Tips On Writing

by best selling authors Geoff Hoff and Steve Mancini

You Are Creative

Posted on | March 11, 2012 | No Comments

Geoff Hoff and Steve Mancini

My name is Geoff Hoff and I have been studying creativity my entire life. What I’ve discovered is that everyone is creative. Yes, even you.I can prove it. Think of a lemon. Imagine the feel of the skin, smooth with small bumps. It almost feels waxy. Imagine cutting into it with a sharp knife. Feel the cool juice that slips out under the knife. Put a drop of that juice on your tongue.

Did you pucker? Even just a little bit?

You created a lemon out of nothing. Out of your mind. You are creative. On the posts in TipsOnWriting.net, my writing partner Steve Mancini and I explore the process of writing and of creativity itself. We also give you practical exercises you can use. And we entertain you in the process.

Get our free book on creativity. Look over some of our blog entries. Leave a comment or two. We promise to respond!

Geoff and Steve

The Life of a Mushroom

Posted on | May 16, 2013 | No Comments

Back when Steve Mancini and I were writing our satirical serial called Weeping Willow and putting a new installment of it up on the Internet every month or so, we realized many of our fans were the type that sat behind their computers all day and all night. We lovingly called them “Mushrooms” because they never saw the sun.

The Live of a MushroomA few years ago, I stared my own online business and, with work, it has now pretty much become my only income generator. I find, however, that I have become a mushroom. I sit behind the computer almost all day and night, either working, researching or surfing. I have recently realized that I’m not getting the stimulation I used to, simply from going out for a walk, visiting friends, visiting parks and museums and taking an unexpected and unplanned trip up the coast to have lunch in a funky café in Point Magu. I’m not getting the sun, in other words.

Because of this, I’m discovering, my writing has gotten more general, less exciting. Not just for me writing it, but for people reading it. It doesn’t seem as infused with my odd sense of humor, my skewed view of the world, my obscure cultural references. Now, I know some may think all that a good thing, I know. My odd take can verge on the annoying. But for me, that view is like a heartbeat, like the blood rhythmically surging through my veins. It brings me oxygen and helps dispose of the waste byproducts of my life.

This week, I visited an old friend for dinner. We used to spend all our time together, but haven’t seen each other in several years. It was a wonderful, magical, invigorating evening.

I live about three miles from Venice Beach, California. It is always full of the most interesting people, the funkiest shops, the coolest restaurants and cafés. Time to ride my bike there for lunch a couple of times a week.

Los Angeles has some wonderful museums. I have a friend with whom I used to visit many of them several times a year. We now have a date to go to one next week.

To stretch the metaphor beyond any usefulness, I want to transform from a mushroom to a flowering vine, always seeking the golden rays, twisting and turning in unpredictable ways, sending off lovely flowers and berries and shoots.

Who knows if I will regain my old, annoying, skewed, obscure, odd take on life, or if my writing will reflect it if I do, but it’s time to manufacture a little chlorophyll.

 

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Out Of Control

Posted on | April 22, 2012 | 9 Comments

Reverse written "AMBULANCE" with Sta...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night I decided to go see a production of Romeo and Juliet that was being put on by a wonderful troupe of young actors that I follow whenever I can. Romeo and Juliet is a story of people who make choices that send their lives spinning out of control.  When I was getting in to my car after the show, I heard a loud crunch and looked up to see a large red pickup truck speeding down the busy city street in front of the theatre. The noise I’d heard was it sideswiping a taxi that had stopped for a pedestrian. The truck barely missed the pedestrian, then, by now quite out of control, smashed into another vehicle at full force, sending them both spinning in a shower of metal, plastic and sparks.

Everything stopped for a moment while everyone tried to decide how to react, then several people almost simultaneously pulled out their phones to call 911.

The driver seemed to be inebriated and had been driving with who appeared to be his wife and young daughter. Miraculously, no other car was involved and no one seemed seriously hurt, although Read more

Creativity in Business

Posted on | February 15, 2012 | No Comments

Creativity in Business

This is a blog about creativity. We focus mostly on writing, but anything we say about that can easily be used in the other creative arts. But what about creativity in business? Is that even possible?

Of course, the answer is yes. Actually, you can use your natural creativity in any endeavor, and anyone who has been wildly successful in anything is almost certainly doing that anything with a great deal of creativity.

So how does that work?

Once you have awakened your creativity, you will notice that ideas seem to appear out of nowhere. Of course, as we’ve talked about all over this blog, it is really your subconscious mind taking all the information you’ve been feeding it over the years, rearranging it in new and interesting ways, and giving it back as a thanks for all the input. It would seem logical, then, to feed it information about your business and see what fabulous ideas you get in return.

As we often say, though, be responsible for your own inspiration. You can actually use some of the exercises in creativity we’ve talked about to solve problems you are having in your business.

Here’s one simple exercise you can try if you are stuck in your business and want a creative solution:

  • Think about the problem you are having. Don’t dwell on it, simply think about it for a moment.
  • With that problem in mind, take out a piece of blank paper (or open a blank document on your computer) and just start typing everything you now know about your niche or business. It doesn’t have to be anything profound. It shouldn’t be anything organized. It doesn’t even have to be specifically about the problem you’re having. Just type, as we say, randomly, stream-of-consciousness.
  • Keep writing or typing for three to five minutes without stopping to think. Don’t strategize. (Is that even a real word? Well, you know what I mean.) Don’t interpret. Don’t judge. Also, don’t read what you’ve written for a few days. Let it just stay there by itself.
  • Do this every morning for several morning.
  • During the day, while you are doing this exercise, stop for a second or two and simply recall something about your niche or business. Allow those thoughts to appear on the pages you type the next day, but don’t force them to.
  • After a few days of this, go back and read some of what you’ve written. You will be surprised that your subconscious mind has actually started giving you ideas or directions to pursue that you hadn’t considered.

This is the very definition of using your creativity in your business. It works. Try it.

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I Resolve to Continue

Posted on | December 29, 2011 | 1 Comment

The day in which we choose to celebrate the new year, here in the west, is almost completely arbitrary. There are no actual events in the heavens or on the earth that it commemorates, nothing celestial or secular. It is not an equinox or a solstice. Not the first day of spring or winter. It doesn’t even sit exactly in the middle of any one season, but happens somewhere in the first part of the first third of one of them. No great religious, philosophic or political leader was born on that day, unless you count someone like  an important leader.  (Okay, there were also some Popes and artists born on that day, but well after we had decided it was the beginning of the new year.) It’s not even the day the swallows come back to Capistrano.

The closest I can come to an explanation of how it was chosen was that it was the Eastern Orthodox Feast of Circumcision. According to the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Christ was circumcised eight days after his birth and named Jesus on that day. This, of course, assumes He was actually born on December 25th, an assumption about which there is much debate among both Christian and secular scholars, since there is very little indication whatsoever in the Bible as to the actual date. Many place it some time in September, when shepherds actually did “abide in the field”, before it got too cold to do so. It also should be noted that, on different calendars, the Feast of Circumcision was celebrated anywhere form what is now January 1st to the what is now January 14th.

That all being said, we do hold the beginning of the new year on January 1st. It has become a symbol of the end of one cycle and the beginning of another, and symbols are important to the existence of societies. We often use this symbolic time to reflect on the previous 365 days and make “resolutions” about what we will change in the upcoming 365. I stopped making these resolutions years ago because 1) they seemed sort of silly and 2) I know of no one in my personal circle of acquaintances who ever kept one much past January 15th.

I do think that taking stock of what has transpired can be a powerful exercise, however, and any time is a good time to do it. In taking stock, it might be effective to see what didn’t work and find ways to do less of that and see what did work, and find ways to do more of that. That is why, this year, I will make a New Year’s Resolution: I resolve to continue what works. The fact the beginning of the new year is sort of stuck in there on a completely inauspicious day in a completely inauspicious time of year might even be a benefit for that kind of resolution. One day just leads from the previous into the next, and I will continue to do what I do to fill my days with the contemplation, tasks and creativity that enhances my life and the lives of those around me.

So, this year, on January 1st, I wish you all a happy and prosperous Feast of Circumcision and may the coming 365 days be filled with joy and productivity.

The Myth of Objectivity

Posted on | October 10, 2011 | No Comments

At the urging of my father, I just read a piece by the late Gonzo Journalist Hunter S. Thompson written in 1994 on the funeral of Richard Nixon. (You can find it HERE.) I think I had seen and read the piece before, but had a fairly strong reaction to it this time.

I have read some Thompson, most notably Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which was a drug filled, paranoiac odyssey. He was a brilliant writer and a warped human being. As for Nixon, I remember clearly being horrified at the grand state funeral. In the article, Thompson described Nixon as a truly evil man and says history will remember him “… mainly as a rat who kept scrambling to get back on the ship.”

I doubt that history will much remember him as Thompson describes him. He will probably be considered a flawed, perhaps even tragic – in the classical sense – hero, and has already been compared to some of the tragic heroes of the Greeks and Shakespeare. He died being thought of as the elder statesman who “Brought China to the table”, after all. He will no more be thought of by history as an evil man as Johnson will be and I think there are parallels.

As my father suggested, it was a very well written piece. It was also filled with the personality of the writer, which many think of as simply bad journalism. Even though this is more of an editorial or opinion piece, most of his writing had the same thought process in evidence. It is part of why Thompson was called “Gonzo”.  I used to distrust journalism with a personal bias. I naively thought that the solemn duty of the journalist was to stay out of the written work, to just present the facts. Now I distrust any that doesn’t have and admit to it. The bit I missed from “just present the facts” is “as he sees them.”

We can’t write without ourselves being in the piece, it is a physical impossibility, and it is imperative to acknowledge that. It is why any journalism that calls itself “fair and balanced” can’t be. There is always a slant. The slant isn’t necessarily a political one (even in today’s hyper-political climate), but the thoughts, opinions and experience of the writer will always influence the statement of fact in a piece.

We are filtering beings, we humans, we learn of necessity to filter out so we can cope with the amount of input we get in our lives. We learn to do this early and on a very deep, absolutely subconscious level. Sometimes we are aware of the filtering, usually not. But as we grow, make decisions, form opinions, learn about our environment, both close in and widely ranging, these thing contribute to the filtering we do until there is nothing that we can think or even see that hasn’t passed through that filter in some way. It can not be objective because, on a very deep level, we can not.

There is nothing wrong or scary about this. We just need to realize it so that, when we read what others have written or even what we ourselves write, we know that the facts laid out have been sifted through. Filtering, by definition, leaves things behind and when we know this, we can also know that no piece of writing, no statement of fact, no fiction or journalistic effort can be truly objective.

Once we know that, we can form our own opinions based on our own filters.

The Myth of Reasonable Goals

Posted on | September 24, 2011 | No Comments

We’ve heard it all our lives: “Set goals, but set reasonable goals.”  The thinking is, if you set illogical goals or outrageous goals and you don’t meet them, you’ll be disappointed and will stop moving forward.

Perhaps if you have been stuck for a very long time and need simply to knock yourself off of dead center, reasonable goals can be powerful. Accomplishing anything in that state will be good for you. In any other circumstance, however, I say that advice is Poppycock!

Set outrageous goals. Set goals that stretch your imagination almost to the breaking point. Set goals that fill you with fear and excitement. Dread and excitement.

When I was younger and perusing my acting career, I took this old advice to heart and set very reasonable, realistic goals. Instead of saying, “I will be on a television show by the end of the summer” I set goals like, “I will send out 10 pictures and resumes this week.”  I accomplished those goals with little or not effort. I patted myself on the back, knowing that the industry would swoop down and hire me. How could they not! I’d reached my goals!

Do you think people like Michael J. Fox or Carroll O’Connor set puny little goals like that? Do you think they would have starred on very popular, society changing television shows if they had? I rather doubt it. I stopped trying and blamed it on the industry. Shame on me.

As a writer, don’t be satisfied with “I will write 10 pages this week.”  Gone With the Wind, Dune and even Love Story didn’t get written with goals like that. Hamlet certainly didn’t. I suspect that those authors had goals something like, “I will finish a novel by Christmas.”  Don’t write the novel to become a New York Times Best Selling author, but by God, have the goal to be a New York Times Best Selling Author. Anything short of that isn’t worthy of you.  Aspire to Hamlet.

“But what if I don’t make my goals, Geoff? Won’t I be devastated?”

Perhaps. But if you had a goal of a finished novel by Christmas and only got 3/4 done, that would be a lot more accomplished than if you had a goal of 10 pages a week and finished the first chapter or two. Or worse, given it all up because it was a futile exercise. Shoot for the fucking stars. If you miss the stars, you at least get to see a lot of very cool stuff along the way.

Marianne Williamson said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”

Don’t be reasonable. Nothing great was ever accomplished by being reasonable. Don’t set average goals. Nothing great was ever accomplished by being average. Set a goal to be great. Set a goal to stand out. Then set goals that scare the pants off of you. Set goals that engage your imagination. Set goals that will piss off your friends and family.

Then do everything in your power to reach them.

Do Marketing and Art Go Together?

Posted on | May 20, 2011 | 4 Comments

La Vie

Image via Wikipedia

I recently had a conversation with a friend about 1) how awful marketing and marketers were and 2) how sad it was that artists had to rely on it and them. To be fair, what he really said was that he was concerned that those who promote and market the product of creative artists gain the wealth and those who produce it are cast aside, etc.

I do understand that concern. I understand it both intellectually and viscerally.  It is exactly the crux of why Steve I started studying marketing. We control our “product”, and make most of the money from it. We published our novel ourselves and marketed it to be a best seller.

Many artists don’t have the inclination to take the reins like we have been able to (or even the realization that they can), which is why I continue to study marketing and why I support my friends when they are getting the word out about their own passion projects. If more artists would learn what some of the marketers like Pat O’Bryan, Armand Morin, Connie Ragen Green, etc. are teaching, more wonderful art would reach more people.

Far from being anathema to art, I think marketing is vital to art. There are obvious examples. I’m not a huge fan of most of Picasso’s painting, but he was both a master artist and a master marketer. So was Martha Graham, George Gershwin, the Beatles and Leonard Bernstein. The list goes on and on. There are and were artists whose art became known despite an abhorrence of, or, at the very least, a disregard for marketing (Van Gogh comes to mind, and J. D. Salinger) but that seems an exception.  How many have we never known because they didn’t make us know them?

Many, if not most artists feel that marketing is somehow beneath them, somehow would cheapen the art itself. I understand this. I lived it for many years. But having no one but my file cabinet and my mother ever see my stories caused me to reexamine that whole notion. It dawned on me that building a better mousetrap (or at least writing a story about one) wasn’t sufficient motivation for the world to beat a path to my door, no matter what Mr. Emerson said. The world had to know the mousetrap existed, first, then that I built or wrote about it, and finally where I lived.  And it was my job to let it know all that.

Anything worth being known is worth letting people know about. The best (perhaps the only) way to do that is to market it, which, at it’s basic core, means to bring it to market. Yes, an artist must spend his time and energy developing his art and his craft. He must also either find the time to develop his ability to market that art or find someone who will do it for him and share in the proceeds.

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You Do Have Something to Say

Posted on | April 1, 2011 | No Comments

Writing samples: Parker 75

Image by churl via Flickr

I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who who said she said she loved writing but didn’t write much because she didn’t think she had anything to say.  It is a comment I have heard often and it makes me sad. I take extreme exception to that comment whenever I hear it.

You do have something to say. Everyone does. Everyone has a story. Everyone has several. Everyone has had experiences that would communicate with or intrigue or enlighten or motivate or piss off other people.  Any one of those responses (plus a million others I could list if I wanted) are more than valid and more than reason enough to write.

So you haven’t gotten to the point where you have the “answers”, yet, and you know that what people want are the answers. Well, a philosopher once said, “understanding is the booby-prize”.  My personal take on that is that the question is much more powerful than the answer.  When you are “living in the question”, your life is a journey. If you think you’ve found the answer, you’re journey is at an end. The journey is what is exciting and interesting, not the destination.

So bring people along on your journey. Write about what questions you are examining in your life, about what trials life has set before you to conquer.  Write about the lessons you have learned along the way, yes, but also about the new questions that come up as you move forward.  Write about the defeats, the triumphs, the confusions, the tentativeness, the certainty that you experience on a day-to-day basis.  Write about those moments when what you were certain of suddenly becomes less certain, when it becomes a new question.

Our journeys are what make us human, not the destination.  (It could be argued that the ultimate destination is death, so if you’re waiting to write until you “get there”, it may be entirely too late by then.)  Our journeys also are what make us interesting.  We all love to read about other people’s journeys. We would love to read about yours.

You do have something to write about. When you think you don’t, breathe in, close your eyes for a moment and thank that thought, then open them back up again and start writing.  If you can’t think of anything else to write about, write about not having anything to write about. The journey is everything.

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Perfectionisists Unite

Posted on | February 28, 2011 | 4 Comments

I mean no irony when I say I am a recovering perfectionist. Anyone who has ever slogged through any of my first drafts (and often second and third drafts) will be surprised to hear that. I have never applied that bit of psychological dogma to spelling, (or housekeeping) but it is, or at least has been, a constant cause of frustration and awe.

I’ve talked a lot about perfection. There is a big difference between the pursuit of perfection and of excellence.  You can be excellent in whatever you pursue, but you can’t be perfect.  To attempt it is a losing battle, and, if you’ll believe many Native American cultures, an affront to God.

A deep-fried Twinkie

The Perfect Dessert

There are even those who say that perfection is death, that you will only be perfect in the moment of your death, but even that seems a stretch.  What if I die in some ignoble way?  Hit by a diaper delivery truck, say, or from complications resulting from a hangnail or choking on a Twinkie?  I can hear the comments now.  “Well, that’s just perfect.”

So how do you avoid the attempt of reaching perfection?  Don’t try to do it perfectly. Take it in small steps.  As you sit down to describe something tell yourself, “for this time, just for the next five minutes, I have permission to be sloppy”.  Give yourself that permission.  It will free you up. It will actually feel good. Revel in your sloppiness, your glorious imperfections, as you write.  You may even be surprised at what you produce once you’re not so concerned with its perfection.  You might also not be surprised, or you might be surprised at how supremely imperfect it actually seems. If you aren’t trying for perfection, this is okay, and you can continue.  You stop using perfection as an excuse to not get things done.

Another trick to try is to realize that you will never make the perfect choice.  There is never a perfect choice, there is only the one you chose.  When confronted with two or more things, just choose.  Yes, do your due diligence. Do what ever thought and research and preliminary work you need to, but know that, once the decision has been made, the only correct answer to “Why did you choose that?” is, “Because I did.”  It’s not the perfect choice. It is simply the one you made. And that is powerful and freeing.

Yes, I know. I have contradicted this often when writing and directing.  I have demanded perfection or as near as was possible from myself and those around me. I will probably do it again.  Hey, I’m a human. Nobody’s perfect.

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