Sometimes I will find myself yelling in my head, in response to some writing advice I read on the internet.
It goes something like this: “you idiots! you don’t need writing advice! you just need to write! sit down and fucking write! do you really think that reading what Hemingway said about the bullshit detector is going to help you, you lazy fuck, when you’re not even putting in the time!?”
That’s a lot of yelling, but I’m yelling at myself.
The first kind of writing advice is designed to get you to sit down and actually write. To create space in your day or your life to do the work. To get words on the page, no matter how not good they are. This advice often has an inspirational or self-help feel to it, and for good reason. You want to write, but you’re afraid for any number of reasons and you haven’t started to put in the time.
I listened to The War of Art once and that more or less rewired my brain to write every day. It’s a powerful book.
The second kind of writing advice is more practical or technical. It’s for people that are already doing the work, putting in the time, pumping out the words. Advice of this variety has to do with how to write an outline or develop a character or create suspense or write better dialogue.
Type II advice doesn’t really mean anything if you haven’t created a space to work within.
Reminders for myself as I return to daily work (writing):
- Work every day. Compound interest. The Daily.
- Work with purpose. Deliberate practice.
- Work deeply.
- Process over results.
- Take risks. Stop playing it safe.
- Dream big.
- Ship your work.
What am I forgetting?
The consensus from Austin Film Festival (and honestly, anyone working in Hollywood that I’ve ever talked to or heard on a podcast) was that only two matter: if you’re a finalist for the Nicholl Fellowship or at AFF.
At least 90% of of these contests exist to make money, not to help you. They won’t get you an agent and they won’t impress people.
Please stop throwing your money away.
I was in Austin last week for the Austin Film Festival. It was a great time. The centerpiece of the festival is the four-day screenwriting conference, which means panels, networking, and parties.
As an aside: some of the panels were great and some were just OK. The panels I didn’t like were mostly because of a moderator that couldn’t or didn’t seem to understand the audience and what we wanted to hear. Moderating is an underrated skill.
On one of the panels, a literary manager spoke of the difference between skill and talent.
Basically he said, you need both to succeed as a screenwriter.
But there are a lot of people that have good careers with lots of skill and not much talent. These are writers who are not necessarily visionaries, but they are skilled in writing in someone else’s voice or in executing a formula. They would tend to work on less innovative shows or movies. They are probably what you would call a hack? I don’t know, I don’t really go around calling people hacks. The manager didn’t use that term.
People with lots of talent and no skill on the other hand, they can’t succeed. You need SOME skill. Actually, you need a fair amount. If you have no skill, then your talent is squandered. It can’t be harnessed. You have things to express but don’t know how to express them skillfully. Great stories, poorly told. Etc.
The high-skill, low-talent person, well, they can tell the hell out of a not great story.
A genius is someone with extraordinary talent (talent encompasses vision and intelligence and creativity and many other traits).
I’m simplifying a bit obviously.
Here’s a 2×2:
Obviously my design skills are low-skill, high-talent.
Can you become more skilled? Yes, definitely, that’s just deliberate practice over a long period of time.
Can you become more talented? ASKING FOR A FRIEND. Just kidding. I don’t know. I imagine that talent is an amalgam of many factors: genetics, upbringing, openness, what you read and who you spend time with and what your influences are and what you see and know about the culture and history and so many other factors with a dose of just general intelligence thrown in.
I love good content.
I’m a content creator.
This is good content.
Have you watched the show on Netflix? It’s such good content.
It’s hard being a content creator today.
As a content creator, I
I love content.
Mmmm Netflix has so much good content.
Did you see Sorry to Bother You? It was great content!
I saw Eight Grade I thought it was great content.
What the fuck is content?
Content is a commodity.
Stop saying content.
The secret of theft, which is also called “creativity,” is you have to steal a bit from a lot of different places. You can’t go to the same 7/11 every time because they’ll catch you. So you go to the photo shop, and you go to the gas station, and you go to that little hot dog stand that nobody goes to and by the end you’ve stolen enough stuff from enough places that people think its yours.
Via Austin Kleon.
Coming down the home stretch. Casting is wrapped. Cinematographer is on board. Location is signed and paid for.
I went to Fedex to print a copy of the script and put it in a binder. I like working with a paper script so I can annotate it and put all the notes in the margins, the notes that I’ve been collecting off and on for the last few years, since I started writing the script in 2015.
I went back and looked at my first draft from 2015 and much of the dialogue is the same, although much has changed. Kind of amazing how much from the first draft stayed though, like an almost fully-formed film just came out of me. OK, that’s an exaggeration, I did have an outline.
And the story as it is now, takes places at one location — an upper-middle-class home in Chicago (we’re filming in Ravenswood). The original script was split between the story at this house, and another two characters that are on their way to the dinner party at the house. In 2016 I split those characters off into their own screenplay, so in a way, I have a little cinematic universe going on. Maybe for the sequel…
A day after printing the script, I was already changing things. The writing never stops (and how I look forward to starting fresh on something new when this is over).
Also went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond to pick up this Global chef’s knife. Good knives are expensive apparently. This guy was $124 before the mandatory 20% discount. I should return it but maybe I’ll keep it — I’ve never owned a really good (and sharp) cooking knife.
Rewriting the script today.
We did a table read on Wednesday. The beginning doesn’t work, the story takes too long to gets moving.
And I’ve been trying to figure out how to handle scenes where a group of people are talking and not really moving. Time to go to the well…
I decided it’s better to make them move more and talk less, to give them props, and let the characters inhabit and interact with the space more.
I re-watched The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and saw how Bunuel moves the camera and the characters around to say so much and play with the frame.
Once I have the thought that they have to move, it gives the scenes more life. Not just speaking words, but moving each other around, pushing and pulling with words.
And re-watched Rope as well, another dinner party film.
I’ve been listening to Seth Godin’s Akimbo podcast. It’s great, as usual.
I’m cleaning out Evernote on this Labor Day and posting some stuff. I basically use this blog as an archive of the things that I’ve read or found that I want to remember later. So if it helps you, then bang on, as my English friend says.
Accidental Wes Anderson. People on Reddit post photos of real places that look like sets or frames from Wes Anderson movies.
Screenwriters: How Not to Get an Agent. Quotes excerpted from a great interview with an agent by John and Craig on an episode of Scriptnotes. This one really opened my eyes about the (lack of) value of 99% of screenwriting contests. Most of them are a way to make money for someone that can’t help you. Some of them have intangible benefits that might help you improve your writing but won’t help you get representation or sell a script.
How to Become Insanely Well-Connected. Good article on networking with practical and non-sleazy advice.