future

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Networking is a term that many fear and avoid yet it’s essential for business growth. The negative connotations rise from the riff raff who prey on people during professional networking sessions. They are in it for themselves and have no comprehension of how powerful maintaining a network of courageous professional relationships are to their future.

Others become disenchanted by the process due to those who immediately escape a conversation the moment they determine you aren’t a potential customer. They are short sighted, not realizing you may know a dozen perfect customers in your circle of influence that will add to their business growth.

After participating in numerous networking events, I’ve learned that there are three things all business people can use from the experience to grow their business.

Great Courage

It takes a lot of gumption to enter a room of strangers. The initial atmosphere causes many to connect with those they already know rather than exploring the unknown. No matter how skilled the person is they find themselves digging deeper into their soul for the strength to put themselves into the vulnerable realm of possibilities.

Courage is not about being comfortable, but about the choice of facing fear head on. We tend to forget that the courageous around us feel just as vulnerable as we do, but they’ve taken the further step of pressing through the fear courageously. It is merely a choice to take action, while feeling exposed.

This ability to choose courage over fear is a tool that will always force a business to land upright regardless of any temporary setback it might endure. It’s also the formula used by most businesses to grow. We know that businesses are either shrinking based on ignorance and fear, or they are growing because someone was courageous enough to take a risk.

Listening Skills

No one cares if you have a solution for their business unless they first learn that you care about them. Taking time to meet someone in a networking environment requires huge listening skills, especially in the din of most rooms designed for socialization.

Selective listening isn’t considered listening at networking events. The person only listening for a potential buying signal is shortchanging their future. Listening is a tool to learn about the person first and their needs second. Anyone who doesn’t take time to first learn about the person will never care about his or her customer.

The old saying about having two ears and one mouth gives us the perspective of talking a little and listening twice as hard, which actually helps at networking events. It’s also an asset for the person that wants to grow their business. A customer that feels like the vendor understands their need will always be a happy customer.

Clarifying Pitches

Noisy rooms force a person making a pitch at an event to be concise and understood at the audience’s level. Using jargon and rambling on about what you do is a sign that you may not know your core business or what value your current customers see in you.

By sharing your core competencies you avoid using stereotypical phrases, which stops the person listening from lumping you into a group of all others that do the same thing. Your razor sharp focus helps the person understand what differentiates you from the others who carry a similar title.

Setting yourself apart from the stampede of cookie cutter functions is critical to be noticed over the marketing noise that permeates the Internet, business market and event space. A quality pitch is one that is all about the uniqueness that makes you who you are, which can’t be replicated by any competitor.

Having the guts to meet new people, taking time to really hear about who they are and what they are trying to accomplish, and fine tuning your presentation so its easy to distinguish you from others, helps develop long term relationships that will eventually pay off.

Networking is about surrounding yourself with quality people and developing those relationships so you can help them when needed and they can reciprocate when you’re in need. These lifelong skills always drive business growth and force us to continually better ourselves for the next great adventure we face.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

“Hard Faith” Film Releases

Generational_SinsThe Hollywood Reporter last week featured a story about Christian movies going blue. In 2012, Blue Like Jazz was a Christian film that tested the waters with drugs, sexual innuendo, binge drinking, and foul language. It caught the attention of many supporters, becoming the second largest Kickstarter funded movie at the time.

The filmmakers’ careers were blocked in a unique boycott situation after the film’s release. They were reportedly stopped from ever working on another Christian film. One documentary even had the filmmakers discussing the disdainful treatment that they received from other Christian filmmakers.

A lover of controversy, writer-director Spencer Folmar decided to follow in their footsteps. On October 6, 2017, his film Generational Sins releases in theaters. The film is PG-13 and has 32 profanities. Folmar is trying to coin the genre and is reportedly trademarking the phrase “Hard Faith” films.

Instead of getting boycotted, Folmar is getting a new level of support. The Dove Foundation, known for its family safe seal of approval, has started a new category of approval for those 18-years-old and up. Generational Sins has received the stamp.

Movieguide, a watchdog organization for family friendly and godly films, thinks the film should be judged on its artistic merits, not on its language. However, their position was not one of agreement as they wrote…

“There’s an underlying problem with the approach of looking like the world in order to reach out to it. It’s not how Jesus ministered, it’s not how the apostles preached, and it’s not how the Bible tells believers to live (Rom 12:2, John 17:15-18). What turns Christians off, and many others as well, is when believers, who are likely well intentioned, brag about the edginess of a particular choice because they’ve decided to mix it with Jesus. That doesn’t somehow make it cool all of sudden.”

There were thousands of movies during the golden age of cinema (1933-1963) that were real, morally healthy, and pushing artistic boundaries. Many of those stories were godly, well received, and worthy of the general public’s time and money. None of those films stooped to vile comments on the silver screen.

But the “in thing” today is all about the buzz of new faith-based filmmakers putting the gritty truth into their films in order to reach a more secular audience. The funny thing is that Jesus told stories to the secular public without profanity. Even his parable about a loving father dealing with a prodigal son was shared without being explicit.

Redemptive films, which I strongly support, rarely use any profanity, if at all. They are crafted to demonstrate the character’s repugnant lifestyle without drenching the audience in its filth. It only takes a couple quick scenes to express where the character begins his story arch, which ends in an uplifting place.

A good craftsman can create a story that reflects a raunchy lifestyle without immersing the audience in a bath of displayed evil. While I don’t feel all of the unsavory acts must be done off-screen, I wouldn’t for a moment suggest a director leave the audience feeling like they participated in the character’s depravity. After all, the goal of the film is to show the character’s transformation from an immoral lifestyle through to his redemption.

In the case of redemptive storytelling, the transformation is used to promote the film. In hard faith films, so far, it’s the edginess and profanity that’s being used to promote the film. The focus seems to be on debauchery rather than transformation.

This choice is forcing the film into a limited release schedule with only 14 theaters. In other words, the distributor is assuming the film will flop unless the controversy puts people into the seats.

So, my question is, does 32 profanities in a faith-based film entice you to the theater?

Copyright © 2017 by CJ Powers

Redemptive Films Change Society

RedemptiveMany have asked me to clarify why I’m passionate about creating redemptive stories. The answer rises from the depths of my soul, which I find myself contemplating time and again. The contemplation is not a form of second-guessing, as I’m firm on my position, but it’s about distinguishing the gap between the two.

I’m adamant about society being challenged by story to consider who they are verses who they truly want to be. United Kingdom writer Jeanette Winterson wrote, “True art, when it happens to us, challenges the ‘I’ that we are.”

Great motion pictures always start with a character living their normal life, which gets turned upside down and explored from a new vantage point in the second act that fuels contemplation. The audience gets to watch the character explore how he or she faces life and its circumstances.

Writer and filmmaker Susan Sontag said, “All great art contains at its center contemplation, a dynamic contemplation.”

The character is eventually forced into an emotional corner that requires a life-changing decision. Prior to the final moment, we see the character test out a few possible outcomes, but to no prevail. However, by the end of the third act, the character has chosen to live a new normal life going forward.

Art’s ability to force contemplation and change our viewpoint is of great value to society. Being able to create such media empowers the filmmaker to alter how people perceive society and how the people fit within that new world he presents. It’s no wonder those in power seek to master the media.

Frederick_DouglassFrederick Douglass, in his Pictures and Progress essay wrote, “Poets, prophets, and reformers are all picture-makers—and this ability is the secret of their power and of their achievements. They see what ought to be by the reflection of what is, and endeavor to remove the contradiction.”

But why are pictures, or more specifically motion pictures, so moving?

Douglass further wrote, “To the eye and spirit, pictures are just what poetry and music are to the ear and heart.”

In other words, there is an innate power within pictures to demonstrate what a better life can look like and how to embrace it from where a person currently stands on any given issue. That is why films start with the character’s normal life, moves him or her into an exploration of the roadblocks in life that force contemplation, and finally resolves with the character choosing a new normal life.

I would venture to say that a motion picture that doesn’t move the audience emotionally from their current place in life to a better one is void of art. The idea that art forces contemplation is an important one, as our society must learn how to change for the better, not to its detriment.

Pulitzer-winning poet Robert Penn Warren said, “Art is the process by which, in imagining itself and the relation of individuals to one another and to it, society comes to understand itself, and by understanding, discover its possibilities of growth.”

Filmmakers, the best of our picture-making community, have been ordained to inspire society’s growth. There are no other animals around who can hold a torch to this appointed responsibility.

In fact, Douglass said, “Man is the only picture-making animal in the world. He alone of all the inhabitants of earth has the capacity and passion for pictures.”

Redemptive stories are created for society. Its movies start with the character’s normal life, moves them through demonstrable roadblocks, and forces him or her to make a life altering decision that brings the character into a new normal life, which adds to society’s growth.

Creating stories that make a direct impact on society is what I’m all about. That is where my artistic appetite thrives and that is why I’m passionate about making redemptive films.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Creativity: Gift or Craft

I heard a podcast with stand up comedians Ken Davis and Bob Stromberg talking about creativity. The one thing that stood out worth sharing was that neither man felt creativity was a gift. To clarify, they defined the “gift” as the capacity and desire to create, while they said “creativity” is a learned craft that everyone can practice.

I agree that everyone can be creative especially when following these 5 practical steps that I use:

1. Capture

The first step in being creative is capturing the things that stir the emotions. When I capture in a quick note or sketch the thing that impacted me or moved me, I’m able to remember it and give it my full consideration.

2. Explore

Once I’ve captured the moment, I then explore why it touched me. I ask myself questions in an attempt to learn the truth about why I felt the humorous or dramatic moment.

3. Birth an Idea

When I contemplate or meditate on the very thing that I chose to explore, new creative ideas pop into my mind. The one that makes the greatest impression fuels the fire of passion, giving me an opportunity to flesh out the concept in the form of an artistic expression.

4. Play

People stop being creative when they stop playing. It’s therefore important to play around with variations of the new artistic idea. Rather than searching for the one “right” answer to present, playfulness requires exploring multiple right answers to find the most entertaining one that clarifies the message.

5. Polish

Assessing the presentation or performance with a test audience helps me figure out what worked and what didn’t work. More importantly, I learn what the audience understood or missed. This new gained knowledge gives me a chance to tweak and polish my creative idea for its final and official production.

Being creative is a choice that requires a playful viewpoint while developing the craft. Everyone is capable of being creative, but not everyone chooses to work hard at capturing the emotional elements required to be successful. Fortunately the first step is child’s play, which everyone is capable of because we all know what its like having been a child.

© 2017 by CJ Powers