Archive

ON WRITING…

"To begin... To begin... How to start? I'm hungry. I should get coffee. Coffee would help me think. Maybe I should write something first, then reward myself with coffee. Coffee and a muffin. Okay, so I need to establish the themes. Maybe a banana-nut. That's a good muffin."

“To begin… To begin… How to start? I’m hungry. I should get coffee. Coffee would help me think. Maybe I should write something first, then reward myself with coffee. Coffee and a muffin. Okay, so I need to establish the themes. Maybe a banana-nut. That’s a good muffin.”

My favorite quote on Writer’s Block comes from Brian K. Vaughan:

“‘Writer’s block’ is just another word for video games. If you want to be a writer, get writing, you lazy bastards.”

I don’t play video games, but I 100% agree with him. The majority of what we call “writer’s block” is really just procrastination.  Laziness.

So how do you fight it?

Well, I’m going to do some rephrasing and put a positive spin on it here.

In my own writing, what I consider “Writer’s Block” is really “Typer’s Block.”  That is, the actual sitting down and putting words to paper.  I spend all day writing in my head and that never gets blocked.

If you’re feeling Typer’s Block—that is, you sit at your computer and open up your Final Draft doc and you type a sentence and nothing else comes out… just STOP.  Get up from your computer, go for a walk, stop typing and start writing.  

 

You can write anytime, anywhere, as often as you want, for as long as you want.

And you can always give that typing thing another shot tomorrow (after you finish your video games.)

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How does your character feel about snakes?

How does your character feel about snakes?

When you think about your friends and family what pops into your mind?

Is it their clothes? Their job? Their abs?

Or is it the thousands of hours you’ve spent together where they’ve gone out of their way for you… or didn’t.

For me, people are defined by four things:

1. How they treat other people.

2. Their dreams and passions.

3. Their environment (people, places, & things that surround them.)

4. Their career.

You may disagree with my order here, but it’s an important lesson to learn how other people see you. To learn how to define yourself. First and foremost, it’s how you treat others. I think that’s pretty hard to argue, yet we spend an awful lot of time trying to define ourselves with the latter two. As a professional writer, treating people with respect and love should be a higher priority for you than to be a great writer.

Now, apply that to the characters you write.

How often do we try to define our characters using career or environment? Those are just facts, paper definitions. They don’t tell you anything about a person.

Instead, write characters that are defined by their decisions, by the way they treat others, by what they do when faced with adversity. This is how we get unique, well-defined characters.

[This is a slightly tweaked version of a post from November 2, 2011]

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I’ve been perusing and occasionally posting on The Black Board – blcklst.com’s forums and had the pleasure of meeting writer Sutinder Bola.  We were discussing the idea of success and dealing with rejection in screenwriting and he posted the following inspiring statements.  Reposted here with his permission:

I was at the London Screen Writers Festival in 2010 and Tim Bevan of Working Title Films was doing a Q&A. He’s produced some of the biggest films in the last 20 years. Check him out on iMDB.

Even he said life in the movie business is a struggle. Every picture that gets made has to overcome “No” after “No” after “No”. But every “No” is one step closer to the magic “YES”.

You’ve just got to keep going, rejection is part of the job, it’s just like rewriting, you learn to live with it and eventually get better at handling it.

I also went to a Q&A at the British Film Institute featuring Simon Beaufoy (writer of The Full Monty, Slumdog Millionaire and 127 hours). He said one of the specs he feels most proud of is sitting in his drawer at home because nobody ever wanted to make it. Sometimes thats just how the cookie crumbles.

I graduated from Business School with a BA in Marketing and an MSC in Strategic Marketing and have worked in marketing for nearly 15 years. I’ve had a really good career, I’m proud of what I’ve achieved.

But I can honestly say I never felt anywhere near as good as I did when I finished the first draft of my first script. Or the 2nd draft. Or the latest draft that is being polished for The Black List.

I write because I know deep down it’s what I am supposed to do. Sure, I want to make a breakthrough and make a career out of it. And I am determined to do it. But if I don’t, I will always write. It’s what makes me feel good, it’s the best way for me to express how I see the world and what I feel about what I see.

I consider myself to be one of the few people in the world (but one of the many on TBB) who actually know what they want to do with their lives because 95% of people don’t.

Whether you sell a script or not the fact that you showed the confidence, discipline and perseverance to write one means you have already succeeded. I know I have.

You can find Sutinder on twitter.

 

Dick Van Dyke looks like he can pull it off, but he also had the benefit of a pre-recorded soundtrack.

Dick Van Dyke looks like he can pull it off, but he also had the benefit of a pre-recorded soundtrack.

I believe it’s very difficult to be successful at any one thing if you are doing many things.

And I get it, you’re creative. You’re talented. You can sing, dance, play guitar, act, draw, sculpt, and write. And it’s sexy to be a Renaissance (wo)man, a multi-hyphenate . But you’re not going to reach those 10,000 hours to be an expert at any one of these if you are splitting your time amongst all of them.

And the truth is no job is JUST that job anymore. Success means you also have to market yourself and network and be seen on social media. And more than likely all of that in addition to a day-job. There’s just not enough hours in a day.

So how do you choose your “one thing?”

1. Which one fulfills you the most?

Which one can you NOT not do? Which creative passion hurts the most to let go of? Which one do you find the most satisfaction, not in the results, but in the process? Which one do you dissapear into and find yourself thinking “where did the time go?”

2. Which one have you found the most success at?

There’s probably a reason for that success. Maybe it’s natural talent, or maybe it’s because you’ve put more time into it than the others. Either way, previous success is a good barometer for what you need to be doing.

3. Which one can you see yourself doing ten years from now?

Maybe playing in a band is something fun while you’re in your 20’s but do you wanna be doing it in your 40’s? Then why put so much energy into it now? We’ve only go so many hours on this earth, lets get to it!

It should be noted that I don’t take my own advice on this. I run a poster company, a freelance design business, co-run a production company, write essays for this blog, and write movies and comic books. But that’s at least just two industries – design & film. And the design stuff pays the bills, my day job. The writing also pays some bills, just much smaller ones. And I’m working on “slimming down.”

What about you guys? Did you used to stretch yourself thin? How did you focus in on your “one thing?”

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If only you’d get that big break.  If only you knew the right person.  If only your family was more connected.  If only you had just a little more luck.  If only you had more money, more free time, more guts, then you’d be writing full time, right?

If only… If only…

The truth is, the only thing separating you and professional writers is the amount of time you’ve put into your craft.  

I’m not basing that on my own experiences, but on the experience of those professionals.  In the words of three writers from film, comics, & books:

Terry Rossio (Pirates of the Caribbean, Aladdin)

I made the observation that anyone who worked at a job for ten years invariably became an expert at that job. This insight freed me from the fear of picking a so-called ‘impossible’ job. I could pick any field I wanted, free of intimidation, because it was guaranteed I would become an expert… if I was willing to stick to it for ten years. So I picked the job I really wanted deep in my heart: writing for movies.

Since Ted and I were going to be working and studying screenwriting for ten years, that took some of the pressure off. It doesn’t make sense to kick yourself after failing at something for four years, when the path you’re on is designed to take ten. This allowed a period of time to undertake an analysis and exploration of the business, the techniques, the craft, the history, etc. Step by step, from style to format to character to concept to theme, etc. In other words, we gave ourselves room to practice.

Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Lost)

Write more, do other stuff less.

That’s it. Everything else is meaningless. You can take all the classes in the world and read every book on the craft out there, but at the end of the day, writing is sorta like dieting. There are plenty of stupid fads out there and charlatans promising quick fixes, but if you want to lose weight, you have to exercise more and eat less. Period. Every writer has 10,000 pages of shit in them, and the only way your writing is going to be any good at all is to work hard and hit 10,001.

And this isn’t just some tired cliche, I believe that’s a provable mathematical equation. I started writing five pages a day, every single day, when I began my senior year of high school. That means I hit 10,001 roughly a year after I graduated NYU, which was exactly when I pitched Y: THE LAST MAN to Vertigo.

Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers, Blink)

An innate gift and a certain amount of intelligence are important, but what really pays is ordinary experience. Bill Gates is successful largely because he had the good fortune to attend a school that gave him the opportunity to spend an enormous amount of time programming computers-more than 10,000 hours… The Beatles had a musical gift, but what made them the Beatles was a random invitation to play in Hamburg, Germany, where they performed live as much as five hours a night, seven days a week. That early opportunity for practice made them shine. Talented? Absolutely. But they also simply put in more hours than anyone else.

…to invest an extraordinary amount of time in pursuing that particular passion. Again, not just for a little time. The magic number for them, for Mozart, and for so many outliers, as I call them, appears to be 10,000 hours.

10 years.  

10,000 pages.  

10,000 hours.  

How close are you to these milestones?  How much time have you spent deliberately practicing your craft today?  Be pro-active.  Get feedback.  What area’s are you weak in?  How can you work to actively build those skills?  Give yourself time.  Be patient.  Enjoy this period in your life.

It’s easy to write one script and then sit around complaining that no one wants it.  You can blame luck, you can blame nepotism, you can blame your financial situation, but there’s only one thing standing in the way of your success.

If you want to be a professional writer, you’ve got to put the time in.  There are no short cuts.

[This is a slight tweak on a previous post dated July 5, 2012 but damn if it doesn’t get me pumped every time I read it.]

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