Dumb Little Writing Tricks That Work: “Don’t Finish That Scene!”

October 28th, 2014 by

Let’s say you’re in the middle of writing a script – and it’s a slog. You’re finding it really tough to drag your ass onto the chair and start writing the next scene.

Well, let’s roll back the clock. What if yesterday, you hadn’t finished the previous scene? What if you got halfway through that scene, knew exactly where it needed to go to reach the end, but instead of completing it, you quit your writing session with the scene unfinished.

Now instead of starting the next day having to break a new scene, you have the easy task of finishing the scene from the day before.

Bada-bing, bada-boom, you knock out the ending to the scene, giving your mind and your fingers a chance to warm up — and now you’re ready to charge ahead.

So the trick is stop each writing session in the middle of a scene. That way you can start the next session with the ‘positive’ experience of finishing a scene.

This has been the inaugural edition of “Dumb Little Writing Tricks That Work.”

[Originally posted September 23, 2008]

Dumb Little Writing Tricks That Work: 1 Page A Day

October 27th, 2014 by


I heard this idea from producer Larry Gordon about how to knock out a script: 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.

This has been another edition of Dumb Little Writing Tricks That Work.

[Originally posted September 27, 2008]

David Milch: “The Writer’s Voice” (Part 5)

October 25th, 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 5:

Let me hasten to say I’m not comparing myself to St. Paul. But I know what it is to do what you never dreamed of doing, what you never thought you’d be capable of doing. The utter mystification that you experience. “How did I get here? How did this happen?” Let me read from Paul’s Epistles. He doesn’t seem like a murderer: “We know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal. Sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions, for I do not do what I want. But I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it but sin which dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want but the evil I don’t want is what I do.”

Let’s think a little bit just for a second about writing, when for any reason you don’t do it, and if you do do it, you don’t do the writing you want to do, and if you do the writing you thought you wanted to do it turns out that you didn’t do it the way you wanted to do it, or you gave it to the wrong person, or the person you gave it to didn’t handle it the way you wanted . . . It’s a mystery. It’s all a mystery to us.

—-

But consider what that was like for him to have his works rejected like that. And when he went out, he said, “All right, so you want me in Rome. You want me working in Rome?” And they said, “Yeah, work in Rome.” And he did. That’s where he died. So all of us can tell our war stories of isolation and humiliation and vacillation in commitment to the faith, which for us is, in this very secular context, the enterprise of fellowship. What I would have you understand is that if you keep coming—you know, Franz Kafka was every bit as crazy as Paul, but he kept coming—and if you sink your roots deep and if you keep coming, you can find an accommodation for anything.

You think you’ve got problems with self-esteem? One day Gregor Samsa woke and discovered he was a bug. So you got problems with self-esteem, now let’s see if you can write. And, ah, that story, The Metamorphosis, is the most beautiful domestic comedy. It’s not about being a bug; it’s about how a family lives with a bug. To paraphrase Yeats, the ladder starts in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart. And that ladder, if you keep climbing, will take you out. Here’s the last that Paul wrote:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faiths so as to move mountains, but have not love, I’m nothing. If I give away all I have but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful. It is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice of wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As per prophecy, it will pass away. As per tongues, they will cease. As per knowledge, it will pass away, for our knowledge is imperfect, and our prophecy is imperfect. But when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see as in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall understand fully, even as I had been fully understood. So faith, hope, and love abide. But the greatest of these is love.”

Now that came to Paul because he kept showing up. After he wrote that, he made a lot of mistakes. And he failed to be fully human a lot of times. But the words abide. And that the words abide perfectly is the little bit of God that we touch, in the same way that when we see our children, you will live outside yourself. As you experience the voices—whether they’re punitive, whether they’re meek, whether they’re shrill, whether they’re placid—understand that love accepts them all. Love redeems them all.

It’s interesting to note how much Milch ties in spirituality to writing. That’s certainly one of the reasons why I remember these articles in “Written By” because I completely agree that there is something about our writing and the words we write that is connected to God / the Universe / the Creative, whatever you choose to call it.

Let’s consider another biblical reference, this from the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In the Christian community, the “Word” in this context refers to Christ. But as writers, we can draw another meaning from the metaphor: the “Word” representing our stories. That in some mysterious, even mystical way they already exist. And it is our challenge to go into our stories to find them. And then the next step, also from John: “And the Word was made flesh.” When we write our stories, we are in effect engaged in a process of incarnation. And it’s all that, I believe, that is connected to God / the Universe / the Creative / Whatever.

Writing and perhaps especially writing for TV and film can be soul-sucking experience. So much effort, so much time, so many other voices mixed into the so-called ‘collaborative effort,’ often diminishing our original vision.

My hope for each one of you is that you never lose touch with the power and beauty of writing-as-incarnation experience. For bringing something into this world from the world of ideas is an awesome thing.

Day 5: David Milch on The Idea of the Writer.

For Part 1, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Part 4, here.

Do yourself a favor. Check out all five posts. David Milch is a one of a kind seer into writing.

David Milch: “The Writer’s Voice” (Part 4)

October 24th, 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 4:

I’m sure that a lot of you want to know what gets you “in” [the entertainment industry]. And the answer is this: If you generate a passionate, humble connection with your work, you’re in. And the paradox is that you don’t need whatever you thought you needed, and when you don’t need it, that’s when they want you. But them wanting you is, by that time, an utter irrelevancy. When I said, “The price sometimes is terrible,” of trusting in the world, of turning over our manuscripts, of offering up our child—a sustained commitment to the enterprise that you’ve begun sometimes has a terrible, terrible price. There are all sorts of distractions and accommodations made available to us in our journey, to take a lesser path rather than absolute loyalty and devotion to the separate life of our work.

The extraordinary thing for me as a parent was that every day my child taught me more. When we had another child, it was geometrically more. You think that your heart will burst if there’s any more love. And it just keeps growing, and that’s what will happen with your engagement with material, to the extent you are able to sustain a selfless connection with it.

The process will be variable, and there will be days when it’s not so good, and there’s deep instruction in that as well. If you keep coming back in humility—without wanting to belabor the analogy—as a parent, then you can’t ever say, “Okay, that’s it.” Even if you say it, it doesn’t stop. Even if you blow town, it doesn’t stop. If you say it’s over, that’s okay, but the child still lives.

As much as one aspires to selflessness in connection with the work—and selflessness does not mean the denial of the self—whatever our heads are telling us is ultimately irrelevant to the living thing, the living breathing thing with which you have entered into a kind of parental responsibility for a little while. And then, at a certain point, it [the thing] gets up and runs away from you.

I remember the first time that happened to me. At first I was terrified, and then I thought I could fly. You’ve entered into a connection with something else, which is not limited by your selfhood.

Day 4: David Milch on The Idea of the Writer.

For Part 1, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Tomorrow Part 5 of “The Idea of the Writer” with David Milch.

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?