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January 6, 2012

Behind the Book — Taking a Creative Day

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , , , — jennifer @ 11:25 am

When I was in high school in Indiana, my best friend Joe Kraemer and I would sometimes take what we called a “Creative Day,” which meant that we skipped school so we could work on outside projects– namely our writing and having fun. While our parents weren’t all too thrilled about this (when they found out), we were actually doing something very wise and necessary to the writing process: When you work hard and all the time, it’s important every now and then to clear your mind and recharge your creative batteries. (Not that, of course, we condone missing school.)

Sometimes, depending on the deadline, you can only afford to take a Creative Hour or a Creative Minute, but my mother taught me long ago that so much of writing– and so much of life– is about balance. How can you hope to be a good, well rounded writer (or a good, well rounded person) without it? In other words, as much as I love working– and I do– and as much as I need to work, work, work to meet all my deadlines, sometimes you have to get away from your desk.

After high school, Joe and I went our separate ways geographically, but now we’re back in the same city, which means we try to schedule regular time for Creative Days. It’s rare that either of us can take an entire day off, but yesterday, as our New Year’s gift to each other, we did. In the morning we met at Runyon Canyon for a hike. I pretended this was research for the Velva Jean Hollywood book since Errol Flynn once rented the mansion that used to sit at the top of the Canyon, looking out over the city. The ghost of that mansion is still there– overgrown tennis courts, the cracked foundation of a swimming pool, the crumbled ruins of a fountain. But in reality, we were out enjoying the sunshine and the heat (85 degrees by 10:00 am), the people watching and the exercise and, of course, the view.

Afterward, we drove to our favorite L.A. movie theater, the Arclight Hollywood, to see a double feature, which is something we like to do every couple of weeks. We LOVE the movies, and will go see almost anything as long as it involves popcorn (and, if possible, cute male actors). The downside of this is that we tend to see a lot of bad movies.

Before our first film, we ate lunch at the Arclight Cafe and talked business. Since high school, Joe and I have written together, and two years ago we wrote a TV show version of my high school memoir, The Aqua Net Diaries, for Warner Bros. We have other projects we’re working on now, and we’d agreed ahead of time that we would save the business discussion for lunchtime, while we ate healthy salads and drank water with lemon and generally acted like responsible adults. This part of the day lasted exactly 43 minutes.

Then it was off to the concession counter and our first movie: The Artist, my favorite movie of 2011. To me, the film conjures up the best of Chaplin– it is lyrical and poetic and moving and funny and warmhearted and tragic and deep and original. This was my second time seeing it, and I still swooned, still cried, still laughed, and still walked away with that rare feeling I get from a movie– that I’d just read a really satisfying, engrossing, beautifully written book.

Then we were off to the concession line again and the second movie: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which afterward we dubbed Snoozer, Sleeper, Snorer, Nap because, except for the fifteen minutes Tom Hardy was on the screen, it was, we thought, utterly joyless and plodding and muddled and dull. As Joe said, “The filmmakers did manage to achieve one thing– they made spies seem completely uninteresting.”

But even a bad movie can be a good and welcome break from the work, as well as a helpful study in how not to write. And though it would have been nice to have spent our $14.00 (each) on a better film, the day left us feeling completely recharged.

When I got home last night, I felt excited about working today. By letting my brain wander away from Velva Jean for a little while, it has come back to her with newfound energy and inspiration. And some newfound clarity. This week I’d been wrestling with some tricky plot-related questions, but taking a step back from my desk (and the book) suddenly helped me see things more clearly. Which only proves my point: you can’t be a hard-working, intensely-driven obsessive writer all the time. Sometimes you just have to know when to walk away and spend time with your best friend eating popcorn and talking about boys.

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