Networking: more than just a group thing

“Working on the rewrite while I wait to hear from that manager. How about you guys?”

Despite the fact that writing, for the most part, is a solitary activity, a lot of us take great pleasure in being connected with other writers.

They can be the invaluable support, guidance and motivation we sometimes need to give us that little extra boost. Having a problem and being able to tap into this kind of resource in order to find a solution is priceless.

We get access to all the goings-on, good and bad, that happen among us and our peers.

While I’ve seen my fair share of both, I’m glad to say that a majority have been of a positive nature. This person got a manager. That person finished their latest draft. That other person began working with another writer on a new project. I’m thrilled for all of these developments, and offer up congratulations and words of encouragement. Each and every one of these people has worked hard to reach this particular milestone.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous. That sense of longing and wondering “Will I eventually/ever get to announce some good news of my own?” keeps nagging at me, so I continue to buckle down and redouble my efforts in the hopes of making it happen a little sooner. Some days it’s really tough to be patient.

On the other side of the coin are the not-so-great things. This person’s script got a pass from a high-profile agent. That person is suffering from a severe case of writer’s block (or worse – depression). That other person is going through some tough things in their personal life. These also happen to a lot of us, resulting in messages of sympathy, understanding and moral support.

I’ve experienced this too. When times are tough, you find out who’s really in your corner, and are glad to know it.

But I wouldn’t have any of this kind of support if I hadn’t sought it out. There’s a reason it’s called “social” media. I’ve been able to connect with so many awesome people because of what I’ve read or seen about them online.

Is there a writer (professional or peer) whose work you enjoy? Someone whose tweets always make you chuckle? Send ’em a note telling them that.

Even better – are they in your area? When I learn about a local writer, I’ll offer up the opportunity for a face-to-face chat over coffee or lunch. I’ve also done this with folks just visiting the Bay Area. This has resulted in some great ongoing working relationships.

Everybody’s career advances at its own pace, and all the fantastic help and support we get on days good and bad are major pluses. Many writers are introverts at heart, but you have to make the effort to put yourself out there and get to know somebody.

It gets easier the more you do it, and you’ll be glad you did.

Taking comedy seriously

My objective
My objective

It’s been a long time since I attempted to write a comedy, but the process has begun and I plan to see this through to the end. (the latest – hit the page 10/inciting incident plot point as of yesterday.)

Quite a challenge, to say the least.

For the time being, my objective is to produce two pages a day. Three if I’m on a roll. “That’s all?” you may ask. Yep, because a lot of that time is spent going back and fine-tuning the jokes.

I’ll crank out a scene, which usually includes a first pass at the jokes, then rewrite them multiple times until I think each one works. I’ve yet to hit the bullseye the first time out, nor do I expect to. It takes as long as it takes. I’m not in a rush.

If you don’t write comedy, you’d be surprised how tough it is to come up with a joke that isn’t a cliche, or has been heard before. Which is why it’s been such an unexpected positive result to discover that each day it gets a little easier. Not much, but just enough to make it seem slightly less daunting.

But add to that how comedy is subjective and everybody’s sense of humor varies, and we’re right back to extremely daunting.

What”s proven to be a huge help has been reading other comedy scripts and watching a lot of comedies to study how those jokes are done. I’ve really come to appreciate the Tina Fey/30 Rock-style, in that the joke, no matter how absurd it may be, fits in seamlessly and organically. Counter to this is the old-fashioned way (“Who cares what’s going on? Here’s a joke!” (rim-shot)), which feels forced and shoe-horned in, and is often not that funny. A cautionary example of what to avoid.

I suppose it’s even possible my daily output could potentially increase by an additional one to two pages, but I don’t want to strain myself.

-Thanks to everybody who contacted me after the developments of last week. It’s nice to know you’re not alone when things get dark, and a lot of those same people are more than willing to help you pull yourself out of it. A combination of working on the comedy, plus some encouraging feedback on the western (and its logline) have really helped put me in a better mood.

How low can you go? Quite, apparently.

Nothing funny about it
Nothing funny about it

We all experience “one of those days”, but it’s totally another thing to have “one of those weeks”.

Exhibit A: Yours truly.

The week started off nicely. I had the good fortune to meet and chat with script consultant, interviewee and overall mensch Danny Manus. (For all you gentiles out there, “mensch” is Yiddish for “nice guy”.)

While awaiting notes on the western rewrite, I opted for an academic approach to writing the first draft of the low-budget comedy. I was going to read some good comedy scripts and see what lessons they could impart. The call went out asking for quality examples of this kind of writing, and some trusted colleagues came through. (Thanks, chums!)

That’s when the notes started to come in.

As my grandfather used to say – oy. To say they were heartbreaking is putting it mildly. I can honestly say they were given with the best of intentions and most definitely not mean-natured, but my faith and belief in my writing ability was given a thorough thrashing. And then some. (Although one note-giver, to their credit, did acknowledge that this is a “shitty, frustrating part of the process,” and advised me to not give up. I appreciated it, but it didn’t help much.)

The descent into a dark pit of despair had begun. I’ve been here before, and I do not like it. Any writer knows this comes with the territory.

My brain and subconscious were relentless in working in tandem to make me feel totally and utterly worthless as a writer. Any hopes or dreams I had about succeeding had been ground into a fine powder and cast to the winds, only to be blown right back into my face.

And then came the coup de grace: the response to a pitch I’d submitted to a production company last week. They’d passed with a brief 2-sentence rejection, including this gem: “Wanted more specificity with the throughline.” Keep in mind that my perception was a little out of whack at the time, so my overall reaction could be summed up with a very simple “What the fuck does that mean?”

Even reassurances from my wife and texts from a friend were little consolation. Thoughts of “failure” and “loser” were screaming inside my mind. Believe me when I say I did not sleep well that night.

But after I woke up and went through my getting-ready-to-leave-for-work routine, I kept telling myself that there had to be some kind of light at the end of the tunnel, emphasis on “had to be”. Giving up most certainly wasn’t an option. It had also been suggested to totally abandon the story as it was and start anew, which wasn’t ideal because I still have a lot of confidence in this story. Thinking straight was not going to happen any time soon.

Almost as an antidote came another set of notes, this time with lots of positive things to say, plus a few more comments of support and sympathy. These helped. That and desperately trying to refocus my attention on something, anything, that might help my creativeness and confidence get back on track. This is where the aforementioned comedy scripts factor in. They helped, too.

This is an extremely tough business to break into. There will be a lot more heartache and disappointment. Some days it’s easier to deal with, and sometimes it just slams you flat on your back. And since I can’t imagine doing anything else, I continue to learn how to roll with the punches and keep going.

As has been the case many times before, my condition has improved. My resiliency is stronger. My desire to succeed burns brighter than before. I won’t be giving up. All I have to worry about now is writing a script that’s funny. Easy peasy, right?

-Little did I know that while I was dealing with my own problems, a maelstrom of controversy was developing online. Apparently a successful writer who co-hosts a popular podcast about screenwriting made some disparaging remarks about script consultants, one in particular, based on an article the latter had written.

Seeing as how I’ve posted over 3 dozen interviews with consultants (with more on the way), I felt as if I could at least say something about this, especially since it involves this consultant.

I’d read the article in question a few weeks ago and found it extremely helpful. I’d already contacted the author last month about an interview, mentioning how much I’d enjoyed this article and a few of his other ones. He consented to the interview, and appreciated the kind words about his work.

All of the consultants I’ve interviewed have been gracious and grateful to have taken part, and each one is eager to help their clients improve. I’ve been asked which of them I’d recommend. Simple: all of them. Do your due diligence and find the one that seems to be the best fit for what you need.

The writer in question has been working for quite some time. He gets paid a lot of money to write movies that, to me, just suck. He’s also entitled to his opinion, but I’d hate to think that all the aspiring writers out there are looking to him for career advice.

-Half-marathon update. Did the Oakland 13.1 this past Sunday with a time of 1:58:16, thereby accomplishing my goal of under 2 hours. See? Perseverance does pay off.