July 9, 2012
February 26, 2010 / 5 Comments
Pop culture reference. It’s been a while.
So, first up, I have to do that awful self-promotion thing. Sorry. If you don’t want to see me stoop to shameless commercialism, skip ahead to the paragraph after next.
Over on the side bar, you’ll notice a new addition. The Amazon link for Ex-Heroes, my new novel which came out earlier this week. It’s a story about superheroes battling the zombie apocalypse. If you’re into that kind of thing, you’ll have a lot of fun. If you’re not, it might change your mind and you’ll still have fun. If nothing else, you’ll be able to go back over the rant blog here and understand some of the references I’ve made to this book over the past year and a half or so. You can also hop over to Facebook and join my fan page to get updates on various writing projects, interviews, and the like.
See? Told you it was shameless.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled rant about writing…
A few years back I got to speak with a writing coach named Drusilla Campbell She tossed out an interesting little statistic–one I think has probably expanded in recent years. According to her, out of every 100 people who call themselves writers, only one of them will ever actually finish a project.
One out of a hundred. That was five years ago. I’d be tempted to say it’s probably closer to one in 200 these days. What, with the number of people starting serial novels on the web and such.
By an astonishing coincidence, the number of people who succeed at writing is a somewhat smaller percentage than that. According to Drusilla, it was one out of ten of those folks who completed a manuscript. I think that number’s probably shrunk a bit, too, but not by any more than the other one’s expanded. Maybe one out of twenty or so. I don’t have any hard numbers to back it up, but I have a couple of really solid hunches and chains-of-logic I can share if anyone really wants to see them.
As I mentioned above, a lot of people have trouble finishing stuff. More than 99% of the people who like to say they’re writers never do. There are a couple different reasons for this.
The most common one, of course, is real life. We meet someone who demands more of our time. Something unexpected comes up. Work wants a little more out of us. Sometimes it’s just impossible to give writing the commitment it needs
Some people use it as a sort of fail-safe excuse. Until I finish it I can’t submit it or show it to anyone, and as long as no one sees my writing it can’t be rejected or criticized. So, consciously or not, some people come up with various excuses never to finish anything.
And then there are the folks who just thought it would be easy to write. I mean, anyone can write a book, right? It’s not like it’s a skill you have to learn or practice. We all learned how in grade school, fer cripes sake. These folks get a few dozen pages in and discover writing isn’t easy and it does take a commitment. Some give up quietly while others fall back on some excuse. Worse, a few of these folks actually do rush out an ending just to have it, and often get angry when this slipshod conclusion gets criticized.
I joke a lot about Lizard Men from the Center of the Earth, but here’s an ugly truth about it. I never finished it. Yeah, it was written on yellow paper and twenty-three pages is still impressive for a third-grader, but in the end it was never completed. Even when I revisited it in seventh grade and added illustrations and a shovelful of Arthurian legends. I also didn’t finish the cliché-filled sci-fi epic Piece of Eternity, a God-awful fantasy thing I’ve been trying to block for years (we’ll chalk that one up to excess hormones at puberty), my Boba Fett fan-fiction novel (long before there was such a term as fan fiction),or even the college novel I’ve mentioned a few times, The Trinity. Not one of them finished.
By an astonishing coincidence–the same one I mentioned above, in fact–not one of them sold.
The first long-form project I ever finished was a script for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine called “Point of Origin.” It got me fifteen minutes in a room with Ron Moore to pitch story ideas, plus repeated invites to come up and pitch other stories at the Star Trek offices.
The first novel I finished was The Suffering Map. It got several requests from agents. Big agents, as people like to call them.
A large part of my success as a journalist is the editors know they can toss me an assignment and I will finish it on time. The fact that I’m a competent writer is a big part of it, too, of course, but a lot of it is just the simple fact that they know an article that gets assigned to me will get done by the deadline.
Y’see, Timmy, the point I’m trying to make is that no one’s going to be interested in a partial manuscript or a script fragment. You have to finish something in order to achieve any sort of success. Unless your name is King, Rowling, or Brown, you will not sell an idea to anyone. Don’t assume it’s any different in Hollywood, no matter what some vehement film professor–or film student– tells you. I keep track of script sales for a living and the last time I remember hearing of someone selling a raw idea was five years ago, when David Koepp sold his idea for the film Ghost Town. In other words, to the best of my considerable knowledge on the subject, the last time anyone at a film studio bought just an idea it was a small, indie film concept that was coming from one of the top ten money-making screenwriters in the world.
In other words, for the purposes of all of us here at the ranty blog, it doesn’t happen. You will not succeed as a writer until you finish something. It doesn’t matter that you did nine-tenths of the work and you know how it’s going to end, people want to see all of it–especially that spectacular finish.
We have to write. And we have to finish what we write. If we don’t, we’ve got nothing.
Next week, if no one suggests a new topic, there are going to be some cuts.
Until then go write.
January 15, 2010 / 1 Comment
Just to be clear up front, this is not about doing unto others. Sorry.
When I started this blog way, way back in the dusty year of 2007, there wasn’t much to it. To be honest, it really started as a column I was pitching to one of the editors at Creative Screenwriting. If you look back at some of those early posts you can still see that more formal edge to them. Anyway, I pitched the idea and a few sample columns to one editor, then to the editor that replaced him, and then casually to the publisher once at a party. Then I said screw it and tossed them up at Blogspot under the best name I could come up with in fifteen seconds. Where they sat for many months until I decided I wanted to spew about something else I was seeing new writers doing. I think I’d just finished reading for a screenwriting contest and was just baffled how so many people could keep making the same mistakes again and again.
It was also about the time I was giving up crew work in the film industry to start writing full time. It meant I was browsing a lot of other blogs and message boards. It struck me that while there were all-too-many folks offering “useful advice” about getting an agent, submission formats, publishing contracts, and so on, there were very few that offered any help with writing. Which seems kind off bass-ackward, as old folks say to young folks. Also, the few folks that were speaking about writing tended to do so with absolute certainty, despite a lack of credentials of any sort whatsoever. Worse still, a huge number of people were blindly following those folks and their bizarre “rules” of writing..
Now, I did lots of writing stuff as a teenager, but it wasn’t until college that I discovered how many markets there were, and how many magazines devoted to the craft of writing. Again, old fashioned as it may make me sound (granted, there was a different guy named Bush in the White House then), this pile of magazines did something the internet doesn’t. It actually forced me to learn the material rather than just plopping it in front of me. I had to search every article, every column, and read through them in their entirety hoping to find a hint or tip on how to improve my writing skills.
One thing that became apparent pretty quick, even to not-yet-legal-to-drink me, was that a lot of these tips contradicted each other. Here’s an article about how you should write eight hours a day, but this one says four, and that one says don’t write unless you’re inspired. She says to outline and plot out everything, he says to just go with the flow and see what happens. One columnist suggests saving money by not asking for your submission back, but another writer points out that this creates the instant mental image that your manuscript is disposable.
Y’see, Timmy, if you ask twenty different novelists how they create a character, you’re going to get twenty different answers. If you ask twenty screenwriters how they write a scene, you’re going to get twenty different answers. And all of these answers are valid, because all of these methods and tricks work for that writer.
Which is the real point of the ranty blog. I want to offer folks some of the tips and ideas I sifted out of all those articles and columns, along with some I’ve developed on my own after trying (and failing and trying again) to write a hundred or so short stories, scripts, and novels.
To be blunt, I don’t expect anyone to follow the tips and rules here letter for letter. Heck, as I’ve said before, I don’t follow all of them myself. I sure as hell wouldn’t call it a sure-fire way to write a bestselling novel or anything like that, because writing cannot be distilled down to A-B-C-Success. The goal here is to put out a bunch of methods and advice and examples which the dozen or so of you reading this can pick and choose and test-drive until you find (or develop) the method that works best for you. That’s the Golden Rule here.
What works for me probably won’t work for you. And it definitely won’t work for that guy.
There are provisos to this, of course. Not everything about writing is optional. You must know how to spell. You must understand the basics of grammar. If you’re going into screenwriting, you must know the current accepted format. A writer cannot ignore any of these requirements, and that is an absolute must. Past all that, you must be writing something fresh and interesting.
I think this is where most fledgling writers mess up. They assume it’s all-or-nothing. Not only do you have the artistic freedom to ignore the strict per-page plot points of Syd Field or Blake Snyder, you can actually ignore plot altogether. You’re also free to ignore motivation, perspective, structure, and spelling.
It doesn’t help that there’s a whole culture of wanna-bes out there encouraging this view because… well, I can only assume because they’re too lazy to put any real effort into their own writing. If they get everyone else doing it, then it means they’re not doing anything wrong.
To take veteran actress Maggie Smith slightly out of context (she was talking about method actors): “Oh, we have that in England, too. We call it wanking.”
Anyway, I’m getting off topic. I hope I’ve made it clear what the cleverly-named ranty blog is about, and that most of you will still tune in next week to see what I decide to prattle on about.
Speaking of which, next week I wanted to talk about prattling on.
Until then, go write.
December 31, 2009 / 4 Comments
A solid year of this stuff. Who would’ve guessed any of us would be so interested in my blatherings for so long? I sure didn’t.
So, the whole point of this blog (besides lowering my blood pressure) is to hopefully give a helpful hint or two. The best way to utilize those tips, silly as it sounds, is to write. That’s why we’re all here, yes?
That being said… what did you write this year?
As I said last year, I’m not interested in the cool ideas you’re going to do something with eventually. I don’t want you to talk about what you’ve planned to do. I also don’t care what clever software you bought, or what fascinating research you’ve done, or who you had an extended online chat with during lunch one day.
The question, my eleven faithful followers, is what have you written?
Y’see, Timmy, if you’re not writing, that’s kind of the end of the discussion right there. We can’t talk about editing, improving, or polishing our work until we’ve actually got some work, right?
We have to write. Until you’re writing on at least a semi-regular basis
So, what did I do over these past twelve months?
I wrote thirty-eight articles for Creative Screenwriting magazine. Granted, because of lead times some of this won’t see print until next year, but by the same token some of the stuff that did come out this year were things I actually wrote last year. I got to sit down and talk with Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, Nora Ephron, Mike Judge, Nancy Meyers, Steven Soderbergh, Kevin Smith, and even Frank Darabont at one point. Plus a bunch of screenwriters you’ve probably never heard of but loved their work (like David Self, Kundo Koyama,Tony Gilroy, Simon Kinberg, David Hayter, and Bruce Joel Rubin). If you haven’t seen (500) Days of Summer yet, by Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber, you’re missing out. Also add in another thirty-four reviews and interviews for the CS Weekly online newsletter (sign up over there on the right if you haven’t already). That let me see a bunch of movies for free and also interview another pile of screenwriters like Stephan Elliot and Shane Black. There were also a few scattered reviews in there for both CinemaBlend and Coming Attractions. I think the final total for non-fiction pieces comes in at seventy-five.
It’s also fair to mention that I got to work with two really great editors for a lot of this, David and Jeff. They’ve each got their own style, they each have their own preferences, and I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a headbutt or three in there throughout the year. They both kept me on my toes, though, and made sure I was putting out the best work I could. Half the reason I can write fast and tight is because of these two guys.
I scribbled down a quick short story/ article for the upcoming Moron’s Guide to the Inevitable Zombocalypse which will see print in 2010. There’s also a story going out to a time-travel anthology pretty much right alongside this post. I’m kind of proud of these two on a couple of levels. One is that they’re two pretty solid stories that I managed to get out really quick. As soon as I had the idea, I had the whole story. The other thing was that it had a very Bradbury feel. In many of his autobiographical tales he talks about when he would rush out stories so he could pay the rent, and there is a very nice feel to ever-so-briefly living in that world of “I need money–I better write something quick and sell it.”
I wrote one of those mash-up books that’s so popular right now, blending modern horror tropes into classic literature. Although, in all fairness, about 60% of the finished book was written by someone else two hundred years ago, which is some serious lead time. Hopefully I’ll get to say a bit more about that sometime soon. It’s making the rounds right now, as they say.
To be honest, I don’t know what they say. I just wanted to sound like I was in the loop, as they say.
I’m currently about 30,000 words into a sci-fi/horror novel set 200 years in the future. It’s on the Moon, so it’s beyond everything. Alas, it got set aside for the above-mentioned mash-up project, and it may take a bit of work to get back into it. There are a few moments in it that are just wonderful, though, so I’m sure it will see the light of day sometime or another.
There are also twenty-five pages of notes for an Ex-Heroes sequel. The publisher has been asking me about it since the day he bought the first book. However, while I was doing the Orci and Kurtzman interview mentioned above, Roberto Orci made an offhand comment about sequels while looking me right in the eyes and… well, he’s been haunting me ever since. So expect me to dive into that in March, after there’s been some response to the February release of Ex-Heroes.
Oh, and I managed to post here on a fairly regular basis. Better than last year, even. For a free blog that’s supposed to go up once a week, 49 posts in a year is pretty impressive. At least from where I’m sitting. I also threw up a counter back in late June (starting it at 500), so using my impressive math skills it would seem I’m getting around 100 peeks a week here. So someone’s looking at it besides me. Maybe all eleven of you keep coming back every day.
That’s what I wrote this year. How about you?
Make the same New Year’s resolution as last year. A page a day. That’s it. It usually works out to under 300 words if you’ve got the formatting right. If you write one page a day, you can have a short story by the end of January. You could have a solid screenplay by the time May rolls around. This time next year, you could have a novel. All that, out of a mere page a day. If you’re actually serious about being a writer, this should be the equaivalent of making a resolution to breathe in the months to come.
Happy New Year to all eleven of you reading this. Next time, will be the first post of 2010, so I thought I’d do something that dealt with the first.
Until then, go drink some champagne and toast the new year.
Then go write. Just write one page.