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Spelling Bee and Creativity


I like to play the New York Times spelling bee game.


Recently, we took a family vacation, and I worried that it would be too cumbersome playing the game on my phone, as opposed to my desktop computer.


But I actually found I was more successful without the computer keyboard to guess words.


With the keyboard, I’m just typing and guessing willy-nilly.


But without it, I’m forced to use my brain. I have often found that the last few words I’m looking for will come to me when I’m away from the game.


It seems an important lesson in creativity. I’ve long thought that film music has suffered from the digital workstations that let composers “paint by sound design.”


Using the old method—primitive pencil and paper, with a piano to work things out—forces them to engage their brain, not their fingers, and certainly not their software.


Similarly, when I’m screenwriting (I’ve been doing a lot lately, all on spec per the strike, of course)—well, I don’t know if I can possibly explain how certain plot twists or lines of dialogue come to me.


The last thing I do, however, is “improvise” them with the software. They pop into my brain, and I get them on the page. When they don’t come, I take some time away to work them out or ask myself where I made a wrong turn and how to correct it.


I’m only able to do this from years of practice—from internalizing the rhythms of scene work, and training myself instinctively to avoid and subvert clichés, especially when it comes to truthful human behavior of my characters.


In all cases—whether it’s spelling bee, composing, or writing—there’s no short-cut around years of practice.

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