Self Fulfilling Prophecy

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“Happiness depends upon ourselves.”

—Aristotle

I just read a book of advice for writers that had a lot of advice about how you need to make a 5 year plan, and an advance PR campaign, strategize with bullet points, and stuff like that.  Which is all fine, but for a lot of creative types it is unrealistic. We tend to be storytellers more than list makers.

Here is an exercise you can do that gives you all of the benefits of planning out what you want to do, but it harnesses the power of story telling and visualization. It just requires  few minutes and a pencil and paper. I call it Self Fulfilling prophecy and it works exactly like it sounds. You visualize what you want to have happen—whatever you would like to achieve and then you work back from there visualizing the story of how you got there.

I have found this exercise to be really helpful, not just in clarifying what you want but how you can go about making it happen. This is also a fun exercise because it rewards you for daydreaming: we all like to daydream about what it would be like if we accomplished everything we wanted, but this exercise walks you through the step that will turn the daydream into a reality.

STEP ONE

Visualize you optimal self one year from now. Imagine yourself in 365 days you achieved all of your goals, if you followed all of your dreams, if you went after everything you could and had bottomless energy, resolve, and discipline. Spend just a few minutes doing this and then write down what you see. For some people this might mean career or personal goals. For other people maybe you see yourself traveling, or achieving some fitness goal, or you see yourself getting somewhere with a creative project: for me that is usually writing, but for you it could be anything you are working on.

Now that you have pictured your ideal year, imagine that you are sitting down to write about it. Fill a page. Write about your achievement, and how you feel to have accomplished it. This exercise doesn’t focus on any one thing, but everything. You are writing a summary of where you are in life over all. This could include any number of hopes, dreams, goals, aspirations. For example, let’s say it is your goal to get into better shape, and a year from now you want to be able to run a marathon. You might write “I successfully ran a marathon, and I’m in the the best shape of my life.” Here is the most important part: you also want to write down exactly what you did to achieve your goal. So for the marathon example you might write “I was able to run the marathon by sticking to a good schedule of daily running, week after week. Slowly and steadily increasing my mileage, so that by the time the marathon rolled around, I was ready for it.” (the goal could be anything, if you already run marathons it could be a faster finish time)

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Use this basic formula: what you see yourself achieving, how you felt about it, and what you did to get there, for anything you want. It could be career, goals, it could be relationship goals, quitting smoking, eating right, becoming a master ping pong player. Whatever. It works the same : visualize reaching your goal and visualize the work it took to get there.

Step 2

From there you just have to walk it back to the present. Repeat the exercise but for the present month. So if your goal is to run the marathon you would write down something like “by the end of this month, I am running pretty regularly, 3-4 times a week, and have gotten to the point of it being something I do most mornings without thinking twice. I already can feel myself getting a little faster and sleeker!”

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Then walk it back one more step to the end of the week: what you see yourself accomplishing by the end of this week that will flow into your vision for the month. Finally ask yourself what you could be doing today that will align with the vision that you have laid out for the week, the month, and the year. In our example of the person that wants to run a marathon, it probably simply means going for a run. But whatever your goals and dreams are, you can start today taking that first step. And with this exercise you will see exactly how that first step leads you along the path to your big picture dreams and goals.

It is a very simple exercise, but it is surprisingly powerful because it engages the mind at not just a planning level, but an imaginative and story telling level. It is both inspiring, and it helps us iron out the nuts and bolts of the plan as needed. The ultimate take away of this exercise is that your dreams can come true—if you make them happen.

Final tips

1. Go big. Be ambitious. If your goal is something too huge to realistically be accomplished in one year give yourself more time. Maybe it means picturing yourself where you want to be five years from now? The secret to achieving big dreams is that a little bit of daily work accrued over a long amount of time can accomplish anything!

2. Write this down. Don’t just try to do this in your head. Writing it down will keep it concrete, and you will want to check back on your plan from time to time for inspiration.

3. I recommend repeating the process about once a month, to stay on track and adjust as needed.

Top 20 practical tips for creative people

Alvarado:

Hey guys, shhh you didn’t see me here. I shouldn’t be blogging right now! The final draft of my book is due to the publisher this week, I should be working on that! But before I go make another pot of coffee, here is a repost on 20 basic tips for greater creativity. If a lot of my blogging is about esoteric ways to get more out of your imagination think of this as the “low-hanging fruit”.

Originally posted on Anthony Alvarado:

My last post was a list of some of the habits of genius. Most of them are not that surprising, stuff like “People who think a lot tend to drink a lot of coffee.” And often my posts tend towards the esoteric ( see the 5 part series on magic from last month.)

But since it’s a new year I thought I would bust out some really practical tips. It is easy to lose sight of the obvious when one is pursuing the muse. Here are a dozen reminders of stuff so basic that maybe it’s time to take a second look at it. Often it is easy for the creative type person to get so wrapped up in the big picture that they forget to take care of the mundane, the day to day, the basics. But I assure you, if you are going to succeed as an artists…

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Weekly Unstructured Creative Time

Here is something I want you to try that will basically change your life as far as creativity goes. It is really simple, and when I describe it you might think “oh, that’s no big deal” and so not even bother to actually do it. But I promise you, really give this a whirl and I think you will be very happy with the results. This practice has obvious benefits for creative types; artists, writers, film makers etc. but I truly believe that anyone can benefit from adding more creative insight to their life, which is why I have designed this activity to be adaptable to any sort of creativity.

What am I talking about? I call it Weekly, Unstructured, Creative Time. WUCT. Yeah, dorky sounding acronym. Oh well. Here is the deal; simply spend one hour a week not working on anything in particular, just allowing yourself to think, to ponder, to muse, to daydream . . . to be creative.

This is so important because so many of us are always working on something, we never let our brains have the downtime to just amble and wander, and this is often the best time for truly new and original ideas! (I won’t bore you with all the studies that have recently come out backing up this claim, but I could.)

Yes, it is kind of an oxymoron. I am talking about scheduling time to space-out. Making this a part of your weekly routine. But once you try it, it will likely become a corner-stone of your whole week. Let’s take a closer look at what I mean.

W — Weekly. You don’t have to do this the same time and place and day each week, although I recommend it.  The main thing is simply to make this a regular feature of your schedule. Try it at least 3 weeks in a row. Some sessions are going to be more fruitful than others. Just spend 1 hour and you will probably get enough new ideas to keep you busy all week.

U —Unstructured. There aren’t any rules. You aren’t trying to do anything in particular. This is important. Don’t go into the hour thinking you are going to focus on this or that project or task. Let your mind wander. Here is how I do it, I sit down somewhere (outside if the weather is nice) with a notebook and a pencil, and I daydream and write down whatever comes to mind. You are still being receptive to ideas, but it is a playful sort of concentration. You can doodle, journal, make lists, whatever. The trick here is a simple one, that people have long been aware of, but rarely attempt to directly harness: We get our best ideas when we are just playing around.

C— Creative. The key here is don’t censor anything. Just take note of whatever comes to mind. What I mean by don’t censor anything is don’t ask yourself “is this idea worth having”? Just have it. To often we try to asses inchoate ideas, we ask what is this idea worth, is it cool, is it smart, etc. We try to monetize and evaluate our ideas before they are even born, nothing could be less playful, nothing could be more lethal to the creative process. During this hour allow yourself to just play and not judge.

T— Time. I recommend trying this for an hour a week. And although it might sound weird, I recommend to pick a repeating time, one day a week and schedule that to be your hour when you do this. Simply because then you will be sure to remember, and  rituals that we repeat at the same time and day regularly are more likely to stay with us.

 

A few recommendations:

  • Get away from the computer, don’t use the internet, and turn off your phone. Those things will distract you.
  • If you can, sit somewhere else. Somewhere quiet. Get away from your normal workspace, try a cafe, or your backyard, or a quiet place in your house away from distraction. Experiment until you find the best spot for you.
  • If you get stuck take a short walk.
  • It’s ok to feel bored. (Although it is just as likely to feel relaxing, exciting, and to be a stress reliever.)
  • You can of course think about projects that you are working on, nothing is off limits, just don’t force yourself to work on anything in particular, let it come to you naturally.

Workspace & Creativity

As readers of this blog know I spend a lot of time thinking about how creativity works, how daydreams function, and how one can best get in the creative groove. I have found that the very simple art of spacing-out, when you really look at it leads to all kinds of interesting rabbit holes.

Recently I have been thinking about how space affects creativity. Basically I mean the room where you do your thing. The writer’s desk, the painter’s studio, the potter’s wheel, that sort of thing. I am lucky enough to have a space where I can work, here is a pic:desk

Nothing fancy, right? A desk, some pics on the wall, and a window to stare out of to the right. This is where I write. I’m not complaining. But is there some way this space could be improved? In the same way that a bike, which functions just fine can be tightened, balanced, greased, and tuned-up to function better than ever? I decided to look into it, and to my surprise there really is not much research or knowledge done in this area!

Here is what you will find if you try to google stuff like how decor/architecture affects focus, and creativity.

1. Spending time in nature relaxes people. (Which it seems scientists have just “discovered” recently with a study. As usual this is common knowledge that mystics and poets have been saying for years and the scientists are a bit late to the party on this one.)

2. Color affects mood. The info on colors is pretty basic, and it is the sort of thing where every article you find on the internet mostly recycles the same bit of info. And it is really the information about colors that 8 year olds can intuit by looking at a box of crayons.

Red is energizing.

Blue is calming. And helps with concentration.

Black is austere, and kind of classy.

Green is refreshing, and so on.

I can’t say that any particular color seems best suited to creativity. Some might say what about blue? But i think that creativity and mental focus are actually two different things.

So, I mean that’s not a lot of information right? (There is also Feng Shui which I haven’t looked into very much, because half the advice in Feng Shui seems to be like “your front door should face north” which is not something you have a lot of control over after the fact.)

I mean, everybody knows that the place where you work can drastically effect your mood and concentration, and productivity, right? SO why is this such an unexplored area?

I don’t have the answer to that. It would seem this is simply an area of mind-place interaction that is ripe to be further explored. I will leave you with a few places you can explore creating your own ideal creative space. After all it is going to be different for everyone, one person needs order to create, another chaos, another a view of nature, another person needs absolute quiet, another the hustle and bustle of a cafe and so on.

 

1. Since I spend a lot of time sitting at a desk, I sort of fetishize the objects that I use at my desk. Fancy pencils and pencil sharpeners. Silly, I know, but it seems to work. This place has lots of fancy pencils and the like. I bike downtown to buy the Blackwing pencils that I am addicted to there, because they sell singles. 

Hand Eye Supply

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I had to give up espresso to afford my fancy-pants pencil additction.

 

2. Here is a list of a bunch of famous people’s workspace. Jane Austen wins the zen-like austerity prize here, jeez. 

www.buzzfeed.com/summeranne/40-inspiring-workspaces-of-the-famously-creative#1vbts4z

 

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3. Warning this next link will make you jealous. But it is pictures of people that seem to spend all of their time making sure they are surrounded by very nice looking spaces. But it can also be inspiring, in the same way that looking at photographs of recipes that are so fancy you probably won’t ever actually try them is.

The Selby

 

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Like . . . this guy is a “Lifestyler”. That’s his job.

 

4.  Finally, there is this cool book/theory by architect Christopher Alexander, called pattern language that goes into all this in detail. It’s fascinating. The basic idea is to live in a place, and with objects that live. That breathe. That are beautiful . . . and basically this amounts to choosing handmade stuff whenever possible instead of mass-produced stuff.

Pattern Language

 

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Notes on how to write a best-selling YA Fantasy

I’ve been researching YA. Here are basic 27 YA writing tips. I won’t mention the obvious stuff, like “write believable characters”. These are notes about how to write plot-driven fiction.

1. The most basic rule of heroic fiction is that we want to read about someone that we would like to be. Make your heroine impossibly cool and that’s half the battle.

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2. An adventure story is simply about some obstacle and the alacrity and struggle necessary to overcome it.

3. What is needed above all else: an evil villain. The more wicked the better. A great villain is unique and often seductive enough to steal the whole show. think of Darth Vader.

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4. Stupid henchmen are entertaining.

5. Oh, how the human mind loves to imagine action scenes! Sword fights, explosions, and chandelier swinging never gets old. (Or is that just because I’m a guy?)

6. Cliffhangers 101. Find all the points of biggest tension and put chapter breaks there. That will trick the reader into staying up all night to read just one more chapter.

7. Cliffhangers may be resolved by Dues Ex Machina, or big dumb coinkydinks, doesn’t matter, a cliffhanger is a cliffhanger.

8. Often what separates a genre novel from a literary novel is just the sheer amount of plot happening in an adventurey page-turner. In order to keep the pages flipping fast the author must sometimes get clumsy, sacrifice grace to speed. E.G. characters having conversations that are obviously just to serve the purpose of providing background information to the reader. It is often done clumsily but gets the job done. Of course this is necessary in a fantastic world, but it is best if the reader doesn’t pick up on it happening.

9. Know the shoulder that you stand upon. For example Bartimeaus does a nice job of grafting the Harry Potter “boy wizard in training” plot onto the Hunger Games “revolutionaries foment rebellion against the rich tyrant class” trope, currently all the rage.

10. One thing that has changed since I was a young adult reader, background characters seem to get killed with much more regularity. Worth noting, that’s all.

11. As the plot gallops along from chapter to chapter, it is always a pleasant feeling for the reader if they can piece things together (what is really happening) a bit faster than the main character. That way there is a nice tension between what the reader knows and what the hero/heroine thinks they know. So we can shout at the page “No, don’t open that door!”

12. YA is often about the young versus old, of course.

13. Clichés became clichés for a reason. Clichés were ridiculously entertaining the first time around. The trick is to make your dragon, your wizard, your magic ring etc. new. Make it new.

14. What happens next? That’s always easy: out of the frying pan, into the fire.

15. Another simple recipe for a novel: two characters POV back and forth, through escalating and more harrowing trials, each providing a different perspective on the larger paracosm.

16. Any scene is easier to describe for the reader if it is already a familiar set piece– The mansion party, the bustling kitchen full of cooks and waiters, the rowdy pub, the snowy forest etc. Of course this must be balanced with original innovations. Consider the “planets” visited in Star Wars are simply the desert, the arctic cold, the forests of Pacific NW etc.

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17. People love reading about disguises.

18. And food. People looove reading about food.

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19. If you want to paint a group of people as unlikable don’t forget to make them rich, decadent, and rude to their servants.

20. Nothing should come easy. The longer it takes the hero to achieve something, the more believable it is. Of course the stakes must be convincing or this is boring. By convincing I mean they must feel believable and important. Ask this of every page: who cares? And, really

21. Humor. Action. Suspense. Character development. If a page doesn’t provide one of these four it is useless.

22. Gear. We want to know what gear the characters have. Cool swords, clothes, hair, etc. People love unique gadgets. But it must be original, for example it will be very hard to pull of a female who is an ace with a bow and arrow as long as people know who Katniss is.

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23. Systems of magic that are rich and believable are almost always based on actual old systems and beliefs of magic. Summoning, conjuring, necromancy, runes etc. Readers are very savvy now-a-days with the sort of stuff that once was only known by geeks who played D&D.

24. Is anything cooler than flying? No.

25. Use lots of smells. New science shows that when we read a description of a smell: Coffee, leather, strawberry, etc. It triggers the same activity in our brains actually smelling the thing. Every book is a scratch and sniff book.

  1. A paracosm is a detailed imaginary world created inside one’s mind. This fantasy world may involve humans, animals, and things that exist in reality; or it may also contain entities that are entirely imaginary, alien, and otherworldly. Commonly having its own geography, history, and language, the experience of such a paracosm is often developed during childhood and continues over a long period of time: months or even years.

27. Of course the best writing tip is to simply write the book that you would like to read.

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