2021 Resolutions

Premium Vector | 2021 neon sign, bright signboard.

This is the year I’m going to make things happen. We strike a pose and make a fist to emphasize the point.

How many times have we said that?

Looking at a new year in terms of making leaps and bounds towards our goals sounds good, in theory, but in actuality, imagining a whole year to accomplish great things is daunting. 12 months is a big chunk of time. Even though it passes in a blink of an eye. Without periodic check-ins, thinking we have so much time to do everything we want to do generally has the opposite effect and we end up starting grand, petering out, only to approach December in a sort of panic that we didn’t accomplish all we had hoped.

Then the subsequent self admonishment, pity, anger, and false assurances that we’ll do better “next year” begins.

We need to not think about our goals in relationship to the whole year. Instead we need to create more manageable terms, such as what can we accomplish in the next 3 months? After 3 months, we should evaluate, reassess, adjust and move forward for the following 3 months and so on.

By setting short term goals, we can trick our minds into focusing on the task at hand (well, that’s my hope anyway). I do better when I know there’s an external deadline to meet. It’s hard set, not just some self deluded, fanciful idea that I will complete my screenplay without an outside driving force in the next few months – especially when I have an impending move and all that goes with it on the horizon…((panic mode)) – without that deadline, the pressure, I know I will slack off a bit.

And this is where knowing how we best operate is key. In what environment do you best work? At what time? Do you constantly meet your goals or do you play fast and loose? How do you best keep yourself accountable?

I said I would share my resolutions and I will. Every 3 months. I’m looking at these first 3 months skeptically because of the move but it is my hope ((crosses fingers)) that I will finally, once and for all, no-more-rewriting-unless-paid-to-do-so, complete my screenplay Fate(s). I only have the 3rd act to finish and I have it mostly worked out now.

I have other writing resolutions and personal ones too but this year I’m trying my best to temper my ambitions. I always want to do so much, thinking a whole year is plenty of time…I have learned I am wrong.

So thinking on our goals for 2021, I offer you the following three questions I found in an article I read in 2019. I’ve been contemplating them and thought I would share them as part of my resolution post because while goal setting is a fine endeavor, if we don’t want to feel disappointed in our yearly resolutions, maybe we should reevaluate how we define success, for ourselves.

  1. What needs to happen by the end of the year to make it great?
  2. What needs to happen/be accomplished to feel successful?
  3. What will give you validation?

And finally, to end on a note of encouragement, because it doesn’t feel that overwhelming, a word from C. Robert Cargill, a writer I follow on Twitter:

There are 261 working days in 2021. If you write just 1 page every work day, taking holidays and weekends off, you can write at least 2 scripts or 1 novel in 2021. If you write just 2 pages every work day, you can write 5 scripts or 2 novels in 2021.

I hope we all move forward to accomplishing our goals this year. If you’d like to be part of an accountability group or know of one we can all join, please share. I’m thinking of creating something after we settle from the move – a goal for the 2nd quarter.

Happy Writing!

Flashback Friday #1: Routine

500 followers uploaded by Inès on We Heart It

My post on “writing a TV pilot” was my 500th; a milestone I should have reached some time ago. I sort of feel like Bob from the Bob’s Burgers episode “Sacred Cow” (S1E3) in which they celebrate the sale of the 100,000th burger, which should have happened long before, as evident by the dot matrix banner used to commemorate the occasion.

Having reached such a marker, I thought it might be nice to reflect on the posts that have come before, not only as a reflection for myself but also as a learning tool, because as the title of my blog suggests, I have a terrible memory and it would be nice to remember what I’ve come across and shared in the past.

Writing tips are always helpful, and if forgotten, necessary to revisit.

So starting back in the earliest days of my blog, I wrote about routines. As I stated just a few posts ago, I’m working on a new one. How things do come full circle.

September 6, 2013:

In 1932, Henry Miller, the famous writer and painter created a work schedule that listed his “Commandments” for him to follow as part of his daily routine. This list was published in the book, Henry Miller On Writing.

  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.”
  3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  5. When you can’t create you can work.
  6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
  7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
  9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
  10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
  11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

This is what worked for Henry Miller, so keep this in mind when creating a schedule for yourself. You know what parameters you need to work efficiently, so build a plan with those in mind.

I cannot write first thing in the morning. I’m not alert until after my second cup of tea, and then some. I used to write at night, after the world was asleep, but now I’m realizing that my home world is quiet earlier in the day so I need to rethink my plan so that I can be more effective.

Try a new schedule. Tweak where necessary. Try again.

Keep at it and Happy Writing!

How to Write a TV Pilot

Writing a teleplay is quite a bit different from writing a feature…or so I’m learning. With the ever expanding television market in need of fresh content, a screenwriter looking to break in must have a well rounded portfolio.

I hadn’t really given writing for TV much attention prior to the new “golden age” because none of the story ideas I had felt like they could be sustained for multiple episodes over multiple seasons. That was until The Demeter, my sci-fi/space/family drama. As I dug in and got to know my characters and the new world(s) I was creating, the more I realized it could not be contained to a single film, or even two.

I suppose that’s a good measuring stick for a story’s place and purpose.

So I gave my idea a go and wrote a pilot.

After what I was hoping would be my last rewrite, I asked one of my AFF friends to give it a read and offer some feedback*, and goodness, did she deliver. The most useful note I received was that my protagonist had become passive halfway through the script.

I did not see this. And this is why it’s useful to get an outside perspective.

There are a lot of points to hit in any screenplay but in a pilot, it needs to happen quickly. You not only need to introduce your characters, the world, the plot, your voice, where the story is going to go, and your characters’ desires but you also need to do all this in anywhere from 30 to 60 pages. Roughly.

And all while making it unique and interesting and coherent.

When you write a feature you still have all the same boxes to tick but without the need to sustain the story long term, the information given is precisely chosen, and therefore the story is streamlined.

Among the feedback, my friend also sent me this graphic from writer, David Steinberg which is both helpful and maddening.

According to the graphic, there are 10 things your pilot must do or set up in addition to some of what I listed above. Take one of your favorite tv shows and compare the pilot to these necessary elements. Does it hold up? Is anything missing? In light of these elements, or lack thereof, are any of these the reason you tuned in each week?

If you’ve been considering writing a pilot, and you find yourself overwhelmed by all of this information, don’t be put off, like I was initially. Discovering my protagonist had stopped being proactive makes a major rewrite the inevitable next step, and while a crushing blow, a necessity. This is why rewrites are considered the actual writing. They fine tune and make us aware of what’s needed to create a well rounded, compelling story.

I’ll have more tips on this topic in the coming weeks, but if you have any questions in the meantime, please feel free to ask!

Happy Writing!

*With any feedback, it’s important to note that you should take it with a grain of salt, at least until people are paying you for your work. And then you may have to pick your battles. Your story is yours, and while feedback is helpful, pick and choose what best serves your story.

What Kind of Screenwriter Are You?

In my time of slack, I accumulated hundreds of emails that required at least a fleeting glance.  In my time of focus, I think I’ve cut that number down to about 60 that will require a slightly longer look-see.  Not too bad given the short amount of time dedicated in that direction.  During this time, I came across a personality quiz for screenwriters from Stephanie Palmer’s Good in a Room site.

writingmemeI feel like I know who I am as a writer.  I don’t outline much; I “generally” know where it’s going to go though, before I sit down.  I like happy endings, my characters are often sarcastic and they’re always do-gooders (the protagonists anyway), and because of my genre choice, I have some freedom to let my imagination run wild.  I listen to my characters.  I alternate between procrastination and binge.  I like to write some things by hand (my fanfiction has almost entirely been written by writermemehand, oddly enough), but the computer monitor allows me more space to “see” (hence, all my screenplays have been written via the modern age).  Plus I type much faster than my hand can write to keep up with my brain (which is why some of my fanfiction looks like chicken scrawl).

I realize that my style of writing will some times write me into corners, but often ideamemetimes, I discover alternate paths and ideas that I never would have seen had I not allowed my story to just unfold.  I have literally found myself astounded with what I’ve unearthed this way.

So I wasn’t surprised by my results upon taking the quiz – Gardener Heartwarmer.  Even the name sounds right.  Here are some of the highlights from the break down:

  • You are good at generating new ideas and following them courageously wherever they lead. You work best when they have the time and the confidence to allow their creativity to spring forth without judgement.
  • You combine new ideas in unusual ways and can make unexpected, quantum creative leaps. You also function well when ideas are in a murkier state – and this is often the case when a screenwriting project is in earlier stages of development.  You create strong, complex characters and stories which contain emotionally powerful moments – the cinematic moments we remember forever.
  • Drama requires conflict, and this means putting characters in the worst possible moments of their lives. This can actually be difficult for you because you are experiencing the emotional journey of your characters so poignantly.

And then there were a few helpful tips.  This one, in particular, struck me:

Your creative work is going to take you to some deep, dark places. Make sure you’re writing at the right time of day (or night) so that you have the freedom and the strength to go where you need to go.

I used to like to write at night, when the world grew quiet.  The Sis would be asleep with the furkids snuggled up beside her, my phone was silent, and there was less likely to be something to sidetrack me because The Sis was asleep and I didn’t want to disturb her.  I’ve been trying to write during the day, and I find too many distractions.  I need to get back to the old routine, where I can be more productive.

So, are you ready to learn how well you know yourself as a screenwriter?  Take the quick, six question quiz here.  Share your results below.

What To Do In The In-Between Time

IdeaLightBulb(jeffbullassite)Draft after draft.  Rewrite after rewrite.  Sometimes it feels like all we’re doing is writing in circles.

When you need a break from your beloved, it’s hard to decide what to do in that downtime.  I know I’m usually at a loss.  I try to find a new story idea, or consider rewriting one of my other screenplays, but sometimes you just need to do different work for the same story.

Bang2Write is a great resource for writers, and if you aren’t subscribing to Lucy V Hay’s site, as a screenwriter I would recommend it.  I have found loads of truly useful information, like the following – 7 Useful Things You Can Do Between Drafts.

Using my sci-fi pilot, The Demeter as an example, I’ll go through the steps and show you what I’m thinking about in my own downtime.

  1. Compare/Contrast to “Like” stories – Like the Doctor of Doctor Who, I want my human protagonist to not hold any immediate prejudice because of what an alien might look like (although easier said than done. We humans scare easily.).  The video game Mass Effect inspired the idea behind the human/alien interactions and romance options.  It’s unlike shows such as Firefly because not all the characters are human and not all stories are about human problems.  Star Wars and Star Trek are obvious go-tos, but other than the military connection, which won’t be overly used until season 2, I want to stay away from any ideas influenced by either.
  2. Think it Over – The pilot needs to foreshadow more of the ideas I have for the first season.  In addition to a different opening scene, I need to show the “shady” nature of the ship’s captain so the viewer is unsure for some time whether or not he can be trusted.  Early feedback suggested I integrate an image of where the show “might” go aka Battlestar Galactica always showed Earth as the final destination.  Where do I want the show to go?
  3. Work on Craft – Feedback also recommended I adjust the pacing.  Determine the best course to improve this.
  4. Make Contacts – Besides social media…think outside the box on making contact with those in the industry – Meetups, retreats (within reason), writer’s groups?
  5. Feedback – Build relationships of give and take.  Giving feedback will help my writing as well.  Get back on Zoetrope.
  6. Submission Strategy – I’m already using a calendar to keep track of contest deadlines, but could be better arranged for the whole year.  FilmFreeway is a good resource to use more fully.  Get more than one script ready for submission.
  7. Nothing.  Relax…for a minute. 😉

I hope you find this information as useful as I did.  Happy Writing!

Screenwriting Tips for Submission Season

HelpfulTipsLast week I shared a list of the 10 prominent screenwriting contests and their approaching deadlines to give you a heads up of what to expect the next few months.  Hopefully, you’re not like me, in the middle of a major rewrite instead of just a polish.

Ah, the sweet agony of a deadline.

This week I thought I would share a few tips on how to be best prepared to submit.  I’m not sure where I originally found this checklist – my apologies to whoever created it.  It’s a list of 10 things to look over/be aware of before you hit send.

  1. Opening image
  2. Opening line
  3. First scene’s setting
  4. Genre/Tone
  5. Character roles
  6. Character motivations
  7. Structure
  8. Scene focus
  9. Spelling/Grammar
  10. Concept/Logline

*If you’re interested, I can expand on each of these in more detail.  Just let me know in the comments below.

One of my favorite pieces of advice came from Good in a Room‘s Stephanie Palmer who suggests –

Choose a contest and a deadline. Then, submit at least one script to one of the top screenwriting contests I recommend.

If the script gets recognized in any way (i.e., it doesn’t win but it makes the second round, or top 10%, etc), revise it and submit to three different contests.

If the script doesn’t get recognized, then keep it in your library of projects, pick something new from your development slate, and write something else.

Instead of submitting multiple projects to several contests (which can get expensive), you only make multiple submissions when you have objective evidence that your work is good enough to have a chance to win, and you spend more of your valuable time writing new material.

That’s plenty of work, I know.

And it doesn’t take into account the other aspects of how to be a professional writer that have nothing to do with writing…

But over time, if you write and submit at least one script every year to one of the best contests, you will get better and your material will get better. If you submit multiple scripts only when they have received positive feedback, your chances of being successful go up.

I hope you find this helpful, and I wish you all the best this submission season!

It’s Submission Season!

submitHey fellow screenwriters!  Are you ready for another year of petrifying “submit” clicks?  Yep, it’s that most wonderful time of the year, again.

If you haven’t done the search for what deadlines are approaching, let me share what I’ve learned.  Here are 10 of the more prominent competitions:

The one I think all screenwriters dream of winning is the prestigious Nicholl Fellowship, which is for features only.  The early deadline is March 7 ($45).  I’d also recommend following them on Facebook as they share reader comments throughout the competition.  It’s always fun to wonder if that lovely review is about your work.

The Austin Film Festival is also garnering a reputation for its screenwriting competition in both feature (with the added perk of being genre specific) and teleplay (including specs) categories.  The early deadline is March 31 ($45).  You can follow them on Twitter.

PAGE International is already open and the regular deadline is fast approaching – February 17 ($49).  This is for features only, but they’ve also branched out into being genre specific as well.  They’re on both Facebook and Twitter if you’re interested in keeping up with the latest.

I entered my pilot in Scriptapalooza‘s TV competition, which reopens April 15, but the feature category, again, has been accepting since the beginning of the year.  The regular deadline is March 10 ($55).  You can follow them on both Facebook and Twitter, but they also have a mailing list that will keep you current.

I may have entered my pilot into this one, it’s all sort of a blur at the moment, so I have to double check.  How terrible is that?!  Script Pipeline offers a number of competitions to choose from, such as their First Look and Great Idea (both TV and feature) contests, in addition to the TV and feature competitions – which share the same date and fee for their early entry, March 1 ($50).  They also have a mailing list and are on all social media.

Finish Line is another competition that offers both feature and TV categories, and has received positive endorsement from the film community.  Their early deadline is, again, fast approaching – February 17 ($40), but if you’re like me, procrastinating on that final polish/rewrite, a more “reasonable” regular deadline is April 28 ($45).  You can follow them on Twitter.

Screencraft not only offers valuable information via their blog, they have a wonderful setup in their competition department – it’s genre specific!  The deadlines are scattered throughout the year, so I would highly recommend joining the mailing list to stay up to date.  Currently they are accepting submissions for Sci-fi and Fantasy features.  Early deadline is February 16 ($39).  They’re on all social media as well.

Final Draft just announced that they’ll be ready to accept submissions for 2017’s Big Break starting February 22.  They have both feature and TV categories, but the entry fee section has not been updated on their site yet (early fee last year was $40).  And of course, they’re on all social media too.

BlueCat is another site I recommend following for their useful advice via their blog, in addition to their newsletter and social media accounts.  Their competition is open for features, shorts, TV, and plays.  The early deadline is March 1 and fees vary depending on the entry. Features – $45  Shorts – $35  Pilots – $40  Plays – $30

Finally, there is the Sundance Institute‘s Screenwriters Lab which is not open yet for submissions for 2018, but if you have a script that is Sundance Film Festival material, get it ready!  Last year the application period was from March 15 – May 3.  I would love to take part in the Lab, but sadly, I don’t think any of my material is small budget. 😉

So get those screenplays “submission season ready” and let’s go after our dreams!  Happy Writing!

Opportunities for Writers

MegaphoneWhen I find a writing opportunity, I like to share.

If you’re not following Aerogramme Writers’ Studio yet, you definitely should!  Like right now.  Go.  I’ll wait.  😉

Okay, now that you’re back, let’s get to business.

Aerogramme sends regular monthly emails with opportunities, and then a number of other emails throughout the month when they discover something new.  Now you don’t have to waste your time not writing because you’re looking for avenues to showcase your work, they’ll come to you.

Here are two, for example:

  1. Kathy Fish Fellowship for Flash Fiction Writers via SmokeLong Quarterly. Applications will be accepted until September 15th which is only a week away, but there’s no entry fee (although a $5 donation is suggested) and they accept unsolicited material all year round.
  2. Buzzfeed’s 2nd Annual Emerging Writers Fellowship is open until October 1st.  The winners will spend four months being mentored in either NY or LA and win $12,000 to financially support themselves while they learn.  There is a great deal of work required to enter this one (a resume, a personal statement, 5 writing examples, and 3 letters of reference), so if you’re interested, get crackin’!

Wishing you the very best in all your endeavors!  Good Luck!

The Rise in Shock Value

CapHydra

The internet, and myself included, were all in a tizzy this week with the announcement that in a new comic series, Steve Rogers #1, Captain America is actually an undercover Hydra agent.

Nope.

No.

Not having it.

Fans were quite rightly upset and for good reason.  Captain America has stood as a moral icon, defending the defenseless against tyranny and oppression, and choosing the right path, regardless of personal cost, for 75 years.  He’s the good guy, with no hints at all to his character to the contrary.  Many fans believe this is just a publicity stunt, shock for shock value alone, and I agree.

With his rise in popularity due to two wonderful films in the MCU, I can imagine that there was a meeting in which execs and writers came up with a few “what if” scenarios, but as a fellow writer, I can attest to the fact that not all ideas are good ones.  I can’t fault a writer for wanting to take a risk, especially with a character of Cap’s reputation, but taking a character with such a strong moral code and turning that on its head without any warning is just feeding into the mentality that the only way to be relevant is to be shocking.

We, as a people, continually exposed to all manner of craziness via the internet and the rise in dramatic, stunning television, I think, are the reasons behind such bold moves.  In order to be noticed, we’ve resorted to becoming the one-uppers.  Shows like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and American Horror Story, among others, have risen the bar in the way of surprising their audience, and I thank them for it, but at the same time wonder if it’s not hurting us as well, overall.

We now expect so much more from all our media-going experiences, and this is forcing writers to do the unexpected often without reason.  A scene like the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones had a great deal of build up.  It wasn’t an out of left field surprise, although yes, it was upsetting.  The stage was set, long before we arrived, with bread crumbs left along the way that led us to such an inevitable conclusion.

GoT

This is something as writers we need to be aware of.  We can’t throw in a shocking twist just because – there has to be a reason, motivation, there has to have been set up.  Audiences want to be satisfied, they also want to feel clever, and this is done by offering them morsels and insights they can piece together before the big surprise.

This offers us, as writers, a great challenge to think about the nuances needed to tell our story more effectively.  If we look at the big picture, how can we impress upon our audience what is to come with a little foreshadowing?  Is there a metaphor that could highlight the impending dilemma?  Is there a phrase said by a character early on that offers such insight?  Think of social media and how people dig into their favorite scenes, stories, characters, etc. to find more depth and hidden meaning (I have discovered a number of memes and the like showcasing foreshadowing I missed myself) and think of how happy it will make our audience if we can offer that to them.

I found this writing tip via Helping Writers Become Authors that offers the good and bad reasons to kill a character, but I think it can be utilized in regards to any plot device.

KillingCharacter

Let us not short change our audience.  Let us give them the surprises they deserve; those that mean more because we cared enough to think our story through, and not just another tactic or ploy meant to incite emotion or a reaction.  Let us also not short change our work or our characters.  Be true to them.  They deserve no less…and so does Cap.

Happy Writing!

The Elusive “Next Idea”

YKYAWWStopEverythingClearing out my email again this week, I came across a few articles I wanted to share, but none of them really corresponded to the other, so I decided to pick one and run with it.

Where do we come up with our ideas?

I’ve written a ramble or two in regards to keeping a notepad with you at all times, or utilizing the note app on your phone with the built-in night light, because we can only keep reiterating that wonderful nugget we’ve discovered for so long before weYKYAWWTexting eventually lose it.  It’s our burden – brilliance at the wrong time.

InkTip shared How to Scientifically Spark Your Creative Genius, and it’s a quick read that will give you a little insight into why we have our best ideas right before we fall asleep, or when we’re doing anything else besides writing.

Not all our snippets are gold on their own, but our minds are complex things that work out plots and intricacies long before we ever get pen to paper, or finger to keyboard.  We don’t know what little blurb of conversation we overheard and wrote down could be the beginnings of something wonderful, and if we fail to write it down, we’ll never find out.

A line of dialogue in a TV series sent my mind whirling about a screenplay that I’ll get to eventually.  It’s dark and kind of twisted, not my usual fare, but it’s good to have ideas outside our genre too.

I’ve been writing fan fiction at work as a way to pass the time, but sometimes during those few mundane hours I’ve come up with ways to fix plot holes or created new characters.  This is why I always have a notepad for writing in my server book.  That’s the strange thing about being a writer, when people ask where we come up with our ideas.  Sometimes it’s from being observant, sometimes, who knows?

Maybe it is just from giving our minds a break from the responsibility that accompanies the idea that as writers, we must always be on.

DaydreamingQuote

I’ve heard of writers doing these things called “idea sessions”, and I still can’t get on board with it.  Sitting and writing dozens of ideas in a given time to see if one sticks?  I’m not sure if that’s the way to finding a story you can be passionate about…but since I haven’t tried it, maybe I’m not one to speak.

We’re the first readers of our stories, and I believe we have to love what we’re writing.  If you’re just looking to write a formulaic story, I have to wonder why?

I’ve said this before: everyone has a story, but that doesn’t make everyone a writer.  And I stand by that.  I think as writers, we see everything as potential material, and that’s what separates us.

So when you hear something interesting, or see an image clearly in your mind, don’t lose it, because that could be the start of your next big idea!

Best wishes!