Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Pep Talk: Trust your potential.

Writers: Pep talk time.

‘Return of the Sporadic blogger!’ I know. I know. Autographs after the post. 
Why blog if you have nothing to say, and better yet, why blog when you should be writing? Which is exactly what I’ve been doing.

The reason for this post is, I spent some time analysing prolific writers and their lifestyles (not stalking, 'analysing'), and comparing them to innovative thinkers and people who brilliant in their fields.

Interestingly, these ‘successful’ people share a group of qualities. And one quality trumps the others.Some writers are night owls, others write in the day, some are methodical and slow, and some can type up a decent draft within a few days (Kevin Williamson, Scream 1).

What’s this got to do with being a brilliant writer?

Know thy self. Know what time works for you, know the place, the mood, even the mental state you have to be in, in order to write. With me for example, no matter what room I’m in, the door HAS to be shut and the blinds must be closed.
I need total isolation. Whatever works for you, do it. Do it without apology. If people don’t get it, screw them, because their opinion isn’t going to spend endless hours typing at the computer. No. That will be all you.
So grant yourself and your talent enough kindness to write on your terms. They mock you now but someday they’ll regret it... (evil laughter, anyone?)

Write what you love. This is a tangent from the infamous ‘Do what you love’. When a writer writes what they love, it shows. Everything in these scripts is somehow real, vibrant and human. The writer gives their best because they adore the characters they’re writing, or perhaps they want to explore a topic and do so, via the characters.

What I find with me is, there’s a hunger to finish the story. A race. Of course, if you’re not careful the project goes stagnant and you lose the race per se. But this never happens if you’re writing something you love. You experience a pull when you’re not writing, you gravitate back to Final Draft without reluctance, boredom and general apathy. It’s like magic.

So all you folks, if you’re writing something that costs you time, then please, write what you love. The end result will be far better than writing anything else. Passion is contagious.

Your script is similar to going to the park to play with your friends. You want to wake up in the morning saying ‘Hell yeah, I can’t wait to see them again!’
But if you’re waking up in the morning and saying, ‘urg, not again.’ That’s a bad sign. Unfortunately this seems to be a common occurrence amongst fellow writers, and in answer to that I’d say, give it a break until you remember why you loved it in the first place.

Trust your judgement.

This is a tricky one, because it’s about moderation. I’ve often been given advice from people I trust with my projects, and I’ve made rapid changes to the script. The second I hang up on those people and look at my script, it’s a stranger looking back at me. This is very bad. It shouldn’t happen. I’ve learned to wean out those who help you chisel at the clay of the script to enhance what you’re trying to express with it, versus those who instead impinge their message/style/version of your script on you.
Caring too much about what others think during early stages of the script, is dangerous.
What were you thinking when you started writing the script? What were you feeling? Where was it going? Go back to that. Always go back to the start if you’re afraid you’ve wondered off into the woods with no way out.
No one knows what you’re trying to say as intricately and as particularly as you do.
The trick is, choosing your friends & confidants wisely, and trusting their knowledge base, knowing their strengths and weaknesses and allowing them to know yours as a writer.

Also, let’s not forget, those words on the page are you. Those words, that style, that voice and that universe is all from your fantastic mind. And very often, the small quirks in a story and the thematic elements are what makes you the writer you are. Writing is essentially selling yourself/your product. It’s holding a mirror up to you. Why you? Why is your script different? What are you as an individual bringing to the table?
This is why, ultimately, you must trust your own judgement and stay true to what serves the story best. A good reader will call you on it, when you’re missing the mark. The same way going back to your script with fresh eyes and then comparing it to the logline you have will help.

‘Did I say what I set out to say?’

And then there's the most important quality...

Trust your potential.

This sentence is THE make it or break it one for me. It's so easy to lose faith, get tired, get dragged down into the mundane day-by-day reality, but when that happens, have heart. Trust your potential. If you don't have faith in yourself and your craft, how can anyone else?

If you're smart enough to create an entire world by rearranging a few words on paper, then you better be brave enough to see it through the best you can.

Successful people (by which I really mean people I admire, such as Steve Jobs, Seth Godin, Walt Disney, Henry Ford and many more) knew themselves, did what they loved without apology, and trusted their own potential.

Writers are barely acknowledged in the industry. It’s almost embarrassing. The only people who can change that are the writers of today and tomorrow. 

I'd hate to get all deep, but...Give the industry a reason to love us. Like BRILLIANT scripts, and exception, transcendent tales of human struggle, victory and loss etc.

My current rules are:

Have a presence. Don’t be an asshole. Have big plans. Makes changes now and never forget how much you love what you do.

It’s a long and winding road to being a brilliant writer, I’m not even half-way there. But the key is to start by making changes. Let your actions reveal who you are, let your work speak for you and let everyone else stand in awe...or vote to have you put into an asylum.

No, I will not include a poll for you guys to vote. 

Thank you for reading. I hope this motivated some, and perhaps even nudged a few of you to consider making small changes that will benefit your careers as writers.

Yours Re-writtenly,


Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Has your Idea got legs?

Has it really though?

When I hear people asking writers this question, it usually that suggests the idea is underdeveloped. However, when I hear writers asking me this question... it suggests they should run. Like hell.

Has it got legs? 

The idea is just an idea. The question is, have you, as the writer, got the will power and ‘legs’ to see it through? There is no such thing as a bad idea...

Okay, allow me to be more accurate. 

In the world of writing, there are very few bad ideas. Figuring out if your idea has legs requires a lot of back and forth between the writer and the idea. 
You need to figure out, whether your idea is enough for a film, a television series or a short? Or would it work better as a scene of something?

I have read a lot of scripts that are entertaining, despite having a very simple premise. Often, one bad idea launches an entire film, like when a family member suggests a road trip. We all know where this leads, yes we do. Or when that goon says, ‘come on, one last job. How hard can it be?’ And let’s be honest now, when you have pins and needles, but stubbornly believe you’ll make it down the stairs just fine...

My point is the writer is the only person who knows how much they are committed to their idea. How far are you willing to take the idea? Essentially, it’s a matter of finding how and where an idea works. 

All ideas can have legs; writers just have to dream them up.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Part 2: Why writers are like Superheroes

Writers: So you have a superpower, now what?

In part one I talked about those defining moments when discovery of your ability takes place. So, you SuperWrites, ScriptMan, RewriteWoman-esque superheroes, this post will discuss having the courage to use your ability, discovering your voice and what gives a superhero that staying power. Also, be warned, I’ll use superhero and writer interchangeably. Deal with it.

Where was I? Yes, I was staring at my very own Gotham from the horizon. I had come to understand this intrinsic need/impulse I possessed to write. The next step in a superhero’s journey is how to reconcile their new found ability with their existing lives. My instinctive response was, ‘I must quit my degree and everything that isn’t film or writing related and pursue this and this alone!!!’
Of course, this was a rookie mistake. Keeping your feet on the ground even though you’ve learnt to fly is at times, the utmost important thing a writer can do. You’ll know when you can quit your day job. You’ll know, because at that point you’ll have robots who will type up your script as you speak. I mean, think about it, did Clark Kent quit his day job? Hell to the NO! Did Peter Parker quit his? HELL TO THE NO. 

                                 "Hi, its Clark, I won't be in today, I'm not well *cough*"

I know this is far easier to say than do. I made all the rookie mistakes by not embracing balance: The balance of writing and juggling your daily life. I wanted to write completely. All the time. I wanted to escape from the ‘fake’ identity I had in reality. In fact, I did exactly this during my three year Psychology degree. It was at the end of my second year and just before my final year began, I took the summer and literally opted out of my daily life and wrote all the time. It was almost obsessive, I loved it. But it consumed me.  I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was, when upon emerging I discovered the people I considered to be my friends had moved on with their lives because I hadn’t made the effort to contact them and cancelled a few social events (yes, that’s all it took). This hurt big time. I had awoken to a reality where I’d lost five friends  with no hope of winning them back, but in hindsight, because they didn’t stick around made me realise they probably weren’t very good friends. Refreshingly, a few keepers did stick around. They understood. The problem was, I had become so consumed by the writing side of life, that I had completely let my responsibilities etc slide. At this point, I was to complete my final year of a degree I didn’t want to do. Final year counted as 80% of my overall grade. Writing that year seemed ludicrous. And once again, I stopped. Completely. And we all know where that leads...

So begun my darkest (and most-unsuperhero-y) phase, I accepted the chasm between writing and reality. Hollywood, publishing, films, and dreaming were a far cry from who I really was. And who I really was, was a third year student completing their final year, without the nerve to handle writing, my job and my degree. I finally reached an all time low. I had crashed and burned and yes, I hit rock bottom.

I was burnt out, and all of this was because I couldn’t balance writing with my degree, or my job or my responsibilities, and don’t even get me started on my social life. I was handing in the towel. I was a mess. I find it hard to believe how dejected I had actually gotten. I was ready to ... give up. Something I had never considered before. Something I had never believed to be possible, and I was doing it. I was giving up. Oddly, even while giving up I secretly hoped for a sign. I don’t know what kind of sign I was looking for.  
But I sure as hell found one.

 The very next day, I found myself having lunch with Paul Haggis, discussing writing and ideas. It was ridiculous. It was preposterous. It was, in my mind at least, a screaming, dancing, yelling sign that writing was the path for me and I had to continue.

Seeing the world anew, I began writing, reading and researching scriptwriting more and more, in hopes of teaching myself the craft I had been learning at a sluggish pace previously. I was on fire. This time however, I was wary of my knack for diving in and burning out. So instead of thinking about the rules, the dos and the don’ts, I began doing them. I made changes, some dramatic some small. I applied to do the MA in TV Scriptwriting, I’ve been working as a freelance copywriter, I’ve been creating detailed pitches for all the TV pilots and features I will write. I’m even writing a novel, and have an animated short in production. I’m essentially a Ninja-Me today. I’m not a success story yet, but I am turning it around.

These are the changes I made:

I identified my VOICE.

Everyone has it. I believe it alters slightly depending on what genre a writer is writing, but all the same, every writer has a voice. They have something to say and a way of saying it.
Know your voice. And if you don’t know it, then read through everything you’ve ever written and ask yourself what it’s about, what does each piece of writing convey? What themes recur? Within those pages is your voice.

A quote that I reread when I lose track of this ‘voice’, or I lose track of what the project is about:

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free”- Michael Angelo.
All writing is a work in progress. At times it won’t make sense to you, you know there’s something you want to say, but you just can’t put your finger on it. Don’t commiserate. The voice, the heart of your story is spread within the words you’ve written. It’s in there. Sometimes, this means to stop obsessing, and then return to your project with fresh eyes and read through it. Think about why you wanted to write this idea in the first place, what’s within this idea that compels you to write it?


This is something it has taken me months to develop. I dared myself to write every single day. Length of what you write doesn’t matter. It’s the quality of what you write. I would often struggle because sometimes, I just wasn’t in the mood to write a suspenseful horror. How did I tackle this? I simply began other projects, after creating detailed pitches and outlines. I now have projects in a variety of genres so I’m never bored. I’m never ‘not in the mood’ to write. Even if I write three paragraphs, I’m happy. As long as I do some writing every day. At times, I do just one paragraph of a project, other days I do three different projects for hours on end. The key is to do. It is so easy to delay, but thinking about writing won’t get your projects ready for competitions, producers or agents. They all want people who have completed work, a portfolio of sorts.

Thinking isn’t doing. Doing is doing.

Michelle Lipton (@michellelipton, ), an award winning writer who is currently writing for Hollyoaks, recently paid us a visit on the MA degree. She said a couple of things that really bring the point home.

  1.       Don’t leave the desk
  2.        Writer’s block isn’t an option

Point 1 is simple. It’s from the ‘finish what you start’ school of thought. Once you sit down to write, yes, you happen to notice the window sill needs a clean, while you’re at it turning on the television won’t hurt... Don’t. Stay put. Only get up for toilet breaks, coffee/tea/food top ups and if a krispy kreme’s salesman is at the door.

Point 2 is controversial between writers, but as far as I’m concerned, writer’s block doesn’t even exist. If you’re a writer, you will write. It may not be the project you want to or need to write, but you will. If you’re a writer with a deadline, you will write and you will finish. In the world of soap-writing there’s no room for writer’s block. Its a fast-paced environment where you’re working on future episodes while baring in mind what’s currently on air, while receiving notes for your last script while writing a new script. Yes. It’s insane. (Kudos to Michelle and the other soap writers out there!)

This is the kind of environment a writer needs to train themselves to write in. I’m not saying become a soap writer, not at all. What I’m saying is, the skills, the determination and bullet-proof imagination needed for soap-writing reflect what, in my opinion, real writers are. Endlessly creative, adaptable and hard-working.

By being hard on yourself and defenestrating the concept of ‘writer’s block’, you’ll soon find you’re making progress and the more you exercise the imagination muscle, the stronger it gets. Everyone knows their limits when it comes to pushing themselves, but sometimes it’s healthy to push those limits ever so slightly, just give them a nudge and see what you may be capable of.

Disclaimer: I take no responsibility for nervous breakdowns that will occur as a result of the above statement.

Perhaps I’m cocky, perhaps I’m naive, but when people say ‘don’t be too hard on yourself’, I think, ‘STOP UNDERESTIMATING ME’, and I hammer on. This could also be due to the next key issue...

Time Management

This is the one thing I have found most difficult, being all or nothing is hardly constructive. I've been changing my habits as a writer. But oddly, time management happens to be the hardest thing for a writer to nail, all that managing of your time, making time, keeping time, working to deadlines etc, its hardcore. The key here is the more you write, the faster and more efficient you become as a writer. 

Write every day. It doesn’t matter what you write. But write every day. I have a folder full of ‘writer-bursts’, which are pages filled with fiction, nonsense and some cool ideas. Things I’ve just written to exercise my writing skills and imagination muscle (NOTE: Imagination isn’t actually a muscle, but you know what I mean) even when I wasn't in the 'mood' to write.

Time is the one thing you never get back. It is something I’m almost obsessive about. So much time is wasted and it’s in fact the most expensive thing in life. I organise my time rigidly, so I can do the whole live, laugh, love etc malarkey AND (hopefully) build a career as a writer.
Time is like money, you can spend it, you can invest it, but you will never get it back. I live by this rule. Think of making time to write as an investment in your soon-to-be career. Manage your time carefully. Networking is important, but be careful not to substitute networking with being a social butterfly/seeking social validation and socialising with writers all the time. 

Writers who aren’t writing aren’t writers.

I’m not saying go live in a cave where only the ocean speaks to you and stuff, not at all. But prioritise.

I don’t attend weekly drinks etc, I don’t even attend monthly drinks. But I do make time to rest and catch up with dear friends and family, I use it as a reward system. When I'm happy and keeping deadlines, I can make time to catch up and unwind. The key in time management is balance and discipline.

The company you keep

Be around people who know what they are talking about regarding the industry, and be around people who are supportive and constructive. A lot of writers are afraid to try new formats etc. Sometimes you might think you lack the know-how and confidence to write a certain way. Hold on a second... you’re a writer. Of course you can write. You can write whatever the hell you want, in any format you want. Yes, you’ll make mistakes. That’s the process. That’s how you learn. However, you'd be surprised how many writers don't switch format or experiment out of fear, fear they have developed as a result of getting little support from those around them. If I announce I'm writing a new format, my mother gets all 'here you go again, starting something new' and assumes I'm some commitophobic. How do you tackle people like that? You finish what you start then flaunt it (so mature, I know). 

I have some very good friends, who are honest when they don’t like something in my writing or they think something doesn’t work, and they’re open to discussing it. Its constructive and helpful. As the writer, who has rehearsed the idea hundreds of times in your own head, you think on paper it’s blatantly clear. That isn’t always the case. We’re privy to more information than our readers, and at times this is why we fail to execute a certain scene etc. This is where friends, readers and editors come in.  It is important to sample writing for different formats, even if you’ve decided to stick to one. You can learn so much, and it will only help your craft and increase your opportunities. I make it a point to befriend writers who actually disappear to write. For me, that’s a sign of a good writer. It demonstrates a writer with work-ethic. Good habits, like bad habits rub off on people.

Batman doesn’t roll with criminals and Superman doesn’t play singstar with Zod. So many superhero tales are about the individual stepping up and taking responsibility for their ability, and what it means for them, their life and the people around them. Writers should do the same (look at me, preaching. Pfft...)

The importance of Persistence

This is my concluding point. It’s the one piece of advice that has kept me going.  The key piece of advice Paul Haggis gave me was, ‘Just keep writing.’

Keep writing

It sounds so simple, it sounds so obvious... but in reality, it’s so easy to be faint hearted and give up after one, two, twenty rejections. It is so easy to stop, that it’s almost... too easy. Easy isn’t the path I chose when I decided to be a writer: a career with a ridiculously unstable income and insanely complex path to success. You need to be persistent. You need to keep writing. When you get lost along the way, you need to have the courage to make your way back.

Always keep writing.

For me, writing is a way of life. Just as superheroes have abilities, writers have purpose. Where superheroes have villains, writers have obstacles.  If you can harness the five things I have mentioned, sooner or later, you’re gonna make it. It isn’t a matter of ‘if’, it becomes a matter of ‘when’.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Why Writers are like Superheroes

Warning: Long sentences ahead, proceed with caution.

Dear blogosphere,

Where have I been? Well. I’ll get to that... eventually. This is the first of a two part post about writers, our superpowers and how I'm learning to master mine. 

First, let me tell you about the superpower writers have. Think of it as teleporting meets The Sims. You can literally think yourself away and create a whole new world. This makes us lucky as heck, no matter how ‘boring’ something is, we can secretly be elsewhere. When your mother discusses the dishwasher’s latest antics, or when a friend tells you how hard her life is because the hairdresser got her hairstyle wrong. Yep, imagine a talking Llama and ride off into the sunset to wherever you please.

Now, the catch. There’s always a catch.  
Possessing the ability and intention to write is indeed a weapon, its a force to be reckoned with. The old ‘the sword is mightier than the pen-’ No, wait... ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’ that’s right.
So now what? You want to write. You love the sight of blank pages. Writing grabs you by your heart and guides you by your imagination through a wonderful abyss of possibilities, at the end of which you hope to have concocted a semi-decent story. You know this, but...seriously, what do you do next?
I think of this moment as the introductory events in a Superhero’s story. This is where Bruce falls down the well and is afraid of bats. This is where Peter Parker enters the facility, unawares of the spider at this point. 

This is how it begins...

A writer and their writing, is no different to a superhero and their superpower.
When I was a child, I was a somewhat haunted soul, constantly having nightmares and being adamant there were monsters under the bed-well, in my case, it was killer puppets. I made the mistake of watching The Puppet Master very young. Yes. YES. I KNOW NOW IT WAS A BAD IDEA. I then went on to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street... (Mom, if you’re reading this. You were right. I should’ve gone to bed.)
Anyhow, despite having nightmares I was an annoyingly upbeat child and very quickly I started to see the fun side of having an imagination.  The adventures Sinbad was having in a vast ocean against the crazy juggernaut monster never failed to entertain me...which in reality was my bathroom sink filled with water, a floating empty matchbox that had been converted into a boat and an action figure in the sink trying to make it back to said boat.
 I adored it. I marvelled at it. And I truly loved it, with all the affection and joy a gleeful child could muster (and I still do). My imagination was my kingdom, it was my strength. Better than that, it was my secret.
Being writers, I’m sure you’ve all had similar moment. It’s like Spiderman discovering his abilities after being bitten, or Superman learning he’s impenetrable to bullets and that’s why he’ll never quite fit in (oh, and he’s an alien, yeah...).

 Then came the teens, here I did some cringeworthy stuff. I’m talking obsessing over Charmed, I’m talking music videos, I’m talking song writing, and yes... I’m talking poetry. I was learning. I was picking, choosing and experimenting with all forms of writing.  Again, not dissimilar to a superhero who tries to harness his ability: Spiderman falling off walls, not quite making his leaps, or Superman throwing that football a bit too far, or losing his temper and tying a lamppost into the shape of a ribbon...I tied my fair share of imaginary lamp posts into ribbons, I still do.

 For me, writing was something that simply was not allowed as a career. It shouldn’t have been an option. It wasn’t ‘sensible’ as the grownups around me put it when I was a teen. Being the wallflower rebel I was, I continued to write in secret. I created aliases online under which I wrote. No matter what I was studying at school, then college, I was writing in secret. By day I was your fast-talking, mild-mannered student, by night I was a writer. No one knew about it. Not even my friends. Writing became my self-soother. It was my go-to activity.
 Whatever the situation, I could simply escape by creating magic with elements derived from conflicts I was having in reality, or the world around me. I could take the bad, the good and the confusing and shove it onto paper and BHAM. Magic. And I still got a kick out of it.

During my late teens and very early twenties, it was becoming apparent that I couldn’t continue to have these two identities. The person who was sensible, going into a career with stable income and being passionate about their studies etc, jarred against the person I was. The writer-in-secret. 

 It doesn’t sound too dramatic when I put it on paper, but let me put it like this. During my childhood we were living in poverty, and it was through relentless hardwork my mother pulled us up and out of hell and into a better place. Coming from a background like that, it’s almost unheard of for someone to turn around and say ‘who needs money, I wanna write.’ If my child said this to me, I’d be certain there was something wrong with them, I mean, hello, had they not seen the life they had as a child? What they need is a stable income so they can hope to lead a comfortable life, because poverty ruins things.
 Somehow, I had seen bad times and still saw the grace and beauty in the world. Something I conveyed within writing. Ricocheting from the conflict of being two different people, I regressed further into my ‘secret identity’ per se. It’s safe to say, I found myself addicted to writing fiction. So much so, that being a writer had become the very heart of me. Think, Spiderman becomes Venom, Superman becomes Bizzarro. I was at my worst, I had pushed everyone away and I wrote. Obsessively. One day, the chasm between who I was and who I was pretending to be grew so large that it was time to pick a side. Give in to society or step the hell up. I opted for the writing route. This caused sensational wars within the house. You’d think I announced I was going to be a mango farmer in Antarctica.

 This was the beginning of my redemption phase. This was the moment Superman mastered the art of flying.
The idea was great, the freedom of not having to deny myself the right to write, it was fantastic... What came next was a letdown to me and my family, who had no choice but to become reluctant supporters. I made the grave mistake of focusing my superpower at the wrong thing. I focused my writing prowess on writing fanfiction, my justification was crap: I was studying fulltime and working two jobs, this was the easiest way to write and feel the reward. I may have gotten thousands of hits, I may have really enjoyed it, but the truth was I had chickened out at the idea of being me. I liked the idea, but I didn’t want to make the sacrifices it would take. Seeing I was stuck per se, friends and family began helping me in their own way by talking me into the idea of working in a Psychology based job. Perhaps Clinical Psychology, or research. I stupidly agreed to consider it. The writing was on pause, while I dealt with the minor problem of reality.

 And once again, I found myself growing miserable, dissatisfied, more antisocial (than usual) and frustrated. Perhaps it was this inability to feel sad, or ungrateful about life that pushed me to begin pulling my socks up.
I deleted all my online writing, deleted all my music videos and found myself staring at a blank word document for the first time, facing my canvass which no longer had the cover of existing television shows to hide behind. I now lurked on the horizon of my very own Gotham or Metropolis. It was time to discover my voice...

Part Two will be up later this week, in which I discuss voice, self-doubt, bizarre twists of fate, taking responsibility for your talent as a writer, and where the hell I've actually been...