Flexing Your Creative Muscles

Let’s talk about creativity. Just you and I.

I get a lot of questions about “creativity” from a lot of different people, from students who are wrestling with a paper to business people who are looking to shake things up…and everybody wants to know basically the same thing: How can I be more creative?

Listen: Creativity is an elusive muse. She’s transparent and flits carelessly between trees and skyscrapers and gym lockers, and if you’re lucky you just catch a glimpse of her. But that’s the beautiful thing about her: all you need is a glimpse. You just get one look at her dead-on in the eye. And then she’s gone.


Fickle minx.

Too many of us forget the nature of creativity. Too many of us sit at our Very Important Desk and try really hard to come up with something creative. We start to sweat, our forehead gets furrows in it and our eyes get all squinty. Basically we look like we’re pooping. And there’s nothing less creative than pooping. When you look like you’re pooping, what comes out of you is probably going to be poop.

I Am So Angry

This is why chapter 4 has so much corn imagery.

That’s our problem: we go after the creative muse like she’s a big game animal; we arm ourselves with special paper and razor-sharp pens and just the right kind of Lapsang souchong tea and Coltrane’s best album and settle in to our temperature-controlled animal blind waiting for her to come by so we can shoot her, tie her up, and force her to give up all her secrets.

It’s supposed to be fun, and a lot of you are sucking the joy right out of it. You’re trying too hard.

Now, this is the point at which most creative guys like me will tell you: just relax, dude, let it flow, become one with the multiverse and the ideas will come to you.

475899233I have the power cosmic.  And munchies.

But that, my little ones, is a big fat lie.   In fact, relaxing and letting it flow probably a worse decision than trying to hunt the bitch down. Waiting is passive, waiting is uninvolved, waiting is weak. Waiting for her to show up at her own timetable is a great way to find yourself hanging out on reddit for a month looking at cat videos.


You know you’ve seen it.

Creativity is a muscle. You’ve got to exercise it. “But wait!” you say, “You’re telling me if I go into full beast mode I’ll scare her away, but if I do nothing, my creative muscle shrivels up until it looks like Olive Oyl’s bicep. That’s not fair!”

Good point. Your problem is you need a problem.

Remember: the entire reason creativity exists is because we need to solve problems. That’s where creativity came from in the first place. It’s not about writing a great story or coming up with a better way to sell inflatable pool slides, not at a fundamental level. It’s about your ability to solve a specific problem at a specific time. It’s about finding a creative way around a problem.

Want to exercise your creative muscles? Here’s a problem for you to solve.

How did this happen?

Ram ToughSeriously. I mean seriously.

No doubt you’re thinking of answers right now. The pot is bubbling. That elusive muse is peeking around the side of your door, giving you an idea. Don’t look right at her or she’ll disappear.

Now we go one step further. We offer her a chance to stick around. You already came up with your idea of how this happened (the most common answers? There is a road, bridge or farm truck just off camera from which the animal jumped).   But here’s how you get that creative minx to stick around. Ask this question: what is the dumbest possible reason this happened?

Now your creative survival brain is really engaged. Now it’s a competition.

Take a crack at this problem. If you’re really stuck, ask some friends.  You’ll be surprised how fast those muscles start flexing.

I’ll give a iTunes gift card to whoever comes up with the dumbest answer.


A.R.Witham is the creator behind Black Jack, the world’s first animated novel for iPad.

Click here to get Black Jack: A Moving Novel


Best Friends & Why We Need ‘Em

Those of you who know me know I love stories about friendship.  My favorite movie of all time is Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, not just because it has the best dialogue in the history of film outside the Coen Brothers, but because the whole focus of the movie is on the relationship between these two guys who love each other, hate each other, and ultimately would die for each other.


Die for each other?”  “You first.”

There’s another story going on right now about two guys whose friendship is funny and awesome and touching, and no doubt you’ve seen the pictures online.  I’m talking about the most unlikely of friends: Professor X & Magneto.


Seen here with New Mutant Elmo.

These two brilliant idiots (who have a combined age of nearly 150) have been running around all over New York acting like teenagers and pulling faces for the camera in the oddest of spots since 2013.  And keep in mind, these guys are knights.  Actual knights.

 Patrick Stewart Ian McKellan

I mean, seriously, look at SirPatStew’s face.  He’s hysterical.

It all started with their show on Broadway, Waiting for Godot, and some could argue, as a publicity stunt for the play.

article-1259655367183-04D2F500000005DC-117798_636x300This corn dog is all the profit we made the first week.

But recently they’ve started appearing without their signature bowler hats and doofing around while taking a poke at American football during the Super Bowl.

BfUXOhNIUAAdJq0La SúperBowl de Fútbol!  Viva los Broncos!

Their relationship has grown so close that Sir Ian McKellen was even the officiant at Sir Patrick Stewart’s wedding to his human embodiment of Viagra, Sunny Ozell, in September.


Credit: Jon Von Pamer

There’s nothing quite like having a best friend.  Doing stupid stuff, pulling pranks, getting in trouble, running from the cops, fighting Peter Dinklage…these are the moments that make real friendships priceless.


I’ll get you next time, Gandalf and Jean-Luc!

Outside of spouses & children, the deepest relationships we will ever have is with our besties.  We’re more fun, more energetic, and more…well, more ourselves when we’re going an an adventure with the guy or gal we love best.  So give your best buddy a call today…and go do something stupid together.

And grab some matching hats so everyone knows you’re a couple.


~A.R. Witham

Click here for Black Jack: A Moving Novel on your iPad:



A Peek Behind the Curtain


Writers get asked a lot of questions about their process, with questions like “How do you come up with the names of your characters?”  (Answer:  We look at names all the time from the perspective of what strikes an emotional chord) or “How many words do you write a day?” (Answer: Lots more when I’m under deadline) and “How do you come up with your ideas?” (Answer: Sweat and fervent prayer) but today I got a question about our artistic process for Black Jack, and I thought that was a much more interesting question, since I could answer with pictures.

At one point in the story, Jack Swift comes across the kekubi for the first time.  One of them rips off its own head and hammers it into a crossroads post.  Nice and grisly.   We thought it would make a good piece of motion art for the book.  It started (as all these things do) with my awesome drawing.

9-AEat your heart out Michelangelo.  I’m pretty sure there are 4th graders who could do better. (By the way, if you want to send in your art of favorite moments in Black Jack, please send them to us; they can’t possibly be worse than mine.)   If you look closely, you can see my little notes about the art, the scene, the symbols on the sign, and the animation.  So I send my stick figure off to Turner Mohan.  He comes back with this:

head on stick 2This is a quickie sketch to make sure he’s got it right.  (He actually delivered a completely different alt. sketch for this one, and you can find it in the SWAG section of the Black Jack menu.)  He’s made good decisions like getting closer to the subject, eliminating the feet of the corpse, and focusing on the eyes, which will be the primary animation.  I say “way better than mine, dude,” and he delivers his final pencil:

Head on a Stick 001Awesome.  So then Ryan Wing and I go to work.  We layer the pencils over the Black Jack parchment texture, tatter the edges, give it some aging, pepper in a little vignetting and set the eyesockets on fire.  And zoom in a little more to focus on the green fire.

c-itunes-banner-cleanAfter this, we separate the foreground from the background, spin the circular hash-lines to provide a sense of queasiness, animate the green fire and let the hair start blowing in the wind.  Pepper in some creepy sound effects, and we’re ready for drama.  And that’s how we built all 24 pieces of major motion art for the app.

If you want to see the whole thing in action (it’s much better when it happens while you’re reading; a special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing) you can see it in Chapter 9: Madrigal Verde of Black Jack: A Moving Novel on your iPad.


Click here for Black Jack: A Moving Novel on your iPad: