BF creatives have been reading some improving books. Here's the first couple of reports back.
First, Senior Copywriter, Wainani, tells us what Stephen King's On Writing teaches us about fundraising.
In his memoir, On Writing, Stephen King covers everything from the horrifying accident that nearly ended his life, to his special formula for improving every written work (2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%).
Now, you may be wondering why on earth you (a fundraiser) should care what Stephen King (a commercial writer notoriously unpopular with critics) has to say about writing.
Well, Stephen King has sold somewhere in the neighbourhood of 350 million books. But also, he has the ability to terrify. And that means he can make you feel strongly about someone you don’t know – someone that isn’t even real.
The sad truth is, bad stuff happens all the time, and we don’t really feel much – unless it happens to someone we care about.
Below then something interesting. Stand-up Norm McDonald explains how the news gets under his skin, turning Janice – an unknown person – into someone he cares about. (There is some 'choice' language in this clip and possibly requires a slightly warped sense of humour).
And that is our very first job as fundraisers – to make people care about Janice (or whoever stands in her place for an appeal). The second, of course, is to give people the power to help Janice. And in that, we have even more to offer than Stephen King: real people, real problems, and a real power to do something about it.
But first, we have to make people care.
King does this remarkably well. When Paul Sheldon gets his foot cut off in Misery, I felt the pain in my ankle. I smelled the salty odour of blood. I saw the glint of the axe and if you’d asked me for £10 (or whatever) to stop it I’d have given it to you gladly. And I know Paul Sheldon isn’t real.
If we can get people to care half as much about our real beneficiaries as King gets us to care about his characters, we’d be writing some fantastic fundraising. I, for one, am following as much of his advice as I can.
And in this vein, I’m proud to say that this post is 10% shorter than the first draft.
Next, Creative Director, Aline, extracts some useful tips from Imagine by Jonah Lehrer
This is another book that doesn't seem immediately applicable to fundraising, until you read the sub-head 'How Creativity Works'.
Jonah Lehrer explores how the human imagination works and explodes a few myths, such as the idea that creative thinking is the preserve of a special and inherently gifted group of people.
I read this book a few weeks ago. It's a quick and entertaining read – my only complaint being that it's written in a style that starts to get a bit grating if you read too many business/personal development style books (which possibly I do).
Still, a couple of things have stayed with me. Most significantly, Jonah Lehrer demystifies the creative process and, drawing on research, shows how you can help put your brain in a position to find answers to tough problems that require creative thought.
Here are some techniques, detailed in the book, that you too can use to think creatively.
Live with the pain
'Every creative journey begins with a problem,' says Lehrer and we are led to believe it proceeds effortlessly and swiftly towards its inevitable conclusion: a Eureka moment. This is a mistake.
"When we tell one another stories about creativity...we neglect to mention the days we wanted to quit, when we believed that our problems were impossible to solve...Instead we skip straight to the breakthroughs...The danger of telling this narrative is that the feeling of frustration – the act of being stumped – is an essential part of the creative process."
So it's fine to struggle. It's fine to think you won't find the answer. And when you stop looking, it might just appear anyway.
Paint the walls blue
Here's what a recent study found. When participants took cognitive tests against a red backdrop, their attention to detail was at its best. Against a blue background, these skills suffered but participants were twice as successful at tasks requiring an imaginative answer.
Be childish. Play
This is another great experiment, which was carried out with two groups. Group A was asked to imagine themselves as 7-year-olds then think about what they would do with a free day. Group B was asked the same question, without first having to think of themselves as a child.
Both groups then carried out various creative tests and, you guessed it, Group A out-performed Group B. So if you've got a tough creative nut to crack, just imagine yourself as a child before getting into it.
Be miserable (to a degree)
Another study reveals that a small amount of melancholy can apparently make us more observant and persistent when it comes to searching for creative solutions.
Surround yourself with the right people
My favourite part of the book was when the focus turned to building a team of creatives. Is it best to have a group of people who know each other well or, at the other end of the spectrum, strangers who come together to spark off each other?
Well, the answer is somewhere in between. And a fascinating study of Broadway musicals delivered an equation to determine just how familiar the members of a team should be with each other in order to produce the most successful work. They need to be comfortable working together, but not so comfortable that there are no new ideas. So a mixture of experience and inexperience delivers the best ideas.
There's plenty more useful and stimulating information in Imagine. So if you want to get a copy, click here.