(pausing while everybody screams, cries, vents, shouts angry epithets, calls him the biggest hack ever to walk the Earth, moans about why he keeps getting paid to write, complains about the ending to Lost, which is quite easy to understand if you have eyes and ears, and generally rants incoherently whenever his name is mentioned)
-- and the other was a blog post by a woman (apparently the vice president of the organization YIIKES) on the Horror Writers of America site. They both had interesting things to say about writing. The Lindelof interview, available at this link, is a frank and honest take on how to navigate the requirements of writing a big-budget movie. Between the lines is Lindelof attempting to take the studio's story requirements and still make something watchable. There are reasons that people get hired to write these big movies, and Lindelof's interview should make it pretty clear how that happens. For me, writing is not an all or nothing proposition. In other words, I do not always consider something successful when the writer has had total freedom, nor do I consider something a failure when there is an obvious formula that is being followed. When a writer like Lindelof can grok the formula that is going to get him the job, that is called Being A Successful Writer. It may not be YOUR brand of success, but then I don't necessarily believe in wifty fairy nonsense like you do.
Anyway, it is entirely possible to understand how the formula works, be able to use that formula, and still tell a good story. The black-and-white absolutes that have been bubbling up in this business help nobody: All original films are not good, and all remakes/sequels are not bad. And telling writers and aspiring writers that it's impossible for a big movie to successfully tell a story because you see the bones of the structure isn't fair, nor is it practical, nor is it at all the least bit realistic. If you want to be the kind of writer who narrates the events of his death while floating face-down in a swimming pool after being shot by a formerly famous silent film star then by all means, be a knee-jerk reactionary. Otherwise, take a look. It won't dent your awesome genius. Kurtzman and Orci wrote a similar article about how to write a summer blockbuster, and were just as pilloried as Lindelof. And so was I, for deigning to link to the thing on Twitter.
Now here's the thing.
There isn't one writer ever in the history of putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard who only wrote amazing things. Not one. Clifford Odets, one of our country's greatest playwrights, wrote a movie called Deadline At Dawn that should have been amazing, on account of it being based on a Cornell Woolrich story, having an all-star cast and being directed by Harold fucking CLURMAN, is a total messy disaster that culminates in the line, "People with wax heads should stay out of the sun." CLIFFORD ODETS, YOU GUYS.
A really great way to become better at what you do is to be able to look at your shit and recognize it as such. Going through pilot ideas today, I found one that was, well, sort of okay but had the note "it's a little too WB goes to the movies." I said that to MYSELF. And I was right; it was. The people who are throwing stones at those actually working inside the summer blockbuster machine aren't doing themselves any favors, frankly, and they're certainly not hurting any of these guys.
(they're mostly guys, which is still a problem, and which I covered earlier)
And just like you shouldn't be taking every note someone gives you just because you think you should, there's no need to take any advice in any article. But as something illuminating from the perspective of someone who's actually doing it? Sure, what's the problem with that?
I've already talked about why the same people keep getting hired. It's really easy to take emotion out of this and just look at it objectively, and I say this as someone with no hope of ever getting to that position. But that doesn't mean I'm not interested in hearing from the people who are there. It also doesn't mean that I automatically consider marketing The Devil. Marketing is incredibly important to the studios, and it's important because they've found that it works. And really, it's not too surprising why people like Lindelof and Kurtzman & Orci keep getting these jobs. Because they are very good at doing them. That's what it boils down to. So if you want to be a movie writer, just remember that it's not the 70s and you're not Jack Nicholson. Those days are over, gentle readers, and the sooner you face reality, the clearer your path will be.
Now the other article is pretty great in its own way, which is the way in which someone awkwardly talks about writing. Here's how romantic Lisa Morton is about the whole "writing thing:"
In my fiction I’ve likened writers to magicians, and I believe that: Who else has the ability to create something from nothing and to transfer their thoughts and dreams into another’s head?
All you have to do is transfer thoughts and dreams!! It's so easy, you guys! Forget character, story, structure, voice. Forget hard work. Forget how you should probably learn how your industry works, and how you should treat is as a serious business and not as a floaty unicorn you hope to find in the magical candy forest.
The only time I get upset with hobbyists is when they call themselves professionals. Working in any job at a professional level involves not just making money at that job, but thinking of that job as your career. When you have a career (as compared to simply a job), you sacrifice for that career and you look for ways to advance in that career and practice it way more than just forty hours a week. If it’s wrong to get irritated at people who call themselves professional writers but haven’t really put in the hard work that I have…well, I accept that judgment.
Oy. Pretty insulting to people who put everything they can into jobs so they can raise families and/or keep their heads above water and/or have a nice life even though they don't have the bestest job of all time, isn't it??
I recently stumbled into a discussion group of people who I thought had called themselves professionals, but their conversations revealed them to be hobbyists. They chatted about health and told jokes and moaned about personal problems…anything, in other words, but writing careers.
What idiots! I remember talking to Dorothy Parker that one time and she was telling this simply hysterical story about a party she'd been to but since it wasn't about WRITING, darling, I just could not be interested in the LEAST! If I'm out somewhere and some person like Lisa comes up to me and starts talking about her "process," I'm going to excuse myself and go get another drink. Because I know that this person spends more time talking about writing than she does actually writing. Or when she DOES write, she has that fantasy in her head about how awesome and romantic she looks doing it, and hopes that she will soon meet a Byronic hero, maybe similar to the one in her story, and maybe she should make him dark-haired because that is more striking.
Child, I just can't take you seriously.
The aspiring writer cottage industry is fascinating to me because there seem to be little to no qualifications necessary to "teach" writing. With the Internet, it's even easier for people to allow themselves to be preyed upon. In this case, it comes in the form of a "quiz" that you can take to see if you are indeed a real writer. Just because I think you'll all find it kind of amazing, here it is:
Below are ten questions. Ideally, you should be answering “yes” to all ten, but I’ll cut you a little slack and say you can get off with 80% and still call yourself “professional”.
How genius is it that she gets to choose the percentage???
1. Is your home/work place messy because that time you’d put into cleaning it is better spent writing?
2. Do you routinely turn down evenings out with friends because you need to be home writing instead?
3. Do you turn off the television in order to write?
4. Would you rather receive useful criticism than praise?
5. Do you plan vacations around writing opportunites (either research or networking potential)?
6. Would you rather be chatting about the business of writing with another writer than exchanging small talk with a good friend?
7. Have you ever taken a day job that paid less money because it would give you more time/energy/material to write?
8. Are you willing to give up the nice home you know you could have if you devoted that time you spend writing to a more lucrative career?
9. Have you done all these things for at least five years?
10. Are you willing to live knowing that you will likely never meet your ambitions, but you hold to those ambitions nonetheless?
Do these questions seem harsh? Extreme? Brutal? Really? Then consider this: You are competing against people who can answer “yes” to all ten of these, and you might well be competing against a LOT of them. They may all be as talented as you are; no matter how good you are, at least a few of them will be more talented.
It's a good bet that a lot of the people who got a zero on this are more talented than I am.
Please do not do all of these things. You will want to eat the barrel of a revolver. What people like this don't understand is that while being a writer is an awesome job (when it's going well, it is indeed awesome), it's still a job. It's work. And it should be treated as such. It should be treated with honest respect. Waiting for inspiration to strike, or having that romantic view of being a writer, is kind of shit. Sometimes you have to force it. It's as romantic as being in a real relationship, which is not the romantic comedy the movies make it out to be, right? Writing isn't either. Really, the only place I talk about writing is on this blog. I don't want to talk about writing with my friends. How to write? How to outline? What? How does that work? Would we all enter into the murder/suicide pact at the same time?
If you're a writer and you've struggled at all (which means most professional writers), then you are kind of sickened by the romanticism of this list. It's gross, and depressing, and unrealistic. I think my favorite question is the arbitrary number 9, wherein she ascribes a random amount of time that you've spent in aspiring writer purgatory. The rest of the article is just as stupid and just as awkwardly written and just as fucking condescending and awful.
It's been my experience that the majority of people who are asking questions about how to write don't want the truth. They want the easy answer, the quick way to do something, the simple solution, the One Writing Tome To Rule Them All. That's why Syd Field and this other mofo who wrote some book about a cat that everyone read (I had never even heard of it until recently) are making money hand over gullible fist.
Look, let me give you some advice on how to write -- WRITE. Sorry that it's not easy and there aren't easily defined, simple to follow bullet points, but then the only thing that IS easy is sitting on your ass writing some ridiculous questionnaire on how to know if you're really a writer.