I get asked all the time about writing. It’s weird that anyone should ask me, in my opinion. I’ve had some minor success, but nothing that should make people seek out my advice on the art. I think it has a lot to do with me being the only person they know who had any luck.
Whether it’s friends or strangers, they all say the same thing: I’ve always wanted to write. From there it takes a usual turn on two corners. I’m asked if I would like to collaborate or I am asked if I could write the idea they have. The answer is almost always no on both requests.
As someone who writes for a living, meager as it may be, I have several projects in the queue. My projects range from short stories to novels to screenplays and teleplays. I plan out the next five years of projects. My time is accounted for and I cheat myself if I step away from my plans. There are exceptions. I have one writing partner and our writing schedule isn’t mapped out; however, our projects are usually exploratory. Most recently, though, I had to turn him down due to my current writing project. It’s difficult to switch gears from one story to another, especially when writing a book.
So, instead, I give advice. Most want to write a screenplay. It is the rare individual that wants to write a book. But the advice I’m about to give can be used for both.
- Outline your story. Map it out. Know the beginning, the middle, the end, and all the meaty morsels in between. Outlining will save you from “writer’s block”. It’s, as I said, a map to where you’re going.
- Research. Yes, I’m sorry to say, but you will need to research. You can never have too much research. You decide how much you need. Research gives you that little extra something something that you’ll only notice, but that your reader, viewer, or whatever will appreciate without really knowing why. Besides, it’ll keep you from looking like an idiot.
- Outline your story. Hey, you already said that! Yes, I did. After you research, you’ll have notes and scene ideas. Do your outline again.
- Sit down, shut-up, and write. Quit talking about it and sit down and write the thing. Do not daydream, wish, seek people out to write it for you. Just sit down and write the story. A typical screenplay is about 20,000 words, give or take. If you write 1,000 words a day, you’d have a finished 1st draft in less than a month. A novel is typically 75,000 to 110,000 words. A thousand words a day is not a lot. If you cannot write 1,000 words a day then find something else to do.
- Read your script or manuscript. After you write it, read it. Read it straight through. Don’t give it to someone else to read. You read it. Then take note of how it makes you feel at the end. You’ll know if it sucks or if it’s worth chasing after.
- Read your script or manuscript again. This time take notes.
- Rewrite. Time to fix things! I recommend retyping each page, adding your changes or fixing your problems.
- Give it to someone you trust. They say that giving it to your friends or family is bad as they won’t tell you the truth. My question is, what kind of relationships do these people have that they can’t speak plainly without flipping out? If you don’t have friends or family that will give you an honest assessment of your writing, then stop what you are doing right now and do a little self-examination. You’re broken.
- Rewrite. Assuming that you took all the advice from your readers and evaluated it, now is the time to make some more changes. Then after that, you’ll rewrite it again and again until you think it’s perfect.
- Edit. Edit for content first then typos, spelling, and grammar. Then you’ll proof read and do it again and again. Editing seems to never end. If you’re writing a book, you’ll do this forever and a day. If you can afford a real editor, then do yourself a favor and hire one. If you’re editing a script, it won’t take as long.
Once you are satisfied, you can give it to people to read as a final draft, shop it around, or throw it away. Congratulations, your work has just begun. Since this is a blog about writing and not marketing, I won’t go into that spiderweb of misery and pain. I’ll save that for another blog.
Of course, I give this advice assuming that you know how to write. Not sure if you know how to write? Take some creative writing classes. Learn how to tell a story. Learn about language. I don’t recommend you taking a screenwriting class. The biggest problem I see with screenplays is not that the writer doesn’t know how to write one, but that the writer doesn’t know how to tell a story. You can learn about structure and act breaks with the thousands of books on screenwriting available on the market right now. Make that a thousand and one… two… three… four! There are a lot of books on the craft.
Good luck and write!
This is me complaining on a sunny Monday morning. I should be working on my novel; however, I’ve rewritten the first chapter six times. I know that I should just plow ahead and come back to it, but the first chapter is really important. It sets the tone for the whole story. If I can’t get that right then the whole thing is doomed. DOOMED!
So, instead, I’ve decided to gripe and complain about observations I made over the weekend. Here is the sum of my conclusions: everybody has the answer, but no one really knows the question. Pretty good, eh?
Okay, maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s just a bunch of philosophical nonsense. There’s a lot of that going around lately. It surpasses the supposed SARS epidemic, in my opinion. By the way, and this doesn’t count as one of my complaints, but aren’t we throwing the word “epidemic” around rather loosely? Are we so desperate for some sort of catastrophe in our time that we automatically label something as epidemic? Relax history writers. We’ll have a place in time that some will talk about. Anyway, yes, my conclusion may read like a cheap fortune cookie, but it’s written on good paper.
After everything that this country has been through over the last 13 years, I find it hard to believe that there are people out there, and a large portion of people, that believe wholeheartedly in party politics. There are many who stand behind the donkey and the elephant, oblivious to what is spewing from the hind end of those beasts. To them, their party is the answer to America’s problems. Except there’s a minor hiccup: they are exactly alike. Their differences, and even then it’s not real clear, are only brought to our short attention spans during election season, which seems to be all the time, lately. However, once these clowns take office, it’s business as usual with a lot of posturing, grinning quotes, and photo opportunities. How anyone believes a word any of these people say is beyond me.
The tragedy of it all is that we the people gnash our teeth at one another over a bunch of rich people that could care less about us.
News Flash: no one cares about you except your mother, wife, husband, father, and children. Sometimes, not even those people really care about you. Your friends care about you… for now. But say the wrong thing one day and they’ll split.
Think about all the things that you care about. Is it your family, the poor, minorities, small businesses, gay rights, children, crime, the environment? Any of them? All of them? None? Now how many of those do you really do anything to show how much you care? Yeah, the list is smaller now. What makes you think government officials care anymore than you? They are concerned about the same things you are. They want to keep their jobs, feed their families, feel important, and be able to take a vacation every year. Whatever it takes to have all four of those things is what they will do. The difference between you and the politician is ambition. Let’s face it. You have to be one ambitious bugger to run for office. Then to stay in office is a whole other level of ambition and it isn’t blind. Unfortunately, in the world of politics, one doesn’t really have to do anything. They just have to make an effort, a speech, a policy bullet point on their website. In the meantime, they just keep raising your taxes, taking away a little freedom here and there, pointing fingers at everyone else but themselves, and collecting more and more power. It’s always the same and you, that is, we keep voting for them.
How do I know that both parties are bags of garbage? Simple. I didn’t create the problems in this country. Did you? No, the Republicans did! No, the Democrats did! You’re both idiots. They’re not teams to root for. They are public servants that are supposed to have your best interests in mind, not their own. We are all sheep being led to the slaughter, thinking that the farmer cares, but all he wants is everything we have, so he can have more.
“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” – Walt Whitman
I am in constant contradiction of myself. Ol’ Walt had the right idea, though. Just accept it. Our thoughts and beliefs change with experience. However, there are some contradictions in this world, particularly from our scientific and governing bodies, that are not acceptable.
In recent headlines, blatant contradictions are unchallenged. Maybe it’s because we see them so often that we now pay little attention to them. Hey, life is busy. We don’t have time to pick apart every little red flag thrown out. I understand. Nevertheless, if we do not challenge these little inconsistencies then they become mainstream thought and, therefore, accepted without question.
WARNING: If you are easily insulted by opposing views, critical thinking, and calling a spade a spade then I suggest that you stop reading right now. I mean to do more than ruffle a few feathers. I plan on plucking them out completely.
Now that I gave you fair warning, let the plucking begin.
Headline: Cleveland man could face aggravated murder charges for allegedly terminating pregnancies
At first glance, this headline gets a “Hell yeah!” from the public. After all, this monster kidnapped three young girls and held them captive for more than 10 years, sexually abusing, beating, and torturing them. He did this under the noses of his neighbors and his family. During the last decade, the monster impregnated one of the girls five times, then starved and beat her to terminate the pregnancies. The District Attorney, in addition to the kidnapping and rape charges, has stated that he will seek charges for, ”each act of aggravated murder he committed by terminating pregnancies.”
So, what’s the problem? If you haven’t guessed where I’m taking this yet, let me give you one hint, using only one word: abortion.
In my humble opinion, according to the laws of this land, killing a fetus is not a crime. The government has already made it perfectly clear that a fetus is not created equally and does not have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It isn’t a life. It is a choice.
But, Gary, the victim did not choose to have the pregnancy terminated, and, therefore, it is a crime.
Yes, you are correct. Then charge him with unlawfully terminating a pregnancy, if there is such a law. But, do not charge the monster with aggravated murder. He cannot logically be charged with aggravated murder, for how can one murder that which is not life to begin with? There are no murder victims. There is only a grieving mother-to-be. We, as a society, cannot have it both ways. Either a fetus is a human life or it is not.
Headline: No interest in the gym? It may be genetic
Congratulations fat and lazy people! You now have an excuse for your obesity and laziness. Just so it’s said, I do not think that all obese people are lazy; however, it’s a majority that are.
Yes, Geneticist Molly Bray has discovered a fat and lazy gene, or so she says. After a study that lasted ten years, she and other scientists on her team have pinpointed a genetic sequence that causes people to sit around and get fat. They are calling it the “couch potato gene”.
This is good news for people like me. I love sitting around and doing nothing. It’s so easy. Unfortunately, my life goes to hell if I do, so I don’t. However, now that I have a possible genetic reason to do so, maybe I can convince myself and my family that this is how God made me, that I was born this way, and it is unnatural for me to try and change it. This is me and they should accept me for who I am. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.
But there is a kink in the armor. I’ve been thwarted by a geneticist, a mad scientist who, in my passionate opinion, speaks before thinking!
During the end of the study at the University of Alabama, subjects were told to train for 15 weeks. They were tested, measured, and interviewed. The common factor for those that wanted to quit the study was that the hardest part was just deciding to do it. A-ha! They have the gene! However, every subject continued on in the study and many are still exercising today. This, according to the findings, is proof you can fight and conquer your genes. Dammit!
Now, the contradiction is at hand. For years, we’ve been told about the “gay gene” and that homosexuals are born that way, that they have no choice in who they are, and that to suggest that a homosexual can change is naïve, intolerant, and ignorant. Maybe they’re right; maybe they’re wrong. I don’t know. I don’t care. I would only care if I had to constantly chase gay couples out of my garbage cans every morning. Since I don’t, it doesn’t concern me. There are more pressing issues in life than man love and scissor action. Raccoons, for example, are a problem.
No, my problem isn’t with the homosexual community. My problem is with the scientific community. Which is it? Can we change who we are, or can’t we? If we can’t, then I’m going to stop going to the gym. Lifting heavy things is hard and it makes me stink. But, if we can change who we are, then I’ll keep up the hard work and continue improving myself. And while I’m at it, are eggs bad for you or are they not?
My guess is that this is all a bunch of nonsense created by people that aren’t smart enough to cure cancer in order to give them some sense of misguided accomplishment. Yeah, don’t cure the world of horrible diseases. Instead, tell the fat and lazy that it’s not their fault. Nice going Alabama.
These are two examples of unacceptable contradictions in our society. Where are the pro-choicers marching on the courthouse steps for Ariel Castro’s rights? Why isn’t the gay community parading down to Alabama for a rainbow reality check? I’ll tell you where they are. They’re home, making soup, watching their favorite television show like good Americans. Because we only speak up when the shit hits the fan. Unfortunately, it’s usually too late when it does.
Say what you will about reality television, but it’s here to stay. There are many reasons as to why, such as low production costs, quick turnarounds, and, of course, high ratings. Everybody watches reality television. Yeah, you’re sitting there reading this right now saying, “Not me, Gary. I’m above that nonsense.” You’re not fooling anyone, you know.
Reality television has many different genres like scripted television. By the way, I hate the term scripted television, as most reality based programming is equally scripted. How else do you explain all of those unhappy, underpaid reality writers? Anyway, back to the whole genre thing.
In the world of reality television there is Comedy (Gene Simmons Family Jewels, a sitcom if I ever saw one), Drama (Intervention, 48 Hours), Horror (Infested), Romance (The Bachelorette), Action (Cops), Thriller & Suspense (Deadliest Catch), and Game Shows (American Idol, The Voice). Then there are the crossovers like Duck Dynasty, Basketball Wives, The Amazing Race, and Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, and everything between. My point is, you’re watching one, some, or all of these shows. You watch reality television and there’s nothing wrong with that. Not all of it is trash. Just as it is with “scripted” television, there are good shows and there are bad shows. Stop being a snob.
So, now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about today’s lesson. Yes, we can all learn something from watching reality television. Whether it’s human behavior, geography, or a how to, there is a lesson to be learned.
My wife is a big fan of The Voice. She loves that show. I often hear her laughing, clapping, and sometimes, complaining. She likes the judges, first. Then she picks her favorite contestants. Hearing her laugh makes me go downstairs to watch. I’m not hip on the game shows. I like Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. Not only is he a witty host, but you get to experience exotic locations through him. Back to game shows.
I’m watching The Voice with my lovely wife last night and I see something happen that I often see happen in these type of talent competition shows. I see a contestant that is very good at singing in a certain genre of music. In fact, he would probably sell records. He is a soul singer with a unique voice that’s missing in today’s music world. The dude has pipes. Last night, this guy is in a knockout round with a girl that was saved from elimination by one of the judges in an earlier episode. As far as I’m concerned, this girl is toast. There is no way she’s beating soul man. Then it happens. Soul man tells his mentor that he wants to show another side of his talent and sing a pop/rock song; that he’s not all about soul all the time. I turned to my wife and said, “He’s going home.”
How could I be so sure? Easy. Soul man was attempting to do something that he’s not known and well-liked for. The judges loved him because of his soulfulness. The crowd loved him for the same. And, guess what? America loved him for the same reason! So the knockout round began and the girl sang her heart out. She was good. She had passion. But most importantly, she stuck to her known talent. Soul man raped the song he performed. It was horrendous. Adios, partner. Yep, he went home, even though, in my humble opinion, he was and is the better singer in the long run.
So, what’s the lesson?
Whether you’re an artist, carpenter, athlete, or salesman, stick to what you’re good at doing. Just because you know of some things, may have dabbled a bit in them, or would one day like to aspire to do, doesn’t mean you should go balls out for the whole world to prove this other side. Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the NBA, retired from basketball to play minor league baseball. Guess what happened? He sucked and was a punchline for many people. He came back to the NBA and ended his legendary career like a mouse. Stephen King tried to direct a film. It sucked. Elvis tried to act. Bruce Willis put out an album. So did Eddie Murphy! Sucked. Sucked. Sucked. If you are really good at one thing then do that one thing and show the world who’s king! Otherwise, you’ll just end up looking like a joker.
If soul man would have just rode that wave of success he was having with his soul music, he would’ve ended up in the finals, battling it out for numero uno. Instead, he’s back home now watching reruns of his 15 minutes, eating peanut butter straight out of the jar, and having fits of uncontrollable weeping.
Now, I know what you are thinking. You’re saying to yourself, “Well, what about Clint Eastwood, Jennifer Hudson, Magic Johnson, Leonardo da Vinci?” First, let me say that you’re most likely not like any of those people. Those are the rare individuals who possess multiple talents. If you’re thinking to yourself right now, “Eastwood? He sucks as an actor!” I’m not talking about his acting/directing. Clint Eastwood is a helluva jazz artist and composer, as well as an Oscar winning director. And Magic Johnson went from NBA star, to HIV star, to high power billionaire business star. Hudson can sing the moon into an adjusted orbit and she’s an Oscar winning actress! And da Vinci is still making waves with his lunacy. These people and those like them are exceptions and they work hard at being an exception. So, if you want to be an exception to the rule, you better start working your tail off. It’s not going to be easy. Or, you can find something you’re really good at and do that one thing and show the world who’s king. What’s it going to be?
A little story I wrote for the Oakland Press. Two things about journalism: one, it’s great for writers, because we get to write about all sorts of subjects and get paid for it; however, number two is that it’s usually edited to sound like a machine spat it out. Still a good article, nonetheless.
If you’re a creative writer and want to write for a newspaper, try getting a gig as a columnist and not a reporter. Otherwise, don’t spend too long in the journalistic trenches.
As I pulled into the parking lot, I spotted a space right next to the cart corral. It’s my favorite spot to park when I’m at the grocery store. Most think that the first spot near the door is the primo spot, but most people are goobers. And if you’re in America, most people are fat and lazy. However, most people, including the fat and lazy ones, are wrong. The beauty of parking next to the corral is that I can unload my bags into my car then simply take three steps and relieve myself of the responsibility of caring for the grocery cart. I’m in and out, lickity-split!
So, I started to park and what did I see? I saw a grocery cart in the space. It was in the mother-lovin parking space sitting up against the metal post of the corral! Some mouth breathing, wedgie picking slob of a human being was too lazy to walk two feet and deposit the cart into the corral! Two feet! Immediately, the blood vessels in my head started to throb, my throat tightened, and I felt a fire rising up in me. I turned to my son and said, “You have got to be kidding me! Pay attention to this, son. This is a great lesson in human behavior. Most people are monkeys and through pure initiative and purpose, you can rule the monkeys.”
I hate the monkeys. Not the band. They’re all right. Not bad for a couple actors forced to become an American version of The Beatles. They didn’t quite make it, but everybody still knows who they are… were. Some are dead. One is dead. Anyway, the monkeys I’m referring to are the kind I just railed against above. The world is full of them. Unfortunately for the rest of us that are trying to live a happy and fulfilling life on this planet, technology and modern medicine has allowed these cousin-lovers to go on living. If we lived during the Stone Age, nature would have selected the monkeys to go bye-bye. So, how do you spot a monkey? Or better yet, how do you tell if you’re a monkey or not? Here are a few to get you started.
The Let Everybody In Traffic Monkey
This is the guy who is always five car lengths short of the light, waving everybody to cut in or across oncoming traffic. He’s the guy that will stay stopped even after the light turns green in order to allow EVERYBODY to join the fun! This is also the guy that causes more traffic accidents than a cellphone.
The Bluetooth Monkey
Speaking of cellphone… This is the guy who talks to thin air in the middle of a restaurant. He feels that he must talk loud, because he has a dull understanding of modern phone technology. This guy is worse than a jukebox stuck on Right Said Fred’s I’m Too Sexy. If you spot a bluetooth monkey, do everyone in the immediate area a solid. Walk up to his table and start talking as loud as you can to the invisible person next to him. He’ll get the picture.
The It’s Not Mine So I Don’t Have To Care About It Monkey
This guy is the worst of all the other monkeys. He takes no responsibility for anything. He is basically ignoring the rules of society and is only out for numero uno. He’s the guy at the gym who doesn’t put the weights away or wipe off the bench. He’s the guy at the store that changes his mind about buying butter then stuffs it on the canned goods shelf. He’s the guy that tosses his trash out the window, who puts his feet on the chair at the movie theater, who cuts you off in traffic. He’s everyone’s nemesis and must be stopped before something terrible happens.
There are many more monkeys, but I don’t have the time or the patience to list through them all. It boils my nuts. So, to all you monkeys and would be monkeys, please, whatever it is that you are doing, take a moment to realize that you are part of a large group of people known as the human race. We depend on each other. The rest of us are pulling our weight and yours. It won’t last long, though. Sooner or later, the rest of us are going to let go of the rope. Then you’re going to be neck deep in your own feces wondering what the hell just happened.