A friend of mine, Briana Hansen, is vlogging her National Novel Writing Month journey. I’m being supportive, as you should be if someone you know is doing it. It’s tough. It’s hard. You need a support structure.
I have the added benefit of having done it myself.
My journey is atypical. The way I write is different from others (everyone’s writing is different). I write novels by hand and I don’t set pen to paper unless I know what the story is, who the characters are, and where it’s going. I spend most of my waking moments planning.
So, when someone says, write a novel in a month, it’s easy. If I have one ready.
My NaNoWriMo experience was a class assignment in college. I finished in 8 days. The whole class hated me. Everyone finished by the end of the month. So, from someone who wrote 55,000 words in 8 days, let me tell you how I did it.
1. Stop worrying
55,000 words is not a novel. These days, a novel is between 75,000 and 100,000. So, writing the NaNoWriMo’s requisite 50,000 is not a whole novel: it’s the bones and muscles without the flesh and clothing. Don’t worry so much about what it looks like. When you reach your goal, set it aside. You can always come back to it later, flesh it out, and dress it up. This is not a polished product. That’s what revision is for.
2. Just go.
Don’t check your word count every ten minutes. Don’t look at the clock every hour. This is a marathon. It’s going to take time. If you’re on a roll, but you’ve already written for your two hours, keep going. Why stop? When you do stop, stop in the middle so you can pick up where you left off and get right back into your flow.
3. There’s no such thing as writer’s block. Unless there is.
There will be a time (maybe more than once) when you sit down with your hands over the keys and you have no idea what comes next. The truth behind writer’s block is that it’s self-doubt rearing it’s ugly head. If you want to do it in 8 days, you turn off your inner editor and squash self-doubt with the power of will (not really; you squash it with the power of blind, speeding momentum). When self-doubt threatens your word count, sit it down and give it a talking to.
Trust your characters. Trust your plot. Trust everything.
Trust that you can always change it later.
4. Ride the wave
Coming from someone who’s written five of them and knowing people who have written more, writing a novel is an emotional roller coaster. Briana is still in the honeymoon period. She’s in love with the idea, she’s in love with the process, she’s in love with everything around it.
There will come a time when you hate it with such utter contempt you can remember why you decided to do it in the first place.
This is natural. Ride the wave. It WILL drag you down, but don’t worry. You’ll get through it. The process of writing a book looks a lot like the hero’s journey. You have a time when the walls are closing in, you have your own dark night of the soul about your project. Remember, at the end, you get to bring your holy grail back to the villagers. And, you’re never the same after you finish.
Don’t do this alone. Seriously. Even if it’s just one friend, get a support structure in place. Writing a book is like being in a relationship: sometimes, you need someone you can vent to.
That’s what I got for all you NaNoWriMo kids. I wish I could have joined you this round, but time does not allow me to.
What are your tips for NaNoWriMo? Tell me about your journey in the comments! And, if you are going through it alone, check out Briana’s vlog and comment.
Why do I keep posting these? Because I write it! Don’t miss the TMI Minute every Tuesday!
My sitcom pilot, The Fabulous Life of Arthur Watkins, is tonight.
Second City Hollywood at 6:30pm
Here’s all the media for it:
Reclusive author ML Reeves can’t keep it together. After her book series, The Fabulous Life of Arthur Watkins, hit the New York Times Bestseller list and stayed there, she’s been crushed by fame, movie contracts, and a rabid fan base. When a long stint of writer’s block has book five behind deadline, Arthur Watkins, the 15-year-old main character, appears to ML. But is he there to help or will he only make things worse?
Travis Van Rijn
We held auditions for the stage read of my pilot this weekend (it’s at 6:30 on April 17th at Second City Hollywood and you’ll see two shows for the low, low price of FREE!) and these auditions put me on the other side of throwing yourself at the mercy of someone else’s judgement.
It’s not easy being an actor. We had 39 people show up.
There are 8 people in my pilot.
One of them only exists off-stage. That’s right. I’ve cut the story down to the essentials (how many people are in an episode of The Big Bang Theory? You’ve gotta keep it tight). Now, there are a few non-speaking roles in there. The first scene takes place at the Hugo Awards, so you would presumably have a whole audience in there somewhere.
But, they don’t talk.
On top of that, I already had two of my characters cast from people I know from the show I write for at Second City.
It was a little ridiculous. Even I was getting nervous about auditions and all I had to do was sit at a table and watch. It’s hard to imagine how they feel. Worse, you’re throwing yourself at the mercy of someone’s highly subjective opinion, someone who has a look, a style, a character, in mind and you need to rock it. I only write down you’re name if you’re interesting. I only remember you if you impressed me. The first thing that goes out the window is “Nice.” I can’t waste too much time saying how wonderful everyone is. I have to get down to it.
There were a few people I saw that I thought, “It’s too bad that I don’t have a part for you.” Literally. Out of eight characters, three of them are male, and one of them can’t be half-assed or borderline. You have to rock it.
You have to either read my mind or change it.
Here’s what I learn from having to drop the gavel:
1.) Sometimes, it’s how you look.
I need a 15 year old boy. But, the character is so important, I didn’t want to cast a 15 year old (everyone on Glee is in their 20’s, so you can get away with it). If you look like you’ve walked a hard road to 30, it’s a hard sell, even when it’s just a read.
2.) Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how you look.
One guy, clearly older than 25, read for the 15 year old character and nailed it. So, he didn’t perfectly fit the role as far as looks were concerned. He hit the important part, which was in the attitude and the speech pattern. He brought something to it. What I’m saying is you can change someone’s mind.
3.) Go all out.
I can’t imagine how nervous you are. Whenever I submit my stories to agents, it’s always from behind a computer screen where I can listen to Take A Chance On Me or Maybe This Time and dance around in my pajamas, because I’m a writer and that’s pretty much what we do. I’ve had pitches with agents in the past, but even those were one on one. It’s not as terrible as standing in a line with 7 other people. The person who ended up as my lead took the direction I gave her and made something out of it, even in a three page scene. I was able to look at her reading the role and think, “I never saw the character this way, but, damn, it works.”
4.) Don’t be cocky.
Sometimes, you have to psych yourself up. I get that. I’ve performed live before and ten minutes before every show, I had to sequester myself and talk myself into it. I had to amp up. I had to get ready. I’m an introvert, so I could keep that amping up in my head.
Don’t do it out loud.
If saying you’re going to fucking rock these auditions is what gets you into the room and gets you psyched, great. Don’t do it in front of the people in charge of the auditions. They don’t all think you’re psyching yourself up. Some of them think you’re just being a jerk.
If you are just being a jerk, stop. STAHP.
5.) Bring a headshot.
It’s LA. You should have one.
Even if they don’t ask you to bring one, you should bring one. A little professional can go a long way. If you single yourself out, maybe you don’t need one. But, you should have one. It’s like bringing a resume to a job interview. Yeah, you already sent one, but maybe they didn’t feel like printing it out. And, it’s easy to say, “Would you like a copy of my resume?” They can say no if they’ve got one. If they don’t, you’ve already set yourself apart from everyone who forgot theirs.
I know rejection sucks. I’ve been there about 120 times in the last 2 years, and those are the ones that bothered to answer.
You can do one of two things:
So, it’s up to you.
What’s the next step?
The Walking Dead is a good show. It’s gritty, dark, often times raw, and has that gore factor that you just can’t find on broadcast television. It gets people talking.
But, as all stories, there are imperfections. I’m not here to ask why they have a 2013 Hyundai when the apocalypse happened in 2010 (something has to pay for all that gore and apparently it’s the South Korean car makers).
I also don’t care about certain characters unlocking infinite ammo mode. Let’s just assume they reloaded off camera.
“But, there was no time…”
LET’S JUST ASSUME!
Here, I want to talk about some weird storytelling flaws that you should avoid. (Probably spoilers, but, dude. Netflix.)
1. Almost every episode’s plot is launched by someone doing something stupid.
You didn’t have to be a super genius to survive the apocalypse. The law of averages says that isn’t the case. When The Walking Dead starts, Rick comes out of a coma and is thrust into a world he doesn’t recognize. It’s okay if he makes some mistakes, especially if he’s just going through routine.
“Hark, a monster! I shall shoot it!”
Gunshot brings hordes of zombies. Okay. He didn’t know any better. He learns that shooting them is maybe not the best course of action (if he survives).
In the second season, Sofia, a little girl, goes missing. She was supposed to stay somewhere and wait for Rick. He went back and she was gone. The rest of the season is spent with them living on a farm, sending out search parties. Now, when I was a kid and Mom told me to stay somewhere and wait for her, you better believe I did. When I was separated from her in the grocery store, I knew to not wander around because she would retrace her steps.
Realize I was not surrounded by zombies at the time.
Again, I can forgive an 8 year old for getting scared and running like Hell, but she didn’t even go back to the car. And she wasn’t attacked by a zombie at that point, either. See, when they do find her, she’s a zombie. And, she still looks pretty normal. Which means she was bitten and got away or she died of natural causes and the infection took her. Rick wasn’t gone for very long, so she wasn’t attacked where he left her. He would have heard a scream and the zombies would have lingered.
The real stupid thing that got me, though, was after the massacre of the zombie pets in Herschel’s barn (that’s right, I’m not addressing the stupidity of the zombie pets).
Herschel is in town, drinking away his feelings. Glen and Rick go to find him. They tell everyone before they leave:
“We think Herschel went into town. We’re going to go get him. We’ll be back later.”
Ten minutes later, Lori, Rick’s wife, is running around going “they’ve been gone too long.” Jesus, lady, it hasn’t even been an hour. So, she decides to go into town and find them. She doesn’t tell anyone she’s leaving. On the way into town, she’s looking at a map and crashes into a zombie (flipping the car because…physics?), and she’s lying unconscious as zombies start to close in around her.
Meanwhile, no one at camp has even realized she’s missing. They don’t realize it until nightfall. While I’m sure some people think, “High Drama!” I say, “No. Let the bitch die. If she’s dumb enough to A) go looking for someone before they said they’d be back B) not tell anyone where she’s going in a world populated by zombies and C) not watch the goddamn road, let the zombies eat her.”
When anyone says they like The Walking Dead because of “the characters” I’m forced to ask why. They are TDTL, too dumb to live. You like the show because people are running from zombies and there’s high tension with climatic payoff. Call a spade a spade.
It’s not drama. It’s stupidity. People don’t like dumb characters. If you’re going to get your characters in stupid predicaments, try to give them a smart/unavoidable reason to be there, otherwise, it’s dumb. (more…)
I finished writing a pilot.
It’s the first sitcom pilot I’ve written. My other scripts have all been either sci fi drama pilots or sitcom spec scripts. For those of you outside the TV writing sphere, a spec script is a script for a show that already exists.
It’s sort of weird to talk to writers about writing television shows. Some say it’s easier to write the spec, some say it’s easier to write original material. I don’t really see either as being particularly easier than the other. The hardest thing about writing a spec script (in my personal experience) is writing it for a show that will be relevant in two years. The shows I love (Up All Night, Community, Happy Endings) are all on the brink of death (don’t get me started). Or, they are overwhelming spec’d (everyone’s got their Modern Family script).
So, with this sitcom pilot out of the way, I find myself ready for a new project. More than ready. Chomping at the bit.
Since most of my experience is novel writing, that isn’t always the case. What normally happens is I start querying agents, then I sit around and wait for my rejection letters. But, that’s not really what happens in the screenwriting world. I mean, I could query agents, but that’s not the norm.
The norm is you make friends. Your friends introduce you to producers and agents or friends of producers and agents. Most people (though not all) sell something before they get an agent. So, basically, the answer is, save the file and move on. When you meet someone who can do something with it, whip it out.
It’s a body of work.
The next thing, though. It’s a sci fi drama. And it’s gonna be huge.
The pilot I completed was part of the Completing and Presenting Your Sitcom Pilot class at Second City. There will be an onstage reading of it on April 17th at 6:30pm at Second City Hollywood (there will be two shows read on that night).
What if JK Rowling got writer’s block after Harry Potter 4?
When Arthur Watkins, the main character from a wildly popular young adult series, appears to his author, M.L. Reeves, she has to figure out how to deal with her errant work of fiction while deadlines loom.
I have a dream. I don’t often talk about my dream publicly. I mean, my friends know. And my family knows. And I’m always striving, always working toward that goal. I think I have a sort of weird knock on wood mentality about my dream, like if I say it out loud, it won’t come true. It’s something that I have to keep on the inside, something that’s my own.
Before you think you know what it is, it’s not being a “writer.” Saying I want to be a writer is like saying I want to be biologically classified Homo sapien. I’ve had a problem with the word aspiring for a long time, especially as it pertains to writers. Are you writing? Yes. Are you actively pursuing a career as a writer? Yes. Than you’re a writer. If you label yourself as aspiring, my first assumption is that you’ve never actually finished writing anything that doesn’t begin with the words, “Dear Diary.”
In Hollywood, it’s weird. There’s a “who do you want to be” atmosphere that I finally reached the breaking point with.
So, here are some things I’ve learned about dreaming, straight from Hollywoodland.
1) Celebrate the victories
My dream is huge. It takes a lot of steps. Usually, when someone asks me what my dream is, I only tell them the current plateau I’m headed for. Like “head writer” or “created by.”
I have a problem taking compliments. When someone tells me they like something I’ve written, the dreamer in me reminds me that this isn’t the peak I’ve dreamed. This is a road sign to blow past. But, that’s not really the case. I’m working on celebrating these moments of compliment, because I know where they come from. Rather than answer with an I’m not there yet, I take them in stride and acknowledge and appreciate them.
2) Dreams are hard
When I told people I was moving to Los Angeles to pursue my dream, I got a lot of reactions. Most of them started with “You’re so brave.” I suppose that’s a compliment, but it struck me as odd. I didn’t think I was brave at all. I was simply doing that which was necessary to achieve what I wanted.
So, step two is to understand that some people find out that their dream is hard, and they stop going for it. There are other people that don’t acknowledge that part of their dream. There is no hard, there is only an obstacle that has to be surmounted. If you get stuck on the hard, you need to either reevaluate or quit.
3) Aspirations are misleading
So often, people want the simple answer. The question isn’t so much what as it is who. Who do you want to be?
I don’t have an answer for that. I want to be myself. I don’t want to compare myself to other people. So, Tina Fey? No. Tina Fey can be Tina Fey. I will not be better at being Tina Fey than Tina Fey is. Jane Espenson? Closer, but no. I would not make a very good Jane Espenson. (I love Jane Espenson and have the utmost respect for her.)
I understand why this is a question that people ask. It’s the same reason they have to take complex scientific theories on sci fi shows and distill them to clumsy analogies that are simple enough for a largely unscientific audience to understand.
Regardless, stop comparing me to other people. Our dreams might not be the same, and even if they were, everyone’s path is different.
4) Reputation is currency
I suppose this could be specific to my field, but I don’t think so. It’s a little bit karma, but mostly attitude. If you go out to meet people, get to know people, connect with people on a basic level, you will develop a reputation of being kind. I know myself enough that I am often considered aloof and disinterested. I’m not. I’m fully engaged, I just usually enter a receptive state.
Yes, I’m listening. But my face is apathetic. Understanding my aloofness, I have to remind my face to do things when I’m talking to people. Be aware of what you’re putting out there. People might talk about you. You don’t want them to say bad things.
That’s what I’ve learned so far. It’s a work in progress.
I’m supposed to be writing my pilot episode right now. I mean, this is the time I’ve carved out of working Job A, working Job B, writing for Sketch Show, contributing to Monologue Jokes, and Job Hunting. I started a Footloose Radio on Spotify, not because that’s the tone of the screenplay, but because Footloose and the music of Footloose’s era get me pumped up.
I’m at the coffeeshop. I have a writing buddy in hopes of keeping me honest. I have my beat sheet, my outline, my notes.
So, why am I not writing?
Well, I’m four pages into my sitcom and it’s not funny. Don’t try to get fancy with me. I know I shouldn’t be worrying about that right now, because I can always go back and revise (and I plan on doing just that.) It’s also possible that it’s funnier than what I give it credit for. You know. Possibly. I have a deadline for myself and I will meet it.
But, it’s gotten me thinking on what is it about this that’s going to be funny. I mean, it’s funny when I talk about it. It’s funny in my head. To be honest, I started writing this blog post hoping that I would get in touch with my funny. I mean, guys…we all know how hilarious I am.
Maybe it’s like Girls. It’s too close to reality for me to consider it funny. Maybe I’ve just had a bad week and “allocated time” isn’t what I’m looking for. Oh, and Vitamin C’s Graduation just came on, which is not helpful AT ALL.
I’ve been writing specs and editing things so long, it’s starting to feel like I’m better at helping other people find what they’re trying to say.
Do you ever feel like you can’t feel your funny? What do you do to get in touch with your inner self? Where is my writing Obi Wan-Kenobi telling me to let the hilarity flow through me?
I need a dance break. Catch you guys in five.
Monday night was the first writers’ meeting for the new season of the TMI Hollywood, the show I write for at Second City. The new cast members came and mingled with the writers over the one thing that brings all walks of LA life together: free food. After a recap of last year and the expectations of this year, the cast made their way out and the writers got down to what they do best.
Coming up with stuff to write about.
In a sketch comedy writers room (at least in this one), the writers have their own special brand of currency. I know, I know. The initial thing to yell out is “Words! Writers deal in words!” and in some cases, that’s true.
But words are the currency of the novelist.
The comedy sketch writer deals in trivia.
We huddle around a table, pitching ideas and trading knowledge like baseball cards. Bill O’Reilly said this, Justin Bieber did that. But, pop culture is only the surface.
We have a politics guy. Now, I’m not saying we have a politics guy in terms of a guy who’s job is to keep an eye on the political atmosphere. That’s small town. Our politics guy can name all the United States presidents, vice presidents, and failed candidates in order, not to mention dropping campaign slogans like they’re party favors. It’s not like he has fast fingers on Google. These are just things that he’s learned and retained over his history of education.
This leads to doors and pathways of humor that one person alone has a hard time seeing by themselves.
Sometimes, it feels like an episode of Big Bang Theory. I expect someone to drop something like “Oppenheimer was notoriously hard to work with,” or “a gathering of cats is called a clouder.” And, it’s not ironic. It’s the difference between data and knowledge.
Nowadays, we can look up anything on the Internet. It seems as though “knowledge” is at our very fingertips, but what is really at our fingertips is data. Data, without a brain behind it, is pretty useless. It’s interesting, though, what’s revealed in the knowledge we retain. You can never really lie about what intrigues you. When someone has a piece of knowledge they can’t wait to share, it practically bursts out of them.
Perhaps not everyone who thirsts for knowledge is a writer, but it seems that a lot of writers thirst for knowledge. Knowledge fuels their power cells and they’re ready to share the fuel.
I realized that I didn’t really talk about this on the Interwebz, and part of the reason is because I wanted to tell people in person. I mean, there’s something impersonal about reading it on a blog. But, since everyone’s doing their yearly recap, this is bound to get lost in that shuffle.
I’m sorry if I didn’t tell you in person, but everyone I’ve wanted to tell face-to-face I’ve told face-to-face unless I’m not going to see them in the foreseeable future, so here it goes.
I’m a working writer.
Not in the “I’ve gotten a rejection letter” sense. That happened, like, eight years ago. No, I’m a working writer in the sense that my words are being performed.
If you missed the Facebook announcement, I am a staff writer for TMI: Hollywood, a show on stage at Second City Hollywood. I’m also a contributing writer to Top Story! Weekly which is a show at the iO West Theater in Hollywood.
I owe a big thanks to Candace Haven. One night, in her swank Beverly Hills Hotel penthouse (where people make promises they intend on keeping), she forced me to make a list of goals with a deadline attached to them. One I made was to be in a writers’ room by January and I was in a writers’ room by October.
So, that’s the news from this side of the desk. I will be writing the pilot episode of my sitcom and possibly staging it within the next four months, so that should be fun. Maybe some of that will end up here.
I was never a fan of the word “aspiring,” but, regardless, I can dump it now. Also, I’m not really an “author,” so I’ll go with “Comedy Writer.”
Go Theater Nerds!
You know you’ve reached a weird point when you start Search Engining blog topics. I mean, what do I write about?
Part of my problem is overload. I’m writing four sketches a week, 10 jokes a week, two blog posts a week for work (why is that always easier?), and developing a sitcom pilot while keeping one eye open for work in the entertainment industry.
So, I guess I’ll update you on random things and you can talk amongst yourselves.
- Love, love, love Los Angeles. Go…Theater Nerds? (I’m not sure what team I’m supposed to cheer for here.)
- Still working two and a half jobs from home. Garbage disposal broke. Plumber came over to replace it. I awkwardly hovered over him and tried to talk about TV shows.
- I flirted with him a bit, but he turned me down. It’s cool. Those inter-office romances never work anyway.
- I’ve started referring to all my neighbors by their Native American names. Works On Car. Lets Dog Poop. Flirts With Kate. Has Loud Sex.
- Egg nog is a meal in and of itself.
- My Second City classes were lovely. They cost a lot of money. Those two things probably aren’t related, but whatever.
- I haven’t finished reading a book in two months.
- I’m reading Pride & Prejudice and I love it. Which makes me a stereotypical girl, but I’m dealing with that in my own way.
- I lost a friend and made two.
- I’ve been earning Adulthood badges like gangbusters.
Well, what have you been up to? I think you don’t realize how busy you are until you look at the date and think, “Hm. I should have my Christmas shopping done by now.”
Happy Hanukkah everybody!
It’s been awhile since I’ve done an overt post on writing and I just KNOW you’ve been dying for one (irony irony irony and scene). Regardless of how you feel about writers writing on writing about writing while writing, I can’t afford therapy, so I bought a domain name instead.
If you are a working writer, you’ve received a rejection letter. If you haven’t, then:
1. Screw you
2. You’re not really a working writer and you need to take a look at what you call your career.
Rejection is part of the process, and it’s something that want-to-be writers must deal with in order to progress. Sometimes, your writing sucks. Sometimes, the market is bad. Sometimes, nobody wants you. Okay. It happens. That’s life.
You pull up your big girl panties and get back to work.
This week, I got the rejection letter from my final requested manuscript. It was not a form rejection. It was kind and gentle, and I’ve developed a Twitter relationship with this agent and still enjoy talking with her, even if she didn’t want my stuff. This letter made me feel a great many emotions, but all these things were very loosely defined.
I’ve been waiting for this rejection for awhile. Now, let’s take a look at that. I’ve been waiting for this rejection. I wasn’t waiting for a “yes.” I’d been waiting for a “no.” When did that happen? When did I become so bitter and cynical that I’m expecting bad news over good?
But, regardless of expectation, every rejection letter brings up every other rejection and compresses them all into one big lump of ice right smack between the lungs. And that lump expands into a void of negativity. And the doubts rush in to fill the negative space.
I’m not talented. I can’t tell a story. I’m doing something wrong.
Your support structure tells you that’s wrong; you’re talented; you’ll get there. BUT THEY ARE LYING!!! (irony irony irony and scene)
The truth is, when you come to expect rejection, the old adage of doing the same thing and expecting a different result leads you to the crazy train.
Now, here’s the real point of this story.
The worst thing repeated rejection has done to me is trained me to not want things.
Wanting things is stupid and leads to pain, therefore the act of wanting is a gateway to pain and must be avoided at all costs.
I realized my numbness to desire when I suddenly wanted something. An opportunity presented itself and that cold lump was immediately incinerated in the burn of possibility. There was an all consuming rush, a caffeine high, an unfurling of imagination as a million different futures spread before me, none of them featuring a rejection. I had to tell someone. I had to tell everyone. I had to run home and write a blog post about it!
So, there. The real travesty of rejection is not the “no.” It’s what it does to your head. It’s how it messes you up, pushes you down, leaves you on your belly so you forget what it’s like to sit, stand, walk, run.
But when something is worth wanting, maybe that’s the only thing that you need to get back on your feet.
I’m bad at earthquakes.
There have been three earthquakes of substantial (not considerable) size, two while I was asleep that I didn’t even wake up for, and one in the evening that I read a book through without noticing. I mean, geez. The earth is moving beneath me and I laid in my camp bed working my way through whatever latest book I was on…how’s that for sturdy Ikea construction?
Anyway, despite my less-than-stellar earthquake detection, things have been settling down in Los Angeles. I have inadvertently become Jeff Greenstein’s stalker and if he ever finds this, I sincerely apologize. This is a big city; why do I see you everywhere? Not that I’m that disappointed. He usually has great things to say, so still kinda cool.
I made a friend. I know, right? I’m just as surprised as you are. It was quite the chance encounter that started off with:
“You write YA? I write YA! You were at RWA? I was at RWA! You submitted to that agent? That’s my agent!”
Three for three right off the bat.
So, all these things have caused me to have a few reflection periods to catch up with all these developments. Because moving here is the same as living anywhere else with one big difference.
It’s like someone hit the fast forward button.
So, things I’ve done since the last update:
-Went to a test show for Craig Ferguson. It was not televised, Craig Ferguson wasn’t even there (Geoff was hilarious). I won a t-shirt.
-Ended up at a Five Finger Death Punch concert and the after party at the Roosevelt Hotel
-Spent a day on the UCLA campus looking at the Writers’ Extension program
-Met with a group of LA TV writers for hanging out and things
-Saw Key and Peele at the Nerdist Writers’ Panel
-Restrung a guitar
I titled this post so you would understand that this is opinion and what works for me. If, one day, I get published, then maybe I’ll retroactively change the title. Until then, if you’re looking for expert advice, I be not the one to which you should turn.
I mean, Gawd, look at that sentence. What does it even mean?
But, dear Internet user, perhaps writer, perhaps good friend of mine or family member, I want you to take this to heart with the force of my sincerity behind it.
The thing is: Not all of these writers are experts. You don’t need to listen to what they have to say. Even Chuck Wendig is full of shit sometimes. Only sometimes. He’s a good one to look at (plus, he has published books!).
I’m not often one to admit this, but writing is hard. There is no easy advice out there to help you write a book. There’s even less to help you get published. There isn’t a rule book, there isn’t a yellow brick road. The best you can hope for is reading about something that works for someone else and finding out that system works for you.
Here’s what works for me:
1) Write more better.
I got this one from A. Lee Martinez. It means write more and you will eventually get better. Or, writing more will eventually lead to better writing. I don’t know, but it means something.
There is a time to put aside a project that isn’t working and start something new. Don’t write one book and bank on that as the one that leads you to fame and fortune. Write more better.
2) Don’t expect fame and fortune.
Do you know how many authors are on the midlist? Do you even know what the midlist is? If you are a bestseller, congratulations! Honestly, good work! But, there are plenty of people who are published and still can’t quit their day job.
Be aware that your little book might not change the world. It might not get you published. It might not even get you an agent. But, if you follow the advice in point #1, maybe, eventually, you will land on something that resonates with enough people to get you published, agented, or off the midlist.
3) Finish it
You can’t keep it up forever. Slap an ending on that sucker, give it a round of revisions, and see where that leaves you. In the mean time, start thinking about something new.
You can always improve. Read good books, read bad books, read magazines, read YA, read Stephen King. Read something and see if you like that style. Read something that you hate, but make sure you identify why you hate it. Keep looking for improvements.
Your head is an echo chamber. Sometimes, the voices of doubt, confidence, paranoia, suspicion, and anxiety bounce around so much, you lose objectivity. Give it to outside eyes.
I went to a public group that involved reading your piece out loud. There are plenty of ways to do this. Someone you trust to tell you the truth, another writer, anything. You need someone to look at your work to answer at least one question:
“Is it a book?”
So, yeah. I guess writing is hard for the simple fact that it’s not easy. You have to work at it. You have to want to improve. You have to do the thing that works for you and, if it doesn’t work, try something else. There aren’t rules, so much as guidelines.
If you try to take a shortcut, you might be disappointed with where the path leads.
Good luck. Be aware. Be careful. I care about you and want you to succeed.
As I eyed a 6’0″ axe at the Renaissance Fair last week, I was struck with the thought that maybe I could wait on getting that new computer. My current compy is only four years old and in fair condition, but that’s four years at 2,000 words an hour. Some of the buttons are wearing off, sometimes it just gets obstinate and refuses to load anything, but it’s seen me through my first paid writing gig, a pilot episode, a Big Bang Theory spec script, three novels, two trips to Michigan, and a partridge in a pear tree.
So, I figure I can wait a year. Maybe sell one of those three books…
But, I digress. Back on point.
My perceived need for a new compy put me in another frame of mind. Way back when Lion came out (I’m running Apple; you can read all about my indoctrination here), I tried to update only to find it didn’t run Microsoft 2004. Those three novels disappeared. With hat in hand, biting back the curses on my tongue (I didn’t read the fine print), I shuffled my way to the Apple store and muttered, “Please, sir, may I have my files?”
They were nice it worked out huzzah yeah apple but NOW…the time has come for me to upgrade to Lion.
And do everything else before I move to LA:
Save up money
2. Upgrade the compy
Find homes for my instruments that will not make the journey
3. Meet up and settle friendship communications
4. Acquire boxes
5. Measure how many of said boxes will fit in the car
6. Trial run with packing the boxes
7. Agonize over everything that doesn’t fit
8. Find a place to live
Get a job
10. Have a major freakout, regret the decision, run around in circles, yell at my parents for no reason, talk to my cat about all the opportunities, decide to go anyway.
11. Order Not for Tourists: Los Angeles
Add new categories to blog: TV Nonsense, Movie Nonsense, Los Angeles
So, what? Am I missing anything? Let me know, because I really need to shut it down and get going. I met with a friend, Ben, who used to live in LA working as a writer and as he described this place to me, I could see/hear how much he loved it, how much he missed it, and how much he hoped to go back to it.
While people have been telling my how much I will hate LA, I’ve been answering with “But it’s what must be done”. But, after meeting with Ben, I started to think, “Man, I could really love living there.” He was the first person to say to me “Just get there. You’ll see.” I understand that people are in awe of the choice, or proud that they know someone relentlessly pursuing their dreams, or afraid that something will happen to me. But, I think the profundity of Ben’s fascination with LA burned away the lasts wisps of doubt and fear.
I’m as prepared for culture shock as one can be.
Ben said, “You’ll meet a lot of people like you.”
And that’s interesting.
Because I like me.
I like me a lot.
Up front, I’m sorry.
This blog was supposed to be the meandering thoughts that run through my head on the nature of the universe, a true home for my philosophizing, a place where my friends and family had a chance to gaze at my psyche from afar without being forced to engage me in the long, meticulous, and ultimately exhausting conversation that my introverted nature would drag them into.
Well, I have readers beyond my friends and family, and I have friends and family who don’t even know (or don’t seem to know) that this thing exists. Thanks, followers. I hope my post-intellectual-age philosophy is amusing, thought-provoking, distracting…whatever you’re looking for. If you’re looking for more hipster cats, well, no promises.
I did not want this to be the blog of an aspiring writer, documenting each step of the journey. Most of that stuff is best kept on the inside.
But, here I am. Writing another post on writing. I can’t help it. My brain itches and this is the only way to scratch it.
Writing is an art form.
Yes, there are plenty of books that people scoff at and would not call art, but the truth is, writing is a form of art.
In jazz, the listener is told to listen to the notes that aren’t there as much as the notes that are. This isn’t just a load of crap. Music (no matter what kind) cannot be enjoyed unless people have a sense of expectation as to what is about to come next (Daniel Levitin, This is Your Brain on Music). The idea is that jazz musicians toy with listeners’ sense of expectation. When you believe one note will be played, it isn’t. Or, better yet, there is harmony and adjustment, giving the listener a different tone, pace, richness, exposing a new aspect of the piece merely by not living up to expectation.
There is a balance in this impromptu styling and the sense of expectation. Stevie Wonder’s Superstition features a steady but unpredictable hi hat in the drum line (again, Daniel Levitin, This is Your Brain on Music). This unpredictability makes you feel like you’re listening to a new song every time. Maybe not that far, but it still feels fresh, and, no better word, groovy, with every listen.
It’s the same with writing.
When reading, you need to read the words that aren’t there as much as the words that are. Writing isn’t a simple delivery system, from the page to your brain without that space between. It requires subtlety, subtext, and implication.
Every story has been told. From a young age, we are inundated with story. We absorb the master plots. We know what to expect in everything we read. Writers must learn to write the right words and leave some words unsaid. Embrace subtlety. Let it flow. You can surprise your reader by advancing a trope, then switching it up. You can calm your reader by sinking into something familiar and slow.
When you do it right, people will want to read your book over and over, steady put unpredictable; fresh and smooth; nuanced.
Get out there and write.
I write this now so I can refer to it in the future. You know, because a time will come when I don’t feel this awesome.
Every author struggles with self-doubt.
Does this sentence work?
This might be the most terrible thing ever written.
Am I ever going to be published?
What if I don’t have any other ideas?
This has been done before!
I think the answers are:
Probably. Unlikely. Possibly. You will. Of course it has.
I feel like I’m selling out. Honestly, this idea sprang from my brain when I was trying to think of a more commercial project. I read it at workshop and I’ve gotten this comment (a direct quote):
“I think this is the best thing I’ve heard you read.”
Well, on one hand, thank you. Regardless of how “good” of a writer I am, there is always room for improvement. I would hope that every week would be the best thing I’ve ever written.
On the other hand, this is The Project I Hate. How can you like it when I hate it with such a fiery passion?
You know what blocks writers from writing? Themselves. By labeling it The Project I Hate, I sequestered it to a little space in my mind and started putting up sandbags around the thing.
I’ve complained about it to my writer friends and tried to shut my mouth when they glared condescension. I know! People love it! I hate it! I want it to die! Why can’t I crush it with my mind vice?
Last week, I found myself getting pensive. Every night, I had some sort of interaction with another human being. As an introvert, this was draining. And, when I’ve been in front of people too long without recharge time, I start to dig things up from the dregs of my brain. The pot gets stirred. I scrape bottom.
While I closed down the cafe Monday night, it was the first time I’d been alone in five days. I have been working my second job for three months, which is the job I walked away from a year ago. It sort of sucks to think you are in the same place you were a year before. No forward movement, no developments, no prospects. And, dammit, writing used to be fun! Why isn’t writing fun anymore?
Could it be because I’m actively sabotaging my work?
Thanks, brain. You asshat.
So, I put down The Project I Hate, just for twelve hours. I went to the coffee shop, took out a project I’ve been sitting on, 16 pages from completion (I know, another boneheaded abandonment), and I finished it. It was like a forgotten circuit board lighting up. I remembered. Writing is fun. I don’t do it because I have to, I do it because I love it.
Who cares if that sentence doesn’t work? You can fix it later, or delete it. Maybe it doesn’t go there.
Until you read everything that’s ever been written, you can’t know if yours is worse.
You’re never going to get published if you don’t finish something.
You have new ideas every day that you add to your brain stew. You will never run out of ideas.
Everything has been done before. You can form new connections, mix new metaphors, build new characters, and set new scenes. Everything may have been done before, but it’s new to you.
Oh, and The Project I Hate? It’s called The Elementalist and it is fantastic.
I love vampires.
I mean, really.
I love high-holy asskickery. I love moral qualms. I love vicious sociopathic killers. I love those looking for redemption. My only criteria seems to be they have the potential for immortal life and feed off some aspect of humanity, be it blood, emotion, or culture.
So, I present to you a thought experiment.
What if you were a vampire?
Haha! Awesome! So cool! I would run really fast and make out with hot guys (girls) and drink so much blood you wouldn’t even believe…hold the phone. That’s not where I was going with this.
What if you were a vampire 300, 400, or 500 years old?
I think you would be bored. Insanely, mind-numbingly bored. Let’s say you were turned at the ripe old age of 26. You have eternal youth on your side, but you’re not a pimply teenager anymore. Face it, stalking and biting humans is not what it was. Maybe once upon a time (maybe, mind you), people had a healthy sense of self-preservation coupled with the fear of constant suspicion that kept them in the house after dark, or safe in herds during the day. That could mean there used to be a thrill to the hunt, but that would fade. Humans aren’t so hard to separate from the back, and, as time passes, we are less and less suspicious of paranormal occurrences.
As a vampire, you rarely see another of your kind. You are completely and utterly alone. Any connection you try to make is gone within several decades, so you would stop making those connections. What would you hold on to? Say you play the piano. You have forever to perfect your art. Would you procrastinate?
Think about human ingenuity in the last 500 years. How would you react to a vastly changing world? Flight, social reform…look at the Internet. MySpace was a blink of the eye. World War II would be “that thing with Germany…you know, the second time”.
Don’t believe me? Let me refer you to one of the most stunning vampire films of all time.
Yep, Bill Murray is a freaking vampire. As long as he is stuck in Groundhog Day, he is immortal. Truly immortal. He tries to kill himself dozens of times. Maybe he doesn’t fit the “feeding off humanity” criteria, but he is sort of a menace to it.
Obsessed with Film writer Simon Gallagher did the math and put the final tally at 33 years and 358 days. Whether you agree or not, this is one of the most interesting psychological looks at immortality.
Not to mention it’s funny.
Now, imagine Groundhog Day for 500 years. Now, that’s a vampire.
I’m going to do it! I’m going to give something away on my blog! It’s a copy of Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore. Why? Because you should read it.
And, filing this in the “easier to ask forgiveness” category, it will be signed.
By the author.
Not by me.
Sound good? Okay, I think the best way for you to do this is either:
A.) Impress me.
B.) Submit a comment and I’ll draw it out of a hat.
C.) Cast names on the floor and see which one my cat chooses.
Probably B. Let’s go with option B. My cat’s not a very nice person.
(let you get something for nothing)
Everybody has that normal one in the family. You know the one. She sort of holds everything together when your crazy aunt is off making potions and magic organic household products, shampoos, soaps, and hand sanitizers, and your genius sister is popping fuses every time she tries to test her latest invention.
She’s the responsible one. The one who answers the phone every time; the one with the normal future that doesn’t involve getting swept up in mystery; the one who does it because she loves you no matter how weird things get in the nuthouse.
That’s Amy Goodnight. She’s ranch-sitting for her aunt (and baby-sitting her brilliant but intellectually distracted sister). Until construction on a bridge unearths a body and a ghost won’t leave Amy alone. She struggles maintain her aura of normalcy in front of the neighbor cowboy, Ben *cat-growl* as well as the Anthropology crew that shows up to take care of the body.
Make that “bodies”. As the body count grows higher, Amy’s might be the next one to be buried if she can’t get the whole ghost thing under control.
There are goats climbing trees.
Leave a comment. How excited are you to get this book?
Things are about to get really boring. And, then, really interesting.
Probably to Los Angeles. New York isn’t off the table, but it’s less likely. If I fail, it’s going to be in a blaze of glory, like a Katy Perry song or something.
I’m hoping there’s no Midnight Train to Georgia moment.
I’d been kicking around the idea for a bit. Last night, I got the marvelous advice from Shawn Scarber: “You’re broke here. Why not be broke in LA?”
So, January, at the latest.
I’m not completely without guidance. This blog by Amanda Pendo is quite inspirational. Now, I live in that space that all procrastinating writers love: the Research Phase. Can you really trust anyone on Craigslist? In the land of beautiful people, will I stand out in mediocrity? Am I crazy? Will I ever see my family or friends again? (If you don’t hear from me, my phone plan’s probably been canceled.)
Doing some spec scripts right now. Modern Family and Warehouse 13. I’m flexing my network (hopefully, not to the breaking point). I’m looking for a writing assistant position, maybe a fellowship, maybe a production assistant, maybe a Starbucks employee.
Here’s your latte, Mr. Scorsese.
Watch the blog. Things might get interesting.
Cue Defying Gravity from Wicked.
I haven’t blogged this week. I know. Bad writer. Back to your cave.
So, here’s the rundown. There comes a point in every person’s life when they make sweeping assumptions about the human race based on their personal experiences. And, this is one of those times.
I tend to look at my life as a game with specific objectives I’m attempting to achieve. I think this was a week of secondary objectives, which is sort of a terrible thing to say (you’ll see why in a moment).
I cultivated a social life this week.
My main objectives are…not going so well. This may have to do with the fact that I feel like I’ve been treading water. It’s terrible to consider a social life secondary, but hey, I never said I was perfect. I just insinuated…
This last weekend, I wrote a spec script for a television show. After sending it on its merry way (for your eyes only), I decided I wasn’t going to write anything until next Tuesday. Not one word. Except, quotes. And, this blog post, which is hardly coherent.
The demonic writer within me flipped me the bird and hunkered down in the back of my head. It’s been poking me more insistently as the time passes. Last night, it said, “Hey, you know that one scene? What if you do this? You better go jot it on a notecard or something because you’ll forget it by morning.”
Not gonna do it.
Characters are sort of bunching up in my head seeking escape. And that’s just fine.
What to do with all that time?
Reading. That’s a big one. Watching movies. I actually played a little bit of a video game. Played Solitaire for a long time on my iPad. You don’t really notice how long you’ve been playing Solitaire until it’s ten games later and you realize you haven’t blinked in an hour and a half.
But, here’s something cool. I saw friends. Like, real life actual people outside of the Internet box. We talked about stuff. Stuff that mattered. Stuff that didn’t. Stuff that might or might not ever be.
I complained a lot. I’m not making any headway on that main objective of moving out of parents’ house, you know, so I make a stink about it.
It was cool. Sort of nice to see what it’s like to not work all the time. Achievement unlocked.
I’ll be a bit more bloggy next week. Until then, I’m going to sit in the sun and finish reading The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez.
Summer’s here. You should take some time to…you know. Whatever.