Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 190 - Travel Writing

I am currently stranded in Lima, Peru (with a keyboard on which I cannot figure out how to type an apostrophe, but can do as many ñs as I want), without access to my script - nor really any major desire to put a lot of time into it - so I figure this week, I would write about another type of writing I have been doing. Travel writing. More specifically, travel journal.

I do not know about you, but I have never really been on for keeping a journal. When I was a little kid, I had a Garfield-cover spiral notebook that was to be my "journal," but it served primarily as a doodle book. In high school, I attempted a Live Journal for a little bit, but my fifth and final post was a solicitation to all my friends to keep an eye out for my lost jacket. (It was in the back of my locker.) The only real journal keeping I have done since has been during my travels.

If you are a regular and long time reader of this (perhaps mildly interesting) blog, you might know that I get abroad roughly once a year. On those two to three week excursions, I bring along a little notebook, in which I try to record the events of each day. Photos do a lot, but so does whiskey, and my capacity for memory is not what it once was. Hence, the written records. Generally, even I find the entries to be a little on the dry side, static recordings of events with little anecdotes or personal reflection. This time, though, I tried something different.

If I am to be one hundred percent honest, I was not in the best of moods before flying out of NYC two weeks ago. The journal, while about my experinces in Lima and Cusco, also became a medium for my inner thoughts and emotions. I managed to put my feelings down on paper and, in a somewhat theraputic way, sort them out. Was the writing creative? I tried as best I could to be catchy or interesting. But it really was not about that. It was helpful to me. It was expressive in a different way than creating a world and characters and situations is. But it was writing nonetheless. And it felt good.

Moral of the story - writers write. And it does not always have to be stories. But, generally, it feels good when the words flow.

(Small post-Apocalytpic update while I have you; I got anothe remail from one of my producers. We are still out to a numbe of companies, but we are hoping to get a few responses after Labor Day. My agent is supposed to do a few follow up calls, and there are a few potentially interested producers and companies on our solicitation list. So, as I - hopefuly - make my way back to the States, I will keep my fingers crossed for some good news awaiting me as I enter back through customs.)

Hope all our East Coast readers survived Irene and the earthquake.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 189 - Going Back to Basics

I truly believe it's never to late to give up learning about screenwriting. There are so many books and articles and blogs (ahem) and resources out there about the craft that one could literally devote entire years just to reading about the trade. Maybe decades. I know people feel very differently about the importance and value of reading screenwriting books, but I believe there's a very large difference between how-to books and informative reading. There is also a large argument to be made for, "you can always learn more."

Right now, I'm reading William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade. Somehow, I'd managed to make it this far with having read the sequel, but never this first piece. And if you haven't read it (which I recommend you do), it's not so much a "this is how you write a screenplay" as it is a narrative about what it means to be a screenwriter, both personally and professionally. It's incredibly fascinating, a little gossipy, and a great insider look at Hollywood (albeit the Hollywood of the early 1980s, but still).

To the right of this post, you'll see a whole slew of links to sites, blogs, resources, etc. etc. Check them out. Even though they might state what you already know in the most simplistic ways, sometimes those reminders can be refreshing and useful. If you're stuck on your script, maybe reading something about the craft will get your mind jogging again, or it could be that inspiration you need to get over your block. Whatever the reason is that draws you to these texts - even if it's just to remain as up to date (my case now is not the prime example of this) or conversant in the canonical texts and ideas - it never hurts to go back to the basics. Until you're the one writing said books, as you're struggling to launch that career, it can always be a small boost to read the work of those who have come before. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 188 - Crisis of Confidence

Screenwriters must be tough. I don't mean physically (though being able to land a solid right hook isn't a terrible thing). No, screenwriters need an incredibly thick skin and ability to take a lot of criticism on their work and a lot of rejection in their attempts to get it sold and made. And it can be very difficult to resist all the pessimism and negativism.

I'll be honest, as much as I know how vital that "I am rubber" attitude is essential to an unblemished pursuit of professional screenwriting, I still fall victim to what I dub the "crisis of confidence." I fell victim to it this week. The League met on Wednesday night to review my second draft of the Medieval spec, and I received a very healthy serving of notes, feedback, and thoughts on it. Some of the notes jive really well; others didn't sit as comfortably with me. I have yet to decide which I'll implement and which I won't, but there's a wealth of information for me to sift through now. And the notes all mean I'll be doing undertaking another major overhaul of the script once again.

That feedback (too) easily fed into doubt when I got an update on my post-Apocalyptic spec from my producer. Though we've sent the script out to a number of companies, we are still waiting to hear back from them - and that is frequently not a good sign. Unfortunately, the realization that the script, which I thought was working (the Medieval one), was in need of a lot more work compounded with the non-update update from my producer, and the result was a damning and damaging crisis of confidence that's detrimental to any writer. Will I ever make this script work? That one that's circulating in the industry, which I thought was my strongest, isn't getting traction - will I ever be able to surpass that? If it doesn't sell, what does that mean for me? Will I continue to pursue this path?

These and other questions - or, rather, the answers to them - can be the deciding factor in any writer's pursuit of his or her career. Ideally, they're not asked. But let's be 100% honest with one another and ourselves. It's damn hard not to ask them. It's human to do so. And writers are students of humanity. The trick, though, which I have reminded myself of, is that one has to look at the silver lining in those moments of doubt. My post-Apocalyptic spec isn't gaining much traction at the moment; however, it landed me an agent at UTA, a lawyer at a respected industry firm, and, most importantly, I have two dedicated producers still doing everything they can to get it sold. For a 26 year old, I'm in a pretty good place in that respect. As for the Medieval spec, I know what's not working, and I have a lot of good suggestions for how to strengthen it. While I might have hoped I was going to get the thumbs up from the group, what I got was also positive - feedback on how to make it even stronger. So that's what I have to do. Write. Make it stronger. And bolster my self confidence. 

Monday, August 08, 2011

The Writing Week (Vol. 4) part 187 - Trust your Writers Group

It took a while, but I finally got the latest draft of my Medieval spec out to the rest of the League. We have a group meeting on Wednesday, and mine is one of two scripts we'll be reviewing and critiquing. I'm really curious to hear what they have to say about it - I was surprised by how much I liked it when I read through it last. Other than the page count (92), nothing glaring is sticking out at me so far. That, of course, can all change on Wednesday as we discuss it.

The meetings really are purely for the benefit of whoever has pages in them. Yes, they help everyone by strengthening their analytical muscles, but what I mean is that even if your work is torn apart and fatal flaws highlighted, the goal is to improve your material. Sometimes receiving feedback can be tough. Sometimes it can even feel like an attack (though this more in instances where a note is given in a less professional manner, or a writer doesn't know how to take the feedback). At the end of the day, though, one has to keep in mind that the objective is to improve the script at hand, and both the feedback and peoples' response to the pages are non-subtle clues as to what is working and what isn't. Also, provided you have a writers group that you trust, you should know that they want to like your script, want it to be better, and if they come at it aggressively or (though they shouldn't do this) poke fun at parts of it, they do so because they want to enjoy it more, and it's just not working for them yet. 

It takes a lot to build up the thick skin necessary to take notes. It also takes time and practice to learn how to give notes in a constructive, non-aggressive manner. The group members and I had 3.5 to 4 years of school together in which we did both the above. In the over 4 years since, we've further developed those skills. And, to be honest, even if we slip up now and then or deliver a note in a slightly derisive manner unintentionally, we've known one another long enough to appreciate the fact that there's no malice behind it. Like I mentioned, trust is the key factor - trust them to give you solid feedback (even if you don't take it), and trust them to have the best intentions for you script in mind.  Otherwise, why even send them the pages?