Writing Tip Tuesday #5

Photo by Bruno Bueno on Pexels.com

Brian Koppelman is a screenwriter, showrunner, and producer. A few years ago, Screencraft collected a series of his tweets and compiled them into a list of 101 screenwriting lessons. I reread them a couple of weeks ago, and while there are obviously a number of useful tips, there was one that stuck out to me in particular.

95. Sometime in the first week of a new creative project, write down all the reasons you’re excited about it. Refer back to it during the long slog through the middle.

For writers, after months (or years) of working on a project, we may find ourselves out of touch with the “why” in the why we chose to write this story. Maybe we’ve lost the inspiration. Maybe we’ve lost a little of the love.

Sometimes, it really is a slog.

Our path is a lonely one, and we often only have ourselves to rely upon. None of us wants to be that person who claims to be a writer. We are writers. And sometimes we need little reminders, sticky notes, or what-have-you to keep the momentum flowing. We need to make it easier on ourselves – it may be a lonely path, but it’s also not an easy one – so do what you can.

I make a lot of notes when I have a new idea. I try to sit with it for a little while and write down all the initial thoughts that come to me, but I like this tip of creating a list of reasons why I’m excited about it as well.

As a screenwriter, I rely heavily on imagery. It’s one of the reasons I started the Writing Prompts, but also why I have oh so many Pinterest boards (with more to come with the new story ideas in development). I have found that having a visual representation of the inspiration behind a piece to be beneficial, often.

Waterhouse’s Psyche Entering Cupid’s Garden – Touchstone for Fate(s)

I choose color coordinated binders for each screenplay; the color is usually representative in some manner. I like the ones that have a sleeve cover, so I can put an image that correlates to the script at the front. You may have come across some of them in my Scribbles. I call them “touchstones”. I generally settle upon an image fairly quickly when starting a new script. As you’ve seen with the writing prompts, I go with my gut.

Whatever tethers you to your current WIP, put it in your eye line. Let it be present as you make your way forward. If you don’t have one, I would recommend finding one. Obviously, don’t get stuck in a Pin hole, like I have done on so many occasions, but spend a little time seeking something out that will aid you. Create a list of the reasons why this project excited you, so when the barely-wrote-a-word days come, you have a reference, and then maybe they don’t seem so bleak.

Have any writing tips to share with the community? Let’s help each other out!

Happy Writing!

Throwback Thursday #1 : Articles on Screenwriting

Photo by ThisIsEngineering on Pexels.com

Ages ago, I shared this article from Script, a site for screenwriters, called Notes from the Margins: Every Article on Screenwriting You Never Have to Read Again by Danny Manus. I have read and saved a number of articles in my pursuit of becoming a professional screenwriter, and this one, in particular, reiterated how contradictory so many of them are. It will make you think twice before clicking on another.

How is a newbie ever to make heads or tails of it all? Sometimes, it’s just too much.

This year I decided to clean up the folder with said saves because some of them are years old now, and while probably still worth reading, at this point, I’ve most likely come across the information elsewhere. Plus, as the article above makes clear, most of what’s out there is bullsh*t.

Screenwriting is an elusive career path. There is no direct, one-way only entry. It’s not like any other creative pursuit, let alone traditional ones. A novelist can write a book and seek out a publisher or self-publish. A painter can create a work of art and put it on display. If a screenwriter wants their work “out there” we’re often told to make a short.

I don’t want to be director. I don’t think. So that means I have to find a director…?

I barely have any writer friends as it is.

So those already in the know share what they’ve learned, what trends they’re “seeing”, and basically utilize their position to further their own careers via writing guest posts, pushing their screenwriting books, classes, or services, and offering “advice” on how to break in.

Yes, I’m using quotes to reiterate how inconsequential so much of that advice truly is, especially when you keep scrolling and read advice to the contrary, as the above article highlights.

Like any advice, good or bad, take it with a grain of salt.

I’m also learning that the more time I spend reading the “should and should-not” posts is just more time taken away from doing what I actually should be doing – writing.

If you’re interested in researching a particular subject, like screenwriting contests, of course, seek those out, from reputable sources, but maybe be more discerning with the content you subscribe to and how much time you spend on subjects that don’t currently relate to your situation.

How’s that for advice? Some I need to follow myself. I’m off to delete!

So now that you’ve read my post about articles and their potential uselessness, thank you very much, by the way, close this window and go write! 😉

Happy Writing!

Quote of the Week

This isn’t the quote I was originally considering for today, but when I came upon it, it just struck a chord within me. I suppose this could be a Writing Tip as well.

This is one reason I need to return to the writing prompts. They encourage me to try new styles, to write something other than what I’m already familiar with. Reading helps with this too. I’m reading an Anthony Burgess (author of books such as A Clockwork Orange) right now and it’s a total slog and I want to quit, but now it’s a challenge. There has to be a purpose to the randomness, and because I’m trying to read outside my “normal” realm of genre and stories, it’s like I’m being stubborn. It’s going to pull down my reading average and I probably won’t make my annual reading goal, but I will finish it.

Experimenting with our writing is a great way to challenge ourselves as creatives and grow more adept in the craft. I’ve read that screenwriters should have at least one story outside their genre in their portfolio to show the higher ups that they’re capable of more than the brand they’ve developed. It’s about breaking from comfort zones.

This quote was probably more purposefully written about life, and we need that too. It’s how we get ideas – by experiencing more facets of the world around us. I know for most of us, we’re quite content to stay home and live vicariously through our characters, we’re writers, after all, but we need to fill the well in order to draw from it. (I say this happily enjoying a quiet day at home with no desire to leave the comfort of my living room. 🙂 Eh, there’s always tomorrow.)

Happy Writing!

Writing Tip (Almost Tuesday) #4

I recently met a young man who wants to be a screenwriter. I was delighted to meet someone with whom I might be able to talk “shop” and bounce ideas around with, potentially.

I was surprised to learn he doesn’t write, let alone read.

I was confused. And slightly disappointed.

“How do you know you want to be a screenwriter?” I questioned with a raised quizzical eyebrow.

“I have an idea that I think would make a cool tv show. Do you have any advice on how to begin?”

Uhh, yeah. “Start writing. Anything.”

And then I wondered at what else a young, hopeful writer should know.

The writing bit seemed fairly obvious as one needs to find their voice, so I encouraged him to try his hand at a variety of styles.

The second piece of advice I gave him was to read. A lot. I recently discovered the unique writing of Ursula K. Le Guin via her novel, The Wizard of Earthsea. She has her own way, and I’m kind of sad I only just found her because I’ve had her books on my shelf for years and she’s different from anything else I’ve read.

I suggested that he could start doing research on the topic and that it could lead him to have a better understanding of the story he wants to tell. So far it was just a specific time period because, I think, he likes the idea of the set dressing.

Finally I advised watching shows that are thematically or genre specifically similar to his so that he knows what’s out there. There’s this idea among new writers that they might be unduly influenced, but any professional will tell them that in order to market their own material, they must be familiar with the competition.

I definitely wanted to encourage the spark of creativity to grow, but I had that sense, the one so many of us, as writers, have encountered before – he’s just another random person with “an idea”.

You know the one.

But he is still young, although if you don’t read or write, how do you decide that this is the path you wish to follow?

It’s like…I don’t know…wanting to be a chef because you watch cooking shows even though you don’t cook.

I want to believe that this could be the beginning of his journey, and like I said, I wanted to encourage him, so I asked questions to get him thinking in greater detail of the overall story he may want to tell, and offered other tips, but what it comes down to, and this is the scary side of becoming a writer, is that it is truly about finding your own way.

I knew I wanted to be a writer from a young age. It’s just taken me a long, and rather winding path to finally get here. Maybe this spark of an idea is enough to propel him forward into becoming a writer, himself. Either way, we all find our calling in different ways, and it’s up to us to pursue it.

I didn’t tell him about the struggles we face, there’s no reason to scare him off in the early days. I’ll leave that for him to discover in his own time, like we all did 😉 because when I think back on all I’ve learned and experienced – the years of research, the articles and books read, the years of tv and movie watching, the sleepless nights when I was on a roll (or when I wasn’t), the writing droughts, the rejections, the few and far between hints of encouragement, finding inspiration in the waking moments and when you’re drifting off to sleep, the trying to stay positive, and taking dead-end jobs (too often) to keep the dream alive – goodness, that’s probably best kept to myself.

Such is our life.

So on that note, fellow writers, what other advice would you give a newbie?

Quote Monday

Yoga. It’s one of the things I wish I had discovered years ago. It’s one of the things I wish my friend, Jill had forcefully dragged me off to when she was going to classes in our 20s because now that I’m in my 40s, it has become one of my favorite things, and I feel like I wasted a lot of time not doing yoga.

You may be wondering why a writing blog is talking about yoga. First of all, I never thought I’d be “that” person, you know the one, the one who tells you that you should be doing yoga, but in the first year of practicing, I discovered a few things.

Last year, in what will be immortalized as “the year that was 2020”, my stress and anxiety were at an all time high. The Sis and I received a trial of an online service, and we tried a variety of classes – dance, HIIT, sculpt, strength – but it was yoga that really stuck. It calmed me down and helped to put things into perspective.

I’ve never enjoyed going to the gym. Even taking a 30 minute HIIT class was a chore. But when you’re out of work and a writer, you do a lot of sitting around, and all the “experts” tell you that you should do some form of exercise everyday, even just a walk around the block, so I knew I needed to do something, but it needed to be the right something.

I’ve been hard on my body all these years, and yoga is easy on me. Obviously there are some difficult poses, and I often sweat, but I’m not asking my body to bear the brunt of impact as I jump and work to get my blood pumping. There have been physical side effects, because it is still exercise, but what impressed me more were the mental ones. In some breath work and even some poses, I have found emotional release. In the stillness I have discovered how to fix story problems, and I’ve had new ideas spring up.

Yoga is a form of meditation. You focus on your breath and in being in the present moment. Your mind will drift, and mine usually does, but you clear your mind and come back to the breath. It grounds you. It was a saving grace in troubled times, and it left me with a feeling I hadn’t found in other workouts – feeling better for having done it. What I also didn’t expect were the enlightening moments that came in the quiet.

I am working on an older story that desperately needs a third act rewrite, and for about a week, I’ve been in research mode, wondering how to get back into it, how to finish it, and then literally, within the first two minutes of getting grounded in my yoga practice the other day, it came to me. I had to put the video on pause and write it down before it escaped me.

Writers have a lot on their minds. If we’re not writing, we’re thinking about writing. Every. Possible. Aspect. Of. Writing. And not only do we have all this going on, there is regular life stuff too. There is so much around us to distract, that a little quiet time is often the best solution, but in that silence, we are usually still quite active. If we sit at our desk in the wee hours of the morning before everyone else is awake, or at night when the world is finally quiet, we are still deafened by all the noise in our heads.

So yes, this writing blog is encouraging you to try yoga. To give yourself an opportunity to still your mind. To give yourself an actual break from all the thoughts and just breathe.

Don’t worry about not having all the props necessary. There are ways around them. Don’t worry about service fees. There are free online classes on multiple platforms. You don’t have the time? If you’re already working out, just swap activities for a bit. If you’re not, try. There are even 15 minute classes available, and we all have 15 minutes somewhere in our day.

I’m in no way an expert, but I’m happy to try to answer any questions you may have. If I hadn’t found these moments of clarity, I wouldn’t be trying to peddle yoga, but I have, and it has been enormously beneficial on my peace of mind. And we all deserve a little bit of that.

Happy Writing! And Namaste!

Quote Monday

Art First

That’s it. That’s the quote.

For many of you, you know how I love my routine. I’ve talked about it a lot. It has to be tweaked every so often, given the circumstances, but with the current job, I’ve found a routine I enjoy, one that makes me feel productive and satisfied with my day.

I now wake up early to write. I know. I used to be the late night/middle of the night writer. I now wake up, make my cuppa and write for about an hour before doing yoga and heading off to work.

I even stick to the routine on my days off, and I’ll tell you why.

When you know you have time, you put it off. On your days off you think, “I should clean this or that first.” or “I’ve put this off all week so that should be the priority.” or ” I just want to sleep in and binge the new season of (insert title), then I’ll write.”

Nope.

The day gets away from you. There will always be a house project that needs doing. Bills to be paid. Shows to be watched. Books to be read.

Art first.

Last week, I planned on writing a blog before working on my story and I ended up spending the day scrolling through Pinterest. Like the whole day. In part because I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to post, so I went into seek-out-content-idea mode. The other part, I didn’t feel good, so it was easy to sit on the couch, snuggled with my pups, and aimlessly scroll, but I didn’t work on my story, and I didn’t post anything. The day escaped me.

I’ve always read about these authors who would wake up early to write and I thought, “Well, that’s not going to happen. I’m not a morning person.” And now here I am. Offering the same advice.

Be creative first. Get it out of the way, so to speak, and start your day off knowing you’ve already done the one thing you wanted to do. Many of us have to endure day jobs that leave us uninspired, so feel better about your day knowing you began it by working toward your goal.

Obviously, find a routine that works for you. If your work hours don’t offer you such freedom, or your kids schedules conflict, etc. it’s not always easy to work around, but give yourself permission to be creative, to do something for yourself, even if it’s only ten minutes a day. It adds up, and you’ll feel a bit better knowing that you did.

Happy Writing!

Writing Tip Tuesday #3

There are a lot of reasons a writer’s life is frustrating. I think we can all agree that one of the more disheartening moments for us is when the muse has shown up, we’re writing tenaciously, and then suddenly, our mind goes blank in regards to what should happen next.

The mind becomes a barren wasteland of inspiration. The fingers hover over the keys. The eyes stare off into the distance in vain hope that the answer will reveal itself. A minute passes. Dread sets in. Self-doubt creeps up our spine. Frustration grows until we finally give up.

What a delightful path we’ve chosen.

The other day I was on a roll with my story when I suddenly got caught up in a moment and didn’t know how to proceed. I knew the scene I wanted to go to next, so instead of stopping the flow, I made a note of what I wanted to happen and continued on.

I don’t know where I learned this, but it’s one of those tricks I’ve picked up along the way, sometimes fail to remember its use, but appreciate when I do, so I thought I’d share.

If you don’t want to lose your momentum, but are stalling because of a scene, or dialogue, or what-have-you simply do something like this:

[fight sequence]

* bittersweet farewell

(convo about the past and sudden realization)

I often color code text that needs to be revisited. I’ve even written short paragraphs so I don’t lose the idea or feeling I want to impart. It’s like a sticky note, and it’s a simple trick, one I wish I had learned about years ago – this has been a more recent discovery – because I have wasted a lot of time staring in vain.

Watching that little blinking cursor remind you that it’s waiting can genuinely ruin your productivity, so when you have more time to sit with the difficult, time consuming passage, you’ll have a clue as to what you wanted to write about without having lost your rhythm.

Because if the faucet is on, let it flow.

I hope you find this useful. Feel free to share any tricks of the trade you’ve picked up along the way.

Happy Writing!

Writing Tip Tuesday #2

I write sci-fi and fantasy. I remember hearing people say that there wasn’t any “truth” to be found in such genres. This always confused me, and I presumed it was said by people who didn’t enjoy those types of stories. They are among my favorites which is why, after some time, I embraced it.

When I was younger and first starting out, I was drawn to historical romance because in an effort to get me back into reading, my mother introduced me to the genre. Somewhere between middle school and junior high, the forced reading assignments had turned me off. So at fourteen, fifteen years old, I’m reading these sweeping, epic romances and falling in love with these fictional men, to whom no real man could ever compare, and I thought, “That’s what I want to write.”

Ridiculous, I know.

My circle consisted of high school boys and they were no inspiration.

And back then, I didn’t discover any hidden “truths” in such stories, and so it became this sort of elusive idea. What books consisted of it? How would I know when I found it? Until I wrote my own story, and then, not until years later, was I able to see that my tale of a woman kidnapped by pirates was really an allegory of my secret hope – that one day, my “real” father would come rescue me.

It’s easy to glorify the idea of someone you don’t know.

I never finished the story. Sometimes I think it would be fun to revisit it now that my writing has changed. And that’s because as we continue to evolve and experience new things, experiment with our creativity, that we discover our voice, our truth.

I don’t know who said this quote that I have above my desk, but it changed a lot for me when I first discovered it.

Fantasy insists that the writer address the cultural, societal, and political times in which they live.

It took some time to understand that I could incorporate all the things I loved – period pieces, romance, fantasy, sci-fi, art, music – into my writing while subtly using it as a vehicle to explore deeper meaning. I could include my concerns about the environment in a story about fairies. I could blame the state of the world on the past mistakes of the Greek gods. I could use a spy story as a way to convey worry over the machinations of men and technology.

I still wonder sometimes what the “truth” is that those people thought I wouldn’t share by writing in magical worlds. All writing is magic. We create people and places from our imagination. We share in their triumphs and their losses. We cheer them on. We love to hate them. If that isn’t some sort of truth…

So I suppose the tip I wanted to convey today is…write what you want. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s supposed to be this way or that. Writing is a freedom and you don’t have to conform to anyone’s ideas of what it should be like. Let it be a mashup. Let it be weird. Let it be whatever you want it to be. It’s your story.

Happy Writing!

Quote Monday

I’m currently reading Chuck Palahniuk’s Stranger than Fiction and I came across this text in one of his nonfiction essays. Among stories about public sex acts and learning not to care what people think of you while dressed as a dog, I discovered this nugget that, truthfully, was the most startling thing I’ve read so far.

The worst part of writing fiction is the fear of wasting your life behind a keyboard. The idea that, dying, you’ll realize you only ever lived on paper. Your only adventures were make believe, and while the world fought and kissed, you sat in some dark room, masturbating and making money.

Chuck Palahniuk

Why did this unsettle me, you ask? Because until he said it, until I read it, I didn’t know this was something to worry about.

And then my mind spiraled.

I am a homebody, an introvert, a writer of sci-fi and fantasy. I know as a writer I have to get out and experience the world in order to have those things stored in the “bank of creative tidbits”, but honestly, sometimes I’d prefer not to make the effort, and I know that’s a shortcoming. I have plenty of interests to keep me occupied but if I only ever run in the same circle, I’ll never learn and grow, experience awe or displeasure. I’ll never be exposed to new ideas and new things by experiencing them firsthand.

It wasn’t until I read these words that I started to wonder about the subjects I’m drawn to and the stories that resonate with me – they’re lives I’ll never lead.

I’ll never be a woman with a mythological god as a best friend. I’ll never be the woman traipsing across the stars in an alien space ship in search of her sister. I’ll never be a spy. I’ll never save the world.

These are adventures I can only have on the page. They are unlikely, imaginary scenarios, and that’s why I write them, so I must be content with those adventures that are available to me, and as writers, we can’t forget that. We need to get out, we need to observe and feel so that we not only live, but can also create.

And maybe not worry that we’re living vicariously through our characters.

I may not be as daring as Chuck Palahniuk, willing to put myself at physical risk or in compromising situations to experience all the different facets of humanity, but I can make more of an effort to have a wider understanding of the world around me. We may not learn, see, and do everything we want – there’s so much more to explore than once person could ever do in a lifetime – but there’s no harm in at least attempting it.

That was my takeaway, at least – be more willing to get out (of the house).

Happy Writing!

Writing Tip Tuesday

I didn’t see a quote yesterday that really spoke to me but I did find this writing tip that I have had to remind myself of a time or two, so I thought I’d share it in the hopes that you would find it useful too.

I somehow had it in my head that I could write and edit simultaneously. It was a terrible habit I had formed and took quite a bit of effort to break. I still catch myself doing it from time to time and have to remember that those two sides of my brain need their own time in order to be most effective.

A lot of professional writers say the same thing about getting the first draft written quickly. In that draft you are telling yourself the story so you need to write it out while it’s fresh. If you stop to edit, you’re breaking up your momentum. When I came to this realization and finally just wrote, I created a full length feature script in two weeks. Was it good? Eh, it wasn’t my best work but the essence of the story was there because I didn’t stop to fix things along the way. And as they say, all writing is rewriting.

I think I was also using this technique as a way to procrastinate. We make a lot of excuses for why things are the way they are, and fear is a big one. If I was constantly working on a script and yet not finishing it, it wasn’t going to go out into the world and disappoint. Oh the way our minds work.

So, if you’ve found yourself in a similar situation, I hope this tip helps you in your own process.

Happy Writing!