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My Writing

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I’m vowing to really get going with my writing. I want to push my career as a writer forward. I’ve gotten several television and film scripts in good shape. Now it’s a matter of getting them out into the world in spite of the Catch-22 that producers don’t want to read material from writers who don’t have an agent and agents don’t want to read material from writers who haven’t produced any work yet.

Yikes! What’s an aspiring writer to do?

In the past I wrote lots of letters and made lots of cold calls. I had some success because I did get a few agents to read my work and did get invited to pitch for a top sitcom, but that was years ago in the ’90s pre-Internet and pre-social media. Things are different now the Catch 22 remains.

I have gotten invited to pitch to producers via Act One’s Upfront program and will submit again once they open up submissions.

I’ve also entered contests, but there are few for television writers. I’ve written some producers and sometimes it’s hard to find the addresses of producers, who do want to limit submissions. One thing I’m glad I did was use my local library to get some addresses. They were able in a few hours to get the address for Reese Witherspoon’s company, Hello Sunshine, and to PBS. Their help saved me from wasting further time. Hello Sunshine, while incorporated, just didn’t show up in any business directories I had access to. So I’m grateful for the librarian who found something I couldn’t.

In addition to writing to producers who seem like a good match, I’m going to start writing a play. Tonight I’ll start an online course on Playwriting given by the Chicago Dramatists’ Workshop. My subject is a vibrant character from Chicago’s 19th century history.

 

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Secrets to Getting Published

My public library had a great talk about getting published. They got a good crowd of aspiring writers who want to write fiction, non-fiction, children’s books and poetry. The talk was led by an editor and a writer, who does both self-publishing and publishing through an established publisher.

I don’t think I should share all the secrets as their handout was copyrighted, but I’ll share some facts and tips:

  1. Know why you want to get published. Have a clear vision of what you consider success to be. (Getting published, wining an award, getting good reviews or what?)
  2. More non-fiction books are written by first time writers.
  3. Most self-published books sell less than 100 copies, and most of those copies are bought by the author. Ugh. ;-(
  4. Learn to “eat rejection for breakfast.” So develop a thick skin and remember that major writers often got dozens or hundreds of rejection letters.
  5. Adequately test your idea by seeing how people, not just loved ones, think about your idea.
  6. If you do self-publish get your books into different sorts of shops. In a book shop your books is one of many, but in a florist or hospital shop there’s only a handful of other books.
  7. The average new writer spends $3000-$5000 of their own money on preparing their books. Both speakers stressed that you should hire a professional editor. Someone who’s an English teacher or reads and edits professionally is required not just a pal.The cheapskate in me balks at spending so much money, but I’m mulling this over. I do have people whom I trust as good writers and grammarians read my work as a favor, but should I be paying someone? What do you think, readers?

Masterclass with Aaron Sorkin

aaron-sorkin-masterclass

I’ve just finished a screenwriting class taught by Aaron Sorkin of The West Wing, Social Network, Steve Jobs, Sports Night, etc. fame. Masterclass offers the class for $90 and I found it to be a good deal.

Sorkin knows what he’s talking about and is frank about how some aspects of writing can be taught and others can’t. Even though he’ll sometimes go off on a tangent, I found the tangent worth the ride. He admits to non-linear conversational style up front so students are prepared. He shares the classic approaches to writing and swears by reading Aristotle’s Poetics. Some of what he said in the 35 lesson course, I’d heard before, but that didn’t bother me. I was glad to hear the wisdom reinforced.

After several sessions of lecture, eloquent, wise lecture, the course featured students working with Sorkin on story development, brainstorming, and pitching. I was disappointed by the homogenous age range in the group. I doubt anyone there was over 33. Some of these sessions lagged for me, but I did appreciate how respectful Sorkin was to the students. It would be easy for him to act supercilious, lesser teachers at say UCLA Extension sometimes do, but this Academy and Emmy Award winner did not. Kudos to Mr. Sorkin.

I think the class is best for those who’re a bit familiar with screenwriting so I advise people to either take a short course (nothing expensive is needed) or read a few screenwriting books. I will say I wish he’d offer suggestions on how to overcome the difficulty in getting a script read by people empowered to buy it.

I tried watching in China and Indonesia. The buffering was awful, while Coursera, TED and Lynda.com don’t have such a problem. So if you’re overseas, think twice before paying for this course.

 

Next Steps

OnceUponATimeAfter receiving feedback that isn’t “We’re dying to buy your story,” it’s easy to feel disheartened. I tend to think the answer is to come up with an action plan. It’s also good to have more than one project going.

I have started and laid aside an adaptation of book about the Gilded Age. I’ve resumed work on it and will make it into a play. I’m hoping that theatres are more open to submissions from new writers. Time will tell.

I’m also brainstorming for ways to revise my television series pilot and I’ve written two letters to see if more professionals will read and consider the story.

Fingers crossed.

Feedback

About a year ago I submitted my pilot script for an American Downton Abbey series to a well known television actor via his sister, who’s a family friend. I’m profoundly grateful to have that opportunity since Hollywood is a very closed system. To get someone to read a script you must have an agent and to get an agent you must have sold something already. There are far fewer opportunities for American writers compared to British ones who can avail themselves of the BBC’s open solicitations. (Could that be part of the reason the Brits produce such quality television?)

On Sunday I met with the sister to hear what her brother thought. I had hoped for specific suggestions that I could use to revise. I’d be foolish to think I’d get an immediate acceptance. Now like me, this woman isn’t a neat freak. (But in my creative chaos I can find stuff.) After sharing some tea and getting up to date on our families, she stood up and said, “Where did I put my notes from my talk with B____?” As I scanned the numerous piles of papers, books, etc. I thought, “Dear God, she’ll never find it.” And she didn’t. Oh, well.

However, she did remember his main comments.

  1. The writing was good, better than most he sees. That’s encouraging.
  2. Hollywood wants Star Wars — in everything. They want Star Wars plots cloaked in whatever genre you’re writing in. Oh, no. Where does that leave me since I have no desire to offer Star Wars with horse-drawn carriages, hoop skirts and top hats.
  3. While the BBC and itv have produced period dramas for decades, it’s not an American genre. B____ did share the idea with some network folks, but they thought “Period pieces are too expensive” and hence not easy to sell. Well, perhaps Mercy Street will be popular and that will change, though I doubt it. Also, Julian Fellowes is supposed to be creating an NBC series set in the past.
  4. To save money, the number of regular characters should be no more than six. I have the family, servants and people who work with the hero. I’ll cut some servants and colleagues. One friend suggested eliminating the servants completely. Hmm. I’ll mull that over and think I’ll keep a few. If I show this to someone else who wants more cut, I’ll comply. But I do like showing the differences between servants in the US and the UK.

There were one or two more suggestions, which I can work on, but this mania for Star Wars vexes me. I had heard the theory that Star Wars’ big profits put an end to the development of sophisticated films, which the 1970s was known for. Now that the latest Star Wars film has broken box office records, I can see that greed gets stepped up. No doubt it’s the buzz in Hollywood and the way to ensure your career is to find the next Star Wars or simply copy the original.

I haven’t seen Star Wars’ latest film yet. I suppose I should, though my pettier side thinks, “Why give them more money and thereby add to the box office numbers?”

 

Tooting My Own Horn

Congratulations! We are interested in using your submission entitled “Make ‘Em Laugh: Make ‘Em Think” in the New Ways in Teaching with Humor volume, to be published by TESOL Press.

If you are still interested in being included in this volume, please confirm as soon as possible. There may be minor revisions required with your submission, but after confirmation we can begin the revision process. You will have several weeks in order to prepare any final revisions.

Thank you again for your submission and we look forward to hearing from you.

Best Regards,

Mr. __________, Editor

Countdown

I’m counting down till Saturday when I’ll get a chance to pitch a story idea to a producer. It’s not something I do every day and I can’t share too many details, but I hope it’s a sign that my writing is better than average.

Prayers welcome as I prepare for this short presentation.

Fingers Crossed

I finally mailed off my American Downton Abbey script and series treatment. After lots of printing problems, it’s been entered in a script contest and sent to a producer who’s agreed to read it.

Now to wait and keep researching so I can write episode 2.

It’s takes a miracle for even a professional screenwriter to get something considered never mind on the air, so any prayers or crossed fingers are welcomed.

Word of the Week

marplot, n. and adj.
[‘ A person who or (occas.) a thing which spoils a plot or hinders the success of any undertaking.’]
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈmɑːplɒt/, U.S. /ˈmɑrˌplɑt/
Etymology: < mar- comb. form + plot n.
For a similar earlier formation as the name of a character in a play (see quot. 1709 at sense A.) compare the name of the eponymous protagonist of Sir Martin Mar-all, a play by Dryden and William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle (1668).
A. n. A person who or (occas.) a thing which spoils a plot or hinders the success of any undertaking.In early use allusively as a personification.
1709 S. Centlivre Busie Body Dram. Pers., Marplot.
1723 R. Steele (title) The censor censured; or, The conscious lovers examin’d: in a dialogue between Sir Dicky Marplot and Jack Freeman.
1765 J. Otis Vindic. Brit. Colonies 21 His employers on either side the atlantic should discard him as a meer Sir Martyn Marplot.
1795 H. Cowley Town before You v. 87 What Tippy! I’m a bit of a Marplot here… This comes of entrusting your friends by halves.
1824 CountessGranville Let. May (1894) I. 295 What a marplot anxiety is.
1876 ‘G. Eliot’ Daniel Deronda II. iv. xxxii. 321 But what is the use of my taking the vows and settling everything as it should be, if that marplot Hans comes and upsets it all?
1880 A. W. Kinglake Invasion of Crimea (ed. 4) VI. ix. 380 In future campaigns the lieges shall not be the marplots they were in the days of Lord Raglan.
1915 F. T. Woodington (title) Fate the marplot.
1940 Amer. Hist. Rev. 45 343 Colonel Nicholas was a meddler and a marplot with a genius for intrigue.
1978 Economist (Nexis) 25 Nov. 123 Following in the footsteps of such marplots, Marxists, Maoists or malignants as the Lords Robbins and Bridges.
1982 Time (Nexis) 27 Dec. 12 Donald Nickles of Oklahoma and Gordon Humphrey of New Hampshire..teamed with veteran marplot Jesse Helms of North Carolina to filibuster the measure to death’s door.

†B. adj. (attrib.).
That spoils or defeats a plot or hinders an undertaking. Obs.1824 Lancet 10 Apr. 64/1 He casts a scowling glance upon the incorrigible mar-plot man.
1850 in A. W. Kinglake Invasion of Crimea (1877) VI. ix. 230 There were some of his fellow-countrymen..whose marplot disclosures seemed likely to bring down..a new onslaught of Russian masses.
1869 A. J. Evans Vashti xxviii. 392 Beyond the tender mercies of meddling, marplot fortune.

Let the Aspiring Screenwriter Beware

I’m waiting for my writing friends to finish reading and critiquing a script I’m working on. As their volunteering their time, I feel I can’t rush them. Yet I was getting antsy about moving forward on it. So I decided to get a professional service to do this.

Act One, whose workshop on screenwriting was quite good, offer script consultancy at various prices. I hesitated about spending $250 dollars because I wasn’t sure who’s currently doing the reading there now that Jack Gilbert their long time writing guru has passed away. Well, their $125 reading seemed very sketchy and I didn’t want to spend $450 on an unknown consultant. For $250 I was promised a 7 day turn around and a specific critique. It irked me that my report wasn’t done in 7 business days. I organized my schedule so that I’d have the report back in time to begin rewriting on a Thursday and then have all of the weekend to rewrite too.

I didn’t get the report by Thursday. I now know I should have complained immediately. I thought they’d get it to me by my Saturday. They didn’t. I complained and got four emails on Sunday apologizing and promising a report by Sunday. I would have liked a rebate of some sort too as I had explained how I’d organized my time.

The report was rather useless, sadly. The script reader had several grammatical errors and mistook my six act television show for a 3 act film. That was annoying and led me to think whoever did the work did it as fast as possible. Instead of suggestions, I got a slew of generic rhetorical questions. Who should I love? Who should we hate? The work was just so generic and expensive.

I’m not looking for someone to gush over every word I write, I want someone who’ll offer a critique that’s useful and can help me perfect the story.

My friends will provide specific insights and suggestions, for free in exchange for my critiquing their work. Act One is cheaper than a few other services, but it was a waste of money in this case. According to LinkedIn, the guy who read my script is their Webmaster cum Script Consultant. He’s never studied film or sold a script himself. If you’re saying that your consultants are “professionals,” you ought to have some standard of professionalism. You shouldn’t hire any average Joe with a B.A. in psychology, who’s never worked in Hollywood, and whose greatest film accomplishment was behind the scenes of his pal’s 5 minute film about a guy who digs holes and is losing his job.

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