Monday, February 25, 2008

On Writing...

Not to jump on Jane Espenson's "writing tips" bandwagon, but I recently recieved an e-mail pushing another screenwriting self-help book. You're never too old to learn and we can all use some tips now and again, but the questions posed and the answers promised by this one seemed a little... I dunno... strange. For instance:

- What should you say if you arrive late for a pitch meeting with a Hollywood executive? (The answer is on page 49.)

There's actually a secret answer to this, besides an apology?

- Does it matter how you dress for a meeting with a Hollywood executive? Answer: a lot. So how should you dress? (See page 48.)

Aside from being clean, avoiding the garlic/onion lunch special and covering your "Impeach Bush" tee-shirt, if this actually mattered I'd be living out of a cardboard box.

There were a bunch of other Q & A's, and seriously, for all I know this tome offers wonderful common sense tips to earnest beginners on a host of subjects. I'm sure the author is a good guy with some good ideas, but the focus of the questions, at least in the e-mailed ad, illuminate a pet peeve I have with some of these books. They often zero in on the external as opposed to the single most important thing involved in having a writing career, i.e., "the writing." You can wear whatever power-plaid happens to be in style, excuse your lateness with the perfect bon mot and play all the inter-office political games in the world, but if it's not on the page, your "career" will be be a blip on the screen. In fact, if an expensively dressed, slick and self-possessed staff writer gave me a script that needed a total rewrite, I'd be even MORE cranky about it. While he's out shopping for designer suits, I'm stuck at my computer fixing his mess.

This emphasis bugs me because I think new writers often get hung up on the technical details, like what to wear, the perfect word processing program or some special format trick that will solve all their problems. Some of that stuff IS important (script's written in crayon? That's a pass), but to fixate on these incidental details as opposed to the writing is a mistake...