Deadly Ever After

Archive for the tag “#Writing101”

The Education of Intern Sara: Self Reflection and Independence

Independence.

That’s the one word that really sums up my love for writing.

Yes, it’s a wonderful creative outlet.
But I have many others.

Yes, it gives me control over the world I create.
But I’ve had gigs that gave me that too.

What I love about writing that is different, so far, is that I work alone and I answer to no one. I have complete independence from everyone and everything and that is a true gift.

I can create limitlessly and boundlessly and the only way I can be bound is if I for some reason chose to be. It’s a choice I can make whenever I want. It’s a choice I can unmake but I have to freedom and independence to choose either way.

Reconnecting with writing has been so great for me. It’s been a wonderful creative vehicle as an artist but more than that it has been cathartic for me. A wonderful and freeing way to release ideas and emotions that might not have a place to go or a way to be expressed if it were not for these worlds.

Knowing what I know now, I’d love to tell everyone out there willing to listen, that they too can have this kind of independence. It doesn’t have to be scary or pressure filled. It can just be … free.

So if you are thinking about it and fear is the only thing keeping you from doing it, all I can say is…

Independence.

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The Education of Intern Sara: Lessons Learned from Tom and Jerry [part one]

I’ve had many favorite cartoons over the years, He-man, Jem, and the one with that little boy Simon who had a piece of chalk (if you’re old enough you’ll know who I’m talking about). All fantastic, truly, but there’s one show that I’ve always adored and have never stopped watching and that show is “Tom and Jerry.”

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, there’s something to be said for a tiny little mouse that has been outwitting a cat nearly twenty times his size for seventy-four years. Seventy-four years!!! What is it about this duo that makes them so compelling. The thing that really blows my mind is that neither Tom nor Jerry speak (okay, I remember a voice coming out of Tom once or twice, it always surprises and me and always kinda bums me out). You do hear dialogue from b-characters like Spike the Dog, (and another dog called Butch who looks suspiciously like Spike), faceless humans, little ducky, and that cute little baby mouse but don’t ever speak and they are the ones telling the story.

So here’s the thing, this show has been on in many iterations for over seven decades, with little to no dialogue, relying on a visual story, and often some pretty great music. As a TV producer (what I do in my other life) I’m always in awe of fellow producers, writers and directors who create such iconic characters and keep them fresh generation after generation. It’s a feather I would love to have in my cap so I’ve decided that “Tom and Jerry” is worthy of a good study. I’ve also decided that whatever I learn MUST be useful to me not only as a producer, but also as a writer. After all, dialogue or no dialogue, someone has been writing these episodes for a very long time. I’m on the hunt for a connection between writing a script for a non-verbal animated television show and writing a book. Hopefully it won’t be a fool’s errand.

So and exciting thing happened a couple of weeks ago. I was watching my daily dose of the mouse and cat duo (see how I did that, I noted the mouse first, he’s where it’s at) and I saw what was possibly the coolest episode of “Tom and Jerry.” Even better, it looked like a really old episode that I had never seen before. I can’t even remember the last time that that happened. I feel like I’d seen all the classics. At any rate, the universe smiled upon me and gifted me an airing of an episode called, “The Tom and Jerry Cartoon Kit”

It starts with a narrator saying,

“Anyone can now enter the lucrative field of animated cartoons with the new Tom and Jerry cartoon kit.”

Oh my God! I’m dying. I sooooo want this kit! It’s a cartoon box (naturally) filled with the following;

ó A cat aka Tom

ó A mouse aka Jerry

ó A cartoon slice of watermelon (why does cartoon food always look like it tastes so damn good?)

ó Assorted tools/weapons (a hammer, some dynamite…)

ó A tea cup and saucer filled with steaming hot tea, along with a packet of sugar and a spoon for stirring (again, why does cartoon food always look like so damn good?

ó And what looks like a pack of cigarettes (can you imagine adding that to a cartoon nowadays? Sheesh!)

The narrator continues, 

“This kit contains everything needed for quiet, sophisticated humor. One mean, stupid, cat, one sweet, lovable, mouse, and assorted deadly weapons. The coffee and cigarettes are for the cartoonists. Just follow the simple instructions.”

I’m dying. The secrets to their success are about to be revealed. Ready for it?

The narrator continues once more,

“Just follow the simple instructions. First put the sweet, lovable, mouse into a simple situation expressing a natural human need, such as eating a piece of watermelon contained in our kit.”

Oh, that’s what the watermelon is for. Gotcha.

“The result may not make sense but it will last long enough to make you comfortable before the feature begins.”

Thank you very much Mr. Narrator, I will take over from here… 

Jerry eats said watermelon and spits the seeds out machine gun style hitting Tom in the head with every last one (remember watermelon seeds, you don’t really see those much anymore do you, I digress).

Tom then goes after Jerry with the hammer supplied in the kit, but instead of hitting him with the hammer, he flicks him in the butt with his finger (weird, I know) and this causes Jerry to accidentally swallow a mouth full of seeds.

Soon he realizes his body is making maracas type sounds and he starts dancing to generate said sounds to accompanying music. He dances his way into a canister being held by Tom who decides it his turn to do a short dance sequence. When his homemade maracas stops working, he opens it up to see what’ happening and Jerry sprays him with the seeds that were just in his belly (gross).

Next there’s a chase which leads Jerry to a book called, “Judo For Mice” which he speed-reads. There’s some cat-and-mouse judo action, followed by a short scene where Tom goes to a boxing gym, and trains to be a great boxer, and then there’s some cat-and-mouse Judo/Boxing action. Actually, that never really happens, Tom showboats all his fancy boxing moves and wears himself out before he ever hits Jerry.

Next Tom pulls a knife on Jerry but he is unsuccessful. Finally he decides to fight fire with fire and goes to Judo school and graduates with degree in hand.

Now it’s on!

Jerry demonstrates his Judo skills by breaking a wooden board with his hand.

Tom takes it to the next level and breaks a brick with his hand.

Next, Jerry breaks a cement block with his hand.
Finally, Tom tries to outdo Jerry by attempting to break a massive piece of marble in two with his hand.

Sadly this never happens because the floor caves in from the weight of it all.

The narrator returns and tells us,

“Our next film will be for the kiddies and will demonstrate a new poison gas. Thank you and good night.”

The audience gets closure when Jerry finds the lid of the cartoon kit box and slaps it on a defeated and nearly passed out Tom.

HILARIOUS! Not to mention wildly inappropriate for children. Maybe it’s better that I don’t remember seeing this episode as a kid. At any rate, we have a few tips here about what it takes to set up a great story and how to keep the audience entertained but I’ve decided that this requires further study. For one thing, paying attention to an episode to break it down kinda takes the joy out of it but if it gets me the answers I’m looking for, the sacrifice will be worth it. I’ll also say that I realize that reading a play-by-play transcript of a cartoon show was probably equally, if not more painful to you my reader and for that I apologize. That being said, I still believe that there’s something to be learned here. For one thing, if I had intended to write this episode as a book, instead of just giving you a play-by-play of the action, I would have had to think A LOT more about what was happening between these characters and describe it much more differently. I would have to SHOW you what they were doing so you could conjure the images in your mind instead of just telling you what happened. I would also have to give you a sense of who they are, and why they are there together. I took the liberty of assuming that you know who Tom is, what he looks like, how he feels about Jerry and so on.

If there’s a connection to be made between a television script for a no-dialogue program and a book that relies entirely on words to tell a story, I will find it. I don’t have all of the answers right now, but I’m taking the journey, and I’ll send you postcards along the way. Oh, and I also promise to spare you the play-by-play on any more episodes. 

Fun Facts About this Episode

The age rating on this cartoon according to my satellite provider is “5” and notes that it may be “iffy for 5+” 

This episode had a copyright date of MCMLXII (which I believe is 1962)

The Education of Intern Sara: Self Reflection and the Importance of Outlining

I started writing my first book a couple-few months ago. I’ve written over 20,000 words and I’ll admit I’m pretty damned pleased with myself. I know the 20,000 words I’ve written aren’t all gems, far from it. I’ll probably end up rewriting over half of them, but after years of mind-writing I’m glad to have something down on paper.

The question I had been dealing with the last couple of months was whether or not I should have started with an outline. It’s never really been a question, it was more of an inner struggle that I had been having with myself since I started writing. The thing is, I know I should have started with an outline but I didn’t. I was so ready to do this writing thing that I wanted to capitalize on my excitement. I knew that if I just started writing that I would be writing and that’s what I needed to do.

I wrote nearly every day for about two months and got my 20,000 words, and yes, I was pleased with myself. The problem was, that I kept promising myself that I would stop writing long enough to do the outline but I never did. Day after day I would just lunge into writing. I figured I would get to it one of these days and besides, the words were just flowing.

In the meantime I had started researching and planning the next book I intended to write. I knew that the second book would be done the right way. I wasn’t going to write one word until I had fully conceptualized the main characters and outlined the book complete with noting where significant scenes would go. This was an ongoing project and the outline didn’t need to be done until the first book was nearing completion.

Two and a half weeks ago, I was gearing up to do my daily dose of writing. I had discovered writing sprints and they are my writing mode of choice now. I feel much more focused when I am sprinting, the writing comes more easily when I write with others. I was waiting for the designated time to start but realized something. I had no idea what I needed to write. This hadn’t happened to me before. In the two months I had been writing, I would just put my hands on my keyboard, or pencil on paper, and the ideas would just flow from my mind through my hands.

I finally hit the writing-wall. You know, where you know that you have a lot to say but you can’t remember what it is. I was just kind of stuck. I hadn’t by any means run out of things to say, I just couldn’t remember what they were and now I knew that I had to stop and just do the damn outline. 

I opened up a new word doc, and tried to concentrate on this book that I had been writing. I knew that once I started outlining it would just flow. I was wrong. Instead, I started thinking about my next project. I realized that I had spent two months really thinking about what I wanted to write for that project and that if any outline were going to get done that day, it would be the outline for book two. I quickly started outlining book two and within an hour I had a solid outline. I could see these characters so clearly, I understood things about them that I have yet to know about the characters that I’ve been writing for the last two months and with this realization, I knew what I had to do.

I needed to stop putting the cart before the horse with this book. My story and my characters deserve the same thought and care that I gave to book two and now I was going to give myself the time to do that. I put my 20,000 words on the backburner and started working on “book two” immediately.

I’ve been working on “book two” for nearly three weeks now and to date I’ve written a little over 12,000 words. If I didn’t already know the importance of writing an outline, I’d be sold on it now. I end each writing session knowing that I wrote something much better than I would have had I not outlined this book. Sure, I will end up rewriting what needs to be rewritten and killing darlings here and there, but I’m certain that this writing far exceeds what I was doing before, largely because of the time I put into it before I started writing.

In reflecting on the two paths, I know which path is right for me. Outlining is the only way to go. That being said, I don’t have any regrets about my 20,000-word experiment. For one thing, bad, good or great, I have 20,000 words to work with when I resume work on that book. More importantly, I did what I intended to do. I cashed in on my enthusiasm for writing and established a writing habit. In less than three months, I’ve written over 32,000 words, all of which have the potential of making it into my two books, getting me 32,000 words closer to my goal of completing a novel. My advice, do what you’ve got to do to get yourself writing, and get to that outline as soon as you can. It’s a life-changer.

The Education of Intern Sara: Lessons Learned from Kat Von D (& a bunch of other people)

Wanna Write a Book? Just Do It

by Sara

When I was a kid, I truly believed that artists, particularly musicians, were magical beings that were given great gifts of talent that mere mortals could never possess. That’s what made them special and gave them the right to do what they did, make albums and tour. Although there will always be a part of me that feels that way about certain musicians (I mean, Stevie Nicks IS magical and always will be) but for the most part I know better. For one thing, I myself have worked in a very cool industry (television), on some very cool TV shows and I’m neither magical nor do I possess any special gifts that were granted to me by the talent fairy. I got to do everything that I’ve done because I decided I wanted it and I just started doing it.

That being said, sometimes we can’t help but feel that we should just wait for something to happen before we jump in and just start writing. Maybe we secretly want the talent fairy to come to us, but waiting for the talent fairy is like waiting for The Great Pumpkin. It’s just never going to happen no matter how long you wait. Sorry Linus.

In my television life, I made it a habit to make coffee-dates with coworkers and other amazingly talented people in order to learn more about the industry, learn about job leads, and just connect with people I admire. I’m a great fan of this and will tell you networking with people you already know is wonderful because you always learn something. I’m lucky that in my writing life, I have two mentor/friends, Julie Hutchings and Kristen Strassel, who I can go to in much the same way. My favorite coffee-date from my life as a producer was one I had with my friend Markie (not his real name). Normally, on one of these things, you catch up, (they are friends and acquaintances after all) you tell them what you’ve been up to and where you are hoping to go and they tell you how they think you can get there. Usually this involves a piece of advice, a recommendation or two on a resource you should be aware of or the name of a person you should connect with. My coffee date with Markie would prove to be different.

For one thing, I don’t think Markie and I ever even made it to our designated coffee shop. He pretty much just came to my office, sat down, and started talking. He told me he knew what I was looking to get from this conversation because at the beginning of his career, he used to do the same thing. And then he told me this story.

Apparently, the young Markie went to a producer/director type that he admired. He was expecting, what I was used to getting, a nice sit down, a coffee or a lunch, where wisdom would be shared and perhaps and encouraging word or two would be thrown into the mix (when you are lucky, you get those as well). Much to Markie’s dismay, all he got was this. “Markie, just do it!” At the time, Markie wasn’t necessarily thrilled, truth be told, he was kinda pissed. He had hoped for more than the words, “just do it.” It was a reasonable expectation but the guy just kept saying “just do it, “don’t talk about it, just do it.”

And with that story told, Markie turned to me and said, “It pissed me off at the time, but I’m going to tell you the same thing he said to me, Sara, just do it.”

And now, I was kinda pissed. Come on Markie! You know what I was looking for, why did ya do that to me? Well, that’s simple. It was the truth and he was a good enough friend to just say it. Sometimes you just need a friend to remind you to just do it.

I’ve always wanted to write a book and I’ve always planned on doing it. I figured it would be something I’d do in the future. One day, a couple of months back, I decided to just do it. I didn’t over think it, I didn’t even do the important preliminary work that I knew I needed (and still need) to do, and I just started writing. I knew that if I didn’t just start, that that feeling might pass and then I would be waiting for the talent fairy again. I’m tired of waiting for her. Besides, for all I know she’s probably on some never-ending hot date with The Great Pumpkin in Never, Never Land, never to return.

If my third generation advice hasn’t convinced you to just go ahead and start, here are two other reasons.

Reason #1

The talent fairy doesn’t visit tattoo artists. Here’s a really cool excerpt from Kat Von D’s book, Go Big, or Go Home:

One of the most common remarks I hear from people when they see on of my sketches or tattoos is: “I wish I could draw.” It’s flattering, but a part of me cringes at that comment simply because it isn’t true that they can’t learn to draw. There’s nothing special about what I do. Technically speaking, anybody can do what I do… Drawing well only requires practice, devotion and dedication, will and drive, and practice and more practice…Tests show that it takes the average mind approximately ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery of something… It sounds crazy but anyone can master anything if the so chose.

The sooner you start writing, the sooner you’ll get to be a good writer. You can’t improve on something you haven’t tried yet.

Reason #2

The talent fairy doesn’t visit dancers either.

I recently had the great honor of studying with one of the world’s greatest living dancers, Rachel Brice, a tribal-fusion belly dancer that I greatly admire. During her nearly weeklong dance/art training, we were given a lot of useful information but one thing stayed with me more than anything else.

While I know that Rachel has earned her talent, she is another person whose technique is so exceptional that you sometimes have to wonder if the talent fairy might exist after all, if she did it would be reasonable to assume that she’s made multiple visits to Rachel over the years. WRONG. It was clear in the five days of drilling, and musing about dance that she has worked hard, practiced hard and studied hard and continues to do so. At one point in our training we watched clips of dancers from many other dance genres and happened upon one dancer who was just beyond. That’s all I can say. He was just beyond. Rachel said one thing that I will never forget. (Paraphrasing here) You can’t fake practice.

In other words, you’ve either practiced or you haven’t and people can tell the difference. It was simple but profound, the time you put in, will be seen by everyone watching, and the time you don’t put in will be seen as well.

I’m certain the same is true for writing. You can’t expect to wake up one day and just know that if you write your novel on that special day, that the words will flow out beautifully and perfectly. It’s simply not going to happen that way. You are not going to get better unless you do a lot of writing and you won’t ever get there if you don’t start. So, if any of us hope to ever be great writers, we have to start by writing, work our way to being good and then keep on trucking until we attain our goals of being a writing genius. It all starts with telling yourself to just do it and following through.

So for anyone out there thinking of doing this writing thing, or anything, my advice, like Markie’s, and the dude before him, is just do it and for those of you already taking the journey, keep on truckin’.

Lessons Learned from the Undead Duo

Killing Your Darlings: Can I Get Therapy For This?

by Sara

 

So, my dear friend, Kristen Strassel, tells me I have to kill people. And I don’t know how I feel about this. Well, actually I do. I HATE IT! I created these precious characters, who have been gestating in my mind, for YEARS and shortly after breathing life into them I’m told I have to kill my darlings? Really?

Naturally, my first thought is to switch gears and write for soap operas. No, really. They never have to commit to killing anyone because anyone can come back from the dead, and I mean anyone. They can put someone in a casket, lower it into the ground, have a nice ceremony and some time later, the dude in the casket pulls a Criss Angel and finds his way out of the box. Whad’ya know, they’re not dead after all. Does anyone remember Bobby Ewing in the shower scene? (No, not “Who shot J.R,” the other thing) You know, Bobby Ewing, the patron saint of the Ewing family on Dallas who died, but then later, he wasn’t dead, because he couldn’t be dead, because dead people don’t usually take showers. Did I mention it was all a terrible dream? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

I have a feeling my novel will be the next Novella on Telemundo? It’s perfect. The only time soaps kill a character off is when an actor totally pisses them off. (Soap opera character deaths, the kind that stick, seem to occur only to characters played by really obnoxious actors. Am I the only one who has noticed this? Joey Tribbiane’s Drake Ramoray + tragic fall down elevator shaft, anyone?)

Back to Kristen, you would think that a woman who writes about immortal characters would have an appreciation for what I’m saying. Why should my darlings have to die when hers rarely do? But, no, she wants me to kill my darlings. And even worse, her Undead Duo coconspirator, Julie Hutchings, is ready to kill off some of Kristen’s characters. What is going on with these two? Perhaps they have spent too much time dealing with immortality of vampires. I imagine spending years thinking about the psychology of the undead makes you appreciate the realities of life and death. Or maybe they are just hateful, awful people. Can I get therapy for this? Is this why there are so many people in therapy in Hollywood? Remorseful, murderous writer/producer/director types with blood on their hands who just need someone to talk to? Does my HMO cover this?

So here’s the deal, intellectually, I know that killing your darlings is inevitable, and even important, especially in the worlds that I’ve created. That being said, I decided to let this go for a while and not worry about it until I had to do it myself. So, I put it on the backburner, until, last week.

Last week, the day finally came. I had to kill my first darling. There were two shocking things; the first is that this is a character that I never expected to ever kill off. Ever. I thought of this character as a family historian of sorts, someone who had many of the answers that the other characters would need, and he connected all of my major players together. Convenient right? I started writing and realized that I needed to kill him. I just knew it was the right thing to do and it blew my mind, how easy it was. It made the story so much richer and added a complexity that I really needed. After all, having him live was far too convenient to me as the writer, and therefore robbed me of the drama making I’m supposed to be doing. I started to appreciate why good writers do this. I really thought it would be far more painful, and far less gratifying. I guess killing your darlings isn’t so bad after all.

Earlier this week, I started working on another story. This story begins with the main character losing someone close to her. I conceptualized this story knowing that I would be dealing with this character’s loss. I knew this, and yet, it broke my heart to a million pieces when I revealed his passing. Broke me. This was a darling, who was never meant to be seen in anything other than a memory or a flashback.

This simple act of revealing a loss broke me, so much so that I stopped writing as soon as I killed him. It was such an emotional experience for me. I can see this man, feel his warmth and was torn by the loss of his soul to my newly created world. His love for my main character and the sacrifices that he has made for her made me mourn for him. Deeply. And then I realized, I never actually killed him. There is no scene that shows him bleeding, grasping his chest or struggling for breath. We simply know that he has left this world and yet I feel like I watched him die.

If only I could have used that intense rush of feelings to write. But I couldn’t. I just needed to go to bed and save it for the next day. Truth be told, I have yet to go back and deal with that particular scene. It will happen eventually. In the meantime, I’m doing what I have to do. I’m writing the rest of the story, the parts that reveal why his loss was significant and why we should care. Maybe that rush of emotion was put to good use after all.

I guess if being God were easy, we’d all have that job. Little by little I’m learning about being a writer, and with that, being god of my worlds. Sadly, this includes the inevitable passing of a beloved creature that came from my soul and killing more darlings in the future.

Here’s to killing your darlings and the many therapy sessions that will follow.

 

* In this blog entry, darlings, refers specifically to characters. It’s my understanding that darlings can refer to anything that you are enamored with in your own writing (scenes, wording).

The Education of Intern Sara: Writing Discoveries

My First Writing Sprint, Actually, My First Six

The last time the Undead Duo, plus one (that’s me) met, I received a piece of writing advice from the lovely Julie Hutchings. She introduced me to the concept of writing sprints, told me the various options and suggested I give it a try.

I had never heard of writing sprints and had lots of questions. Well, it turns out that you can use social media, usually Twitter, to gather a group of writers who write at the same time, for a set amount of time. Sometimes a writing prompt is given and you as a writer can chose to use it as inspiration or work on your current project. When the sprint ends, everyone reports back with their word count and cheers each other on. I was completely intrigued by this idea, and decided that this was something I definitely needed to try and so I did.

I may not have known what a writing sprint was a couple of weeks ago, but I can preach the gospel about them now. Writing sprints are the greatest gift that social media has given me to date. The greatest.

Last Saturday, I decided that I was ready to do this writing-sprint-thing. I got on Twitter and searched out #writeclub, #writingsprint, and #nanowordsprints. I can’t remember what time I went on but I felt like I had missed all of the writing sprints and I was committed to sprinting then and there. I decided to just go for it and lead one of my own. I’m not sure that I did it exactly right, but I invited the Twitter Universe to join me for a one-hour sprint and told them the start time. A lovely writer accepted my invitation and I was ready to go. I had 15 minutes to myself before my first foray into writing with a stranger so I pulled up my document, got a snack, and found a Will & Grace marathon to keep me company.

I’m not quite sure that I led the sprint correctly. I probably didn’t give enough warnings and I’m not sure I even hash-tagged it correctly but I figure, whatever I did worked. For one blissful hour I was writing, I knew that I had company, and nothing could distract me. It felt great to know that I was doing this with someone else but at the same time I enjoyed all of the benefits of working by myself. No one could complain that my audio-cocktail of music and television dialogue was distracting them, or that they hated my choice of music and no one paid attention when I got up half way through to get some cheese and crackers. No one even knew that I was doing those things because I WAS BY MYSELF. It was FANTASTIC!!! I would liken it to the rush you get when you start writing a 20 page paper at 2am knowing it’s due at 9am. I was working with the rush of knowing I only had so much time and had a lot to accomplish and that my writing buddy would expect a respectable word count. I ended up with 1098 words and it may well have been the most enjoyable writing I’ve done so far. With this great first experience under my belt, I decided to do nothing but sprints for the week. I released myself from my self-imposed 1500 word-a-day diet and just watched to see what would happen. I decided to mix it up by leading some sprints, following some, doing a couple in the morning, a couple in the evening… And these are the results (so far).

Saturday            1098 words

Sunday              666 words

Monday              1180 words and then another 1991 words

Tuesday             784 words

Wednesday        558 words

Thursday            1047 words

The total for 6 days was 7324 words. That’s about 1220 words a day. Not too far off from my usual goal but far more enjoyable. I’m certain that if I had regular sprinting buddies, I could easily get my 1500 words. So now that I’ve officially professed my love for word sprints, I invite you to join me. You can find me on Twitter. @sarachaudhary.

 

 

The Education of Intern Sara: Lessons Learned from Mr. Rogers and Twyla Tharp

The Art of Finding Your Ritual

There are certain words in the English language that just speak to me. They have a weight of their own. They don’t need to be used in any sort of dramatic or political way, they can simply be uttered and evoke something in me. The word ritual has always held that power for me. There is something alluring and charming about the concept of a ritual. I imagine this has more to do with the imagery that comes to my mind, than the act of rituals, as they exist in reality.

To me a ritual is an almost magic-inducing act. Something that involves an altar of some sort, a small but precious array of collected and displayed objects, and a summoning of something wonderful, be it inner strength or a magical creature from another realm. Imagine my hearts sorrow when I realized that when many artists speak of their daily ritual, they are not talking about a spiritual pre-show that gets them going but the very ordinary acts that precede their art-making.

The Research That Lead to “my hearts sorrow”

Most of the reading I’ve done for pleasure has been of the autobiographical, biographical, and in some cases, unauthorized biographical nature. Granted, the latter category often amounts to being a little better than an unabridged version of the National Enquirer, but when lured, the little reader inside me will take the bait. The biographies I favor are almost always about artists, usually musicians. I mostly read them because I am interested in knowing what it is that makes them special, where their art comes from and mostly why is it that they were the successful one? As of the last few years, I’ve been trying to find biographies that talk less about rock-star-debauchery and more about craft and how the artists got there. That’s all I ever really wanted to read about, but it’s hard to come by, at least with musicians. The dance world however gifted me with 3 wonderful books, all by the same artist. Twyla Tharp, a well-regarded dancer/choreographer (and now writer) wrote three great books, the first being an autobiography, Push Comes to Shove: An Autobiography, the second a book entitled, The Creative Habit and the last The Collaborative Habit Overall, 3 for 3, they were enjoyable reads but there was one thing that struck me from the three books and stayed with me for years. It seems to have been more powerful than even I realized because everyone I’ve spoken to about these books remembers the same thing. Twyla Tharp’s ritual.

It’s as simple as this. Twyla gets up at 5:30 every morning and hails a cab from her Manhattan home to her gym where she works out for 2 hours. Once she gets home, she eats 2 hard-boiled eggs along with her morning coffee. Next she showers. Lastly, she sets off to rehearsal. And she does this EVERYDAY and has for at least 20 years.

To be fair, I’m not saying that getting up at 5:30 is easy, not even for someone like me who LOVES the idea of waking up really early, I simply can’t do it. And we can all agree that it takes a great deal of discipline and dedication to get to the gym everyday and make a go of it for 2 hours. That being said, the fact that the simple banal act of getting in a cab is the key to her productive day is mind blowing to me.

This simple act of getting in the cab is the ritual itself. Once she has done this, the rest of her day is set to automatic pilot. That means as long as Twyla gets in the cab, she knows the rest of her day will go as she intends. And since she does this EVERY SINGLE DAY the chances of her breaking the habit are probably slim to none.

Ever since I read that book, I have been trying to get myself to get up at 5:30 to go the gym. No lie. There was something so genius about the simplicity of that ritual that it made me wish it was my own. And I tried, I did, but the truth is, rituals need to be of our own making. Something organic to us that brings us a sense of security and ease. As much as I love the gym (a habit that took me several years to create) and as much as I adore being up early in the morning, the 5:30 am gym habit was never meant to be mine. That being said this simple ritual made me think of other familiar rituals.

Mr. Rogers’ daily ritual is one that I have always had such and affection for. I’m of the opinion that we all watched him, all loved him, and have all gone through the I’m-not-a-baby-I-don’t-want-to-watch-him-anymore phase. Despite the phase I was in at the time, his morning ritual of changing from his sports jacket to his zippered cardigan, and then from his leather dress-shoes to his comfy tennis shoes always intrigued me. ALWAYS. But why? Maybe I just liked the theme song? Perhaps I knew that the sweater and tennis shoes meant a trip to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe would soon follow? Maybe children really do crave structure? According to the program’s philosophy the consistency in the way he communicated with his viewers “creates a calm, safe place for preschoolers to visit.” Maybe that was it; maybe that’s what we all need? To create a calm, safe place, something that eases us into the task at hand. Or maybe, I was just a 3-year-old clothes-whore who wanted all of those fashionable colored zippered cardigans.

In my quest to find the answers, I was led to what is easily the least sexy, nerdiest, but-still-manages-to-be-interesting book on the subject of ritual and art-making called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work written/compiled by Mason Curry. It’s a wonderful little book that is largely a compilation of excerpts from interviews and biographies of creative geniuses discussing their work rituals. He covers everyone from Maya Angelou (a personal favorite of mine) to Albert Einstein to Pablo Picasso.

I’ve found one truth in all of the rituals I’ve read so far. NONE of these rituals were the least bit sexy. None involved altars, the evoking of magical creatures or anything that you and I would consider fun. They were all simple, every day tasks equivalent to hailing cabs, putting on cardigans, eating 2 hard boiled eggs… and yet, they got every one of these brilliant artist-genius types, to create their art.

Simple. Banal. Ordinary acts.

Author, Robert Fulghum’s book entitled, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten said it all in its title. Without our realizing it, before we even started elementary school, Mr. Rogers had already given us the key to being brilliant writers by teaching us to start our day by putting our cardigan’s on, one sleeve at a time.

To my writer friends, here’s to finding your banal, not-at-all-sexy but effective ritual!

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