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"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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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.

 

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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.]

My good pal Derek asks:

In writing novels/stories, I find I have a hard time letting dialogue be dialogue. I always want to add adverbs or describe facial expressions. I’m sure you’d have some good insight into this as a screenwriter.

Something I feel I’ve improved on is “showing instead of telling”, which obviously adds a great deal to storytelling, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on this as well.

This seems as good a time as any given the recent death of Elmore Leonard to revisit his “10 Rules of Good Writing:”

  1. Never open a book with weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” … he admonished gravely.
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip

I’m not sure I have much more to add except I think you’re on the right path there.

As a screenwriter, I can’t show a character’s thought process (and facial expressions are up to the actor), so I have to rely on their decision-making to show what kind of person they are. It helps that a character making decisions is a lot more interesting cinematically than a character blabbing on in some kind of voice over.

I do use describing words in my scripts, but it’s mostly for tone and voice.

As a prose writer, you have a lot more freedom, but I think those principles still apply. Go crazy with your vocabulary to get across your voice, but try to limit your character work to actions.

Which leads to the second part of your point on showing not telling.

Let’s say you’ve got a character and his biggest value is he never lies. If you do your job well, then he, as a character, nor you, as a writer, have to tell the audience this.

His wife asks him if her jeans make her look fat. He says “well, yeah.”

He finds out his employee tells a small lie (called in sick, went to the ball game). He fires the employee on the spot.

You’ve established a character trait by showing his decision-making which is so much more affective than him telling someone “I don’t like lying.”

And off-topic, but the great part about setting up characters this way is you can play with audience expectations. “Oooo, someone just lied to him, what’s he going to do?” or “Oooo now he’s put in a situation where he has to lie, what’s he going to do?”

And then you have an opportunity to show character change, if he does one thing in the beginning of the story and the opposite by the end.

Check out Derek’s writing and blog here.

How do you guys handle “showing not telling” and simplicity in writing? Any other Q’s? Post them in the comments below.

chooseyourselfbook

 

I don’t like the word ‘purpose.’ It implies that somewhere in the future I will find something that will make me happy, and until then, I will be unhappy. People fool themselves into thinking that the currency of unhappiness will buy them happiness. That we have to ‘pay our dues,’ go on some sort of ride, and then get dropped off at a big location called our ‘purpose,’ where now we can be happy. It doesn’t work that way. You can find the tools to be happy right now.”

– James Altucher

 

 

 

p.s.- Absolutely LOVE this book.  Highly recommended! – HP

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