Cultivate your curiosity

Writers use curiosity to hook you into their story, to make you ask questions and wonder. You can use that same curiosity in life, to learn and to become more aware of the world around you.

‘Curiosity is the intellectual need to answer questions and close open patterns. Story plays to this universal desire by doing the opposite, posing questions and opening situations. Each Turning Point hooks curiosity. As the protagonist is put at increasingly greater risk, the audience wonders, “What’s going to happen next? And after that?” And above all, “How will it turn out?” The answer to this will not arrive until the last act Climax, and so the audience, held by curiosity, stays put. Think of all the bad films you’ve sat through for no other reason than to get the answer to that nagging question.’

Robert McKee. Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting

Writers use curiosity to hook you into their story, to make you ask questions and wonder. You can use that same curiosity in life, to learn and to become more aware of the world around you.
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Curiosity is at the heart of any learning process. If you’re curious about something, you want to find out more about it. When you feel curious, you ask lots of questions, listen intently and get excited by new information and new concepts.

You can bring an attitude of this curiosity to your mindfulness practice. Ask yourself questions like ‘Where do thoughts come from?’ and ‘What happens if I move towards my frustration and try to breathe into it?’

If you bring curiosity to your daily life, you find that mindfulness spontaneously arises. You’re paying attention, noticing what’s happening and find it easier to be in the present moment.’

Shamash Alidina and Joelle Jane Marshall. Mindfulness Workbook for Dummies.

Getting along with your inner critic

The mind can be a writer’s harshest critic, and it never seems to shut up. But you don’t need to pay attention to what it says. Just accept that it’s there and keep writing.

Advice from author Anne Lamott’s on dealing with a writer’s harshest critic: the mind.
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‘I’d start writing without reining myself in. It was almost just typing, just making my fingers move. And the writing would be terrible. I’d write a lead paragraph that was a whole page, and the critics would be sitting on my shoulders, commenting like cartoon characters. They’d be pretending to snore, or rolling their eyes at my overwrought descriptions, no matter how hard I tried to tone those descriptions down.
But I would eventually let myself trust the process—sort of, more or less. I’d write a first draft that was maybe twice as long as it should be. The whole thing would be so long and incoherent and hideous that for the rest of the day I’d obsess about getting creamed by a car before I could write a decent second draft.

The next day, though, I’d sit down, go through it all with a colored pen, take out everything I possibly could, find a new lead somewhere on the second page, figure out a kicky place to end it, and then write a second draft. It always turned out fine, sometimes even funny and weird and helpful. I’d go over it one more time and mail it in.

Then, a month later, when it was time for another review, the whole process would start again, complete with the fears that people would find my first draft before I could rewrite it.’

Anne Lamott. Bird by Bird.

One woman announced that she was just beginning to write her annual end of-the-year letter to friends and family in February. She felt obliged to write a little personal note on each copy of the letter, which she anticipated would take another month. While examining procrastination she realized that she was delaying because once the letters were mailed, she might find that they were not perfect. This is an example of how the Inner Critic gets us coming and going. If she does mail the letters and they are not perfect, the Inner Critic will beat her up. If she delays in an attempt to make them perfect, and thus mails the letters late, or never, the Inner Critic will still be upset. There is no winning in the land of the Inner Critic. Its only job is to criticize, and it does this job well.’

Jan Chozen Bays. How to Train a Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness.

Break through your NaNoWriMo barriers

After seven days of NaNoWriMo, many writers, like their heroes, will be facing their own obstacles. The key is to be flexible as you follow your path and achieve your ultimate goal.

Break through your NaNoWriMo barriers
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All heroes encounter obstacles on the road to adventure. At each gateway to a new world there are powerful guardians at the threshold, placed to keep the unworthy from entering. They present a menacing face to the hero, but if properly understood, they can be overcome, bypassed, or even turned into allies. Many heroes (and many writers) encounter Threshold Guardians, and understanding their nature can help determine how to handle them.

Christopher Vogler. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers

In the process of engaging in life-goal directed activities, clients inevitably encounter barriers. Most of the time, they are related to anxiety-related concerns that literally seem to hold clients back. An important recurrent task for therapists … is to help clients handle barriers to committed action and focus on making and keeping action commitments and on recommitting to action after they have broken a commitment. The focus is on teaching clients how to move with potential barriers rather than try to overcome or push through them. Therapists constantly encourage clients to stay with difficult situations, unpleasant feelings, thoughts, and other anxiety-related barriers to valued living by practicing mindful acceptance and defusion skills. The major goal here is to help clients develop more flexible patterns of behavior when relating with the stimuli, events, and situations that elicit fear or anxiety.

Georg H. Eifert, John P. Forsyth, Joanna Arch, Emmanuel Espejo and David Langer. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Anxiety Disorders: Three Case Studies Exemplifying a Unified Treatment Protocol.

Writers: free you inner voice!

We can all benefit from taking the time to listen to our inner voices. Writers, especially, need to free those inner voices to remove inhibitions and write honestly.

The Dark Half. Directed by: George A. Romero. Writers: Stephen King (novel), George A. Romero (screenplay). Starring: Timothy Hutton.

‘Learning mindfulness (like life in general) will always present difficulties and obstacles. Perhaps you’re pretty nasty to yourself through excessive self-criticism when things don’t work out how you want them to. The way to deal with this harsh inner voice is to listen to it, give it space to unfurl and bring to it a sense of curiosity in a gentle, warm way.’

Shamash Alidina and Joelle Jane Marshall. Mindfulness Workbook for Dummies.

Hemingway and mindful attention

Despite his reputation as a rogue, Ernest Hemingway advocated mindful techniques for writing and for living, and he offers good advice on how to be considerate to others.

 

Hemingway and mindful attention
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When people talk listen completely. Donʼt be thinking what youʼre going to say. Most people never listen. Nor do they observe. You should be able to go into a room and when you come out know everything that you saw there and not only that. If that room gave you any feeling you should know exactly what it was that gave you that feeling. Try that for practice. When youʼre in town stand outside the theatre and see how people differ in the way they get out of taxis or motor cars. There are a thousand ways to practice. And always think of other people.’

Ernest Hemingway. Monologue to the Maestro: A High Seas Letter.

 

‘With mindful attention, we bring a nonjudging, open attitude to our experience. We also refer to this way of relating to feelings and thoughts as acceptance, defined as opening to up and allowing your experience to be exactly as it is, without trying to avoid it, escape it or change it.’

Jan E. Fleming and Nancy L. Kocovski. The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Social Anxiety and Shyness – Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to Free Yourself from Fear and Reclaim Your Life.

Avoid procrastination

Sometimes we invent stories, often brilliant stories, to avoid something in our lives. To get on with what you should be doing, it helps to see these excuses for what they are, just stories.

Avoid procrastination
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One of my favorite forms of resistance is sitting down to write and suddenly getting an idea for another screenplay—a much better idea, an idea so unique, so original, so exciting, you wonder what you’re doing writing this screenplay. You really think about it. You may even get two or three “better” ideas. It happens quite often; it may be a great idea, but it’s still a form of resistance! If it’s really a good idea, it will keep. Simply write it up in a page or two, put it in a file marked “New Projects,” and file it away. If you decide to pursue this new idea and abandon the original project, you’ll discover the same thing happening; When you sit down to write, you’ll get another new idea, and so on and so on. It’s a form of resistance; a mind trip, a way of avoiding writing. We all do it. We’re masters at creating reasons and excuses not to write; it’s simply a barrier to the creative process. So, how do you deal with it? Simple. If you know it’s going to happen, simply acknowledge it when it does. When you’re cleaning the refrigerator, sharpening pencils, or eating, just know that’s what you’re doing: experiencing resistance! It’s no big thing. Don’t put yourself down, feel guilty, feel worthless, or punish yourself in any way. Just acknowledge the resistance—then move right through to the other side. Just don’t pretend it’s not happening. It is! Once you deal with your resistance, you’re ready to start writing.

Syd Field. Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting.

‘Since childhood you’ve heard, ‘Don’t believe everything you read.’ When we read about celebrities in the tabloids, we know that many of the stories are false or misleading. Some are exaggerated for effect, others are made up entirely. Now some celebrities take this in their stride; they accept it as part of being famous and don’t let it get to them. When they notice ridiculous stories about themselves, they just shrug it off. They certainly don’t waste their time reading, analysing and discussing them! Other celebrities, though, get very upset about these stories. They read them and dwell on them, rant and complain, and lodge lawsuits (which are stressful and eat up a lot of time, energy and money).

‘Defusion allows us to be like the first set of celebrities: the stories are there, but we don’t take them seriously. We don’t pay them much attention, and we certainly don’t waste our time and energy trying to fight them. In ACT we don’t try to change, avoid or get rid of the story. We know how ineffective that is. Instead we simply acknowledge: ‘This is a story.’

Russ Harris. The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling, Start Living

Use the Language, Luke

Language, like the Force in Star Wars, has a dark side. We have to learn to use it to our advantage, rather than let it use us.

Use the language Luke

Luke Skywalker attacks the “Death Star,” a manmade fortress as huge as a planet. But it’s not fully constructed. A vulnerable slot lies open on one side of the sphere. Luke must not only attack into the slot, but hit a vulnerable spot within it. He’s an expert fighter pilot but tries without success to hit the spot. As he maneuvers his craft by computer, he hears the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi: “Go with the Force, go with the Force.”

‘A sudden dilemma of irreconcilable goods: the computer versus the mysterious “Force.” He wrestles with the anguish of choice, then pushes his computer aside, flies by instinct into the slot, and fires a torpedo that hits the spot. The destruction of the Death Star climaxes the film, a straight action out of the Crisis.’

Robert McKee. Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting

‘We cannot appreciate the human dilemma if we do not see the nature and speed of human progress clearly. Human misery can be understood only in the context of human achievement, because the most important source of each is the same: human symbolic activity. To borrow a phrase from the Star Wars trilogy, language is truly “The Force” in human progress. It is so enormously influential in human affairs because it has such a bright side.

‘But The Force has a dark side too. Psychotherapists know that side well. This dual nature of human language impacts not just at the level of the group—the human species or human civilization—but also at the level of the individual. Each individual has experienced both the bright and the dark side of The Force. To ask an individual human being to challenge the nature and role of language in his or her own behavior is tantamount to asking a carpenter to question the general utility of a hammer. But hammers are not good for everything, and language is not good for everything either. We must learn to use language without being consumed by it. We must learn to manage it rather than having it manage us. We must learn to overcome the dark side.’

Steven C. Hayes, Kirk D. Strosahl & Kelly G. Wilson. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: An Experiential Approach to Behavior Change.

How to get ideas for writing

It’s easy to get an idea for writing, said playwright Lajos Egri. Find inspiration by taking a quiet moment to observe the world around you and within you.

How to get ideas for writing
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To get an idea for any type of writing is the easiest thing. Look around you and be observant. Be observant and you will be forced to admit that the world is an inexhaustible pastry shop and you are permitted to choose from the delicacies the tastiest bits for yourself.

Lajos Egri. The Art of Dramatic Writing

‘The capacity to observe change is severely limited by the fact that much of our time is spent in incessant activity that does not provide a stable reference point. Encouraging “just sitting” is a simple way of quieting the body long enough so that that one’s focus can shift to other objects of consciousness, including the mind. Moving around and doing things requires a certain amount of cognitive processing capacity that tends to narrow the scope of attention to instrumental concerns. Sitting quietly, on the other hand, produces an interesting and somewhat paradoxical state of relaxed awareness, which in turn reduces cognitive demands and frees the resultant capacity for other purposes.

‘Quiet, relaxed awareness provides an ideal vantage point from which to observe change processes that are otherwise typically obscured. Manifestations are everywhere. Observation of the breath reveals phasic change from breathing in to breathing out. Observation of inner states reveals both regular and intermittent interoceptive sensations signifying a myriad of changes in underlying physiological processes. Observation of sights and sounds reveals a constant but often subtle flow of energy states captured by sense organs that are themselves constantly changing.’

Paul G. Salmon, Sandra E. Sephton, and Samuel J. Dreeben. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. In Mindfulness in Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Understanding and Applying the New Therapies.

Find your character’s inner conflict

Writers have to challenge their heroes and force them to face not only tough enemies but to confront their long-held beliefs and values.

Create your character’s inner conflict
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Great storytelling isn’t just conflict between characters. It’s conflict between characters and their values. When your hero experiences character change, he challenges and changes basic beliefs, leading to new moral action. A good opponent has a set of beliefs that come under assault as well. The beliefs of the hero have no meaning, and do not get expressed in the story, unless they come into conflict with the beliefs of at least one other character, preferably the opponent.

John Truby. The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller.

In ACT, the therapist is engaging the client in a kind of contest between two main players. On one side is the client’s mind. By “mind,” we mean the set of rules and relations that the client uses to order the world. Because so many of these are culturally established, it can be clinically useful to speak of “mind” as if it is another person or something slightly external (as indeed it is in the sense of being a cultural intrusion into the individual). On the other side, there is the wisdom of the client’s direct experience. The client has directly contacted certain outcomes. The mind and experience are in fundamental conflict. The therapist’s job is to challenge the client’s reliance on verbal rules so that experiential wisdom can play a greater role. The challenge is to undermine ineffective rules and replace them with contingency-shaped behavior, accurate tracks, and augmentals linked to chosen values.

Steven C. Hayes, Kirk D. Strosahl, and Kelly G. Wilson. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: An Experiential Approach to Behavior Change