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!

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.