Boredom

I’d heard that creativity can’t happen without a bit of boredom, but to be honest, I was skeptical. Granted, I’m not someone who is glued to my phone, which, combined with social media, is supposedly the true creativity killer. I’m just someone who feels that time shouldn’t be wasted, so I try to make the best use of it.

I call this being productive.

But, recently, I had a day in which I didn’t have a lot going on. I wouldn’t necessarily say I was bored, but my mind was more or less unoccupied. What I found was that my mind began to gush like an oil geyser.

I came up with my first journal entry in months (this one). And I was able to solve two significant problems in film projects that had hit a bit of a snag. But that’s not all. I also wound up creating a loose outline for a short that had been rolling around in the back of my mind for months without a spark of inspiration.

Whereas I wasn’t sitting around all day just letting these ideas come to me, I was what I’d refer to as approachable. In other words, I was available for mental stimulation. I had space in my brain to create because I wasn’t clouding my thoughts with tweets or likes or whatever.

So, as I said, my mind started gushing like an oil geyser, and I was primed to rig up the ol’ pumpjack and suck my head dry. And that’s just what I did. Although I still think creativity can happen without boredom, it sure doesn’t hurt.

photo: Jeff W

Filmmaker

For most of my twenties, I actively pursued film directing as a vocation. I wrote several full-length screenplays. And I wrote and directed a number of short films that debuted in festivals. One of those shorts was even promoted on an IFC program titled Media Lab Shorts Uploaded.

But after one particularly disastrous shoot, in which the film I was working on wasn’t even finished, I began to think I’d left my true vocation behind. I wanted to be a novelist, and that seemed to be showing in the stress I felt on set as well as an increasing lackluster when it came to corralling actors.

Before that shoot, I bought a Krasnogorsk-3 so I could try shooting 16mm film. It was shipped in via eBay from Ukraine. And it’s the same camera I believed was used by undergraduates at USC film school.

That camera is still sitting on my bookshelf. And I’ve kept it there over the past decade for good reason. My dream of becoming a filmmaker is bound up inside of it. Think of it as a talisman, if you like. But I thought of it as a visual reminder of a passion I can pick back up at any time I wish.

Recently, I did just that. I shot a mini-doc, putting something on film for the first time in over ten years. To be honest, I’m not sure where I’ll gonna go from here. It could depend on whether or not any festivals are interested. On the other hand, it might just depend on whether or not I find something else that inspires me.

The truth is that making television and film is a dream of mine even if I abandoned it years ago. Maybe it’s a lesser dream. If it was right to give up the film pursuit for a while, then it might be what you’d call a recurring dream.

photo: Thomas William

Film

I spent about ten years trying to make a film that would get noticed by Hollywood-types. I got so far as to have a short featured on the IFC Channel’s Media Lab Shorts Uploaded before realizing that the novel might suit me better.

However, I’ve never completely lost my interest in film, so I’m currently learning a bit about cinematography. It’s possible that filmmaking is as integral to me as ever because one of the driving forces behind my writing is the possibility of seeing a novel adapted into a film.

The last manuscript I submitted to agents was written as a screenplay first. I used it as a kind of outline. I like to see the writing I do as cinematic. I think it is, in part, because I write by watching the film version in my head, transcribing what I see. I’m not sure if that’s unusual, but that’s the way I do it.

However, I might want to be careful when it comes to adaptations. In a commentary, Michael Crichton said: “…Whenever you start a movie, you have the most wonderful idea in your head. It’s just magical, and glowing, and fantastic… And then at the end you see it all together and it’s just a movie. That’s all. The wonderful quality that was in your head isn’t there. It’s evaporated…”

I’d still like to take a shot at it and like Crichton be lucky enough to direct some of my adaptations, but that could be a pipe dream. In the meantime, I’m making more films and educating myself on the medium. Most recently, a mini-documentary about a cairn that’s well-known in my town. The film debuted in a regional festival last fall.

photo: Erik Witsoe

Rejection

Between novels, short stories, and, now, a mini-documentary, I find myself submitting to agents, journals, and festivals almost continuously. This means that rejection is my constant companion. And it can be pretty hard to handle.

When I’m faced with a barrage of emails that say, “Not for us,” or “No thanks,” it’s vital that I keep a level head. Especially because rejection has several meanings, which I think tend to fall into one of the following categories:

  • Insufficient Quality
  • Excessive Quantity
  • Lack of Compatibility
  • Extreme Exclusivity

Admittedly, insufficient quality is a depressing reason to be rejected, but it’s not the most frustrating. If the work isn’t of a high enough quality, it can be improved, so there’s hope. All that’s necessary is more work. Sometimes years of work.

When it comes to issues of quantity, we can find that our work has been edged out by similar writing or a piece that has been written by someone of higher stature. In other words, the market is flooded.

If work is sent to an agent or journal (or any other entity calling for entries) and it’s rejected, it could be because of contradicting visions. There’s no compatibility in this situation. Sometimes it can be fixed, but often first impressions take precedence.

Exclusivity may be the worse reason for a rejection, especially if our work is of sufficient quality. This kind of pass could be the result of who we don’t know. An example of exclusivity could be an agency that doesn’t take on new writers.

Anytime rejection is encountered, we have to keep pushing ourselves and our work forward. Rejection is not an invitation to give up. However, it is an invitation to be honest with ourselves. Remember the first category. Is it a lack of quality? If it is, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board and try again.

If it’s not, we should seek acceptance elsewhere or… try again. However, we should also exercise caution. It’s possible to start believing that the quality of our work is inadequate when it isn’t. Find someone to evaluate the work objectively. If it holds up, look to some of the other reasons for a no.

If you can’t place the piece elsewhere, then move on. This might sound radical, but try not to get too attached to a particular work, especially if it’s going to hinder what comes along next. Another project or opportunity may offer greater possibilities for success.

photo: Steve Johnson