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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You work a day job, you come home, maybe you’ve got kids, a husband or wife, friends, a house to clean, a yard to keep, gotta keep up with the facebook, and by the end of the day you just wanna get wine drunk and watch some tv until you pass out.

Not a bad life, honestly.

Until it bites you.

That bug. The one that says “write.” Not a suggestion to write, but an order. You can’t live without it. It’s like breathing. And like being pulled over for speeding, by the time you see the cop, he’s already got you in his radar… You’re screwed.

Because there are only so many hours in a day. And there are some very important things to do with those hours like paying bills and spending time with loved ones and eating tacos.

So how do you find the time?

You’re not gonna like it.

The truth is no one REALLY wants to know how to be productive, because it means giving up some of life’s necessities like sleep or Breaking Bad.

1. No more TV.

You’ve gotta sacrifice “down time.” No more binge-watching on Netflix. It’s a time-suck. And you may say “but I’m watching to be inspired”. Did you JUST start watching TV? You’ve got a whole lifetime of entertainment to be inspired from. Pull from that.

Better yet, pull from your experiences. Don’t have enough experiences? It’s because you watch too much TV.

Maybe this is “quality time” with your significant other. But tell me one memorable night you had watching TV with your partner. Got any? No, because it’s too easy. No one remembers the easy times in life. Make your experiences more meaningful. I’d take one awesome day of kayaking or a concert or building a coffee table over 5 nights of Modern Family. It’ll grow you closer to your partner AND give you new experiences to write about.

2. No more sleep.

This next point is arguable, because I’m pretty sure sleep is proven over and over to be good for you. But I’ve been my most productive when I sleep the least. If you’re running out of hours in the day, the only other place that’s offering free hours is late at night or early in the morning.

Wake up two hours early. Write.

Stay up after everyone else goes to bed. Write.

It comes with the bonus of having no distractions.

I wrote the first draft of my script Creature Seekers with a newborn. He’d wake up around 3am, I’d get up, feed him, put him back down and start writing. I’d write until about 6am when he’d wake up again, and his mom would get up with him and I’d sleep for another hour or two. I did this for two months and had a finished draft at the end of it (bonus that his mom was happy she didn’t have to get up in the middle of the night).

This is the kind of crazy life you have to have in order to write. But I tell you what… when you’re typing away at 4am and you’re in the zone, inspired by the worlds you’re creating, it’s gonna increase all areas of your life. You’ll be more alive. More creative. Happier. You’ll be doing what you’re meant to do.

Obey the bug.

What about you guys? Am I wrong? What works best for you and your schedule? How do you get you’re writing done?

 

 

 

 

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.

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Ryan Ellis Boyd recently asked me to share a writing technique with him over on his fantastic blog, The Empty Page.

Here’s what I came up with:

FIND A COLLABORATOR.

It doesn’t have to be another writer, but it can be. On my wall, I’ve got 6 current collaborators listed. Two are artists that I’m working with on comic book projects. One is a producer that I’m working with to option a book to adapt. One is a co-writer on a screenplay. One is a co-author on a self-help book project. And one is a local director who gives me notes on a feature he wants to direct.

I list these projects above my desk so that I’m always working on one of them, and I keep in constant contact with these collaborators. They give me notes, they meet with me regularly and keep me on task. I can assign a deadline and have to stick to it because someone is always waiting on it.

And how do you find these collaborators?

All of the above were friends before they were collaborators. Though, some I sought out because I liked what they were doing. I think this is an important thing to keep in mind – look for a friend first, a collaborator second. It also helps to know that someone is going to be a pleasure to work with before you’re stuck working with them.

All are massively talented at what they do and most are at or about the same level of success as myself. They all bring something to the table that I can’t (and hopefully vice versa).

And most importantly, I tailored my work to their sensibilities and involved them very early in the process to give them a sense of ownership. They’re not employees, they’re partners. You want them as excited about the project as you are.

What about you guys? Any collaboration success stories? Or for you loners out there, what helps you stay on task?

DYCHO

I wanna make sure this blog keeps a “we’re all in this together” vibe. With that in mind…

What do you struggle with most as a writer? (Could be about the craft OR the psychology of writing.)

What questions do you have most consistently that rarely have good answers?

Ask away and I’ll follow up with a new blog post exploring these topics. I may or may not have an answer, but hey, we’re all in this together.

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