On the Hunt

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Script #1 is done. I’ve spent most of the last month (when I wasn’t watching the Olympics – there’s a time-suck for you) revising, editing, and polishing. Thankfully, it’s over now.  I cut about 15-20 pages out in three passes.

As far as I can tell, it’s Ready. I could be wrong. It could be anything but ready, but we’re going to give it a shot and get it out on the market.

So now begins the hunt for that elusive creature – the Agent that is willing to take queries and read scripts that haven’t been referred by an Industry Professional.

I built a list of about 100 agencies that I thought I might want to call or send queries to. Part of that list came out of a book from the library, and part of it came from the WGA’s list of signatory agencies. A word of advice: Don’t bother with an agency list in a book, unless that book is less than about 2 years old.

The book I used was printed in 2006. A measurable percentage of the agents listed had passed away. A larger percentage of the agencies had gone out of business or merged with other companies, or they’ve changed their focus from writers to actors, or they don’t ‘agent’ anymore and have turned to managing.

(Side note: Can someone explain to me why a writer would want a manager? Do they do enough to warrant collecting 10-15%? I’ve heard it both ways, and I still don’t get exactly what good they might do. I can see how they could help an actor or a band, but a writer?)

Anyway, my suggestion is to go straight for the WGA list (found here: https://apps.wga.org/agency/agencylist.aspx). It will save you some time.

So I’m starting the Query Process. It’s almost disconcerting how few agencies are open to receiving queries, or are kind enough to spell out their submission guidelines. There are a number of agencies that don’t list any guidelines, so they are going to get a phone call or an email at least, maybe even a letter. We’ll see.

I figure out of a 100 agencies, I should get 10% that request a copy of my script, and if I’m lucky, 10% will be interested enough in me and my writing they will be willing to take me on as a client.

Like so many things in writing, it’s a numbers and persistence game. You sit down and write everyday, whether 100 words or 1000 or 10,000, and at some point you’ll have something done. Then you sit and edit for a few days or weeks or months, and then you have something better.

When it comes to representation, my gut’s telling me that that same combination of numbers and persistence will pay off. Send out a couple of letters, make a couple of phone calls. Hear ‘no’ a few times. Cross some names off your list. Do the same thing tomorrow.

Lather.

Rinse.

Repeat.

Eventually something positive will happen. Maybe. Maybe it won’t.

Maybe ‘They’ will discover your innermost secret – that your writing is shit (only that little voice inside you knows that. How did ‘They’ find out?).

Anyway, we won’t know until we try, will we?

I’ll post updates if/when anything exciting happens. Keep writing.

~James

PS – Seriously. Can someone explain to me the deal with managers?

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No, I Haven’t Abandoned My Blog

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It had been a long time since I’ve posted anything here. 138 days to be exact. Long  enough, I would expect, for someone to think I might have abandoned this blog.

I haven’t.

I’ve been busy, though, and as I’ve mentioned before, if there is one thing that will likely get set aside, it’s going to be this blog.

So what have I been up to?

I finished transcribing The Novel. Next step is editing/revision. It turned out to be about 1300 pages in total. My tentative plan is to break it into 3 parts, and I think there is a large section, about 25% of the total text, that I’m going to remove. It doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the story. Maybe I’ll turn the excised part into another volume, like a side-story or a sequel. Maybe I’ll never use it all.

I’ve started an editing pass on Script #2. That finished out at around 180 typed pages. About 1/3 of that is going to have to go. Since my name isn’t Quentin Tarantino, I won’t be able to get away with anything over about 115 pages.

Script #1 is getting a polish/minor revision. That is still the project closest to being ‘done’, if there is such a thing.

The first draft of Script #3 is done. That one I pushed out pretty quickly – it took 19 writing days over 41 calendar days, and I’ve started transcribing it. I expect it will end up at about 105 typed pages, but we won’t know until we’re done.

Script #4 is underway now. I started work on it 12 days ago, and I’m about halfway through the first draft.

This isn’t to say any of it is any good. There’s a good chance that most of it isn’t. But I’ll tell you one thing – having first drafts done for a novel and three screenplays sure makes me feel a heck of a lot more like a writer than anything else. My confidence is improved, and that probably helps with my speed, and my desire to sit and write every day is also increased. On Script #4, I’ve written every day since I started, except for one, and each one of those days has been at least a five-page day.

I will try, in the next week, to post pictures of ‘finished’ products – or the stacks of paper that make up the first drafts.

Anyway, the big lesson learned is that writing gets stuff done. Not writing doesn’t get anything done. Talking about writing doesn’t make things happen. Wanting to be a writer doesn’t, wishing you were a writer doesn’t, dreaming about writing doesn’t.

Writing makes you a writer. So what are you waiting for?

~James

Update/Random Stuff

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I haven’t been completely inactive for the last month or so since my last post.

I’ve written three articles for Corner of the Galaxy, and had two published.

Screenplay #2 is done. At least the first draft. 35 writing days out of 50 calendar days, which is a pretty good pace for me lately.

I’m still transcribing The Novel. Down to about 20,000 words left. I’ve started transcribing Screenplay #2.

Have I mentioned that I hate transcription? If you want a case of tedium to go, take up transcription. It’s making me rethink (again) my choices to write in longhand for my first drafts. Longhand gives me more flexibility during the initial composition phase, but I pay for it during transcription. It’d be easier to just type the first draft, I think. Except for that whole flexibility thing.

The Next Project hasn’t come to me yet. Not that I need to wait for inspiration before I start, but the premise for Script #2 had been flapping around the inside of my skull for quite awhile before I decided to start on it. I don’t have any festering sores in there that need a good picking yet, but I need to find something soon. Not writing is much harder on me that writing is.

Anyway. I’m still writing. Nothing ready to send out for sale yet, but that time is drawing slowly closer. I’ll mention it when the time comes, but that shan’t be for awhile, I fear.

Back to the transcription.

Keep writing. It sure beats the alternative.

 

 

Beware the Advice You Take

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I think I’ve been pretty upfront with the fact that I really don’t know squat about anything I talk about on this blog, other than the simple truths I’ve learned through trial and error. Anything I tell you can be taken with a grain of salt, in the vein of ‘your mileage may vary’.

Just because it works for doesn’t mean it will work for you. Other than the obvious things like ‘Write every day.’ or ‘Don’t talk about writing. Just write’.

For example, my routine that I’ve developed that helps me put my butt in the chair might do exactly the opposite for you. I like to write in the evenings. You might not be able to face the page at any time other than the wee hours of the morning. If you need two hours of free writing in your journal before you can even think about working on your Project, more power to you. Personally, I don’t have that kind of time. Or energy. If I put anything more than a couple hundred words into my journal, I find that I have nothing left when it comes to writing For Score.

Whatever. What I do gets me writing. What you do should do the same. It doesn’t matter how, it only matters that you do.

Anyway, given the caveat above, I think we all need to be careful about where we get our advice, or more importantly, who we listen to. If our Chosen Expert makes more money talking about writing (ie, teaching writing classes) rather than selling their own writing, it might be time to Choose Another Expert.

I recently found out that one of the Gurus of Screenwriting (with a very famous book on the subject) hasn’t changed his course in over 30 years.

The industry has changed – markedly – since he started teaching.

But his class still pounds out the same routine about spine, plot, the foundational challenges of the three-act structure, over-arching theme, sub-textual elements coming into play when developing the b-story, or whatever, that he was teaching back when feature writers were king and selling scripts for seven figures. TV, in those days, was for hacks that couldn’t sell a movie to save their lives. Nowadays, it’s almost the reverse. TV is where the excitement is, it’s the medium attracting the talent, and the writer is become king. There is still a place for feature writers, but they are more a part of a committee than a sole author.

You’d think he’d change with the times.

This is the example that jumps out at me, but he isn’t the only one. There are others peddling the Secrets of Success to writing for TV. Novels. Short stories. Stage plays. Screenwriting. On and on and on.

In my opinion, you learn more by doing – more by sitting down and writing on your own – than you do worrying about how many spaces you put after a period at the end of a sentence or whether it’s ‘INT -THE LIVING ROOM – DAY’ or ‘INT. – THE LIVING ROOM – DAY’.

Quentin Tarantino wrote Pulp Fiction out longhand in a pile of spiral bound notebooks. He worried about his story first.

When the time comes, you can figure out the format you need to submit your work in. Formatting is the easy part. The hard part is getting a good story together. Write. Edit. Rewrite. Polish. Throw it away and start over. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Worry about making your story good first.

It’s like building a house. The story is the framework and the rafters and the plumbing and the electrical – the stuff that makes the house work as a house. It’s at the end that you worry about the paint and drywall and whether you use cherry for the cabinets and Italian travertine marble for the floors – the things that make it pretty.

And be selective of who you take advice from. Would you take parachuting lessons from a guy that’s never seen the inside of a plane before, or you would want to learn from someone that jumps out of a plane – and lives – every day?

Of course, I could be completely wrong. It’s not like I know anything.

~James

PS – I’ve started contributing to The Corner of the Galaxy, a website devoted to the LA Galaxy. They can be found at: http://cornerofthegalaxy.com/

You can also follow me on twitter @JamesGGlass. It’s a different brand of idiocy than the blog is.

Things You Learn Writing a Book (or anything else).

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  1. Writing every day sucks. Sometimes nothing good comes to you. If you’re lucky on those days, anything that comes to you has to be counted as a win. No matter how bad it is.
  2. Writing every day is wonderful. On the good days, there almost isn’t anything better. The story flows from your brain and the page soaks the words up like a sponge. An hour or two will pass without you being aware of it and you’re 3,000 words closer to The End.
  3. A good part of what you write is crap, but a fair amount isn’t. A sentence might be good, even a paragraph, but it doesn’t fit the story. Or the words, sentences, and paragraphs are horrible and some nugget turns out to be gold – an idea, a plot twist, a new character.
  4. Just leave the crap behind and promise to make it better in the re-write.
  5. Re-writes are inevitable. No one (that I know of) writes a perfect first draft of anything. You are not an exception to that rule.
  6. Half the people that give advice – in person, books, or internet articles – are brilliant. Gods among mortals. They have the Secret and are worthy of your attention.
  7. The other half are complete idiots that have no clue about what it takes to write anything.
  8. The hard part is figuring out the difference. What makes it even more fun is that my idiot might be your genius and my genius your gibbering fool.
  9. During the first draft stage, it’s more important to get the story on paper than worry about spine, plot, theme, your secondary character’s b-story, the save-the-cat moment, character arc, the villain’s motivation, or anything else the Gurus tell you need to be the Focus of Your Attention. Just get the story on the page. Fix the rest in post.
  10. You will change, or at least your writing will, and for the better. After 50, 100, or in my case, 300 thousand words, you will see improvement.
  11. Finally, The End is a glorious place to be. But you have to get there first. I got there eventually, but I would have arrived much earlier if I had written every. single. day.

So go write.

~James

Finished!

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Over the Thanksgiving Holiday, two years and two weeks after I started, I finished the first draft of The Novel.

To be honest, it is roughly 300,000 words of steaming equine feces, but it is done. You can fix something that’s been written. You can’t do anything to save something that hasn’t made it to the page.

There is plenty to fix. Plot holes. Poor descriptions. I’m sure I’ve called a character by one name and changed it halfway through. Some characters need more development. Some need to be cut.

I read somewhere that, out of any first draft, 1/6 is pure gold, 1/6 is perfectly serviceable, 1/6 can be saved and used with some adjustment, 1/6 might be salvageable for another project, 1/6 is unadulterated garbage, and 1/6 is justification that either the writer should have never started, or better yet been strangled at birth.

If I’m lucky, my percentages will run close to that. I fear that they will end up nearer the ‘should have been murdered in his crib’ end of the spectrum.

We’ll see.

I still have about 50,000 words to finish transcribing, which I will try and have done by the New Year, but the hardest part, the writing, is done. I will pack it away at that point, along with barley, hops, and yeast, and let it ferment for awhile. Once a suitable distance has been obtained, then the long, difficult task of trying to make something of the mess I’ve made.

Now to try and figure out what I’m going to work on in the meantime…

James

Back on the Horse

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Some of you might have noticed that I’ve been away from this blog for over three months. Some of you might not have noticed at all. Either one is okay. This blog is for me as much as anyone else and I haven’t been able to face the added burden of blogging in addition to the daily struggle of deciding whether I was going to write or not.

Most days in the last few months, especially in October, I’ve lost that battle, and it beat me bad. I might have put pen to paper a total of four days last month.

I have picked up my writing pace again, managing to squeak out a few hundred words in the dark hours of the night. It hasn’t been much, but it has been something. It’s better than nothing.

A change I made to when I write has made a huge difference, and that positive experience of the last few days has given me a reason to post here again. Instead of starting to write at 11 or 12 o’clock at night, I’ve begun my writing sessions much earlier, around 7.

And what a difference it has made. The first day I tried it, I squeaked out my typical-0f-late 3 or 400 words. The second day, I got 500 in before calling it quits. The last two days have both been well over a thousand words, and I’ve worked on The Novel five out of the last seven days.

Just when I’d given up hope that I would never finish this damned book, I can now see a glimmer of hope that I might finish it. I may even be finished in the next week or two if I can keep up the pace. A little over two years since I started, and after something in the neighborhood of 300,000 words, I will finish.

And I will finish.

A good sign, in my opinion, that I am not just lying to myself again is that my mind is processing rewrite and editing ideas for when I do finish. What to cut, what to leave, what to repurpose, what to discard all together. How to break this monstrosity into separate parts that will eventually become an (expected) three or four book series.

For someone that preached ‘you have to write everyday’ and ‘just write’ and ‘the thing that differentiates the dabblers from the pros is daily writing’, this has been a bitter pill to swallow.

But I’ve swallowed it, and dealt with it, and dealt with the inner turmoil that its caused me. The feelings of not being good enough. That I should just quit. That there is no point.

Something that has helped me get through this feeling of hopelessness and helplessness is the ‘I Should Be Writing’ podcast by Mur Lafferty. It can be found here: http://murverse.com/podcasts/. Lately she’s been talking about dealing with those moments of inferiority that strike some of us. In general, Mur has a firm but delicate touch when it comes to addressing the psychological issues related to writing. Her casting schedule is irregular, but there are number of previous ‘casts archived so there is plenty to listen to. I highly recommend it.

The Plan, as always, is to blog with some frequency, but I’ve revealed here that this plan in particular has not always survived contact with the enemy. Hopefully I will be back soon.

In the meantime, keep writing. If not that, do the best you can to get through today. Maybe tomorrow will be better. If not that one, maybe the next one. It happened for me. I’m sure it will happen to you.

~James

 

 

So You Fell Off the Wagon…

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So you stopped working on the novel/screenplay/short story/collection of pre-Viking runic haikus a couple of months ago and you can’t get back on the horse.

It doesn’t matter why you stopped. Someone in the family got sick and you had to care for them. Your day job. You took your son’s Scout troop to summer camp. Breaking Bad was filling up valuable space in your Netflix queue and you had to clear some room so you watched the entire series to the exclusion of all else, even bathing.

It just matters that you stopped.

Now you can’t get started again. Your project sits on a corner of a table, or on a shelf, or peers out at you from a backpack/briefcase/open footlocker, calling out to you, crying out in wonder as to why you have given up, why you are ignoring it.

You know you should be working on it, and you tell yourself that you will but there is always something else more important, that you will do it right after the next episode, or as soon as they fish Timmy out of the well, or once you’re done with cleaning the garage, or whatever.

But we both know that’s a load of crap. Deep down inside, we know it to be true. We want to be writers, but the thought of writing, of picking up a pen and pressing it on the page so the ink flows out in letters and words is exhausting. It draws the soul right out of you.

‘I’ll take a nap first.’ ‘Right after the game.’ ‘How long have those cobwebs been up there?’

I’ve used all of those excuses (and then some) to put off writing. Occasionally I’ve used all of them in a single day.  It’s easy, isn’t it? ‘Nothing’s easier than not writing’, Dostoevsky said.

A month ago, I took the troop to summer camp. I was busy during the day and planned to write at night. A spot well lit enough to write by was hard to find. I wrote the second night we there. For one reason or another, I didn’t write again until we got home. 5 days without writing. That’s almost halfway to developing a habit.

A couple of days in a row at home, no writing. Now we’re over halfway, and it’s getting easier to say ‘no’ to sitting down and doing it. The reasons got more and more tenuous, more lame.

At three quarters, it got even easier. I hardly needed to use an actual excuse.

And harder and harder to get back on the horse, to climb back up on the wagon, and start writing again. I have to rebuild the habit. I’ve been able to string a day or two together here and there, but not with the (fairly) solid regularity I had before. And it’s hard.

Hard enough to wish that I hadn’t stopped. That I hadn’t broken that routine. That I had found a few minutes at some point each day during that week to write a few pages. A page. Just some words. Something. Enough to keep the habit fed. Enough that keeping going would still be a habit.

I wish I hadn’t stopped. The break was nice. Sort of a little vacation. But it’s cost me ten or fifteen thousand words, at least. And I so want to get this draft done. I’m so tired of working on it. But that is a story for another time.

From personal experience – which is all I have, and the perspective I try to write this blog from, so that the people coming after me can learn from my mistakes – I can tell you that it is much less difficult to keep at it, taking a bite from the elephant, even a little one, on a daily basis, than it is to miss a couple of pieces and finding yourself in a hole and then having to catch up.

I keep saying this, and it means more to me now than it did before, but if you want to be a writer, you have to write. Not want to write, not talk about writing, not taking classes or reading books about writing.

But writing.

Nothing more and nothing less. Just writing. Both the easiest and hardest thing there is to do.

And I can now say, with first hand, observed proof, that it is easier to keep doing it than it is to stop and start and stop and start.

So go write. That’s what I’m going to go do.

~James

Still Slacking, but Still Writing

And by that I mean, “Still slacking when it comes to working on the blog.”  No matter my good intentions, this one thing keeps getting pushed lower and lower on the priority list. Family, work, writing, Scouts, all reside higher up the food chain than this. If something needs to be sacrificed, it’s always the blog that suffers.

As writers, we are constantly making choices. Choices about characters, about plots and about twists. Who lives. Who dies. When we write. Where we write.

If we write.

That last decision, to me, is the all-important one. If we write, everything else is easy, relatively. The path to the end shortens, even if only by a little bit. Even just a few words bring us closer to the terminal point. So many positives to be found in the act of sitting down and putting words on paper. We eventually finish a story, or a screenplay, or a novel. We end up with a ‘something’, a real thing, that we can look at with pride and say, “We made this.”

But if we don’t write, that target, that destination, stays always over the horizon, always remains the ‘what might have been’. That is sad.

I’m sure I have beat this horse to death, gotten it up and ridden it ten miles, and beat it to death again. If you’re going to write, write. Sit your ass down in the chair and write. Nothing else counts. Nothing else matters.

You can talk up how good you are, how great your story is, what an awesome idea you have, how your movie is going to be the greatest thing since Kurosawa. If you don’t ever put it on paper, you’re just one of those people that talk about writing instead of actually writing.

I don’t want to hear about it. I don’t have time to listen to you.

I’m too busy writing.

Keep at it.
~James

I’m getting farther and farther behind on the power curve with this blog. I keep thinking I’m due for another post and next thing I know it’s been a month. Or more.

I keep going on about just writing. Shut up and do it. Pick up the pen. Put it on the paper. Write. That sort of thing.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned anything about how to improve your odds that you are going to write today, and tomorrow, and the day after, and so on. Since that is the hardest part about writing, the doing it, the subject is certainly worthy of discussion.

1) Don’t worry about it being good. Whatever you put on paper for your first draft, especially if it’s your first project, is going to be bad. Part of it will be good, maybe even great, but most of it will be suitable only for lining the parakeet’s cage. And that’s okay. Write something horrible. You can fix it later. The key is to have something to fix later. You can’t fix a blank page but by filling it.

2) Pick a time everyday and make that your time to write. It should be a time and place that works for you. It doesn’t matter if your friend gets up at 5am every morning and hammers out five pages before breakfast. Go with something that works for you and stick with it. Mornings, for example, don’t work for me. The house needs to be quiet (or at least interruption free) for me to get anything done. Combine that with my chronic insomnia, and somewhere around 11p is a great time to plug into Pandora and knock a few pages out. It helps me sleep, too, which is an added bonus.

3) It helps if you can write someplace other than Your Sacred And Holy Place Set Aside Solely For Writing. That, in my opinion, gets you out of the mindset that things have to be ‘just so’ for you to be productive. I wrote the first draft of The Screenplay sitting in a lawn chair at my kids’ soccer practices. For an hour or two, four nights a week, I got to be outdoors and generally not be bothered. Wonderful combination. I still miss those times. Having a child old enough to be sent to the grocery store for milk instead of you going does rank high on the list of cool things. It’s a trade off.

4) Start small. Writing can take endurance. You (probably) don’t knock out two or three thousand words in your first hour, and you probably won’t do it at your first sitting without some practice. Go for a few hundred words, or maybe a full page. Being with a small daily goal and work your way up. Adjust as needed.

5) Write everyday, but don’t get all psycho about it. I have days where writing anything isn’t going to happen. On nights that I have Scout meetings (I’m the Scoutmaster for my son’s troop) I’m lucky if I remember my name by the time I’m done. If there’s a soccer game on the DVR, that’s about the only thing I’ll want to do until that game has been watched. Give yourself permission to take a day off, but set some parameters. I can not write for an evening, but it has to be worth it. Either there is a game on that I can watch live, or a movie that is on my list (you should have a list of movies and books you want to watch and read, but that is for another post), or need to get caught up on my reading, but that is rare. I keep up pretty well on my reading. The point is, take a break every now and again, but make it for a worthwhile reason. Xbox generally isn’t a good reason. NCIS reruns are not a good reason. A Kurosawa marathon might be, depending on your choice of poisons.  Don’t feel guilty about it. Just get back on the horse the next day and knock out your pages. I used to beat myself up about it, but with life getting in the way, sometimes you need some recharge time. Take it. Just don’t let one day become two and then three and then the next thing you know you haven’t looked at your manuscript in six months. That would be no good at all.

6) Lastly, keep a notebook/journal. I keep both. The Journal has a summary of the day’s thoughts. Entries in the journal are usually 100-200 words long. Nothing big, but it serves as a good warmup before starting The Project. The Notebook is where I jot down ideas as they come up, either for the current project or planted as seeds for the next one. I also write down character names and traits for The Novel. That list has saved my bacon once or twice when I’ve forgotten a detail about a character or haven’t been sure about how I spelled their name when they last appeared 300 pages before.

I hope this all helps. These are tricks I use with some regularity that keep me interested and engaged in my writing. Some days it’s what I look forward to the most. Other days I dread writing with every ounce of my being. What counts isn’t the idea you have, or the awesome character, or the Magic Weapon of Ultimate Good, or the Technology That Will Save The Future. It matters when you sit your butt in the chair and write it all down. The only time it counts for score is when it is on the page.

~James