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.