Monday, July 02, 2012

Recharging the Batteries

Suffering the Glockenspiel in Munich.
We've all been there -- "O.O.G. Out of gas, baby, out of gas," to quote trainer Tony Horton. For writers, that means we're in a funk; we're unmotivated; we just don't frickin' feel like writing. Tarnation, there are so many other things that we can do more easily, such as waste another half hour clicking 'like' on all your friends' Farmville achievements (guilty as charged. Hey, when are they going to make Monsanto Farmville, where the farmers are wearing Hazmat garb? But I digress.)

What I'm going to recommend here is pretty stupid/obvious. Yet it's so easy for us to forget we have this option available to us, so here it is: get the hell out! And I don't mean to the local overpriced coffee shop with your latest digital toy. I mean, actually go someplace and do something. Yep, stupid/obvious! But there is a method to my madness. I like to call it "passive research."

What that means, in a proverbial nutshell, is exploring places you might not ordinarily go, for the specific purpose of stumbling upon something that might spark ideas for your writing. For example, a decade ago I flew to Seattle for five days. Why Seattle? Well, why the hell not? I'd never been; sounded like an interesting place. I was working on a script for a Canadian company and heck, Vancouver, BC, always doubles for Seattle in the movies. So let's check it out, I thought. Well, that trip yielded so much awesomeness that not only did that Canadian project wind up referencing key locations and details about Seattle, but I wrote a whole nother action script set there, designing the four major action set pieces around interesting locations I discovered while there -- Pike Place Market, the Chittenden Locks, and so forth. Sure, I could have read up on the place or watched YouTube videos about it, but it's another thing entirely to be there, to feel the pulse of it all, to check out the nooks and crannies and crooks and nannies. Because that's where the verisimilitude, or believable level of detail, comes from.

The escape cage: a fun place to spend the night.
I recently returned from Germany, where once again my "vacation" became fodder for who knows how many future screenplays. One of the highlights was the island of Neuwerk (Noi-virk) in the Wattenmeer (North Sea.) This little sanctuary is accessible only by foot and horse-drawn carriage by day -- because the entire North Sea recedes 14 miles when the tide is out. We're talking a 90-minute voyage by good ol' fashioned animal power across the soggy floor of the North Sea. Incredible. In the afternoon, the whole thing floods again, and the only way off the island is by ferry. God help you if you're hiking across the Wattenmeer when the tide comes in. Then you have to race through the mud to one of the very few 25' tall rescue cages and, if you make it, shiver through a cold and wet night while hoping for rescue. If you're thinking that if you add a killer stalking an innocent tourist through this, that this could be a really cool plot for a movie -- hey, hands off, I thought of it first.

Of course there was so much more -- the electricity in the air as tens of thousands of Berliners jammed the Brandenburger Tor for a public showing of the Euro Cup semifinal, which gave way to stoic despair as Italy gave them a massive drubbing; the subtle but gut-wrenching Dodger's Alley memorial in Munich; the white-knuckle, overloaded cable car ride to the frozen peak of Zugspitze, 10,000 feet in the Alps (note: just enough room atop the car for two people to battle it out); and the odd lack of screens on the windows, proper double beds or ice in the drinks. All these little details may well inform the next few things I write, and furthermore, they have sparked several story ideas.

So if you're feeling in a rut, heck, give yourself a little break and take your show on the road. It certainly doesn't have to be a trip overseas either. Challenge yourself with a day trip to someplace maybe a bit out of your comfort zone in your city or down the road apiece. Here in Los Angeles, there's all kinds of crazy stuff you can do for relatively cheap. Kayaking through some caves. Exploring the new transit system and historic ethnic areas of the city. Rappelling off Point Dume. My pal Saul Rubin wrote a great book full of cheap, fun and bizarre SoCal adventures which you can get for 6 bucks on Amazon -- grab a copy. The best part of allowing yourself the little recharge is, you'll be improving your writing without actually writing! And that should appeal to the professional crastinator in all of us ;)

--Jim C.


Anonymous said...

I went to the foot doctor today because I have an ingrown toenail and an infection. Not much to write about there. Or is there? LOL

kendallseo said...

you have done a great job!
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