Writing Tip of the Week: What Actually Counts as “Writing”?

Did you write today?  What did you write today?  How many pages or words did you write today?  Sometimes, the thought of sitting down at the computer or laptop at home after 40 hours in front of a computer at work can be a difficult task.  You want to get outside, see people, do anything other than sit and stare at a screen – well, one where staring requires active thought and creativity.  

While the act of physical writing is an essential part of the writer’s life (especially if they plan to show their work to others), I often do a lot of the creative legwork in places other than in front of the computer.  I find that these activities open up my creativity channels and help me to brainstorm and connect ideas in a more productive manner.

Let’s talk about them!

Thinking

I often get hung up on the seeming finality and concrete nature of typing or writing an idea down; they seem to have more weight once they make it to the page.  This can prevent your ability to explore, add to, or remove concepts or ideas that don’t work in a fast-paced manner.

I like to actively think out my ideas for scenes, chapters, plot points, etc., and workshop them in my head for a while before I commit anything to paper.  I have found that this method allows me to swap out characters, change settings, create dialogue, and alter story points faster and more efficiently.

If something isn’t working, I can explore other options.  What about this?  What about that?  What if she went here instead of there?  What if he didn’t answer the phone?  Once I’ve worked things out, I’m more prepared to write the idea down.  Depending on how I fleshed out the idea, I will either write it in bullet point or paragraph form.

I do this on the couch, watching YouTube videos, cleaning, or doing other mundane activities.  Sometimes giving your creative brain free reign is a great way to solve a complex story problem.

Sleeping

Sometimes clichés deliver solid advice, and “Sleep on it” is definitely one that can result in many creative epiphanies.  Often, we are distracted throughout the day with dozens of other projects, chores, and activities that we don’t have the time to focus on our story.  

Once I’m in bed, ready to drift off, I will start to think of the story problem or issue that I’m having.  The crazy thing is that the subconscious often can find a way to resolve the issue while you sleep, resulting in you waking up with the answer to your story problem.  Does it always work?  No.  But when you do have that moment when you wake up, and the story dots all connect, it’s a great feeling.

Exercising

Walking.  Running.  Swimming.  Any form of physical exertion can help you get out of your head and allow your brain to do what it does best: solve problems.  I’ve been on a walk on a break at work and develop story ideas or story solutions.  I’ve been on the treadmill at the gym and worked out big story sequences.  

It’s amazing how even ten minutes of walking can clear your head and let the creativity flow.

Motivating Yourself

Yes, crafting a narrative and creating compelling characters and dialogue takes time and effort.  But it is work that should be fun and get you excited about the story you want to tell.  If you dread working on your story, all the thinking, sleeping, and exercise aren’t going to get you very far (although you might have solved other problems, be well-rested and in good shape).  

You are the only person who can get yourself excited and motivated to work on your novel, screenplay, or play.  If you can’t find the motivation, ask yourself why.  Ask yourself what’s missing from the project that would get me excited and motivated to get it done.  

The key is to find an aspect of the story you love and want to explore and express to audiences and use that energy and motivation to create your fictional world and its characters.

Final Thoughts

Creative people are always creating.  No matter where creatives are, stories, scenes, characters, and dialogue flow in and out of their brains rapidly.  A legal pad and pen or a computer and word processing program don’t make you a writer; they are just tools to help finish the job.

By taking steps through thinking, sleeping, exercising, and motivating yourself to open up the creative reaches of your mind, when you do commit your ideas to paper, they will be more impactful to you and the reader.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Tip of the Week: Purposeful characters

No matter what type of fiction you’re writing, characters are essential to the story.  They engage the reader, generating empathy, sympathy, and connection.  Your characters must serve a purpose within the framework of your story’s world.

As writers, it takes time to craft, shape, and mold our protagonist, antagonist, and other characters into the overall story arc that we have created.  We shouldn’t be wasting creative energy creating superfluous characters who have no reason to be in the story.  

Here are some tips to help you eliminate aimless and purposeless characters from your story.

Take Inventory

Who’s who, and why are they there?  If you are in the beginning stages of writing your story, take time to establish your main characters, secondary characters, and background characters on a spreadsheet or piece of paper.  Do they serve an essential function in the story?

If you have already written your story, take inventory of your characters as you read through.  Do they all serve a purpose?  Is there anyone that doesn’t belong or isn’t really essential to the story?

By creating a spreadsheet, you can list who the characters are, their role, and how they tie into the story.  If you find characters that serve no critical function or role, you may want to cut them because…

More Characters = More Problems

Taking on an ambitious fiction project can be exciting.  Still, you also have to make sure that everyone you introduce has a reason for existing and serves an essential role in your story.  The more characters you bring into the mix, the harder it can be to keep track and keep things focused.

Limiting the number of characters can help keep the story and its conflict focused, so you don’t get lost in the weeds, which reminds me…

Where’s the Focus?

Your story has a main storyline with a protagonist working toward a goal amidst numerous obstacles.  That should be your primary focus as you write.  Find yourself deviating too much into subplots and side quests with other characters?  It may be time to either rethink the protagonist or move those other characters into their own story.

If the subplots tie directly back to the main character and their story, that’s fine.  But if you do notice that what they’re doing has zero impact on the main narrative, it’s time to cut it.

Superfluous Characters

Are there characters you’ve created that don’t really go anywhere or serve any real purpose within the story?  Maybe you wrote an elaborate backstory for a Starbucks barista that the main character encounters on their journey.  But, if they are in one chapter and never seen or mentioned again, you may want to trim out how they saved their grandma and her cat from a space heater fire in the fifth grade. 

However, if the barista’s backstory serves a key role in the story later on, and the character comes back to help save the day, they serve a purpose.  Just make sure that if you put in the time to provide lots of detail on a specific character, the reader has a reason to be given that information.

Elevate or Eliminate?

If your creative mind has crafted a complex side character who initially has no real purpose in the overall story, you have a few options:  

  • You can cut them out of this story and move them to one where they can play a more significant role.  
  • You can elevate them and combine their character and attributes with a less-than-stellar secondary character who may need some extra life.  
  • Or you can see how this character’s current role can be elevated through further interactions with the protagonist and the main story.

There are ways to make it work, but the character can’t detract or deviate from the main story.

Should My Protagonist Have a Pet?

I’ve seen this brought up before, and it’s an interesting question.  The answer is simple: only if you are willing to have the main character’s dog or cat be a part of the story.  You can’t just introduce the reader to the protagonist’s dog in one chapter and never mention them again.  Once you commit to your main character being a pet owner, you have chosen to keep that pet as a part of the story.

So, if your main character travels the world on quests, it’s probably best to keep the pets out of things. Otherwise, readers may wonder, “Who’s watching Rex?  Is the dog okay?  I know cats are independent, but she’s been gone for three weeks!”  

Read, Read, Read

Skim through novels and see how different authors set up and establish their various characters.  Some will be more detailed than others, but the key to this research is to identify how main characters, secondary characters, and others are described throughout the story.  

Whether you’re writing a short story or short film, a novel or a screenplay, knowing who your characters are and their purpose is essential to keeping the story moving and the reader or viewer engaged.

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

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!

Book Review Tuesday – Alone in a Room: Secrets of Successful Screenwriters by John Scott Lewinski

No matter what you write, what genre you write, or your writing methods, I feel it’s always good to read about how others in the writing world approach their craft. If you are a novelist, you can still learn from screenwriters. Screenwriters can learn from playwrights. Playwrights from poets. We all have the goals to engage, entertain, and inspire, so exploring how others write in other forms is always a good idea.

Alone in a Room‘s concepts and honesty can be applied to all writers, not just screenwriters. Below is my review of the book:

It took me a while to get around to reading Alone in a Room (I’ve had it since 2004), but the other night I was thinking about the book and decided to crack it open. I wish I had done so a long time ago. John Scott Lewinski’s insights and writer interviews are filled with valuable information for both the novice and pro writer.

While the focus is on screenwriting, any writer can glean plenty of tips and tools to use in their work. Topics include dealing with deadlines, working with a partner, or working on multiple projects at once.

Lewinski finds a nice balance between giving you the hard and ugly truth about being a writer in Hollywood while keeping up the positive encouragement for you to keep on writing. 

I enjoyed this book and am surprised he hasn’t updated it to reflect the current trends in streaming, gaming, podcasts, and other avenues a writer can take. 

Despite the lack of updated material, the book still provides valuable insights and tools that any writer can use.

I recommend Alone in a Room.

What books about writing have you read and recommend? Leave a comment and let me know!

Writing Tip of the Week – Story Structure: The Beginning, Part One

Every story has a starting point, a place where the writer has decided to begin the story and launch the characters into an adventure that differs from the day-to-day normalcy of their lives.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore the different aspects of the Beginning, Middle, and End of a story and what components go into each.

Let’s get started.

Where Are We?  Location, Location, Location.

The opening chapter or scene sets the stage for what’s to come.  Give us the location, the time period, and the current circumstances.  Is this a contemporary story?  Are we in Victorian England?  In a galaxy far, far away?  Give the reader descriptors that help orient them into the world of the story.  Your characters occupy a specific space at a particular time.  The beginning is where to establish these things and make sure the reader has a clear understanding.

Read the first chapter of a few novels and see how those authors establish location and time while also moving the story forward.

Who Are We With? Who’s the Story About?

Whose journey are we following?  Knowing your main character and who they are before the Inciting Incident is a key factor to ensure you know how they will react and actively pursue their goals when the new events begin to unfold.  What’s their name?  Their profession?  What relationships do they have?  What conflicts do they have in their lives?  What’s their personality?  

In his book, The Story Solution, Eric Edson lays out nine “personality traits and story circumstances that create character sympathy for an audience” (Edson 14).  These don’t all have to be used, but they are a great way to help your reader/viewer connect with your main character at the beginning of your story:

•          Courage – “brave people take action, and only action can drive the plot forward.” (15)

•          An Unfair Injury – placing your “character in a situation where blatant injustice is inflicted upon her…[it] puts the hero in a position where [they’re] compelled to DO something, take action in order to right a wrong.” (16-17)

•          Skill – “It doesn’t matter what your hero’s field of endeavor might be as long as [they’re] an expert at it.” (17)

•          Funny – “if you can bestow upon your hero a robust and playful sense of humor, do it.” (19)

•          Just Plain Nice – “We can easily care about kind, decent, helpful, honest folks, and we admire people who treat others well.” (19)

•          In Danger – “If when we first meet the hero [they’re] already in a situation of real danger, it grabs out attention right away.” (20)

•          Loved by Friends and Family – If we see that “the hero is already loved by other people, it gives us immediate permission to care about them, too.” (21)

•          Hard Working – “People who work hard have create the rising energy to drive a story forward.” (21)

•          Obsessed – “Obsession keeps brave, skilled, hard-working heroes focused on a single goal, which is enormously important to any story.” (21)

These are just a few points from the book, which I highly recommend. You can pick up a copy at the link below:

Active or Passive Protagonist?

In modern commercial fiction, the protagonist is almost always active.  This means that when things happen, they react and actively pursue a goal.  Mando in The Mandalorian is actively working to keep Grogu (aka Baby Yoda) safe from those who wish to harm him.  Mando’s inciting incident was meeting Grogu; he now has an active goal to protect him.  His actions move the story in a new direction.

Katniss in The Hunger Games actively volunteers her life to save her sister’s during the Hunger Games lottery.  She is actively involved in the decision that launches the story in a new direction.

A passive protagonist just allows things to happen around them, or they don’t do enough to try and fix what’s happening.  Even in disaster movies where the elements are out of the hero’s hands, they still are active in their attempts to save their own lives and the lives of others.  When you watch TwisterDante’s PeakSan Andreas, or Volcano, notice that while what’s happening is out of the main characters’ control, they are still actively pursuing a goal: survival.

What actions can your protagonist take to try and resolve their newfound issues?  What is their active goal, and what steps will they take to reach it?  They can try and fail, but they should be active in their attempts.

Is It Really “The Beginning”?

A story begins at a point that shows the reader/viewer the protagonist in their normal element.  We, as an audience, have to assume that this character existed before this story. We are about to see a series of events markedly different and far more interesting than a typical day in their life. 

You want to give your readers a glimpse of this world before things begin to change and move the protagonist into a new direction that they didn’t see coming.  We need to know who they are before this story starts so we can witness how the events of the story impact and change their lives by the end.

A character’s story is on a continuum.  What we are writing about and what the reader/viewer is experiencing is something out of the ordinary.  Steve Rogers (Captain America: The First Avenger), Elle Woods (Legally Blonde), and Mando (The Mandalorian) all were just doing their normal thing until a new set of circumstances took them to a new level of existence, which is…

What Starts the Journey? The Inciting Incident.

Things are pretty normal for your main character.  They’re just living their life as always when suddenly…something big happens to alter their life for the better or worse.  This is the Inciting Incident, the moment where the protagonist has to begin making choices that will launch them and us into a new storyline apart from what they are familiar with.

Your main character could be all set to go into the boss’s office to get a promotion and get fired instead.  Your main character could find out something devastating about their family that requires them to act and discover the truth.  It can be anything that jolts the main character out of their normal life and takes them on a new path.

Brainstorm some ways a character’s ordinary world can suddenly change and how your character would react to new information and their potential paths forward.

Homework

Now that you have the basics about the Beginning of a story, watch the first 15 minutes of a few movies or read the first few chapters of some novels and see how events, characters, and Inciting Incidents are introduced.  How does the main character react when something new happens?  What’s the first thing they do?  How do their actions at that moment propel the story forward?  What traits from Edson’s book are present in the main character when we first meet them?

Happy Writing, Reading and Viewing, and I’ll see you next week with more on story beginnings.

When You’re Writing, Don’t Be Afraid to Act It Out

To the casual observer, writing can appear to be a low-energy, even passive activity.  But we as writers know that this is not the case. While our fingers may be the only thing moving externally, our minds are alive and active with ideas, thoughts, dialogue, and description that help bring our story to life on paper.  

But sometimes, even in that state of inner active creativity, we can get a little stuck.  Maybe a sequence isn’t coming together as effectively on the page as you want, or there’s an element missing from the dialogue or action.  

When this happens, get out of that chair and work through the scene.  As a writer, you are the creator, director, actor, and stunt coordinator of everything in your story.  It is your job to do whatever you can to get the story right.  And if you have to workshop it in your living room like a play, that’s 100% acceptable.

Here are some ways to do it.

Get On Your Feet and Move

As Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball) demonstrates in this clip from I Love Lucy, working through the emotion, the conflict, and the drama of a scene as you write can help you create more realistic dialogue and scenes. 

Reading your dialogue aloud can also be a great benefit to ensure that the characters speak like human beings and not as literary characters on a page (unless that’s the style you are aiming for).  

If you have someone to assist you, you can improvise a scene you’re having issues with and work out what problems you may be having.  Often as writers, we internalize too often.  Getting your story’s words and situations into an external space can help you see them from a better perspective and make more substantial story choices.

Make a Model

Perhaps your story has a big fight sequence or chase that involves several characters and would be complicated to stage at home.  Legos, action figures, water bottles, or even cups can be used to create a mock version of your characters (I suggest labeling the characters so they don’t get mixed up while your working).  You can use boxes or other objects to create the setting, then position your characters accordingly during the sequence.  

In doing so, you can now visually see how things would work, where the character would be positioned throughout the sequence, and how best to end the sequence given your parameters.

Seeing clear visuals can also help you see any problems, so you fix them before writing out the entire sequence.  

Hollywood does this all the time with big sequences using animatics.  While their aim is to save money on costly reshoots, your aim is to save time on headache-inducing rewrites.

Use Name Cards and Drawings

Another method can be used for even bigger sequences like a giant battle or even a murder mystery with a dinner party.  In this exercise, you write the names of all the characters on separate index cards, then use poster board or another large piece of paper to map out what the room or battlefield will look like.  Then you can move the “characters” around and see where they are in relation to other characters and locations.  

In doing so, you can see if there is logic in who is conversing with who, helping who, and fighting who depending on where they are in the diagram.

This exercise was done by the writers of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End for the final battle involving three pirate ships, three crews of pirates, and the main cast.  As they were writing, they used the diagrams to see where characters started when the sequence began and how to effectively move them from ship to ship throughout the battle.

As you can see from the movement of characters in the clip below, this would have been very useful in the writer’s room!

With all three, I recommend filming and talking through each exercise so you don’t forget any details that may change or pop into your head while you’re working.  Once it’s done, and on the page, you can delete the footage, and no one has to know what great lengths you went through to make that big sequence work.

Happy Acting, and Happy Writing!

The Myth of the “Aspiring” Artist

I like to watch interviews with writers, actors, and other people in the arts. I find them fascinating and very educational. One of the things I find interesting is when they have a Q&A with the audience after their initial interview or talk. At the end, there’s usually an audience member who says, “I’m an aspiring writer” or “I’m an aspiring actor/actress.” This has always been a curiosity to me.

The word “aspire” or “aspiring,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, means “desiring and working to achieve a particular goal: having aspirations to attain a specified profession, position, etc.” I would like to change the thinking about labeling oneself as an “aspiring artist” and show you that the act of creating is not, in fact, what you are aspiring to achieve.

Are You Doing It?

If you are writing, acting, painting, sculpting, writing music, or pursuing any other endeavor, you have moved out of the aspirational category and are now actively doing that particular activity.  If you’re aspiring to write, why?  What’s preventing you from taking those steps toward writing a story, a poem, a play, or a song?  

Nothing.

When we put the word “aspiring” in front of the creative activity we wish to do, there’s the perception that it lends importance to what we want to do.  I don’t believe it does.  If you can do it, don’t dream about doing it, do it.  If you are doing it, you no longer aspire to do the activity because you are actually doing it.

Working Toward an Artistic Goal

If you have mapped out plans to write a novel or a play, are working on an album, or are working on writing and shooting a short film, these are goals within the creative realm you inhabit.  But, again, you are working toward these goals, not just thinking or hoping for them to happen on their own.  

What You Really Might Want…

The truth is that we don’t aspire to be a writer, an actor/actress, a painter, or a musician.  Our aspiration lies beyond that. It lies in our aspirations for success, money, and the ability to quit our day jobs and create full time.  This is what we want.  This is what we aspire toward.

But this should be secondary in your overarching aspirational plan.  Why?

Putting in the time, work, effort, energy, sweat, tears, frustration, excitement, and other emotions that come with creating makes you better at the art you are doing.  Your drive to create should be your focus when you’re starting out.  

Art should be your motivation, not money or fame.

Success is a byproduct of all the time you’ve spent honing your craft on your own, at home, for free.  It’s these thousands of hours of hard work that can eventually get you to where you aspire to be.  

But you have to do the work.

Final Thoughts

Aspiring toward something positive involving your art is excellent, but it should be something you can’t quickly achieve in the present.  You can write right now.  You can paint right now.  You can be creative right now.  It’s the steps after the hard work of creation are done that we aspire to: the published novel, the produced play, the award-winning poem.  

Everyone dreams of some level of success.  But the first step to getting there is to stop dreaming about it and start doing it.

You can do it!

See you next week!

Definition source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/aspiring

How Not to Play the Guitar – A Writing Analogy

Happy 2021! I’m sure by now you’ve thought about some goals you’d like to achieve in the new year. Whether those goals are big or small, it’s always good to have something new and exciting to look forward to as the calendar turns back to January.  

For many people, this may involve taking up and new hobby or learning a new skill, which can lead many down a fascinating rabbit hole of reading and research that may not be as productive as they may think.  

Let’s start with an example of this: You want to learn how to play the guitar in 2021.

A great goal. You’ve thought about playing the guitar for a while. You’ve seen people you know, and also famous people do it so effortlessly that you want to enjoy making music as much as they do. You go online and decide to buy several books about playing the guitar.

You wait for the books to arrive, eagerly awaiting the guitar-playing wisdom each book will reveal. Upon their arrival, you read three, and all three present different methods about how to play the guitar.

Now, this whole time, despite having the guitar, you haven’t picked it up once. Sure, you’ve looked at it, thought about playing it, but every time you read a book about playing the guitar and feel confident about playing, you still feel you need to find the “best” way to play.

And so, you read about playing the guitar. And the guitar sits there, alone, un-played.

Now, you’ve finished the books. You’ve highlighted paragraphs, bookmarked pages, told people about the books and how exciting guitar playing is…and suddenly you feel an unforeseen pressure. Not to pick up the guitar. It’s the pressure that with all the tips, tricks, tools, and methods you’ve just learned, your brain is suddenly overwhelmed. 

Now that thing you wanted to do, that wonderful music you wanted to create, your passion for actually learning is stamped out because you spent so long reading and not doing, and you psyched yourself out of it.

This can happen to aspiring writers, too. In fact, anything creative can have the excitement and adventure of discovery killed off by reading about it instead of doing it.  

I’m guilty of this, too.

I’ve written many screenplays and have dozens of screenwriting books. Each one has a different methodology of how a screenplay’s structure is composed. While the outcome is the same – a 110-page screenplay – the rules set forth by each author differ. Read a few of these books in succession, and you’ll be confused and terrified to break the “rules” you’ve read about screenwriting.

Put the books down.  

Do you have a story you want to write? Do you know the basics? Beginning? Middle? End? Do you have characters and a setting to go with those three pieces? A central conflict? If you do, great. Sit down and write it out. No books. No rules. No worksheets.  

Just story.

Now, as you expand and craft the story, if you need guidance about how to craft good dialogue or how to show and not tell, these are when those books can come in handy. They should be seen as reference guides to help your writing, not tutorials on how to write.

We are all storytellers. We know the basics. We’ve seen movies, TV shows, plays, short films, documentaries, and read novels. As a writer, your job is to take what you already know about how stories work and make it your own. 

Much like the guitar analogy, writers must do the work to get the experience. We all start as amateurs or beginners, but you will get better with time, patience, and actual hands-on practice. While reading about it or listening to interviews is fine, don’t let that take away from doing the work yourself. Those books and interviews will always be around.

Whether it’s writing, playing the guitar, sculpting, or running a marathon, take the time to invest your time in learning by doing. Future you will be grateful.

See you next week!