creativity

You Don’t Get to Copycat Just Because Someone Already Invented the Wheel

Social media platforms have been ‘borrowing’ each other’s features since the beginning.

The latest instance involves Snapchat’s famous disappearing Stories feature being used by Instagram, and now Facebook.

How Facebook Is Trying To Be More Like Snapchat

A couple weeks ago, I’d noticed the Facebook Messenger App had a new feature called “My Day,” which is basically a way to chronicle your day in photos/videos that disappears after 24 hours, similar to Instagram and Snapchat stories. I noticed a few of the people I’m connected to on Messenger had tried it out.

Yesterday, if you were on the Facebook app (i.e. not on a computer), you may have noticed a few small circles at the top of the page before your Newsfeed starts. On the farthest left, there is a circle with the folded up paper airplane which has come to symbolize Direct Message in social media-world (direct message = a private convo). The next circle is for you to add your own story, and the farther out ones are for your friends stories.

Facebook’s Story feature comes with a lot of the same tools as the original on Snapchat: fun filters, the ability to draw, geofilters…but they don’t have the ability to FaceSwap (which still appears to be unique to Snapchat) or do the fun slo-mo videos. Business Pages are not allowed to use Facebook Stories at this time. (For more information on the similarities and differences between the app, check out this article from TechCrunch).

Regardless of your opinions on Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, or any of the social media platforms, the way they utilize popular tools from one another more or less successfully calls to mind an old saying: “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.” I’m pretty sure this isn’t meant to encourage straight up copying another business, but finding inspiration here and there.

How You Can Not Reinvent The Wheel Without Taking Someone Else’s Wheel

The key to it all: Think inspiration, not duplication. For instance, if you’re trying to come up with a design for an email newsletter, one way to get ideas is to look at what other businesses are using (looking within your industry can be a good starting point). After doing some research, you’ll have a better idea what your own taste preferences are, like if you prefer a fancy header, want to include exclusive new deals every month, dislike sans serif fonts, etc. You aren’t necessarily looking for a template to straight up copy.

The same goes for website design, ideas for social media contests, etc. There’s nothing wrong with doing some research and finding inspiration, but take some time and effort to make it unique to you and your business. Just because the wheel has already been invented doesn’t mean you don’t need to offer any creative input. Make it your wheel before putting it out in the world.

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Creativity Without A Script

Last summer, one of America’s most beloved fixtures on public radio signed off from his role as host of A Prairie Home Companion. Garrison Keillor, 74, had been hosting the Minnesota-based variety show since the 1974, having revitalized a genre of entertainment that had largely been replaced by television.

I’ve been thinking about Keillor after having a conversation with Breaking Even’s Nicole Ouellette about this month’s blog theme — creativity and the creative process.

Arguably, the most memorable aspect of Keillor’s time at PHC is his monologues that capped off every episode of PHC. Rather than take each episode off with a bang, Keillor’s monologue is a quiet, intimate affair. There’s little fanfare, no eruption of fireworks, no zany vocal sound effects that frequently punctuated the rest of the show.

“The News from Lake Wobegon” was more of a hot cup of tea on the back porch than Broadway-style finale. It speaks to Keillor’s creativity that he could close his show every week in such a quiet, captivating way.

Keillor, in a 2006 interview with CMT, stated, “I never found that to be true, but I did find that if you want to get people’s attention, you speak more softly.”

The monologue starts that same — “it’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, my home town” — and then delves into the lives of its Lutheran inhabitants.

Keillor once told National Geographic that the creation of the fictional town was, in part, brought on by the loneliness he felt after moving to Freeport, Minnesota in 1970: “No minister visited to encourage us to worship on Sunday, no neighbor dropped in with a plate of brownies. … I lived south of Freeport for three years and never managed to have a conversation with anyone in the town. I didn’t have long hair or a beard, didn’t dress oddly or do wild things, and it troubled me. I felt like a criminal.”

Either despite, or because of, that isolation, Keillor was able to craft a fictional small town, described, tongue in cheek, as a place “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

How real those characters become, however, also depends on the audience, according to an interview Keillor did with The State in 2015: “I leave it to the audience to imagine the characters – I just try to get the events straight. I create a scaffold and the audience imagines a building – that’s how it works. The stories are based on real life in some way. … When you live in one place for so many years … your memories are attached to the landscape, particular streets, the river, woods, a town, and you only need to drive around slowly and you will recall enough stories to occupy you for hours.”

Each week, Keillor, would recite that week’s “news,” without a script, apparently on the fly.

It wasn’t completely improvised — let there never be said there’s no room for preparation in the creative process. Keillor would write a draft for each monologue in the days leading up to the show, and would review it a couple of times before delivery.

“The monologue you hear is a man trying to remember what he wrote down a few hours before. Sometimes, while he’s trying to remember it, he thinks of something better,” he told CMT.

The illusion was Keillor making a story up on the fly, as if he was your uncle, recounting a tale of the darndest thing you ever heard, when, in reality, there’s a lot of planning involved.

“It’s not the job of an entertainer to have a moment of revelation on stage, but to create them for other people,” Keillor told VQRonline in 2001.

Keillor has handed over the reins of PHC to musician Chris Thile, most notably of the country/bluegrass band Nickel Creek. But he has kept busy with his writing, a craft he has been honing long before he ever took to the airwaves in Minnesota. He even popped up in the news very recently after writing a scathing open letter to Donald Trump.

Keillor, by the way, is still performing live. He has performances scheduled until at least April 2017.

Links referenced in this post:

20 Questions with Garrison Keillor- CMT

Church on Saturday Night – VQR

Garrison Keillor on Storytelling, Technology, and Mockingbirds- The State 

Garrison Keillor Letter to Trump- Washington Times 

How Do You Get Inspired?

Ever sit down to write/draw/paint/anything creative and just…sat there? These creativity blocks are pretty frustrating (and, as we’ll explore further in a bit, that can actually make matters worse). You want to combat this…but how? We have some ideas.

Find Your Happy Place.

A relaxed mind is a creative mind. Some people have a physical place, like an office or spot in the library, while other people focus more on cultivating a certain internal atmosphere. Think about when you’re at your peak creativity (something you’ll have to explore on your own), and try to recreate that experience as you get in the creative zone. Personally, I do well with quiet and physical activity- usually running. Although, I have found that complete quiet is actually unnerving, and some background noise is actually preferable (like people having a conversation in another room level of quiet). Pay attention and figure out what works best for you- and keep doing that!

10 Ideas.

The purpose of this exercise is to dedicate some time to being creative. So, you sit down and generate as many ideas as you can without judgement. It isn’t meant to cause anxiety about reaching a certain number or wondering why your ideas are lame/weird/useless/what-have-you. All you’re supposed to do is sit down and let the ideas flow. You know how kids are uninhibited when they play? That’s more or less the goal with this exercise. Here’s the link/explanation behind the “10 Ideas a Day” exercise.

If you look online, there are TONS of creativity boosting exercises/tips. My advice- take all of these ideas with a grain of salt. Some of the exercises might look fun- try them out! But not everything is going to be your jam, and if you ask me, it’s okay to skim over those.

Do Interesting Things…

Being stagnant in real life can sometimes lead to a creativity drought. If you’re stumped, this might be a perfect time to visit your bucket list…not to be dark, but to get inspired. These don’t have to be the sweeping, cliff-jumping/spelunking/flying an airplane type of ‘bucket list’ items- maybe you’ve always wanted to knit a sweater, finish a Crossword puzzle, or go to that restaurant you’ve always wanted to go to. Afterwards, you’ll have a new experience that might be worth sharing creatively, but if not, just the act of doing something different can pull your brain out of routine-mode for a bit and help you out of the creative drought. Typically, I try to do at least one small, off the routine adventure every week (usually a hike I haven’t done yet).

…But Not Because Someone Else Thinks They’re Cool.

For instance, if you go skydiving just because it’s something other people will find interesting, you might just end up stressing yourself out. In other words, don’t succumb to peer pressure for the sake of creativity 🙂

Consume.

Read, go exploring, take a class, watch a movie- one of the best ways to get your brain working is to take in information. The trick is to do this simply to consume- not approaching it from a “What ideas can I get from this?” Tricky, right?

If you already do a lot of reading, switch it up every now and then. Personally, I love fiction and poetry, but every now and then I’ll force myself into a bit of non-fiction on a topic I find interesting or want to learn more about. The result: confronted with this subject matter, I often go to the “What if this had happened instead” or “Why did [whatever person] do [whatever thing]?” (This also used to happen in school and made concentrating on problem sets in physics difficult- so many roller coasters).

Happy October-and creativity month!

 

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

What We Can Learn From Horror Remixes

This month’s theme is creativity and that got us thinking about something that doesn’t seem very creative at all: remakes, reboots and sequels (by the way, it’s not your imagination, the number of sequels and remakes is on the rise).

Scary movies (’tis the season of Halloween) are notorious for this trick:

Nightmare on Elm Street: 9 Movies; Halloween (franchise): 10 Movies; Final Destination: 5 Movies; Check out this list from AMC that lists a lot more, half of which are Halloween-related. 

You might not think that sequels would be a source for creativity but if anything, sequels force their writers to be creative. After all, you have to get movie goers to come back for something fresh while keeping enough of what they liked about the first movies. It’s a creative art.

So what are some ways movie sequels force creativity?

Tone it Up, Tone it Down

Filmmakers wills often play with the tone of their source work. Take a look at the original Evil Dead franchise of the ’80s and ’90s, where filmmaker Sam Raimi combined splatter, camp and a healthy dollop of Three Stooges-type humor.

Fast forward to Fede Alvarez’s 2013 remake, which toned down the humor and ramped up the gore, appealing to a new generation of horror fans that cut their teeth on shock-films such as the Saw franchise.

Fans of the original, meanwhile, were given an added bonus last year with the debut of the Starz series “Ash vs Evil Dead,” with the return of Bruce Campbell in the roll of Ash, and a couple of younger sidekicks. So there’s something for everyone.

Remix The Character

Some villains leave a lasting mark on the pop culture conscience. In terms of horror, look no further than Dracula, who has been remixed, rebooted and reimagined countless times since Bram Stoker unleashed the vampire on the world nearly 120 years ago.

As originally written, ol’ Drac was not all that attractive, with a unibrow and prominent “aquiline” nose. Yet, he still possessed a certain old, old, old world charm.

In 1922, Dracula was reimagined as the rat-like Count Orlock in F. W. Murnau’s unauthorized silent film masterpiece, “Nosferatu,” swapping out the character’s pose for a more demonic presence.

The Dracula best remembered is from the 1931 film starring Bela Lugosi, which shows the blood sucker as a sophisticated, urbane lady’s man.

“Dracula” film remakes went on and on in the decades to come, with actors such as Christopher Lee to Gary Oldman each leaving a unique mark on the character with significant tonal differences.

Dracula, by the way, is himself a fictional remix of a re-world monster, Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler, a 13th-century Wallachian prince best known for — you guessed it — impaling his enemies.

Remix The Location

Taking the same cast but changing location is another way to change things up. It’s no secret that if you took, say, your office and cranked the temperature 30 degrees (or lowered it 30 degrees) the same people would act very differently.

Again, look at Dracula, or rather, works inspired by “Dracula.” “Vampire in Brooklyn” and “‘Salem’s Lot” take the same basic premise as “Dracula,” but tweak the characters and moves the action from London to New York and rural Maine, respectively.

This plot device isn’t limited to vampires. Check out both “An American Werewolf in London” and “An American Werewolf in France.”

Remix Everything

One thing most people can agree on is that a good remake can stand on its own. Sometimes the best way to do that is to completely rebuild the source material, as Stanley Kubrick did with “The Shining.” Kubrick’s film retains much of the original plot structure from the original source — Stephen King’s novel — but characters and tone differ wildly.

The conflict in King’s work involves not only the supernatural, but alcoholism, inescapable personal demons and the destruction of the family unit. The character Jack Torrence is nuanced enough so that when he finally succumbs to both the personal and supernatural demons, it’s as heartbreaking as it is frightening.

Kubrick’s vision, meanwhile, is as cold as the snow enveloping the Overlook Hotel, and Jack Nicholson portrays Torrence as a ticking time bomb. It’s not a question of if Torrence will go completely psycho on his family, but when. As a result, Kubrick’s rachets up the suspense to an almost unbearable degree.

(Spoiler alert: Ever wonder what happened to Danny Torrence, after his unfortunate state at the Overlook? King revisited him decades later in his 2013 novel, “Doctor Sleep.”)

Free Reading: Why We Give It Away Online

Three years ago, I wrote a book for National Novel Writing Month. It’s been sitting in Google Drive, and I’ve been wondering what I do with it.

I’ve kind of edited about half of it but I think I’d have the motivation to finish if I knew what next. (I sometimes am paralyzed by choice. Not my best quality.)

The beginning of my terrible novel, sitting in Google Drive, wondering its fate.

The beginning of my terrible novel, sitting in Google Drive, wondering its fate.

Option 1: Do I send it to 50-100 publishers, hoping one will like it enough to rip it apart and await my rewrites?

Option 2: Do I self publish it, making my friends pay $1-$10 for the ‘pleasure’ of reading it, probably making all of a few hundred bucks?

Option 3: Or do I just format it as an ebook and give it away?

I’ve been leaning toward Option 3. Sure, it seems like the least amount of hoops to jump through but it is also the world I know best: the internet is all about giving stuff away. I’ve been writing this blog ‘for free’ since 2007 for example.

I was reading a great article about Why Give Away Your Work For Free. To paraphrase Cory Doctorow, he says people who download the free book wouldn’t have bought the book anyway. Really by giving things away for free he’s increasing his audience. To quote: “My problem isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity, and free ebooks generate more sales than they displace.”

It actually got me to thinking of something completely different I read from Elizabeth Gilbert (read the photo caption- it’s long like a blog entry). But to paraphrase, basically you can’t make creativity show up and earn you money. You need to give it room to breathe. To quote: “I adore Creativity. I love her. I have devoted my life to her, because she brings me joy. But I do not suggest relying upon her to pay the oil bill. She is not very reliable. Creativity has no idea what the words “oil bill” even mean.”

My whole life the last seven years has been building two businesses, in other words the laser focused pursuit of money. Creativity showed up and I have this kind of terrible, moderately personal 124 page story sitting in my files without a purpose. Do I demand it make me money… or put it out there for free?

(Aside, I get that I should stop calling my novel terrible. But I’m one of those ‘plan for rain, be happy when it doesn’t’ kind of people so I am just managing my own expectations- and yours- by doing that.)

So do I enter into a world of a million rejections? Do I ask my creativity to make me some money now with this novel (which you see doesn’t even have a title but ‘Novel.doc)? Or do I give this novel away in hopes that my ideas will get out there and in turn generate others?

Now I’d be a liar if I said this ‘give it away and get more later’ idea was a writing only idea. Musicians give away albums, companies swag… every industry has a ‘something for free’ component so this idea is far from original.

But somehow reading those two articles in a row made me realize why I wanted to give it away… and the gut instinct wasn’t one of general laziness! If you are similarly on the fence with something you’ve made, let me know if reading those two relatively short posts helps clarify what you should do like it did for me.

(By the way, if you want to read my yet to be titled novel, just leave a comment on here and I’ll make sure you get the information for it.)

 

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.