Monthly Archives: July 2015

Getting Regular Exercise: Writing 20 Minutes a Day

Not too many years ago, I was in the very definition of a soul-sucking job. I knew it was bad news by Day Two, but with a kid on the way, I did my best to mentally buckle down until I could escape.

It was a long road, but what brings me joy every time I think to those dark days is that it was writing and creativity as much as anything that saw me through. I was able to write over 350 pages of scripts during that period, probably one of my most productive writing periods to date — and I did it thanks in great part to a method that was introduced to me by Cory Doctorow’s essay “Writing in the Age of Distraction.

Quite simply, it was a series of tactics to help one write 20 minutes a day, every day.

If you haven’t read the article –or even if it’s been a while– go ahead and check it out.

Done? Good, isn’t it? For me, the article was a welcome and timely call to action.

Just as he notes that he didn’t invent the techniques, I’m not going to say this method will work for all of you. At the same time, I want to explain why it worked so well for me — and why I keep on coming back to it.

For one, it was instructive, here was a very busy guy: father, lecturer, author, who was finding time to write even when roles other than writer made their priorities known.

Second was the knowledge that I could fit in 20 minutes sometime during any day — and I did. But since it was 20 minutes, I didn’t need to wake up at 3 in the morning to toil away for an hours. I could wake up at 6… or steal away some time on a lunch break… or stay up just a bit at night. I did it all over the months as my schedule shifted, especially after the baby came.

And this leads to three: the time adds up. 20 minutes doesn’t seem like much, but if you’re doing a page or two day in and day out, all of a sudden you have a whole episode. In a couple months, you have a draft of a script. Sure you need to revise and re-write, but you have written.

And that leads to point four –the most important part for me– and the reason I love this method: although I’m writing for 20 minutes a day, my brain is thinking about the writing for the rest of the day (yes, even as I sleep). On more than one occasion, I would hit a roadblock. Some character’s dialogue wasn’t ringing true. The plot was stuck and I couldn’t figure out how to move forward. And I would dutifully put in my 20 minutes for one day, two days, THREE days. And then: a solution. I found the character’s true motivation and the dialogue poured forth. I abandoned the stuck plot and blazed a new, more satisfying path. I connected this scene to that scene and gave the script an additional emotional resonance. I was problem-solving and storytelling the whole dang day.

And it felt good. I’m not going to lie: the soul-sucking job kept on trying to defeat me. When said kid was born, sleep did not always come easy. But I wrote. I wrote every day and that was great. It was the exercise I needed.

And it’s an exercise regimen I try to maintain as much as possible.

Why am I a voiceover guy?

Why am I a voiceover guy? Because even though having this much fun should be illegal, it isn’t.

But my love for voiceovers and voice acting goes deeper than simply having fun. While I collected a lot of the same comic books and Star Wars toys of my generation, I also collected old radio tapes with wild and reckless abandon, even to the extent of getting a working radio that looked like an old-time radio, albeit with a hidden cassette player. (Young ‘uns will need to ask their elders what a cassette tape is).

Not only that, my brothers and I tore through no end of audio dramatizations of classic tales like The Hobbit or Treasure Island from the sadly defunct Mind’s Eye. And I got a taste of just how good modern audio drama could be with Bradbury 13.

(There appear to be places you can listen to the latter, but I’m not sure if the creators licensed those locations, so I’m not linking to them at the moment).

Alas, as I got older, I learned there simply weren’t the opportunities to do radio theater like there was back in the old days. But still, how could I not be tempted to do voiceovers?

Besides wanting to emulate the golden-throated announcers of yore, think of all the wonderful cartoon voice actors out there! (And de facto media historian Mark Evanier has been working on a great list).

Granted, much of the work I do is for associations and commercial interests. The opportunities to make really creative audio are still sparse, so I try and make my own (and the same digital tools that have helped indie filmmaking flourish have aided indie audio theater).

So as long as my voice holds, I’ll be a voiceover guy. It’s just too much damn fun.