Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Stories in the Subconscious Mind: Screen Writing Success with Jurgen Wolff

I enjoyed my half hour interview with Rick DiBiasio of Middle Aged Crazy on Blog Talk Radio yesterday afternoon. Our talk ranged from the challenges faced by our creative people in our current cultural climate to detailed questions about Persist, the book, and its contents. I found Rick to be a bright and perceptive questioner and valued the time I spent with him. I plan to return the complement and include him on our growing list of interviewees before too long. In the meantime, as promised, here is the interview with Jurgen Wolff, the hollywood writer and writer's mentor. I hope you'll find it as interesting as I did and that you will take the time to visit his sites at Jurgen Wolff, Your Writing Coach and Time to Write. There is much to be learned from a man of his experience.

Persist: You clearly have an extensive history and a fine reputation as a writer in a variety of fields. At what point did you begin to recognize that you had a contribution to make as a coach and advisor to others? What brought you to this realization?

Jurgen Wolff: When I went to Hollywood, I found that it was very difficult to get good information on what producers were looking for, how to get an agent, and so on. I didn't have any connections, so I came up with the idea of starting a little publication that I called "The Hollywood Scriptletter," and used that to get interviews with experienced writers, producers, agents, and TV and film executives. By publishing the newsletter I was able to share what I was learning. These interviews later became a big part of two books I wrote.

My first successes were in the field of sitcoms and again, at that time, there was very little information about how to do that. I started teaching some workshops and found I really enjoyed sharing information and helping people who were trying to get their start. At that point I wasn't that much more experienced than they were, which was good because it allowed me to understand their needs.

I continue to write books about writing and creativity but now I am also able to reach more people via the internet and I'm excited about the new mentoring/coaching program I have that helps people to set and reach their goals. I call it the Breakthrough Strategy Program. It's on a hiatus during the summer but returns in September (information at jurgenwolff.com). I also have a new website dedicated to helping people who want to learn scriptwriting--that's at Screen Writing Success.

Persist: In what way are the satisfactions and rewards you get from your creativity coaching work different from those you get from writing and publishing?

Jurgen: Writing is quite a solitary activity. I enjoy that, but I also like to get out and interact with real people. I guess the main satisfaction I get in terms of teaching and coaching is encouraging people who often don't get that encouragement from anybody else, and watching them blossom. I understand from my personal experience what an important dream it is to want to share your stories with others.

As well as the workshops, I share tips on my writing blog, and on the screenwriting site I mentioned. I post there every day and it gives me an excuse for staying on top of new developments on the writing scene. It's not a secret that when you teach, you learn a lot as well, and that's part of the appeal.

In November I will be teaching for two weeks in Las Vegas and those classes will be filmed and turned into DVDs for people who can't make it to my live workshops, so that will be another way to share my methods and I'm very pleased about that. .

Persist: I myself place a good deal of emphasis on the need for “practice” and recommend a daily practice-such as meditation-as a fine model for the writing practice. To what extent does something similar figure in to your workshops and individual sessions?

Jurgen: I have developed a lot of what I call "right brain" tools and exercises that use visualizations, dreams, and techniques like mind mapping. I know from my own experience and that of my students that these make writing easier, more enjoyable, and more organic. I think it was Michelangelo who said the figure was already in the marble, he was just chipping away the parts that weren't the figure so he could liberate it. I have much the same attitude toward stories. I believe they develop in our subconscious mind and we just have to clear the way for them to make their way into the conscious mind. We have to allow the story to appear rather than to try to force it.

That is one reason I am against the trend toward using templates or formulas in screenwriting. I believe the story should determine the structure, not the other way around. Too many aspiring screenwriters start with the three act structure or the hero's journey or some other model in mind and try to make the story fit it. That results in very predictable and inauthentic stories. Of course that doesn't stop many of them being made into predictable and inauthentic films--some of which make a lot of money.

I think it's important to feed your mind with lots of different things: mythology, music, art, nature, and some foolishness. Pay attention to your dreams and take time just to wander and be quiet. You are filling the well that eventually you will dip into to get the material you will turn into a story. It's not fashionable to say so, but we need to disconnect sometimes, to waste a bit of time, to leave the phone and the computer turned off so we can hear ourselves.

Persist: I am also much concerned with the predicament of writers and artists who are not and may never expect to earn a reliable living following their passion. How do you advise those with the passion of the amateur rather than the goals of the professional?

Jurgen: If you base your judgment of your work and your life on how much material success you will have, you have come up with a prescription for unhappiness. The cliche is that good work will find an audience but sadly I don't think that's always true. In our culture, the writers and artists who are great at self-promotion tend to get the attention, not necessarily the ones with the most talent. I worked in Hollywood for about ten years and it really is a place where "you are only as good as your last picture." That attitude is soul-destroying and was one of the reasons I left and moved to London. Here I've made less money but have been happier, and that's a good trade.

First, I think you have to love the process and your creation (which is not the same as thinking it's perfect, of course). For instance, I wrote a novel that so far is unloved by publishers. But I am very fond of the two central characters and will be glad I got to know them and to spend a year with them, even if the book is never published. Actually, if I don't find a traditional publisher probably I will self-publish and at least introduce these characters to my friends. If you don't enjoy the act of creating something, if you think it will be worth doing only if you sell your creation, maybe you should be doing something else.

However, naturally we all want to have our work reach as many people as possible. One way forward is to learn about marketing as well as creating. I have written two books on this topic, again because I needed to learn the process and thought I might as well share what I was learning. It's still not my favorite part of what I do, but I know that I need to do it.

By the way, if you are shy, it would be a good idea to try to overcome that. I am confident when teaching or public speaking, but I have a basic shyness that I realize has been a hindrance. Maybe my next book will be about how to overcome shyness! Actually that is one of the reasons I first learned hypnosis and it did help.

Back to your question, it really helps if you have a day job that leaves you enough energy to pursue your creative activities. Or if you have a rich spouse or partner. I am thankful every day that I have been able to make a good living doing what I love, but the hard truth is that for some the act of creation will have to provide enough satisfaction--not because they are less talented but because life is not always fair.

Persist: To what extent and in what ways does your practice of hypnotherapy feed into your work as an advisor to writers?

Jurgen: The visualization tools I use for myself and with my students and clients could be called "hypnosis lite." They give an easier access to the subconscious mind and sometimes yield remarkable results. For instance, one exercise is in your imagination going into the character's residence and finding a photo or painting of great importance to him or her. This happens in a light trance, and 99% of the people I do this with find the image and often it gives them a sudden greater understanding of their character.

I also use it to help people with creative blocks. In a light trance, they get into a dialogue with the block, which usually is a form of protection against rejection. Then, in the waking state, we figure out how to build in that protection so they can move forward. For instance, perhaps someone is blocked from finishing a novel because they fear it will be rejected. We make a deal that when they finish it, they have the option of never showing it to anyone. When they get to that stage, we make the deal that they will show it to only one person who is supportive but candid. The process continues small step by small step so that it feels safe all along the way. And when they are ready to send out the manuscript, I suggest they start work immediately on something else so not all their emotions will be invested in the project they have just finished.

It's unfortunate that for most people the word hypnosis brings images of people on stage doing Elvis impressions or a funny dance. Not only does it trivialize a tremendously valuable tool, it makes them afraid that the hypnotist will somehow have total control over them. Of course that's not what it's about in the context of creativity, but that image is hard to counteract.

Jurgen Wolff is a writer and teaches writing and creativity techniques internationally. He has written nine books, including "Creativity Now!| and "Your Writing Coach," as well as more than 100 episodes of television (including "Benson," "Family Ties" and "Relic Hunter,", mini-series (including "Midnight Man" starring Rob Lowe), TV movies and feature films. His plays have been produced in London, New York, Los Angeles and Berlin. He lives in London.


Greg Spalenka said...

Wonderful interview. Really enjoyed it.
Hypnosis is a bit like meditation, accessing our deeper wisdom and confidence.

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sherrie hawker said...

fine art helped me to stop self abusing, it was art mostly from the subconscious mind. i overdosed, cut with one cutting an artery and had no self love. through therapy the self love came after the fine art helped to stop self abusing. salt lake city wanted me to do an art show, i had no art classes. 7 out of 13 piecses were sold. if you self abuse please try drawing whatever comes out for atleast 30 min. and see if you feel the same way. share

sherrie hawker said...

thank u for putting my statement up. i worry a little about some of the gymnasts that i coach if they will see this. but honesty, is essential in my healing. if i loose a job because of this, then so be it. i would like to do a book and put my art pictures in the book on my story of my life. i think this book would help many people to have hope.
i have no idea how to write a book but i have been writing or blogging. sherrie h.