Steve Martin’s creative journey

41wY-r2ubCL._SY346_I don’t want to review Steve Martin’s new book Born Standing Up, I just want to tell you that it’s a wonderful, concise description of a brilliant comedian’s creative life. It’s warts and all, describing embarrassing mistakes, horrible jobs and exactly where the arrow through the head gag started, in an entertaining, funny way. Although it touches on his personal life, it is really only in relation to his creative life.

One of my favorite sections quotes a postcard he wrote to a girlfriend in 1965. He writes to tell her about tracking down e.e. cummings’s house, e.e. was an early hero, and standing in front of it. This is how the post card ended followed by Martin’s comments on what he wrote.

I have decided that my act is going to go avant-garde. It is the only way to do what I want.

I’m not sure what I meant, but I wanted to use the lingo, and it was seductive to use these pronouncements. Through the years, I have learned that there is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration.

Also interesting and useful is his realization about giving things a beginning, a middle and an end. He hadn’t realized it at the time, but he had abandoned his  stand up career and not looked back. While writing the memoir, he came to this conclusion, “Moving on and not looking back, not living in the past, was a way to trick myself into further creativity.”

An interesting thought, is there something you should give up to trick yourself into more creativity? Are you burned out in a medium?

You should read this book. If the philosophical stuff doesn’t grab you, at least you get to read about the conversation he had with Elvis.

“Son, you have an ob-leek sense of humor.”

Comedy By The Numbers

Comedy_by_the_Numbers_2nd_loresThe new McSweeney’s book, Comedy By The Numbers by Eric Hoffman and Gary Rudoren, is a really rare thing. It’s a book about comedy that is actually funny. Pretending to be a comprehensive guide to the 169 comic attitudes and situations ,it manages to be equal parts sarcastic snark and earnest opinion. There is actual information in the book. It’s easily more useful than a book like Comedy Writing Secrets and a heck of a lot funnier.

I recommend it, especially if you enjoy the humor of Mr. Show. Definitely not recommended if you are easily offended. In fact, stop reading now because I’m going to quote it.

Here’s one tip:

One of the masonry units of physical comedy – the chairman of the board of reactionary humor. This comedy device is to one’s repertoire what trinkets and beads were to the Native American Indian way back when – once you see it, you must have it! You will need full use of your eyes and eyebrows, mouth, neck and sometimes ears in order to get the substantial laugh that accompanies this baby.

Easy. Follow this simple example of a typical situation where THE DOUBLE TAKE reaction is set up – Picture this scene:
1. You come home from work and say, “honey, I’m home” as you’re walking through the door.
2. You hang up your fedora and coat and walk into the living room.
3. You pick up your newspaper and sit in your favorite easy chair, barely noticing your wife and dog across the room.
4. Your wife is sitting on the couch wearing a huge piece of cheese as a hat and your dog, King, is sitting next to her in a push-up bra and crotchless panties.
5. You ask your wife how her day was in such a manner that means you don’t really care.
6. You flip through your newspaper nonchalantly as she answers: “unusual”.
7. You say: “That’s nice, dear” in monotone that befits your lack of interest.
8. As you flip the paper one more time, you glance over at her and King and clearly notice what they are wearing is inappropriate, but it doesn’t register in your brain at that moment, so you look back at your paper.
9. BUT at the same moment you stop rustling the newspaper, your brain DOES finally register the inappropriateness of their attire and you pull the paper down to your lap, while snapping your neck back to look at them and raising both your eyebrows, widening your eyes and leaving your mouth agape (open). Your face is expressing how unbelievable it is that your wife is sitting on a couch with a dairy product on her head and your pet is cross-dressing in intimate apparel!!

Interestingly enough, this facial comedy began with the immigrants who brought with them to America, not only their yearnings for freedom and democracy, but also a sense of reactionary humor bred from the shtetls of Eastern Europe.

Read a few excepts on their website.

Stephen Jay Gould on Creativity

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From the book Uncommon Genius by Denise Shekerjian, Stephen Jay Gould discusses creativity.

Look, he explained, there is so much nonsense circulating about the creative process. People are all caught up in the Strum and Drang of it, the so-called magic of inspiration, this utterly ridiculous fantasy of a muse:
“Twaddle. Absolute twaddle and one of the worst heritages of Romanticism.”

If I have any insight at all to contribute, he continued, it is this: find out what you’re really good at and stick to it.

Gould elaborated: “Any human being is really good at certain things. The problem is that the things you’re good at come naturally. And since most people are pretty modest and not an arrogant s.o.b. like me, what comes naturally you don’t see as a special skill. It’s just you. It’s what you’ve always done.”

He goes on to talk about how instead of people celebrating what they can do they get jealous and angry about what they can’t do. Don’t waste time trying to do something that you are never going to be able to do well, focus on developing the skills that come naturally.

In other words, find out what you’re really good at and stick to it.

Find Books and Movies By Plot

Fiction Menu is a site that lets you search for books and movies by plot details. The methodology is very unscientific, so it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to find a book you half remember reading as a child. Really, it lets you search other people’s descriptions of recommended books and vote their description up and down. The descriptions vary in quality. Here’s the description for Crime and Punishment:

A poor student kills an old woman, money-lender. But money is not the only stimulus. The murder is grounded on the student’s theory of morality.

Wow. Not much to go on.

Still, it’s a great idea. If the site takes off it could become incredibly useful.

Edit to add:

The original site has been discontinued and replaced with this one!

Process of Design: Do You Have A Final Vision Before You Begin?


Many Stuff, a graphic design and art blog, asked a group of designers the same two questions:

When you work, do you think in terms of forms or in terms of a creation process? Do you have a clear vision of your final image or does it come only from an upstream creation process?

They answers are interesting, varied and worth reading. They have been published, along with examples of each designers work, in a large (70M) PDF file called About the Process. So, t takes a while to download and some of the answers are in French.

Here is a sample answer:

All I create is just reflexion of me and my feelings. My work is to come up to the mirror and make a copy of the picture I see! Nothing more! – Stanislav Chepurnov

link via PingMag

Download the PDF file here

Find Time To Read

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Having trouble finding time to read? Long stretches of uninterrupted time can be hard to come by. Daily Lit has a great solution. Choose from their selections of about 250 public domain books and they’ll email you an easily digestible chunk. For example, you can get Tale of Two Cities in 170 parts, you choose what days you get the email and at what time. They have ton of classics that you have sworn you’ll get around to reading. Everything from Crime and Punishment to The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is yours in bite sized chunks.

I signed up for The Art of Money Getting by PT Barnum in 26 parts.

Link to Daily Lit

This Book is Unrecommended

Looking for something to read? Library Thing will let you go the usual Amazon route where things are recommended based on what you like. But, more interestingly, it will also let you type in a book you love and tell you what books you will hate based on that.

If one of your favorites is Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, it tells you that you will loathe Confessions of a Shopaholic. This is based on information about people’s actual bookshelves, so in the examples I typed in it was entirely accurate. Not to self: Never read Real Men Don’t Apologize by Jim Belushi, the internet tells me I would hate it. Well, that and common sense.

Link to the Unsuggestor

via Likehacker

I’m not a nerd, he’s a nerd: slang for nerd status

I’ve been reading Talk The Talk: The Slang of 65 American Subcultures, which anyone interested in language should own. It’s a glossary, divided by group, of the inside talk used by people who participate in certain activities. There’s a lot of revealing information in the book. In particular, I’m interested in the use of slang to define the status within groups that are looked down upon.

Take a look at the historical reenactor section. Unlike the stamp collectors, they have words dividing themselves up into people who are too serious, just the right amount of serious or not serious enough. In their eyes it’s the people who are too serious that people outside the group are making fun of and rightly so. The book lists three terms for those people “button pissers”, “thread counters” and “soap eaters”.

Continue reading

Billy Wilder’s Tips For Writers


Billy Wilder Tips for Writers

Billy Wilder wrote and directed some of the best movies ever made, including Some Like It Hot and The Apartment. In Conversations with Bill WIlder, Cameron Crowe interviews him in great detail about all his films. It’s one of the best books about making movies I’ve ever read.

In the appendix Crowe included Bill Wilder’s 10 tips for writers. I recommend picking up the book for a further discussion of all these points, but there’s a lot of practical wisdom in the list itself.

Billy Wilder’s Tips For Writers

  1. The audience is fickle.
  2. Grab ’em by the throat and never let ’em go.
  3. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
  4. Know where you’re going.
  5. The more subtle and elegant  you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
  6. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is the first act.
  7. A tip from Lubitsch. Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.
  8. In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees.  Add to what they are seeing.
  9. The event that occurs at the second-act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
  10. The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then-
  11. -that’s it. Don’t hang around.

Link To Book

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