David Milch: “The Writer’s Voice” (Part 3)

October 23rd, 2014 by

Back in September 2010, I ran a week-long series featuring key excerpts from a memorable series of presentations by David Milch at the WGA Theater in Beverly Hills. Then this week, I stumbled upon this: An entire series called The Idea of the Writer by Milch now available on YouTube. In recognition of that wonderful news, I will reprise my posts and embed video from each of Milch’s presentations.

David Milch is a talented writer. Check out these credits:

Television credits (as creator)

Awards and recognition

  • 1993 Emmy Award, Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series (Hill Street Blues)
  • 1994 Edgar Award, Best Episode in a Television Series Teleplay (NYPD Blue, “4B or Not 4B”)
  • 1995 Emmy Award, Best Drama Series (NYPD Blue)
  • 1995 Edgar Award, Best Episode in a Television Series Teleplay (NYPD Blue, “Simone Says”) (shared with Steven Bochco and Walon Green)
  • 2006 Austin Film Festival, Outstanding Television Writer Award recipient

Not to mention the 259 episodes of “N.Y.P.D. Blue” he’s credited with writing.

I did this post back in July that featured some great video of Milch sharing his thoughts about writing. At the time, I noted this:

What leaped to mind when I read the news about the new HBO series was a series of presentations Milch gave at the WGA Theater several years ago. They were covered and excerpted in the fine WGA journal “Written By” over the course of several months. I remember reading them, both fascinated and inspired by Milch’s ideas.

I contacted “Written By” and they have kindly offered to create electronic versions of the original hard copies, so I can excerpt them on GITS. Look forward to that sometime soon.

This week each day, I’ll feature some of Milch’s comments from those presentations at the WGA Theater from back in 2001, excerpted from the “Written By” journal. Here is Part 3:

With our work [as writers], we oftentimes feel an impulse to attach special conditions, and some of those conditions and some of those attachments are so deep that we never submit the work at all. Which is to say that we can learn to live a life organized around justified resentment. And that the act of drinking poison and expecting the other person to expire can go on right up to the end, when we know, finally, who the one is who keels over.

Any time you want to take the easy road in dispelling the misconception that we find our final identities as separate creatures, go to a ball game and listen to the distinct special personality of the crowd as one organism. St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, who drove him completely crazy, wrote: “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be uninformed. There are varieties of gifts, but the same spirit. And there are varieties of service, but the same Lord. And there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the spirit for the common good…”

—-

If you persevere [in writing], I suspect those feelings [of inadequacy and fear of authority figures] would subside then reappear. But at a certain point, you’ll discover a separate phenomenon, which is that the pages exist and begin to have a certain substance, a certain heft. Perhaps you begin to generate respect for the separate existence of the material, and if the voice begins to come alive for you—and sometimes they don’t for a while—but if they do you might recall the moments of doubt. If you sustain your commitment, the amount of time that you commit to it allows various textures to enter into the material. The brief moment that we live, as we experience it, is textured by time. And if we allow our work—whatever work we do—to respect the dimension of time, then, simply, “If you stick with it, you begin to experience a different sort of truth.”

My teacher told me that the secret subject of any story worth telling is time, but you can never say its name.

When you work in a police show, when you talk to cops, when they analyze different types of wounds, they describe one set of wounds as “defensive cuts,” which are the kinds of wounds you receive when you’re trying to ward off a blow. That set of voices—the one voice that is punitive, and the other voice that simply is trying to ward off a blow by distracting the conversation (there are 50 different strategies that second voice might use)… I should tell those of you who experience that set of voices simply to press on. The danger for the people that we’re talking about is to identify the self with either of those voices. The separateness of the material is crucial to accept. Ultimately, that’s how you must come to experience your work. If you do that, you will feel that same, separate, larger identity that the crowd feels in the stadium. Ah, you will feel a different being. And the opportunity to feel ourselves as different beings, as larger than ourselves, is the great gift that God, or life, gives us.

“If you stick with it, you begin to experience a different sort of truth.” You will notice this is a underlying theme to what Milch is saying — press on, dig deeper, have faith. There is story (little “s”) which exists on the surface, what we, as writers, may manage to find in a first pass at the material. Then there is Story (big “S”) which is full of riches and gems, and the only way we find them, expose them to the light is through the hard work of going further and further into the story.

The thing to remember per Milch is that those riches and gems are there. We just need to fight the voices of doubt and trust in the voice of faith that if we persevere, we will find them.

Day 3: David Milch on The Idea of the Writer.

For Part 1, go here.

Part 2, here.

Tomorrow Part 4.

David Milch: “The Writer’s Voice” (Part 2)

October 22nd, 2014 by

Back in September 2010, I ran a week-long series featuring key excerpts from a memorable series of presentations by David Milch at the WGA Theater in Beverly Hills. Then this week, I stumbled upon this: An entire series called The Idea of the Writer by Milch now available on YouTube. In recognition of that wonderful news, I will reprise my posts and embed video from each of Milch’s presentations.

David Milch is a talented writer. Check out these credits:

Television credits (as creator)

Awards and recognition

  • 1993 Emmy Award, Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series (Hill Street Blues)
  • 1994 Edgar Award, Best Episode in a Television Series Teleplay (NYPD Blue, “4B or Not 4B”)
  • 1995 Emmy Award, Best Drama Series (NYPD Blue)
  • 1995 Edgar Award, Best Episode in a Television Series Teleplay (NYPD Blue, “Simone Says”) (shared with Steven Bochco and Walon Green)
  • 2006 Austin Film Festival, Outstanding Television Writer Award recipient

Not to mention the 259 episodes of “N.Y.P.D. Blue” he’s credited with writing.

I did this post back in July that featured some great video of Milch sharing his thoughts about writing. At the time, I noted this:

What leaped to mind when I read the news about the new HBO series was a series of presentations Milch gave at the WGA Theater several years ago. They were covered and excerpted in the fine WGA journal “Written By” over the course of several months. I remember reading them, both fascinated and inspired by Milch’s ideas.

I contacted “Written By” and they have kindly offered to create electronic versions of the original hard copies, so I can excerpt them on GITS. Look forward to that sometime soon.

This week each day, I’ll feature some of Milch’s comments from those presentations at the WGA Theater from back in 2001, excerpted from the “Written By” journal. Here is Part 2:

A psychiatrist will tell you—well, a psychiatrist won’t tell you shit. But in psychiatric terms, the psyche is differentiated into the ego sense of self, the id—which is everything that gets us jammed up—and the super ego, which is the idea of form, or structure, or the accommodation in the world for our behavior. And the super ego is the internalization of the parental voice. Now, it’s obviously an oversimplification. But in particular, a writer—for reasons we will get to in another part of this discussion—stands in a particular kind of doubleness, typically, in his or her emotional makeup, toward experience. Stands both within it comfortably, and, for whatever combination of reasons, stands outside it. That’s the cards you’re dealt. That’s what predisposes you to be a writer as well as predisposes you to be a few other things.

Often, that doubleness is caused by a traumatic association with the idea of form. Here’s a for-instance. The Irish are regarded as a great storytelling people and also as a country full of drunks. There’s a reason for both reputations. It’s a tough country—weather’s tough, they had a lot of problems. One way you learn the doubleness that is typical of the writer is that you are both within the [tavern] and you’re standing outside wondering where the next punch is coming from.

—-

The second maxim that I can give you, the thing that I always try to communicate to an aspiring writer, is that no one can teach you anything that you don’t already know, and each of you has, in your heart, the capacity, when encouraged by a benign organizing presence, to identify the deepest truths of the human story.

That last line is great takeaway:

…no one can teach you anything that you don’t already know, and each of you has, in your heart, the capacity, when encouraged by a benign organizing presence, to identify the deepest truths of the human story.

Day 2: David Milch on The Idea of the Writer.

For Part 1, go here.

Tomorrow Part 3 of “The Idea of the Writer” with David Milch.

David Milch: “The Writer’s Voice” (Part 1)

October 21st, 2014 by

Back in September 2010, I ran a week-long series featuring key excerpts from a memorable series of presentations by David Milch at the WGA Theater in Beverly Hills. Then this week, I stumbled upon this: An entire series called The Idea of the Writer by Milch now available on YouTube. In recognition of that wonderful news, I will reprise my posts and embed video from each of Milch’s presentations.

David Milch is a talented writer. Check out these credits:

Television credits (as creator)

Awards and recognition

  • 1993 Emmy Award, Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series (Hill Street Blues)
  • 1994 Edgar Award, Best Episode in a Television Series Teleplay (NYPD Blue, “4B or Not 4B”)
  • 1995 Emmy Award, Best Drama Series (NYPD Blue)
  • 1995 Edgar Award, Best Episode in a Television Series Teleplay (NYPD Blue, “Simone Says”) (shared with Steven Bochco and Walon Green)
  • 2006 Austin Film Festival, Outstanding Television Writer Award recipient

Not to mention the 259 episodes of “N.Y.P.D. Blue” he’s credited with writing.

I did this post back in July that featured some great video of Milch sharing his thoughts about writing. At the time, I noted this:

What leaped to mind when I read the news about the new HBO series was a series of presentations Milch gave at the WGA Theater several years ago. They were covered and excerpted in the fine WGA journal “Written By” over the course of several months. I remember reading them, both fascinated and inspired by Milch’s ideas.

I contacted “Written By” and they have kindly offered to create electronic versions of the original hard copies, so I can excerpt them on GITS. Look forward to that sometime soon.

This week each day, I’ll feature some of Milch’s comments from those presentations at the WGA Theater from back in 2001, excerpted from the “Written By” journal. Here is Part 1:

When you are not writing, you’re going to be sad. You are going to feel inadequate. You are going to feel untalented. You are going to feel incompetent. It’s crucially important to understand that the impulse to write is a reaching out to God.

Words are symbols of reality, but they are symbols that partake of the reality they represent. That paradoxical doubleness is the explanation of how writing is a reaching out to our fellow human beings but also a reaching out to a larger spirit.

You should mistrust what you think about writing when you’re not writing. There’s a certain expression: “When I’m in my head, I’m in a bad neighborhood.” Another one is, “My best thinking is what got me into this quagmire.” If we think about writing but don’t proceed to the act of writing, we fall back on sentimental or childish explanations for our inactivity.

—-

The first thing to take away with you is the absolute certainty that nothing you have ever thought about your capacities as an artist is true. This is a fresh beginning. You must find a time each day—preferably the same time—in which you sit down and write not less than 20 minutes and not more than 50 minutes. Don’t set it up on the computer, don’t think about what you’re going to write before you do it. No exceptions. This means you.

Whatever comes out is fine. Put it in an envelope when you’re done, seal the envelope, don’t talk about it to anybody, and don’t show it to anybody, and that doesn’t mean, “I’m just gonna show my friend; I’m just gonna find out what she thinks.” Don’t show it to anybody! These are exercises that you are doing, and you are building certain neuro pathways, and you are shutting down certain other neuro pathways. What I’m describing is a physiological, behavioral sequence that is going to have neurological changes for you. You’re going to habituate yourself in a different fashion, and you can’t fool around with it.

—-

Two voices, one and two. No names. No description. That means no description. Voice one and voice two. Don’t say what the setting is. Write for not less than 20 minutes with those two voices. Just follow; just hear what they say. Not more than 50 minutes. Put it in an envelope, seal the envelope, and shut up. Don’t talk about it. Don’t think about what it means. Don’t think about who they are. The next day—preferably the same time—sit down and do it again. They may be the same voice; they may be different voices; don’t worry about it. Don’t think about it. Just do it.

Trust me, in the course of this, the true categories of your imagination will emerge, and they are absolutely different from what you think they are.

Day 1: David Milch on The Idea of the Writer.

Tomorrow Part 2 of “The Idea of the Writer” with David Milch.

Twitter Rant: Eric Heisserer on Procrastination, Precrastination and Productivity in Writing

September 12th, 2014 by

Twitter can be a gold mine for writers. Case in point, when pro writers decide to go on a rant about the craft, such as Eric Heisserer, who occasionally will sidle up to Twitter with a libation at hand, and lay down some flat-out wisdom, 140 characters at a time.

Last night, Eric went straight at the bane of many a writer’s existence: Time Management. The entire thread of tweets reprinted here with permission from Eric (@HIGHzurrer):

For a while, two brothers made some of my favorite instrumental music around. Franz and Helmut were the powerhouse known as E.S. Posthumus.

They are probably most famous for their NFL theme work and the trailer music for the RDJ Sherlock movies.

In 2010, Franz passed away and Helmut retired the band. I figured that was the end of that for E.S. Posthumus.

But lately Helmut has resurfaced, partly in a new band, but also completing one or two tracks his brother had started.

Here is a new favorite of mine: “Witness to History.”

I’ll use that track as my intro for tonight’s rant.

I’m drunk enough to talk about the big scary monster known as TIME MANAGEMENT.

My friends and I have been talking about it a lot, so it’s on my mind. And a few of you have asked, so here is my brain dump on it.

For a long time I had a notion of people who were experts at managing their time. They had every hour mapped out in a scheduler.

Meetings, dining, work, conference calls, reading, even page counts for the day were all scheduled to within an inch of their lives.

Having fallen on my face trying that standard, I’m aware now how much of it is “precrastination.”

And over-scheduling your time can create an inflexibility that loses sight of what matters most to you.

But we all want to be able to get our writing done, every week. For me, when I’m not productive, I don’t sleep well. I feel I wasted a day.

And that’s the key word I plugged into: Productivity. I didn’t need to hyper-manage my time, I just needed to make progress in my work.

So this led me to front door of the big monster: Resistance. Fear, by many other names. Fear kept me from being productive.

Keep in mind it doesn’t have to be a big fear, like falling off a cliff or swimming near a shark. It’s a more banal fear, which is worse.

The little fears camouflage themselves as other things. “You’re just not ready to write.” “You need to research more.” And so on.

Anything that would keep me from actually writing, even in the guise of “working,” was secretly fear-based.

When I did get the ball rolling, and I fought through the resistance to get pages done, I noticed a steep dropoff after about 10 minutes.

Fear, it seems, is a paper tiger. And when you demonstrate to the rest of your brain that the pages can be filled, the tiger slinks off.

If you had to chart resistance on a graph, it would spike fast and die off fast, like a sonar ping. But that is still a steep hill.

Conversely, after writing for an hour or so, “in the zone,” I’d build up a new energy — momentum. Momentum works slowly, then spikes up.

So I put my focus on a project I called “The first ten minutes.” Figuring out ways to conquer that fear-spike and start momentum.

Very quickly, I learned that if the trick or hack didn’t involve actually writing, it wouldn’t work. I can’t watch TV to conquer fear.

Even when it feels like it’s germane to what I’m writing, if I’m not physically typing on the keys or writing in a notebook, I’m stalled.

This helped put a finer point on the way my fear worked. It was usually specific about the next few pages I had yet to write.

“You don’t have a good idea for this scene,” it would say. Or, “You’ll have to rewrite it all later, this isn’t anywhere near perfect.”

That was the big nuke of my fear: Having to revisit pages because I couldn’t write them “correctly” the first time. It’s an old, old fear.

Rewriting is a completely natural part of the process, and it’s in fact crucial to making a script great. Yet my fear denies it. DENIES.

So, back to “the first ten minutes.” My battleground. And the hacks I’ve made to conquer this goddamn banal fear and get shit done.

My first weapon is “Write the worst version.” Some call it the “vomit pass.” I mean to go farther and free myself to be truly bad.

Have characters shout all their inner motivations. Everything goes on the nose and stays there.

This is helpful in a secret way, because it can unearth a character’s motivation I’d previously forgotten. Or it reveals what’s broken.

If, in the Worst Version Ever, I discover both characters want the same thing and they know it, I got no conflict. So I know what to alter.

But even if the Worst Version Ever doesn’t reveal something new, it activates my muscle memory of writing, and gets me moving.

I can delete five pages of crap once I’ve popped the clutch and started my hands downhill.

Second in my bag of tricks is “Adopt a Style.” This is helpful when I’ve read another author and my fear says “You’ll never be that good.”

So my exercise is to write in the voice of that author, even if it’s a piss poor likeness. It’s me sneaking past my fear in disguise.

And quite often, when I’m doing a dime-store Elmore Leonard version of something, I’ll trip on a line of dialogue that I love.

Soon as you find something you love, you are off to the goddamn races. You have momentum. And you’re writing in your own voice again.

And a third tactic I’ll bust out if I’m really blocked on a script: I write an email to explain WHY I’m blocked.

Some aspects important to this trick: It needs to be an email. I need to be writing about the problem. And it needs to go to my peers.

There is something very powerful about writing a detailed description of your problem to a group of friends whom you respect.

Because here’s the thing — you may never actually hit ‘send’ on that email. At the end of it, you’ll find your answer. You’ll alt-tab out.

And you’ll start typing for real.

But even if you don’t get that light bulb burning during your lengthy email, guess what? YOU STILL get to send it for consultation.

And your friends don’t have to have an answer — oh no. They just have to help you spark that kindling in your brain with new ideas.

And again, this is all just to get through TEN SHORT MINUTES of nothing but actual writing. Prime the pump. Light the pilot light.

Accept that you’re going to rewrite it all anyway so it’s okay to play on the page.

Accept that this is an iterative process, and you find the path once you get to the end, and start back again.

And here’s the real “oh hell, yeah” deal: Once you get past those ten minutes, the rest is pure productivity.

There was a time when, if I got two solid hours of productive work done, I could sleep like a baby. Two hours.

So that means if I can conquer those first ten minutes when I sit down, right away, I’ve got the whole damn day to rock that script.

Hell, even Navy SEALs are trained to focus only on increments of 10-20 minutes ahead, so the overall goal isn’t so daunting.

You wanna be a Navy SEAL, right? Be one for your writing!

This is the dirty truth the resistance makes you forget every time you leave: You can write. You’ve done it plenty. It’s like breathing.

You don’t have to be some goddamn Olympic-level anything to write. You just have to get past the little fears.

This was a long-winded way of saying if you get a rambling email from me one day complaining about the 2nd act of something, be gentle.

For a couple of years I shared all manner of tricks and exercises I’ve devised to crack the fear shell. Some of you veteran pals know ‘em.

If you find use for it, they’re all bundled in this Kindle book: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GKNFPGK

And that’s my one plug for the month.

I hope tonight’s whiskey-dick rant was helpful to some of you gorgeous monsters out there. I’m gonna get another drink now.

You may follow Eric on Twitter here: @HIGHzurrer.

You may read my April 2013 interview with Eric here.

Chuck Wendig on “How to Write That Goddamn Novel”

August 29th, 2014 by

If you’re not familiar with Chuck Wendig and his amazing blog Terrible Minds…

What’s wrong with you?

Here is a link to Terrible Minds.

Here is a link to Chuck’s Amazon page of novels and books he’s written.

And here is a classic Wendigistic blog post from 2013: How To Push Past The Bullshit And Write That Goddamn Novel: A Very Simple No-Fuckery Writing Plan To Get Shit Done.

Life will never be kind to the writer. Particularly those who stay at home. You go to a full-time job outside the house, everyone gives you a wide berth to let you do what you need to do. Stay at home to write a book and everybody interrupts you like all you’re doing is watching a Teen Mom marathon on MTV while chowing down on pizza-flavored Combos and Haagen-Daaz.

Life intrudes upon you. It kicks down the door and stomps all over a writer’s practical aspirations to write. Kids. Dogs. A full-time job. A part-time job. Cleaning. Cooking. Pubic grooming. Xenomorph invasion. Hallucinations. Masturbation. LIQUOR AND MONKEY WRESTLING.

As your shoulders bear the burden of carrying the multiple shit-sacks of life’s daily ordure output, it gets easier and easier to push writing aside: “I’ll do that tomorrow,” you say, and next thing you know you’re in diapers once more, this time at an old folks’ home gumming chocolate pudding topped with a skin so thick you need scissors to cut it. Procrastination is the affirmation of an unpleasant and unwelcome but all-too-easy status quo. You merely need to do nothing and yet at the same time feel productive because you’ve promised no really I’ll pinky swear to put down some words tomorrow. You know what I want to say to that?

Tomorrow can guzzle a bucket of vulture barf.

Yesterday’s gone the way of the dodo. You have one day, and it is today.

Your promises are as hollow as a cheap-ass dollar-store chocolate Easter Bunny.

I’m going to give you literally no excuse at all to write and finish that novel. You know the one. The one that lives in your head and your heart but not on the page. The one you always say, “I’m going to write that book someday.” The one you talk about. But not the one you write. The one that makes you blah blah blah “aspiring” rather than the “real deal.” I’m going to give you a prescription for a writing plan that is simple, straightforward, and contains zero heinous fuckery. It’s so easy, a determined ten-year-old could do it. You will have no excuse. None. Zip.

Fuck-all.

Chuck even created this nifty graphic which you can slap onto your forehead, then stare into a mirror, reading it backward for inspiration:

This aligns with my Dumb Little Writing Trick That Works: 1 Page A Day.

Write one page per day. Think about it — at one page per day, in 4 months you’ve generated a 120 pages. So if you take this approach:

* 1 month: Research, brainstorming, character development, plotting

* 4 months: Writing (1 page per day)

* 1 month: Rewrite and final edit

Which means you can crank out 2 full-length screenplays per year — by writing just one page per day.

Novel, screenplay, TV pilot, whatever, it ain’t gonna get done unless you do it. Chuck reminds us: There’s no excuse!

You can follow Chuck on Twitter: @chuckwendig.

For the rest of Chuck’s blog post excerpted above, go here.

“Failure, Writing’s Constant Companion”

August 22nd, 2014 by

The New York Times has a series called “Draft” about the art and craft of writing. It’s a great resource which you can access here. A few days ago writer Rachel Shteir wrote a particularly resonant post: “Failure, Writing’s Constant Companion.” A few excerpts from her first-person essay:

Failure in writing is not like failure in business, where you lose money and have to fire everyone and remortgage your house. When you’re a writer, most of the time, people don’t depend on you to succeed. Although you may starve if your books don’t sell, or your agent might yell at you for producing something that three people will read, failure in writing is more of an intimately crushing day-to-day thing. O.K., minute-to-minute. Measured against your ideal of yourself.

In the last few years, Philip Roth and Alice Munro decided to put down their pens.

Munro told this newspaper that she didn’t know if she had the energy “to do this anymore.” And Roth said, “I no longer have the stamina to endure the frustration. Writing is frustration — it’s daily frustration, not to mention humiliation. It’s just like baseball: you fail two-thirds of the time.” Roth and Munro have produced many admirable works. They should be allowed to stop failing on a daily basis, if they want to, in their eighth decades.

But the rest of us are stuck.

In writing, failing is not dramatic. There will be no news headline: ANOTHER WRITER FAILED TODAY.

Every night, I tweet a couple of items by writers about the craft. As it happens, the other night I had scheduled this quote from E.B. White: “I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all.”

And that’s precisely because any time we sit down to write, we are confronted with the possibility of failure. Indeed, not just the possibility, but the probability. As Ernest Hemmingway wrote to F. Scott Fitzgerald: “I write one page of masterpiece to 99 pages of shit.”

That quote equates to probability… with extreme prejudice.

The thing is, the haunting specter of failure never goes away and it exists at every stage of the process, every level of experience as a writer, from aspiring to professional.

How each of us manages to cope with that reality is one of the great mysteries of life. Every writer is different. Every story is different. And the fear of failure is not a static entity, rather a demonic dynamism that can morph into any shape to haunt our conscious and subconscious states of being.

Here’s one thing I try to remember to combat the probability of failure and it reaches back into my days studying theology. In words ascribed to the Apostle Paul, Romans: 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

That sounds awful, right? But when I apply that to writing, it’s actually a freeing thought. For I know I cannot attain perfection, I will always fall short of what I aspire to accomplish with any story. So rather than be defeated by the soul-sucking shadow of failure, this mindset allows me to accept the nature of writing, and move forward.

Rachel Shteir sums it up nicely in her NYT piece:

As you get older, rest assured, you accept failure as part of your writing life. You realize the many forms failure can take: There is sentence-to-sentence failure, in which the words fly from your brain out the window or throw themselves on the page like suicide bombers. There is the failure to get on the page what is in your head. There is a failure of will. There is organizational failure, in which you wind up collapsing.

You develop strategies to deal with it all. You develop a kind of sixth sense, a detective’s intuition about what will fail and what won’t. But above all, no matter how much you fail, you still sit down at your computer every day, and you keep going.

For the rest of the article, go here.

How about you? How do you cope with your constant companion: failure?

Writing Question: What are the best jobs that leave your days free for writing?

August 18th, 2014 by

I generally loathe listicles, but this headline caught my attention: 7 Easy Jobs That Leave Your Days Free for Writing. Since many, if not most of you have some sort of gig to pay the bills while knocking out spec scripts, I figured this might be of some relevance, if not interest. Here are those jobs:

Newspaper delivery. The days when a boy with a bag on his bike delivered the paper are over, in many communities. Many routes call for a car, and a grownup to drive that car. I’ve known more than one freelancer who was an earlybird and could get up, fling papers from 4:30-6:30, come home, and call the rest of their day their own. If your town has more than one paper, sometimes you can get signed up to deliver both and double your income.

Stocking grocery shelves. I personally know writers who’ve taken advantage of this gig to keep the checkbook full. It’s quiet, it’s mindless, and gigs are usually pretty easy to get — after all, how many people are willing to work midnight to 4 a.m.? Go home, catch some sleep, and by midday you could be writing.

Pumping gas. A close family friend who is now an acclaimed sci-fi novelist pumped gas at night for years, while he was waiting for his work to find an audience. In some states, you still can’t pump your own gas, but even in self-serve places there’s always at least one attendant on duty. When things are slow, you could even read or jot down ideas.

Warehouse work. If you’re physically fit, this can be a great place to grab a night shift, as warehouse jobs tend to pay better than the minimum wage. If you live near any industrial area with big distribution centers, know that most are busy all night long, getting boxes ready to ship the next day and shelving goods for future purchase. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get trained up on how to drive a forklift. Fun times!

Bar back. One entrepreneur I know who opened a shoe boutique took this side job while she waited for her store to catch on, but I think this gig works even better for writers. Unlike becoming a bartender, you don’t have to know how to mix drinks to lug kegs in from the back and empties out to the curb. And of course, bars are a gold mine for seeing characters who might come to inhabit your novel one day.

Drive a cab. You can take a shift during the time you’re not so creative — yet another opportunity to eavesdrop with impunity and get inspired with writing ideas.

Security. Hey, malls need somebody to keep watch all night in case some weirdo breaks in, right? In the right situation, you could read, nap, or even get some writing done while on the clock. As with warehouse work, security gigs pay well because of the danger…which is often mostly the danger of falling asleep.

I was reminded of an interview I did with screenwriter Michael Werwie, winner of the Nicholl Fellowship in 2012.

Michael:  Yeah, once I graduated I took a job bartending, and I bartended for nearly 10 years.

Scott:  That was in L.A.?

Michael:  Yes, West Hollywood. I was at one place for the entire duration of its run, from day one until the last day, called O-Bar. Then that closed and I went to another place not too far away.

Scott:   How has bartending fit into your writing schedule?

Michael:  Bartending couldn’t have been a more perfect fit. I had my days completely free and I used that time to write. I’d wake up, eat breakfast, and write, and that just became a discipline, to the point where if I skipped it or didn’t have time to do it for whatever reason, it felt strange. I would do that every day, and would also take meetings, if and when I had those (which were few and far between for many, many years). Bartending allowed me to make the most money while working the fewest hours. It was a good balance because I could treat writing like a full‑time job and still pay the bills.

As for myself, I traveled up and down California schlepping my comedy act to such grand places as Thousand Oaks, Ventura, and Stockton. I’d work for 2-4 weeks straight, all the while working out stories in my car barreling up and down I-5, then I’d take off a week, transcribe my tape recorder notes and pound out pages in 20 hour writing marathons. It was lather, rinse, repeat for about a year before I sold a spec script. So I guess in a way, that was a pretty ideal gig as it allowed me quite a bit of freedom.

So riffing off the article, what do you think are ideal jobs that allow one the most time and energy to write? Maybe someone will provide a suggestion that others will pick up on, find that kind of gig, and write the next Great Spec Script.

What are your thoughts on the subject?

By the way, it was just announced a few weeks back that Michael Werwie landed this writing gig. All those years as a bartender, paying off!

For the rest of the article, go here.

Found: Online Song Lyric Generators

July 25th, 2014 by

This post may be of interest to a small niche among writers, but if you are writing a script that involves someone who is a songwriter. Or perhaps your story features a singer and you want to use original lyrics. Guess what I found? A bunch of online song lyric generators. Here are links to some of them:

Freestyle Song Lyrics Generator

Random Lyrics Generator

Song Lyrics Generator

The Song Lyrics Generator

WriterBot Song Lyrics Generator

And check this one out:

Alanis Morissette Random Lyric Generator

I’d recommend using these are starting points for inspiration, not simply for copy and pasting. Probably some legal concerns if you did that. Plus you’ll want to inject your own creativity. However I thought these were worth noting for the record so you can bookmark them, just in case you ever have cause to write a script requiring original lyrics.

The Stories of Your Life

July 22nd, 2014 by

I’ll be honest. I have been incredibly busy for the last nine months or so. Good busy, but crazy. So one day recently, I was plugging along through my hectic daily ritual when — BOOM! A blast from the past flat out whacked me upside the head and stopped me dead in my proverbial tracks. It was this:

For whatever reason, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, which recently held its 41st annual weekend event, uploaded a bunch of videos from years past. And the selection above? That is the band Crossroads performing at the Festival in June, 1980. Members of the band: Pat Flynn (lead guitar, mandolin, vocals), Jerry Fletcher (drums, vocals), Dan Wilson (bass, mandolin, guitar, vocals), and me (rhythm guitar, bass, vocals).

That’s right. Me. The dude with the moustache and the platform sandals (?!?!?!)

My good friend Pat Flynn sent me the link out of nowhere. I watched us performing “Sarah and the Summer,” a song written by our musical compatriot Jimmy Ibbotson of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and my brain melted into a puddle of fragmented memories.

It got me thinking. Hard. How did I get from there, playing on stage at Telluride in front of several thousand music fans, to here — husband, father, screenwriter, teacher, blogger?

So I traced my life’s journey and it hit me in a powerful way: I have gone down so many paths, each one of them could have become The Story Of My Life.

Here is a list of some of those possibilities:

I could have majored in political science in college, my original intent, and gone on to become a political consultant.

I could have accepted my boss’s offer (my summer job for 4 years) to become a full-time salesman, then eventual owner of a rug and carpet business in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

I could have followed up my Masters degree at Yale with a Ph.D. and become an academic focusing on primitive Christianity (this was my primary goal from the third year of college through grad school).

I could have become a professional musician (which is what led me to take a break from academics). Indeed pretty much supported myself for 7 years playing music, averaging over 200 gigs annually.

I could have become a full-time minister in Aspen, Colorado.

I could have built on my ‘success’ as a salesman at the Guitar Center in San Francisco and become a manager at new store opening in San Jose, California, then worked my way up the corporate ladder under the tutelage of this guy.

I could have become a stand-up comedian, something I did for 2 years after my stint as a musician.

I could have followed any number of friends, girlfriends and opportunities down dozens of paths, but what I did was this.

I got married and became the father of two sons.

I became a screenwriter and worked in Los Angeles for 15 years.

I became a television producer for Trailblazer Studios for 8 years.

On a whim, I started teaching screenwriting as a hobby through UCLA Extension’s Writers Program.

On another whim, I began teaching screenwriting at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in the Writing for the Screen & Stage program.

On yet another whim, I started blogging at Go Into The Story.

Then Franklin Leonard reached out to me and this became the official screenwriting blog of the Black List.

Then Tom Benedek, the very first screenwriter I met in Los Angeles, and I launched Screenwriting Master Class.

And now I am more well-connected in Hollywood than I ever have been, plus I’ve got more work writing and consulting than I can handle.

I look back on all of this and if I consider it logically, virtually none of it makes any sense whatsoever. But in my gut, it all somehow fits together.

Through it all, there is a thread: I have always followed my creative interests.

Those aspirations took me away from several safe, secure life-paths, but they led me into and through my own tiny, but interesting dot of time on this Earth, hopefully with a few more decades left to explore whatever else lies in store.

Which brings me back to the jolt of seeing me on stage at Telluride in 1980 and my recent reflections on the past.

I realized something. As meandering and bizarre as my personal adventure has been, this is not the story of my life… these are the stories of my life.

Each a fork-in-the-road. Just like a Protagonist. Go this way. Go that. Sometimes I made good, authentic decisions. Sometimes I didn’t. But it’s all led me to this place, this time.

A wife of 29 years. Two sons. Two cats (Cassidy and the Sundance Kid).

A lifelong love affair with movies.

An endless fascination with screenwriting and storytelling.

And the community of people at Screenwriting Master Class and Go Into The Story.

So, you may ask, what happened to the other members of Crossroads?

Jerry Fletcher is still playing music with a band called Marley’s Ghost. Lives in Montana. Here is his Facebook page.

Dan Wilson is also still playing music with a band called Solimar. Lives in Oak View, California. Here is his Facebook page.

And Pat Flynn? He went on to play with perhaps the most innovative acoustic band ever: The New Grass Revival featuring Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, John Cowan and Pat. Here they are performing a version of “Middle of the Night,” a song Pat wrote, which he and I worked up in 1978 when we first started playing as a duo in Aspen as Myers & O’Flynn:

After Pat moved to Nashville, he became an in-demand studio musician, songwriter, record producer and performer. In my estimation, he is the greatest flat-picking guitarist alive today, a member of the Frets magazine Hall of Fame.

Here is Pat’s Facebook page.

Wikipedia page.

Website.

Discography

Pat has released 3 CDs, his latest “reNew” just dropped last week. You can buy Pat’s music on iTunes here. If you like Americana acoustic music, you’ll love Pat’s stuff.

As for me? I’ve moved from songwriting to screenwriting. Still have my Martin acoustic. ’62 Fender Strat. Fender P bass. And two sons who are musicians, one classical, the other a rock and roller. In fact to round out this post, tonight Luke and I are going to a rock concert: Paramore and Fall Out Boy.

I guess it’s true: The more things change, the more they stay the same…

So those are the stories of my life.

How about you? What are the stories of your life? If you feel up to it, take a few minutes to reflect on all of the paths you’ve traveled, and how they’ve led you here, this place, this time, following the contours of your creative adventure.

Life really is an amazing journey, isn’t it?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go back and watch Crossroads in performance one more time, at least to try to figure out the whole platform sandals thing.

What the hell was I thinking…

90 Words for “looks”

July 4th, 2014 by

Movies are primarily a visual medium. Therefore as screenwriters, we need to think visually… and write visually. Take the verb “looks”:

He looks at the body.

She looks at the rainbow.

How about these instead: ogles, gapes, stares, gawks, squints, spies, inspects, surveys, peeks, peers. On and on and on, there are so many better, more descriptive and visual verbs than “looks.”

GITS reader Alan Donahue was kind enough to put together this PDF: 90 Words for “looks”. You can download it here.

On your next script, take the advice of screenwriter Larry Ferguson (The Hunt for Red October):

“There was a girl who came to me with her first screenplay. It was a good first shot. I gave her some advice. I told her, ‘I want you to go home and take a yellow Marks-A-Lot and highlight every verb in this 120-page screenplay, and then I want you to read them out loud and ask yourself, Can I find a stronger verb.’ Characters should never enter. They should storm in, they should skulk in, they should tremble in. These are the only chances you have to create visual pictures in people’s brains.”

Thanks, Alan, for reminding us the English language is rich with vivid verbs.