Justin McLachlan http://www.justinmclachlan.com I Tell Stories. Mon, 07 Apr 2014 15:21:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9 Anything Can Be http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1626/anything-can-be-shel-silverstein/ http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1626/anything-can-be-shel-silverstein/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 08:30:30 +0000 http://www.justinmclachlan.com/?p=1626 Listen to all the naysayers, says Shel Silverstein — but then, listen closer to the real truth about impossible and possible.]]>

One of my favorite books is Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein.

One of my teachers in elementary school used to pick a few of his poems to read to us each day — some of my strongest memories from school, let me tell you. (Better: what does that tell you about school?).

Where the Sidewalk Ends, Shel SilversteinI picked up a new copy recently and came across a poem I’m not sure I ever heard, but I love it.  Listen to the Mustn’ts. New favorite.

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,

Listen to the DON’TS

Listen to the SHOULDN’TS


Listen to the NEVER HAVES

Then listen close to me—

ANYTHING can be.

It reminds me of a quote from Arthur C. Clarke that I came across while writing Treknology. My theme for that book was exactly the same as Silverstein’s poem: anything can be. I’ll sum it up for you — basically, any time you hear someone say that’s not possible, it’s a pretty good indication that it is, and will be.

Just keep trying.

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The Art of Deliberate Practice http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1620/art-deliberate-practice/ http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1620/art-deliberate-practice/#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2014 13:32:12 +0000 http://www.justinmclachlan.com/?p=1620 Practice won't make you perfect, but deliberate practice just might. Find out more.]]>

Practice makes… supposedly it makes perfect. Jury is still out, if you ask me.

There’s a bit of conventional wisdom floating around that it takes 10,000 hours to master any skill, be it writing or drawing or running or whatever (all three things I’ve been practicing, including the latest, drawing, which you see above).

New research has put a damper on that, though. In Top Dog, Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman say, “practicing the piano may develop finger dexterity, but that alone won’t remedy the sick twisting feeling in your stomach the first time you are in front of an audience.”

True. It turns out that amateurs and seasoned pros experience the same stress responses when faced with critical performance, like at a recital or a dance competition. In those situations, how you handle stress is as important as how much you’ve practiced.

The thing is, the more you’ve practiced, in my experience, the more equipped you are to handle stress because you know your automatic processes will take over — your mastery of the skill is so ingrained it’s harder for you to screw it up than it is to not do it correctly.

There’s a catch though, and it brings us back to that 10,000 hours — not just any 10,000 hours will do.

Your practice has to be deliberate. Running a mile every day for 10 years will probably not prepare you well for a marathon. Writing in spurts every couple weeks is not going to give you the fortitude you need to see a novel through to completion.

Simply: if you want to become and expert, you have to practice like an expert. You need deliberate practice.

Deliberate Practice = Expert Level Practice

Those sketches above are from an amazing drawing course by Riven Phoenix I found, and it’s so affordable I’m almost afraid to share it. This course could be priced at 100x what Riven is charging for it and still be worth it.

I latched on to it because I realized sketching now and then from drawing books or even the occasional anatomy book wasn’t cutting it. I wasn’t getting any better at figure drawing (I may have got worse). There was no understanding, my practice was amateur-level and it was producing amateur results.

Riven’s course, though, is expert level practice, it’s deliberate practice — everything he has us do, from drawing chins to shoulder blades, has a point to make. It lays a foundation for what’s to come. It’s highly structured, with a goal at getting better. The best part is that it started at my skill level, which was nil.

What’s deliberate, expert level writing practice? Writing every day. Every day. I mean it. There are no exceptions. You need that repetition. Then, share what you’ve written and get feedback. You need that, too.

Be sure to aim for your skill level when you start your practice. Beginning runners don’t start training for marathons, they train for 3ks and 5ks. Not ready for short stories? Start with blog posts. I love NaNoWriMo because it helps you to understand what it’s like to hit a daily word count, but it might not be right for you (yet) if you’ve never written more than the 100-word screed on tumblr now and then.

What writing skills I have been forged in the fires of being a beat reporter at a daily newspaper. I truly hated that job, but I don’t think I would’ve traded the expert-level practice it gave me. Do writing exercises. I’ve got tons of prompts, if you need them.

If you want to delve deeper into what deliberate practice means, have a look at this article at Expert Enough.

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John Leguizamo on Creativity and Depression http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1612/john-leguizamo-creativity-depression/ http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1612/john-leguizamo-creativity-depression/#comments Sat, 22 Mar 2014 13:46:04 +0000 http://www.justinmclachlan.com/?p=1612 Many artists know there's a link — a good one — between creativity and depression. Learn how it can add fuel to your fire.]]>

In a new interview at Fast Company’s Co.Create, John Leguizamo talks about the links between creativity and depression.

He has a good perspective, I think.

 “It’s true! Every time I’ve had one of those deep paralyzing kind of shut-in depressions, it makes me want to prove something. Bottoming out helps me focus. I guess it’s nature or my inner self telling me I need to deal with certain things, to grieve. When I surrender to the depression, there’s like a re-birth and I’m ready to create something.”

That doesn’t make depression fun, sure. I mean if you look forward to “deep paralyzing kind of shut-in depressions” there’s something more problematic going on than just a temporary lull in creativity. But, the link between depression and creativity is strong — though I don’t think it’s depression we’re actually talking about, at least in the clinical sense. I think it’s the feeling that comes from not creating. In general, I’d describe depression more of a lack of feeling, a protective mechanism that shuts down your emotional core to help you survive.

Trust me, I know it from both ends.

I restarted my website late last summer, and I think it was that rebirth that Leguizamo is talking about. Prior to, I felt a little hollow, bottomed-out on the creative end. Pouring energy into making a new website and creating a lot of content brought me out of it. From there, I launched a few new projects and am pretty happy with the way things are moving at the moment.

The takeaway? Don’t fear bottoming out. You’re a creative person with passion and purpose and if your creativity stalls out, it’s only logical that it’s going to have an emotional effect on you. The good news is that eventually you’ll rise above it, and the depression that you felt will probably become fuel. Don’t fight the process,  embrace it.

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Repeat: You Are Not An Impostor http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1580/impostor-syndrome/ http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1580/impostor-syndrome/#comments Thu, 13 Mar 2014 13:02:40 +0000 http://www.justinmclachlan.com/?p=1580 That feeling that you're an underserving hack who'll be discovered any minute? It's standing in your way. Don't let it.]]>

You’re better than you think. No, really, you are.

It was a long time before I admitted I could be a writer. The signs were there, pretty early, I just did my best to ignore them.

It started with a phone call when I was about 11, from Paramount Pictures. They’d read a spec script I’d written (this was back when Paramount accepted unagented submissions for Star Trek shows — after you signed your life away) and wanted to invite me to pitch a few more ideas. Don’t worry, they said, I could do it over the phone. That’s an opportunity that I would actually kill every one of you and then some for now, but my only thought was, more ideas? It took me a year to come up with that one. I never did pitch to them, but more interesting is that even after learning my age, they never rescinded the invitation.

In high school, my teachers kept taking my papers and telling other students to read them. It was horribly embarrassing, and I thought it was some perverse game to see how many times they could get my classmates to roll their eyes at me. But then it kept happening in college. By then I didn’t really care what anyone else thought, so it was less embarrassing, but I was still being dense about it. It always took me by surprise. Even on into grad school. I missed a class one night, thankfully, because it happened to be the night my professor decided to read part of one of my papers aloud. He had the good sense to not tell them who’d written it, but they all figured it out anyway and told me about it. All I could think was, that paper? Really? The one that not so subtly revealed my unhealthy obsession with the semiotics of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? I’m so not cool.

Despite this mounting evidence, and well into my adult life (and career), I still felt like a hack. An impostor. It was all just luck, coincidence. My teachers just weren’t that smart, or maybe the other students were just really, really bad? I was being over-evaluated, obviously. You see, I could explain away all the evidence really easily. I still can. I still do. But, at least now I recognize that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.

There’s a big danger in having an inflated ego, but I think there’s more danger in having a devalued sense of one’s ability. The former sets you up to be smacked down to reality, which is okay, but the latter could prevent you from doing your best work.

And the flip side of all this is that, despite successes, rejection still comes. Ask any writer how many pitches editors turn down. Ask any actor how many auditions they go on before they get that one role. I think if you’re prone to ignoring or writing off triumphs, failures are that much harder to take because, at least in your mind, they confirm your worse fears. Don’t buy in to it. Strike a healthy balance that recognizes not just your strengths, but also the places where you have room to grow. You want to be a writer? Write. And there, boom, you’re a writer. It really is that simple.

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My Office http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1577/office/ http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1577/office/#comments Thu, 13 Mar 2014 12:11:55 +0000 http://www.justinmclachlan.com/?p=1577 A look inside? This is where the magic happens... if magic happened.]]>

I spend a lot of time here. I tried, yesterday, to go out and work somewhere else, but I was put off by the guy at Panera who’d brought the equivalent of my home office to the dining room — along with a home made salad for lunch.

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The Art of Planning? http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1562/art-planning/ http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1562/art-planning/#comments Wed, 12 Mar 2014 14:39:55 +0000 http://www.justinmclachlan.com/?p=1562 A script page from my short film Roommates, showing my best laid plans for a short window of shooting.]]>

We shot Roommates in about eleven hours. I knew going in I had to be super organized. So I did a lot of planning.

This is what my script looked like. These lines were all the shots I wanted to get in those few hours.

Script planning for the short film Roommates - a lined script

No one was more surprised than me that we actually go all those shots, and all the others I had planned. I think, in the end, there was something like 30 – 35 setups for what turned out to be a five minute film? I did a few pickups over the next weeks, but just a couple and then only because I had the luxury to do so.

It’s kind of haunting to look at now, because it seems much more clinical than the messy, organic process of actually shooting that I remember. I guess that’s to be expected. I think all the planning enabled the more fluid process on set. I knew where we were, where we had to go and when we had the time to take a little detour.

You can see Roommates next month (April 2014) at the Arizona International Film Festival.

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Toiling In Obscurity http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1522/toiling-in-obscurity/ http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1522/toiling-in-obscurity/#comments Thu, 27 Feb 2014 11:25:38 +0000 http://www.justinmclachlan.com/?p=1522 Toiling in obscurity, if nothing else, means that you're working and doing what you love. It also has a surprising benefit that you lose with fame.]]>

Can you be happy creating, when no one has any idea who you are? I think you can.

I know a lot of writers who really love the idea of having written, but they’re not so big on the writing part which, often to their horror, is a lot like… work. The same goes for actors. I know a lot who are in love with the idea of being actors (i.e., famous), but they’re not so much into rehearsal and training and research and preparation. You know, the actual work of being an actor.

Late last year, I did the JellyVision Show podcast and we were talking about the mid-Atlantic and specifically the DC/Baltimore/Richmond area and how vibrant it is, especially for actors, and I pointed out that it takes something to be an actor here, namely a desire to be an actor (and not just famous). Put another way, if you’re working here, you’re working because you love the work. I say this, because, except in rare cases, it’s unlikely to bring you much more than more opportunities to work. Some call this toiling in obscurity — and I get the sense they hate it. Others call it a dream come true, because hey — they’re working.

Maybe someday you will be famous, or even just commercially successful, but despite the doors that will open I bet you’ll also miss the freedom you had when no one knew who you were. Toiling in obscurity (can we just say working instead of toiling, and maybe find a nicer word than obscurity, too?) means you can take risks, switch genres on a whim, do your most daring work. If this describes you, treasure it while you can. The work ethic that comes with toiling often leads to bigger and better things.

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Study: Group Nudity Is Good For You http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1529/study-group-nudity-good/ http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1529/study-group-nudity-good/#comments Wed, 26 Feb 2014 14:06:38 +0000 http://www.justinmclachlan.com/?p=1529 Group nudity — getting naked with a group of strangers is — apparently good for humanity's soul, at least according to one old study.]]>

Getting naked with a group of strangers is apparently good for humanity’s soul.

I came across an old study recently, from 1968 in Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, about a naked marathon. Marathon, in this case, being “twenty-four hours of intimate, intensive, authentic human interaction, uninterrupted…” Basically, this guy, Paul Bindrim, got a bunch of people together to sit around and talk with each other and said, oh, please feel free to take off all your clothes if you like. It seems to have gone very well.

In less than one hour and a half from the beginning of the marathon on Friday evening all participants were bathing nude in the Jacuzzi pool. Although two participants had been referred to the marathon specifically because of anxieties relating to sexuality and nudity, it may be assumed that most of the participants who were willing to attend the marathon were, by and large, ready for the experience.

The entire session was recorded, so Bindrim was drawing on real dialogue for his paper, which in a way is quite interesting. They had the typical concerns that most have in these situations, mostly self-consciousness, but that quickly faded away to self-acceptance. Bindrim concluded that clothes, in some situations, might be a kind of barrier to emotional intimacy.

 Nudity apparently facilitates group interaction in a marathon. Seventeen of the twenty participants felt that the factor of nudity increased their ability to open up to each other emotionally and to achieve a greater degree of authenticity and transparency. The group integrated and seemed to become therapeutically functional more rapidly than clothed marathon groups.

Bindrim’s theory is that all that intimacy didn’t necessarily have to do with being naked per se. In the experiment, group members were allowed to touch each other, even in overtly sensual ways like hugging and kissing, as long as it didn’t devolve into an all out orgy. He notes, correctly, that sensual body contact, the kind you might experience when two people are naked, is “generally considered to be an invitation to sexual intimacy.” But since we generally don’t have sex with or even invite the possibility of it with every person we meet, body contact between most people is inhibited. It’s rare, aside from the occasional hand shake or hug, to even touch our close friends, right? “Since body contact is frequently essential to emotional expression, this taboo of touch blocks a vital avenue of communication,” Bindrim says.

 This is most clearly observable in relationships between males who are inhibited in their expression of love, since they may not embrace or experience tender body contact without the implication of homosexuality. The nude marathon seems to eliminate this confusion by encouraging sensuality while inhibiting sexuality, thus increasing the range of permissible emotional expression for both sexes.


Anecdotally, I’m not sure touch is necessarily the key here, though I’m sure he’s not wrong about how it helps. When I was in college, I lived in a newer dorm that had bathrooms with shower stalls, instead of the gang-type shower rooms some of the older dorms had. This, apparently, was a tragedy that befell us, and our RAs took it upon themselves to remove the shower curtains from the stalls (they also lowered the dividers between them so we could talk over them).

As a freshman I found this invariably odd and disconcerting, mostly because there was nothing to prevent a draft from making me cold while I toweled off. This was also a private Christian school, and homophobia was (and is) a big problem. Still, in the end, I think they were on to something. The school tried to foster strong life-together bonds on the campus, something akin to the Greek system at other schools, only created by which floor or wing you lived in on. As Bindrim tells us, this kind of semi-public nudity can foster that type of emotional intimacy, to a point. But really, live in a dorm long enough and you’re going to see more naked people than you probably care to.

Ultimately, I’m not sure what we do with this research, and judging by the dearth of follow-ups or scientific curiosity about nudity in general, I gather most experts don’t know either. Still, the next time you’re confronted with a chance for group nakedness — say, at a spa or bathhouse or a Spencer Tunik photo — just think, maybe it’ll do you some good.

Photo by Jamison Wieser, Some rights reserved. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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90 Perecent http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1493/90-perecent/ http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1493/90-perecent/#comments Wed, 26 Feb 2014 10:30:25 +0000 http://www.justinmclachlan.com/?p=1493 Find out what Harold Ramis — Egon! — had to say about writing and how it makes the director's life a lot easier.]]>

I always claim that the writer has done 90 percent of the director’s work.

Harold Ramis

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Success http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1489/success/ http://www.justinmclachlan.com/1489/success/#comments Tue, 25 Feb 2014 13:27:28 +0000 http://www.justinmclachlan.com/?p=1489 Find out what Harold Ramis has to say about success and professional relationships.]]>

Nothing reinforces a professional relationship more than enjoying success with someone.

Harold Ramis

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