Writing tips are like mini skirts.Sometimes they fit perfectly, sometimes they make you cry, and sometimes you can reuse the material and sew yourself a pillow or something. Maybe a few of these will work for you.I hope so. Personally I think you’d look very nice in a mini-skirt.
1. You won’t make a living writing until you learn to write when you don’t want to. A lot of writers wait for the muse to seize them. These writers don’t get much done. Here’s a secret: writing is not always fun. If it is, you’re doing it wrong. I love to write just about more than anything, but there are times I have to force myself to sit down and work. I want to play with my daughter, or watch a movie with my husband, or go outside on the nicest day of the year. But if writing is going to be your job, you have to treat it like a job. And that means that you don’t get to take the day off just because you’re “not feeling it.” This is what separates the writers who make it from the writers who don’t. Get your butt in your chair, and make yourself write. Do it every day.
2. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Don’t be afraid of clichés. Write the book you want to write. If you want to write about an alcoholic cop with an ex-wife and an insubordination problem, do it. If you want to write about a haunted hotel, or a woman who finds herself through a journey, or a teenage amateur sleuth – well, awesome. Your book will be different because you’re the one writing it.
3. Always remember that you are the boss. Don’t let your characters tell you what to do. They can be pushy. Some writers say that they create characters and then just sort of follow them around through the narrative. I think that these writers are out of their minds.I tried this for years. I would create characters based loosely on people that I knew, and before long that character would be talking back to me. “I’m not sure Stacey would do that,” Stacey would say, when I tried to convince her to go into the scary basement alone. And she’d be right. Stacey wouldn’t do that. No one would, really. I didn’t bloom as a fiction writer until I figured out how to make up characters out of whole cloth (not based on anyone), and I stopped worrying about what they’d do in real life. My characters have to do what I tell them. And if I need Stacey to go into that scary basement, then that’s what she’s going to do.
4. Write the stuff that makes you feel nervous. Sometimes, when you’re writing, you will get to a scene that makes you feel profoundly uncomfortable. You will think you’ve gone too far. You will imagine your relatives reading this scene and your face will get hot and you will clear your throat a few times and you will be very, very tempted to delete that scene.Don’t do it. Finish writing it. Leave it in. Tell yourself that you can always cut it out later. Because I promise you – that scene — it will be the best scene in the book. When writing feels dangerous, that’s when you know that you’re doing something right.
5. Details are not created equally.Writing teachers go on and on about the importance of using details to flesh out a scene. But not all details are created equally. When you write thrillers like I do, and suddenly your main character is running for his life from a serial killer who is chasing him through the woods, slowing down the action with a bunch of descriptions seems counterintuitive. Why would the main character be noticing the pine needles on the ground when he has a killer on his heels? But I’ll tell you a secret, the more detail that I unpack about that woods, the night air, the sky, the sounds of his footsteps, the more tense that scene becomes. I read a study recently. Some professor wanted to look into the experience that time slows in life or death situations and he tied some graduate students to Bungee cords and pushed them off a ledge, and studied the results. His conclusion? In normal circumstances our brain culls details. In tense situations our mind stops culling – it notices everything – because you don’t know what detail is going to save your life. This is what creates the experience of time slowing—lots of details.
The next time you’re writing a tension filled scene – maybe there’s a serial killer in it, maybe your character is asking someone out to prom – remember to stop culling. Notice everything.The acne on her forehead.The buttons on her shirt. It all becomes important.It’s the ordinary moments that fly by. With those, the brain does cull details, so the details that your character does notice become all the more important and revealing. An object accrues more significance every time it’s mentioned. Notice the vase on the table once in a scene, and it’s a detail in the room. Notice the vase on the table three times and it means something to your character. It becomes a prop you can use. It starts to tell a story.
This is some good advice, but what’s with Publisher’s Weekly? It took us forever to edit this article because for some reason they started every sentence immediately after the previous period. No space. Do you guys know how %$#@ing difficult that is to read?
…because writing’s all that counts in this life anyway…um, if you’re a writer.
Fear and Focus – by Charlotte Rains Dixon
We don’t always think of fear and focus at the same time, but there’s very good reason to pair them.
Focus. It’s what we all desire, what gets the writing done. Because the words don’t go on the page without it.
Fear. It’s often what keeps us from focusing.
The kinds of fears we writers and creative types deal with are the insidious ones. They may very well be so insidious that we don’t even recognize them as fears. Instead, fears can masquerade as a lack of focus. Have you ever told yourself any of the following when it came time to write?
—I don’t need to work on the book today
–The kitchen floor needs washing. I better do it now, instead of writing.
–I need to check my email.
–Writing is too hard, I’ll look at Facebook instead
Perhaps some of the following fears are hiding behind this sudden desire to do something, anything, other than write:
—Not knowing what to write
–Not knowing how to write
–Not being good enough
–Being too good
–Putting yourself and your words out in the world.
Amazon Studios has been a much–discussedtopic on both the blog and the podcast. Last week at the Austin Film Festival, the company made a presentation explaining how they work with screenwriters.Reader Mike attended and took notes, which he generously offered to write up.
A little bit about my background: I started out working at a production company as an intern and as a reader, kept working at writing and eventually got representation from a manager and an agent. I’ve had scripts go out and I’ve done the studio water bottle tour a couple of times, but have yet to earn a single penny as a writer.
I consider myself in that grey, ugly pool of zombie writers: Part alive, but mostly dead inside.
I’m guessing the crowd ranged from people like me to those who are thinking about writing their first screenplays. I had heard a lot things about Amazon (including on the podcast), so I went in with an ass-load of skepticism along with a tiny bit of hope. Unfortunately, very little during the panel moved the skeptic needle, and it pretty much pissed all over the hope.
Again, I can only speak for myself.
First, it wasn’t really a panel. There was one Dude at a podium, so it was more like a new-hire presentation at Dundler Mifflin rather than a Q&A with a studio exec. The Dude, head of development at Amazon Studios I think, seemed nice enough and intelligent enough, but he used the phrase “I’d rather not get into the details of that” way too often for my tastes.
Writers can upload their scripts to the Amazon Studios site as a non-WGA writer, or if they are WGA they can have their rep upload.
Once a writer uploads his script, he cannot sell his script to anyone for 45 days. Essentially a free 45-day option.
If Amazon is interested, they will option the script for a period of 18 months for $10k.
If that script goes into production, the writer will be paid $200k, with some other pay-outs if the film reaches certain financial milestones.
They also have open writing assignments from time to time, and these are handled much the same way, with writers submitting their work on the website for consideration for the gig.
All of this is well and good on the surface. I am not a million-dollar-screenwriter by any stretch of the imagination, but I do have some access to the lords of Hollywood. If I didn’t have anywhere to go with my scripts, I would probably be interested in what the Dude had to say. However, once he said they have somewhere around 10,000 submissions with 22 projects in development, it doesn’t take a Harvard grad to do the math and realize your odds are just as good in the traditional studio system.
The things that I found puzzling were mainly around their development process and their overall plan.
The Dude explained their development process by talking about information studios gather from test screening and how it is used. Basically saying that once you shoot a film, you have a test screening and get feedback from the general public on what they liked and didn’t like about the story, the characters or whatever. Meaning that the problem is that the film is already shot, so there is only so much you can do to alter it.
At Amazon (wait for it) they want to get public feedback (through their website) on the script as it is being developed so they can make changes before they begin shooting. They plan on doing this through several methods. They already have comic books made from a script in development that they are asking for feedback on. They are also thinking of making short videos and other things to get parts of the script out there and gather opinions from Amazon’s customers. The writer will get this info and incorporate it as notes for rewrites. Now, the Dude did say it is up to the writer to do what he wants with these notes. You be the judge on that. On one hand, I’d like to congratulate them on thinking outside the box on development. But I see problems with this, as I’m sure you do as well.
The other problem I had was with their overall plan: There doesn’t seem to be one.
They have a first-look deal with Warner Bros., but when he was asked questions about the deal he defaulted to the “I’d rather not get into the details of that.” He was asked what type of genres or budget ranges they were looking at, and he didn’t really have an answer. I would have been more impressed if they picked a direction, like saying, “We want to provide funding for small, independent minded stories that might not get a shot in the Hollywood system,” or saying, “We are looking for big, tent-pole, event movies.”
I had other concerns, but that was pretty much the thing in a nutshell. I think it great that someone with money is jumping in, and I hope for the best, but it looks like there are problems with hair on them, and I think there are some very rough growing pains in the making.
…Yep, we wanted Peggy Bechko back so badly that we couldn’t wait for her next contribution and swiped this baby right off Peggy’s wonderful blog:
Hey, you, are you working too much?
Yep, you. Yes, I know, you’re working a job and you just have to write so you have to juggle both and that means working…a lot.
Many, actually most, writers have to do this if they want to write. Few of us actually reach full-time writer status, at least in the fiction arena. And if you become a successful full-time copywriter or grant writer or creator of newsletters, etc. and love writing fiction, you still work too much.
So how to you work less and still pursue your love of writing?
For starters you realize that taking breaks optimizes your work and creative flow so the writing goes smoothly.
Being pumped up on caffeine and pulling all-nighters is plainly not optimal no matter what your 20-something buddy (or your own 20-something brain) may claim.
And what is optimal? Well, the experts tell us it’s a period of time in which you perform, mind and body, at your best when engaged in high-imagination and thinking projects. During that time you can keep your focus, your body is firing on all cylinders, your attitude is good and your imagination (really critical to fiction writing) is through the roof.
So, with all that in mind, it’s true, that 20-something brain may work faster than a 40-something brain. They may have an edge on efficiency, really cranking it out, but the 40-something has the edge on effectiveness.
45-year olds have it all over 25-year-olds in verbal memory and vocabulary. Yeah, well, there it is.
And, remember our bodies and minds (emphasis for writers on mind) have a natural rhythm. For most of us humans that cycle is around 90 minutes to 2 hours. So, with that in mind, it would appear the best time to take a little break is after that cycle.
For writers with day jobs that means not only do you need to take those little breaks during your work day – step away from the desk for a few minutes, grab a cup of tea or just walk down the hall – for optimum performance, but you need to do the same when you lock yourself down for your writing.
If you write during your lunch break at your day job, eat your lunch, savor your food, walk a few steps, then write before going back to your ‘other job’. Yes, you lose a few minutes from your cherished ‘writing time’, but it will cause you to write that much more effectively. This applies to folks who have to do a lot of reading as part of their jobs (this includes you writers) as well. Short breaks and distractions will improve reading comprehension and speed.
And if you include taking breaks when you write during your evening hours you’ll find you’re not ‘over-doing’ it and burning yourself out. And, if you want to sustain that writing momentum over years and decades, not just right now, take those breaks.
Even short breaks are a tremendous help. Step away from your work area. Look out of a window. Maybe sit in a comfortable chair near a window for a few minutes and embrace a memory that gives you pleasure. Step outdoors for a quick breath of air if you are able and while there savor the breeze, the colors, the sounds and smells. Movement is even better – a brisk short walk, even a block and back – more if you have the time. For night I have a treadmill – five minutes at a brisk pace and I’m good to go.
And I’ve reached a stage in my writing career where I don’t have to work evenings. My work days are my work days. If you don’t have to write in the eveings, don’t do it.
Relegate your writing to the ‘work day’ if you can – on the bus, during breaks or lunch hour, get up early to write before leaving for job, some writing on week-ends and days off. It’s much more relaxing – and thus leads to better performance if you keep your evenings free, disengage from all work and allow yourself pockets of silence, play, self-indulgence and reading. If you can’t eliminate all evening writing work, then make sure you shut down about a hour before you intend to go to bed.
Give yourself a break and see how your productivity and quality will improve. Life (and by extension your work) is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.