Top 10 Essentials to a Writer’s Life

Erik Larson (In the Garden of Beasts) writes bestsellers, but we forgive him:

by Erik Larson

1. Good Coffee: Every writer has a ritual that begins the day. It’s like turning a key to start your car. For me, the key that starts the day is a good cup of coffee, preferably Peet’s Coffee.

2. More Coffee: Alas, I drink as many as five cups a day. And then switch to tea. My teeth are the color of plum-tree leaves.

3. Oreo Cookies: I mean, look, if you have a cup of good coffee, you need an Oreo. Some mornings—the tough ones—I define as two-Oreo days. Double Stuf preferred.

4. A Sense of Pace: Many writers make the mistake of engaging in what I call “binge writing.” They write for 10 hours straight, riding the perfect wave of inspiration. The problem is, you still need to wake up the next day and do it again. Best is to pace yourself. Write for three hours straight, without interruption, then stop.

5. Knowing Where to Stop: My favorite “trick” is to stop writing at a point where I know that I can pick up easily the next day. I’ll stop in mid-paragraph, often in mid-sentence. It makes getting out of bed so much easier, because I know that all I’ll have to do to be productive is complete the sentence. And by then I’ll be seated at my desk, coffee and Oreo cookie at hand, the morning’s inertia overcome. There’s an added advantage: The human brain hates incomplete sentences. All night my mind will have secretly worked on the passage and likely mapped out the remainder of the page, even the chapter, while simultaneously sending me on a dinner date with Cate Blanchett.

6. Blocks of Undisturbed Time: I set aside a minimum of three hours every morning, seven days a week, during which no one is allowed to intrude except to report an approaching cruise missile.

7. Physical Diversion: When I stop writing, I need an escape—something that takes me out of the work and wholly into another realm. My main diversion is tennis, though I also find cooking to be very helpful. Something about chopping onions is very restorative. Dogs are helpful, too. They force you to go outside and confront the weather, although my dog did once eat a 19th-century edition of a British physicist’s autobiography.

8. A Good Library: For all writers, but especially those of us who write  nonfiction, a good library with open stacks is crucial.

9. A Trusted Reader: Every writer I know has at least one friend or partner who can be trusted to read early drafts of a book and provide an accurate, constructive critique. My secret weapon is my wife, who annotates the margins of my drafts with crying faces, smiles and long receding lines of zzzzzzzzzzzs.

10. A Fireplace: One of the most important things a writer must do is read, and there’s no greater pleasure than settling in front of a fire on a cold night with a good book (and maybe a glass of bourbon). Falling asleep in midpage is one of the delights of life.

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LB: Hey, Gang, My TV Writing Book is Now Available on Kindle

Television Writing from the Inside Out

by Larry Brody

TVW Kindle Cover 625 x 1000 sm


(And, speaking from a slightly more writerly perspective, “Whew.”)

A few years ago I wrote a book called Television Writing from the Inside Out, spilling everything I’ve learned about the art/craft and business of television writing and television in general after many, many, many (oy!) years of dedication, joy, and, yeah, the inevitable moments of despair.

TVWFIO has become a college screen and television writing class staple and as a result has sold a ton of copies. It’s still going strong in print, but let’s face it, the print audience ain’t what it used to be.

When I sold the trade paperback to its publisher, I kept all electronic rights, and TVWriter™ has marketed a PDF version for awhile now. I’ve always meant to branch out to other formats, but – and I admit this with some embarrassment – I was too intimidated by the logistics of formatting and marketing to take the plunge.

Well, that’s over with. As of Friday, November 16th, the Kindle-ized version of my baby has been up and at ’em at Amazon.Com, and I’m writing this to let that teeny weeny little fringe group of you who haven’t yet read Television Writing from the Inside Out know that it’s wriggling and yelping and jumping earnestly, eager to feel your eyes upon it.

And even if you’ve read one of the other versions, you might want to check out the Kindle book because:

  1. It’s revised, corrected, emended, updated.
  2. Kindle books don’t get dog-eared from repeated reading, the way your trade paperback copy has.
  3. You can’t accidently erase a Kindle book like you can a PDF file because it’ll always be available on Amazon’s cloud.
  4. Y’all want to own the complete TVWFIO set, don’t you? Of course you do.

Of course, the real point here is that Television Writing from the Inside Out is, as one Amazon.Com reviewer put it, “a fantastic look into the workings of the industry. He is clearly an authority on the subject, having penned over 500 hours of television.”

And, as another Amazon reader put it:

If you’re an experienced television writer read it.
If you’re an aspiring television read it twice.

It’s jammed with all the knowledge and you need and, possibly more importantly, how to implement it.

I feel really self-conscious about pitching my work, including this book. The bottom line is that I’ve put all of my heart into TVWFIO because it’s all about helping others achieve their hearts’ desires. And I’m as eager to see others achieve their dreams as I was to achieve mine.

You can read more about the Kindle version of Television Writing from the Inside Out HERE.

And, yes, you can buy it there too!

Or what the hell, go to the Television Writing from the Inside Out page at TVWriter™ HERE.

No trees were injured in the updating of this book.


The Writer
Don’t just sit there. Write!


Peggy Bechko Strikes Again! Getcher Writerly Advice While It’s Hot!

From Peggy’s Blog:

Four Simple Successful Writer’s Suggestions – by Peggy Bechko

Many times I’ve heard the questions, how do you write? How do you learn to write? How can I learn to write (or write better)?

Good questions, and believe it or not there are some pretty simple answers. Much easier than finding your way through a maze.

One way to improve your writing or to just begin writing is to write. Yep, that simple, that direct. Write something every day. Whatever your writing interest, make sure you put words up on a computer screen every day. Some days you’ll love what you other days you’ll hate it, but hey, that’s what revision and rewriting is for – curing that hate. All that writing keeps you primed to write some more. And you’ll be amazed at how your brain begins to work, how you begin to compose in your head when you’re doing other things. Something else to write – notes on all those great thoughts. But don’t let keeping notes throw you off track. Remember your goal is to actually write.

Number two. This one is important (well, so are the others, but this one really is important). Finish what you start. Your Mom undoubtedly told you this on subjects other than writing, but it applies here just as well. Insert a bit of discipline and do it. Yes, there will be the occasional time when it just isn’t worth the angst to finish a particular project, but that is extremely (let me repeat that – extremely) rare. The simple fact is you can’t give up each time the writing gets tough and you can’t quite figure out where to take the story next. And, you can’t quit one project every time a new idea crops up. If you do, you’ll never finish any story you begin whether it’s a novel, a short story, a script, or a non-fiction book. (see discipline above). Make it your goal to finish everything. No one reads unfinished anything.

For my third offering I suggest learn the rules. Writing is amazing really. Once you have the basic skills of language writing can be greatly self taught. Read – a lot. Read fiction if you write it, non-fiction, books on writing, blogs, author’s sites, whatever you can. Pick up tips and information. Learn more, always learn. Maybe find a mentor, though I admit great mentor relationships are usually stumbled on by chance. But if you don’t look for that exposure you won’t stumble on that chance. So, sometimes get away from your computer and maybe take a class at a local college or join a reader or writer group. I do have a shop at Amazon where I continue to accumulate good books for writers along with software suggestions; things I’ve read, used or had highly recommended to me. Yes, I do get a commission on a sale there, but you can find many of those books at your local library too if your budget is tight. Or with the holiday season approaching you might ask for a book you want as a gift purchased at a local book store (especially if you have independent book stores in your town). So read, learn, write.

And my fourth and final suggestion for today is break the rules. Well, hell, you have to know what they are to break them, that’s why I mentioned the learn the rules idea first. Once you have a solid understanding of what it is you want to write, the basics of fiction, the innards of non-fiction, the form of scriptwriting, don’t be so locked in that you’re afraid to go beyond their present confines. Style, format, method, it all changes over time. It evolves because if it didn’t, if it stagnated, writing would die. Just look back at the ‘classics’ of fiction. Stuff written by H.G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, John Steinbeck, Leo Tolstoy – you get the idea. The writing was different, the style much different. The basic rules have been proven to work but that doesn’t mean they can’t be changed, broken, stretched.

So have at it boys and girls – go forth, learn, create, break, finish, create again. These four basic habits will take you far. Tell me which ones you stick to and, though I like to keep things simple, which ones you use I haven’t mentioned.

munchman reads “What Are You Laughing At?”

Ken Levine says this is the best comedy writing book evah…and who are we to disagree?

If anybody ever had great credentials for a book about comedy – what it is, what it ain’t – Dan O’Shannon, Emmy winning showrunner of MODERN FAMILY, former showrunner of FRASIER, former executive producer of CHEERS is the guy. His approach – analyzing the “comedic event” as opposed to examining joke structure, makes you wonder why anybody ever even thought of looking at what’s funny another way. To O’Shannon, context is everything…and he’s convinced me of it too.

With that in mind:

THE GOOD: This book is filled with insight into what makes people laugh and how to use those elements accordingly…and they aren’t the elements you’re thinking of. (At least, they weren’t what I was thinking of before I read it.)

THE BAD: I can’t be that funny.

THE CONCLUSION: This book about the funny is in itself riotously funny. So even if you don’t get it, or can’t duplicate it, you’ve had yourself a hell of a time just sitting and reading and chortling and giggling and…

munchman recommends this, especially for the aspiring pro comedy writer.

What Are You Laughing At?: A Comprehensive Guide to the Comedic Event [Paperback] at Amazon.Com


How to Commit to Your Creativity

Some people are said to be scared of their own shadows, but let’s face it, that’s an Old Wives’ Tale at best. Other people, however, really are scared of their own creativity. If you’re among them, hey, get over it, doods. Like this:

 by Jennifer Johnson

Sure, sometimes the well runs dry and we struggle to generate creative ideas, but more often, we have so many creative ideas that we have difficulty committing to one and getting started. We can get really creative about how we avoid creating-surfing the internet for “research,” checking Facebook to see what our creative friends and colleagues are doing, baking cookies, watching TV, talking on the phone-the list is likely endless.

We trick ourselves into believing that in order to commit to something, we need to feel sure-sure that it will be a “success” (however we define that), sure that we have the skill to carry through on our vision, sure that we’ll complete it, sure that we’ll be pleased with the outcome, sure that others will like it, sure that it will sell, sure that when it’s done we’ll look back on it as worthwhile investment of our time. We want a clear “Yes” or a guarantee. Even though as creative people we have chosen a path that often offers little security, we continue to crave security and certainty, when often these are simply illusions to which we cling.

Creative expression typically offers no guarantees, and sometimes it doesn’t come with a clear yes. We may think we have a clear vision when we finally begin, but as we give it voice or form, we learn that it begins to take its own shape, and often it is somewhat different than how we first envisioned it. That’s one of the beautiful things about creative expression, if we can simply learn to enter this flow and allow our idea to show us the shape that it wants to take. We may judge it as “better” or “worse” than our original vision, depending on a variety of factors that day, including our sense of self-worth, our mood, and how well we have eaten, slept or managed stress that week. Days later, we may feel differently about our creation, depending on the above-mentioned variables or something else that arises.

What would it be like to commit to the exploration of our creative ideas? The truth is that most commitments are followed by imperfect actions, and our thoughts and feelings and therefore our subjective judgment of our work varies from day to day and sometimes from hour to hour. What does it take to commit to our creative expression in light of the fact that life is always changing, our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are always changing, and there are no guarantees about anything?

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