Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dirty Little Secrets, Part 1

I've been thinking a lot about writing lately, which sounds kind of obvious, since I'm both a writer and a professor of screenwriting. I've found that one of the things that happens as you develop professionally and artistically, is that you assimilate all the steps in the creative process and these individual steps become part of your subconscious which manifest only in the act of writing. So, you tend to see only the end result, with the process being mostly handled by a subroutine somewhere low down in the brain programming.

The key to teaching and understanding writing is dragging all those particular steps back out of the brain-basement and shining a light on them, so you can look on them as part of a system that others can then replicate and assimilate. Most writing instruction, from the time we enter school in kinder-garten (or before) until the time we graduate at any level, is focused on defining these steps in the process: learning the alphabet, learning to spell, sentence structure, topic sentences, etc.

I'm not going to concern myself with any of that.

Writing instruction that focuses on developing the process also leaves certain items -- vitally important to writers -- untaught and sometimes even unmentioned. The purpose of this series, and there will be five parts in all, is to air all the Dirty Little Secrets that writing classes don't always tell you. If you've heard some of these topics before, then you had a first-class mentor. If this is all brand-new to you, then let me be your guide.

Part 1: We're Not Holding Our Breath

The sad, naked truth of it is, no one cares whether you become a writer or not. Okay, maybe your parents, but other than that, not so much. In Hollywood, both the industry in general and other writers in particular, would prefer if you just fucked right off. The industry, because they're scared you might actually come up with something interesting that proves they're the emperors without clothes, the screenwriters because no one is looking for more competition.

There's no shortage of writers, or written material. The internet is inundated with would-be writers and their ramblings. Blogs like this one, for instance. Go to your local bookstore and see just how many books are published every week. The WGA is inundated with script registrations for material so awful it has less than zero chance of ever getting turned into a movie. In none of those places do you see a place-holder with your name on it.

It's "easy" to write when you're in high school or college, because you have some benign person looking over your metaphoric shoulder and gently forcing you to meet deadlines. When you hit the real world, the truth hits you: we can all go on with our lives very comfortably if you never write another word in your life. The challenge then becomes whether you can force yourself to write in the absence of external pressures. As a writing professor, I can teach you how to write, but, no matter how much I seek to inspire you, I can't give you the will to write.

The first step to becoming a professional writer is, in fact, writing. Initially, you're writing for your own pleasure only, not for money, fame, or the adulation of readers or filmgoers. If you can allow yourself to not write, maybe you should consider another career path. Writers work at it, always. We're compelled at some fundamental level to put thoughts on paper, regardless of anyone asking our opinion on anything.

Professional writers also write regularly.

The myth of the "inspired" writer, that one who only sets ink to paper when the muse strikes, is someone who may be fun to have a drink with, but this is not an actual writer. This is the dilettante who gives writers a bad name. They also fall into the category of "binge writer." You know those stories? The guy who wrote the script in a weekend. The thing they don't ever tell you is the script sucked. Binge writing is like binge drinking: it may be fun, but you're usually left with a pile of puke.

So, if you want to write, you need to do it regularly, and, since no one's fate hangs on your latest masterpiece, you need to make yourself do it. If you don't have the will, you'll never finish anything. That, of course, means you'll never actually be a writer (and probably weren't one in the first place).

Sunday, April 25, 2010

More Cautionary Advice for Writers

As if there weren't enough impediments to writing an intelligent script, now we're supposed to consider upping the dimensions at the earliest stages.

Thanks to Colin George of Farce/Film for sending me this link.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

More Hollywood Insight

Want to write features? It helps to know what people are looking for. Thanks to Peter Kim for posting this on his blog.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Taking a Poke

Hey, if you can't laugh at yourself, you've already lost the battle. So, to all those people who scoff at my Twitter usage, I freely direct you to this bit of humor from the New Yorker. And yes, I laughed at myself for the preposterousness. Of course, that didn't stop me from tweeting the link.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

And... I'm Back

Yeah, I know you missed me.

For the next couple of posts, I'm going to be talking about writing stuff, so if that isn't where you're interests lie, then you can go elsewhere for a bit. I probably won't be able to stay away from politics for long, so eventually I'll start bitching again. Check back.

I've got some fairly serious things I'm going to lay on you about writing, but for now, all I'm going to say is: if you have any serious intention of writing for films or television, you need to be aware of this article from last week's New York Times: