The Hollywood Spec Script, RIP

Columnist Chris Erskine has a humorous, but not inaccurate assessment of  the state of the venerable spec script: the thing Hollywood doesn’t like at all…. until it loves it.

I really want to see the Scriptnotes crew comment on this.

Get Your Exercise On, Big Data Style

The writers at FiveThirtyEight have never been afraid to get wonky.

So when they look into how to best pursue a regular course of exercise — surely something that people are grappling with now since we’re still in the glow of New Year’s resolutions — I found it worth reading.

Launch: A Publishing Journey in Podcast Form

Continuing on this week’s theme of writing and publishing, John August, has launched a new podcast called, well, Launch.

I’ve mentioned his Scriptnotes podcast before, which is well worth a listen if you’re interested in screenwriting. But John August doesn’t confine himself to scriptwriting. He has a company that makes apps related to scriptwriting. He’s made writer’s aids and a decent card game. And now he’s written the first of a series of novels about a young boy named Arlo Finch.

His Scriptnotes co-host, Craig Mazin, might claim it’s because August is a robot (or possibly a Chronicom), but he approaches each new project with an effort to make it the best possible version he can. That’s certainly the case with this podcast, Launch.

It’s a limited series –I believe only 6 parts– and three of them are online now. The final two parts, yet to be recorded, will detail what happens as his book (and requisite book tour) is launched. I’ve raced through the episodes online thus far and am eager to listen in relative real-time. You might be, too.

New Year’s Resolutions: Getting Published

When it comes to writing, most of the beginning of this decade, I was mainly focusing on regularly writing: simply putting in the time. That’s where I worked to write 20 minutes a day, every day (with occasional time off for good behavior).

For the past year or two, I have been tracking pages written and finishing drafts — not simply time writing. This year, the logical continuation is to understand what to do when those finished drafts amount to a novel.  I’ve done research on this in the past… but that’s far enough in the past that it’s probably a good idea to check again (the research was also focused more on magazine articles and short stories).

I’ll certainly check out Writer’s Digest, a resource I’ve used before, both as a writer and, briefly in the 90s as a publisher. And readers may remember my post from last summer about Russell Nohelty and his company, Wannabe Press.

I was also interested in the “traditional” route — knowing that the traditional route has changed a tad in the past few decades. So I was happy to stumble across Jane Friedman’s one-stop post on the steps to get traditionally published.

Naturally, it links to additional information about the various steps and sub-steps, but if you read through the entirety, she has some good summaries of both the pros and cons of self-publishing as well as pros and cons of traditional publishing. She has some great questions about what a creative wants out of their creative work that might help direct said creativity.

I’ll post more about book publishing later this week.

Ursula K. LeGuin, RIP

88 years is no small feat, but when my wife and I talked, we agreed, it would have been nice to see Ursula K. LeGuin, who passed away last week, reach a hundred.

Far and beyond the worlds she created was her perspective: on writing, being a writer, and, well, managing to live this crazy life and perhaps make it a better place while being a writer.

I only discovered her work later in life –which is all the more unforgivable when you realize she taught at my college briefly– but nevertheless, the books were there, waiting.

The first book I read, The Dispossessed, is not one of the most mentioned, though evidently well received when it came out. Here was a great science fiction novel not only full of worldbuilding, but also woven together with an elegant literary device playing with time — all the while not only exploring the concepts of anarchy and capitalism, but also how mathematicians and physicists think. It’s hard to explain how the book affected me so personally. It is neither melodramatic nor maudlin nor close to my own experiences. And yet, the impact is visceral.

From reading the remembrances from across the globe, I’m not the only one who made such a deep connection to her works:

I would be remiss if I didn’t also pass along a link one of my brothers shared: her receiving a lifetime achievement award at the National Book Awards in 2014:

The loss is real. But the books are there, waiting.

Gerrymandering Blues

Especially with the Virginia legislature elections this past November, I have been following what, if any, measures may be introduced to add more non-partisan redistricting to electoral districts. I’ve been happy to see the cheerfully wonky site FiveThirtyEight look into gerrymandering in general, but two recent pieces, both by Galen Druke. One is a reminder of what went down in Arizona when they tried to ensure that districts were competitive. The more recent entry is wondering if meeting all the goals of combating gerrymandering while being appropriately representative is an impossible task.


When Mickey’s Ears Perk Up

Copyright is always a topic of interest to writers and public domain in the United States is of added interest what with Congress’ tendency to extend copyright.

As it happens, a whole host of published works (films and books) are set to enter the public domain next year. Timothy Lee notes in an article for Ars Technica that, strangely, that might happen. (He also links to his excellent 2013 article on the same subject).

The Rotisserie Chicken Conspiracy

A common household dinner strategy of ours is to have roast chicken one night and chicken soup the following night.

This past weekend was an excellent weekend for soup.

But anyway, one thing has always puzzled us: why are raw, uncooked chickens more expensive than cooked, ready-to-eat chickens? Daniela Galarza over at exposes the grocery conspiracy.

Ikigai and What to Do Today (and Today and Today)

New years, like birthdays, are popular times to look at the year ahead and take stock at the year past, and I certainly join in as well.

One topic that’s come up with several friends and acquaintances both online and off for the past few weeks has been job satisfaction as well as what to do with one’s life.

My current main breadwinning gig, project and program management, has nothing to do with what I studied in school (technically). And while I have had iterations of this sort of job that have been fulfilling, I’ve had so many versions of it that aren’t fun that I have been honestly surprised at how fulfilling my current gig is.

Combine that with some miserable jobs working at what I’ve trained for and for which one is usually supposed to have unbridled passion (e.g. acting, writing, film, and assorted TV stuff) and I’ve often had some questions about that whole job satisfaction/life purpose thing.

So I was very excited when I came across the concept of “ikigai” in the past few years.

Ikigai, not dissimilar to “raison d’être” is most simply “a reason for being,” but you, like me, might have first seen ikigai explained via a Venn diagram like this:

Courtesy of a talented person at the Toronto Star

This, incidentally, is my favorite of many versions of the Venn diagram, because it manages to address some of the gaps I’ve found in jobs that are theoretically not my passion, but satisfying — as well as jobs that should totally be more in “dream job” territory that are none-the-less, unsatisfying.

I found this version of the diagram in this article by Laura Oliver. Her piece goes into greater detail about the origins of the term ikigai as well as some of the people studying ikigai and happiness in general. Spoiler alert: Kurosawa fans will find new resonance in the film Ikiru.

Speaking of studying happiness, job satisfaction, I would be remiss to not mention that reading up on ikigai has certainly complemented my reading of works such as Drive by Daniel Pink and Finding Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (you can also go into Flow or his more academic explorations of the concept).

Okay, so digressions that may add to your reading aside, back to some of my connections to ikigai.

From reading more about it and analyzing Venn diagrams like the one above, I finally had some answers regarding my satisfaction and dissatisfaction with both day jobs and dream jobs. For example, when I’ve been in a job that pays me and that people need, I’ve felt some emptiness, even if I’m good at it. And certainly I enjoy esoteric movie and sci-fi trivia, but possessing or exercising this knowledge doesn’t make one feel useful (outside of Wade Watts in Ready Player One).

From this reflection, I’ve come to a few personal conclusions that I’ll share in case they help in your own exploration of “ikigai” and your life’s purpose.

Finding a job that fits “Ikigai” is extraordinarily difficult and probably isn’t worth pursuing to the exclusion of all else.
For where I am now in my life, this is a big one. I have responsibilities outside myself as so many of us do, so I can’t pop off on an adventure like I conceivably could when I was younger.

That doesn’t mean I need to throw up my hands, lamenting my inability to emulate Bilbo Baggins or the heroes of countless bildungsroman. No, I can take action. I don’t want to wait. Never wait.

Life, as they say, is what happens when you’re making other plans. I want to enjoy some of that life while I’m alive. I’m a program manager, so I’ll be making plans regardless. This leads to:

Getting to “ikigai” may require more than a single job
Look at that Venn diagram above again. Do you have anything you like to do outside of work? Do you actually like spending time with your family? (Okay, maybe not the best question to ask some people who spent a lot of time with them during the holidays, but it stands).

The fact is that there’s plenty of stuff we love that isn’t in a job and that could be addressed in a hobby or activity. The most interesting people I meet at work do a lot of different things in their off hours (always a humbling reminder not to judge people by the one facet they show you in one arena).

Heck, I know many actors and creatives that engage in hobbies and activities outside of the creative work they do.

To me, this realization is liberating. I don’t have to find the perfect job. If I can find enough other things to do in addition to “the dayjob” that scratch the passion, mission, vocation, and profession itches, I’m good.

Not everything has to be monetized or professionalized
In our amped-up, hyper-entrepreneurial world, where everything you do is folded into your personal “brand” which must, of course, be a source of revenue and a core part of your definition as a “though leader” or some such thing.

Um, no. It could be that, in the land of the overabundant graduate degrees, it’s hard for people to define themselves as amateurs. It could be, in the age of the eternal side hustle, that people just puttering about various hobbies is deemed insufficient.

But I’m thinking it’s probably a good idea to have some things where you don’t try and be an expert — or even if you’re trying to gain expertise — you’re not depending on that expertise for a new revenue stream.

In other words, not only may ikigai require more than a single job, not all of those jobs need to be “jobs.” You are allowed to have fun sans monetary ROI.

I used a Dremel tool for the first time this weekend. Believe me, “Dremel tool craftsman” or “woodworking wizard” ain’t gonna be my job titles any time soon. Still, I’m sure glad I got the Dremel tool, look forward to learning to use it better, and am quite sure I’ll be budgeting some time to use it on many more weekends to come.

Percentages Matter
I suppose some people could deal with having a dayjob that is nothing more than a vocation or a profession. I find I need at least a little bit of passion to get through the day — though perhaps Daniel Pink would say I’ve simply found a profession or vocation where I can exercise enough autonomy and mastery to derive meaningful purpose. “The dayjob” remains important for me and, my guess is, a lot of us. It looms large both mentally and the amount of hours I spend on it each week.

Your job mileage may vary, but I’ve found I need to be very aware of how much I’m hitting my goals for passion, mission, profession, or vocation. If I’m feeling out of sorts, it’s usually because one of those itches isn’t being scratched or scratched enough. I guess this what people sometimes call “life-work” balance, but it’s more complex than just “life” and “work.” Home chores sure are work, on the one hand. Work can be full of joy and passion for another.

With that in mind, I doubt I’ll ever have “the answer.” I’ll forever be re-balancing things, both from external forces and my own needs. At least I feel like I have more of a framework to know how to adjust. How am I doing today? And tomorrow, that will be the same question… because it will then be today. And so on and so on. Oh, I’ll be mindful of my trajectory, but every day offers new opportunities for course corrections.

Have some thoughts you’d like to share about finding your life’s purpose or just tasting the strawberry on the journey? Comment below.

25 Years Ago, Today (In a Linear Existence)

25 years ago, Star Trek decided to go where the franchise had not gone before with Deep Space Nine.

Variety has a piece looking back at its creation and evolution… and has some pictures of the cast and crew at this part of this linear existence.

Some of you have already clicked on the link above. You know who you are.