What Kind of Day Job Should a Writer Have?

April 28th, 2016 by

This article from the blog Literary Hub, written by Dana Cann, popped up at the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook group the other day which was interesting timing because this very subject has come up in conversation with some of the graduating seniors I’ve been teaching at the university for the last two years: As they head off to Los Angeles to break into the business, what type of job would most lend itself to writing? An excerpt from the blog:

When I turned 30, I took my first short story workshop. I was working in commercial banking, a career I fell into with indifference followed by inertia after graduating from college. I was also playing in a DC men’s soccer league on a team largely populated by Capitol Hill staffers and other professional types. We were a clean-cut group of guys, except Frank, our reckless goalie, who had a mane of wavy hair that fell to his shoulders. Soccer hair, we’d called it in high school. It turned out that Frank was a carpenter. His paying work was home renovations, but his passion was building cabinets, which he described the way artists described their work—with reverence for the process and awe and wonder for the finished piece.


Frank was a craftsman when it came to his cabinets. He designed them, built them, and finished them. Each piece was unique. I envied his focus and I envied his freedom, which, to me, was most apparent in his long hair and his ability to get away with it in a staid town like Washington, DC, in the early 1990s, the end of the George H.W. Bush Administration.

The spring soccer season ended, and we had a soccer-free summer. I continued to work at the bank, and I took another short story workshop and wrote new, crappy stories.

When the team reconvened in fall, Frank had cut his hair. He’d gotten a job. Nine-to-five. He was one of us. Why, we asked, money?

He assured us that wasn’t it; he could make a decent living in home renovations, but found the work too similar to his passion—building cabinets. Both required working with tools and wood. It had seemed a natural fit, a decent way to fund an artistic pursuit. But it didn’t work for Frank: after a full day on a job site his energy for cabinet making had been sapped. It occurred to me that the issue could have been partly physical—carpentry isn’t a sedentary occupation, after all—but that wasn’t the way Frank explained it. He’d been mentally exhausted, which impaired his ability to take up tools in his free time and work on things that mattered.

By analogy, would getting a job reading scripts all day or doing some form of writing could sap a writer’s creative energy. I was reminded of the subject coming up in interviews I’ve done with writers who were trying to go from aspiring writer to pro writer. For example, Stephanie Shannon (2013 Nicholl, 2013 Black List) was an assistant to a literary manager in New York, but requested a transfer to the Los Angeles office:

Scott: When did you start picking up the screenwriting again in that process? Was it when you went to Los Angeles?

Stephanie: When I got out here I decided I wanted to give it a real shot, because I hadn’t allowed myself to before. Ever since I graduated college I had kind of put it out of my mind as something that I couldn’t realistically do. I was afraid that if I really tried to go for it, I wouldn’t be able to, that I would prove to myself that I couldn’t do it. That was just a fear of mine, I think.

When I got out here I was like, “I’m going to be 28. I need to do it now if I’m going to do it.” I started talking to some friends in the industry who put me in touch with their writer friends. So I started setting up coffees with several TV writers. They were all so gracious to meet with me and give me advice. It was really eye opening to talk to so many people who were my age who had made it as professional writers. I thought, “Wow, this is really possible.”

I made a promise to myself that I would write a screenplay that year and enter the Nicholl. This was around November of last year. I started researching in December. Then I started writing in February.

Scott: Assistant gigs, from everything I’ve heard, a great way to learn the business, but they’re notoriously challenging, especially hours. How did you carve out time to write?

Stephanie: I just became really singularly focused. I was determined I wasn’t going to let another year go by without finishing a feature. I told myself there was no way I was going to miss the Nicholl deadline. I have never been more determined to do anything in my life.

It was a pretty isolating time for me, though. I’d work all day as an assistant, I’d get home at night, and I would write. I’d wake up and work a little in the morning, then go to work. Sometimes I’d just pull out my laptop and write at my desk while answering phones, or in my boss’ office while he was out at lunch. Then on Fridays I would go home after work, and I wouldn’t really reemerge until Monday. I was so into the story that it didn’t feel like I was torturing myself. I was excited, and I looked forward to working on it, which was a really great feeling.

It’s possible to work a strenuous, time-consuming job in the entertainment business and write, but like Stephanie you have to set a goal and be serious-minded about your productivity.

On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for working at something unrelated to the business and not directly involved with writing. For example, Michael Werwie (2012 Nicholl, 2012 Black List) found what he described as the perfect job:

Scott:  Is that how you segued into a lengthy stint as a bartender?

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.

Plus all that great dialogue you can ‘borrow’ courtesy the customers!

So I’m curious what your thoughts are: What do you think would be the best day job for a writer? By the way, I’ve known plenty of writers who after selling a spec script and landing a couple of writing assignments, still kept their day job until they were firmly established in Hollywood, therefore the question isn’t just for aspiring writers.

Click Reply and hit me up in comments with your thoughts on what would be an ideal day job for writing.

HT to Jack Raymond for the link to the Literary Hub article.

Beyond Spellcheck

April 26th, 2016 by

You know, I like to think of myself as a pretty laid back guy. Not so big on the whole ‘rule’ thing. Yep, just an old hippie at heart.


That’s when I turn into your 5th grade teacher. You know, that mean sourpuss Mrs. Hauck who had a glare that made your insides quiver. Voted “Miss Strychnine, 1932.” Triple chin. Smelled of castor oil.

That’s the state of my mood when I read a script full of misspellings.

There’s one message I take from a writer who turns in a final draft that has several misspelled words: They don’t really care about the craft of screenwriting.

I’m serious. If you genuinely care about becoming a screenwriter, you need to demonstrate your professionalism at all levels — even the picayune ones.

[See, I spelled “picayune” correctly just to rub it in!]

Now I hear you out there. “The last thing I do before I hit Print is I run the spellcheck function.”

Good for you. Except for one small thing. Spellcheck doesn’t know the difference between “there” and “their,” “stationary” and “stationery,” and “its” and “it’s.”

So if you hand in the final draft of script and you’ve got a side of dialogue like this —

Halt their! If thou doesn’t, its going to
mean death! And when I smite thee,
thou shalt be stationery for ever.

— then you’re likely to have one rankled script reader.

So let’s go beyond spellcheck to review some basics of spelling and grammar:

It’s: This is the contraction of “it is” as in “It’s time to get your freaking act together regarding spelling.”
Its: This is the possessive form of “it” as in “That script reader’s dog is going to blow its top if it’s forced to hear its owner swear about poor spelling one more time.”

There: Can be used as an adverb, pronoun, or adjective to signify a location as in “Put that script with all the misspellings in the recycling bin over there.”
Their: The possessive case for “they” as in “Gawd, those writers… they’re totally wasting their time because they’re such poor spellers.”
They’re: The contraction of “they are” as in “They’re going to get a ‘pass’ every time if they keep spelling as badly as they do.”

Your: The possessive case for “you” as in “Your spelling skills suck.”
You’re: The contraction of “you are” as in “You’re in deep doodoo with that script reader because of your lame spelling.”

Our: The possessive case of “we” as in “Our damn spellcheck didn’t catch some spelling errors!”
Hour: A period of time equal to 60 minutes as in “Okay, I’ll take one hour to proofread my script one last time before sending it off to that agent.”

Unless Final Draft has invented HAL the Spellchecker, it won’t catch those boo-boos. You have to be responsible enough to proofread the script yourself. Every last word of it.

Now onto some little spelling tricks I’ve learned through the years:

* There are two “ss’s” in dessert and only one “s” in desert because you want to get through the hot desert as fast as you can, but you want to slow down enjoy your ice cream dessert (i.e., dessert is a longer word than desert).

* Stationery has an “e” because it’s the first letter in the word “envelope” (you know, stationery goes into an envelope) while stationary has an “a” because when you are stationary, your ass isn’t going anywhere.

* You know to spell separate — with an “a” in the middle, not an “e” — because there’s “a rat” in it.

* Lightning does not have an “e” in it because it gave it to its friend electricity.

Now I’ll be the first to confess that I still struggle with spelling. For instance, no matter how many times I use the word entrepreneur, I have to check it in the dictionary. And in a first draft or when I’m in a hurry, I’ll occasionally screw up “its” and “it’s,” “there” and “their,” etc.

But not in the final draft.

BTW this is where significant others can come in handy: Ask them to proofread your final draft. Sometimes a writer’s eyes pass right over misspellings, so a ‘fresh’ pair of eyes can help.

What spelling tips do you have for the GITS community?

Let’s use this post to go beyond spellcheck, all the way to spelling purrfection… er, perfection.

UPDATE: Lots of good suggestions in comments including the practice of printing out your script and doing a final read-thru that way, as opposed to a computer monitor-read. Agreed, typos tend to stand out more on paper. However please print double-sided to minimize eco-impact.

Also got this Tweet from @os1019:

Please add… who’s/whose, to/too/two & an/and into the discussion 😛

Oh, heavens yes! C’mon, let’s create a master list of misspelling no-nos! Together we can improve the lives of screenwriters and script readers everywhere!

[Originally posted April 20, 2010]

“Mad Men” Creator Matthew Weiner’s Reassuring Life Advice For Struggling Artists

April 14th, 2016 by

If this excerpt featured in Fast Company is any indication, the book “Getting There: A Book of Mentors” looks to fall into my must-buy-then-must-read category (as opposed to must-buy-then-lie-in-a-stack-by-the-bed-and-collect-dust-for-years). This is a first person account by Matthew Weiner who created the renowned AMC series “Mad Men”. Here are some excerpts:

Writers were revered in my home and I wanted to be one since I was a kid, but when I went to college, I could not get into a writing class. I went to Wesleyan, a very small liberal arts school. The classes had only 12 to 15 people, and you had to submit writing samples to get in. Mine, apparently, were just not good enough. I was rejected from every writing class. I ended up convincing an English teacher to do a one-on-one independent poetry study with me. When I finished my thesis, I was extremely proud and wanted others to see it. I gave it to a humanities professor and he invited me to his house to read the work out loud. After the first poem, he told me to get out a pen and take notes. He began, “The infantile use of . . . The puerile . . . The childish use of . . . The cliché awkwardness . . . ” It was one humiliating cruelty after the next. And I had to write these insults down myself. I literally went through hours of this, poem after poem. He finally leaned over to me and said, “I think you know that you are not a poet.” I said, “I was not aware of that.”

After college Weiner attended film school at the University of Southern California and made a documentary, but couldn’t generate anything from that.

So for the next three years I stayed home and wrote spec scripts. My friends had day jobs, but I didn’t. My wife, Linda, worked hard as an architect and supported us. I attempted to shop my material around, but nothing sold. I got very bitter, seeing people I didn’t think deserved it succeed. It was a dark time. Show business looked so impenetrable that I eventually stopped writing. I began watching TV all day and lying about it. My mother would call me to drive my brother-in-law to the airport. That’s the kind of crap I was doing instead of being a writer. I felt like the most useless, worthless person in the world.

He landed a temporary gig doing punch-up work on a Warner Bros. TV pilot, Weiner’s first paying gig in the business, which led to being hired as a writer on a seris. He was 30 years old.

Comedy hours are long—literally 14-hour days, sometimes seven days a week. But I always wanted to create my own show, so I started researching my “advertising project” (Mad Men) in my spare time. It was like having a mistress. I worked on it at night or during my off-hours when I was not with my family. I paid people to do research, inundated myself with material, and even hired a writer’s assistant to dictate to because I was too tired to type (it also freed my imagination). When I finished the script, I felt like it was something special.

I sent it off to my agent and pitched it to everyone I could. I literally carried it in my bag wherever I went in case I ran into someone who might be useful. I wasn’t able to get meetings at the big networks, but I pitched it to small production companies. From them, I heard things like, “You don’t know what you’re doing.” “Are you aware of how uncommercial this is?” “Are you pulling our leg?” But, honestly, the most stinging responses I heard were along the lines of, “This is one of the most beautiful, well-executed, exciting things I’ve ever read, but I’m afraid that we just don’t do this kind of show.” Those comments made me feel as if I were alone in the universe.

Eventually the script reached David Chase who was producing “The Sopranos” on HBO. He hired Weiner as a staff writer, but Weiner kept pushing his script “Mad Men” and as we all know, AMC picked it up and the series basically made that network.

The observations Weiner makes at the end of the article are noteworthy in the extreme:

Hollywood is tough, but I do believe that if you are truly talented, get your material out there, put up with the rejection, and don’t set a time limit for yourself, someone will notice you.

The most defeatist thing I hear is, “I’m going to give it a couple of years.” You can’t set a clock for yourself. If you do, you are not a writer. You should want it so badly that you don’t have a choice. You have to commit for the long haul. There’s no shame in being a starving artist. Get a day job, but don’t get too good at it. It will take you away from your writing.

The greatest regret I have is that, early in my career, I showed myself such cruelty for not having accomplished anything significant. I spent so much time trying to write, but was paralyzed by how behind I felt. Many years later I realized that if I had written only a couple of pages a day, I would’ve written 500 pages at the end of a year (and that’s not even working weekends). Any contribution you make on a daily basis is fantastic.

Ah, a happy ending!

For the rest of the article, go here.

The Definitive List of Cliché Dialogue

March 28th, 2016 by

It all started with screenwriter Kevin Lehane. He used to have a blog called The Anthology of Codology and at one point, it hosted The Definitive List of Cliché Dialogue. Then he got so busy with his writing career he had to shut down the blog. We had gotten to know each other on Twitter and thus, the List made its way to Go Into The Story (you can read my original November 2009 post here).

From time to time, I’ll re-post the list to allow readers to continue adding to it. Here is the latest iteration:

1. I was born ready.
2. Are you sitting down?
3. Let’s get out of here!
4. _____ my middle name.
5. Is that all you got? / I’m just getting started.
6. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
7. Don’t you die on me!
8. Tell my wife and kids I love them.
9. Breathe, dammit!
10. Cover me. I’m going in.
11. He’s standing right behind me, isn’t he?
12. No, no, no, no, NO! I’m not going. [Cut to them going.]
13. No. Come in. ____ was just leaving.
14. You’d better come in.
15. So, we meet again.
16. We’ve got to stop meeting like this.
17. (Greeting) Well, if it isn’t ____.
18. I’m just doing my job.
19. You give ___ a bad name. Calling you a ___ is an insult to ____.
20. You’ll never get away with this! / Watch me.
21. Looking good. [Said into a mirror.]
22. Now . . . where were we?
23. What the. . . ?
24. How hard can it be?
25. Time to die.
26. Follow that car!
27. Let’s do this thing!
28. You go girl!
29. You ain’t seen nothing yet!
30. . . . Yeah. A little too quiet.
31. If I’m not back in __ minutes, get out of here/blow the whole thing up/call the cops.
32. What part of _____ don’t you understand?
33. I’m not leaving you. / You have to go on without me.
34. Don’t even go there.
35. I’ve always wanted to say that!
36. Ready when you are!
37. Is this some kind of sick joke?
38. Oh haha, very funny.
39. Did I just say that out loud?
40. Wait. Did you hear something?
41. It’s just a scratch.
42. How is he? / He’ll live.
43. I’m . . . so cold . . .
44. Is that clear? / Crystal.
45. What if? . . . Nah, it would never work.
46. . . . and there’s nothing you or anyone else can do to stop me!
47. You say that like it’s a bad thing.
48. Note to self . . .
49. Honey, is that you?
50. What’s the meaning of this?
51. What seems to be the problem, Officer?
52. What’s the worst that could happen?/ What have we got to lose?
53. I have a bad feeling about this.
54. Leave it. They’re already dead.
55. Don’t you think I know that!
56. Whatever you do, don’t look down.
57. Why wont you die?!
58. I eat guys like you for breakfast.
59. Oh now you’re really starting to piss me off!
60. We’ve got company.
61. Hang on . . . if you’re here then that means . . . uh oh.
62. Oh that’s not good.
63. Awkward!
64. What just happened?
65. We’ll never make it in time!
66. Stay here. / No way, I’m coming with you.
67. This isn’t over!
68. Jesus H. Christ!
69. It’s no use!
70. It’s a trap!
71. She’s gonna blow!
72. Okay, here’s what we do . . . [and cut to a different scene]
73. Fuckin’ A!
74. I’m getting too old for this shit.
75. Wait a minute, are you saying– ?
76. You’ll never take me alive.
77. Okay, let’s call that plan B.
78. I always knew you’d come crawling back.
79. Try to get some sleep.
80. I just threw up in my mouth a little.
81. Leave this to me. I’ve got a plan.
82. No, that’s what they want us to think.
83. Why are you doing this to me?
84. When I’m through with you (etc.) –
85. Hi, sis.
86. Impossible!
87. Wait! I can explain! This isn’t what it looks like.
88. Showtime!
89. You look like you’ve seen a ghost.
90. If we make it out of this alive . . .
91. That’s it! You’re off the case!
92. How long have we known each other? / We go back a long way.
93. Well, well, well . . .
94. Aha! I knew it!
95. Done . . . and done!
96. Leave it. He’s/She’s/They’re not worth it.
97. In English, please.
98. As many of you know (yadda, yadda, yadda).
99. Too much information!
100. Yeah, you better run!
101. Unless… / Unless what?
102. What are you doing here? / I was about to ask you the same thing.
103. So, who died? . . . Oh.
104. You’re either very brave . . . or very stupid.
105. Oh, yeah! You and whose army?
106. Now that’s what I’m talking about!
107. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.
108. It’s not you, it’s me.
109. This just getts better and better.
110. This is not happening. This is not happening.
111. Make it stop.
112. Shut up and kiss me.
113. I’ll see you in hell!
114. Lock and load!
115. Oh Hell, no!
116. Not on my watch!
117. You just don’t get it, do you?
118. I have got to get me one of these!
119. I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you.
120. It’s called ____, you should try it sometime.
121. That went well!
122. Listen to me, and listen good, ’cause I’m only gonna say it once.
123. Let me guess —
124. Fire in the hole!
125. Did I miss anything?
126. So, where was/were I/we?
127. On Three. One, two…
128. Are you tryin’ to get us killed?
129. I’ve got a confession to make…
130. That’s what she said
131. Over my dead body!
132. Ahhh, this is the life.
133. Say hello to my little friend.
134. Not with that attitude.
135. What’s that supposed to mean?
136. Well, it depends / On what? / On –-
137. What’s wrong with you? / What’s wrong with YOU?!
138. Houston, we’ve got a problem.
139. You know what your problem is…
140. It’s never too late.
141. If I’m going down, then I’m going down fighting.

Remember that there are times when cliché dialogue can be a positive, not a negative. For example, you may have a character whose personality is in part defined by the fact that they do speak in clichés, they are a rather surface level and unoriginal personal, the clichés a reflection of that dynamic.

If you take a cliché and spin it in a new / different direction, something that leads the reader to think the dialogue is going one way, then surprises them, like this one from the TV series “Serenity”:

“Remember, if anything happens to me, or you don’t hear from me within the hour… you take this ship and you come and you rescue me.”

Another good use of cliché is irony. Example: Two street toughs. Tough A likes to opine, “Danger is my middle name.” Tough B loathes it when Tough A says the line because it’s, you know, cliché. Eventually in the story, Tough B whacks Tough A. Standing over Tough A’s body, Tough B smiles and says, “Danger was your middle name.”

So today and tomorrow, I’d like to see if we can crowdsource some more examples. Today: Dialogue. If you have any more dialogue clichés, please post in comments.

Tomorrow we start a new list. But let’s focus on Dialogue today.

UPDATE: Added three more from suggestions. Got another one? Post in comments.

“The great secret of death…”

March 3rd, 2016 by

For those of you writing a story now – or anytime – which deals with death, these words by Rilke are almost certainly relevant for your creative and thought process:

The great secret of death, and perhaps its deepest connection with us, is this: that, in taking from us a being we have loved and venerated, death does not wound us without, at the same time, lifting us toward a more perfect understanding of this being and of ourselves.

Just as we require Night to help define Day, and Evil to shape our perception of Good, so too Death to understand Life.

We know this from movies. For example in the words of Andy Dufresne (The Shawshank Redemption), “Get busy living… or get busy dying.”

It’s also implied in the wisdom of John Keating (Dead Poets Society) when he implores his students to “Carpe diem”: Seize the day. The subtext: The Day will not exist forever. Night will come. Make the most of the Light before the Darkness enshrouds you.

Death need not be physical, it can be symbolic. The loss of a career. Romance. Dream. Indeed, I wonder if in some ways ALL stories are about death – either Big Letter “D”, actual loss of life, or small letter “d”, a more thematic type of ending.

In either case, that ending can create for a character a Beginning, a journey toward a new Understanding. In fact with regard to a Protagonist’s metamorphosis, if they do change, their Old Way of Being, the Inauthentic Life they’ve stitched together before FADE IN / Once Upon a Time, those Beliefs and Behaviors, Coping Skills and Defense Mechanisms must fall away so the Authentic Nature and True Self can be freed up to emerge into the Protagonist’s consciousness and embraced as a New Way of Being in response to the events of their Adventure.

Again Rilke: “The trees you planted in childhood have grown too heavy. You cannot bring them along. Give yourselves to the air, to what you cannot hold.”

The Protagonist has to let go – let die – the ‘trees’ they have allowed to grow in their Old Life in order to go on their story’s journey and enable the ‘stuff’ of their Core Of Being to take flight – come to life – and in breathing deeply that ‘air,’ become stronger and stronger as they head toward their Final Struggle and in most stories Unity.

I am speaking thematically, of course, but think of your favorite movie Protagonists. One great example is from a movie I’ve mentioned: Dead Poets Society. Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) struggles mightily, but in the end moves to free himself from the clutches of his ‘trees,’ symbolized by that famous scene in saying good-bye to Keating.

Contrasted to Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard) who tries to escape the ‘trees’ of his father’s life – “You will become a doctor” – but cannot stand up to him and the death of his dream to become an actor results in his own Death.

Finally and on a more general note, Death as a theme or central dynamic in a story has a universality to it because each of us is born with a termination date. Morbid stuff, I know, but we ALL know that, yet somehow go about our lives with that knowledge sequestered in a lock box within our psyche. Stories allow us to open that box and explore our feelings, thoughts, and emotions about Death, helping us to prepare for the loss of loved ones… and our own finite place in Life. As Rilke says, “toward a more perfect understanding… of ourselves.”

So as you write this story or one upcoming, consider how (D)eath or (d)eath plays a part. What does it MEAN to the characters? In particular, how does it influence the Protagonist on their journey?

You can tap into a wellspring of significance, emotion, and narrative power by exploring this psychological terrain.

Writing Sentences

March 2nd, 2016 by

Writing sentences. It’s perhaps the most fundamental aspect of what we do as writers. And though this tweet is more about writing prose, it makes a valuable point for screenwriters as well.

You should care about the look and feel of each sentence you write. Your words create a rhythm. Varying their length can make for a more interesting read. One screenwriter who does this extremely well is Shane Black. Let’s go all the way back to his script for Lethal Weapon, how it begins:

       FADE IN:


       lies spread out beneath us in all its  splendor, like a 
       bargain basement Promised Land. 

       bringing us IN OVER the city as we:


       TITLES END, as we -- 

       SPIRAL DOWN TOWARD a lush, high-rise apartment complex. The 
       moon reflected in glass. 

       CAMERA CONTINUES TO MOVE IN THROUGH billowing curtains, 
       INTO the inner sanctum of a penthouse apartment, and here, 
       boys and girls, is where we lose our breath, because -- 

       spread-eagled on a sumptuous designer sofa lies the single 
       most beautiful GIRL in the city. 
       Blonde hair. A satin nightgown that positively glows. 
       Sam Cooke MUSIC, crooning from five hundred dollar 

       PASTEL colors. Window  walls. New wave furniture tortured 
       into weird shapes. It looks like robots live here. 

       On the table next to the sleeping Venus lies an open 
       bottle of pills ... next to that, a mirror dusted with 

       She rouses herself to smear some powder on her gums. 
       As she does, we see from her eyes that she is thoroughly, 
       completely whacked out of her mind... 

       She stands, stumbles across the room, pausing to glance 
       at a photograph on the wall: 

       Two men. Soldiers. Young, rough-hewn, arms around each 

       The Girl throws open the glass doors ... steps out onto a 
       balcony, and there, beneath her, lies  all of nighttime 
       L.A. Panoramic splendor. Her hair flies, her expression. 
       Rapt, as she stands against this sea of technology. She 
       is beautiful. 

       On the balcony railing beside her stand three potted 

       The Girl sees them, picks one up. Looks over the balcony 
       railing ... It is ten stories down to the parking lot. 
       She squints, holds the plant over the edge.

                 Red car.

       Drops the plant. Down it goes, spiralling end over end -- 
       until, finally ... BAM --  ! SHATTERS. Dirt flies. A 
       red Chevy is now minus a WINDSHIELD. The Girl takes 
       another plant.

                 Green car.

       She drops it. Green Dodge. Ten stories below, BAM 
       Impact city. Scratch one paint job. Grabs the final 
       plant and holds it out, saying:

                 Blue car.

       POW. GLASS SHATTERS.  Dirt sprays. A blue BMW this 
       time. The Girl loves this game ... her expression is 
       slightly crazed.  She reaches for another plant -- 
       There aren't any. Her smile fades -- And for a moment, 
       just a moment, the dullness leaves her eyes and she is 
       suddenly, incredibly sober. And tears fill her eyes as 
       she looks over the edge --

                 Yellow car.

       And jumps the railing. Plummets, head over heels like a 
       rag doll. Hits the yellow car spot on. She lies, dead, 
       like an extinguished dream. Still beautiful.

Notice the variety of sentence lengths. Some long. Some medium. Some just two words or even one. Yes, that means some don’t even qualify – technically – as sentences. However in a screenplay, we can do that. Remember the screenwriting mantra: “Minimum words, Maximum impact”.

Takeaway: Be mindful of each sentence we write. Use variety to add to the entertainment value and make for a good read.

Zero Draft Thirty Spring 2016 Challenge: 1 Day and Counting!

February 29th, 2016 by

The 2nd Zero Draft Thirty Challenge starts at Midnight tonight Eastern (U.S.) and you are invited… nay, encouraged to participate in this free writing adventure.

Write an entire first draft of a script in March — FADE IN to FADE OUT in 30… 31 days.

Feature length movie screenplay. Original TV pilot. Rewrite a current project. Break a story in prep. Generate a month’s worth of story concepts.

Whatever you feel will ratchet your creative ambitions into overdrive, do THAT!

For background on how the Zero Draft Challenge came into being and what it is, go here, here, and here.

Here are 10 damn good reasons why you should take up the Zero Draft Thirty Spring 2016 Challenge:

1. It is better to write than not to write.
2. You cannot make a script work for you (i.e., representation, meetings, option, sale) unless you write a script.
3. Just 4 pages per day gets you through an entire draft in 1 month.
4. Once you finish your draft, you will have an actual story you can work on, not just an illusion in your mind.
5. You will have the collective energy of hundreds of other Challenge writers at your back.
6. Writing a Zero Draft takes the pressure off in terms of quality as your only goal is to get to The End.
7. You will embark on a journey of discovery which will reveal so much more about your story than you know now.
8. The 30 day structure will motivate you to write every day.
9. You will give your creative life and aspirations a huge jolt of energy.
7. Zero Draft Thirty is great way to transform Perfectionism and Procrastination into Productivity.

Plus there’s this: Your very own ZDT calendar!

March Zero Draft Thirty Calendar B. Zinger

Created by Bretton Zinger, you can download a copy of it here.

Each day in March, I’ll be uploading a Zero Draft Thirty post here at Go Into The Story with inspirational quotes, videos, and bestowing the vaunted Trumbo Award on some lucky writer. Plus I’ll be doling out the occasional blast of creative juju for Challenge writers in general.

And if you really want to get in the spirit of things, join the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook group, a terrific collection of 700+ folks who post things every day, even when we’re not in a challenge.

Look, if you’re an aspiring screenwriter or TV writer, you should be writing at least 2 spec scripts per year. That’s why we’ll be running the ZDT Challenge twice in 2016 — March and again in September. If you’re a working writer, my advice is to write 1 spec per year like many pro Hollywood writers I know do.

The more scripts you write, the more chances you have to create something which makes a positive impression and perhaps even get produced. In the process, you become a better, more proficient writer.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please post in comments.

The Zero Draft Thirty 2016 Spring Challenge.

March 1: Type FADE IN / In the Beginning.
March 31: Type FADE OUT / The End.

30 31 days. A first draft of an original story.

It’s cool! It’s crazy! It’s free!

I’ll be kicking off things tonight right at Midnight with the initial writing scamper of the March Challenge, so join me, won’t you?

And spread the word! The November Challenge was written up in Indiewire. Translated into Spanish.

Twitter hashtag: #ZD30SCRIPT.


Zero Draft Thirty Spring 2016 Challenge: 2 Days and Counting!

February 28th, 2016 by

T minus 2 days. On March 1, the Zero Draft Thirty Spring 2016 Challenge kicks off!

Write an entire first draft of a script in March — FADE IN to FADE OUT in 30… 31 days.

Feature length movie screenplay. Original TV pilot. Rewrite a current project. Break a story in prep. Generate a month’s worth of story concepts.

Whatever you feel will ratchet your creative ambitions into overdrive, do THAT!

Here is a ZDT primer:

Why did you start Zero Draft Thirty?

NaNoWriMo, the write a novel in a month outfit, used to run Script Frenzy, but stopped it in 2012. So why not create month-long challenges to fill that space?

Why the name Zero Draft Thirty?

When I posted the announcement for the initial ZDT Challenge last November , I made a point that this is not about writing perfect pages, rather this is about pounding out a first draft. I noted how some writers call that initial iteration of a script a vomit draft. Some a muscle draft. And some a zero draft. GITS reader Orange Pop came up with a great title: Zero Draft Thirty.

Zero Draft = Get The Damn Thing Done Draft!
Thirty = 30 days in the month

Shorthand it: ZDT or ZD30.

[Yeah, we’re fudging it in March ‘coz we have 31 days, so you’ve got a bonus 24 hours to complete your draft.]

You mentioned Twitter. Does the Challenge have a hashtag?

Indeed it does. As you may know, I am all over Twitter, currently with 36,000 followers (@GoIntoTheStory). So whenever you Tweet anything to do with ZDT, use this hashtag:


What if we want to write a TV pilot or rewrite a script?

Absolutely you can use ZDT for any scripted project. In fact, I’m going to be rewriting – again – the script I wrote in November.

So how do we interact?

Every day at 6PM Eastern / 3PM Pacific, I will do a ZDT post here. In it, I will include an inspirational quote, perhaps some reflections on the quote, add a motivational video, I don’t have that all figured out, I’m just going to feel my way through it. I’m sure you folks will have some ideas or comments which will inspire me to feature something in the daily posts.

The daily posts are cool, but again where’s the interaction part?

As you know, my posts have a comments section. That means you can click Comment and write something on any/all of the ZDT daily posts. Then I will read your comments. Other writers will read your comments. I’ll post comments on your comments. Other writers will post comments on your comments. It will be comments, comments, comments all day, all night. That’s interaction. Of course, we could all choose a resort location, fly there, and interact, but all those mixed drinks with little umbrellas get in the way of writing, so we best stick with comments.

What sort of comments should we make?

Anything you want, but since the whole point of the ZDT Challenge is to motivate each of us to pound out pages and get from FADE IN to FADE OUT, at the very least, I would hope you drop in often — ideally on a daily basis — and let us know how many pages you wrote in the previous 24 hours. But feel free to share your joy… or your pain. If you need a boost, ask for it. If you feel inspired, share your insights.

So the comments are really about creating a supportive environment, right?

You took the words right out of my mouth… fingers… keyboard.

I heard you would do ‘writing scampers’. What’s that about?

Several pro writers including Jane Espenson and John August from time to time invite people via Twitter to join them in 1 hour writing sprints. We came up with writing scampers as a way of embracing the Zero Draft spirit. I’d do them most every day during the Challenge as would others. It’s a great way to feel the support of other writers knowing while you’re in a writing scamper, other Scamperers are with you.

What’s this thing you mentioned about The Trumbo Award?

I had an inspiration: What if each day, I select one writer based on their comments and celebrate their creative effort with this:

HSW Dalton Trumbo Bathtub Award

See that guy? That’s Dalton Trumbo. You can read about him here. He’s a famous screenwriter. But in relation to the ZDT Challenge, it’s all about the bathtub. I mean, dude liked to write in the tub. In fact, there’s even a statue of Trumbo in his home town of Grand Junction, Colorado… in the bathtub!

So obviously we just gotta give out The Trumbo Award every day to the ZDT participant with the best comment. I mean, c’mon, right? It’s a photo. Of a screenwriter. Writing. In a bathtub! Hopefully this hallowed award will come to be known simply as… The Trumbo. As in, “Dude, I posted an awesome comment at GITS, and I totally won The Trumbo!”

Any other ZDT motivational goodies?

How about a Zero Draft Thirty Spring 2016 Challenge Calendar designed by Bretton Zinger!

March Zero Draft Thirty Calendar B. Zinger

You can download it here.

It’s amazing how something as tangible as a calendar can serve as a motivational tool, so I encourage you to make use of it.

So I post script pages here?



Ah, got it. Just to underscore this point, the Zero Draft Thirty Challenge is all about one thing: Motivating each of us to write a script draft. That’s the focus. Not reviewing script pages. Not networking. Use the Challenge to get from FADE IN to FADE OUT.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please post in comments.

The Zero Draft Thirty 2016 Spring Challenge.

March 1: Type FADE IN / In the Beginning.
March 31: Type FADE OUT / The End.

30 31 days. A first draft of an original story.

It’s cool! It’s crazy! It’s free!

Don’t forget the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook group. A terrific collection of 700+ folks who post things every day, even when we’re not in a challenge.

So calling all Zeronauts, Outlaws, Scamperers, and Writing Warriors. Who’s up for pounding out a Zero Draft in March?

T-minus 2 days!


Zero Draft Thirty Spring 2016 Challenge: 3 Days and Counting!

February 26th, 2016 by

T minus 3 days. On March 1, the Zero Draft Thirty Spring 2016 Challenge kicks off! If you don’t know about the Challenge, you can go here to find out more.

Write an entire first draft of a script in November — FADE IN to FADE OUT in 30… 31 days.

Feature length movie screenplay. Original TV pilot. Rewrite a current project. Break a story in prep. Generate a month’s worth of story concepts.

Whatever you feel will ratchet your creative ambitions into overdrive, do THAT!

Today a few words about a Zero Draft mantra: Get the damn thing done!

I lied. When I wrote that thing about “There are no screenwriting rules”

Actually there is one.

It’s about first drafts. They are of such importance, I break my own rule about there not being any screenwriting rules by allowing this one. And here it is:

Get the damn thing done!

You have to start somewhere. And one of the most fundamental values of having a first draft in hand is it gives you something on which you can work. Your story is no longer vapor, an illusion, some fantasy flitting about in your mind.

Rather a first draft is a tangible object you can print out and feel in your hands… but only when you get to FADE OUT.

Moreover if the adage “writing is rewriting” is true — and it is — then it is imperative to get to that rewriting part of the process. And logic dictates you cannot get to that phase until you have gotten through the first draft.

Well, technically you can rewrite along the way when doing a first draft. Or go back and rewrite what you’ve written starting at Page 1… but that path is wrought with peril. Because a kind of inertia can set in where a pattern emerges like this…

Go back to Page 1. Tinker with the opening. Rewrite. Go back to Page 1. Tinker some more. Back to Page 1…

That’s not rewriting. That’s perfectionism. There is a place for that… but in your final draft, not in the first draft process.

Do not expect perfection… because your first draft is going to be flawed no matter what.

Indeed if you embrace the spirit of a first draft — Get the damn thing done! – that should free you up to pound it out.

You’ve done the hard work of finding as much of the story as you can during prep. Now it’s all about putting words down, scene by scene, page by page, from FADE IN to FADE OUT.

Nothing. Else. Matters.

The first draft is a journey of discovery where no matter what your opinion of the pages are, you find essential truths about your story… what works… what doesn’t.

Keep moving forward even if what you’re writing feels like utter shit.

Finally there’s this: Finishing a first draft is an enormous psychological accomplishment. Because let’s face it, the greatest joy of writing is having written. When you type FADE OUT for the first time in your story-crafting process, you will have written something. In the process, you will have beaten back the Hectoring Voices Of Negativity Inside Your Head.

What are you thinking? Don’t write this story, it’s ridiculous? Who are you trying to kid anyway? Don’t write today, it’s beautiful outside, let’s go play! You are never going to get anywhere with this story!

When you type F-A-D-E-O-U-T, each letter is like a hammer blow to The Voices’ ugly skulls.

Take that, ya’ bastards!!!

So when it comes to this first draft you are writing, remember the only screenwriting rule I believe ought to exist:

Get the damn thing done! Get the damn thing done!!


For additional motivation, check out this calendar generously created by Bretton Zinger:

March Zero Draft Thirty Calendar B. Zinger

You can download it here.

Join the Zero Draft Thirty Facebook group along with 700+ other writers here.

The Zero Draft Thirty Spring 2016 Challenge.

March 1: Type FADE IN / In the Beginning.
March 31: Type FADE OUT / The End.

One month. One story. One kick-ass adventure.

It’s cool! It’s crazy! It’s free!

Twitter: Use the hashtag #ZD30SCRIPT.


Zero Draft Thirty Spring 2016 Challenge: 3 Days and Counting!

February 25th, 2016 by

T-minus 3 days until the beginning of the Zero Draft Thirty Spring 2016 Challenge. If you don’t know about the Challenge, you can go here to find out more. But the main thing is this:

If you are writing an initial draft of a story, align your mind with the idea that your fundamental goal is to get from FADE IN to FADE OUT. You are going to use that focus to shoo away your Voices Of Negativity which generally come in two flavors: Perfectionism and Procrastination.

Know going in, you will hear them. They are a natural part of the creative process. You can’t stop them from expressing their opinions. Their chatter sounds something like this:

Perfectionism: “Ooh, you’ve got that scene terribly wrong, you know that don’t you?”
Procrastination: “Besides why are you writing right now? I’m sure there are emails mounting up you really need to take care of.”
Perfectionism: “Yeah, best to do that because this story… honestly, it’s a real mess.”
Procrastination: “And remember, there’s that pint of Double Delight Chocolate ice cream you bought this morning waiting right there in the freezer! Let’s have a scoop or two, just take a break for a few minutes, shall we?”

And on and on. Their job, which they do quite well, is to distract us. But the Zero Draft approach introduces another P word into the mix: Productivity.

When we write a Zero Draft, we put a premium simply on producing pages. The quality of the writing is a secondary, even tertiary concern.

Embrace the tenet that by producing pages and getting from FADE IN to FADE OUT, you will go on a journey of discovery which will lead you to a much greater understanding of your story than when you began.

The pages themselves may – in your eyes re the actual quality of the word assemblage – read like a load of crap. But there are surprising aspects of your characters which emerge. Lines of dialogue which sing. Plot elements which come together rather nicely. And an overall sense of Beginning-Middle-End.

None of that there before you typed FADE IN. All of it there after you type FADE OUT.

So in preparation for the upcoming #ZD30SCRIPT Challenge, it’s time to have a conversation with your Voices Of Negativity!

Hey, Perfectionism… Procrastination… we gotta have a little chat.

Look, we’ve known each other a long time.

I admit there have been occasions when I’ve cursed you. Tried to squeeze you out of my mind. Other times when I’ve embraced you and indulged in creative slumber like a happy, slobbering sloth.

But next month, it’s Productivity time. That’s right, P-R-O-D-U-C-T-I-V-I-T-Y. I am subletting your space and you’re gonna go on a well-deserved vacation for 31 days.

Oh, I know you’ll Face Time me because, you know, you guys just gotta keep up the chatter. And I’ll answer. But don’t be surprised if I hang up very quickly and get right back to work.

You see, next month, it’s all about FADE IN to FADE OUT, “Once upon a time” to “And they lived happily ever after”. Nothing else matters. No knock on you particularly. Everything will take a back seat to my Zero Draft.

Wanted to be clear with you so we understand ourselves. And when you check in and see me hunched over my computer fingers tap-tap-tapping away? That’s what we call a writing scamper and I’ll be doing a lot of them next month. That’s right, actual sustained writing. No Internet. No social media. No distractions.

And because it’s a Zero Draft, Perfectionism, you have no sway over me. Because it’s a 31 day challenge, Procrastination, you got nothing on me either.

Oh, and Productivity will be making a few visits before Day 1, to do a bit of clean-up, so I hope you don’t mind the company.


Get psychologically tuned up for the Zero Draft Thirty Spring 2016 Challenge! Put Perfectionism and Procrastination in their place. ‘Coz starting March 1, a whole bunch of us are gonna fall in love with Daily Page Count.

Call it The Seduction of Production!

Join me here on the blog for daily Zero Draft Thirty posts.

Twitter: #ZD30SCRIPT.

Facebook: Zero Draft Thirty (currently 697 members).

The Zero Draft Thirty Spring 2016 Challenge! Pound out that script in 30… 31 days!