Category Archives: About Writing

WRITING Quick Tip: The War of Art

Every writer, particularly any writer who struggles with procrastination, needs to read the first 100 pages of Steven Pressfield‘s The War of Art. Part 2 is skippable, and Part 3… really wasn’t my thing. But Part 1, those first 100 pages, are absolutely essential.

WRITING: Stop Pretending Art is Hard

So quit the bitching on your blog
And stop pretending art is hard.
Just limit yourself to three chords
And do not practice daily!

– Amanda Palmer, Ukelele Anthem [2012]

This lyric, one of my favourites, is clearly bullshit, yes? Art is hard, right?

I mean, really. Art is totally, mindbreakingly difficult. Except when it’s astonishingly easy. Creating your next masterpiece can be easy as breathing one day, then you can find yourself struggling just to do anything the next. Art is easy and art is hard.

The thing is, that’s not what Palmer is saying here. She’s not saying, “Art is easy.”

Take another look – do not practice daily, she says. Why? Why is Amanda Palmer, an internationally known musician, recommending you buy a $20 ukelele and barely learn to play it?

Because she’s saying, “Art doesn’t have to be hard, doesn’t have to be good, to be worth the effort.”

She’s saying, play the ukelele badly as long as you play it. Sketch terribly as long as you sketch. Write and sing and dance and play terribly, because the art isn’t the thing, sometimes. Sometimes doing the art, creating the art, is the thing. Don’t give a shit if what you’re creating is worthwhile, sometimes, because it’s the process of being creative that enriches you and awakens you.

Plus: You can’t do good art until you do bad art. Just like, if you’re learning a language, there will be a time where you are terrible at speaking that language. But you keep going because you know, if you keep going, that you’ll be fluent.

(Unless you’re a savant and instantly are perfect at something. In which case, do me a solid and pick something you’re capable of being bad at, here.)

Good art is hard. And it takes work, and effort, and time, and probably money if you’re really serious about it.

But bad are, mediocre art, who gives a fuck art? That’s also important, because it takes the pressure off. There’s no audience, no grand goal, no big intention. Just you, creating something because you want to.

Buy a ukelele. Write some fanfiction. Sing in the shower. Write awkward, misshapen poetry about your earliest memory. Sketch some passing visual fancy of yours. Take photos of trees and street signs and your lunch. Create. Because creation is inherently valuable, even if you don’t share it, even if you aren’t trying to make Great Art. Instead, take some time to experience art.

Trust me. It’s worth it.

WRITING: Love Your Writing

“The best thing about writing fiction is that moment where the story catches fire and comes to life on the page, and suddenly it all makes sense and you know what it’s about and why you’re doing it and what these people are saying and doing, and you get to feel like both the creator and the audience. Everything is suddenly both obvious and surprising (“but of course that’s why he was doing that, and that means that…”) and it’s magic and wonderful and strange.” – Neil Gaiman

One thing nobody says is that it’s okay to love your writing.

So, here goes: It’s okay to love your writing. Honestly. I mean that. Without disclaimer, you are allowed to love what you’ve created. Unabashedly and without downplaying it or peppering it “but”s.

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard the opposite: that it’s okay that you hate your writing. Don’t worry, they say, I hate my writing too. All real writers hate their writing, because their standards are too high and they’re artists and nothing’s ever perfect and– the list goes on and on. To the point, sometimes, where it feels like if you don’t hate your writing, then maybe you should.

Nobody will tell everyone else that it’s okay if you love your writing, and nobody – for fear of not being humble enough, for fear of being called out as not a real writer – will publicly say they love their own writing. It’s an extension of Imposter Syndrome: Everyone’s afraid that if they let on that they’re enjoying themselves, everyone will realise it’s not real work and take their writing away somehow.

So let me start: I love my writing, and it’s okay for you to love yours too.

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WRITING: Season Arcs and Season Formulae

Television has changed dramatically in the last 10-15 years. Not only the standard storytelling methods of the typical day-to-day procedurals, but the existence of the purely-serialised and partially-serialised series. Now, many shows don’t just have episodic arcs and formulae, but seasonal ones. The funny thing is, it’s in a way a longer form of what is done at the episodic level, with a seasonal formula repeating every season with new elements.

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WRITING: How I Develop Projects

Every writer has a different process for falling in love with a new story, character, world. For some it’s instant, like lightning; from the moment a character appears, they loom large, taking up all available space until the writer relents and digs in. For others it takes a catalyst. I bet some can choose which to fall for and when; I envy them.

For me, it’s about visualisation and music connecting me to character.

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TV: On Identification and HBO’s “Looking”

“You’re a pervert now. You gotta wear those colours with pride!”

I’ve watched the pilot for HBO’s Looking a few times now. Not because I planned to review it, or because I’ve watched it with other people, or out of particular fondness for a member of the cast.

I keep rewatching it because I identify with it, so much so that it’s forced me to reconsider my view of what it means to identify with a piece of fiction.

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SCRIPT SHOWCASE: The Good Wife 1×16, “Fleas”

It’s important for screenwriters to read pro scripts. TV, movies, webseries, the works. We have to see how they work. Not just the functions of the various formatting elements (slugline, action, parenthetical…) but the interplay of the language. The expression of a complicated idea in simple actions and dialogue.

Sometimes I want to share the love for a really good, well-written script. Right now, it’s the episode of The Good Wife that convinced me the show was truly something special.

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WRITING: On Bravery

Recently, a friend did something that I would never be able to do: she got up on stage and did stand-up comedy for the first time. Not only that, but she did another set only a week later, giving herself no room to retreat if the first didn’t go well.

And of course, she was great. I didn’t see her first performance, but her second was hilarious and unique, standing out from the crowd at its very foundations of tone and performance. Instead of the typical bonding with the audience in a chummy performance that was more about fighting anxiety than anything, my friend used anxiety as a performance, offering awkward silences, tentative readings and scrambling through note cards to double the effectiveness of the jokes. A risky idea that could backfire in a show aimed at showcasing newcomers – and yet it was a roaring success.

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CHECK OUT: The Compass Network

I’ve written about how I’d like to expand the script series model so that more training screenwriters can give it a shot. I’ve also been pretty clear that I love being part of a creative community, networking and learning from brilliant folks out there in the global Internet space.

This summer, I have, with the help of a pair of friends and colleagues, taken a big step towards all of these goals.

Check out The Compass Network, the online community we launched last month.

The culmination of a lot of years thinking about writer development, script series, networking and promotion for writers who aren’t in a place to prove themselves to Hollywood bigshots – or, alternately, aren’t in a place where training is easily accessed. I know MZPtv made me into the writer I am now, as much as Ryerson University did, and I’ve been thinking about how to pay that forward for ages. This is how I’m going to do it.

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NETWORKING: Keep in Touch

Networking is huge in screenwriting. Who you know can be the thing that launches your career. Chatting idly on Twitter can lead to your first big writing job. It did for me. So, it’s important to always be networking.

There’s a lot written about initiating new professional relationships, but just as absolutely crucial is maintaining them. It’s tempting, when not working on a project with someone, to let them slip out of view. To only get in contact when you have work to talk about. But this ignores a key to networking: that, by keeping in contact, even casually, you have more opportunities to create work with someone.

When someone has a new opportunity come up, pop them a one or two line email to congratulate them. Not because you want something, but to remind them that you are wishing them well. Friends in your field can easily slip out of your mind if you don’t bump into them for a few months, so keep an eye on your friends list every few weeks to see if there’s somebody you should message, just to say hi or grab coffee. Yes, there’s cynical reasons to do this – keeping yourself fresh in their mind in case opportunities come up – but it’s also just a strong way to remind people that they matter. Which isn’t just a networking skill, but a social skill – one that many people often forget about as their busy lives distract them. Don’t be the one who loses people to the sands of time. Keep in touch.