Sunday, September 28, 2008


There I go disappearing again. Sorry!

The CAA Party was super lame. There was an open bar until 10 pm, so the bouncers held us all outside in big lines (keep in mind we all paid at least $50 for tickets) until 9:55, so that when we got inside, the open bar was over. And then it took half an hour to get a drink, and most of the glasses were dirty and the liquors weren't even out yet (weren't they expecting us)? So I got a rum and diet coke for $13. Hooray. It was better for those assistants whose companies had paid for tables that included free drinks - and it seemed that every company except mine paid for such tables. I did run into a few IC alum and met a couple friends-of-friends. Overall, though, an aggravating night.

Going back to the subject of BJ Novak, Gavin Edwards wrote in to share his own piece about the Office writer-performers that appeared in Rolling Stone last year. Very cool. Have I mentioned that it used to be my life's dream to write for RS? Now I just dream of a world in which rum and diet coke doesn't cost $13.

And now to what's been on my mind the last couple days: the perils of being a Hollywood insider, as one writerfriend put it. I always recommend that people get industry jobs so they may make contacts and learn more about the business as well as the craft of writing. And I stand by my advice...but sometimes it can bog down your writing. When I was younger, I used to just write. I had dozens of fancy journals and plain composition notebooks filled with thoughts and words and stories. Now when I sit down to write something, I think about everything on TV or in movies. Am I being derivative? I think about format, genre. I think about what I know to be selling based on the phone calls I've listened to. I think about stakes and act breaks and whom I would cast. I wonder if my idea is high-concept. Or high-budget. I wonder what it will say about me as a writer, what it will demonstrate my voice to be. I wonder if it would be a writing sample that could win a contest, or get me an agent, or sell, or get me staffed. I contemplate motivations, themes, plot twists, demographics, tone. I ask other writers and friends if they like my ideas and take in all their opinions. And I've yet to write down anything.

We all certainly should be thinking about many of these things if we plan to write for this medium, work in this business. But when it comes down to it, it's a lot of fucking noise.

I'm not going to forget about all the knowledge I've soaked up in the last couple of years...but from now on, I'm going to try my hardest simply to WRITE.

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Dan Williams said...

Sorry your evening didn't go better! (But at least you have a funny story to tell about it! This experience could be a scene in a comedy, or even a sequence!)

But when it comes to all the aspects of the craft that you mention, it simplifies everything if you start with the THEME. The theme is what you want to say about Life. For example: "Don't let your hopes get too high or like Icarus you'll crash and burn one day." Or: "Keep writing and you'll get your dream job one day."

Then you break down the theme into the setting, the plot and the characters, which will illustrate the theme. And you write the scenes. Provided that the theme comes from the heart, the story will very likely be a good one. After it is written, this is the time to think of the marketing aspects. And don't worry: the more times you go through the creative process, the better you'll get at it.

(And if you have some emergency rum and diet coke in the frig, you'll be okay when you get home if the bar scene didn't turn out so good! If you depend on yourself for stuff, nobody can let you down!)

Simone... said...

Good lord, are you me? I haven't written a damn thing in ages because I'm too stressed out from work (or the lack thereof), and when I finally have the time to write my brain gets bogged down with those same questions. I don't just have writer's block, I have writer's paralysis.

Seth said...

The advice I've always heard is write the story you want to write. What Hollywood is buying today isn't necessarily what Hollywood will be buying tomorrow. Better to have a project you're passionate about than one that was designed to fit in some kind of preordained box but loses its soul in the process.

You know, unless the story you really want to write is about talking dinosaurs from Mars. Then I'd reign it in a bit.

Greg M said...

That's excellent advice to yourself--if you continue to feel bogged down, I'd recommend Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way"--while the spiritual stuff is a little new-agey, there are a number of helpful passages with tips that have helped me to just focus on my writing.
I have a slightly different take on things than Dan--for me, it doesn't all necessarily start with the theme; that can sometimes lead to heavy-handedness. And sometimes you have a really great story to tell but no idea what your theme *is.* Start with whatever engages you about the idea.

Dan Williams said...

Gregm said:

"for me, it doesn't all necessarily start with the theme"

Yes, you're right. The creative story-making process can start with anything. And sometimes we have no idea what the story means or wants to say. But it seems to me that getting to the THEME is a crucial step. A writer needs to know what the hero's intention is and what's at stake if the hero fails. But the THEME explains WHY the hero succeeds or fails.

For instance:

STORY: George Castanza gets a date with a beautiful older woman.

COMPLICATION: He lies about his age, saying he's 8 years older.

RESOLUTION: She finds out about it and dumps him!

THEME (or why she breaks up with him): "Lies about your age lead to break-ups because age is so very important to understanding who the other person really is."

But then again, I guess I have a low tolerance for writing stories where I don't know where the plot is going or why. I really like it when I'm working from a solid outline.

Marx Pyle said...

I think you've made a good point Amanda. I know that before film school my stories may have been a little more chaotic, but I could write them quickly. Now, I seem to spend more time trying to structure it "perfectly" than it would take to just write the darn thing.

One book that I read recently (but is actually an old book) that really nailed this idea is How to Write a Movie in 21 Days. It really focuses on writing from the heart first then the brain.

Thanks for the great post and keep up the good work.