Category Archives: Writing

Farewell, 2014

It’s been a weird year. To be honest, every time I try to think of something exciting that happened this year, I almost invariably think of something that happened in 2013.

That’s not all true. I’ve had some amazing, exciting experiences. Inhuman Condition got funded by the Independent Production Fund! I had my first professional pitch! I was a Teaching Assistant at York University, and through that got my first taste of teaching! In the Spring, I helped run a panel on webseries with other York grad students! Plus, this year I finished a script I’m really proud of (More), as well as taking on more screenwriting work and cementing myself as a working screenwriter. I also dug back into fanfiction, a hobby I left behind when I was a teenager, which is nice because I’ve felt disingenuous defending it for years without writing it myself. So this year has definitely had bright spots.

But really, it’s been a year of waiting. Waiting for my thesis idea to finally click (it took until September, after a wasted summer lingering on something that wasn’t working). Waiting to see if Inhuman Condition would get funded (it did!), then waiting to get back to working on it (now). Waiting to hear back from fellowships that I knew I wouldn’t get (I knew I had weak, rushed samples), from contests I wasn’t going to place in. Even when I’m working, I’m waiting on something else. I think I’m restless. It doesn’t help that the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket.

Next year is going to be amazing. Part of why this year was so underwhelming is that I’ve spent all year prepping things that are going to really kick off next year. Inhuman Condition, of course, but also a handful of other projects with heartening developments. If half of what I’m working on goes, 2015 will blow my mind.

Of course, it’s so typical of me to judge a year by professional milestones instead of happiness, because – in terms of sources of joy, this year, I’ve had a few. I’ve met some awesome friends, gone out for social beers more often than I have in years, spent a lot of time with family – and saw my awesome oldest sister, who lives in Newfoundland, for the first time in two years! I joined Tumblr (and in doing so rejoined fandom), and even though it’s terrifying, it’s also one of the warmest communities I’ve ever spent time in, give or take political infighting and unnecessary drama. And the books! After years of barely touching the things, this year I read a whacking 56 books, and enjoyed most of them. At the macro 2014 has been a bit of a lame duck for me, but at the day-to-day level, I’ve had some pretty great days.

So all in all, 2014… I didn’t love you, but there were bright spots and happy threads. I’m proud of some of the things I accomplished, I had a lot of fun even though there were extended stretches of dull grey.

I think I’m ready for 2015. Onwards!

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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: @YouAreCarrying Literary Improv, Chapter 1

I’m pretty charmed by @YouAreCarrying, a Twitter bot that will give you a text-game style inventory if you tweet the word inventory at it. It’s like an insta-prompt, and it always gets my brain buzzing with creativity.

So, as a creative experiment, I’m going to try and write a story based on what the bot gives me, with each ‘chapter’ using the given inventory. Why not have a little fun? Think of it as literary improv…

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WRITING: Execution is What Counts

Greatness lies in more than an idea.

Even legally, what’s protected is the execution. Because therein lies the soul.

If you gave the same logline to seven great writers and asked them to turn it into a script, you would likely get seven brilliant scripts – all vastly different from one another in tone, theme, pacing and even content. They could probably all turn around and sell their scripts without fear, because they would be that different.

We, as writers, each have a unique perspective. Which means that though an underlying idea is great, it’s not your meal ticket. Your golden spec idea? There are at least five people out there who have had the exact same idea. Three of them have written it. Two have pitched it – one’s gotten turned down and the other’s circling the drain in development hell. But you don’t realise that you’re not a singular genius because none of the others have hit the market.

And that’s with the most unique idea you might encounter.

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WRITING: Playing With Prose

The moment I found screenwriting (I was fifteen), I happily crossed out  ‘novelist’ as a potential career path. For most of my childhood, I’d eyed it with trepidation: I knew from a young age I wanted to write for a living and it was the closest thing I could see to a dream career, but at the same time I’d had no lust for that form of writing – even as I loved books. Something about it didn’t appeal to me. I’d rant about how literary fiction spent time ‘describing the curtains’, my shorthand for the indulgences that bored me about the books I found too dry. And the life of writing manuscripts and getting rejected over and over sounded exhausting.

Later on I’d hear the same about screenwriting and be energised by it, which is one odd element of my personality I’ll never quite understand. But that’s a different topic.

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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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WRITING: Achievement Unlocked! Third Feature Drafted!

Last night (or more accurately, 7am this morning) I completed the first draft of my third feature script, More. Something I’ve learned that has been consistent with every one of those three scripts: an utter exhilaration upon completing that first draft. It’s like nothing else in the process, really; the outline always feels incomplete, and any draft after the first will never, ever feel final. I hear that even with shooting drafts, as films are revised and changed even in the editing room. What’s the saying – art is never finished, just taken out of our hands? So the first draft finish line, to me, is my favourite part of the whole process.

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ABOUT THE BLOG: An Update and a Few Thoughts

The Diversionist has become that most hoary and yet consistent of blog cliches: once the writer’s beloved home base and regular publication, only to devolve into a quiet hole where the only posts are the occasional apology for the ongoing silence. In the past three months I’ve posted a grand total of twice, a shameful record.

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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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