February 23, 2008
Losing my Mojo
I had a personal meeting with my instructor yesterday about my latest screenplay. And I have to say, I continue to be convinced that the man is brilliant. He gave me a number of fantastic notes, that wil really help my story.
But he's also a big time professional, and because of this, his style is to kind of assume everyone in the program is a competent good writer and do away with any of the extraneous compliments.
Now I hate to say this about myself, but I happen to like a certain kind of balance when given constructive criticism. Basically I like to hear 9 overflowingly wonderful accolades for every hit of improvement that I could make. And that's not really an exaggeration.
The ratio of my meeting the other day was not this way. And in all honesty, it couldn't be. There was only time for the stuff that would immediately help. I got those notes in spades.
But since then I was having the hardest time just sitting down and writing again. I had lost my confidence! Such a fragile thing...
One of the wonderful things that has happened here at UCLA is that I've become a part of a close-knit group of writers (we call ourselves the 431, because that's the first writing workshop you take here, and that's where we all met). We help each other, meet regularly to read each other's stuff. And when one of us is going bonkers, we talk each other down from the ledge. Here's some awesome email I got when I sent out my pathetic "whoa is me" message. (And I let them know it was pathetic and whoa is me, too)
1) You're writing something I would never dream of writing. If it doesn't have girls or guitars, I don't want it. That means you're all grown up and I'm 14. So, there's something. The reason we love this story is A) it's true and B) we don't know it. Colleary's job is not to stroke your ego. It's to kick your ass and make you a better writer. Get the love from us. Forget the UCLA faculty in that regard. They've seen it all (including people like us stopping in for a few days, picking their brains and then going off to buy houses in Malibu). We'll be thanking them (ALL of them, Doc) in a few years so bask in it. Lean into the harsh wind and know we are all fighting the most honorable of fights. We asked for it. We begged for it. Your sitting with one of the more sought after instructors we have and you've told us his knowledge and notes are awesome. Know that.
We're just students to these people. Numbers. The next batch. We're all 16 year old wise asses to them.
We (the 431) will not give over to the Writer's Lament (It's also the Actor's Lament and the Improviser's Lament, by the way.) We'll put that shit on the page and bend the reader to our demands. Bitch.
2) I am gonna hip us all to the theory of Resistance. Short explanation is anything that stands in the way of your creative flow, anything that you let stop you from rocking is Resistance and every day we have to fight Resistance like we're fighting a mortal enemy. I used to teach the SAT like this:
If you fall asleep, the SAT wins. If you get bored, the SAT wins. If you get distracted, horny, hungry, angry, nervous or scared, the SAT wins. And if the SAT wins, you don't go to college.
Same idea. Lack of praise, fear of finishing, judgment of the work before it's done, these are all the faces of Resistance.
One of my all time top gurus was a little bisexual man named Mick Napier. He was a master improviser, director and actor. He wrote some guidelines for The Perfect Actor. Here's one of them:
MAKE STRONG CHOICES: F$%& your fear. We want to see your power, not your fear. Nobody has time for your fear...
Sometimes I really miss that man. Just sitting with him made you want to go home and make something.
Anyway, get in there. You know in your gut you can. We've all seen you do it. Use whatever means you have to. This is war. You gotta order a pizza for lunch? You gotta blast the Black Sabbath until the neighbors complain? You have to go down to the beach and scream until your horse? Do it. Just punch those letters onto that page.
Draft one, baby. Don't get it right, get it written. Don't worry about good. That's our job. You just get it down on the page.
In short, f$%$ it. Write.
I love the 431.
And here's another.
It's the infantile stages of a biopic draft. It's going to have some bumps the first time through. The further you get through it, the more it will come into focus so you can nail it the next time. If you need some direct feedback on pages, send them away and we'll check them out. Hold on to that confidence, because without it, you'll feel like just a crazy man with a computer. And you're not.
And from another member of the group who is also writing a "true story."
Dear Fellow Writer Of A True Story,
To put it simply: Yes you can write this story and it will be brilliant.
I know exactly where you are. Take comfort in knowing that I am right next to you in this leaky life raft we call a 434. Listen to the goodness and J.J. Wise stuff there. (I may thank them all in a few years, but I don't have to like it!)
Honestly? You and I should start a support group - Biopics Anonymous. I've come to believe that what you're feeling (which is what I'm feeling) is a fundamental part of writing this type of story a - the dread, the flatness of the scenes and character's the first time through. It's a tough high to come down off of, the realizing that this story that's just been sitting there for anyone to pluck has plucked you(what great fortune!) and then you set about committing that story to paper (it already happened right, I mean it's just sitting there, begging to be told, right? It's gonna be awesome!) and it acts like any other story - like a pain in the ass that doesn't want to get into shape and be a good story. Plus, on top of that you're haunted by the fact that these people really lived. That your telling someone's story. Someone with relatives. Someone that people already know and feel they own a piece of! But you know what, if you get it out - even if it's one big glorious hot mess when you finally do (80 pages just the second act!), you can do what one day we'll be paid stupid money to do - rewrite it. And that's when - as we all know - the real writing happens.
Don't think. Don't judge. Just put it down. Even if it's wrong. Even if all the alarms are going off in your head and you know you're going to have to throw it all out. Take solace in the fact that even then - you'll know more about the story and how to write it - you'll know what not to write.Then it gets easier to bring the brilliance in and make it sing.
Just know that I am walking the exact same path, my friend. We will be brilliant in the end. Trust in the 431 and just do it.
Jason- I can't add much to the genius advice of the other scribes....but all I have two pieces of advice: "Get to the end and start again." And "It doesn't have to be good, it just has to be done." That has saved my sanity on many an occasion. Like someone else said, just churn it out and leave it to us to help you polish it. It is a more than good start, I have faith in you, and you are a very talented writer based on everything I have seen thusfar.
And just remember....the difference between us and all those other schmucks sitting around me at Starbucks, is that we DO IT. We don't just talk about writing, WE WRITE. And then once we do that, we get trusted advice from others on how to make it shine.
And I promise you- we would not lead you astray. If we thought you were writing shit, we would tel you. I hope I can expect the same from y'allz.
I'm just so thankful, in the course of a couple of hours I get a bunch of brilliant, encouraging advice. I can't really underestimate this. I've wasted so much time trapped in disbelief of my own ability, unable to get out. One time, I didn't write a screenplay for a full year and a half after I lost in the early stages of a screenwriting competition.
That is so stupid.
And I was able to put 10 pages in today. I'm back on track.
Up to page 80. And it's going to great in the end. Not easy in the meantime, but great in the end.
Posted by jason on February 23, 2008 02:31 AM
I am a sensitive artist!
Posted by: King Missile on February 23, 2008 11:35 AM
It must be so hard to work everyday on something so hard and pour yourself into it and all you want to hear is "This is AMAZING!" but onl get negative feedback. I'm sure you'll rebound though cause you are so talented!
Just remember you are a GREAT kids musical writer!
That should get you through the darkest of nights.
Posted by: Jonathan on February 23, 2008 07:46 PM
*WOE is me
jk! keep at it man! pretty much anything worth doing is a struggle (in the learning stage).
Posted by: bsweber on February 24, 2008 04:32 PM
it is difficult to hear negative things....but at least it is from people you respect and who we hope have your best instincts at heart. i always had the hardest time with reviews, not caring about the good ones and taking the negative ones way too much to heart. remember, at the end of the day we only have to please ourselves and know we did our best and hopefully success will follow. don't you think somewhere diablo cody is smiling and nodding her head?
profs aren't there to play around. they dont need to give you the "sandwich" method of criticism (good-bad-good). they aren't paid to assuage the fears of a mid-size group of high functioning people with special needs. they are like football coaches and you are their first round draft choices; they need to see you succeed or they eventually are impacted. (hope to God they arent the eagles or you will never get to write anywhere but the practice squad.)
as someone who has done a bit (muy poco) amount of artistic mentoring we only give a hard time to those we think can handle it. that should give you some pride.
and it should give you some confidence that if all else fails you got yourself a sure hit in black family. :)
Posted by: josh on February 25, 2008 08:06 AM