We Really Do Make Our Own Luck

Looking for fame and fortune in Hollywood or its various annexes in, say NYC, or Sheboygan? Well, good news, fellow creatives. Turns out that even if showbiz success is all luck, we’re still in control. Cuz, as this article points out being lucking is “an easy skill to learn.”

Yeppers, it had us at the word “easy” too. (Is that so wrong?)

by Richard Wiseman

A decade ago, I set out to investigate luck. I wanted to examine the impact on people’s lives of chance opportunities, lucky breaks and being in the right place at the right time. After many experiments, I believe that I now understand why some people are luckier than others and that it is possible to become luckier.

To launch my study, I placed advertisements in national newspapers and magazines, asking for people who felt consistently lucky or unlucky to contact me. Over the years, 400 extraordinary men and women volunteered for my research from all walks of life: the youngest is an 18-year-old student, the oldest an 84-year-old retired accountant.

Jessica, a 42-year-old forensic scientist, is typical of the lucky group. As she explained: “I have my dream job, two wonderful children and a great guy whom I love very much. It’s amazing; when I look back at my life, I realise I have been lucky in just about every area.”

In contrast, Carolyn, a 34-year-old care assistant, is typical of the unlucky group. She is accident-prone. In one week, she twisted her ankle in a pothole, injured her back in another fall and reversed her car into a tree during a driving lesson. She was also unlucky in love and felt she was always in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Over the years, I interviewed these volunteers, asked them to complete diaries, questionnaires and intelligence tests, and invited them to participate in experiments. The findings have revealed that although unlucky people have almost no insight into the real causes of their good and bad luck, their thoughts and behaviour are responsible for much of their fortune.

Take the case of chance opportunities. Lucky people consistently encounter such opportunities, whereas unlucky people do not. I carried out a simple experiment to discover whether this was due to differences in their ability to spot such opportunities.

I gave both lucky and unlucky people a newspaper, and asked them to look through it and tell me how many photographs were inside. On average, the unlucky people took about two minutes to count the photographs, whereas the lucky people took just seconds. Why? Because the second page of the newspaper contained the message: “Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” This message took up half of the page and was written in type that was more than 2in high. It was staring everyone straight in the face, but the unlucky people tended to miss it and the lucky people tended to spot it.

For fun, I placed a second large message halfway through the newspaper: “Stop counting. Tell the experimenter you have seen this and win £250.” Again, the unlucky people missed the opportunity because they were still too busy looking for photographs.

Personality tests revealed that unlucky people are generally much more tense than lucky people, and research has shown that anxiety disrupts people’s ability to notice the unexpected. In one experiment, people were asked to watch a moving dot in the centre of a computer screen. Without warning, large dots would occasionally be flashed at the edges of the screen. Nearly all participants noticed these large dots.

The experiment was then repeated with a second group of people, who were offered a large financial reward for accurately watching the centre dot, creating more anxiety. They became focused on the centre dot and more than a third of them missed the large dots when they appeared on the screen. The harder they looked, the less they saw.

And so it is with luck – unlucky people miss chance opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else.

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What’s That? Geniuses are all Psychos? No Kidding?!

We have to admit that we’re out of the loop when it comes to the traits of genuine geniuses. The only genius types we here at TVWriter™ deal with are showbiz geniuses, and, erm, they’re a whole different breed. (Quick, what’s the difference between Albert Einstein and Kanye? Huh? Huh?

god_is_crazy_by_fiskefyren-d6g1sovby Ilyana Romanovsky M.A. MFT.

Following the recent and popular article on the “Secrets of the Creative Brain” in The Atlantic magazine issue for the month of July, there has been an increased amount of discussion on where genius comes from and why it is often accompanied by mental illness. The age-old view that genius and madness are linked has its roots in classical Greece. Aristotle believed that, “those who have become eminent in philosophy, politics, poetry, and the arts have all had tendencies toward melancholia.” Seneca stated that, “no great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness.” And Socrates said that the poet has “no invention in him until he has been inspired and out of his senses.” Around the 19th century, the notion of madness and genius had become all but dogma, and many eminent psychiatrists devoted their lives to studying the pathological traits of genius.

The advent of psychoanalysis reinforced the espoused idea that madness and genius are linked. Sigmund Freud saw creative genius as a sign of neurosis. (1) Indeed, almost any outstanding achievement was suspect to some sort of psychopathology. Leonardo da Vinci, Mary Baker Eddy, Dostoevsky, and Woodrow Wilson were all sick and suffering souls in the eyes of psychoanalysts. The most recent discussion of genius came by way of Nancy Andreasen, chair of psychiatry at the University of Iowa, commenting on mild mania enhancing creativity, and that many of the eminent people in various fields had been manic-depressives. (2) In fact, Martin Luther King’s role in history was due in part to his manic and depressive episodes, with Andreasen concluding that “a variety of artists, writers, statesmen, philosophers and scientists have suffered from disorders of the mood.”

Despite popular endorsement of the link between genius and madness, the emergence of humanistic psychology in the 1960s saw creativity as a form of mental health. Rather than viewing a genius as a sick and damaged soul, he was one that was most sane. In fact, Abraham Maslow’s pyramid to self-actualization looks dramatically different from the perspective that held true for centuries prior. Maslow contended that the most basic physiological needs such as adequate food, water, and sleep must be addressed before someone can have a basic sense of safety. Further on up the pyramid, one cannot have a sense of positive esteem — which includes self-esteem, confidence, achievement, and respect for and by others — without first feeling a sense of love and belonging, including friendship, family, and a sense of intimacy. (3) So who is right? Should we reject the historic perspective of genius as madman and embrace the humanistic image of genius as the pinnacle of sanity, or is there some middle ground in the two extremes?

The resolution of this argument can be made by looking through historical records and identifying all the notable figures of time with known mental disorders. Such studies have been conducted, illuminating high percentages of diagnoses in persons considered to be gifted. These percentages may be high enough to cast doubt on the humanistic position. If we are to take these historical diagnoses at face value, we seem to resolve the debate. However, no one should be convinced about the matter according to historical figures alone. Rather than relying on subjective judgements of psychiatrists from years past, there is another way that might corroborate the notion that genius yields madness.

The work at the Berkeley’s Institute for Personality Assessment and Research offers one such way. In the past, many notable names have traveled to the institute to take a barrage of personality tests, mainly the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), which contains scales for assessment of personality structure and mental disorders. The results were striking. For example, the pathology of creative writers scored higher on the depression, mania, schizophrenia, paranoia, and health anxiety. Another pattern emerged when creative personalities took the EPQ or the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire, scoring higher on the scale for psychosis. (4)

Under close investigation, it does not seem too baffling that creative people would score higher on the psychosis continuum. Many of the traits required for creativity and innovation must defy tradition and accepted norm. The creative cannot be contained by wisdom of the old and persistently overcome many obstacles to reach greatness. Their ideas are often diffuse and lack a coherent sense of connection. For instance, for anyone who is familiar with some of Mozart’s correspondences, his letters lack sense and contain a touch of the bizarre.

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How to Have Your Eureka Moment

Time now to investigate the concept of “creativity.” Cuz, well, cuz it’s Sunday and we’ve got nothing more creative to do:

waiting-for-eurekaby Maria Konnikova

A man in a town married twenty women. There have been no divorces or annulments, and everyone in question is still alive and well. The man is not a bigamist, and he has broken no laws. How is this possible?

This is the so-called marrying-man problem, which psychologists often use to study creative insight: the process by which we suddenly figure out the answer to something that had previously stumped us. A problem makes no sense at first. But then we turn it around in our minds and, presto, the answer comes. So, naturally, Mark Beeman, a cognitive neuroscientist at Northwestern University, who studies insight and creativity, likes to pose questions like this one to applicants who want to work in his lab. (The answer to this particular conundrum is that the man is a priest.)

Beeman studies insight because it’s a key component in how creativity works—the main subject of his research. Creativity is the whole process of how we come up with new ideas; insight is just a step along the way, albeit an important one. A composer who writes a new, beautiful song has done something creative; the moment when she realized that she could end it on a minor chord was insight. In general, creativity seems to come when insight is combined with the hard work of analytical processing. A person can’t discover the theory of general relativity in a dream if he isn’t a physicist who’s done some heavy thinking about the subject beforehand.

In the field of psychology, there’s long been a certain haziness surrounding the definition of creativity, an I-know-it-when-I-see it attitude that has eluded a precise formulation. During our conversation, Beeman told me that he used to be reluctant to tell people what his area of study was, for fear of being dismissed or misunderstood. What, for instance, crosses your mind when you think of creativity? Well, we know that someone is creative if he produces new things or has new ideas. A choreographer, an artist, a writer, a scientist, or a mathematician with a novel discovery—these are the creatives, the people who bring something new into the world. And yet, as John Kounios, a psychologist at Drexel University who collaborates frequently with Beeman, points out, that view is wrong, or at least not entirely right. “Creativity is the process, not the product,” he says.

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How “Sleepless” Nights Can Make You More Creative

Well, nights of sleepus interruptus anyway. Sorry about the slightly exaggerated headline. Our SEO consultant told us to do it:


by Brian Cormack Carr

Are you the type of creative person who only generates ideas and solutions when you’ve had your full eight hours of shut-eye? Or perhaps you find your mind firing off with so many bright ideas that you sometimes find it hard to get to sleep?

Here’s how to consciously use sleeplessness to your advantage – by tapping its power to silence your inner critic and open you up to new streams of innovative thinking.

I was a student when I first came across Dorothea Brande’s book Becoming A Writer. At the time, writing loomed large in my life: I was writing essay after essay for my degree (English Literature and Language) and had also been appointed as a roving reporter for the student newspaper. Quite apart from that, writing was my first love and if I wasn’t doing it as part of the curriculum, I was doing it in my spare time.

I got Brande’s book out of the library because I was looking for a book that would help me to improve my technical writing skills. It did that to some extent, but the thing I remember most about it is an odd little exercise which seemed to be anything but practical.

Lose some sleep and find your originality

It involved writing on any subject for thirty minutes each day, immediately after waking up (the book instructed the reader to set an alarm clock for thirty minutes earlier than normal). Not only that, but the exercise included the strict admonition not to read what had just been written and to instead shut the book at the end of the designated period, and to repeat the entire process again the next day.

The aim, as I remember it, was to carry on in this fashion for two weeks straight and only then to go back and read what had been poured out onto the pages during this almost certainly blurry morning ritual.

I think I managed to do it for about four days before admitting defeat.

But what an interesting four days they were! When I looked back at what I written, I was surprised on two counts: not only was it far more coherent – and even well-written – than I would have believed possible in the circumstances; it was also far more original. In fact, I was able to develop one of those early morning pages into a short story that went on to win a university short story competition.

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A Refuge for Endangered Writers

This is an amazing program. The subject of this article isn’t only something we think is as worthwhile as it gets, it’s the kind of thing TVWriter™ actually wants to do on the West Coast. (Hmm, could this become a Kickstarter thing?)

burmesemuralby Carmen Gentile

 Writer Yaghoub Yadali first ran afoul of Iran’s hard-line leadership for the depiction of an adulterous affair in his first novel, “The Rituals of Restlessness,” an alleged affront that landed him behind bars. An accomplished TV director as well as writer, Yadali was sentenced to a year in prison on charges of publishing subversive material, even though it had been approved by state censors years earlier.

Widespread protests by his colleagues and supporters following his 2007 detention prompted authorities to release him after 41 days. Freed, but still under constant harassment, he spent the next four years looking over his shoulder, wondering when he would be detained again.

“I was waiting to be arrested every day,” he says, recalling those dark days from the comfort of his new home in Pittsburgh, a seemingly unlikely refuge for an Iranian dissident artist.

But Yadali has made a comfortable home here as the latest writer to be harbored by City of Asylum, a nonprofit haven for foreign-born scribes who endured imprisonment, or worse, in their home countries. The program provides free housing and a stipend for writers and their families.

“Since coming here I have been able to write without worrying about censorship or persecution,” says Yadali, who discovered the Pittsburgh-area program after first coming to the United States in 2012 for fellowships from Harvard and the University of Iowa. “At first it was strange to write without those limits.”

An English translation of the book that prompted his troubles with Iranian authorities will be published in the fall with the help of his benefactors in Pittsburgh.

City of Asylum founder Henry Reese was inspired to create the artist refuge in his hometown following a lecture in the late 1990s by writer Salman Rushdie, who had faced deaths threats for his work “The Satanic Verses” a decade earlier. “I respect those that stand up against authority to keep them open and honest,” says Reese.

During a visit to Pittsburgh, Rushdie spoke of literary asylums that he and a group of world-renowned writers had prompted the governments of several European cities to create.

Today, nearly three dozen cities on several continents are home to asylum programs for artists. Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum differs, however, in that it was established by a private citizen without state sponsorship.

Following Rushdie’s lecture, Reese says, he decided that he too could provide artists with a community that would allow them the freedom to work without fear. A former telemarketer and coupon book printer, Reese was determined to emulate the model Rushdie had described.

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LEGALLY BLONDE Writers Discuss Their Creative Process

ALO-024273Kirsten Smith & Karen McCullah

Back in 1991, our Beloved Leader Larry Brody decided he’d had it with showbiz and drastically changed his life, packing up the belongings that meant the most to him – um, that would be cowboy boots, his Ludwig drum kit, his comic book collection, and his best friend, The Navajo Dog – threw everything into a teeny little Mitsubishi 4×4 and headed for, New Mexico to, well, to live with Indians, actually.

Even while residing on the Santa Clara Pueblo, just north of Santa Fe, LB couldn’t quite call it quits and ended up teaching screen and TV writing and production at The College of Santa Fe. After a few years, to the joy of fans everywhere (and the dismay of executives everywhere also), a more enlightened and relaxed LB (we think it was the ‘shrooms) came back to L.A. and set about revolutionizing Saturday morning animation with shows like THE SILVER SURFER.

One of the highlights of our Boss’s college teaching career was his first class, which included one Karen McCullah, who partnered up with LB for awhile (professionally, we mean), and helped him develop the series of seminars and workshops that later evolved into this site and its classes. Since then, Karen’s come a long way, having co-written (with Kirsten Smith) such films as 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU, LEGALLY BLONDE, and THE HOUSE BUNNY, as well as the TV series GETTING PERSONAL and 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU. (Yeppers, kids, that concept really had wings.)

Here, as part of a series of video interviews by the Motion Picture Academy, Karen and Kirsten talk about their writing…and their writing lives:

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More neat stuff from the Academy