Bad advice for writers is everywhere, but this article by Jason Hellerman sums it up – or should we say “pins it down?” – perfectly.
5 Instances of Terrible Writing Advice [w/Lessons from Each]
by Jason Hellerman
Tell me if this rings a bell, you’re attending a screenwriting seminar, listening to a lecture, or getting notes from someone, and they lean in and tell you they have a piece of advice. After hearing it, you shake your head. You feel a little worse off than you started, and you’re not sure what to do next.
Terrible writing advice is all around us. Bad writing advice comes from many sources. We hear it in blogs, podcasts, and all over Social Media.
Today I want to go over the 5 biggest pieces of terrible screenwriting advice I’ve heard, debunk each of them, and give you the proper lessons to take away from each of them.
Ready? Let’s go…
Terrible Writing Advice Tip #1: Write What You Know
I know I have told this to someone. So right off the bat, let’s start with the advice I am guilty of handing out. When I tell someone I think they should “write what they know” chances are I’m searching for a personal connection that I just don’t find in their pages.
Akin to that, they might have an under-researched idea that makes reading their pages a slog or hard. When I was an assistant I got to work closely with Michael Werwie, who wrote Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile.
Michael was so much fun to learn from because he epitomized the best part of “write what you know” – a screenwriter who is confident and knowledgeable about the subject she’s tackled. Michael was not a serial killer (I hope) but he was an expert on Ted Bundy. So he was able to write Ted with authenticity and breathe new life into a case most Americans thought they knew and understood.
When we gave Michael story notes, he was able to hear them and craft them in a way that aligned with the facts….
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While growing up in Rochester, New York in the 1960s, his favorite TV series included Star Trek, Petticoat Junction, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Kung Fu, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Bewitched, just to name a few. “Those shows inspired me,” he says today. “And they inspired a lot of people. It was a traumatic, yet remarkable time.”
Indeed. The 1960s were littered with war, racial turmoil, political assassinations, all of which somehow coexisted with “flower power,” “free love,” and the sexual revolution.
In the midst of it all was a little boy Herbie J (no period after the “J,” long story) who years later would mature into a writing machine that would chronicle it all, first with a series of heralded TV companion books, articles, and blogs which subsequently bled into his work as a consultant and producer on several classic TV documentaries. In 2010, he then founded the Classic TV Preservation Society, a formal 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to the positive social influence of classic television.
And now, after more than five decades of loving, living, and breathing classic TV, Herbie J hosts Then Again with Herbie J Pilato, a new classic TV talk show that Shout Factory TV begins streaming July 1st on Amazon Prime, among other media platforms. Then Again will focus on the shows and stars that impacted and influenced Herbie J in the most uplifting way. “To be inspired by Mayberry, RFD and Wonder Woman as a child,” he says, “…and then be able to share that affection with both the people who were involved with such shows, and with the viewers at home who loved the shows as much as I did, is well…just simply a wonderful thing.”
Then Again is executive-produced by Council Tree Productions, headed by Steven Hillard and Joel Eisenberg (The Chronicles of Ara), who along with producer and wife Lorie Girsh Eisenberg, discovered Herbie J in 2015, when he hosted his Throwback Thursdays live-events at the Barnes & Noble in Burbank. “My wife and I visited Herbie at one of his events and we were immediately sold. ‘Why isn’t anyone honoring classic TV stars like this on a regular basis?’ we asked. The answer turned into our show.”
Herbie J is quick to clarify, “Then Again would never have happened had it not been for Joel and Lorie. They believed in me and my work as much as I did, if not more. When I was doing the live-events in Burbank, I wasn’t thinking of it all becoming a TV show. I was just happy with talking to people like Dawn Wells [Gilligan’s Island] and Lydia Cornell [Too Close For Comfort], and I felt like, ‘Ok, this is a good thing. It doesn’t get much better than this.’”
But it did get better, and was it all because Herbie J pursued his dreams. “I just followed my heart,” he says. “I loved classic TV, and then I wrote about what I loved. As a writer, that’s the ideal scenario. And that it all somehow materialized into hosting my own talk show, which actually has become more than a dream come true, especially because many of the shows that I grew up watching were talk shows hosted by Merv Griffin, Dinah Shore, Mike Douglas, while certainly, too, The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson had a great influence on me. The fact that I would eventually work on The Tonight Show as an NBC Page seemed to possibly foreshadow my hosting Then Again.”
“I mean,” he continues, “…who knows how things work out, right? Who really, really knows what the plan is in the big-picture scheme of things? I’ve just always tried to do the best work I can, and bring and share a few smiles along with the way. Right now, I’m just grateful for the amazing opportunity that Shout Factory TV has presented me with. I am nothing less than thrilled, and I want only to do the best job I can.”
Considering the line-up of stars for Then Again with Herbie J Pilato, the pathway for its success is cleared. Future episodes will feature Marion Ross (Happy Days) and Cindy Williams (Laverne & Shirley), for a special tribute to producer/writer/director Garry Marshal, brothers Barry Livingston and Stanley Livingston (My Three Sons), Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker, and David Selby (the iconic stars of Dark Shadows), Burt Ward (Batman), Robert Conrad (The Wild Wild West), and Ed Asner (The Mary Tyler Moore Show), the latter of whom Herbie J also interviewed for his new book, Mary: The Mary Tyler Moore Story (recently published by Jacobs Brown Press).
Either way, we here at TVWriter.com couldn’t be more proud that one of our spawn has spun his own TV show. For us, it doesn’t get much better than that!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Herbie J Pilato has been part of TVWriter™ for 20 years and is Contributing Editor Emeritus. Learn more about Mr. Pilato his very self HERE.
Time now for a solidly thoughtful and genuinely helpful article about something we all need help with from time to time – how to overcome all the usual articles and not only start writing something you love but keep going all the way to the finish.
Oh, and it’s also solidly and so darn civilly written that alone has made us smile since we first saw it. Our thanks to Betty Flowers, former Director of the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, and to Michelle Gordon, who first brought this to our attention.
by Betty S. Flowers
“What’s the hardest part of writing?” I ask on the first day of class.
“Getting started,” someone offers, groaning.
“No, it’s not getting started,” a voice in the back of the room corrects. “It’s keeping on once you do get started. I can always write a sentence or two-but then I get stuck.”
“Why?” I ask.
“I don’t know. I am writing along, and all of a sudden I realize how awful it is, and I tear it up. Then I start over again, and after two sentences, the same thing happens.”
“Let me suggest something which might help,” I say. Turning to the board, I write four words: “madman,” “architect,” “carpenter,” “judge.”
Then I explain:
“What happens when you get stuck is that two competing energies are locked horn to horn, pushing against each other. One is the energy of what I’ll call your ‘madman.’ He is full of ideas, writes crazily and perhaps rather sloppily, gets carried away by enthusiasm or anger, and if really let loose, could turn out ten pages an hour.
“The second is a kind of critical energy-what I’ll call the ‘judge.’ He’s been educated and knows a sentence fragment when he sees one. He peers over your shoulder and says, ‘That’s trash!’ with such authority that the madman loses his crazy confidence and shrivels up. You know the judge is right-after all, he speaks with the voice of your most imperious English teacher. But for all his sharpness of eye, he can’t create anything.
“So you’re stuck. Every time your madman starts to write, your judge pounces on him….
The Writers Guild of America West’s nominating committees have announced the initial list of candidates for the 2019 WGAW Officers and Board of Directors election.
The Officer candidates are as follows: President* – David A. Goodman (inc.); Vice President – Marjorie David (inc.), Carl Gottlieb; Secretary-Treasurer – Michele Mulroney, Evette Vargas.
*The second nominee designated by the nominating committee for the office of President declined the nomination.
There are 17 candidates running for eight open seats on the WGAW’s Board of Directors as follows: Angelina Burnett (inc.), Alvaro Rodriguez, Rasheed Newson, Liz Alper, Nicole Yorkin (inc.), Luvh Rakhe, (inc.), Meredith Stiehm (inc.), Ashley Edward Miller, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Dante W. Harper, Robb Chavis, Chris Roessner, Zoe Marshall, Craig Mazin, Rob Forman, Mike Mariano, Ayelet Waldman.
*Note: WGAW internal rules require candidates to be announced in an order determined by lot; (inc.) denotes an incumbent candidate.
In addition to the candidates selected by the Guild’s nominating committees, eligible members may also be nominated by petition. Members seeking nomination for the office of President, Vice President, or Secretary-Treasurer must obtain 25 member signatures in support of their petitions. Members seeking nomination for the Board of Directors must obtain 15 member signatures in support of their petitions. The deadline for submitting signed petitions to the WGAW is Tuesday, July 23, at 12:00 p.m. (PT). Members may download online nomination petitions by visiting the members-only section of the Guild’s website.
The WGAW will host its annual Candidates Night forum, where Guild members may meet and pose questions to the candidates, on Wednesday, August 28, at WGAW headquarters.
Guild members will receive candidate, non-candidate, and rebuttal statements, if any, with their ballots prior to the election. Candidates may distribute additional campaign materials at their own expense. The voting period concludes at Monday, September 16, at 12:00 p.m. (PT). Members may vote online or by mail. In accordance with labor law, proxy voting is not permitted.