Monday, November 28, 2011

Writing Tip Of The Week: Writing When You're Tired

Here's my brief writing tip of the week.

What to do when you are tired and you feel like you are writing nonsense?  Not only nonsense, but total garbage that you hate.   You know how that feels nothing about your work is keeping you interested.  The fact that you are contractually obligated offers no motivation.  Everything is horrible.  You never had any talent anyway.  Who are you kidding?  My mother could write better dialogue.  Before you start hacking away at the good work that you've done yesterday or lose faith in the project all together...  do yourself a favor:  Take A Nap.

This is one of the big perks of our job.  We are free to nap at will.  Not too many people can say that.  Think about bank tellers, school teachers or waitresses.  They can't just plop down for a power nap.  "Ordering.  I'll just pick it up in about a half an hour."  No!

But, writers can and should.  I think it helps.  I'll go further - I believe it's part of the process and I will explain that to the IRS if they ever ask why there's a couch, a fluffy pillow and a blanket of weight to match the season in my office at all times.

And here's something that most people outside the business don't know...  If you write out the thing that you're stuck on before you nap and put it on a 3 x 5 card - when you wake up little writing elves will have solved the problem and you can move on to the next scene.  It's ab-so totes incred....

No, okay, not really.  But, more often than not when I write down a problem and then have a 20 minute power nap, a new way of dealing with the issue presents itself when I get back to work.  At the very least I'm more refreshed and I'm more present in my work.

So, happy writing and happy napping.

Next post:  Update on The Movie  and The B.H.P.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Screenwriting How To: Goals and Aspirations

I want to thank everyone who gave me their feedback about what direction our little blog should go.  The results are in and big things are around the corner.

By January (that's a deadline) we will put up the new and reworked site (that's a goal).

Taking your feedback into account, I thought long and hard about what I enjoy in other people's blogs and what I want to share.

Here's what I came up with:  Three W's.

--Writing Tip of the Week -  A section dedicated to the how-to's and tips I've learned over my writing career. (For those who love my advice on structure, pitching, taking notes, etc.)

--What's Important Now - A brief daily journal post on what I'm working on and what my goal of the day will be.  (For those curious about the day-to-day and the journey of my many projects, including the independent feature I'm directing.)

--Warble (because I love the word) - Anecdotal Blog where I can share experiences like The Worst Pitch In The World and/or the current warble in my brain.

Until we make the shift and have tested all the bugs, I will continue to post here - but 2012 is going to be an awesome year.  Stay tuned.

Now a little writing tip:

Goals and Aspirations

I get excited. I love what I do and maybe it's the Aries in me, but I always go out not to just win, but to conquer the world.  Sometimes, I get ahead of myself.   For the first five years of my career I was on an emotional roller coaster.  And I hate roller coasters.   The feeling of my stomach rising up to my tonsils as we plunge is horrifying to me.  I would rather eat black licorice.  And I hate licorice.  But let me tell you, an emotional roller coaster is even worse.  Because the end of that ride is called BURN OUT.  And a good many of my writer friends have met with this end.

I was heading that way too because I defined my success and happiness on whether a script or pitch sold, not on the work I did to create it.  I defined myself by the financial outcome of my projects. Talk about setting yourself up for heartbreak.

Here's the truth:  I don't care who you are, more times than not your projects will not sell.

That's just the facts.  And I have a pretty good track record.  After 15 years, what I know now is sometimes your best work goes unnoticed, sometimes work you don't think has a wing and a prayer finds success beyond reason.  None of it should have anything to do with how you define your personal success.

Know the difference between what you can control and what you have to let play out.

For example, my aspiration might be to sell a spec for seven figures.   (Isn't that what everybody wants? Be honest.)

But, no matter how hard I work I have no real control over whether that will happen.  Do I increase my odds by actually writing a great script?  Sure.  But, ultimately I have as much control over whether it will sell as I do over picking the lottery.  Sometimes they do.  Sometimes they don't.

What I do have control over are the steps I take to move toward my aspirations.  That's where goals come in.  Goals should be something that I can achieve without anybody else.  

My goal would be:  Write a spec.  My aspiration is:  Sell spec for 7 figures.

That's the difference.  Aspirations are your dreams and desires.  Goals are what you set to make them possible.

In order to achieve my goals I set smaller goals within them.  Daily or weekly objectives.  Create an outline.  Write to a certain turning point by a date on a calendar.  Take it step-by-step until I'm there.

Each goal you meet will make you feel great because you are accomplishing something.  And it's essential to create this kind of reward system for yourself.  Because you have to remember something about this business -- it's not like any other work place in the world.  There is no "Holiday Bonus" for working overtime.  There isn't a promotion waiting because you managed to juggle two assignments and a spec.  You will not get a fantastic performance review by your producer for addressing the gut-wrenching notes he piled on you.  You'll be on the curb a long time if you are waiting for that parade.

Creating your own reward system goes a long way in helping you stay in the game.  Set realistic goals and acknowledge yourself for achieving them.

Take pride in your work and then let it go.   As your project meets the market place, make sure you're already working hard to meet your next goal on your next project.

This tactic helps me not get too excited about the good breaks and not get too depressed over the wash-outs.  Everybody has both.

What will sustain you and help you avoid the rollar coaster is focusing on doing the best work you can do.  It's setting goals and meeting them.   It's the day in and day out sense of accomplishment, in pining away at something you love until it's whole.  The feeling of pride in ones work when you've given it your all stays with you longer than that fat pay check.  But, it also helps you stay in the game.  And staying in the game is what actually leads to the fat paycheck.   Because I know... I know...  Everybody shares that Aspiration.

Happy writing!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Screenwriting Tip of the Week

This week I was STUCK.  Elmer's should call me up to get a new formula...

Backstory:  My third act was running out of steam.  In this project the third act has always been the issue.

Here's what I discovered:  If your problem is in your third act - you've got to look at the first two acts to solve it. 

If, like me, your third act lacks drama, simply put you have not set things up correctly.   The third act is the exciting unfurling of the cord you've twisted tighter and tighter in the first two acts.  If yours is uncoiling like a wet noodle, well...  go back, go back, go back.

I went back and traced the spot where I felt things started to go off the rails.  It was my midpoint. 

So I started to think about what the dramatic function of this beat was?  Since it was at the midpoint of the script I knew that this was when things were going to start changing, attitudes, tactics.  The main character was going to have to try something new.   Right?

But, I thought - what if the writer tried something new?

I experimented in switching who rises and who fails in the scene. 

Previously, I had the main character fall on his face, and the antagonist triumph.  But I decided to see what would happen if the roles were reversed?

Eureka!  Letting my hero succeed at the midpoint gave him the freedom to make choices in the remainder of Act Two B. 

Making choices...  Doesn't that sound like an active character?  Doesn't that sound like how every character should be as they charge toward their downfall at the end of the second act and their climatic struggle to overcome in act three? 


So in this instance, it helped the dramatic push of the second half of the story for the main character to succeed at the midpoint.  What Blake Snyder (Save The Cat!) would have called a "false victory." 

Okay, back to it.   Soon we'll be making the switch to

Lots of cool things planned, but as you know, when your writing on a deadline...  as fun as fixing your new writing blog sounds - it's really just procrastination.  So hang in there with me.  We'll be up and running soon.

Until then - Happy Writing!