Monday, August 06, 2012

How To Write Gooder...

I was clearing out backed-up e-mails and came across dozens from various sources offering a wide assortment of screenwriting courses.  There were ads for seminars, classes on how to write outlines, how to write for TV, how to find an exciting career in copy-writing while pursuing screenwriting, on and on.  Anyhow, they got me to thinking (never a good thing)...

I am occasionally asked what classes I took to prepare for my so-called career writing comics, movies and TV shows.  Truth is, my educational CV is rather slim.  I took exactly one creative writing class in college, and my only memory of it remains the student on first day of class who announced that his only concern, in terms of his future as a world class writer, was how he could maintain his vision in the face of untold wealth and fame.  Oh, and he was also worried about the tax liability.  No, I'm not kidding, and boy was that Stephen King prescient!  (Okay, THAT part's a joke.  I have no idea if the actual ultra-confident would-be novelist took the world by storm.)

Pause for an aside.  I recall a lengthy message board conversation, many years ago, with a Midwestern fellow who was convinced he could write better television scripts than anyone in Hollywood.  Being a practical sort, he had worked out a regimen for big money success.  Since he was not only a great writer but really fast, he figured he could churn out one television script a week.  It's only ten-ish pages a day, and that's taking Sunday off!  Allowing himself two weeks vacation a year (to recharge the old batteries), that meant he could write 50 episodes a year and make 50 times whatever the guild minimum was back in those days.  And boy was that Aaron Sorkin right!  (Okay, sorry, THAT part's a joke too -- but the rest is true.)  The best thing about this conversation is what I learned from it: stop wasting time contributing to message boards.  But I digress...

Post-college, I took one screenwriting course at an Oregon art institute, taught by a very nice fellow whose credits were having one screenplay optioned by someone.  From him I basically learned that I could write stuff he liked (he was over the moon after my first short writing project) and I could write stuff he didn't like (my second effort left him believing my first had been a fluke).  Not unlike the yin/yang of an actual writing career! 

I am not anti-education, and I'm sure some of the many courses being offered have some good information.  The best thing about the big seminars, especially if they're L.A. based, is being able to network with like-minded folks and (fingers crossed) actual producers.  But I also can't help thinking that some of these very optimistic advertisements, promising to show struggling writers how to sell that big spec, are more about removing dollars from wallets than educating folks on the very challenging realities of making a living in this crazy racket.

Bottom line, I think some folks are too focused on taking classes, learning the secrets, absorbing the tips and writing in their blogs (oops!), and not spending enough time just writing.  It's difficult to have perspective about your own work, but I've been around long enough to watch other writers grow and mature and it's pretty clear that "practice" really does help.   That, and going through the experience called "life," which for better or worse comes at no additional charge...

2 Comments:

Blogger Muldfeld said...

So THAT's why my attempt to write a 10-part BSG miniseries, taking place around the events of "Lay Down Your Burdens Part 2" and "Occupation", hasn't gotten past the outline stage in 3 years!

When I was doing my Masters, I kept thinking how much fun it would be to write my BSG story. Now, that I've got nothing to do, it's so hard to even come up with ideas sometimes or figure out which ones are better. I still think I've got some great new takes on some characters, especially Tom Zarek, but I've put that on hold the last few months to do a "Mad Men" script, which is much more manageable. I only started making real progress when I was on a trip with my extended family and my uncle pissed me off and I wanted to stay in the motel and vent in the form of writing a scene in my notebook. I must have sat down and written for 3 hours that day.

It's hard, though. I was never good at the real deadlines of academic life and I'm even worse at the ones I set myself. It's also hard when you don't have a writers' room to pitch ideas to. I excitedly told my mother my idea for an arc with Adama and she, never comfortable with seeing Adama cry in Lee's arms in "Revelations," said "that sounds too emotional!" So, I have to keep things pretty close to my vest, creatively, if I don't want to get discouraged by my loved ones.

I had better get back to my "Mad Men" script.... sometime, anyway!

2:41 PM  
Anonymous CaDerIdRis said...

If an aspiring TV writer offered to buy you a coffee (at your favorite shop) to pick your brain for a half an hour and you weren't feeling particularly tired, sarcastic or non-caffeinated before your reply, would said aspiring writer have a chance at that meeting?

6:05 PM  

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