If you don’t know Warren P. Sonoda or Liisa Ladouceur, you should, for both are extremely talented in their respective fields. Warren is a very successful, very prolific film director and my former roomate and Liisa is an acclaimed author, poet and journalist who I know through our work at Rue Morgue Magazine. Both recently penned their own personal and professonal “manifestos” on their respective websites. Both are excellent and definitely worth the read, so why don’t you go check them out right now? (click the hyperlinks embedded above)
I’ll wait here.
So with the gauntlet thrown, I decided to share some of my” rules of the game.” The disclaimer is that these are my rules and experiences and some are bound to piss some people off because they fly in the face of what they say or do. That’s okay; they have a right to be offended, which is part of the job as you’ll soon see.
1. Whenever you write, whatever you write, never make the mistake of assuming the audience is any less intelligent than you are. (Rod Serling)
2. Write every day.
3. “Writing” doesn’t necessarily mean “sitting at your desk” but for the most part it does.
4. Write 3 hours a day, minimum. Before I struck the lottery and moved from aspiring professional to actual paid professional, I worked an 8 hour day regular shit job, got home, made dinner, then spent three hours writing. As a full-timer now I have no excuse not to.
5. Live your life. Married? Dating? Family? Don’t feel guilty about spending the evenings and weekends with them. In the end you’ll appreciate the time with them more than anything you write.
6. Holidays. Take them as often as you can. Your body needs the break, as does your creativity.
7. Exercise — do it. I can’t stress this enough. First year of writing full time I packed on a good 20 pounds. Seeing photos of Fat Elvis at the end of that year (i.e. “Me”) was shocking to say the least, and I resolved that I would do at least 30 minutes of cardio a day. Twelve years later I still do. It’s good for your overall health, but better for creativity. Any time I’m stuck on a plot point or just blocked creatively, I take my walk. The blood flows, oxygen reaches your brain and I guarantee you whatever problem is vexing you will be resolved by the time you get back to your home/office. And speaking of that …
8. Have an office. A dedicated room is ideal, but a corner any room will do. What’s more important is that it be solitary and solitude. I work in the living room of my 1-bedroom apartment and from roughly 8am to 6pm it’s all my space. No distractions, no interruptions. It has to be just you and your work.
9. Don’t answer the phone or check email when writing. They’ll leave a message if it’s important.
10. Whatever you do, do not be one of those people you see tapping away on their laptops in Starbucks. They’re not writers; they’re exhibitionists, and they’re not professionals.
11. Starbucks are great places to steal ideas from
12. “Good artists borrow. Great artists steal” – Pablo Picasso
13. Keep a notebook handy, because you never know when you’ll come up with that brilliant idea.
14. But don’t keep said notebook on your night-table. I know, you’ll say “what if I wake up in the middle of the night with that great idea and come morning I forget it?” Take a page from Steven King; if it’s a truly great idea, you’ll remember it come morning. If you don’t, chances are it’s not a good idea to begin with.
15. “Grab ‘em by the throat and never let them go” – Billy Wilder
16. It’s okay if your first draft is shit. All first drafts are. That’s why God invented the rewrite.
17. Feedback is painful and valuable at the same time. Don’t be afraid to ask for it, and don’t be afraid of what that feedback tells you.
18. When you finish your draft of screenplay/novel/whatever, stick it on the shelf and don’t look at it for at least as long as it takes to write your next work. Then when that’s done, switch ‘em out, shelve number two and get back into number one. Wash, rinse and repeat.
19. No matter how busy you get, no matter how brutal the deadline, NEVER skip out on a friend/loved one’s birthday, or Christmas, or Easter, or Thanksgiving or anything that involves you spending time with the people you love. They won’t be around forever and as important as your work may be, it’s never that important. Believe me when I say I speak from painful experience here.
20. Your work is important, but living your life is more important.
21. Work to live but don’t live to work – (with apologies to) Ben Franklin
22. No matter how creative you are or brilliant your ideas may be, nothing will ever take the place of personal experience. So get out there and experience.
23. Regardless of format, regardless of genre, all great stories are at their most basic, about the human condition.
24. Deadlines are your enemy and your friend, but no deadline ever “sneaks up” on you if you’re doing your job properly.
25. “Art is never finished; only abandoned” – Leonardo da Vinci.
26. When all else fails, go with your gut. It’s going to be right more than any “How to” book will.
27. And speaking of which, all of those “How to” screenplay books are written by people who’ve never earned a living as a screenwriter. I have, and I’m telling you they will actually make you a worse writer because they’ll encourage you to write what everyone else is writing. If you want to make your mark, you have to do what everyone else isn’t.
28. One book I will recommend though is “Elements of Style for Screenwriters” because it’s actually useful.
29. Format is as important if not more so than what you’ve actually written. I wrote about format here and you should read why if you haven’t already.
30. An experienced producer/executive/script reader will be able tell within the first ten pages whether you’re a professional or a well-meaning amateur. So which are you?
31. It’s important to know where your story ends. How you get there is less important, as long as it’s interesting and unexpected.
32. “A good movie is three great scenes and no bad ones” – Howard Hawks
33. Never assume you’re smarter, better or more creative than the producers, director, actors, cinematographer, editor you’ll be working with. They all want to make a good movie and they’re your allies, not your enemies.
34. Only work with the best, and by “best” I mean people who take their craft as seriously as you do.
35. Take your work seriously; if you don’t, who will?
36. People who tell you’re they’re excellent multi-taskers are full of shit. They may multi-task well, but they don’t produce as well as they do if they focus where they should.
37. Never work for free. Never work for below your worth. Lots do, and that’s why we get bad movies, bad TV, bad everything.
38. Agents can be the most reprehensible people in this business.
39. Agents are extremely valuable in this business.
40. A good agent is worth their weight in commissions.
41. Every story has been told before. But not by you. That’s why you’re the writer. That’s why they come to you; because your take will be different.
42. A good idea is a good idea regardless of who comes up with it. All that matters is that it makes it into your story and that you get to claim the credit for it.
43. Be courteous to everyone, from the secretary at the production office, to the assistants, to the P.A.’s, to the craft service people, to the grips and gaffers and even the extras. Nobody likes an asshole and writers are notorious assholes.
44. Be professional.
45. Be professional.
46. Be professional.
47. “The greatest danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” – Michelangelo Buonarroti
48. Aim high.
49. Remember it’s a privilege to do what you do. Many aspire to follow their dreams and make a living at it and few ever do, so remember to be humble. Arrogance is your enemy and at the end of the day, you’re a writer; so write.