When Your Muse is Missing

doubleyolkThis morning I cracked open a couple of eggs for an omelet and was delighted to find that one of my eggs had a double yolk. I quickly looked up the odds, which I thought would’ve been one in a million, to see why the old tales of good fortune turned the event into a sign of good luck. I was shocked to learn the odds were only 1:1,000. I even saw a man’s picture of 11 double yolk eggs in a frying pan—almost a perfect dozen.

The moment inspired me to write a blog entry referencing this new muse of mine. Oh, it wasn’t stirring enough to write a passionate post, but it was enough to get my gears moving. I decided that if I was able to turn a silly little event into the spark of creative thought, there must be a simple trick to help creatives develop something when his or her muse is missing.

Use A System

“When the creative muse isn’t around, look for systems and strategies to generate good ideas.”
—Jim Jaskol, Ride Control Engineer

I’ll never forget the system I was taught in the Bell Labs Think Tank. The instructor had us look over a new product that was ready for release. He wanted us to brainstorm 100 ways the device could be used. “Once you run out of ideas,” he said. “Think about its use from the perspective of your grandmother. And then from the viewpoint of a child, and so on.” The product released six months later promoted from two perspectives, one of which I had brainstormed. It was a thrilling experience, thanks to the instructor’s system.

Engage In Educational Play

“Understand the problem, do the research, play hard looking for the potential options, sleep on it, and let your subconscious do the rest. Great solutions make a wonderful breakfast.”
—Bobby Brooks, Concept Architect

The number of times I have a great idea pop into my brain during my morning shower is too numerous to count. There is something about playful exploration that continues to reside in your brain well into your slumber that activates the right side of the brain. I can attest to how the brain works while you’re asleep to solve the problem playfully pondered that day. But for it to work, the left side of the brain must first understand the problem and what a solution might look like. Then sleeptime gives rise to the right side of the brain with no limitations.

Create An Environment

“You can’t flip a switch and make someone else creative, but you can set up an environment in which the switch is more often on.”
—Alex Wright, Show Designer

The first time I wandered through an animation studio I couldn’t help but notice all the toys and gadgets cluttering the creative’s work space. There was enough unique stimulus to power multiple feature length films. Several years later I was working as a consultant at Kraft Global Foods and found their new office space designed for creatives to be off the charts. The entire environment didn’t have any hint of “office” in it. The space was designed to feel vacation-like, while being broken up by inspirational and motivational designs to stimulate the workforce. Within minutes of being in that space the Vice President and I solved the five-year-old problem.

Originality comes from the juxtaposition of systems, educational play, and environment. While having a muse simplifies the development of an idea, how we address creativity when the muse is missing determines how consistent we are and how professionally we can create on demand.

Can you imagine how this post was inspired by double egg yolks showing up in my omelet this morning? For my logical friends, I’m sorry that you can’t see the connection, or how one led to the other. But you can rest assured that my omelet was very tasty.

© 2018 by CJ Powers

 

Write, Read and Watch—Lessons from Marvel’s Jim Krueger

Jim_CJ_Art

I got together with a couple dozen creatives over the weekend for a workshop on story. It was a great time of networking with like-minded artists. Jim Krueger, a storyteller, comic book writer, novelist and filmmaker, was the keynote speaker. He’s most known for his works (including Earth X) at Marvel. He also won the prestigious Eisner Award for Justice (DC Comics).

Jim pointed out the three things that all writers need to do each day: write, read, and watch.

WRITE

Writers need to write everyday to strengthen and mature their “voice.” Jim, who tries to write four hours every day, believes that the writing process helps us to pour out the very thing that can fix our broken world. He also suggested that we have to know ourselves in order to find those internal nuggets of value that are worthy to be shared.

He gave us an exercise to write down our top 10 films that we love followed by the top 10 films we hate. The correlation was amazing and helped us to discover the passion that stirs within us. Within the stories we hated was an internal “No” wanting to be expressed. This pensive drive reveals the “Yes” that we want everyone to embrace—the very thing we must write about to be fulfilled.

READ

Screenwriters need to read the best scripts in the genre in which they write. Authors need to read the best books in the genre they write. Studying the best allows us to improve our techniques, while also learning what has already been done. Unique character reveals, rhythms, and pacing become second nature when we immerse ourselves in the writings of the best.

Being able to spot in others’ works what makes us feel good, and why, helps us understand how to craft our own stories that inspire. This is an important base element in writing that will attract followers and build a fan base. It’s the fulfillment of a natural need, according to Jim, who said, “People need to feel good about themselves after watching your story.”

WATCH

Since our world was transformed from a literary to a visual culture, Jim recommended that writers watch feature films and long form television to study what’s being created for the market and what is well received. While he didn’t intend to do a commercial for Movie Pass (now $6.95 for a monthly subscription program), he did recommend going to the movies often for study purposes.

James Patterson, who writes first thing every morning, shared in a class that I took a couple years ago, how he heads to a theater and watches a feature film after his morning writing session. Since he goes daily, he doesn’t always stay for the entire picture, but learns what he can about the market, what’s been done in the realm of stories, and any story techniques that he can observe and capture.

After convincing us that we all needed to be writing, reading and watching, Jim shared that the rules of story must also be followed with no exception. “Rules as a storyteller are never to be broken, only worked around with loopholes,” he said. When rules are broken, the audience can’t easily follow the story and loses interest, so it’s important to make sure the core elements or the logic and reasons behind the rules are never altered.

Jim pointed out that the limitations put on the storyteller are actually valuable creative tools. “Limitations allow us to put surprise and wonder into place,” he said. Understanding how wonder plays a role in the development of entertainment gives us the fuel to explore an idea until it rises to its best version before releasing it to the audience. Jim suggested that it could take anywhere from 4-6 weeks for an idea to mature to its highest value.

At the end of the day, Jim autographed three panel original art from his next published work due out in a few months. Keep your eyes out for his work.

Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers

I’m Not Lost!

Scarf1I walked downtown this morning to make a bank deposit, return a book to the library, and send a Christmas package to a dear friend. The walk was lovely with old lampposts decorated in garland and red ribbons. But something was a bit different on the next lamppost I approached.

A scarf was wrapped around it with a note attached that read: “I’m not lost! If you find yourself in the cold, take this to keep yourself warm!”

I witnessed Christmas in action. The brand new, warm scarf being made available for someone in need was a great demonstration of unconditional love. The recipient’s finances or lack thereof wouldn’t be judged, nor would the gift leverage a lesson to illuminate their poor choices or lifestyle. The gift was given out of grace alone with no strings attached.

The kind donor deserved to be blessed for such an act of kindness, but the generous gift was anonymous. Joy filled my soul as I thought how fun it would be to determine what I could provide. A spark of imagination flooded my thoughts as I walked further down the street.

Scarf2Then I spotted another scarf, and another. Glancing across the street I noticed others scattered among various lampposts. The Christmas cheer was plentiful and I wondered how long it would be until those in need received comfort and warmth. I turned back to my path and continued toward the library.

A man huddled in the small alley between buildings acknowledged me. He was wearing old, dirty clothes that were dark blue and charcoal in color. His hat looked well worn and grungy, but the bright yellow and green scarf wrapped around his neck was brand new. He had watched me take pictures of the scarfs around the lampposts and smiled as he nodded with his hand patting the new scarf.

Next to the library sat another homeless man. His dark brown clothes were as dirty as one might expect, with the exception of the bright red scarf around his neck. I smiled at him and wished him a Merry Christmas. He returned the greeting as he adjusted his scarf to reveal his huge smile.

I had seen Christmas this morning and I felt compelled to share the experience. While you might not have homeless people in your town, I’m sure there is someone in need this winter that would love to smile from a demonstration of unconditional love. Maybe an elderly woman needs an errand done, or a sick child needs a new stuffed animal for play.

The answers are as numerous as the needs that rise out of the blue. Taking action to demonstrate love not only helps the recipient, but also encourages others to act in a similar manner. This is the season of compassion and only you can do your part in turning someone’s holiday sorrows into a beaming smile.

Let me know what you decide to do to help others this season. I’d love to hear that there are lots of people who care enough to participate in being someone’s Christmas wish.

If I’ve spoken into your life, would you…

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Copyright 2017 by CJ Powers

The Highs of Combinatory Play

Dream_Play

Being creative never ends. Nor is it something that is easily turned off. Some have suggested that once it gets into your blood or bones, you’re hooked for life. Maybe it’s the innovation that drives inspiration to do it again or possibly it’s just the thrill from the last project that gives you a boost for the next one.

There is a euphoric feeling that comes at the end of each creation that catapults a person to try something imaginative one more time. I’ve heard it described as the same result runners get from endorphins popping within their blood. They’re driven to do another run within the next 2-3 days, because their biological systems respond as if they were coming down from a drug high. Everything within them screams for another fix that only a run can bring.

But creativity is not a drug. Nor does it create drug like responses. The built in thrill comes from triumphs of moving from concept to completion. And I’m not speaking of just any type of accomplishment, but the ones that naturally cause a person to play. Being creative is all about being flexible, a good troubleshooter, and most of all a person who loves to play.

If the project isn’t fun, then it’s not a creative project.

Even Einstein took time to play with ideas. He used a concept called combinatory play to develop a good number of his theories and inventions. He started with two columns of lists. Then he drew a line between an item on the first list and another item on the second list. The result was something completely new to consider.

Computer Slicer
Coffee Maker Ticket
Sun Glasses Soda Can
Toast Window
Bagel Small Container

If a person draws a line between the bagel and slicer, he would start to come up with the invention of the bagel slicer, which of course was invented. Connecting Coffee Maker with Small Container may have led to the single cup coffee makers of today. There are many other combinations that will spark creative thinking that leads to innovation.

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”  —Steve Jobs

I’ve been told many times that I’m the most creative person any given he or she had ever known. They’re also amazed at the wide and diverse range of activities I’ve experienced in life. The wealth of experiences within my memory gives me numerous things to ponder every day. And, with all of those experiences I’ll never find myself bored. After all, the beginning of any creation can pop up in my head just by considering a possible combination as I play mental gymnastics.

I’ll never forget inventing an illusion in middle school and then seeing it used in a television magic special that Friday night. I realized that the combination of experiences I used to create the illusion wasn’t unique. Someone had already dreamt up the same idea. But I felt great knowing that my idea worked and looked amazing. It gave me a high and I dove in to create again.

The afterglow of creativity always energizes additional inspiration with new perspectives and ideas. The playfulness around the conceptual makes it fun to bring the ideas into reality and the word failure never shows up, simply because there’s not enough time to be critical when exploring various possibilities. It’s all about play and feeling great.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

 

Capturing the Surge of Inspiration

If I were to write a formula for innovation it would look something like this:

Creativity * Inspiration = Innovation

There are few who will disagree with my formula, but almost everyone would admit that the tricky part is capturing and maintaining the surge of inspiration. Finding it is never the problem, as inspiration is always associated with life. When you find life, you find inspiration.

To find inspiration all we have to do is seek out the things that are infused with life. The meaning of the word is also associated with life. One definition is about inhaling to bring something to life. Another is about giving life. Still another is about a divine influence that creates life.

When you find a person who is full of life, you find a person that inspires you. If you are able to maintain a relationship with him or her, you have found a source of continuous inspiration. Many artists during the renaissance referred to inspiring people as their muse or a goddess that inspires. Today, we call the person a rare treasure and a joyful find.

CreativeMost artists find different people over time that brings about various levels of inspiration. Seldom do we come upon a person who overloads us with so much inspiration that we go off creating project on top of project—but it does happen.

The key is trying to figure out how to keep someone special like that in our life, especially when they need to receive something in return like any good two-way relationship. But what do you provide a muse?

During days of old, the artist would bring honest heartfelt emotions and words of love to the relationship—driving some into romantic relationships. During the late 1900’s partnerships were formed with each person bringing something to the table that the other needed to keep the business functioning. However, few people developed long term relationships, whether platonic or not, that was based on each person focusing on the needs of the other.

I’m convinced that when you pour some form of inspiration into another person’s life their heart overflows with joy, love and hope. The combination of those three things settles into the heart, which produces inspired words of affirmation and encouragement—life giving things in their own right that inspire the artist in return. This results in the artist being inspired more than they gave out.

In other words, if we sew seeds of inspiration into the lives of those around us, they may in turn inspire us. If my theory is true, then the best way to capture inspiration is by giving it away. To test my theory, I recommend that artists find ways of inspiring others and pay attention to see how much inspiration comes back to them.

But, if you are truly fortunate, you may stumble into a person who matches your synergy for inspiration. You both would fly high with joy overflowing because it takes little effort between you to generate more inspiration than what your humble hearts can hold.

I’ve only had that experience a couple times in life and I can tell you that you feel capable of changing the world because of them, yet you never want to leave their presence for fear that the inspiration might fade. You want to spend every waking hour with them, but instead you’re driven to create and innovate from your overflowing heart. That gift of inspiration gives birth to new ideas and work that changes lives. The inspired creative cannot sit still. He or she must respond to what they receive.

Since those experiences happen ever so seldom, I recommend you put my theory to the test and see if it works or not. Go out and inspire someone and let me know the results.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers