So I’m back.
Yes I took a break from the website thing and had planned on publishing this piece at the beginning of this month (being September) or the end of last month (being August) but life got in the way. I had a major deadline on a Big Project at the end of August, and that was tied into the 10 day business trip I had to take up to Toronto. And no, I’m not saying what the Big Project is because I’m superstitious about that sort of thing, and because we’re so early in that process it’s anybody’s guess where we wind up.
So when teacher/writer Kristen Capaldi tagged me in something called The Writing Process Blog Tour back in August I thought “sure, I can put something together”. And here we are mid-late September and I’m just getting around to it. So sorry for the delay Kristen – but I’m sure this isn’t the first time some has gotten their homework in to you late.
So without further delay: My Writing Process Blog Tour:
What am I working on?
Did you not read my intro? I said I can’t talk about that!
I’m a screenwriter by trade. I’ve been writing professionally since early 1999 and am coming up on 16 years in “the biz”. To put that in perspective if my career was a human it’d be at the age where it’s flipping me off while stealing cigarettes and asking to borrow the car. And one thing my IMDb page doesn’t specify is the pile of projects I wrote and was paid for that were never made and that was AFTER talking them up. So I’m a little twitchy about talking about my film work, but in a non specific-way I’m currently working on:
3 TV series (one limited, three ongoing)
1 Webseries (actually nearing completion)
3 Screenplays (one in rewrites, one underway, another being outlined)
2 Novels (both completed, both in need of rewrites and/or publishers)
3 comic book projects (outline stages on 2, scripting on one)
There’s also Now You Know, a children’s series I wrote five episodes of, which will air (in Canada at least) on TVO in early 2015.
And there’s Mixtape, the first Volume of which just wrapped up. I’ve commenced scripting the second Volume, but you won’t see that for a bit which is why you might as well buy Vol 1.
So yeah, I’m a little busy.
How Does My Work Differ From Others of Its Genre?
Genre is a dirty word in my house.
Having just returned from Canada where I got my start, I reconnected with many friends and colleagues, talked shop etc. And the one constant among all of us working in the biz is diversity of projects. Because in Canada the fact is there’s not much work to go around, and if you specialize in one genre, you starve. I’ve done Sci-Fi, Horror, Comedy, Children’s TV, historical, drama, thriller – a pretty decent body of work if I do say so myself.
Contrast that with America, where you’re pretty much forced to write a “type” of story. If you start out writing horror, be prepared to write it for the rest of your career. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s how careers are made and legends are born.
I waver back and forth on which system is better. If I was just a horror guy I’d probably work more, but only in that genre. Fact is I like experimenting and working in different genres, as much to prove to myself I can do it, as to show to others I can do lots of things. The fact my most acclaimed work is a character-driven comic book series about teenagers and their feelings would seem to bear that out. But my most successful work financially have been in the SciFi genre. Which means if I crack a project about teenagers and their feeling set in a Dystopian future we have ourselves money in the bank.
(And yes, I DO actually have a project about teenagers in a SciFi setting thanks for asking, please see my agent about that)
So how does my work different from others in the “genre”? Because I’m the guy writing. My voice, my perspective – ME.
Why Do I Write What I Write ?
Because it’s my job. People pay me to do what I do and the fact I still am doing it would indicate I know what I’m doing and people are happy with my work. And if that sounds mercenary, it totally is. I do what I do because it’s my job. But that doesn’t mean I do it for money. Believe me I’ve had more projects fall apart than produced, I’ve been ripped off, I’ve frequently been without money more than I have been flush with it. And yet I still drag myself to my desk day after day and write.
As for the “why” … it really comes down to story.
If it’s a personal project, what we call “on spec” it’s because I got the idea for a story and think there’s an audience for it. I figure out what audience – movie, TV, comics, fiction – and either work the story into that format, or maybe pursue an idea that can only be told in a certain way.
If it’s something I’ve been approached to write, it gets a little trickier. Someone has a concept, maybe a logline and pitch or maybe even an outline, and asks you to write it (and offers to pay for your work) you say yes. That said, there still has to be something in the story that appeals to you. It can’t just be a paycheck. You’re going to be devoting most of your waking hours to writing this project, and it could take up a year or more of your life. If you don’t give a shit about anything but the paycheck, it will show up in the writing and chances are they won’t hire you ever again.
You also want to put something of yourself in the story you’re telling. It may be their concept but the POV is yours and that POV is what separates the wheat from the chaff. Write like everyone else, they might as well hire everyone else. But write like yourself you give them something nobody else can; YOU.
Mostly I’m a fan of writing that rings true. That feels like the characters are living breathing people and not words on paper. if there’s one thing I aspire to it’s that truth; that these are lives lived before you read the story. And that’s why I write; because I have these characters and voices in my head and I want to get them out of there
How Does My Writing Process Work?
To understand how my process works, go watch The Good The Bad And The Ugly (aka Brad’s favorite movie). Pay particular attention to the scene between Al Mulock and Eli Wallach that appears later in the film. Tuco (Wallach) is taking a bath in a bombed out hotel (don’t ask). Elam (Mulock) has tracked Tuco down to exact some payback, having been wounded by Tuco before. Elam has Tuco dead to rights, and starts monologueing, telling Tuco how he took Elam’s arm and he taught himself to shoot with the other and so forth. Tuco listens for a moment, then blasts Elam with the gun he concealed beneath the bathtub soap bubbles. Tuco shoots Elam again, killing him outright, and quips “If you’re going to shoot, SHOOT – don’t talk”
Now replace “shoot” with “write”.
That’s my process. Because the world is filled with people who tell you what they plan to write, or are writing, or hope to finish. They talk about it, they blog about it and Tweet about it and you wonder where they’re going to find time to do the actual writing part of it. If that’s what they need to do to finish, great. But I’ve always been the ditch-digger type of writer. I have a story to write and a deadline to meet I put my head down and
dig write. No online stuff, no emails, no internet, no anything.
Head down. Hands on keyboard. Write.
Because I write professionally I have the luxury of time to do is, but that doesn’t mean I can allow myself to be sloppy. I keep a regular schedule, 3 hours in the morning, break for lunch and go for a mile-long walk through my neighborhood, return and the next 3 hours I revise what I wrote that morning. Come 5pm I’m done. I switch off completely and don’t think about writing until 9am the next day where I pick up where I left off. I re-read the previous day’s work, make changes and edits, then plunge into the next day’s work.
And no, I don’t write every day. Monday to Friday is good. Weekends are for family and to recharge the batteries so when I plunge back into work Monday morning I can attack it with a critical eye. That’s where I review everything written to date on the project in question, and resume the writing.
I am also one of those writers who still works from an outline, because once I write I don’t like to stop and wonder where I’m going. I have an outline, I can take a detour if I want, but I always try and have a destination in mind. I’m not one for just “jumping in” and seeing where the muse takes me. Plus I’m frequently called on to work on multiple projects with multiple deadlines and an outline helps keep me on track so they’re not all taking the same path. believe me that can and does happen. Character names get mixed up, climaxes become really similar. If I outline I avoid that mess.
One thing I do use that not a lot do though is music, in that I’ll create a mix tape or playlist on iTunes or Spotify geared to whatever project I have going on. Let’s face it; starting every morning can be a challenge, but I’ll load up my songs, all picked because they relate (in my mind at least) to the project I’m drafting. I’ll sit and listen, sip my coffee, and read the work to date and soon enough the words start flowing.
For screenplays I aim for a solid 5 pages a day. For prose, a solid 1000. And by “solid” I mean “good, tight, proofed, edited”. I am free to go over that goal in either case, and can knock out 10 pages of script and 2000 words a day easily enough. But I try and keep a foot on (or at least close to) the brakes and make sure every word, comma, and space are exactly where I want them to be. It saves a lot of work down the line – time best spent revising the story, not correcting errors. To me writing isn’t a race nor should it be, which is why I shy away from the “write a novel in a month/write a screenplay in 6 weeks” challenges that are popular among many. I know a lot of you like them but they just aren’t for me. Write however you feel comfortable, but write. Form a plan and stick to it and if a deadline hasn’t been imposed on you, impose one on YOURSELF.
So this is the part where I’m supposed to tag people so they blog about their process. But because I’m way late in getting this out the door and am sure everybody I could tag has already said their piece. So why not give some of my contemporaries a look (and maybe buy one of their books too while you’re at it):
Kristen Falso Capaldi – writer, teacher and musician.
Ally Malinenko – author of “This is Sarah” and “Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb”
Kate Garrett – poet and all-around badass
Jovanka Vuckovic – Serbian she-wolf, author, filmmaker, editor. A triple threat
David Buceta – Writer/artist/publisher
Ken Epstein – Owner/publisher of Nix Comics
Monica S. Kuebler – Author, spoken-word artist, poet
Susanne Saville – Caffeinated author/Lovecraftian horror