Monday, 31 January 2011

473 Not Very Good Words on Success (& all that other stuff)

Preface: I wrote some good blogs last week. This is not one of them. They can’t all be winners.

“What does that kind of risk look like?”

I’m in a men’s group that meets regularly to talk about, well, everything. It’s not a Bible study and it’s not an accountability group. It’s a life examination, a place where no question is out of bounds, and the only answers required are honest ones. We were meeting a couple of weeks back and I was talking about my life—hopes and disappointments, possibilities. One of the guys looked at me and asked, “what is ‘success’ for you?”

I couldn’t answer him. But after this meander through risk/failure/inspiration/work I thought I could put words to it. Over the weekend I thought about it and planned to write it today. Then Donald Miller went and wrote it for me.

Or rather, I should say that’s what I’d like my definition to be. With all respect Mr. Miller, but it’s easier for that to be true when you’ve already written a best seller.

But then again, success is a head game. How much is enough? Are you ever satisfied? Is it even healthy to strive for success? Shouldn’t it be enough to earn a decent wage and raise my kids in health and safety?

Head game.

The truth is that while I should be satisfied with what I have and call it success, I’m not. I want a WGA. I want a Pulitzer. I want to be a Show Runner. Is that very Christian of me?

I know I was made to tell stories. I know I haven’t told the really good ones yet. I can feel them, rumbling around in the basement, snorting with impatience, waiting to see the light of day.

So if I haven’t met with success yet, and if my problem is that I don’t risk enough, where do I begin?

I let it drop a few days back that I have a goal of four feature-length scripts this year. Two for stage and two for screen. I have the idea for one, and the genre for another. I also let it drop that I’m going to write one here, on the blog.

Since I first started blogging, I always held my best ideas back, because I wanted to “make something of them.” We see how far that’s gotten me. So I’m throwing it out. I’m going to take (in my mind) a monumental risk and write a script in front of you in real time. Wide open to your comments, critique, ridicule and possible theft.

Although blogging in the traditional sense (you know, thought vomit, or “personal observation”) is good for me, I’m a dialogue writer. That’s what I should be doing.

One big risk that (hopefully) leads to one small success.

Friday, 28 January 2011

363 Words to Round Out The Week (About Inspiration & Work)

I like this commercial from ESPN. It’s pretty simple. If you want to play on the big stage, you have to do the work to get there.

I’m doing that ridiculous workout program you see on infomercials late at night right now. In fact, I’m nine days from finishing my first ninety day circuit. (And I’m going to do it again.) When I started the program, I couldn’t do very many push-ups. But every week I worked at them. Now in week twelve I can do quadruple the number I could in week one.

The same is true being a creative. The fundamental thing that always held me back from writing anything was my desire for it to be perfect. But how could it be perfect if I never worked at it? It’s taken me WAY too long to realize this simple truth.

The last definition for inspiration is “an act of breathing in; an inhalation.” I like that a lot.

The body requires oxygen. I learned why in eighth grade science but I can’t recall now, so I just accept that it does. Inspiration in the physiological sense is the oxygen delivery process for the lungs, which in turn passes it on to the blood and so on. Inspiration in the creative sense is the catalyst delivery process for the mind. The thing I like most about this last definition is the implied constancy of it. We are always breathing. Constant inspiration. The day we stop is the day we die.

We are always breathing.

Inspiration is inevitable. Because we are created as emotional beings, we will always intersect with catalysts that send us into that transcendent state. That’s a comforting thought. Before I was always afraid of not being inspired. Now I live confidently that inspiration is always right around the next corner. Always in the next breath.

“What is the result inspiration produces?” If I’ve done the work to play on the big stage, if I’ve placed myself in the path of success, loaded for bear with a double-barrel full of words, full of rhythm and syntax and structure…

I’m working to be ready for that next breath.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

497 More Words on Inspiration (& Work)

I spent the better part of the last twenty years waiting to be inspired to write something awesome. I didn’t get a whole lot written. Sure, I started a bunch of stuff, but I could never finish it. The inspiration (that feeling of invincibility derived from a catalyst) would run out and I would wait for the next catalyst to push me further down road.

What a complete waste.

Then in the last few years I started digging deeper into the craft of writing. I spent more time thinking about and working on the mechanics of good writing, rather than relying on talent and waiting for inspiration. In 2010 (in addition to all the stuff I wrote for work) I wrote a both a feature-length screenplay and stage play. I was inspired to write both, but finished them through perseverance, through pushing through that place where there’s no more inspiration and only a mountain of words left to write.

Because if there’s one thing that’s been beaten into me about living and working as a creative, it’s that it’s a habit. You have to get up and do it whether you feel like it or not. Inspiration has little to do with it. It is hard, painstaking, gutting-it-out work. Inspiration has its place as the jumping off point (see the definition: “a sudden brilliant, creative or timely idea), but inspiration is a fleeting emotion that doesn’t get you through the dark night of the soul. (Donald Miller has touched recently on this too. Here and Here.)

The question then, I don’t think should be “what inspires you?” It can actually be counterproductive. We find something we think is the bee’s knees and can’t wait to share with people but when we do we hardly ever get the desired response. A “yeah…cool” at the most. We get our feeling hurt because they didn’t get it. If this happens enough we get bitter. Inspiration wasted. Lord knows I’ve lost plenty of good ideas that way.

So I think it’s important to recognize that the inspiration you experience is for you. It’s your rocket fuel to break out of the centripetal force that’s holding you where you are, but it’s only the stage one booster of breaking orbit. You have to maintain your trajectory after lift off. Stage two. This question I believe, is the important one: “what is the result inspiration produces?”

In that earlier series I wrote, I talked about that symbiotic relationship between faith and inspiration. I believe they are inexorably linked. You can’t have one without the other. The next logical step (for faith and creativity) is found in James. As paraphrased by Rich Mullins: “Faith without works, it just ain’t happening.”

I plan to double my output this year. Two screenplays. Two plays. And I plan on writing at least one of them here in front of you. I have not an ounce of inspiration for any of these four projects.

That’s also for later.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

499 words about inspiration

My friend MeLissa has declared this “Inspiration Week” and has challenged people to talk about what inspires them. If you have the time, I wrote about 4000 words on this subject in a rambling, semi-sensical four-part series a little over a year ago. It’s not a list of cool stuff or places to find inspiration. It was a journey of discovery about how symbiotic faith and inspiration are. You can find them (in order) here, here, here and here.

But this post isn’t about that. In fact, I encourage you to leave now before you read what I have to say today about inspiration. It’s not what you’re hoping for. You might even get your feelings hurt. Really.

You’ve been warned.

We think of inspiration as a thing: a piece of art, a good book, an epic movie. But those things are just the catalysts for inspiration. Inspiration is our physiological, emotional and spiritual response to such catalysts. In one of those earlier posts, I gave the definition of inspiration. Here again:

1 the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, esp. to do something creative
• the quality of having been so stimulated, esp. when evident in something
• a person or thing that stimulates in this way
• a sudden brilliant, creative, or timely idea
• the divine influence believed to have led to the writing of the Bible.

2 the drawing in of breath; inhalation.
• an act of breathing in; an inhalation.

Look at the first definition. It’s a process. Or the second: “the quality of having been so stimulated…” We sense something that elicits a response in us. Endorphins and adrenaline are released. Our breath quickens. Our hearts pound. A switch is thrown somewhere deep inside and suddenly we’re able to conquer the world. That’s inspiration. Not the thing that did it to us, but our response to the thing. And because we’re all unique we’re all uniquely inspired. The catalyst for one person is not necessarily the same for another. So you could show me cat pictures and illustrations of robots and girls holding hands and I might not feel a thing. (I know. I’m a cold-hearted B. But I’m also thirty-eight with four kids. It’d be creepy if such things inspired me.)

Which makes me think, “Inspiration is a crap-shoot.” It’s entirely subjective to the beholder, and it changes day to day. I.E.: When I was twenty-five I told Seth Worley that “The Crow” was an awesome movie. I was INSPIRED by it. Now I think, “gosh, it’s really dark, and kind of thin, too.” So not only are the catalysts different and unique for each individual, they change constantly.

I don’t know if I like that. This idea that I’ve held so loftily for so long now seems a bit…fickle.

I am a believer in inspiration. True believer. And I want to share with you in the beauty and truth of inspiration.

But that part comes later.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

487 Words on Telling Good Stories

Blogging over here today. It's a blog I'm privileged to contribute to with some story-obsessed friends.

Monday, 24 January 2011

500 More Words on Risk and Failure

A recent text conversation with Seth Worley:

Seth: FYI. Nic Cage is currently being sued out the wazoo by people he’s in debt with. Been going on for a while. Might want to amend your blog.

Seth: That’s why he’s in everything you see lately.

Me: I know that. Why should I amend it?

Me: The point was that he continually faces risk and failure and continues to work, no matter what the circumstances.

Seth: Yeah, but not because he’s passionate. You don’t have to amend it. I just thought it was funny that you were like “he takes a job that he thinks is cool and does it. Or maybe he lost big in Vegas and has no other choice.” When the truth is he has no other choice.

Me: But he made bad choices before he had no choice.

Seth: Okay. Yes. That’s how he got there.

Me: Haha. Yes. Bt I meant he made bad acting choices.

Seth: So did I read your post wrong? I thought you used him as an example of noble failure.

Me: Not so much noble failure as continuing to risk and persevere through failure…

Among the things that Seth and I talk about (dinosaurs, absurd and pointless action sequences) is this subject of risk and failure.

Nic Cage is a terrible example of someone taking risks, because he is doing it for the money. He has to. But still, there must be a small voice in the back of his head that says, “if you keep doing this crap the only thing you’ll be able to land is syfy originals.” I think we can all agree he’s risking career suicide with schlock like “Season of the Witch” and “Drive Angry.”

Seth and I were talking the other day about risk. We were lamenting the fact that we work in a place where we’re not allowed to fail, and it causes us to take less chances. That was the afternoon before Shanley lecture. Mr. Shanley told us he’s currently developing a pilot with HBO about a Brooklyn District Attorney. He told us HBO was excited about it, talking about the courtroom scenes.

“No courtroom scenes.” Shanley said. “He never goes to court.”
HBO: Okay. Well, the office then.
Shanley: No. He hates the office. He never goes to the office.

A show about a DA that doesn’t go to court and doesn’t go to the office. HBO signed off. Shanley’s working on the script right now.

I realized my problem isn’t that I’m not allowed to fail. (Sidenote: I am allowed to fail at work. I’ve sent stuff to camp that BOMBED.) The problem is I don’t risk enough.

Doug Hall wrote this book about brainstorming. In it he talks about baseball and home runs. He says the best home run hitters strike out eleven times for every home run they hit. Eleven failures for every success.

So I guess the question is: what does that kind of risk look like?

Sunday, 23 January 2011

498 Words on Wounding Your Children

In “Wild At Heart,” John Eldredge talks about the wound a father gives to his son. Essentially, no matter how hard we as fathers try, because of our brokenness (our own wound) we’re going to somehow wound our children. We overcompensate for our own shortcomings and our children bear the brunt of it.

To say I’m broken is an understatement. I’m pretty sure Paul got it wrong in I Timothy. He’s the second worst sinner behind me. And out the laundry list of my sins, the thing I’ve struggled with the most lately is being unkind to my children. It’s a daily battle for me not to drag my own personal frustrations and shortcomings home and project them onto my children. I inevitably lose that battle. It is the thing I hate the most about myself, knowing that I’m wounding them, knowing that I’m presently forming their inadequacies.

The good news is there’s something I can do about it. Every day, every moment creates a new opportunity for me to repent and work on repairing the damage I’ve done. And I do. One of the things I’ve always worked hard at is asking forgiveness of my children whenever I am unkind to them. I let them know that whatever I’ve done—raising my voice, cutting them off, being rude, ignoring them—is not okay. I tell them how sorry I am and ask them to forgive me. So while I’m not satisfied with my behavior, I recognize that this is the cost of being broken in a broken world. I will wound my kids, but I can strive against it.

And then Jacob needed glasses.

He is exuberant. He bounces around the house in them and keeps talking about how much better he can see. He picked the titanium kind that you can bend in a pretzel, which he thinks is cool. And they’re the same kind that most of his glasses-wearing friends have. But there is still a part of me that looks at him wearing those glasses…I look at him and I think “I did that to him.” And there’s nothing I can do about it.

The novelty of the glasses will wear off. Someone will make fun of him or he’ll be judged by the way he looks. Unlike my sin, this isn’t a wound I can work on. I can’t repent of this shortcoming I’ve inflicted on him.

I wasn’t made fun of for wearing glasses in the classic sense. No “four-eyes” or anything like that. But it did color my childhood. It put me on the uncool side of the line. And while I think things like this matter less now than ever, I still never want my children to experience it.

I’m sure Lasik or the next technology will be so affordable that he’ll be corrective lens-free before he gets out of high school. And I know it’s nothing. I know there’s A LOT worse to come. But still…

…being broken sucks.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

344 words on Being a Parent

One of the things I noticed as I paged through my blog was the amount I wrote about my kids. I have no problem with that, since I they’re mine and most of my funny stories come from them these days. But I was trying to see my blog with objective eyes and I thought, “this dude writes about his kids a lot.” So I’m going to limit Hoppeland posts to the weekends.

The other day Shannon posted this picture of Asher and I on Facebook. I think it’s awesome. (She told me later she made sure to get my ink in it. My wife, folks.) Asher is like a bear cub. He likes to be touching someone when he falls asleep. One day he’s going to be grown up and not want to do it anymore, so I’ll take it while I can get it.

Until the other night.

Shannon comes in from putting Asher in bed as I’m folding clothes and tells me he has a fever of 101. Then she tells me he wants me to come lie down with him. My son with the fever wants me to come lie forehead to forehead with him. Basically, he wants to breathe in my face. With a fever.

As a parent, there’s nothing you won’t do for your kid. I’ve been thrown up, pooped and peed on. I’ve allowed them to place chewed food in my mouth. I’ve even given them the last bite of my ice cream, my cereal, my chocolate. But I had a really hard time with this one. Those other things were all “in the moment” types of decisions. But essentially, this would be me willingly lying down in the path of a bullet train. A bullet train called “Flu.” And just so he would go to sleep faster. No emergency.

I really battled it. Even as he placed his hot little forehead against mine and breathed all over my face, I fought it. There’s nothing you won’t do for your kid.

And I haven’t gotten sick.


Friday, 21 January 2011

475 words on Risk and Failure

I’ve been thinking a lot about risk and failure lately. It’s coaching change season in the NFL. Right now the twenty-eight teams not still playing are evaluating, firing and hiring coaches. As I listen to radio and browse ESPN, it strikes me how many fired coaches there are that another team has hired. John Fox, head coach of the Carolina Panthers for ten or so years gets fired and the next week the Denver Broncos hire him as their head coach. Mike Singletary is out as the head coach of the 49ers. There’s no doubt someone’s going to pick him up to be a linebackers coach or Defensive coordinator. We equate the NFL, and all sports, really, with winning. Success. But the reality is the league is populated with losers. With failure. Most players and coaches will never win the Super Bowl. But they’re out there everyday giving it their best shot. These coaches shoulder huge pressure, take an enormous risk to win. But most won’t.

Risk: exposure to the chance of injury or loss. A hazard or dangerous chance.

JPS talked about failure too. He wrote and directed “Joe Versus the Volcano” which is widely regarded as a monumental flop. (It wasn’t. The returns weren’t bad, and the reviews were mixed. But somehow it got this stigma attached to it.) He talked about having to live through that and what it did to his career. But he kept writing. Then he won the Pulitzer. Suck it, critics.

My friend Erin has taken on this crazy self-assigned project to watch every movie Robert Duvall’s ever been in. She dug up a quote from him about the success and failure about certain projects. He basically said he doesn’t listen to critics. He keeps working.

Because I’ve been dumbfounded by some of the choices people in Hollywood make. Nic Cage baffles me. But it’s the same thing. He finds a project that he likes/believes in/looks fun and does it. He takes the risk. Either that or he’s lost HUGE in Vegas and has some rough dudes after him.

For these people, coaches and Hollywood types, the pressure to succeed is massive giant. The risk is on a level I can’t fathom. But they do it. They fail. A lot. Then they do it again.

I had a brush with failure yesterday. Someone in the building didn’t like something I’d shot for them. Said they were going to have to reshoot the whole thing with someone else. Normally, this would send me into a tailspin. Normally, I’d question the very fabric of my being. But today I’m not. I did the best I could with the materials, people and equipment I had to work with. I stayed on time and under budget. They didn’t like it. I can’t help that. I failed. But I slept great last night.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

438 Words on Habit Forming

Dear Reader Of This Blog (or mom),

I started here with the best of intentions. You can find them here. Looking at the date of the last post you can see how well that’s worked out for me.

Last night I went to hear John Patrick Shanley speak. I’ve heard him before. Here’s who he is, in case you don’t know. Whereas the first time I heard him speak was mythic and inspiring, last night was…mechanical. The audience was different, and so his answers were different. He talked more about the process, the business of art. And he talked about discipline.

Read his bio. It’s original, funny, outrageous and 100% true. Last night he picked up where his bio left off. He talked about what the Marine Corps did for him. Before the marines he got kicked out of every school he attended. After the marines he graduated valedictorian of his class at NYU.

He talked about his writing habit. I admire a lot of writers. They all have different processes. Different mediums. But they all share one thing in common. They have a writing habit. Stephen King sits down in the morning and doesn’t allow himself to leave his desk until he’s written 5000 words. Don Miller is committed to a new blog post every day. Damon Lindelof said the first million words he wrote were crap, but that he had to write them to get to the good words. John Shanley came out of the Marine Corps and set his alarm for 5 every morning. He would get up and sit at the typewriter for three hours. He said, “I didn’t have to write anything, but it was inevitably the quickest way to make the three hours pass.” Then he’d go for a three mile run. Then he’d start his day.

We make time for what’s important to us. Lately I’ve made time for Shannon’s burgeoning acting career, which is important. I’ve made time for exercise, which is also important. But I haven’t made any time for writing. I’ve instead allowed a lot of non-important things to creep in. I become terribly interested in them, but they aren’t important.

I paged through my blog and discovered a lot of writing I’m proud of, and a lot not so much. But I also saw that I rarely kept to my 500 word limit. I remember at the time saying “the idea is more important than the word count.” I believe that’s true, but I also didn’t stick to the premise, which is important.

So I’m going to take another whack at it. 500 or less. Every day.