365 Days of Writing

I’ve written every day for the past year, without fail. Not as an arbitrary challenge or as a conversation piece at parties, but to become a better writer. To establish a habit that is so ingrained in my being, that to not do it would feel unnatural, wrong.

Yeah, sorta like that.

The Habit

The most important part of establishing a habit is repetition. It’s not a habit if you’re not consistent. If you only do it once a week, it’s going to take a lot longer to cement itself (if it ever does). It’s got to be a routine, like brushing your teeth, taking a shower, or yelling at your coffee machine to work faster.

I write first thing in the morning. I write at other times too, but this is the one I don’t miss (I even coach other people on it). I sacrifice 45-60 minutes of time I would have otherwise been sleeping to do this. So I have incentive to use my time well. I also try to make it easy on myself. When I walk into the living room in the morning, the computer is waiting for me, the tea kettle is full of water, and all I need to do is press a button and sit down to write. Preparing these small things the night before can make a big difference. Remove any small obstacles that might make you consider doing another task first. Don’t check your email. Don’t look at your snapchats. Don’t start your workday. Not yet. This comes first. Continue reading →

SBIFF 2015 Writer’s Panel

graham1Graham Moore – Imitation Game
anthony1Anthony McCarten – Theory of Everything
jason1Jason Hall – American Sniper
dan1Dan Gilroy – Nightcrawler
max2Max Frye – Foxcatcher
alex1Alex Dinelaris – Birdman
damien1Damien Chazelle – Whiplash

The Lobero Theater in Santa Barbara, CA was full. A variety pack of film buffs, writers, aspiring writers, and people who didn’t get in to see Jennifer Aniston receive her award the night before. 7 writers (plus the always excellent moderator Anne Thompson) took the stage to talk movies, writing, and to drink water from milk cartons. It’s my favorite part of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival – The Writer’s Panel.

The 2015 Gang

 

Anne jumped out of the gate with the first question: Why so few women screenwriters? None of the seven gentlemen want to touch the question with the proverbial ten foot, completely non-phallic pole. Graham Moore points out they’re not qualified to talk about it and the topic is quickly changed. The film festival tried to get Gillian Flynn (of Gone Girl fame), but there was a schedule conflict.

Now that we’re all cozy, it was time to get to know the panel. Jason Hall was a bad actor (his words). So he wrote parts for himself. Again and again. Unfortunately, nobody wanted to hire him for those either. But the writing piqued people’s interest. Several of the panelists are also poets, playwrights and one former painter. The career alliteration was completely coincidental.

Continue reading →

Getting Up Bright & Early with Morning Pages

What is it?

From a practical sense, it’s writing every morning without fail. That’s it. Everyone has their own requirements when it comes to methods (how much? using what? what about?) but don’t let the details get you down. Just write.
For me, that currently involves a pad of paper and a pen (17 days straight so far). I find it helps me avoid the distractions that a computer might put in front of me. There’s no email or Facebook or Twitter calling to me. If you don’t have that particular issue, feel free to try typing (or use a device that makes it difficult to multitask, like an iPad). Be sure to use a fullscreen editor (such as Byword) to avoid visual distractions and really focus on putting those words down. There’s also something to be said for the tactile nature of writing by hand. It seems to engage a different part of the brain than typing. I don’t know if it’s actually any better for my writing, but I’m going with it for now. Continue reading →

Writing Tools – Drafts for iOS

Starring 1980s Bruce Willis.

It can’t lose.

The need: To very quickly get an idea out of my head and onto my phone/device.

The problem: Carrying around paper and pen doesn’t always work. It’s an extra thing for my pockets, my handwriting is atrocious, and I’d often forget to transcribe it to digital form later.

The solution: Drafts from Agile Tortoise (a software company, not a ninja turtle).

Why it works: Tap on it and it loads to a fresh document in under a second. No waiting. No selecting “new document”, no navigating to the correct notebook in Evernote, no fumbling around trying to email yourself while your idea floats away, never to be seen again.

Why it’s awesome: It’s more than just quick note-taking. It’s all about shuttling those ideas quickly too. Say you want to send that note as a txt to a friend? No problem, it’s built in. Or as an email to yourself? Easy. Or post it to twitter, Facebook and Google Plus all at the same time? Doable.

This is all possible because Drafts has a ton of built-in actions you can use to get your ideas other places. When you have time, after your idea is safely in digital form, it’s time to sort through things. Just tap the share icon and…

First in the alphabet, first in your hearts.

First in the alphabet, first in your hearts.

With one more tap, I can send it to append an already existing Evernote note, create a new note based on the date/title/whatever, email it to myself, post to twitter, etc. Super convenient. No more copy/pasting (which no one likes to do on a mobile device).

I find it incredibly useful, perhaps you will to. Here’s the iTunes link for your convenience (it’s $2.99). Oh, and just because I’m a nerd, here are the icon alternatives I came up with (because the only thing I don’t like about it so far is the somewhat drab icon). Enjoy.

Mmm, paper textures

Mmm, paper textures

When you start working on a story, the characters are like finger-puppets, and putting words into their mouths is a bit embarrassing, like you’re sitting at your desk waggling your hands at one another and making them speak in funny, squeaky voices. But once those characters ‘‘catch,’’ they become people, and writing them feels more like you’re recounting something that happened than something you’re making up.

Cory Doctorow

The New Blacklist

The Blacklist, for the uninitiated, is an annual cultivated list of Hollywood’s most liked screenplays. Industry insiders pick up to 10 scripts making the rounds that they really like, the Black List compiles the ones that get the most mentions and releases a list for everyone to peruse. Some notables you might recognize: Juno, 500 Days of Summer, In Bruges, Slumdog Millionaire, The Hangover.

Monday they revealed their game changer: aspiring screenwriters can submit their screenplays for review. $50 gets you an evaluation (if you get a low score, maybe the script wasn’t as ready as you thought it was). $25 a month gets your script into their database so that industry professionals (who can use the service for free) can search/sort by what they’re trying to make. For example, if someone is an executive for a company that makes low-mid budget crime dramas, they could narrow it down to the highest rated scripts that fit that criteria. Simple.

I’ll admit right now that my scripts are a long way from being ready to be submitted. And that’s ok. I’d rather have a great product that people can enjoy a year from now, then a half-assed one that no one is going to care about (and that will give me a less than stellar reputation). There have been a lot of thoughts online about this new service and what it means and whether it’s worth it (time will tell). Hell there’s even an interview with the Black List creator and an anonymous and bitter puppet. The commentary that caught my attention most was by Amanda over at Aspiring TV Writer:

I have always maintained that the path to being a professional film or TV writer is simple (though not easy): 1. write a great script, and 2. find someone important who likes it – and in my experience, most writers think that #2 is their problem when it’s actually #1.

Essentially, don’t worry about what to do with a script once you’re done, instead think more about if you’re done. Even if I never use the service, it’s helpful having this little reminder that it’s easier to get my script out there than it was just a few days ago. Accepting that the burden is on me to be excellent, not on some nameless executive to finally realize how brilliant I am, is quite a relief.

Music to Write To: Part 2

A few more tracks/albums that I find particularly useful to write to. Check out Part One for some additional recommendations. Enjoy.

Jóhann Jóhannsson – Englabörn

Melancholy electronic is the most apt genre I can fit this into. What other album has a depressed robot voice serenading you? You’ve probably heard at least one of his tracks on the Battle Los Angeles trailer. Beautiful and sad. Definitely not an album for a bright summer’s day.

Two Steps From Hell – Invincible

This album is for those epic scenes. Clashes between titans, blood and guts, triumph and defeat. Heavy on chanting, drums and rising and falling. This album pumps you up, readying you for the fight ahead. Touches of Gladiator and maybe a hint of Batman for good measure. Probably not that useful for dialogue heavy scenes or romantic comedies. Unless your rom-com has battle sequences. In which case, can I read it?

Zoë Keating – One Cello x 16: Natoma

Sometimes it’s just an instrument that pulls you in. The high and sharp tones of a flute. The waver of a trumpet. With Zoe Keating, it’s the cello. The hypnotic strings vibrating across your spine. This is for those contemplative stretches in your fiction. For when your character is on a journey and they don’t quite know where they’ll end up. And maybe, neither do you.

First Script – Debrief Part I – Getting Started

The Process

I wrote this script as part of an online course at the local city college. I got to be taught by a professional, on a flexible schedule, with deadlines that forced me to write consistently. Perfect. I realized I needed a kick in the pants to actually take my story somewhere beyond the one paragraph introduction that sat on my computer for years. That’s an important detail: know what you need in order to get something done. Structure, guidance, encouragement, etc. Work within that framework until the momentum takes you from idea to idea, script to script, job to job. Just getting into (and finding) that groove at the start was the hardest part for me. Of course, your mileage may vary.

Here’s the typical flow for an idea to become a beautiful butterfly of a script:
Brainstorm –> Logline –> Summary –> Outline –> Screenplay
This is a combination of my own process over the years (writing nonsense) and tools learned in the screenwriting classes I’ve taken (all 2 of them). I should also point out that I have a degree in Film Studies, so some of the language/structure/flow came more naturally to me than my classmates for these courses.
The only deviation this particular script took was that it started out as a book for the NanoWriMo competition. I didn’t get far (only a few paragraphs really) and that’s where it stayed for years.

Read More about my process

First Draft Done

One down.
I’ve completed my first original full length screenplay. In this case “completed” means that I’ve finished one terrible first draft and that it has many more drafts to go before it could be considered “good”. Still, I’m pretty proud of it.
As this was my first original script (I have previously completed a page-one* rewrite for a competition), it seems only fitting to look back and figure out what I’ve learned, what I’ve botched, and what the hell I thought I was doing. Not necessarily in that order.
I’ll be posting my “Lessons Learned” over the next week. Hopefully they’ll prove useful/insightful/distracting to even non-writers.

 

*A page-one rewrite is one in which you take the basic premise (it can be the characters, the setting, dialogue, whatever) and then go back to page one and just write your own version of things. In that case I kept the setting, the premise, added some characters, added some action scenes, and changed almost every single line of description and dialogue. It was just easier than hacking away.

Nearing the End

I’m 2/3rds of the way through my first original screenplay. I’m at the end of Act II. I’ve beaten and bruised the spirit/body of my main characters and they anxiously await to see how it all shakes out (as am I).

I’ll have a summary of how it’s going in the next few days. Wish me luck.

Music to Write To: Part 1

Not everyone can write (or work) with music playing. If you’re one of those people, feel free to skip this post. I’ve found that music with no lyrics (or very few. chanting is fine) works the best for me. So I stick with classical, soundtracks, and electronica. Your mileage may vary. These are a few of the albums/songs that help me focus. Helps me shut off the outside world and get into the one I’ve created.

Clint Mansell – Black Swan Soundtrack

An easy pick. An updated take on some classical work. It also builds and releases a lot of tension throughout the tracks. Great for when you’re building suspense in a scene.

Air (specifically Night Sight and Alone in Kyoto)

Those French, what with their electronic music and their..um, transparent pants? Contemplative electronic music that doesn’t jar you. Not quite on the level of ambient music (which can tend to drone), but calming still.

Ólafur Arnalds – Found Songs

No, I can’t pronounce it either. Light strings and piano work dominate this album. No dramatic horns or deep bass. Ideal for dialogue work.

Philip Glass – Naqoyqatsi Sountrack

Philip Glass can be polarizing to some people. They hate the simplicity and repetition. That’s perfect for my purposes. Many of his soundtracks would probably work, but I find the Naqoyqatsi album to be a bit more mellow than most.

Randy Edelman & Trevor Jones – Last of the Mohicans Soundtrack

Pump up the action. Drama , Drums & Horns, on my. Plus, it’s all too easy to start envisioning the movie as the soundtrack thumps along.

Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft. You want to write a story? Fine. Put away your dictionary, your encyclopedias, your World Almanac, and your thesaurus. […] O.K., so here is your choice: either look it up in the dictionary, thereby making sure you have it right – and breaking your train of thought and the writer’s trance in the bargain – or just spell it phonetically and correct it later. Why not? Did you think it was going to go somewhere? […] You can check it … but later. When you sit down to write, write. Don’t do anything else except go to the bathroom, and only do that if it absolutely cannot be put off.

Stephen King

{from the inspirational ‘Advice to Writers’ site}

How Scott Myers Writes a Script

I’m always interested in how creative people work. What do they do first? Do they outline? What applications do they use? Do they do it in silence or with music? In a crowded coffee shop or in a reinforced bunker? If you post a blurb about how others create (especially when it comes to writing) I am there. John August has a nice series going about writers and their worskpaces – johnaugust.com . It might focus too much on the nitty gritty for some (“I will only write on a mahogany desk with my Macbook and Final Draft while sipping earl grey tea, hot.”), but I love that stuff too.

Scott Myers, however, recently concluded a 10 part series about his own writing process (screenplays specifically). Read about how he goes from the concept to the outline to the 2nd draft and everything in-between. It’s quite educational. You can find links to all 10 parts here: “How I Write A Script” by Scott Myers.