That special spark within

roald dahl
Why is this writer smiling? You would too if you came up with the term “Everlasting Gobstopper”.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to meet with some fellow Bay Area writers. Among their number was a writer who had written some small stuff, and was in the middle of working on her first big project – a TV pilot.

Even though I don’t know much about writing for TV, I and another writer offered up what advice we could. The recipient was very appreciative, and one of the things she said later on in the conversation made a very strong impression on me.

“I know the first draft isn’t going to be perfect, but I’m just really loving writing this.”

Truer words could not have been spoken.

Like I told her, I write stuff I would want to see. It’s taken me a long time and many drafts of many scripts to feel like I’ve really come into my own. Each time, the end result is a script for a movie I think would be an absolute blast to see play out on the big screen.

It always astounds me when a writer complains about having to write (or rewrite). If you don’t like doing it, WHY ARE YOU DOING IT?

It was genuinely pleasing to hear this writer who, despite the challenges she knew awaited her, was still excited about working on this project. Sure, she was still nervous about doing a good job and hoped the end result didn’t suck too much. No matter how many scripts you’ve written, that feeling never goes away.

But to simply see her face light up while she described the story (which is a real doozy, believe you me) and hear her talk about what she’s experienced so far, including doing the research involved, and learning what to do and not to do regarding formatting, it was just really, really pleasant.

I’m sure a lot of us do this because the title “storyteller” really suits us to a tee. Are some better at it than others? Sure, but instead of being discouraged about what you perceive as a lack of progress, try seeing every time you write as a chance to learn and improve. Because it is. It’s certainly been that way for me, and I strongly suspect I’m not alone in that.

I got the impression our little chat gave this writer an extra little jolt of encouragement that she wasn’t expecting. She doesn’t know when the pilot script will be ready, but I told her not to worry about that and just keep enjoying writing it.

I suspect she will.

-Friend of the blog Andrew Hilton (aka The Screenplay Mechanic) is offering a special deal as part of his stellar screenplay analysis. (Editor’s note – his notes helped shape my western into what it is today)

If you use any of his services, refer a friend, or write a Facebook review of your experience using his services, you are automatically entered to win a free DVD of the motorcycle documentary WHY WE RIDE (of which Andrew was a co-executive producer).

The winner will be chosen on October 1st. The holidays will be here before you know it, and if you or somebody you know loves motorcycles, this would be an excellent gift (as would purchasing some of Andrew’s script services for that special screenwriter in your life).

All the details here.

-My time in the San Francisco Half-marathon the weekend before last – 2:02:56. Disappointing, but still glad I did it. I blame all those uphill stretches in the second half. And probably not training enough.

Next race is coming up in a few weeks in Oakland. Pleasantly flat Oakland. Training a little harder for it, with the intention once again of hoping to break the 2-hour mark.

Psst! Your desperation is showing

liz
Liz knew the value of taking one’s time

Seeing as how I post links to this blog on a few social media and networking sites, it’s inevitable that word about it will continue to spread across the globe (even more than it already has, apparently).

So along with global recognition (which is always nice), this also attracts attention from those with an idea for a story, a dream of hitting it big, and pure, unbridled ambition.

Those that have all of the above seem to be actively seeking me out, as I have once again received an out-of-the-blue request/plea for some screenwriting assistance.

A writer asked if I would take a look at their script, adding that English wasn’t their first language, so that part might still need some work. Even though this was their first script, they felt it was ready to go and if I liked it enough, they’d be willing to share the rights or even give full ownership to me.

They also included the logline and a few personal details about really, really wanting to move to the US so they can make it in the film industry.

One of my guiding tenets is to never insult or belittle somebody, nor do I have any desire to ridicule somebody for pursuing their dream. Tough as it was, I felt I had to explain a few hard truths to them.

-First, about the script itself. “Everybody’s first script is always bad. Always. I say this not to be discouraging, but from experience (both mine and from others). DO NOT expect me to read it and say it’s perfect, because it won’t be. When you’re starting out, you have to realize what you don’t know and be willing to learn from your mistakes.”

-About wanting to move to the US. “It takes a VERY long time to have anything happen. Focus on studying and improving your craft. Fortunately, that’s something you can do at home. Join some online writing groups. Network. Be friendly. Don’t just start with “Hi. Can you help me?” Nobody likes that.”

This was their response:

“Thanks for getting back to me. I really appreciate your advise. I know that everything you said is true. So I understand. I know you are trying to help me. I know it’s bad to ask help at the first moment I get to know someone. So I won’t do that again. I’m really grateful that I got to know you. Thanks again for your support.”

If you’re like me, you totally get where this person is coming from. They want it so bad it hurts. And that this is something that takes an excrutiatingly long time for anything to even happen just makes it that much harder to endure.

We all know this is not an easy or overnight process; there are no short cuts or quick fixes. It takes time to learn how to this right, so patience is an absolute necessity. But if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, then you’ll eventually start to see results.

Make Emily Post proud

manners
White gloves are, of course, optional

A few months ago, after connecting with another writer on a networking site, I asked my usual get-to-know-you question – “How are your latest projects coming along?”

Their response: “Good. You can read these (2) copyrighted scripts HERE (link). Also looking into setting up some table reads.”

Sometimes this happens. I ask somebody how it’s going, they give a brief, no-nonsense answer, and that’s it. No “How about you?” Hey, it’s cool. I understand. You’re not interested in being social. No big deal. (Although it does defeat the purpose of this whole “networking” thing.)

My standard procedure after that is to let things drop, which I did.

Until a month later.

This same person sent me a boilerplate notice regarding something else, so I decided to try again.

“How’d the table reads go?”

“Still waiting for funding. Still haven’t read my screenplays yet, have you?”

Um, was I supposed to?

I looked over our previous exchange. Nope. No request to “please read my screenplays”. Just “this is where you can read them”, plus the emphasis on them being copyrighted, to no doubt put the kibosh on any potential IP theft on my part.

This was also just after I’d started my 10-day writing marathon, so I had absolutely no time to read anything. I said I hadn’t read them, and was currently involved with some really big projects.

That did not sit well with them, at least from their perspective.

“Figured this is the pat response I always get when I try to start a conversation here. If you ever join OTHER NETWORKING SITE, let me now (sic). That’s where I network the most and actually find fellow creatives to work with. Here, not so much.”

And that was that.

Huh? Did I miss something? They were starting a conversation with me? Apparently I was the latest in a long line of someone giving what they considered to be a lame excuse as to why I hadn’t read their material, which I supposedly said I would.

I considered responding with some kind of harshly-worded retort, but opted not to. It simply wasn’t worth the time or effort. In fact, up until I started writing this post, I hadn’t even thought about them since, and will have most likely forgotten about them by this time tomorrow.

I’ve covered this subject before, and am compelled to do so again.

A big part of this industry is establishing and maintaining relationships.

It is extremely important for you to be a nice person. To everybody.

Granted, not everybody is going to reciprocate, but you’re much more likely to make a good impression if you’re friendly, polite, and professional. Both in person and online. People will remember that.

And they will also remember it if you’re not. Establish a reputation for being a pompous, know-it-all jerk, then that’s how people will perceive you, which will severely reduce your chances of somebody wanting to work with you a second time (providing they survive the first).

When you initially connect with somebody and a conversation develops, take the initiative  and make it about them. Ask how their projects are going. In theory, they’ll answer and ask about yours. Be friendly, inquisitive, and encouraging. I’ve made a lot of good contacts and gotten to know a lot of extremely talented writers that way.

Added bonus  – Your network of writing associates has the potential to be a virtual support team. Part of why my writing’s improved over the past few years is a direct result of receiving quality notes from many of these writers, and I’ve always been totally willing to return the favor.

And they’re also there for you in the rough times. If I announce some disappointing news, I can always rely on receiving a lot of sympathetic and encouraging comments to remind me I’m not alone in this, and that a lot of folks (none of whom I’m related to) believe in my abilities.

All of this from being a nice person!

But, as exemplified in my little anecdote from earlier, sometimes a connection just doesn’t happen. If somebody doesn’t seem interested, don’t push it. Wish them the best and move on. There are a lot of other writers out there for you to meet.

And they’ll probably think you’re just as fantastic as I do.

Hey! Long time no (preferred form of communication)

operator
A hard-at-work pre-Internet server keeping things up and running

There’ve been several previous posts here regarding the benefits and necessity of networking. It can’t be stressed enough how incredibly helpful and effective it can be, especially if you’re not in Los Angeles or somewhere you don’t have a lot of in-person access to other writers.

But it’s not enough to just make a connection. An effort needs to be made by at least one of you (most likely you) to maintain that connection and keep it healthy. And it’s not as hard as you might think.

While it can be extremely easy and tempting to get sucked into the never-ending rabbit hole of the internet, designate a portion of your non-writing time to be just as productive and try to get some networking stuff done.

Are you connected to another writer in your area, but you’ve never actually met in person? Ask them if they’re up for a get-to-know-you coffee or lunch chat.

If you’re limited to online communication, send them an email or tweet asking how they’re doing, and how their latest projects are coming along. Be helpful, or at least offer to help. They might just take you up on it.

*Important – if it’s been a while since you’ve been in touch, don’t start things off by straight-out asking for something. Would you want someone to do that to you? Didn’t think so.

If something good (career or otherwise) has happened for them, send a note of congratulations. Likewise, if something not-so-good has happened, express your sympathies accordingly.

Cliched as it may sound, keeping the lines of communication open really can help you out. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have established strong relationships with several local writers and filmmakers, and exchanged notes with writers scattered across the globe.

I reconnected with a consultant I hadn’t been in touch with for several months, and that conversation led to them offering up coverage (which I still paid for) that proved to be quite helpful.

A writer I know who works in TV and film emailed me, wanting to discuss her latest concept because she thought I was a good match for it.

None of these would have happened if I hadn’t taken the time to keep each relationship going. Rather than taking a “how can you help me?” approach, I go in with the mindset of “maybe I can help you?”

One of the things you hear so often when it comes to establishing a screenwriting career is “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. I’ve found both parts to be true. You definitely have to know what you’re doing in terms of craft and writing ability, but it’s equally important to establish and maintain solid, professional relationships with as many people as you can.

Because you never know who’s going to suddenly be a person of influence willing to help you out because you did the same for them.

So here’s your voluntary assignment:

1. Contact five of your connections.
2. Ask them how things are going.
3. Take it from there.

Good luck!

So this is what inner peace feels like

zen garden
Serenity, calm, and all that

Philosophy, metaphysics and existentialism aren’t really my thing, but I suppose you could say I’m feeling very “zen” these days.

Part of it is stems from completing the last-polish-before-contests of my western. It definitely reads better, and I’m extremely happy with the results.

Working on this rewrite also renewed my sense of “don’t hold back”. It was exhilarating to write material that felt so alive and vibrant. I am fully confident this will continue with each draft of each of my scripts from this point on.

For some reason, this may also tie directly into a majority of my anxiety and stress and self-imposed pressure simply disappearing, or at least being drastically reduced.  Seriously. Maybe it’s from just accepting that success will happen when it happens, and that beating myself up until it does is just counter-productive. I suspect there will be times when I’ll still get a little down, but expect it to occur on a less regular basis and definitely not as severe.

Big things of a positive nature are ahead, chums. I will do my best to maintain this blissful sensation while I keep working toward reaching that inevitable goal.

Which I do expect to happen. Preferably sooner than later, but either way I’ll get there.

**Editor’s note – this is my 700th post. While the ideal subject matter would have been “I sold a script!” or at least along those lines, I’m quite content with it covering the topic it does.

I hope you’ve enjoyed being part of this for the previous 699 posts over the past 7 years, and that you’ll keep coming back for more.

Thanks for reading!