Category Archives: writing

What I took home from the LSF 2014

It’s already been a week since the fantastic London Screenwriters Festival 2014, but after this week back in the “real life” of job and family I can still feel that faint but insistent feeling that something in me, something in the way I see myself as a writer and want to see my writing produced in some form or another, has changed.

I no longer think “big (and therefore unlikely)” but “small is possible”. Let me explain.

LSF CJ 01

I love big ideas. Big stories. High concept and all that. Which is what many of my stories are, either set in 15th century Venice or in the future, rarely something below let’s-change-history / save-the-planet level. I have always admired small or intimate films, but I never thought I could write those stories. And that’s what seems to have changed.

Wherever I looked and listened during these three mad and inspiring days at Regent’s College, I got a sense of “I can”. Certainly in Chris Jones’ “Ignition” session and in general whenever he spoke. But also in many conversations with other writers – asking “so what do you do, have you got something produced?” and hearing of many small-scale successes. Just to quote one example, a guy I met in June during Pilar Alessandra’s “First Draft” workshop and who was really very much a noobie without a business card – now he has his own little production company (here’s looking at you, Kris Bealing J).

So many writers who pitched and got reading requests. So many writers who encouraged each other, who committed to goals. And somehow, that worked on me. I can’t put my finger on what has changed. I still love big stories, always will. But now I feel that small is possible. I look at my story ideas differently, trying to see how I can make them micro-budget and possibly even produce myself locally. I no longer dream of selling the blockbuster and telling myself it won’t happen. I dream of making my own films possible. And that feels good.

Thank you LSF. Thanks for the love and the inspiration.

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To Write Longhand, Or Not To Write Longhand

The debate among writers whether to write by hand or type has been going, I guess, since typewriters were invented and certainly has gained a new dimension with the introduction of the computer keyboard. I jot down ideas and draw mindmaps on paper, but once it comes to the actual writing I have always been the keyboard type. I realize that this promotes the risk that I will spend far too much time polishing words and grammar rather than develop the story and iron out mistakes and imperfections later.

But recently I attended an event that showed me yet another aspect of this issue. An aspect that I find quite interesting from the reader’s point of view: longhand can sometimes show us what the writer felt.

The event involved my favourite German author, Eva Demski, and the actress Leslie Malton reading and talking about letters written by a woman at the turn of the 19th century. Karoline von Günderrode was a contemporary of Goethe, Clemens Brentano and Bettine von Arnim; a head-strong, very creative and impulsive young woman, a true romantic who took her own life because of unrequited love.  (She wanted to make sure it would work and so waded into the river Rhine with stones tied in a scarf around her neck but succeeded in thrusting a dagger through her heart.)

Not only was it fascinating and entertaining to listen to the voice of this young woman from the 18th century brought to life by the actress and to hear the contemporary author’s dry remarks that, with all due respect, this was all a bit too much “teenage drama queen” for her liking. The audience had also been handed a facsimile copy of one of the letters, and at this point the argument pro writing longhand gained a new dimension for me.

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This is a letter Karoline wrote to her lover after he had dumped her for the first time, telling him in an acidly witty manner to go stuff himself. Never mind that I cannot actually read this old “Sütterlin” writing very well. The second page contained various crossed-out sections and created an overall look of messiness, but that was strangely contradictory. Karoline was distraught, yet her words are very composed; and yet again the general scrawl and the fact that she crossed out two lines – very decidedly so – indicate the confusion within her. Or so one can read this. Eva Demski offered another interpretation: that she wanted to show her ex-lover that he wasn’t even worth a clean copy to her. All this information gets lost if you just type the letters up and reprint them.

And these feelings never show in the first place in writing that is typed , deleted and rewritten until it is perfect. To be sure, the end result of your novel or screenplay has to be as perfect as you can get it. But I see a new merit in writing the first draft by hand, or at least bits of it. Crossed-out bits will show me where I struggled and remind me how I felt at the time of writing. And that can help my rewriting and revising.

So perhaps I will put actual pen to actual paper more often in the future.

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To Enumerate, Or Not To Enumerate

Another post from the Hamlet series

Okay, so I am still trying to learn the tricks of this trade, and I am always happy to listen to more experienced bloggers with lots of followers.  But there is one piece of blogging canon that is beginning to get on my nerves:

Thou shalt sprinkle thy posts with numbers.

“5 Things Readers Don’t Want to See.” – “ 7 Common Mistakes in Script Submissions.” – “The 8 Rules of Success.” And, apologies to Copyblogger who post fabulous advice but this is just too much: “37 Tips For Writing Emails That Get Opened, Read and Clicked.”

37… Dog help me, that is one post I am not going to open, read and click.

I get it. Numbers, bullet points do help drive home the message, and they also help me retain the message – provided there aren’t too many. Once they threaten me with more than 10 points, I switch off. And that has nothing to do with the shortness of my digital-age attention span. In fact, my attention span is pretty good (especially when I find something to procrastinate over). But serve me a post with 37 bullet points, and I will not retain even the first five.

That’s one thing that bugs me about the enumeration craze. The other is that these days everybody and their uncle are doing it. Sometimes I have the impression that a blogger sat down and thought, I have to do numbers, so what can I possibly write around eleven numbers? Or  perhaps they have a good idea for content but feel obliged to squeeze it into the enumeration corset, and so lose the freedom to argue and engage.

I guess that’s it for me. Numbers don’t invite me to engage. They lecture. Often it is good advice that is offered this way. But IMHO there is too much of it out there.

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Why Are Writers So Generous?

When I timidly ventured forth into the world of writing a few years ago, I was immediately and very pleasantly surprised by how welcoming and generous other writers, including established ones, were to share their wisdom and advice.

I am usually too shy to approach people I don’t know. When I attended my first screenwriters festival, the concept of “networking” was completely unknown to me. Within ten minutes of the opening meet’n’drinks I found myself happily chatting away, drifting from one group to the next. I was networking like a pro. What had happened?

The other writers were friendly and welcoming, that’s what had happened. Those who had been around for a while introduced me to others. Those who hadn’t, like me, were happy to have found another newbie. And everybody was happy to talk about their craft.

Duh, you say, obviously a writer loves talking about his or her writing. But my point is about the craft and business of writing, not about the stories. As at the festival, so many people in various online communities and blogs I started following are incredibly generous with advice, tips and links, information, their own experiences. Bang2Write, Go Into The Story, Scriptangel, to name just a few: here’s a competition,  there’s a workshop, fifty scripts to download and study, the five to-do’s and don’ts of submitting to an agent, watch out for this kind of clause before signing on the dotted line, that production company is accepting unsolicited queries… Aren’t these people just increasing the chances of their own competition when they tell you about all these things?! So why do they do it?

Sure, one of the cardinal rules of networking is “do to others what you want them to do unto you, and best before they do it”. Be generous, it’ll pay back. But I’m sure that no investment banker will share his business secrets for the sake of good networking. Lots of money involved, you don’t want the competitor to get the deal. But again… film certainly is a big money business, and yet screenwriters (at least all the ones I know) still share. Is it because most of “us” are at the bottom rung of the financial ladder in this industry? Notoriously mistreated and deprived of credits? Underdogs must stick together? Undervaluation of self creeping in as we think, “In this weird and wonderful film biz, we get paid least, so what we do apparently isn’t worth much and then there is no need to guard our trade secrets”? (Bollocks, that one, by the way. We provide the element without which no film would exist.)

Perhaps the shared underdog-ness is one reason. But I like to think that writers are mostly motivated to be generous by their love for storytelling and the desire to enable great stories to be heard and read and seen. The appreciation of the creative process, the knowledge of what it feels like when there’s a story inside you clamouring to be let out.

Can’t wait for the upcoming London Screenwriters Festival and lots of writerly love and generosity.

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Next month I will…

Final day of the #wpad blog challenge!

This one is easy. Next month I will:

1.            Enjoy sunny Italy for two weeks. Actually, I am already there!

2.            When I get back, start posting at least once a week in this blog about all things writer. I also intend to revive  my sneezeblog – do check it out if you have a mind. I haven’t posted there for a while but am determined to change that.

3.            Endeavour to translate my blog challenge-induced writing discipline to some “real” writing – finish the re-write of one script and start investigating some of the ideas triggered by the Writesofluid logline challenge.

4.            Get VERY serious about preparing for the London Screenwriters Festival in October.

Hope to see you around!

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My Current Project

#wpad blog challenge, day 30.

I will keep this short and sweet. It is a project very dear to my heart, and while recently my screenwriting has taken over again, this is one I will not give up on.

Many years ago, an uncle of mine introduced me to the Minnesota Boundary Waters Canoe Area. It is a magical place, and I fell deeply in love with it. There are many wild places still on this planet, and so many of them are threatened – by oil drilling, fracking, tar sands pipeline, in short, by human greed. I hope the BWCA will remain safe.

By taking me canoeing, my uncle gave me a wonderful gift, one that will last a lifetime. He was also the first to encourage me to write when I confided in him that I did not want to be a lawyer any more, and he told me I had to be creative and would one day find a way to make a living of this.

So I drafted a novel set in the Twin Cities and in the Boundary Waters. The action plot involves environmental crime, and the emotional plot involves some romance and a lot of emotional healing – for that is what this place has done for me, as has my uncle.  The draft sat in my drawer for quite a few years as I felt it lacked something; then a few months ago I suddenly knew what I had to add to make it interesting (that was the environmental crime bit). So I took it out again and started re-plotting and re-writing and am quite happy with the results so far.

Sadly, though, my uncle passed away a month ago, far too young and totally unexpectedly. I miss him greatly. I will finish this novel for him.

PS I am on holiday and have pre-scheduled this so I won’t respond to any comments until late August.

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Marketing Strategy

#wpad blog challenge, day 28.

Who, me?

Seriously, I wish I had one. So just a few thoughts based on what I’ve gathered from others much more versed in this:

Online Presence

Seems that this is something no writer can afford not to have. Well, perhaps someone like J.K. Rowling could. But all the established ones do, anyway.

So you have to blog, tweet (but please make it interesting and instructive – if you can’t, retweet somebody else’s instructive tweets but spare us details about the consistency of your breakfast egg). Maintain a facebook author page (note to self: make facebook author page and maintain.) Secure a domain with your name. Be recognizable – don’t hide behind an alias or fancy pen name (there are, of course, successful exceptions to this).

Be out there. And be generous – if you consistently promote others in a useful and appropriate way, good things will come back to you.

When you have a specific piece of work to market – a novel, a script, a collection of poems:

Polish Your Story and Know Your Pitch

First, whatever you’ve written must be the best it can possibly be before you offer it to the world (i.e. an agent, publisher or producer). That means have it read by a professional and incorporate their feedback.

Then, you must know who best to pitch it to, i.e. you must know the market for this kind of story and/or format. It should be obvious that you don’t offer a spy story to a publisher specializing in chick lit. And once you have identified who to pitch to, know your USP, come up with a pithy summary (loglines are excellent practise) and rehearse pitching that until you can recite it backwards in your sleep.

For further information, check out the professionals. Seth Godin and Copyblogger are very good places to start, not to forget Bang2Write.

PS I am on holiday and have pre-scheduled this so I won’t respond to any comments until late August.

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