New Mantra: “Pursue Excellence. Ignore Success.”

The Atlas Slave was an unfinished work by Michaelangelo.

I’ve been a fan of Deepak Chopra ever since I read his book, The spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire: Harnessing the Infinite Power of Coincidence, which is all about synchronicity.
Earlier this year, I came across a great article, “Deepak Chopra: A Life of Fullfillment,” where Chopra talks all about success.  Given that he’s both a spiritual leader and a highly successful individual, I was excited to hear what he had to say on the subject.  As expected, he had many wise words.
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To start, here is some sage advice:
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“If you focus on success, you’ll have stress. But if you pursue excellence, success will be guaranteed.”  –Deepak Chopra
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To go along with that he  says, “Try hard and you will succeed.
 Try too hard and you will fail.”
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I think this is especially important for artists to remember, although anyone who is a perfectionist at heart or an over-achiever can benefit from these words.  Sometimes when we want something, we try so hard to get it that we end up not getting it.  It’s important to remember to relax, enjoy life, and take your time.  In other words, don’t take life too seriously!  😉  That doesn’t mean avoiding hard work or showing up every day for the task.  Rather it means, be kind to yourself if you have a down day or don’t complete as much as you hoped.
 
Chopra says, “Being locked up in your own mindset means being locked out of the world around you,” and as artists, that’s the last thing we want.
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If pursuing excellence sounds a little too much like pursuing perfection, you can look at it a different way and pursue fulfillment.
 
Here are some other strategies.
  • Create something of value that wasn’t there before.
  • Focus on:  “Creativity, imagination, insight, intuition, conscious choice-making, love, compassion, understanding…” rather than instant gratification.
  • Adopt a growth mindset and see opportunities rather than adversity.
  • Engage the “unfriendlies” and dissect their point of view until you find the inherent value.
  • Remember that true creativity requires an open mind and curiosity.
 “I define success as the following,” Chopra says. “No. 1, the progressive realization of worthy goals. No. 2, the ability to love and have compassion. No. 3, to be in touch with the creative source inside you. And No. 4, to ultimately move from success to significance.”
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Crafting Great Scenes: Give Your Story a Pulse

So you finished NaNoWriMo.  Now what?  It’s time to revise.  Or maybe you haven’t started writing yet.  Either way, the key to a successful novel is in the scenes.  Each scene should tell its own story with a beginning, middle, and end.  It should have conflict and tension and move the story along.  And above all, it should have a pulse.

I recently finished a great book on crafting scenes called The Scene Book by Sandra Scofield.  Here are some highlights!

First, as an exercise to get you thinking about what makes up a good scene, try writing about a movie scene as you watch it.  This is a great way to deconstruct exactly what makes a scene work, all while enjoying your favorite movie 😉

What makes a scene come alive?  It must have a pulse.  The author defines a pulse as an emotional need or desire.  Tension arises from the pulse and is built from action.  You can imagine the pulse like a heart beating, a flame burning, or a key turning.  Fun!

Scofield provides a great example of a pulse using a story about an aspiring writer.  The ambition to be a writer is the pulse; but by neglecting everything else, there is a confrontation with the lover who says if things don’t change, then he will leave–that is tension!

You also want each scene to have a focal point, hot spot, or pivot.  Otherwise, the scene will be boring.  Think of it as the turning point where everything changes.  For example, the moment when the love interest walks in the room at a boring party.  Here’s a little math equation to help you remember:  Scene (Before X + After X) where X=focal point

Remember that each scene should involve some kind of conflict whether big or small and a resolution.  Keep in mind that conflict actually means power struggles and attempts at negotiation.  In each scene, always try to identify the balance of power.  Who has power and who doesn’t?  What does each character do to try to gain power in a given situation?

Another important element of a scene involves the use of images, which enhance a scene by creating a mood and revealing how a character experiences the world using the five senses.  We must see the world through the eyes of your point of view character and feel what he or she is feeling.

Also be aware of the emotions of your character and how they may change during the scene (i.e. from hope to sorrow).  This will help you create an emotional arc for your character throughout the story, so that he or she can grow and change.

And don’t forget to ask yourself: “Why have this scene?”  It should either reveal character or advance plot. If it does both, even better!

Just to recap.  How do you make a good story great?  One well-crafted scene at a time.