Wednesday, March 30, 2011

10 Creativity Lessons from George Carlin (Part Two)

Last time, I began to share the lessons I learned from George Carlin's "Last Words". Some of the more concrete advice, such as "know what your accountants are doing with your money" and "don't fry your brains with drugs and alcohol", while important, did not move me as much as the ideas he had about comedy and writing as an art. So today, I will continue... 
"All I really need to know (about writing) I learned from George Carlin."

  1. Express Yourself
    Writing is one thing, but writing to express your own truth is another. Last time, I had mentioned the idea of "paying your dues" in order to get to the where want to be with your work. That may include ghost writing for blogs or books that don't really interest you that much, or editing loads of other people's copy instead of writing your own. While this is true, if you are the type who strives to do a good job no matter the task at hand, you may become successful at these types of ventures. Maybe you start getting paid well for them. Great, right?

    Not necessarily. When the work becomes easier, it becomes more difficult to climb out of the comfortable rut you're in. Creatively, you begin to suffer. George noticed this: "I wasn't using my mind to produce the external evidence of my inner state." Isn't this what writing, or for that matter, ALL art, is about? We are creative because we have a truth within us that we want to share with the world. If we spend too much of our time rehashing other people's thoughts and feelings, our own art gets buried.
    Get to writing for yourself, and unearth your own voice.

  2. Write To Think
    "The best way I know to clarify my thinking is to hear and see what I think I'm thinking. Because however clear it may seem to you internally, it's never clear exactly what it is, until you speak and hear the words. You are your own first-night audience." – George Carlin
    Thinking, writing, and clarifying is a continuing cyclical process:
    1. You have an idea in your mind.
    2. You write it down, eventually as a story.
    3. You read it, edit it, and share it to clarify what your idea sounds like now that it has left your mind.
    4. You think about the written idea, and how it can be made more clear.
    5. You write down another draft, or words to flesh out the improved idea.
    6. You read it, edit it, and share it...etc.
    7. Eventually, your words and mind come to an agreement. This is called a final draft.
It is important to be a receptive audience to yourself. Read your work out loud and listen to your own stumbles. Don't be a heckler, but notice where your bumps can be smoothed over. Summarize your work to someone else. Are you able to explain it in a way they can understand? If not, the idea has still not fully formed outside of your mind. Keep working.

6.   Money Isn't Everything...
 In "Last Words", Carlin shared the ups and downs of his financial life. There were times, especially in his early days, that he was making "good money". You discover that came with its own set of troubles, including his perception that he was stifling his true creativity. When George first shed the clean-cut image and started sharing his not-for-prime-time-and-decidedly-not-mainstream messages, he was working for pennies: "And while I was back to making no money, when they laughed now it felt great. I was getting votes of confidence for the path I had taken...It meant I was right. Which strengthened my resolve to carry this through."

Certainly, it was that resolve that carried him back to success a few times when his career seemed at a standstill. It is hard to have a warm and fuzzy feeling about the career of writing when you have bills to pay, but you have to focus back to the Writing, sans "career". By focusing on the Writing, rather than the monetary value of each word, your authentic voice has a chance to come out. You'll feel more satisfied and true to yourself. Of course, that confidence will come across in your writing, and you will probably be able to sell more of your work. Funny how life works that way. Wash your car during a drought and see how fast it rains.

7.  ...But Money IS Something
Unfortunately, George used a good amount of money on the stuff that could tear him down, such as cocaine. That and the excess of other drugs were part of the reason he didn't pay attention to his own finances. He had "people" for that. Those people did not have his interests at heart, but he was too messed up to see it. He had no choice but to lift himself out of the fog and pay the consequences, and the IRS. His huge tax bill grew exponentially as penalties and interest added up. For a while, any money he earned never saw his own pocket. George told how his longtime wife, Brenda pointed out the irony: "Despite everything I said about the government, like not trusting anything they told me, I went out every night--and worked for them."

As you can imagine, struggling with such financial pressure can suck up a good amount of creative enthusiasm. Once George found someone to help him out, a new manager named Jerry who worked above and beyond the call of duty to maintain George's career, he was able to shift his creative energy back to his work.

So, although money isn't everything, and focusing on it while you are writing can block you creatively, you still need to find time to pay attention to your finances. Reframe your thoughts about money and writing. You need the money to keep writing, so do what you need to do to make sure it is there, otherwise you will not have the energy to write. Honor your writing as Writing, and it will be recognized as capable work, and you will be paid accordingly.

Watch your inboxes this weekend for the next Scoop, the writing contest and market listing of places looking to honor your work with a cash prize or payment. Or just use it as a list of writing prompts if you don't want to focus on the money (but would it hurt to submit if you finish your work by the deadline?). Good Luck. See you next time for the conclusion of this blog series. (Not signed up? Click here.)

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