Writing Tip of the Week: Setting Writing Deadlines

Deadlines.  We have them at work, and our kids have them for school projects, and the government gives us one to pay our taxes.  Having a set, definite date to aim for with something major can be a great motivator for getting things done.

But are you setting deadlines for your writing?

Even if you’re not planning to publish or send your work to contest, giving yourself a deadline can be a great way to get things in gear and get the writing done.  This milestone can be a moment of celebration and excitement; the novel is done, and I can move forward with my next writing project.

Some people may prefer not to have deadlines.  They allow the Muse to decide when they write and when the project is done.  That’s all well and good.  However, if you want to write a lot and get a lot done and off your To-Do List, I recommend creating deadlines for your projects.

Here are some things to consider when setting deadlines.

Be Reasonable

If you are working on your first novel, setting a deadline of one month maybe a little too intense (unless you’re into that sort of high-octane writing thrill).  Creating a reasonable deadline that is manageable but not ridiculous is the key to making the deadline work.

Maybe you plan to have a six-month deadline for your first novel.  Then once you’ve seen what you can do with six months, shave a month off for the next one.  

I’m sure you’ve seen stories and videos of people who wrote a screenplay in 48 hours or a novel in two weeks, and if you want to aim for that as a personal goal, go for it.  But if you have a day job, kids, a family, and other obligations don’t add to your plate writing a 65,000-word novel in a month.

No one wins in that scenario.

Write It Down

It may sound silly, but writing a deadline down in a notebook, a journal, on a calendar, or on a whiteboard where you can see it as a reminder is useful to keep you mindful of the chosen deadline date.

It is better to have it written down than to make a mental note and forget it.  

You can also use this as a way to mark smaller milestones on your way to the big deadline by establishing smaller goals in the larger timeline. If your goal is to write a first draft of your novel in six months, breakdown ideally where you want to be in the process at the end of months 1, 3, and 5. Fragmenting the larger goal can help make it less daunting.

Beat the Clock

Let’s say you set a deadline of three months to write a play.  Can you finish a day early?  A week early?  Giving yourself personal competition can be a great motivator.  It always feels good to get something done before it’s due, and this is one way to see how much faster you can get the project done before your stated deadline.

Reward Yourself

You finished the novel early!  You did it!  Give yourself time for a reward.  It can be going to a movie, buying a book you wanted, or getting dinner out.  This is another great way to incentivize yourself to set and keep your writing deadlines.

In our world of instant gratification, delaying getting what you want by completing a major writing task first can make receiving that reward all the better.

Stay Positive

Life happens.  If your deadline has to change or you miss it by a week or two, it’s okay.  Keep going and still work to get the project done.  The key is the complete the project.  While the deadline is nice to have, if things prevent you from writing, sometimes there’s not much you can do.

Stay persistent and keep writing.

Have Fun

Writing should be fun, and getting a writing project done should also be a fun process.  Remember that you want to get this novel done to move on to the next one.

Give yourself permission to enjoy the process and the creative aspects of the writing.  You’ll be grateful that you did.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you in two weeks!

Writing Tip of the Week: Facing the Ominous Blank Page

Happy 2022, everyone!  I’m sure by now you’ve planned out your writing goals for the new year, but sometimes the most challenging part of digging into those goals is facing the ominous and foreboding blank page.  Whether on your laptop with a blinking cursor, or a pad of lined paper, the blank page is something all writers face, from newbies to seasoned vets.

So, how do you break through the intimidation factor that can occur when staring into the blank abyss?

Fact: The Blank Page is Inevitable

The blank page will always be an ever-present factor in your writing life.  It can’t hurt you.  It can’t harm you.  It can’t do anything but sit there and quietly taunt you.  

Don’t let it win!

You can’t learn to swim unless you get in the water, and you can’t ride a bike without getting on one.  And you can’t conquer the blank page without adding words and conquering its blankness.

Here are a couple ways to defeat it.

Write Anything

Conquer your fear by jumping into the blank page by writing whatever pops into your head.  It can be relevant to your story, but the trick is to eliminate the blankness by adding words to the canvas.  

Write a poem.  Write a thank-you note.  Write a logline.  Just write something to get the words on the page.

Write Down Questions

Your story has a lot of elements.  If you’re having a hard time diving into the meat and potatoes of the writing, write down questions related to your story, characters, setting, etc.  This will break up the blank page and give you story-specific things to think about as you begin your writing process.

Don’t Start at the Start

At this stage, there’s no need to begin your writing project at the beginning.  What chapter, scene, or sequence gets you excited about the project?  Is there a character’s description that intrigues you most?

Why not start there?

It’s all part of the same project, and if writing that piece gets the words flowing, then that’s the best place to start.

Remember, you can always go back and write the beginning later.

This year, fight the good by dominating and defeating the evil and dastardly blank page.  Your creativity is counting on you!

Happy New Year, and I’ll see you in two weeks!

Writing Tip of the Week: Setting your 2022 Writing Goals – Part Two

Last time, we kicked off the final month of 2021 by exploring ways to set new writing goals in 2022.  Below are a few more ideas to get your head in the game this coming year.

Always Be Thinking

We are surrounded by people, places, and events that have the possibility of inspiring and evolving into stories.  As you go about your day, observe and later write down what you experienced that was noteworthy.  Did something happen to you at work or school that could be the basis of a storyline?  Did your kid say something funny that would work great in a script?

By being aware of the real world around us, we can create stronger and more grounded stories.   

Work To Write Every Day

To write more, write better, and write longer, you need to make it a habitual ritual in your daily routine.  Whether it’s for 30 minutes, an hour, or two hours, work to fit time into your daily schedule to write.  Even if you write about your day, an experience you had, or on your big writing project, you are still working to develop your skills as a writer.

Numerous websites offer hundreds of writing prompts that can help you focus on what to write if you need assistance.  The key is to commit to writing every day and stick to it.  With each daily writing session, you’ll be amazed at how your writing skills grow.

Here’s a link to an article featuring 100 creative writing prompts from Writer’s Digest.

Have Side Projects Just In Case

I always like to have another writing project or two on the side if I hit a brick wall with my current project.  The solution should never be closing the laptop and skimming through YouTube videos on your phone.  A more productive way to deal with this issue is to have another project you can focus on.

I prefer that the second project is in a different genre and even another medium.  For example, if I’m writing a novel that’s action-adventure, I’ll have a play that’s a comedy to work on as well.  This gives your brain a rest and can actually help you subconsciously resolve issues you’re having with the primary project as you work on the secondary one.

Stay Positive

You’re going to have tough writing days. You’re going to get writers’ block of some kind. You’re going to have personal things pop up that distract you.  But when you’re at the desk, the table, or wherever you write, you have to have a positive mindset.  You will get the writing done.  You will get something on the page.  Even if it’s not quality work, it; ’s still work you completed and can fix later.

Don’t get discouraged with the process.  If you have issues with a story, step back and figure out why.  Write down why you think the story or a character isn’t working (that still counts as writing).  

The key is to not allow negative self-talk and other internal forces to win the creative war.  Push yourself through the blocks, the doubt, and the problems, and you will come out the other side with work you can be proud of.

Stay Focused

It’s hard in 2021 – and soon 2022 – to disappear from the world and just focus on your writing.  It can be hard to shut the world out and focus with social media, the news, COVID, family, friends, work, and doom and gloom seemingly lurking around every corner.

I recommend finding a chaos-free zone where you have your phone off, your wi-fi off, and as few external distractions as possible when you sit down to write.  You can fact-check your story later if you need to.

This is your time to escape the real world and live in your fictional universe with your characters and story.  I can guarantee that you will not miss world peace being achieved or a cure for all illnesses being discovered while you’re hunkered down writing.

Give yourself the permission and the time to focus, and you will be glad you did.

Have Fun!

This is the most essential aspect of writing.  You have to have fun with it. You’re not writing 500-word essays for your high school literature class; you’re writing a novel, a screenplay, a play, short stories, poems, or non-fiction.  This is the fun stuff.  Enjoy the creative ride.

I believe that the passion, excitement, and joy you have while writing translates off the page to the reader or viewer.  Creative writing shouldn’t be a torturous affair; it should be fun, invigorating, energizing.  

While there is plenty of hard work involved, it’s work that should be approached from a positive place, not one of dread or resentment.  Go into each writing session open-minded, ready to write, and have a good time.

I hope these tips help you plan out your writing goals for 2022.  I know that I will make a concerted effort to write every day, complete multiple projects, and stay focused on creating fun, positive, creative writing experiences each time I start a new writing session.

Happy New Year, Happy Writing, and I’ll be back with more articles in 2022!

Writing Tip of the Week: Setting your 2022 Writing Goals – Part One

I know. These are usually the articles that pop up in January of 2022. Still, I thought I’d get a head start and allow you to start thinking about your writing goals for the new year.  Whether you have big writing goals or small, having a basic idea of what you want to do can help you achieve your goals over the next 365 days.

To reach those milestones with your writing, here are some tips to get you thinking and headed in the right direction.

Set Reasonable Writing Goals

Having a big goal is great. Write that novel.  Write that screenplay. Finish that play you outlined a couple years ago.  But diving in head-first into a project as big and complex as a novel or a screenplay can be daunting, even for the most seasoned writer.  

You can accomplish any of these major writing projects, but create reasonable goals for yourself to achieve them.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told myself I’m going to sit down over a weekend and hammer out the second act of a script, only to be so overwhelmed with the monumental task that I avoid it at all costs.

I suggest that you start small.  A chapter a day.  A scene a day.  If you feel you can do more, then do it.  Just keep the tasks small and manageable, and you will see that as you write, the work will grow into that novel or script you want to write.

Set Reasonable Writing Deadlines

Most of us have 9-to-5 jobs, go to school, have families, or have other obligations that prevent us from writing all day long. It’s important not to add to any stress in your life by stacking the deck against yourself in the creative realm by imposing unrealistic deadlines on your writing projects. 

If you have a big writing project in mind, set your deadline for a rough draft four to six months down the road.  Then work to write every day – using reasonable goals – and work toward completing the draft by that set deadline.

You may find that having a deadline creates a sense of urgency in your brain where you feel the need to get it done.  And, if you have been writing regularly, you should feel a need to meet the deadline out of an obligation to not only the project but also yourself.

There’s something satisfying about getting to the end of a story, even a rough draft.  Even though it is the first of several drafts, you now have a draft to work from and make better.  

Think about your life and what you have going on, then set a reasonable deadline for completing your writing project that best suits your situation.

Word Count vs. Page Count vs. Time Goals

Should you write 1,000 words a day?  Ten pages a day?  Two hours a day? It’s a conundrum that writers and writing books have debated.  What works best and makes you most productive?

I prefer setting Time Goals.  This gives you a set amount of time to sit down and write.  Start the times.  When it dings, you can decide to keep going or stop; your writing obligation has been met for the day.

With a Time Goal, you also aren’t tied down to a specific word count or page count. This can add unneeded stress to your writing day, especially if you’re having a tough time creatively that session.  Your goal was to sit and write for an hour, and you did it.  Whether you squeezed out 500 words or slammed out 10,000, you have met your writing goal for the day.

Which reminds me…

Accept That Some Days Will Be Tougher Than Others

Everyone has bad days, and everyone has distractions.  And not every writing session will feel like you’ve brought your A-game.  But you must make the time and do the work because you can always go back and edit and rewrite later whatever you felt was less than stellar work.  

It’s also essential to know that it’s okay to have bad days.  Out of 365 writing days, at least a handful will be duds.  But you have to shrug it off and keep going each day to reach your writing goals and deadlines. 

Even the greatest Olympian has rough training days. It’s okay for you to have them, too.

Prep Prep Prep

Preparation.  If you’re writing a novel, screenplay, or play, it’s important to go in with a game plan.  Know your story, characters, and the key moments of your story’s beginning, middle, and end.  This prep work will save you time and headaches along the writing journey.  

Prepping can be part of your writing day since you are doing the work needed to get your story off the ground and moving forward.  The last thing you want to do is jump into an idea without any direction and watch it fizzle out by page twenty.

Take the time, do the prep work, and help yourself and your creativity breathe easier.

Start thinking about your writing goals for 2022.  Happy Writing, and I’ll see you in two weeks with the rest of my 2022 Writing Tips!

Book Review Tuesday: Caddyshack – The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story by Chris Nashawaty

Easily one of the funniest and most quoted comedies of the 20th century, Caddyshack was a sleeper whose production was plagued with problems from the outset.  This amazingly insightful book, Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story by Chris Nashawaty, gives fans an inside look at what went on before, during, and after the cameras rolled on what is easily the greatest golf comedy ever made.  

Check out my brief review below, then check out the book!

An excellent and insightful read for anyone who’s a fan of Caddyshack, I decided to read this in honor of the film’s 40th anniversary this year (2020). It’s hard to believe that 1980 was the year of Caddyshack, Airplane!, The Blues Brothers, 9 to 5, The Shining, and The Empire Strikes Back. What a year for future classic movies!

I highly recommend this book!

What’s your favorite quote or scene from Caddyshack?  Favorite movie of the 1980s?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Book Review Tuesday: Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow

Who doesn’t love a good legal thriller? Author Scott Turow’s first novel, Presumed Innocent, is definitely worth reading, and makes me want to read more of his works. Below is my review:

A fast-paced, suspenseful, and engaging legal thriller, Presumed Innocent hooks you from the start and doesn’t let go until the final pages have been read. I was mesmerized by author Scott Turow’s ability to turn what could have been rote courtroom procedure into page-turning, edge-of-your-chair drama that kept me wanting to know how things would conclude.

I knew of Turow from watching the Apple TV+ series, Defending Jacob, adapted from his novel of the same title. 

I just discovered that Presumed Innocent was also adapted into a film in 1990 starring Harrison Ford. While I will be checking out the film adaptation next, I highly recommend reading the novel first. It is an excellent and gripping read.

What’s your favorite Scott Turow novel? Have you watched Defending Jacob? Leave and comment and let me know!

Writing Tip of the Week: Crafting Character Emotions

Emotions.  We all have them and use them.  Whether positive or negative emotions, human beings utilize these traits to convey a wide range of feelings to others.  As real people, we have a lifetime to analyze, discover, and change our emotional responses to situations caused by internal and external forces.  

With fictional characters, however, this becomes more of a challenge.  You only have a certain number of script pages or novel chapters to provide the audience with fully realized and dimensional characters with whom they will share the story’s journey.  But how do you tap into the emotional center of a fictional being? How do you make them relatable, empathetic, and capable of change?

Let’s talk about it.

Why Emotions?

Emotions help ground your characters in reality and make them relatable to the audience.  If a viewer or reader finds emotional traits within the main character that connect them to the hero on a deeper level, this leads to the story having more resonance for the audience.  

Most mainstream entertainment uses broad and general emotions to connect with the majority of viewers or readers.  From wanting to belong to finding the courage within to fight injustice, relatable emotional hooks connect audiences to your characters and to the story.

It’s important to remember, too, that a well-rounded character has a combination of positive and negative emotional traits.  The positive should outweigh the negative in a protagonist, but since real people have both types, giving your main character a few negative emotional characteristics will help make them more realistic.

When developing your characters, make a list of emotional traits you feel they would possess at the start of the story and how that list will change after the story ends.  Do they go from being fearful and timid to courageous?  Do they go from being cocky and self-assured to humble and respectful?  The events of the story should serve the character’s emotional journey as well.

So, how do we see these types of emotions in action?

Look Inside Yourself

You have emotions and feelings, both positive and negative.  As I stated at the beginning, we all do.  As you create your main character, even if they are 100% different from you, you can still put yourself in their shoes and ask: How would I handle the situation?  This is a great starting point to orient yourself in the character’s shoes (since you will be spending a lot of time with them) and helps make them relatable.  Emotions are universal, but how we deal with them varies from person to person.

Would your main character react the same way you would to bad news?  If so, use that.  If not, dig deep into yourself and see what emotions this character could use to cope and deal with the bad news they have heard.  Even if it’s the opposite of how you would react, you can still justify their emotional response by looking within.

Study People You Know

The holiday season is upon us, and with that – this year more than last – comes interactions with family, friends, and strangers.  Observe people in stressful situations.  How do they react?  How do they cope?  Do they irrationally express their emotions, or rationally work to resolve the problem?

When traveling, make notes on how people respond and react to travel delays, masking rules, and other restrictions.  Why are they acting like that?  Put yourself in their shoes.  How would you react?  How would your main character react?  

Public spaces are a great place to mine emotional responses that can only aid you in your creative writing endeavors.  The mall, Target, or the grocery store can also deliver the emotional goods when the holidays are upon us.

Family and friends are filled with stories.  Use their stories to explore how they dealt with a problem or an issue.  Family and friends are a great resource for research, and you can bet someone at the table will say, “If it were me, I would have…” in response to what was just told to the group.  Make a mental note or write the differences in emotional responses down.  All of it is great fodder for character creation and development.

Read, Watch, Listen

Maybe your main character is a politician, a celebrity, a police officer, or a billionaire.  The nice thing is that there are plenty of autobiographies, biographies, documentaries, and even podcasts that delve into the lives and mentalities of these types of people.  A politician thinks and plans out their life differently than other professions.  A celebrity’s personal life is public, which can cause a lot of emotional stress that regular people don’t have to deal with.  

By doing research, you can find out how these individuals work through failures, successes, being in the public eye, media scrutiny, etc., and get to the real emotions behind it.  All of this research helps to make your main character more relatable and empathetic to the audience. YouTube is a treasure trove of free interviews, specials, and documentaries about all kinds of people. 

And if your villain is a serial killer, you have thousands of podcasts and documentaries to choose from that delve into the psyche of these individuals.  What makes serial killers, politicians, and billionaires tick?  Are there any emotional similarities between them?

Don’t Rely on Fiction for Reference

There are billions of real people who can be viewed as references for emotional arcs within your fictional world.  Real people can deliver true emotional depth and empathy, giving your characters a great level of dimension.  

While most of us love fiction, it’s wise not to use fictional characters as reference points for emotional character development.  It’s tempting to make your characters like Tony Stark or Jack Torrance, but then you aren’t bringing anything fresh or new to the emotional table.  Creating cookie-cutter characters makes them dull and uninteresting.  Borrowing traits from Bruce Wayne or Elle Woods is lazy writing.  

Work to develop emotional arcs for your character that don’t allow your audience to predict the outcome.  This leads to greater interest in the characters, the story, and a greater connection emotionally.

Multi-dimensional characters give audiences the best way to escape into the fictional world in front of them.  By creating a relatable main character filled with depth and real growth, audiences are more likely to enjoy the journey and appreciate the pay-offs by the story’s end.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you in two weeks!

Book Review Tuesday – The Real James Dean: Intimate Memories from Those Who Knew Him Best by Peter L. Winkler

Last year I subscribed to HBO Max and was excited to see that Turner Classic Movies has a presence there.  I scrolled through, adding classic movies I have seen and ones I haven’t, and came across Rebel Without a Cause starring James Dean.  I knew of James Dean, he’s a Hollywood legend and cautionary tale rolled into one.  His tragic death at the age of 24 sent shockwaves through Hollywood, and caused young female fans collectively fall into a state of shock and grief.

I watched all three of Dean’s films and it is unfortunate that his talent was only around for so briefly.  Being someone who loves to learn more about interesting people, I found a book chronicling James Dean’s life and death through the eyes of those who knew him.  

Below is my review of The Real James Dean: Intimate Memories from Those Who Knew Him Best by Peter L. Winkler:

Enigmatic, reserved, rebellious, and a real Renaissance man, James Dean was taken away from his friends, family, and fans far too young. While he only starred in three films – East of Eden (1955), Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and Giant (1956) – along with several smaller film appearances, TV appearances, commercials, and plays, Dean’s swagger and look became legendary in the annals of Hollywood history.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Real James Dean. The stories presented come from friends, family, colleagues and deliver a dimensional portrait of the actor from his Midwest upbringing to his final moments. 

The commentary from the editor helps bridge gaps and continuity issues that appear between stories. There was a genuine effort to ensure the facts about Dean are 100% correct, leaving the mythologizing to those who knew and loved him most.

The Real James Dean paints a real portrait of a real man, flaws and all. It’s interesting to read similar situations from multiple perspectives. Many felt he was a skilled genius, while others thought he was a rude, self-centered young man with no respect for authority.

If you are a fan of Hollywood history, actor biographies, or want to learn about a man who was taken from the world far too early, I highly recommend this book.

What era of Hollywood most interests you?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Writers Workshop Wednesday: Jack Kerouac

Considered one of the Godfathers of the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac delivered his unique voice and perspectives on life to an era that included Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski, Bob Kaufman, and William S. Burroughs.  

It was post-World War II America, and many young people who had fought overseas had returned with no real sense of purpose.  Kerouac captures that wanderlust and rebellious spirit in his writings, most famously in On the Road.  

An avid reader and sports enthusiast at a young age, Kerouac was born in 1922 to immigrant parents.  He spoke French at home and learned English at school.  After a series of tragic events at home, including the death of his older brother, the family’s spiral into poverty, and his father’s alcoholism, Kerouac escaped to New York after graduating from high school.  

A football scholarship got him into Columbia University in 1940, but a broken leg led to him being sidelined, and he dropped out the next year.  After working various odd jobs along the East Coast, Kerouac enlisted with the U.S. Navy in 1943 to help fight in WWII.  His stint only lasted 10 days as he was honorably discharged for having “strong schizoid trends.”

Upon returning to New York, he became friends with two other young men, Allen Ginsburg and William S. Burroughs.  It was through their friendship and writings that the Beat Movement found its origins.

Kerouac began to write novels in the late 1940s, but he wouldn’t achieve any acclaim for his work on a wide scale until 1957 when On the Road was published and received rave reviews.  His other works include Town and Country (his first novel), The Dharma BumsDoctor SaxLonesome TravelerBig Sur, and Desolation Angels.  He also wrote poetry, plays, and spoken work albums.

Sadly, Kerouac died of a “massive abdominal hemorrhage” at the age of 47 in 1969.

Below are interviews with Kerouac, a few videos about the Beat Generation, and Kerouac reading some of his poems and excerpts from his novels.  

Check out Kerouac’s bio HERE.

Learn more about Kerouac and The Beat Museum HERE.

And check out The Kerouac Society HERE.

Enjoy!

Back in two weeks with another great writer!

Post Sources:  

Book Review Tuesday: On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Years ago, I visited Monterey, Ca, and went to The Beat Museum.  There, I purchased a copy of On the Road by Jack Kerouac, more as a souvenir than anything else.  Over a decade later, I found the book in my collection and decided to give it a read.  

I’m glad I did.

Below is my review:

Long before the comforts and reliability of smart phones, GPS, and 24/7 gas stations, Jack Kerouac took several cross-country journeys with friends that would become the basis of his semi-autobiographical novel, On the Road.  A literary artifact from the dawn of what would become known as the “Beat generation,” On the Road is the tale of Sal Paradise, a free-spirit who travels around North America, detailing his experiences with friends, strangers, poverty, sex, and tea (aka marijuana).  

At times On the Road gets bogged down in minutiae, but the spirit of the time (the late 1940s) and the historical aspect of the novel make it worth reading.  Kerouac delivers an interesting travelogue that gives us insight into how society was in this period of American history, warts and all.  While Sal probably isn’t the most reliable of narrators, his thoughts and feelings about his experiences are more than likely 100% Kerouac.

The edition I read has a wonderful introduction and analysis by Ann Charters, a professor and Beat generation scholar.  If your copy has this included, I highly recommend you read it before you delve into the book.  The intro provides some context to the story, and also identifies who the real people were fictionalized in On the Road

A word of warningOn the Road is a product of its time, and does contain depictions and language regarding minority groups that some may find bothersome. 

On the Road is a piece of American literary history and a book I definitely recommend.

Learn more about The Beat Museum (now located in San Francisco) HERE.  

Have you read On the Road or other work by Kerouac?  Leave a comment and let me know!