When it comes to distractions, background noise, and research rabbit holes, YouTube is one of my favorites (what can I say, I’m a Millenial). I love kicking back with a video or two after getting home from work or spending a few minutes on my day off catching up on what I haven’t seen yet.
I watch Jenna Moreci‘s weekly videos on writing religiously (even quoting them as part of an essay I wrote in college). I’ve surprisingly gotten a lot of great storytelling tips from channels like CinemaSins. I love Malinda Kathleen Reese and there are a number of lines from her Google Translate Fails series that I quote on a regular basis. I’m eagerly awaiting the launch of the Pinsent Tailoring channel.
Smosh has seen a few changes in recent years, from new members joining to the departure of the channel’s creators Anthony Padilla, massive shakeups in the wake of parent company Defy Media’s shutting down and later being picked up by Mythical Entertainment, and with those changes have come a number of series on the channels.
One particular favorite of mine is their Try Not To Laugh series.
The premise is simple. One person sits in the Hot Seat and fills their mouth with water, and each other cast member is given a set amount of time to make them laugh, thus spitting out the aforementioned water.
Earlier this month, a video went up on Smosh Pit titled “We React to our Canceled Try Not To Laugh Episode,” which you can check out below:
As the title indicates, the video features several Smosh members watching a Try Not To Laugh episode that ended up being scrapped.
About six minutes into the video, Shayne asks if he can offer some constructive criticism after viewing one of Courtney’s bits.
“I think it actually was all great. The glaring problem I see is that you weren’t believing it.“
This point is reiterated towards the end of the video when Shayne remarks, “In retrospect, honestly guys, this could have worked but you had too many people who clearly weren’t believing in their jokes when they’re going out…occasionally we’ll be like, ‘I don’t know about this bit, whatever.’ But it felt like too often you guys were coming out going all [Shayne noises]. The bits are funny. The ideas were funny. It’s that you guys didn’t think they were funny.”
These comments reminded me of what our director had at one point said in the rehearsal meetings leading up to the Murder Mystery Dinner last November (a fundraising event you can read more about here) and how our cast members needed to really believe in their roles in order bring those characters to life and to make our audience really think they could have been motivated to kill the victim.
To paraphrase Patrick’s teachings, “The best actor in the world is a four-year-old pretending to be Batman because he truly believes he is Batman in that moment and is so convincing that you believe him.”
Shayne’s critiques on his castmates’ bits also got me thinking about my own writing.
If you’ve been keeping up with my posts or following me on social media, you might recall that I’m currently working on a new book titled Forged in the Salle.
What you might not know is that this particular project is that, for some reason, it’s been giving me a hard time lately.
I’ve been taking a different approach to this one than previous novels I’ve written in letting my Pantser side come out more and switching up my research methods, so I know that’s been impacting my overall process.
I’m also in the midst of an unanticipated rewrite after having lost my notebook and the fourteen chapters it contained, which has me frantically attempting to recapture the essence of what I had written before (which is tacking on an additional pressure).
Even with having to start back at square one, this project feels like it’s moving a lot slower than others I’ve written, and I haven’t been able to figure out why.
However, the idea that Shayne was speaking to in this particular Smosh video made me realize that one of the reasons I might be finding difficulty with Forged in the Salle is that I am not believing enough in the story.
This isn’t to say I don’t think the idea I have is good. It’s one of the stories I’ve been most excited about, even though I did decide to put it on the backburner to start the first draft of Against His Vows since that was the more developed concept of the two at the time. Blacksmithing is a topic I’ve been wanting to research for a good while and being able to combine it with fencing was one of the things that helped shape the story during the initial plotting stages, and that excitement only grew when I realized how well Nancy’s character fit into all of it.
But the rewrite has gotten me in a mindset of I just need to get it done so I can move on.
It’s also affecting my view of the project. Since this is the second time I’m looking at these chapters, I’m having to face some of the problems I was ignoring the first time around with my I can fix this in editing mantra.
That is becoming coupled with not feeling like everything is solid the way I felt while working on my other books.
At the time of writing this post, I don’t feel like I’ve gotten Marcus’s voice down as easily as I was able to with other male protagonists. I’m doubting the progression of Marcus and Nancy’s relationship and if they’ll be a believable romance by the end of this (let’s not forget I write historical romance, which makes things like chemistry and sexual tension a chief concern). Should Nancy’s sister have a larger role and be something beyond the voice of reason compared to their stepbrother who is encouraging Nancy’s endeavors at the salle? Is Marcus too much of a jerk when he’s talking about women on a general basis at the salle or does it come across as general locker-room talk without crossing that line? But then again that emphasizes one of the themes I’m playing with throughout the story.
Am I able to call it a Sophomore Slump when it’s the third book I’ve written under this pen name and the fourth overall, but then again it’s most likely going to be the second one I release since it takes place before and ties into Against His Vows?
It’s all twisting into the proverbial spiral.
The thing to remember is doubt impacts creativity.
As Shayne points out in the Smosh video, the bits his castmates come up with are good ideas with lots of potential but ended up being not as funny as they were cringy because they were not being believed in.
The thing with being creative in any means, be it improv comedy skits or writing or art of any kind, is that you don’t have to go in with a set plan. You don’t need a clear-cut plan about every single aspect before diving in. In the case of the Try Not To Laugh videos, it seems there might be times where someone might have an inside joke prepared knowing who will be in the Hot Seat or something in mind to test out but, from my perspective as a viewer, it appears that a lot of the performances are improv based on what costumes or props the cast has available to them at the time of filming (a fact which just goes to show how talented they are).
What you do have to have is some level of belief in it. Belief is a creative glue, so to speak, and it holds everything together. With the skits, when you could see that the cast wasn’t committing themselves to their ideas, they started to fall apart.
Unlike a number of professions out there, writing and other artforms often start as a hobby or a side thing until the creator reaches a point in their career where they are able to make a steady income from their craft. If you’re like me and working a retail job with student loans to repay, it’s not easy to find the balance between the “real world” and your creative life. It takes a strong faith in yourself and in your art to bring it to fruition, whatever that level is for you. To put everything you can into creating, even though when you’re starting out you’re not necessarily being paid and might be judged or even be looked down upon for pursuing it.
And then, in the case of writing a novel, it’s not only you that needs to believe in the story. Beta readers, agents and publishers if you choose to take the traditional route, and, most importantly, your audience need to believe in it. They need to believe that the world your story is set in is as real as their own. That your characters are worth rooting for. That their causes are worth fighting for.
Your readers need to believe that your story is worth being told. How can you accomplish that when you, as the author, don’t believe in it?
I think when a writer sets off on a new project, they believe in it. Every time you sit down to write, there is at the bare minimum a part of you that believes in it. Even on the hard days, when you feel like you’re writing yourself in circles and find yourself tripping all over your own thoughts.
You wouldn’t be doing it if you didn’t believe in it.
That’s what I’m trying to keep in mind moving ahead with Forged in the Salle and my advice for my fellow artists. It takes courage to create and faith in your craft to keep at it.
When you are feeling stuck, try to remember what it was about that project that made you say, “This is it. This is the story I want to tell.”
What was it that drew you to the project? What made you believe in it?
Rediscovering that spark can be the thing that makes your story thrive.