October 31, 2009

Nano Film Review #26 -- Where the Wild Things Are

Here's my two word review of "Where the Wild Things Are":

Missed. Opportunity.

Yes, it had some AWESOME character design and character portrayal. The effects were amazing, and my wife was disappointed to find out that the facial effects were CGI, but it was nearly impossible to tell where digital effects began and practical effects ended.

But the movie had a weak narrative and a weak resolution. I love Spike Jonze's work, and I expected to love Where the Wild Things Are because of that. Adaptation is an amazing film that anyone who wants to be involved in any type of story telling art needs to watch. Being John Malkovich was a work of beauty, and the puppeteering scenes are breathtaking. His movies aren't traditional, and that's okay. But this movie was unsatisfying.

Where the Wild Things Are, ultimately, COULD've been a heart felt, fun, children's movie that resonated on a deep level with adults. Where the Wild Things Are, instead, was a well crafted downer of an adult therapy session working out childhood issues.

You can't deny the craft and art of this movie, but ultimately it was a MISSED OPPORTUNITY for what could have been a great movie -- a heartfelt, fun, children's movie that resonated on a deep level with adults. Instead, we're given a well crafted downer of an adult therapy session working out childhood issues.

The saddest thing about Where the Wild Things Are is that the great children's movie that could be made from the book will NEVER HAPPEN

~ Ben

October 30, 2009

THE WAY OF THE WRITER: Inspirational Quote

A bit longer quote today. My friend Tim Baron pointed me at an article in the C.S. Lewis collection of essays "God in the Dock" that I hadn't read for a LONG time. Pulling that book out to peek at the article he wanted me to read, I left it in our front room. Tonight, I picked it up and flipped through it and found myself getting interested in another essay, and there was this passage:

"Until quite modern times -- I think, until the times of the Romantics -- nobody ever suggested that literature and the arts were and end in themselves. They 'belonged to the ornamental part of life', they provided 'innocent diversion'; or else they 'refined our manners' or 'incited us to virtue' or glorified the gods. The great music had been written for Masses, the great pictures painted to fill up a space on the wall of a noble patron's dining-room or to kindle devotion in a church; the great tragedies were produced either by religious poets in honor of Dionysus or by commercial poets to entertain Londoners on half-holidays.

"It was only in the nineteenth century that we became aware of the full dignity of art. We began to 'take it seriously' . . . But the result seems to have been a dislocation of the aesthetic life in which little is left for us but high-minded works which fewer and fewer people want to read or hear or see, and 'popular' works of which both those who make them and those who enjoy them are half ashamed . . . (By) valuing too highly a real, but subordinate good, we have come near to losing that good itself."

C.S. Lewis

From "First and Second Things" in God in the Dock

"The Way of the Writer" articles:

Why Write?
The Weight of the Writer
Holistic Writing
Intentionality, part 1
Nothing New Under the Sun
Intentionality, part 2
It's So Rewarding

Samurai art by Tim Baron, (c) 2009

October 22, 2009

WRITER S. BLOCKHEAD #4 "the blank screen"

Don't be a blockhead . . .

The blank screen can be interchanged with the blank page or the blank canvass. You know, there just comes a point where you gotta start making some marks so it will stop being blank!

I'm realizing that drawing W.S. is really becoming a self-portrait. I'm afraid that posting these things is almost posting too much information about my life!

~ Ben


My good friend Tim Baron, who also happens to be THE Tim Baron who drew the samurai from the above image, e-mailed me after looking at my "Writer S. Blockhead" cartoon about inspiration. Basically, he said, "You need to block about what to do when that inspiration doesn't come."

The answer is not easy, and I'm pretty sure there's no really good right answer. The closest I can come to, and what I was trying to hit with the cartoon, was this:

Do something about it.

So saying this, I reminded of the financial expert from Saturday Night Live last year:

But there's more to what I'm saying than just, "Identify the problem; fix it!"

When inspiration just falls, it's heavenly. It's a feeling unlike any other. It's like connecting with God. It's almost as if the Creator says, "I'm going to give you a glimpse into what it's like to be me." When words flow, it's an amazing and powerful and triumphant thing. (Speaking of the initial output. Sometimes, it feels bad when, looking over the work, it's not as good as you thought!)

Conversely, when words do not flow it can be a frustrating and terrible thing. It hurts. It's demoralizing. It feels like, at the worst of times, a complete disconnection with the world, with God, and with self. At best, it's a source of frustration.

And there are other factors, too, and when those other factors figure in it's even worse. A lack of inspiration in the face of a deadline, self-imposed or not, makes it even worse. For me, recently, I faced a writer's block when I had to get a project done so we could pay our upcoming mortgage. Talk about heaping a nice scoop of terrible onto a plate full of awful.

But here's where it comes down to that whole "fix it!' idea. (And actually, this ties into my next Writer's Blockhead cartoon.) If you don't feel inspired, you have two choices: put down your pen or pencil or keyboard or whatever and walk away, or push through. Make it happen.

The inspiration didn't fall like rain today? Do a rain dance! You gotta call down the rain, man!

How? Praying helps. Going for a walk. Taking a break. Those sorts of things. The article I came across from Yahoo about energy has some good things to do that will stimulate the ol' brain cells. These books, Write: 10 Days to Overcome Writer's Block and The Write Type (both available in my "Way of the Writer" bookstore -- ordering from it gives me a little kick back . . . just sayin'), have a lot of practical advice as well as some introspective exercises that can reveal some interesting things about how your unique creativity and your creative process.

But there comes a point where you just have to do it. Make yourself do something, anything, no matter how awful it feels like it will end up being. If, like Writer S. Blockhead in the cartoon, you're just going to wait for inspiration to fall on you, it's not going to happen. Getting inspired, sometimes, is a battle, not a gift. It is something that you must choose to go after. It is something you have to fight for. You have to pursue inspiration when it does not pursue you.

Some practical ideas:

  • set goals for yourself -- concrete goals you can keep track of like page or word counts
  • spend time surrounded by other creative people who are also working on something creative
  • just write or doodle, letting whatever happens happen, and then "ride that wave" into whatever it is you want to work on
  • take a break that involves physical activity -- this will not only stimulate different parts of the brain, it will get blood flowing to your brain as well
  • work on something else, perhaps something smaller, especially something that can bring about a feeling of success
These are just a few ideas. But the bottom line is this: you can't just hope something strikes you.

~ Ben

(Ironically, Tim didn't know this, but the next Writer S. Blockhead cartoon also tackles this subject.)

Other "The Way of the Writer" articles:

Why Write?
The Weight of the Writer
Holistic Writing
Intentionality, part 1
Nothing New Under the Sun
Intentionality, part 2
It's So Rewarding

Samurai art by Tim Baron, (c) 2009

October 20, 2009


Sometimes it does . . . but you can't just count on it!

~ Ben


Just read an awesome article that popped up on my front page when I fired up my computer this morning.

It's about energy, and how to effectively fight against habits that drain your energy during the day. And it's amazing, I think, how much this applies not just to a 9 to 5 setting, but to writing as well.

The link: http://health.yahoo.com/featured/50/out-of-energy/

Let's see, which ones am I guilty of?

Energy Zapper #1: Being Addicted to E-mail

Check. And it's not just e-mail. Twitter, I've learned, can be a creative black hole for me. How much energy have I spent composing a message, rewriting it multiple times to make it fit into the 140 character limit.

Energy Zapper #2: Visual Clutter

Check. That little cartoon I just did is accurate in one sense: I'll spend time tidying up when I really should be writing. It's inaccurate in another sense: my desk has never, ever been THAT clean!

Energy Zapper #3: Being Bored

Check. I've found that often when I tackle a new project, or come back from a break on a project, I have a hard time getting into it. I think part of that comes from the idea they talk about in the article: "Ever sat around for an hour or more not tackling a chore or work because it's just so darned monotonous? Mental foot-dragging, boredom and lack of motivation are draining, says Dr. Salerno. "Put simply, we like to see results, and getting things done gives us a mental energy boost." So avoiding tasks deprives you of that high."

Their solution is one that I plan to explore in a future "Way of the Writer": I call it the "Biggest Loser factor", but that's just because The Biggest Loser made me think of it. From the article: "Find a partner for encouragement."

Energy Zapper #4: Poor Posture

Check! Check! Check!

Energy Zapper #5: Toxic Indoor Air

No. Well, at least one of these doesn't count against me. Working in the home has SOME advantages!

Energy Zapper #6: Eating Too Much at Once

Check. But not as big of a check as it used to be!

Energy Zapper #7: Living in Artificial Light

Check. When I was running outside, this wasn't as big of a factor. Now, however, I'm using an exercise machine that's in the same room where I do all my work! I really need to remember to get outside more.

Energy Zapper #8: Listening to Negative Nellies

Not check! First of all, working in the home has some more advantages here. I determine who and what I listen to. But there have been some toxic people that I've just had to cut myself off from, because I let myself get sucked in and I realized that I didn't like that. And when they couldn't or wouldn't stop, even after I tried to talk about it with them, I chose to stop.

This happened when I was a teacher as well. I stopped eating in the teacher's lounge because, frankly, the teacher's lounge is a bastion of negativity and toxicity. Those teachers called it blowing off steam. I called it mean-spirited and ugly. And I found myself doing it, too! So I took to making intentional contact with teachers who were not like that, and found my own attitude changing in the process!

Energy Zapper #9: Holding a Grudge

Not check.

I hope.

This goes back to #8 as well, though. I've used the word before: "toxic". They use it in the article, too. A grudge doesn't just hurt you, it poisons the people around you. Forgiveness isn't just for the other person, when we forgive it helps us heal as well!

This article is an excellent article, all things considered. The many different solutions for office productivity also apply, I believe, to my writing.

What do you think? Which of these apply to you?

~ Ben

October 16, 2009


My newest creation: Writer S. Blockhead.

Join W. S. Blockhead as he seeks to fend off a nasty case of writer's block!

I'll post one or two of these every so often. I'm not an artist, and it shows, but I enjoy drawing. Hopefully that shows too!

Drawn w/ a sharpee on one of those slightly larger than normal index cards.

~ Ben

October 15, 2009

Update to "Marvel 70th" posting!


Seems that someone actually purchased one of my sketch covers that I drew for the Marvel 70th Anniversary party (detailed here).

When I went in a few days ago, I noticed that "Avengers Assemble" was no longer on the shelf!

Whoever it is, I hope you enjoy it!

~ Ben

Publishing Tech Update: Barnes & Noble Reader?

Seems Barnes & Noble is getting into the e-reader game:

Personally, this is very interesting. I'm keeping my eye on these things and prepping some material right now for both the iPhone and the Kindle. A B&N reader adds another into the mix, along with the Sony Reader.

~ Ben

October 14, 2009

THE WAY OF THE WRITER: It's So Rewarding

In the book Write. 10 Days to Overcome Writer's Block. Period. by Karen E. Peterson, Ph.D. (is it bad that I actually enjoyed putting so many periods into this sentence before the end?), Dr. Peterson has a chapter about rewarding yourself for writing.

It's an interesting concept, and one worth exploring . . . writer's block or no. I found that I already did this, although in two different ways. On one hand, whenever I finished a large project I used to "celebrate" by going to a movie. (I usually go alone. Every time I start a new large project my wife and I flirt with the idea of going out to dinner together as a celebration, but that usually doesn't happen. Four kids, you know. These days, if we get to go out on a date, it's jut to celebrate being able to get a baby-sitter!) The other reward has been being able to pay the bills.

Peterson's strategy is different, and more structured. Every minute you spend writing, reward with another minute of something else. In some ways, the reward strategy becomes a replacement for the things you were using so you wouldn't write. An example she gives is this: checking e-mail. Think about that. Instead of checking your e-mail when you should be writing, you use checking e-mail as a reward for writing! She uses a one to one formula for the "time" rewards. Twenty minutes of writing "equals" twenty minutes of reward time.

It's an interesting concept. I'm not sure I could pull off the 1:1 ratio of reward time . . . until I think about how much time I waste when I really should be writing. Just last night, I sat in front of the television with a movie, thinking to myself, "This would be a good time to work on that one idea."

Looking at my day, I see a lot of wasted time. A lot. And, as much as the phone commercials would like you to believe . . . time cannot be recycled.

That doesn't mean that time used to do things like watch tv or reading a book is automatically wasted time! Not at all! We need to recharge our batteries, take in some input when we're spending so much time pouring out. But, with a personality like mine, it easily becomes wasted time. It easily and quickly goes from "recharging my batteries" to "being lazy". That's where I need to work.

~ Ben