82 Guiding Lights to a Better Life

The following is more self-help. But I find myself checking this list every time I need some direction in life, writing or creativity.

  1. Ground your attention on yourself. Be conscious at every moment of what you are thinking, sensing, feeling, desiring, and doing.
  2. Always finish what you have begun.
  3. Whatever you are doing, do it as well as possible.
  4. Do not become attached to anything that can destroy you in the course of time.
  5. Develop your generosity ‒ but secretly.
  6. Treat everyone as if he or she was a close relative.
  7. Organize what you have disorganized.
  8. Learn to receive and give thanks for every gift.
  9. Stop defining yourself.
  10. Do not lie or steal, for you lie to yourself and steal from yourself.
  11. Help your neighbor, but do not make him dependent.
  12. Do not encourage others to imitate you.
  13. Make work plans and accomplish them.
  14. Do not take up too much space.
  15. Make no useless movements or sounds.
  16. If you lack faith, pretend to have it.
  17. Do not allow yourself to be impressed by strong personalities.
  18. Do not regard anyone or anything as your possession.
  19. Share fairly.
  20. Do not seduce.
  21. Sleep and eat only as much as necessary.
  22. Do not speak of your personal problems.
  23. Do not express judgment or criticism when you are ignorant of most of the factors involved.
  24. Do not establish useless friendships.
  25. Do not follow fashions.
  26. Do not sell yourself.
  27. Respect contracts you have signed.
  28. Be on time.
  29. Never envy the luck or success of anyone.
  30. Say no more than necessary.
  31. Do not think of the profits your work will engender.
  32. Never threaten anyone.
  33. Keep your promises.
  34. In any discussion, put yourself in the other person’s place.
  35. Admit that someone else may be superior to you.
  36. Do not eliminate, but transmute.
  37. Conquer your fears, for each of them represents a camouflaged desire.
  38. Help others to help themselves.
  39. Conquer your aversions and come closer to those who inspire rejection in you.
  40. Do not react to what others say about you, whether praise or blame.
  41. Transform your pride into dignity.
  42. Transform your anger into creativity.
  43. Transform your greed into respect for beauty.
  44. Transform your envy into admiration for the values of the other.
  45. Transform your hate into charity.
  46. Neither praise nor insult yourself.
  47. Regard what does not belong to you as if it did belong to you.
  48. Do not complain.
  49. Develop your imagination.
  50. Never give orders to gain the satisfaction of being obeyed.
  51. Pay for services performed for you.
  52. Do not proselytize your work or ideas.
  53. Do not try to make others feel for you emotions such as pity, admiration, sympathy, or complicity.
  54. Do not try to distinguish yourself by your appearance.
  55. Never contradict; instead, be silent.
  56. Do not contract debts; acquire and pay immediately.
  57. If you offend someone, ask his or her pardon; if you have offended a person publicly, apologize publicly.
  58. When you realize you have said something that is mistaken, do not persist in error through pride; instead, immediately retract it.
  59. Never defend your old ideas simply because you are the one who expressed them.
  60. Do not keep useless objects.
  61. Do not adorn yourself with exotic ideas.
  62. Do not have your photograph taken with famous people.
  63. Justify yourself to no one, and keep your own counsel.
  64. Never define yourself by what you possess.
  65. Never speak of yourself without considering that you might change.
  66. Accept that nothing belongs to you.
  67. When someone asks your opinion about something or someone, speak only of his or her qualities.
  68. When you become ill, regard your illness as your teacher, not as something to be hated.
  69. Look directly, and do not hide yourself.
  70. Do not forget your dead, but accord them a limited place and do not allow them to invade your life.
  71. Wherever you live, always find a space that you devote to the sacred.
  72. When you perform a service, make your effort inconspicuous.
  73. If you decide to work to help others, do it with pleasure.
  74. If you are hesitating between doing and not doing, take the risk of doing.
  75. Do not try to be everything to your spouse; accept that there are things that you cannot give him or her but which others can.
  76. When someone is speaking to an interested audience, do not contradict that person and steal his or her audience.
  77. Live on money you have earned.
  78. Never brag about amorous adventures.
  79. Never glorify your weaknesses.
  80. Never visit someone only to pass the time.
  81. Obtain things in order to share them.
  82. If you are meditating and a devil appears, make the devil meditate too.

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9 Points for Developing a Narrative

Do you ever get stuck in developing a narrative? Once upon a time, I’d get stuck at the most unexpected stage of the story and then sit there tapping my teeth – it’s a thing – for hours. Imagine what my dentist thought.

Since this sort of thing happened as often as the postman visiting your mum, I decided to find a reliable framework to resolve me issue. Thus, these 9 points for forming a narrative. Don’t ask me where I found them, because I forgot.

The idea is to ask a question that is also the running theme for the story. Then you kind of answer that question in 9 stages or acts — similar to a Vaudeville show. Check this out:
*SPOILER WARNING*
What happens if we could change destiny?
And one man’s in charge of it
And he spends his time preventing murders
Now, there’s no murder
Until the day that man’s setup!
Now he’s forced to solve: Who set him up?
And he discovers it was the one man he could trust 
And we learn – after he stops this man: humanity cannot have the power to change destiny
Because humanity would abuse that power
— Minority Report
You can apply this framework to other movies too — give it a go. I applied it to Tarkovsky‘s Stalker and learned a lot about how its narrative actually works within the film, which is incredibly visceral.
Now, I’ve used the framework over a dozen times and it’s given me some invaluable insight into crafting narrative. Remarkable! 
You can even change things around. I won’t tell you how, but I’m sure you’ll figure it out.
Of course these 9 points wouldn’t work on every story — that’d be like having the Key to the Universe — Oh Master of the Universe, strike thy lightning upon our souls! But it does work for a lot of movies and shows too.
You’re thinking: At last! Well, once you try it, drop me a comment to let me know what you think. What did you change? What did you do different? Often the writing will reveal secrets of the story that you can use to enrich the work — Sensational!
Later
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Thoughts on a mind’s hunger: the drive of Writing

My mind tingled recently, telling me to pick an idea from the ether and bleed.

Though, bleeding is all I’ve been doing into my journal, I reckon this tingling wants me to start colouring in the blank page on FinalDraft instead. My predilection for the dark atmospheres of fantasy and science fictions has been substituted for writing about how my own life has been surprising me lately.

Though, if my regular thoughts are not preoccupied with storytelling then what’s the hunger driving me to write stories?

What’s my mind hungry for in order to keep on living? 

Hunger’s a survival function. A pain-alarm reminding one to ingest what’s necessary for living. ‘A running thread’ through things that a writer writes, can be defined by a writer’s hunger. Rod Serling, one of the greats of storytelling, says on his ‘hunger to be young again’,

Part of creativity, of course, is being able to have the capacity to convey that kind of hunger, that kind of nostalgia, that kind of bittersweet feeling – to those who have never had it.

If you think about all the stories he wrote for The Twilight Zone, I guess most of them have characters that are young at heart and the trouble that comes with it. I haven’t seen all of them.

In the same interview, he mentions how plot points are ‘concerns’ – could be considered concerns – which I find interesting when thinking about writing a story. It strips away another section of structure’s surface to highlight a character’s journey. That’s important when you’re thinking about story: don’t get caught up in terminology but emotion.

Maybe I’m hungry for feeling something new to my current state of being? Sounds like baloney.

I’m hungry to write without fatigue.

Maybe I just need to shut the fuck up and write whatever. I got a story for you. It’s about a boy on strings of glass. He’s head’s made of pine cones and his feet two bits of brass. Music chimes when he steps and birds peck at his neck. He rises early, as you could tell, so he’s the one waking neighbours as they scream, ‘Bloody Hell!’ There’s never a night he ponders his dilemma that he’s stuck here looking up at forever. So, he takes a hammer and smashes them strings and with a whistle, he’s back out there, free of all those nasty little things. He soars away on a glass board full of hope, to a better place without dreams, walls, colours and dope.

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Thoughts on Story Origins

The writing process itself can reveal to you the elements of a story.

In a  pretty self-aware dream I recently had, I was navigating a stark, empty place where I knew that if I imagined hard enough then something would appear for me. It took the shape of a man but not. I couldn’t stay long enough to find out what it would be, but if I could’ve stayed and talked to it a while, I would’ve gone away to tell his story or use his feelings to imagine a story of my own.

The old timers say that the Dreamtime is where we were imagined from — fictions come real for the sake of experiencing life. I feel like writing something that feels so real, someone actually believes it like a psychotic fan believes his favourite soap opera starlets are real — Creepy!

Maybe when you immerse yourself in nothing but the art of life, the elements of a story comes real.

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Thoughts on Getting it Done

I handed in a short film script about four Londoners arguing around a dinner table by competition deadline, yesterday. I rewrote the thing like nine times and changed the ending and theme twice. I received feedback from a friend just once. I’ve thought about going back to it a hundred times. I feel good I finished it.

‘Getting it done’ is the most important thing one can do to grow as a writer. It’s like finishing off a whole chook from the supermarket for a bodybuiler. Each whole consumption adds to your growth.  Each time I finish a piece of writing I get a little smarter, a little faster, and little more insight. Clarity is the ultimate perfection we all strive for.

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Thoughts on going back to basics

As I continue writing my short film script about four people around a dining table, testing dialogue and conflict, I realised a problem here: I’m not concentrating on how it makes me feel. Why am I telling this story? What do I want to get out of it? That’s what I should be asking myself. Not, can I win this short film competition if I write it this way or that? 

I’ve gone back to basics.

I opened McKee’s Story and flicked through the chapters. With a new notepad in hand, I wrote down ‘Purpose’ as my first heading. Why am I telling this story? I ended up interviewing myself and noting down problems I’ve been dealing with over the past two to four years; hell, maybe even a little longer. Appropriate dinner conversation? I did the same for ‘Problem’, ‘Pulse’, ‘People’, and ‘Process’. All good headings I adapted from https://gideonsway.wordpress.com — let’s give this guy’s stuff a shot. 

Man, I tells ya, I got a lot out of this. Just getting down to the core of it. Not writing for the sake of writing and seeing what comes up. Just writing for the feeling as Jack Kerouac spins it. I got some gold out of it, but it may be fool’s good.

Anyway, I got some good stuff. A lot of it would be better off in another story. Something that’s more than a few breaths.

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Thoughts on the Writing Process – Swapping Screen for Ink

I read this Quentin Tarantino interview the other day. The interviewer asked him if he still wrote his scripts by hand and Tarantino replied, Let me ask you a question: If you were going to try to write a poem, would you do it on a computer? You don’t need technology for poetry.

It got me thinking. I write a lot of stuff by hand – my journal, writing exercises, notes – but all my scriptwriting is done on my computer or iPad. So, I began writing the short film script I’m working on with good ol’ pen and paper.

I started with dialogue and instead of the (I’m assuming) 2-3 pages I’d get when typing it by computer, I ended up with nine. Cool. It was quite fluid too, for a first go. Usually I need to rewrite and edit some stuff, but this all came out pretty well. I continued with the action lines and also got several pages more than usual. It’s a much more expressive way to work and I find the output a lot more natural, and I get a much more satisfying feeling when done.

For some reason Last Train Home played in my head when I finished.

I walked away and came to write today’s blog entry. I realise now that writing by pen and paper opens up channels and doors that a computer just cannot access. Give it a go.