Jurgen Wolff Interview : Page 3 of 3
Author and Writing Coach Jurgen Wolff
Q: Can you give our readers a simple writing exercise to do at home when they are feeling uninspired, blocked, or "fresh out of ideas"?
A: I like to collect those postcards that you see in racks in restaurants and stores they're usually advertising something but the images are quite varied. I keep a stack of them on my desk and when I need some stimulus, I pick one at random and try to forge an association with what I want to write. The image is really just the starting point, the idea is to let it nudge your ideas to start flowing.
For example, later today I'm writing a dinner scene for the script I mentioned above. I've just picked a postcard randomly, and it shows a kitten. This makes me think about the fact that in some countries they eat kittens or puppies, and it gives me the idea that maybe the chef has decided to serves something very unusual (not a kitten or puppy!). The way the characters react might be a good way to reveal a bit more about their personalities.
You don't need the postcards, you can do the same with any magazine or book that has a lot of different kinds of pictures. If you're not working on anything specific, a good exercise is to take an image and write a couple hundred words about it. Maybe the kitten was a Christmas present for a child...
Q: Is music an important inspirational tool for you? Many writers I know love to listen to music while they create. What's in your stereo or iPod right now that just you can't get enough of?
A: I love Pandora.com. You can listen to music on your computer as you write, and it's free. You name a few songs or artist you like and they will play songs by them and also by others whose music is similar. You can judge their selections, so gradually the program gets better at predicting what you'll like. You can set up a separate "channel" for each kind of music you like I have a blues channel, a world music channel, a classical music channel, even a country music channel, and I listen to them as the mood takes me. At the moment, Mavis Staples is the artist I'm listening to a lot.
Q: What is the most fabulous advice you have ever received? Who handed down these words of wisdom?
A: There are two books I recommend highly for inspiration about being creative and following your dream I re-read these once a year. One is "The Courage to Create" by Rollo May, the other is "No More Second-Hand Art" by Peter London.
One very specific bit of advice I got from TV writer/producer Stephen Cannell was, "A good idea, badly presented, sounds like a bad idea." That applies to pitching and to writing query letters and book proposals. It taught me that you have to apply your creativity to marketing yourself and your work, too. It led me to researching the creative and inexpensive ways that people have done this, and I used that information to write the book, "Do Something Different" (Virgin Books). It contains 100 case studies, with suggestions for how you can apply what each of those people did, to your own efforts. It has been published in Spain, Korea, India, and China, as well as the U.S. and U.K., and I've had emails from all over the world from people who have said it inspired them.
Q: What is your favorite way to relax when you're not at work?
A: Reading, movies, and the theater. I also like to do some cartooning. My "Focus" book has one of my cartoons for every chapter, and I've also got a cartoons page on my Web site.
Q: Just for fun Do you have any tattoos?
A: No, maybe because I'm from the generation when the only people who had them were sailors and carnival workers. Now they're so common that they don't seem very interesting anymore.
Q: What is your favorite little "guilty pleasure" the most luscious way you spoil yourself after a hard day at work?
A: I'm a bookaholic. One room in my flat is a library/guest room and there are more books in there than I'll probably ever have time to read. Of course that's no reason not to buy a few more...and there's a big book store one block from where I live.
Q: What inspired you ten years ago? What inspires you today?
A: Ten years ago I was working as a consultant for Sony to help them develop series for German TV it was kind of a new frontier. Today I'm inspired by how easy it is for the individual, or a small group of people, to create and distribute material without requiring huge budgets or the OK of established big businesses. I think it will be easier for the writer or artist who has a unique vision that may fall outside of the mainstream to find people who will appreciate what he or she does and, with luck, to pay for it as well so the artist can keep on creating.
Q: What is your favorite movie? Favorite book? Favorite artist? (Or your top ten list of favorites )
A: My favorite films are "Lawrence of Arabia," "Treasure of the Sierra Madre," "Midnight Cowboy," "Bonnie and Clyde," "The Godfather I and II." The other day I saw "Charlie Wilson's War," which is very good.
Among contemporary authors, I'm fond of Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaasen, and Robertson Davies. "Freedomland" is one of the best books I've read for long time, by Richard Price don't hold the movie version against him! My favorite artists are Vincent van Gogh, Salvador Dali, and purely for his marketing genius Andy Warhol.
One thing that influenced me a lot was watching the original "Twilight Zone," created, hosted, and sometimes written, by Rod Serling. He used the best writers of the day, including Richard Matheson. As a teen-ager, I read in the newspaper that Serling had been hospitalized and I wrote to him in care of the hospital, telling him how much the series had meant to me. He was kind enough to write an encouraging note back to me, and unfortunately he passed away not long after that.
Q: Where do you go when you need to "get away from it all" for awhile and re-focus your creative energies? It seems that most of the folks I work with have a need for solitude and a retreat from polite society once in awhile to keep those creative juices flowing why do you think this is so important for artists, writers, and other creative souls?
A: Yes, I think this is absolutely necessary. Writing looks easy from the outside, but we know better. It's a kind of outpouring, and periodically you have to refill the well. I need a little of that time every day, just to be quiet somewhere, or to read, or to surf the internet with no particular purpose. I work out at the gym three times a week and find that is suitably boring to also serve as a brain-rest. In between projects I do also travel to some nice warm places and just read or hang out the most isolated was a couple of weeks in the Maldives. There was no TV, no newspaper, and just one phone to be used only in case of an emergency. It took a few days to get used to that, then it was bliss.
Q: You've already proven yourself as a screenwriter in the competitive world of Hollywood. Do you have any new scripts you're currently working on? Which actors or directors do you dream of working with in the future?
A: I've actually shifted more toward books recently, but I am working on the global warming script I mentioned before, with an up-and-coming director named Fulvio Bernusconi. I would love to have Edward Norton or John Cusack star in something I've written they are two of the best younger actors around.
It was fun having Kelsey Grammer star in my film, "The Real Howard Spitz." I actually appear with him in a scene toward the end (I'm the tall guy in the coffee shop, complaining to his agent about writing sitcoms). If you see it, you'll understand why my acting career never advanced...
Q: You've traveled the world, inspiring people around the globe with your workshops on creativity and right-brain writing. Can you talk about some of your experiences in using creative work as a bridge to communicating with and understanding people from other cultures? What do you feel is the most important aspect of your work?
A: I hope that I can help people to connect with what only they can write and to help them have the courage and persistence, as well as the craft, to keep going in the face of rejection. These days, in so many cases when you submit something, you get no answer not a 'no,' just silence, which is worse, I think. It's easy to get discouraged and think about giving up, or to get blocked and not find your own way out. I hope that my books, websites and blog will encourage people to follow their vision and dream.
One of the most rewarding times I've had was going to Soweto to help some of the young people in the township start to write their own stories stories the world had never heard. More recently, I taught in Slovenia and again the writers there were so excited about finding their own voices and figuring out how to share their stories. That process goes on inside every individual and it deserves to be honored. •
A personal note to our readers from Jurgen Wolff
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Molly Anderson-Childers is a a highly creative writer and artist from Durango, Colorado. More »