Welcome to Input/Ouput!
Let's fill up our creative wells
Hello everyone, and welcome to the first issue of Input/Output!
This newsletter is FREE and you can expect it 3-4 times a month, with the majority of those missives being shorter than this one. We all have enough newsletters to read!
Today, I’m going to do a brief overview of the concept of this newsletter, then share a spreadsheet template you can use if you’re interested. I’ll include a little bit more about myself at the end, after you’ve seen ~the goods~.
THE IDEA: I’ve always been fascinated by breaking the creative process down into parts to see what makes it tick. This newsletter is geared toward helping us surf the ebb and flow of our creative energy, and discover strategies for maintaining and building it up. It will feature a mix of exercises, recommendations for TV/movies/art/writing that have filled up my well, as well as original interviews with creative people working in a variety of fields like comedy, ceramics, illustration, filmmaking, late night, maybe architecture? Do people have that job for real or is it just a career in rom-coms?
THE PROCESS: Over the past three years, I’ve been tracking my creative input/output in a very simple Google sheet, and it’s done more to change my writing practice than anything else I’ve tried.
Here’s a version you can make a copy of and fill in on your own. Just click “File” and then “Make a Copy” to store your version in your drive.
Sometimes I add columns for a month to track something new (like the month I wanted to read a poem a day) and sometimes I decide to buckle down and just focus on one thing. I’ll talk more in future newsletters about things I’ve tracked and how they led me to change my behavior.
For our basic template, here are the reasons I included each column:
Date: Always good to be anchored in time, generally; also makes it easier to find things.
Writing Time/Project Worked On: If you’re into crafting, change “writing” to “scrapbooking.” The goal here is simply to define what you worked on, specifically, and for how long, so at the end of the month you can see how much time you spent on creative pursuits.
Input: Here, I track anything I watched, read, or saw that was interesting to me. Sometimes it’s a story like this that I paste in the link for, or it’s a blog post like this that changed my movie-watching habits for months.
Anything Interesting? Capture the things that are interesting to you—we want to start to see that feedback loop between input and output!
And the final two categories, Something I Want to Change and Something I Want to Keep Doing, are drawn from the sports psychology practice of BALANCED CRITIQUE. Quite simply, it’s a way of evaluating your “performance” (you may not want to think of a creative pursuit that way and that’s fine! Just using the terms from sports psych) in a non-judgmental way, and starting to slowly push toward the behaviors that are bringing you closer to your goal. For example, you may want to change “watched five YouTube videos on niche perfume houses prior to writing and found it hard to get into my story afterward” (as a, uh, random example, I certainly don’t do that) and keep doing “I liked having a to-do list from the end of my writing time yesterday, so I could get a running start today.”
And that’s it! Try keeping the doc open on your desktop and fill it in, briefly, at the end of each day.
THE GOAL: to start to see what might be causing “writer’s block” or periods of low inspiration, to see patterns in the articles you’re reading that might be the basis for a new work, and to start to get a sense of the right balance of input to output for you. Sometimes you need to just input, other times you put on the blinders and just output. But let’s demystify the creative process a bit, shall we?
If you want to see a longer example of this playing out for me, here it is around the Disney+ show Andor:
Yes, I know, you all watched and loved this when it came out. I did not, because 1) I was not raised watching Star Wars, have no connection to it, and it seems a little late to get involved now, and 2) I was convinced Andor was the name of the planet the show took place on, so I clearly did not have a pre-existing attachment to Diego Luna’s character (have not seen Rogue One). But while healing from a medical emergency, I decided to trust and dive in.
And…wow. I hope Andy Serkis’ Emmy nameplate for episode ten has already been engraved and nailed on that statue. But the main reason I was so entranced by the twelve-episode first season is this:
Cassian Andor as a character goes from out for himself/disengaged to in it for the overall good/completely dedicated.
This is a challenging character evolution to write, and wouldn’t you know it, exactly the character arc I was struggling with rewriting in my first comedic novel.
After finishing the show, I sat down and fired off over 1k words on WHAT I had learned, and HOW I could implement those ideas into the rewrite of my novel for my protagonist, Mina. Here are a few things I wrote down (loose thoughts!):
“I really liked how it started close in on one character (Cassian) and then widened its scope to show how none of us can win as individuals against an evil force, but must band together to have any chance of taking it down. Similarly, Mina is highly individualistic at the top of the story, but ends by being collaborative and leading a team. I should map out her plot points in that journey and adjust the ones at the beginning.”
“There's a bit of a Hero's Journey element with both Cassian and Mina, people coming to have consciousness of the world around them and how people are slotted into roles. I should review those stages and see if I can hit any of them harder in Act 1.”
“I loved how characters like Kino gained awareness that they've been cogs in a bad system. His line, "never more than 12," about the guards hit so fucking hard at the end of ep 9, and I would love to give Jason (another character in my novel) a moment like that as well, where his changing awareness contributes to a massive plot point.”
This is a perfect example of how I needed input to output. Watching a show in a world and genre that I didn’t think would be relevant to me yielded the biggest leap in character arcs that I’d experienced in over a year of rewriting. Thank you Cassian Andor, a character I never knew existed until several weeks ago!
This one was long, but future missives will be more succinct! See you soon, input/outputters.
ABOUT ME: My name is Caitlin Kunkel and I’m a comedy writer, long-time teacher, and creator of The Second City’s Online Satire Writing Program. I’ve also taught for Catapult (sadly recently deceased) and taught/spoken at a slew of colleges, including Northwestern, Yale, Brown, Pacific Northwest College of Art, Penn State, and lots of others. I currently teach classes and consult on gift book proposals, modern adaptations of classic works, satire, and modern comedic literature. I co-founded The Belladonna Comedy and the Satire and Humor Festival, and I co-wrote the satirical gift book New Erotica for Feminists: Satirical Fantasies of Love, Lust, and Equal Pay, named one of the Top 10 Comedy Books of 201 by Vulture.
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