Category Archives: Writing

Monday Motivation: You Doing You Creatively

I am overdue in continuing the “Monday Motivation” posts, so I thought it’d be an opportune time to note that sometimes it’s good to just do what you’re doing and keep on doing it. Especially for those of you in the middle of the slog that is NaNoWriMo: just keep truckin’. Don’t edit, write! As “they” say, the first draft is always garbage anyway and editing is another month.

One thing I thought of in terms of “you doing you” creatively is the fact that certain things are outside of your control. For example, sometimes people aren’t buying what you’re selling creatively… and it has nothing to do with the quality of what you’re selling (or you, personally). Mark Evanier mentions this as it applies to writers and actors in one of his excellent columns on rejection. As he points out, not every opportunity is an opportunity you’re supposed to get.

 

I’ve experienced both sides of this equation. On the submission side, I have and continue to get to be rejected both as a writer and an actor. I’m lucky on the actor front to often hear the voice-over spots I auditioned for that I didn’t get: many’s the time where I hear it and think, “Yup, they were going for something different than what I was giving.” It helps that I also get accepted as a writer and an actor from time-to-time, but it’s by no means guaranteed.

The flip side, doing casting or editing, I know the people Mark Evanier talks about who feel work should be guaranteed. The ins and outs of that are worth a whole other post, but the main thing I can say is, so long as you have an honest feedback loop in place to tell you how good your work is, you can and should just keep on doing your best and learning how to better that. Time and again I’ve seen that kind of self-aware, self-improving hard work be noticed and rewarded.

 

Lots of Recommended Reading: Scripts for Days

Life in the offline world has been demanding much of my attention this past month, so I haven’t been posting as much.

I feel somewhat remiss in my Internet duties to pass along useful information and interesting things to read. With that in mind, I direct you to 50 screenplays made available for free from some darn fine movies, from “Alien” to “Up in the Air.”

Happy reading!

Fandom, Umbrage, and IP

I’ve been thinking of writing a longer post about fandom and perceived ownership — all the more so with the launch of Star Trek: Discovery.

Mark Evanier’s post, aptly titled “Creative Custody,” refutes the notion of fans “owning” comic book characters, but it can be applied to lots of other fan-beloved intellectual property (IP), such as IP that involves warrior races called Klingons.

Much of what Mark Evanier says could be said by someone who hasn’t been an avid comic books reader for about 60 years and a continuously working comic writer for about 40 years… but that authority helps.

The Kirby Centennial

Monday, August 28th (yesterday) marked Jack “King” Kirby’s 100th birthday.

He isn’t still around to celebrate it, but we certainly have a tremendous body of work with which to celebrate his storytelling.

I had made a comment on social media, but he seems to have cast a large enough shadow across pop culture that people may well be celebrating his centennial all week.

One of his assistants, Mark Evanier, who also wrote the biography Kirby: King of Comics, has a nice remembrance of the man and the impact he had.

Comic-con also has an impressive 60-page PDF of artwork and anecdotes about Kirby.

There’s also pieces you can read in Forbes, the Washington Post, CBR, and Techcrunch among others. Bleeding Cool has its picks for his top five creations.

( I personally have a soft spot for Kamandi).

Finally, Jeet Heer has a great article in the New Republic about Kirby and his impact, which dwarfs his outsize artwork.

 

In Which a Domino’s Patience is Rewarded

Some of my past few Monday posts on motivation have been a bit on the grimmer side, so I wanted to share something that was more in the “You Can Do It” vein.

On Scriptnotes a couple weeks ago, John August’s One Cool Thing was a physics paper about the power of dominoes to topple bigger dominoes. In fact, the domino the size of a sliver can start a process by which dominoes the size of tombstones topple.

Can you extrapolate this to mean your tiny efforts can lead to big results? Of course you can! That’s the 20 minutes a day of writing. That’s doing at least one film project a year or every Christmas.

It adds up.

Many, Many Bewildered (and Sad) Breakfast Faces: RIP, Sam Shepard

There will be a general lack of toast in the neighborhood this morning. And by “toast” I mean theater-related joy. And by “the neighborhood,” I mean “American theater.” And by “this morning,” I mean… well, I don’t know how long, but it’ll be longer than a morning.

Actor, playwright, and director Sam Shepard has died at the age of 73.

I first learned about it in a piece in Broadway World, which is worth checking out. You can also read about his life and work in:

Many of us picked up this book yesterday and leafed through it.

I’m not the only one of my generation of theater folk who feel this loss on a personal level. There are many playwrights like Shakespeare or Pinter or Wilson of whom I’ve either read or performed or seen productions of nearly all their works. But Sam Shepard is somewhat different.

Shepard has a distinct, American voice that resonated with so many of us. It was years since I had read or seen all of Kaufman and Hart. It would be years before I would connect with the work of Eugene O’Neill (that’s another tale). Sam Shepard was alive now and pushing his creations out into the world, where we too were training and working to make our marks.

Decades before Neil Gaiman was to tantalize us with his tales of American Gods, Sam Shepard was constructing a uniquely American mythology with plays that were simultaneously gritty and real, yet surreal and absurd. His characters often lived on the edge of society and frequently violated societal norms. There were no gods so much as forces of nature and Fate that his fabulously flawed characters would contend against when they weren’t fighting with one another.

I had many classmates who never looked at me quite the same way after they had seen me play “Mike” in a college production of “A Lie of the Mind.” It’s a disturbing yet incredibly human fairy tale set in a immediately recognizable yet unknowable America. At first, Mike seems like a more sensible character than his parents or brain-damaged sister. By the time he carries half a deer carcass on stage, you realize just how quietly crazy and savage Mike might truly be (and his exit from the play, presumably to start a whole new dysfunctional family cycle, is uncomfortably real). Sam Shepard wrote characters that rich into which actors can dive and explore, with motivations so plausible, audience members can wonder where the character ends and the actor begins (hence my classmates’ apprehension).

And those plays are still with us, thank goodness. If you haven’t checked any of them out (or any recently), do as Craig Mazin advocates: locate a copy of True West and read it out loud. His many parts in films are likewise, thankfully preserved for the ages — and his appearance always bodes well for whatever film in which he appears. Outside of Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch, is there a better film icon for American manhood than Sam Shepard’s Chuck Yeager?

(Come on! I can’t be the only guy who watched The Right Stuff repeatedly growing up).

Yeah Harold Pinter had acting turns too, but he subverted the sound barrier with pauses, not breaks. You see, I’ve studied Shakespeare, I’ve enjoyed Pinter, but with Shepard, you had someone to aspire to, with a voice from your tribe. On the one hand it’s silly and illogical and not something to motivate you… but in the best tradition of so many of his characters, by God it did.

He was inspirational as a playwright. He was moving as an actor. As both, he connected story to audience in a way you long to do as an artist.

Is that a man? Damn right it is.

A Modest, Logical Proposal: “Vulcan Up.”

I’m working on a longer piece regarding Star Trek in advance of its 51st anniversary on the air and the upcoming premiere of Star Trek: Discovery.

And while I was writing, I came up with a phrase that I think is too good not to share. In fact, I would be so bold as to suggest it should be spread to hither and yon among all your geek colleagues.

That phase is “Vulcan up” as in, “You’re going to have to Vulcan up and realize the only one responsible for that warp core breach is you.”

Or, you know, the real life equivalent of a warp core breach. Or even just the warp field collapsing. Or things not involving warp fields.

“Vulcan up” easily sidesteps the worst implications of “man up” and fully supports the best implications.

“Man up” has been used for all sorts of things one should do. Moving past the emotion of the moment? Stepping back to take a look at the big picture while stepping up to your responsibilities? Cool.

“Man up” has also been misused for some less than sensible situations. Accepting bullshit projected onto you? Ignoring pain that is in no way gain? Illogical and not cool.

Tuvok is cool, T’Pol is cool, and Spock is surely the coolest of them all. And they are all at their best when they Vulcan up and employ logic to help themselves or others.

So for those of you so inclined to speak geek in your dealings with others, I encourage you to replace “man up” in those dealings with “Vulcan up.” It may get an arched eyebrow here or there, but I think they’ll find it’s reasonable.

Note: based on my experiences studying anthropology, it’s entirely possible that the principle of independent invention is in play. Someone else may have coined this same phrase. For that reason, it would be illogical for me to claim the sole invention… and, in fact, that is not the goal. The goal is that this phrase enter the pop culture sphere for the benefit of all. The needs of the many and all that.

A Writer Writes… and Finishes

Continuing my series of Monday posts about motivation, I wanted to share another favorite post about staying motivated by Terry Rossio from the inestimable resource that is Wordplay. It arguably builds off the tough love/cold water of The Speech two weeks ago. And while I’m going to focus on writers and motivation, I have observed (and been told) that this sort of motivation (and procrastination) is something that all creative folk encounter.

But back to writers. There’s a notion that writers “hate to write, but love having written.” (I’ve heard it most frequently ascribed to Dorothy Parker, but when I tried to validate the reference, I had some problems). Now while I understand this notion, I actually like the process of writing. Sure, it can be difficult at points. Sure, I might encounter a rough scene that I can’t crack for days (or have to abandon and return to). Sure, I’ve had dozens of pages I look back on and decide to throw out. But more often than not, I’m enjoying the actual activity of writing (even on those pages I later throw out).

Still, it’s very easy to procrastinate on writing — and it doesn’t have to be a bad reason. What if my son wants to show off his latest LEGO creation? What if my daughter wants to play that dragon game? Life is for living, not simply observing… otherwise, what are you writing about?

But eventually, you need to be writing. You need to write, not wait.

So that’s why I linked to Terry Rossio’s article about never waiting. And if you didn’t read it at the top of this post: go ahead and read it now.

Makes you reflect, doesn’t it? It explores so many angles: from simply knowing you need to take action to delving into the nuances around the sentiment of “not waiting.”

If you want to explore the whole Wordplay site, you’ll find a host of great articles, some of which I’ll probably link to in the future. “Never Wait” remains one of the evergreen articles for me, because it never stops being relevant.

I waited a week to write this post. Originally, I was going to finish it up and post it on Monday, July 17th. I didn’t because I spent the weekend shooting a film and getting stuff from Ikea. Hey, the film gave me the opportunity to make a film with people I love to work with — and the Ikea trip was fulfilling a home organization goal long planned for.

But I waited to write. I waited to finish writing.

I’ve been tracking how long I write each day for seven years — pretty much ever since I read Cory Doctorow’s article about writing in the age of distraction and wanted to finish some Rogue Tyger scripts.

And it’s worked. I’ve been able to track my progress and know when I’ve been slipping in my daily discipline. But you know one way in which this technique fails? Tracking when I finish a piece of writing.

See, I can get shelving units or play games or do any number of things. But if I’m a writer (or a painter or a filmmaker) and I say I want to write (or paint or make films), then the writing and painting and filming doesn’t matter so much as finishing the writing, the painting, or the films.

This, incidentally, is why my colleague Bill Coughlan loves the 48 Hour Film Project so much: because after a weekend, you have a finished film. And look at all those films! That’s over 13 years of not waiting. It adds up. That’s one of the reasons I loved shooting the film this past weekend: it’s now a finished film.

And that’s what puts that phrase that writers “hate to write, but love having written” in an additional perspective. I love writing, but I hate writing and not being finished. How much work am I doing to not only write, but finish writing?

And this is where it gets tricky. Because getting the shelving units is good for me and my family. Making a film is fun for me (and hopefully others). Playing games with my kids is definitely fun. But when is the writing going to get done?

It usually happens when you decide to not do some of those good and fun things. You have to gamble that good things still happen to those who never wait.

Perhaps that can be a motivation to finish faster.

(Spoiler: Worked for this post.)

Mark Evanier, Motivation, & “The Speech”

Continuing the last few Monday posts I’ve done about motivation, I figure it’s time to add in a link to something that serves as cold water in the face: a wakeup in both ways. Mark Evanier, whose series on rejection is one I’ve referenced, has a certain speech he’s delivered on occasions to fellow writers and creatives… and occasionally he’s needed to hear it himself.

Maybe you need it because it’s Monday. Perhaps you’re just wondering if you’re cut out for creative work. But some days, you just need The Speech.

Motivation for Procrastinators

Since I wanted to cover motivation for the next few Mondays, as I mentioned last week, I figured it was important to bring up procrastination.

One of the most entertaining articles about the subject was written by Tim Urban on his longform blogging site, Wait, But Why. In fact, the procrastination article is actually several articles, but well worth delving into.

Now, I enjoy Wait, But Why quite a bit, but what if some of you are already putting off reading through what I already said are a couple articles?

So, to combat the procrastination you might have about reading Tim Urban’s several posts about the topic, why not start with a 15-minute video on the subject? Come on, it’s under that 20 to 25 minute technique we were talking about last week. It’ll work!