Category: Creative Inspiration

I’m fascinated with how the mind works and how that ultimately can help understand how to be the best creative. Here you can see all my ideas for creative inspiration and other facets of creativity.

Why I Finally Decided to Join Snapchat–and You Should Too

At the beginning of 2016, I read an incredible piece by Joanna Stern, a Wall Street Journal reporter, on why Snapchat was about to have a “Facebook” moment–a term she used to describe a social network when it reaches a massive audience and becomes a part of the collective conciousness–and she encouraged people 30 and over to join a network known for being used mainly by tweens. The article really struck a chord with me, because she offered the first real reason why I should join Snapchat. She said Facebook was for major life updates; Twitter was for keeping up with live events and news; and Shapchat, well, “is for bearing witness—telling stories in raw, often humorous, behind-the-scenes clips or messages.” As someone who has built a career and creative life on the ability to tell stories, I jumped at the idea of seeing Snapchat as a medium for my storytelling–a way for me to easily use videos and focus on sharing my personal journey in a new and innovative way…an almost extension of my blog.

Of course, I didn’t think that way at first. Like most people my age, I initially thought Snapchat was for dick-pics and bored tweens who wanted to send photos of their lunch like it was a freaking Joseph Sudek photo.

Joseph Sudek Photo
Joseph Sudek

I thought Snapchat was another form of social media that would pull me away from the real world and further apart from my own creative life. I thought it would further pull me out of the moment and into a matrix of likes and retweets, entangling my conciousness in a rabbit-hole obsession with my analytics. But I have actually found several reasons why joining Snapchat was a great idea, and I think every single person who has a smart phone should join the social platform, especially if you work in a creative field. See my reasons below.

4. Snapchat is Changing Storytelling

I work in a creative field and tell stories in many different forms–marketing, journalism, public relations, podcasts, blogs, and fiction–but I also tell stories in a social setting as well–stories at a bar to friends or just through social media. Using Twitter, Facebook, or even this blog is a form of storytelling. But Snapchat’s stories are unique in the sense that I can tell the story of my day through video and photos in a format that is easy, quick, and immediate. I have often tried to enter into video, but I have failed because I’m too big of a perfectionist. I want the video to be so top notch that I refuse to send it out into the world. But with Snapchat, I don’t have to worry about any of that. It’s all shot on your phone, so it’s raw and straight from the moment. I love that ability to share stories that don’t have to be carefully constructed or edited.

3. Snapchat Discover is the Zeitgeist

The Open Road in the Western United States
Original photo, Joseph Lapin, somewhere on the open road

If you’re in the creative world and you rely on staying up-to-date with trends and cutting-edge content, then Snapchat Discover is essential. When you’re creating content that is designed to interact with the largest amount of people or land publications at some of the best publications in the country, it’s important to have an understanding of the zeitgeist–the spirit of the times–and know what news is breaking and what trends are popping off. Of course, Snapchat is not the only tool I use to ensure I’m tapped into the zeitgeist (I’m an avid reader of the Wall Street Journal and other publications), but watching the WSJ, CNN, ESPN, and BuzzFeed in the discover section really helps keep me in the know as much as possible. If you don’t believe there is value to the snap stories from a creative and professional perspective, then let  Bill Adair, Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University and the creator of PolitiFact, describe to you his experience with Snapchat:

After a week with Snapchat, I went back to the Times and the Post to see what I had missed. I found that the Discover providers had covered many of the same stories that got prominent play by the big papers. The Snapchat channels even had some good enterprise stories that explored politics and business news in some depth.

2. Stay Connected with Your Friends

I hate text messaging. It annoys me. I’m still the type of guy that would prefer to hop on a phone to talk with their friends, but I still have a hard time finding the energy or the time to jump on a call. I’m not entirely proud of my lack of effort toward my friends, but Snapchat bails me out. It’s so easy to send what you’re doing or a quick message to a friend you haven’t seen or heard from in a while. It’s an efficient and scalable way to maintain friendships with people, especially if you have moved around the country. For instance, I have a great buddy back home in Clinton, Massachusetts, and we’re not the type of guys to get on the phone and talk about our days. But almost every week, I receive a Snapchat from him, highlighting his new job site or what new trick his gigantic great dane figured out. Snapchat brings you into the room with your friend; it brings you into their day; it brings you closer than the carefully curated algorithm of Facebook.

1. Future of Broadcast Journalism

If you have ever seen the Snap Story “Good Luck America,” then you have seen the future of television and storytelling. The Snap Story is hosted by Peter Hamby, a former politics reporter for CNN and Snapchat’s head of news, and it exhibits how Snapchat is going to disrupt the very idea of how we watch “television,” and it provides us with news that is wired for the digital-media brain in a way that I don’t think I’ve experienced before. Of course, BuzzFeed started disrupting the story with the list and videos that are almost candy for the brain, but the way Hamby tells a complex story using cut aways, animation, and humor makes a lot of sense to my generation, and it feels like something that could have only come out of the Snapchat movement.

 

Follow me on Snapchat by taking a screenshot of the image above.

 

Yosemite National Park Photos

In early November, 2015, Heron and I went to Yosemite National Park. We almost didn’t go, because we were worried about the cold weather and the snow, but I’m so glad that we just put the fear and uncertainty out of our mind and drove from San Diego to Yosemite. Below you will see five of my best nature photos from Yosemite.

1.When the Trees are Bigger than You Could Imagine 

Walking in the woods

2. Running to Catch the Last Glimpse of Light on Half Dome 

Sunset at Half Dome

3. Using a Neutral Density Filter on Vernal Falls 

Waterfall two

4. Water on the Rocks 

Bianca at Yosemite on the rocks

5. Half Dome During the Day 

Half Dome .jpg

How does a Writer View the Open Road?

At a certain point, I feel that a writer has to make a decision on how they view life: Do they see the journey as a lonely one where they have to forgo family and friends to find their voice? Or do they need to be surrounded by family, friends, and strange characters to fill those pages with? I’ve made my choice, and it’s certainly the right one for me. But I have a feeling this is something most writers struggle with during their creative journey. You ever struggle with this question?

Best Apps for Writers

When I first started writing stories, poetry, and (attempts) at novels (I’m still actively attempting btw), I thought the act of creation all came from the hand of God or a lightning strike from the muse, but honestly, what I’ve realized is that whenever an author talks like this he or she is mostly full of shit. Inspiration, of course, strikes, but saying that a novel is completed because it came to an author in a dream or was written in one night after a hallucinogenic trip is mostly marketing and exaggeration. For example, Kerouac wrote his draft of “On the Road” so many times that when he wrote it in two weeks that just meant that’s when he wrote the final draft. The marketing behind that gave the book mystique, and writers and artists capitalize on this branding (admit it!) all the time. Don’t believe the hype. (Kerouac’s credibility as a writer has suffered and thrived based on this idea.)

Well, honestly, I did believe the hype before, and I would try to write in a way that believed in the sudden strike of inspiration: waiting in my office for the muse to tap me on the shoulder and whisper in my ear. What this led to was a pile of digital shit. Yeah. But now that I’m older and I have a profession where I’m required to stay organized and structured, I’ve started to apply a lot of the knowledge I’ve learned from marketing and project management to my creative work. I’ve learned that there are tools that I can use to ensure that I’m focused, organized, and motivated. I should probably thank Clayton Dean, the co-founder of Circa Interactive, for showing me several apps that have helped me harness my creativity. So here are my top 3 apps that I recommend for every writer to stay organized and on track to finishing your gigantic project.

3. Evernote

Evernote_Logo_Vector_Resource_by_rstovall

Evernote is the app I just can’t live without. I’ve heard people from corporations to creative agencies swear by this app, but I didn’t really understand how to use this tool until I read The Secret Weapon. Evernote keeps everything in my life prioritized and organized, and if this app ever shut down, then I would probably, legitimately, collapse. I’m able to create a tag system that allows me to move my tasks around, send emails directly to my app so I can look at them later, and sync my notes across my lap top, smart phone and desktop. Without Evernote, I wouldn’t be able to keep track of the countless tasks in my life (from writing, to work, to my relationships) and then organize them depending on need. What’s really important about this app is that it allows me to stop exerting so much mental energy trying to remember what tasks I need to care of (Did I send that email to my client? Did I remember to buy flowers for my wife for our anniversary? When was I supposed to send the editor those revisions?) and focus on creating my art in my free time. It allows my subconscious to focus on building stories rather than organization.

2. Aeon Timeline

When I’m writing a novel or a complicated short story, the hardest part for me is figuring out the backstory. It’s not that I can’t create the ideas and build a rich life for my characters; it’s that it’s so hard for me to keep them together and know exactly when and where dates and events
happen in time. Right now, I’m working on a novel that is fairly complex and needs to be carefully plotted. It spans generations but the actually telling of the story happens in just under a week and a half. While I’m not actually going to include all of the events of the characters’ backstory in the novel, I need to know what they are, because for these characters, the past is always pulling at them, altering the present and causing characters to sometimes take dangerous paths to find answers to personal histories. So I was looking at organizing generations of characters lives and trying to find ways to keep them organized. I was stuck. So I just started Googling for tools to help. That’s when I came across Aeon Timeline.

What I love about Aeon Timeline is that it’s easy to use. You can watch a couple of videos on YouTube, and you’ll know the interface pretty well. But it really captures exactly what I need to build a novel. I can create birthdays for characters and then add events on a timeline, and it will automatically calculate their ages based on the event. I can see from an aggregate when characters meet, when tragic events happen, and how much time happens between events. I can separate events by characters, highlight the characters who are involved in the scene, and build separate timelines for what actually happens on stage (to borrow a plot phraseology from the great author Lynne Barrett) and off stage. In other words, I’m able to see what the reader is seeing while I need to know what is happening elsewhere in the world of the novel. I am able to figure out when I can reveal these developments to the reader and create precision with plotting and build suspense. Of course, you have to come up with the idea first, but Aeon Timeline provides an author with the tool to digitally map a story while using modern technology to build a plot rather than the messy colored pencil method, which of course works. It’s just that for me I need to see the story digitally and zoom in and out and manipulate the information ad nauseam.

1. Scrivener

scrivener-logo

For writing long manuscripts, I’ve always felt that Microsoft Word never really performed. Of course, Word has a pretty solid UX, but it’s clearly not designed with the author in mind. It’s meant for the business professional and the daily lives of American people. Clayton was really pushing me to find a writing app that was targeted specifically for writers. He’s a major supporter of Evernote, and he encouraged me to consider Evernote’s writing platforms. He loves the simplicity of the UX, but it just wasn’t feeling quite right for my work. Evernote drips with my professional life as well as my creative. It’s sort of the essence of my work life, and I wanted to have another arm of my being that was devoted just to creative projects. That’s when I came across Scrivener.

It’s not easy for me to describe why Scrivener is so important, but in a nutshell, it allows writers to break down gigantic texts into parts, move back and forth between displays, and create flash cards for chapters. It’s really an amazing product that does everything Evernote does — organize research, save audio and video, and build a tag structure around content to easily search between parts — but it’s made with the writer in mind. I love their distraction free writing mode, too, which has a typewriter effect, which allows the mouse to stay in the center of the screen…like a typewriter. I’m never going back to Word. I’ll literally never write the same way again.

Philip Levine and the Importance of Poetry

Philip Levine, a former U.S. Poet Laureate, National Book Award winner, and a scribe who turned the monotony of our working lives into extraordinary forms, died on Saturday in his home in Fresno, California. His death closes the chapter on one of poetry’s most important American voices.

He has had such a tremendous effect that it caused Dwight Garner at the New York Times to write this: “Mr. Levine’s death is a serious blow for American poetry, in part because he so vividly evoked the drudgery and hardships of working-class life in America.” The Paris Review will be posting his poems this week in tribute, and David Post at the Washington Post had this to say about the man from Detroit: “His poems have a kind of simple power that frequently reaches real transcendence, and they are deeply and nakedly autobiographical – having read most of his published work, I feel like I know a great deal about his life and he’s like an old friend – without the nasty combination of self-love and self-pity that accompanies so much autobiographical poetry.”

What Levine is known most for is that he’s a working-class poet. He worked in factories and told the stories of the individuals he met in his hometown. He was a poet of the people, and he wrote in turgid, almost Hemingway-like sentences that captured such a stunning music and imagery that he placed you dead center in his moment, in the speaker’s world, in the tangible experience that great writing creates. If you don’t understand the power of his work, the ability of his poetry to connect to everyone that comes in contact with it, then listen:

So what about what Philip Levine is…was. Many writers and critics have already discussed the importance of Philip Levine and his impact on poetry, but to make this more personal, I want to talk about what Philip Levine is…was…for me. As someone who grew up in blue-collar town in Massachusetts with empty factories on Main Street, which was parallel to the bustling center of a plastic factory (almost a perfect dichotomy of the modern world juxtaposed to the past Industrial Revolution wasteland), Philip Levine showed me that my life, my hometown, the people who I have known, are all so beautiful. He showed me that my life could be art if I told it in a way that was authentic. I’m still trying to find that, but I’m positive that not only did he have this effect me; he had this effect on a generation of people growing up in similar backgrounds. This is what made him such a great American poet, because lyricism and the sublime belong to all people and not a select group who have the leisure time to become backyard Hamlets.

I didn’t grow up as hard as Levine did; but I know what work is. When I think Philip Levine dying, perhaps this is selfish or self-centered, what comes to mind are the people I have met in my life who Levine has shown me are worth writing about. For example, his real name isn’t important, but we can call him Stan. I worked with him in a computer warehouse, and he worked in the back room on the assembly line putting parts together for data centers. He would stand there with his screwdriver as the conveyor belt pushed more parts toward him, and he would screw the sections together that needed to be screwed together. That was it. I remember how he unloaded the trucks that showed up in the loading area as if he was Atlas trying to hold up the world, and I remember him staring at the clock when there were no tasks. I remember the calluses on his hands and his yellow fingernails and the stink of cigarette smoke from the breaks he would take next to the dumpster, a spot where he thought no one was watching. I remember how I would head down to the Nashua River on lunch breaks and sit on a rock and watch the dragonflies buzz around the ferns. I would see him, sometimes, wandering around the trails. When I left for good, he told me never to come back. He was being nice.

Then there was the carpenter in Massachusetts…Al. We worked together on a maze. (Yes, it was a corn maze.) I helped him build the wood structures around the facility. He lived close by in a home that seemed to fit the structural and design needs for one of Alfred Hitchcock’s serial killers, and he would always show up late…real late. He would pull down the door in his truck on the job site, and the beer cans would fall out. He would ask me to hold the nail for the hammer, and I would make up excuses or pray.

I remember living in Detroit. It was 2007 through 2008, and it was when America’s economy tumbled, and I was in the hub of its destruction. I remember meeting Len. He lived near me, and he was a fine-art painter who was out of work, too, just like me. He was almost 75-years old, and I remember him and his wife coming home late drunk and screaming into the blackness. At one time, he painted exhibits that were showcased at the Olympics, and to make money, he used to paint the billboards between the skyscrapers. Later, he would find that there was no need for him to paint the billboards, as machines could do it now. We ended up painting houses together until the winter came. We tracked my hours on a piece of paper, and I was grateful, so grateful, for the work, for knowing him, for witnessing his struggle and feeling the pain he felt.

These are the type of people Levine seems to encourage writers to explore. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview Philip Levine when he was poet laureate. When I called him up, I was so nervous. Levine is kind of my hero, and I prepared for this interview as if I was researching ways to convince Peter to allow me into heaven. I wanted to know so much from him. I wanted to know how to write poetry. I wanted to know how to tell stories. I didn’t get that from the interview, but I was able to find something just as special. I remember him talking about how he first decided to write about Detroit. He was living in California at the time, and he was trying to find his voice. This is an excerpt from the piece at the LA Weekly:

[Levine] recounts the first time he started to write his now-famous poems [about Detroit]: “One morning I woke up [in Fresno], having had a dream about working with a particular guy. In the dream, my buddy Lemon calls me from Bakersfield. Lemon’s been driving with his wife and kid all the way from Detroit. … He wants to know what he should do in California. I tell him about the things he ought to see in Los Angeles — the Miracle Mile, Venice Beach, this kind of crap. I lay this shit on him. And in the dream, I can see him in the phone booth and the two people in the car. He says thanks and hangs up. In the dream I can see him walking to his car. He gets in. … I know he’s saying, ‘That schmuck, why didn’t he invite me up there?'”

Later that morning over breakfast, Levine had a discussion with his wife about the dream. She told him that it was a warning. “You can’t become a professor in your poetic life or in your soul. You have to be who you are. Who your history is.” Levine then went back to bed with a pad of writing paper and a pencil, and he started writing about Detroit while living in California. He wrote six poems in a week and published them all.

What I will take away from Philip Levine is the knowledge that drudgery, work — the minor moments of life that create your existence — can be poetry. I will forever be grateful to Philip Levine for showing me what work is and how it can be lyrical and beautiful and transcendental. May you continue to inspire future Americans long after your death.