Decisions, Decisions

Just got done with my Morning Pages, which I haven’t mentioned here since this blog is all but a ghost town. I’ve been doing them since… I think late May. Originally it was all on looseleaf paper, though now I have some permanence with composition books. I do it the vast majority of mornings — definitely every weekday — though I’ve had the occasional weekend hiccup.

Last week I woke up every day at 6am and started writing. First with Morning Pages, then with a TV pilot I’m working on. I made great progress. It’s an idea I’ve been sitting on for a few years now. I originally saw it as a comic, something darkly humorous but very specific in tone and execution. It was so specific that I could only see one artist drawing it, and though he’s a good friend and offered to do a design whenever I needed it, I never really saw the book coming together without him drawing interiors. So I didn’t proceed beyond my initial notes and direction.

Not too long ago, while bouncing between too many outlines, I realized that was stupid. I should just write it, get it out there, and then it doesn’t have to take up space in my brain anymore. So I started on a more detailed outline for it as a TV pilot. I figured out what needed to be addressed, worked out some loose ideas that gave me enough freedom to improvise on the page and went to work.

I began writing when I had time, which anyone “busy” person will tell you is never. So I wrote at the end of long days, happy when I could even get ten minutes in at night. Sometimes it would be exactly ten minutes, other days 20-30, and some days I’d find an hour or more before I got too tired to continue.

The problem wasn’t how little I was writing — it was how I prioritized my writing. I’ve had such poor habits when it comes to personal writing work that I was happy to be writing at all. Even five minutes, the “short time method” made me feel better about my day and my writing, because some writing is better than no writing. But I decided to make a change.

I used to go to the gym four days a week, getting up between 5 and 6am every day and going no matter how bad/tired/unmotivated I felt. Once I got there and started lifting I was okay, and when I left I felt great. Plus, since it was the first thing I did, I now had the rest of the day to not worrying about squeezing it in and feeling bad when I didn’t. (I’ve been struggling since last Summer with finding enough time for writing and fitness, but that’s another post.)

Surely I could do that for my writing; prioritize it, make it the first thing I did every day (in addition to the Morning Pages I’ve been doing for 2+ months. And again, I thought, It will be great not having to worry about how I feel after working all day or if I have errands to run since I’ve already done the writing. And for exactly one week, five long days in a row, I did exactly that. When my alarm went off at 6am, I got out of bed and turned it off. I didn’t snooze, didn’t crawl back into bed. I got up, fed the animals and went to work.

The first day I was so tired I only managed about 30 minutes of writing. But that was 30 minutes before work. I would have the option to write again later if I wanted — though I didn’t do any that night. I picked up steam throughout the week. I didn’t track page counts but I think I wrote 30-40 pages in 5 mornings before work. And Friday was a crap day. I petered out. The story went as far as the detail in the outline took me, and then the cracks started to appear. I knew it was way too long. Way too long. And I didn’t know what to write next because where I got to all made sense, but to get to the next part I needed something I hadn’t figured out yet.

It’s Thursday morning and I haven’t written on the pilot in almost a week. I haven’t fixed the outline, haven’t figured out what I needed to figure out in order to move forward and closer to FADE OUT. But I figured out something else in the course of my Morning Pages; something I know, want to change, but never do. I write extremely execution-dependent scripts. There’s not a lot of “Guy wants something, someone/something stands in his way, he has to figure out a way to overcome.” There are a ton of moving parts, a complicated plot trying to hide the fact that I really just want to write about people and not plots. Personal struggles, success and failure,  will they/won’t they. And the best stories do both, of course, but in terms of my own work, the stuff I write for me, I tend to try and make sure there’s something commercial so it’s not just pedestrian struggles — though there are plenty of great stories about every day life when the characters are rich enough.

Call it problems of scale, an attempt to be commercial without being overly high concept, or me just being stubborn. Trust me, in this case, my stubborn adherence to the initial tone of the idea is the problem. There’s an A plot and a B plot that work against one another, and while the A plot should be the thrust of the series… it’s actually something I, and my protagonist, don’t want to focus on. And really that’s what my story problems come down to. There’s the story I want to tell versus the story that should be told based on the dominoes I’ve set up.

So after three frustratingly handwritten  pages and this blog post, I have no idea what to do. Part of me wants to stop fighting, scrap the script and make sure I pay off the promise of the premise. Another part wants to charge through, stick to my guns and just get to an ending so I can work on something new. And the third part of me, the coward who doesn’t write enough, wants to toss it in the circular file and just move on without seeing it through to completion. And each part seems completely valid.

I’m standing at the crossroads, knowing the only way out is through, and that I need to be writing right now instead of distracting myself with this. But even if I open the doc and sit down in front of it, I don’t know what’s next. I suppose I could write out of sequence, get to the stuff I know works and come down and fill in the (current) problem area later (even if there’s plenty in the preceding 67 pages that doesn’t work — did I mention it’s probably going to be 100 pages…?).

Guess the only answer that really matters is that I need to put in the time, no matter what the result.

Elmore Leonard Will Never Die

Elmore Leonard

I woke up to plenty of well wishes and one very sad bit of news on my birthday. Elmore Leonard, celebrated crime author, has died. He wasn’t a young man at 87, but he was so prolific you felt like he might just keep writing forever, churning out great books filled with sizzling dialogue and even sharper characters. The man just plain knew how to write.

I was reading Leonard’s “Tishomingo Blues” when I moved out to Los Angeles in August of 2003. My dad and I split the driving that trip, and when I wasn’t at the wheel I was devouring the story of a high diver, a murder at a casino, Civil War reenacters and gangsters (at least that’s how I remember it). Don Cheadle was supposed to make his directorial debut on the film adaptation, also playing a fast talking gangster with Matthew McConaughey as the lead, but financing never came together and the project fell apart. But I loved the book anyway, and it marked my first true foray into Leonard’s writing.

By that time I was familiar with Leonard from his many Hollywood forays, starting (for me) with “Get Shorty,” and then “Jackie Brown” and “Out of Sight.” The latter remains one of my all-time favorite movies, a perfect blend of writing, acting, editing and direction. So much fun to watch, and hits so many notes. It’s a Hollywood movie in the way that so many aren’t.

As of today, I’ve read just a few other Leonard novels, but his influence on me has only grown. “Justified” remains one of the three best shows I watch on TV (and, short disclaimer, after a DVR glitch mid-way through the second episode of Season 4, I have yet to watch this last season, but I have it all here waiting for me). Even though showrunner Graham Yost and his staff made some changes to Raylan Givens and the original “Fire in the Hole” short the series is based on, it remains a perfectly Leonard-ian show and the characters introduced would be at home in any of Leonard’s other works.

I’m not a historian, and I didn’t know the man, so I won’t belabor the point any further. Elmore Leonard was a damn fine writer, and his loss is a big one. But he leaves behind an impressive legacy and a stellar body of work. There’s a lot to live up to for all of his fans pursuing creative endeavors, and we all need to try a little harder now knowing that he won’t be there to pick up the slack.

***

Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing
(see full version here)

1. Never open a book with weather.

2. Avoid prologues.

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.

5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

“My most important rule is one that sums up the 10. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” – Elmore Leonard

“Bushido” – Get Your Digital On

“Bushido: The Way of the Warrior” #1 cover

If you want the gist on “Bushido” without any filler, you can get it here. If you want the backstory, you can get it below.

Long before “Netherworld” was ever a glimmer in anyone’s eye — or a comic on anyone’s shelf — I was talking about books with Heroes and Villains Entertainment. They offered me my first gig immediately after I left Top Cow… and I turned it down. It wasn’t that I didn’t think I could do it, or that I didn’t need the money (see: The Freelancer’s Dilemma), I just didn’t connect with the material in the way I felt I needed to in order to deliver the book they deserved. They were passionate about the world they created, and I could see it’s value, I just couldn’t find that hook that made it personal for me, and something I’d be able to properly write. So I passed. There were no hard feelings, but I felt an immediate wave (and paralyzing fear) following the passing up of real American moneys.

HVE wasn’t phased though. They understood my position and knew we’d find something else to work on. And thus came a little book about a gaijin samurai fighting off a horde of invading vampires in feudal Japan. It was called “Bushido: Way of the Warrior,” and it was all set to be the second (or third) book I collaborated on with Bryan Edward Hill. We went back and forth a few times on story notes, had a pretty good idea of the overall structure and were all ready to start — and then were told to pump the brakes. First for a short while, then a long while. Then it became “We don’t know when this will start up, but it will eventually.” Hungry freelancers that we were, Bryan and I began talking to HVE about what else we could right for them. The one line for “Netherworld,” then featuring a different plot and title but plenty of the same themes, struck us as a good fit and that moved forward pretty quickly.

Around the time we were finishing “Netherworld,” I got a call that “Bushido” was finally ready to roll. But things had changed. Partially spurred by the success of “7 Days From Hell” and his spec screenplay based on it, and partially because he’s that good a writer, Bryan was busy in Hollywood. Writing specs, taking directing meetings and getting hired to re-write the “Just Cause” film adaptation — among other projects that I can’t divulge. He didn’t have time to take on a comic series, so he gave his blessing for me to tackle “Bushido” solo. And thus my first solo miniseries was born (I’ve written plenty of things solo, but this is the first published miniseries, which makes it a landmark of sorts).

I wrote the first issue in January, 2012. It took a while to get everyone’s brain wrapped around the story again as well as coordinating between HVE and Top Cow, who edits as well as publishes the series. We hired Studio Hive to illustrate the five-issue series in March of the same year and started seeing some killer painted pages. But… painted work takes time. A lot of time. For a while I didn’t think the series would ever finish.

But…

…wait for it…

It’s finally here! And I don’t mean in a “It’s on the schedule soon” here, I mean actually-buy-it-right-this-second-if-you-have-the-internet here. Top Cow and HVE decided to release the series digitally starting today. You can purchase #1 for $1, and the remaining issues should be out monthly or even a little faster than that. So what are you waiting for? It’s just $1. It’s less than laundry, and no one likes laundry…

I am a HUGE proponent of digital comics. I believe in them for their ability to put comics in the hands of anyone with an internet connection and a screen. I believe in their potential to expand the comic format with what we’re seeing on projects like Mark Waid’s Thrillbent titles (and what I’m hearing about DC’s digital-first “Batman ’66”). I also think the potential lower price point (I wish they were all $0.99) has the potential to expand the audience by making books an impulse buy again — you can’t call a 20-page book at $3.99 that you can only get in a specialty store an impulse buy. And there’s the space issue. Digital comics take up space on your hard drive and in your brain. There’s no bags, boards, boxes and — let’s face it — stacks of comics lying around taking up space in your home. There’s no running out of space when your collection gets too big. There’s just megabytes to purchase, and digital space is slim. I’d wage my own digital battles, but Mark Waid is smarter than me, and much more eloquent, and I have a hard time arguing against any of what he’s said at digital to this point. So I won’t belabor the point any further (for now).

Those who love print comics are also in for a special treat. Top Cow will be publishing “Bushido” in October, and there’s more. It’s coming out weekly. All the vampire-samurai you can handle every week in October. I’ve never done a weekly release (if I’m honest, my books have rarely shipped monthly) so I’m excited to see how this plays out and be able to see how people react to the story in almost real-time. It’s kind of the opposite of how long it took the book to go from idea to comic (my first mention of it via e-mail was in January 2010). If you’re a print person (Hi, Mom!), be sure to pre-order the book from your local retailer. It’s in the October-shipping Previews catalog right now from Top Cow/Image Comics.

Check out a pretty substantial preview of #1 here — or just buy it for only $1 here. And don’t forget comiXology now offers subscriptions, so they can let you know via e-mail that your new issues of “Bushido” are ready and waiting for you. Be sure to let me know what you think.

***

You’ll notice the blog looks a little different. I got tired of the old theme, which I’ve never messed with outside of updating the header since I started the site. Not sure if this new theme will stick, but then again I don’t blog much… If you run into any readability issues let me know.

I finished my pilot a while ago. I think I planned to do some major post about finally getting to the finish line, but I didn’t. I wasn’t all that happy when I finished. Don’t get me wrong — clearing that hurdle was a major step. But I didn’t like the work. I knew it marked the beginning of a long journey, not the end. I wasn’t all that happy to tell you, “I just wrote one of the all-time worst pilots!” Because it’s not very good. I’m being hyperbolic, but it’s not very good. No one makes decisions the way they should, the promise of the premise is almost entirely unclear, and there are too many dialogue heavy scenes that do nothing but info dump exposition. And they’re not that well-dialogued.

I’ve actually fallen out of my writing rhythm due to irregular/poor sleep over the last couple weeks while I’ve been slowly working on some paying work and trying to break the outline for the pilot I originally planned to write before this one. I want to get the loose outline finished (it’s already longer than any outline I did for this one) just so I know where to start when I eventually write it, but I’ll get back to the original pilot soon. It needs a good revision before anyone but the one person I sent it to (as proof of finishing) can read it and give me feedback before it gets halfway decent following the third draft.

Like I said, it’s a beginning, not an end.

Writing is Fun

Who knew, right?

I’ve made little secret of the fact that in the past I haven’t written as much as I would like. More specifically, I haven’t written enough to get me where I want to be in my career. I usually write only for profit (i.e. when someone is paying me to do it for them) and if I do write for me (“on spec”) I tend to abandon the projects because of my overactive editor brain, or because paying work has to take precedence. There was always an excuse.

When novelist Lawrence Block joined twitter he was really active, posting advice and affirmations, and if I wasn’t a fan of his work and reputation, it would have made me one based on that alone. I liked what he was saying and ended up subscribing to his newsletter (where he often gives away free books and short stories for Kindle, so hop on that) and he ended up having a sale on an mp3 download of his “Affirmations for Writers” audio. I figured it couldn’t hurt and it was a few dollars, so I gave it a shot.

While I was placing my order, I noticed a sale for another book by another author. In fact, it’s the only book on Block’s store that isn’t written by him (under his name or his pseudonyms). That book? “Break Writer’s Block Now!” by Jerrold Mundis. LB said the reason he carries it is because it was the only book of its kind that he knew of that actually worked. It got writers (and aspiring writers who couldn’t find the time or overcome the mental hurdles) writing. As with the audio, I figured it couldn’t hurt.

Let me start by saying that I don’t believe in Writer’s Block (no relation to Mr. Block). It’s a fake thing people say because they get insecure. Running out of ideas or not knowing where to go next are symptoms of either story problems or problems of approach. Nothing is actually blocked. So why this book?

Because block is just a symptom. This book is about acknowledging all of the myriad reasons you can’t write… and then, literally, throwing them in the trash and getting to business. And its promise is that you can do that in one afternoon and start a habit you can maintain for life, regardless of how busy your life or the demands on your time.

I bought this book in August 2011. I had to look it up, I didn’t know how long it had been. I read the intro, where Mundis tells you you can read it in chunks, but he recommends sitting down for an afternoon and working through the whole thing in an environment free of distractions. I didn’t take the time to do that until last Monday (5/20). And while I was busy not reading this book — and not writing — my career as a writer was busy not moving forward. Enough was enough and I finally sat down and read the book, did the exercises, and created a schedule for myself.

I now have a writing schedule (every weekday morning) that I stick to. I have written every day save for the holiday this week (which I considered a weekend day, where I only write if I want to) since setting up my schedule and don’t imagine missing any time soon. I’ve gotten back to the pilot I was working on in late December and I don’t think I touched after about 1/10. I had stalled out, but my new schedule has me working on it again. I started from scratch because the story felt a little alien to me so I haven’t quite reached where I was, but I know something different about the process of writing now.

Writing is easy and fun. It really is. I used to treat it solely like a job. Sure, I would jot down ideas when they came to me, but that’s brainstorming, not writing. That was most of the fun I got from writing. Now I get joy from my fingers on the keys and words on the screen. And it’s easy.

The biggest takeaway from the book I got is this:

Writing is the simple act of words on paper.

Now read that again. It’s simple, something that we all innately know, but it gets lost in the monolithic idea of Writing and the mysticism of “where do ideas come from?” But while there’s a great deal of mystery to Writing and how your brain helps you craft stories out of thin air, that’s really just there for critics and theorists.

Writing is the simple act of words on paper.

My pilot may not be any good. (I’m pretty sure it’s not, but that’s what revised drafts are for.) I’m not worrying about that. The editor is off and I’m not chasing that dragon anymore. I’m chasing the habit, and the enjoyment, of writing.

A friend of mine and fellow writer has been a longtime supporter of me and nurturer of my talent. Usually he asks me if I’m working on anything, reminds me to write, and we part with, “Yeah, yeah, I know. I need to write more. I will, I will. Just as soon as [insert semi-sarcastic excuse].” When I talked to him yesterday and he asked me about career stuff, I didn’t have to deflect or have the same conversation. I could tell him, plain and simple, things were going well because I was writing. It was a nice change of pace.

Writing is fun. You should try it some time.

Want to Write Comics? We Will Teach You

As Joshua Hale Fialkov has done several times at various Long Beach Horror & Comic Con events, this year he will again be teaching the craft of writing comic books at this year’s show. I worked with Josh to teach the class earlier this year at the one-day Long Beach Expo and had an awesome time dropping knowledge and getting to meet up and coming creators.

I’ll be joining him again for an even bigger and better workshop, but this time Josh is bringing in the big guns: Jim McCann (MIND THE GAP, RETURN OF THE DAPPER MEN), Brian Buccellato (THE FLASH, FOSTER), and afro-wielding warrior Sam Humphries (ULTIMATE COMICS ULTIMATES, UNCANNY X-FORCE).

Details are available here. You do not want to miss out.

Rob Levin, Liar

Writers write. It’s the one simple, undeniable fact of their existence.  But that’s not me.

I don’t make a living as a writer.  I make part of one – between editing, consulting and various odd jobs, I put together enough to scrape by.  Part of that’s necessity.  I’m two and a half years into writing “full-time,” and it takes more than that (in most cases) to advance a career far enough to just make money doing one thing.  But I’ve also let that make me comfortable, and hold me back.  There’s some kind of mental block that holds me back from diving deeper into the writing and allowing it to be my sole gig.

I see people all around me getting what they want (and deserve) as writers.  One friend is getting his features career off the ground after years of near misses.  Another just co-founded a production company.  Another finally got his big break in comics and I’ll be beyond shocked if this doesn’t help him finally turn the corner and become one of those big names.  As much as I’d like to write features (says the guy who has yet to complete a screenplay), that’s not my immediate goal.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I would kill to get into a writers’ room.  On a good or a bad show, the writer’s room is where you not only find out what you’re made of, but get an insane education from some of the best and brightest working in television today.  And this isn’t just getting a job on “Lost” or “Sons of Anarchy” or “Treme.”  There are great writers working in television with a wealth of experience even on shows that aren’t brilliant.  Young writers, old writers, guys who just broken in and those that have been doing it for thirty years.  The writer’s room is the ultimate learning experience for a working writer, and I’ve know this a long time.  It’s exactly where I want to get.

With shows for the Fall season getting staffed up right now, more and more people I know are getting on shows.  Friends, acquaintances, and all those writers with massive piles of experience I mentioned.  So where am I?  Not writing screenplays.  Not writing pilots or specs.  Barely writing comics.  And that makes me a liar.

I know what I want (personally and professionally).  I’m a very goal-oriented person and I structure my life accordingly.  But less and less, I’m not writing.  I’m busy chasing work (writing and otherwise) and letting that consume me, or I’m doing writing that, as the always astute Joshua Hale Fialkov termed it, is “editing, even when it’s writing.” I’m sitting on the sidelines and making excuses (“I’ll write more when I have a full-time job that takes care of my expenses,” “I have to do this thing that pays before I can work on personal projects.”) instead of putting pen to paper (fingers to keys) and just writing because it’s what I have to do.

Writers write.  There’s not more to that sentence.  It’s two words and a period.  No caveats, no footnotes, just a simple, honest fact.  Writers write.  Once more for emphasis.  So what’s wrong with me.  Why am I not writing.

The only thing standing between me and my goals professionally is my limited body of work.  My lack of samples.  My commitment to excellence.  I know this.  The problem has been identified and is easily correctable.  I’ve known this truth for months if not years.  I have people in my life who want me to succeed – friends, family, other writers.

Apparently I’m a liar.  Apparently I don’t want to get into a writers’ room. Apparently I don’t want to follow a stint in television with a lengthy career in features working in multiple genres.  If I wanted either of these things, I’d be writing. Plain and simple, make no bones about it.  If I wanted to solve my “problem” I could just write my way out.  But I’m not writing.  Not nearly enough or as often as I need to write the bad out let alone build a career.

The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, right. I’m blogging again, for the first time since mid-March, but this is only my 8th post of the year.  Some writer… I’m hoping that letting whatever crap is in my brain out on the page each morning it’ll loosen me up to make some progress on anything.  I’m hoping that by blogging again I can psych myself up enough to take some positive steps toward the future.

I don’t want to be a liar anymore.  I know what I want.  You know what I want.  Let’s get to writing, shall we.

 

The Best Laid Plans…

I watched “The Dialogue: Sheldon Turner” and, like most of these inspirational (or soul-crushingly depressing) how-tos on writing, I took it with several grains of salt.  Writing, like most creative endeavors, is not simply a matter of hearing how (and often not why) someone does something in a certain way of copying them.  While that might work, it’s not guaranteed.  You have to figure out what works for you – your style, your habits, your life.

Turner mentioned that he gets up at 4am every day (or more accurately 3:57) and writes for about an hour.  He then works out, gets his day going and goes back to writing.  I’m going to keep working out at night (for now) because I have a sexy training partner – no, it’s not me in the mirror – and I have these animals who get up when I do and need care and maintenance, but I liked the idea of starting my writing day before the rest of the world is even awake. Maybe this is the answer to boost my writing metabolism.

Lately I’ve been lamenting the fact that even when I sit down early and try to focus on just writing, things crop up or I’m just not on.  It may take me anywhere from two to ten hours to really get the juices flowing and get into a rhythm where I can write more than fifteen words without declaring them complete and utter shit.  How do I make more consistent progress?  Maybe Turner had the answers.  He mentioned that he rarely sleeps more than 4-5 hours a night or he’s off, and I average about 4.5-5.5 hours a night on weekdays.

Last night I set two alarms.  One for 6am and a backup for 6:37.  I wasn’t ready to dive right into the 4am wake-up call, and it was just after 1am when I hit the sack.  My early alarm went off.  I hit snooze.  Rinse. Repeat. Ad nauseum. My backup never went off.

I woke up this morning just north of 8:30am…

Not saying I can’t train myself to make it work, but it’s looking like I’m just a better afternoon-evening-night productivity person.  My next step (MWF when I have “writing” days) is a full electronic pinch.  I will turn off all Internet and other communications during the standard 9-5 workday, leave my phone on silent – not vibrate – and not turn on the TV for any reason.  My only allowed distraction will be music.  The Black Box work environment.  As much as we blame email, twitter and facebook for being the biggest distractions, when writing I will often get hung up on research, particularly for visual reference, when I should just plow through and fill in later.

I’ll continue to try to do the early riser deal, and if the distraction-free thing doesn’t work, I can resort to the Creativity Elixir. I’ll let you know how it goes.

If you have any particular hints or hacks to get up and get going earlier, or how to turn on the creative juices, please leave a comment.

The Problem with “LYP”

“LYP” was a screenplay I started and never finished.

It hatched from nothing on New Year’s Eve 2008 and six months later I actually got around to writing it.  For 9 working days across a two-week stretch I wrote with the goal of completing 10 pages a day.  9 working days and 81 pages later, I don’t think I was doing too poorly considering the longest thing I had written before that was 51 pages.  Although, now that I think about it, that particular abandoned script was written in less than 24 hours and begun with no real story or planning involved.  I just got home from dinner and wrote, then did a little more the next day.

My goal was the Tony Gilroy school of writing as passed to me by Bryan Edward Hill.  Write ten pages a day, every day.  Each day you start from Page 1 and revise what’s come before so when you get to a final draft it’s really tight and really polished.  Or at least that’s what I remember of it.

“LYP” was a story that needed to get out.  It came to me in a flash while I was getting ready to go out, I typed up a one-page synopsis and fired off to Hill.  I then spent almost 7 months figuring out the story, and whether I could pull the trigger on actually writing it.  It was about murder and relationships and feeling lost and time travel (sort of), and I wanted to write it.  So one day I sat down and promised myself I’d write ten pages a day until I finished.

I wrote 81 pages, stopped when I couldn’t write any more on that last day and never picked it up again.  Outside of first drafts of comics done in an unrestricted screenplay format, I haven’t written a word of a screenplay since.  It wasn’t because I couldn’t keep writing and power through to a bad first draft.  It wasn’t because I ran out of steam or got “writer’s block.”  I even sent the unfinished draft to Hill and got some great overall notes and a way to fix some things I didn’t even know were wrong about the opening.  I couldn’t get back to it for some reason, but as of today I think I know.

I’ve been reading “Story” by Robert McKee before I go to bed and sometimes on the can.  It’s my third or fourth attempt, having previously been derailed by Stephen Gaghan and boredom.  This morning I read about how a character making a simple choice – to lie or tell the truth – ends up creating two very different stories, and a different character.  I let this sink in on all day, nothing I didn’t know, and then had this epiphany a few minutes ago.

Stories are supposed to build so that each successive choice (or obstacle) for a character is greater than the last.  His final choice should be the toughest thing he’s ever had to do, and a real test of who he is as a person.  The problem with “LYP” is that the choice my protagonist makes doesn’t work for who he is as a character.  I made what would be the biggest decision of his life the first real choice in the screenplay and what spins us off into Act 2.  The decision is made so lightly, and the choices he has to make later on don’t exactly escalate.  I screwed my story, and my protagonist, in one fell swoop.

I think that’s why I started not liking the story as I got into Act 2.  It wasn’t because it didn’t have the “Fun and Games” trailer moments Blake Snyder talks about in “Save the Cat,” but simply that there was a major structural (and character) flaw that I didn’t catch until 50 pages after it happened.

It feels good to know this, but I’m also not going back to “LYP” any time soon.  It’s not the right story for right now, both for my life and for my writing samples.  Question is…

What do I want to write?

TGIM – Back at It

I go through fits and starts. It seems I have months where I’ve written nary a word, and others where I write at least two. I’m generally pretty fast, but never as productive as I want to be.  I want to go through one of those months where I look back and say, “That was a hell of a lot of writing I got done last month.”

Which brings us to the here and now. The last month was one of the least productive in recent memory. I can’t go through that again because shaking the rust out is much tougher than staying in a groove.  When I first started this blog (as Authentic Impostor) I was doing daily updated Monday through Friday with the occasional weekend post.  Shortly after that I got laid off, but the updated continued. And then they didn’t.  Days went by, then weeks. I don’t think I’ve ever missed a month, but I’m sure I’ve gotten close.

Working freelance has led to awful habits. I don’t wake up the same time every day. I confuse distractions with research. I have days where I don’t make money and I don’t get any work done.  Living in a city like Los Angeles, I can’t exactly afford it.

I was most productive the first six months after Top Cow.  I was a hustler, working on more projects and putting in longer hours than when I had a regular check coming.  A lot of that was fear, but part of it was about habit-forming behaviors like blogging.  I was doing it daily, usually in the morning, which put me in a better, more focused mood to create.

They say it takes twenty-one days to create a habit.  I’m going to spend the next four weeks (because I don’t want to blog on weekends) trying to make this thing daily and worth your time. Maybe I’ll even revisit Wake Up Productive, which I did for two weeks and abandoned.  Maybe there’s something to the twenty-one day tip.

In any event, I want to write more.  I want to finally finish a screenplay (see tomorrow’s entry).  And I want to know why Jason Aaron and I are the only working writers still double spacing after periods.  Neither of us has the answer.

If you have any suggestions for blog topics or want to ask me any questions, leave a comment and I’ll address in a future post.  As always, no topic is too stupid, but the person suggesting it might be.