From the Best of Blake’s Blogs: “Back to the Drawing Board”
Every once in a while, we’ll re-post one of Blake’s inspirational blogs. This was first published on July 3, 2008.
Sometimes the best thing we can do with an idea is… let it go!
As a self-proclaimed “idea guy” l love my notebooks. I love to work ’em, to play with words and images. And yet it’s often a painful truth with a bad idea that the line of least resistance is giving up on it!
This past weekend for our beats class (which if you don’t know by now is my favorite thing on earth to conduct) we heard great ideas, but in some cases it took a while to convince the creator! Many participants pitched at least two or three ideas at the start of class Saturday morning, and sure enough, often the ones they came in with which they were sure they wanted to work on, turned out to be the ones that did not stick.
We nurture these little ideas that don’t work for odd reasons. Something catches in our minds about it that we like and we are determined to make it live. It could be a mood it evokes or a statement we want to make, but when we tell others, we can see by the glaze in their eyes we might be the only ones who care.
I have a bundle of these ideas in my quiver that I am still trying to beat into submission. Whenever the chance comes to pitch them again in a new circumstance, I am always surprised when it still doesn’t catch! Maybe it will someday, in another form, or with another piece attached to it, but for now it’s Instant Ambien.
The ones that work are easy. The ones that work don’t take salesmanship. The ones that work you don’t have to make sure everyone is awake or in a good mood to “get.” The good ideas you can catch in the middle of a hurricane, yelled across a crowded bus, or while jogging through traffic. The good ones are good because the combination of irony, mental image, target audience, and the punch of a great title is compelling.
No amount of banging on a bad idea will help. But the good ideas are like a good joke: you can’t wait to tell someone else — because you know it will light up their eyes and will do so every time!
If you are working on an idea that is too plain, too complicated, or too hard to explain… stop. Throw it away. If it doesn’t catch, there’s a reason. If you find yourself in this situation and are bummed about this — we always are! — try these exercises for idea generation this holiday weekend and see what happens:
1. The Fish out of Water T bar — Draw a big T on a piece of paper. Label one side “Fish” and make a list of types of characters; on the other side send that “fish” to a place that is the opposite of who he is. Example: Tomboy FBI agent – Beauty Pagent = Miss Congeniality. There is no difference between comedy or drama in these exercises. Example: Simpleton isolated from life for 40 years – World of Big Money Politics = Being There.
2. The Institutionalized Dilemma — In the middle of a piece of paper write an institution. Now draw lines out from that center and add types of characters found in an Institutionalized story. (see Chapter 9 of STC!GTTM) Who is the rebel? The mind-numbed robot? The innocent who’s new to the company? Now ask: how does this institution have 30 days to live? Which of the characters will save it or help to bring it down? Example: Law Firm – On the verge of being sued by a client – veteran lawyer sick of the lies = Michael Clayton.
3. New Type of Magic — Again, take a piece of paper and draw two vertical lines making three equal columns. Column 1 = Type of hero. Column 2 = Type of magic spell, wish, power. Column 3 = +/- Is this magic power a Blessing (+) or a Curse (-)? Example: Superficial ladies man – Power to see only the beauty of women – curse! = Shallow Hal It works for dramas, too. Example: Boy who wants to get over a girl – given the ability to erase the memory of the girl from his mind – curse! = Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
There is great power in surrender! When you’re trying too hard, it won’t work. Relax. Have fun. Let go.
And let the right idea drop in your lap from out of the sky — there’s a reason the good ones always do!