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!

Quote of the Week

July 2nd was the halfway point of the year, so I thought it would be a good time to reflect on where we are with our goals.

I have set goals for myself the last few years because somehow, one time, the whole year had passed and I hadn’t read a single book or watched more than half a dozen films. Who knows what that meant for my writing…

What happened that year?!

When I came to that realization, I started to create a list of goals I wanted to accomplish each year. Call them goals or resolutions or even part of your “to do list”, but without some sort of structure, a clear path to follow, it’s easy to allow them to just remain an idea, a figment, a wish.

Goals do not have to be secured at the beginning of the year, we can create a new one anytime. We don’t have to wait for November to power through a writing challenge. Every day is a chance to start. Each day is an opportunity to get a little bit closer to where we want to be.

So whatever goals you set for yourself at the beginning of the year, check in on your progress. What adjustments need to be made? If you want to create a new goal for yourself and/or your work, do it. Make a step-by-step list of how you can and will accomplish this task. What do you need to do? Who can help you? What is a realistic time frame? Are there tools that would better help you if you had them available? Set a deadline for yourself, or find an external one, like a contest entry that will keep you on track. What steps will bring you closer to achieving your dream?

Write it all down. Make it visual. Sometimes seeing a large goal is overwhelming because there is a vagueness in how you might get from A to Z, but when it’s broken down into more manageable steps, the objective doesn’t seem so unattainable. Also, small steps toward the larger goal can help maintain your positivity and momentum as you see yourself checking off those tasks.

I am in no way always successful, but I’ve come to the conclusion that by at least acknowledging the things I’d like to accomplish, it gives me something to strive towards, even if I sometimes fail.

I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors, and if you ever need a cheerleader for a bit of encouragement, you know where to find me. 😉

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!

Quote Monday

As creatives, we give ourselves a hard time. Whether it’s in regards to our craft, our feelings of self worth, our motivations, or life in general, it takes a lot to maintain any sense of balance and feeling of positivity. Many of you may recall my idea last year to schedule my days so that life stuff didn’t interfere with writing stuff…yeah.

I had willingly quit a job, just months before the pandemic, and writing felt like a guilty pleasure. And that old adage really started to wear on me as time drew on – a real writer writes every day. I couldn’t. For months I was a dry well. All these writers kept posting things like, “We’ve been given all this extra time.” Blech. People were being productive, and it was making me feel even worse. There were more pressing matters to attend to, there was stress and worry, and my writing wasn’t paying the bills so…after suffering in that dry spell for far too long, I chose to try something new. I created a schedule.

My idea of how my week should look went something like this:

  • Monday – clean
  • Tuesdays – write
  • Wednesdays – Etsy shop
  • Thursdays – write
  • Fridays – explore other enjoyments: piano, sew, bake, etc.
  • Saturdays – write
  • Sunday – blog

As a gamer, having a list detailing my daily goals seemed like a good idea, in theory but in practice, I was trying to schedule my brain into thinking about writing only 3 days a week. I was expecting the muse to show up on this strange itinerary I had created and thought I would make great strides in progress?! It’s one thing to show up everyday even when you’re not inspired, it’s another to think you’re going to create magic/gold/award winning work on a limited timeline.

Also, I had been, and still am, in rewrite mode on all my scripts, so I had forgotten that not all days are actual, physical writing days. When you start a new project there are those imagining days, research days, character creation days, plotting days, naming things days, so when I saw this quote I found myself dumbstruck. How could I have forgotten something so simple?

Remembering this would have helped me to not be so hard on myself during that time in the desert, and that’s why I decided to share this tip today, for those of you who have found themselves similarly marooned. If you’re reading anything, if you’re taking personality quizzes as your characters, if you’re coming up with story lines, snippets of dialogue, and what-if scenarios, it’s all writing. Not every day requires words on paper (or screen).

Sometimes we need to explore other options to discover what works for us, and my schedule idea was an attempt at that. It didn’t work because I was expecting too much from a structure that was not ideal for creativity…and it compounded my negative feelings when I was already weighed down. Side note, it wasn’t like I wasn’t thinking about my writing every day, it’s not something I can ever escape, but I felt guilty when I was writing and when I wasn’t. What a vicious cycle we’re a part of.

Remember that this path we have chosen is already a difficult one, so be kind to yourselves. Try to be creative in some capacity everyday, but give yourself a break if you aren’t. Don’t feel guilty if you watch a movie, take a walk, skim Pinterest, or just stare out the window because you never know when inspiration will strike.

Happy Writing!

Quote Monday

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve come across a number of articles related to the topic of when to consider giving up on your writing. Most of the titles were decisively click bait but I was intrigued that this was a common theme making the rounds.

It got me thinking about my writing and my shortcomings in regards to my career thus far.

I am now of a particular age in which my job prospects should be more of a priority. I am smart, educated, and capable of doing more than I am currently interested in doing but the thought of a “real” job makes me uncomfortable, in part, because I know that I would have to put those particular obligations above those I value more, because…paycheck.

I want to be a writer (or so I keep saying), and now that we’re settled in our new home in a new state and I have a (mediocre) job lined up, I’ve been able to write. For days. It has been an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction to see the words I’m thinking stream from my fingertips to the screen, especially in light of the barren wordless wasteland I found myself in until now.

I have not given my career a proper chance, and I still have passion, so the thought of giving up is not an option I’ve truly considered. Since reading some of those articles, I did think, “What would it take for me to give up writing?” and could not think of a single thing. I’d like to be considered a professional writer, and I know I would be disappointed should that never happen, but I don’t think I would or could ever give up writing all together.

And neither should you.

If you feel the same.

I’ve taken long breaks, which I always regret, but I perpetually feel the urge to want to write. It’s like a shadow, always lurking in the recesses of my mind, my fingers itching for the feel of the keys beneath them.

Most of the articles ended on a similar note.

Only we can hold ourselves responsible for the goals we set and reach. Only we are capable of writing in our own particular voice, and if we want to keep using our voice, then the thought of giving up shouldn’t even cross our minds because the alternative is silence. Stifling our creativity.

If you’ve been considering calling it quits, really think on it. Ask yourself if you would miss it. Try to remember what it is about writing that you enjoy. Maybe you don’t think you have anything to say – what topics compel you to want to act? Try your hand at a different style. Read.

If after all this you find that you don’t have the desire to continue, only then would I recommend taking a break but I would never suggest giving up. Maybe the passion has fizzled, but I believe if it once existed, it’s likely to return.

And don’t you want to know what happens next?

As a writer, the answer should be a resounding YES!

So should you need more of a pep talk, send me a message. If you have any words of wisdom to share with your fellow writers, please leave a comment below.

Good Luck & 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.