When you need inspiration, figure out what you really need to know

Nathan Bransford has a few words for us now, about how to handle something he doesn’t believe in. Ah, life’s little secrets – sometimes they seem so overwhelming, and then they turn out to be nothing at all:

need to know

by Nathan Bransford

I’m on record saying writer’s block doesn’t exist.

When I say that, I’m not saying that you won’t experience a feeling of idea-lessness or that life circumstances will never get in the way of your writing. Lots of people go through stretches where it is legitimately impossible to write.

What I mean is that most commonly, that feeling of writer’s block is just a feeling that you can actually power through.

When you head down that path, the absolute most helpful thing to do is to figure out the problem. Figure out why you can’t think of an idea. What is it that you’re trying to solve in the book?

Here’s what I mean. I’m at a stage in writing my new novel where I legitimately don’t know what’s going to happen next. And I got stuck. I seriously couldn’t think of what to write next. But rather than stare at the blinking cursor of doom, I started creating structure around the problem.

I know that the main character is currently at Point A, and eventually she’ll need to get to Point B. So I started cataloguing some of the things that need to happen before Point B….

Read it all at Nathan Bransford’s blog

Are Stories Still Important?

Time now for a sweet little post by the TV blogger we here at TVWriter™ respect the most. Some might call what follows a rant. We’re thinking of it as a lesson…but is it one that will be learned in time?

by Ken Levine

Cat Climbing PoleAre Stories Still Important?

A lot of Millennials say no. They point out that webisodes are very popular and a recent survey claimed that 2:26 is the optimum length. So who needs to kill themselves coming up with stories? They’re a royal pain in the ass to concoct and audiences prefer their entertainment in bite-sized portions. Who needs an ingenious beginning, middle, and end when you can show a cat trying to climb a greased pole?

Here’s the problem with that theory (besides the fact that it’s incredibly lazy) – two minute webisodes are like pieces of candy. There’s no real nourishment, nothing really satisfying or long lasting about them. You watch, you maybe chuckle, and you move on. It’s a little novelty. You never get really invested in the characters.

And that’s the key. Once you care about a character the interest level goes way up. And you need time to create that connection between the character and the viewer.

There have been myriads of entertainment forms down through the ages – from live theater to literature to filmed works of various lengths designed for various screens. But the principle of good drama remains the same. People want to be engrossed, surprised, delighted, taken to new worlds,  scared shitless, aroused, and involved. They want the subject matter to resonate, they want to maybe learn a thing or two along the way, and they want a certain amount of complexity. You can’t live on a diet of mini-Snickers bars (although I am this week directing INSTANT MOM).

Read it all at Ken Levine’s super blog

How corporate America killed my writing

via lowriderarte.com

via lowriderarte.com

by Jim Sollisch

A good editor makes a good writer’s writing very good. A bad editor gives your writing a haircut with a chain saw.

And as a copywriter at an ad agency, I work pretty much exclusively with really bad editors. It’s not fair to call them editors; they are my clients, often marketing managers or communication specialists. Many have MBAs and are brilliant at so many things. Writing not included. They’ve had the English knocked out of them. Now, they speak Power Point. Worst case scenario, my work is edited or critiqued by the legal department or by committees.

It’s the same for so many professional writers. Public relations writers have their annual report copy “edited” by corporate executives or their minions. Technical writers have their work “edited” by engineers. And if you buy a corporate speechwriter a drink, be prepared to hear about the horrors of writing for the tone deaf.

We professional writers aren’t precious little literati. We know we aren’t authors or artists. Most days we’re witty sales people. On our best days, we’re storytellers, craftsman. We do care deeply about language. We want our words to dance to a particular rhythm.

One of the tools we use is repetition. Unfortunately, it’s the tool most despised by bad editors. Charles Dickens would never have gotten his most famous sentence through the corporate communications specialist. The edited version would read like this: “It was the best and worst of times.” A savings of four words that makes sublime into subpar.

At one point in his “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King Jr. starts eight sentences in a row with the words, “I have a dream.”

And then near the close of the most famous speech in American history, he starts six sentences with the words “Let freedom ring.”

My clients would sit Martin down and take out a big old thesaurus.  They’d help him see that “dream” could become “vision” in certain places.  In others, “idea” might work. But mostly, they’d just insist that he find new ways to start sentences….

Read it all at the Washington Post

How to Avoid Turning Into a Jerk When You’re Surrounded by Jerks

One day, years ago, while our Beloved Leader, Larry Brody, was producing the Emmy Award winning series, POLICE STORY, the head of Columbia Pictures Television, the studio behind the show, paid a surprise visit to his office.

LB was uncomfortable with this because, as he tells it, “I was always uncomfortable around the Gerb [David Gerber, President of the studio). He was a literally awe-inspiring bully and I was terrified of him. But I wasn’t worried this time around because we’d just gotten both rave reviews and great numbers for the most recent episode. I figured maybe, just once, he would give the staff the thumbs up.

“Instead,” continues LB, “he reamed us up, down, and sideways for every mistake and inefficiency in the world since before the birth of Christ. After he swaggered out, I stared at his assistant, who was looking after the boss with his eyes gleaming in total adoration.

“‘Wow,'” the assistant said. ‘That was amazing.'”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” LB demanded. “That was a major asshole move.”

The assistant, who shall be nameless because our Beloved Leader honestly doesn’t remember his name, sighed. “Sorry, man,” he said. “But you know how it is. Aren’t we all aspiring to be assholes?”

Which leads to the question: How does this kind of aspiration come to be? How, when we’re part of a culture that celebrates what we hate most, can we stop ourselves from falling into line with it?

Think about it while you read this absolutely showbiz-free take on the matter:

just-another-day-on-the-jobby Kristin Wong

Working in retail, I still remember one of my worst customers. He handed me a quarter and what looked like a single one dollar bill. I said, “Sorry, the total is two twenty-five.” He pulled apart two crisp bills, which I didn’t notice were stuck together, and slowly counted, “One…two. Do you speak English? Do you know math?” I was fuming, but I said nothing. I was, however, short with everyone else that day, until a friend asked, “what’s your problem?” The problem was: I let that jerk turn me into an jerk, too.

This is something that happens to me all the time, and I think it happens to a lot of us. You’re a nice enough person, but you’re put in an environment where everyone is rude, and next thing you know, you’re rude, too. Maybe someone just gets under your skin and you don’t even realize it’s happening. Or maybe all of your friends are kind of jerks, and you gradually start becoming more like them.

Whatever the scenario, this happens because rudeness is contagious. In a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers had subjects reply to a neutral email. Some of the subjects watched a video of a rude interaction before replying, and their replies were a lot more hostile. That experiment and two others were enough for researchers to conclude:

Specifically, we show that rudeness activates a semantic network of related concepts in individuals’ minds, and that this activation influences individual’s hostile behaviors. In sum, in these 3 studies we show that just like the common cold, common negative behaviors can spread easily and have significant consequences for people in organizations

Whether it’s rude coworkers, nasty Internet trolls, or just impolite strangers you encounter out running errands, here’s how to avoid catching someone else’s jerky behavior….

Read it all Lifehacker

6 Unusual Habits of Exceptionally Creative People

Sorry, but we can’t help ourselves. Lurve, lurve, lurve learning how to be better than we are. It’s the American Way, yeah?

horray-for-the-artsby Travis Bradberry

I expend a huge amount of my time and energy writing books and articles and working to keep my company innovative. I’ve developed an obsession with some of history’s most creative minds in the hope that I might learn some tricks to expand my own creative productivity.

Some of the things I’ve learned are more useful than others, and some are simply too weird to try.

Steve Jobs, for example, routinely sat on toilets, dangling his bare feet in the water while he came up with new ideas, and Yoshiro Nakamatsu (inventor of the floppy disc) would dive deep under water until his brain was deprived of oxygen, then write his ideas on an underwater sticky pad.

Weird ideas aside, I’ve developed a pretty good understanding of the habits of some of history’s most creative minds. There’s enough commonality between different people that I’ve distilled their habits into strategies that anyone can follow.

Six of these strategies stand out because they have the power to change the way you think about creativity. Give them a try, and you’ll reach new levels of creative productivity.

1. Wake up early.

Not all creative minds are morning people. Franz Kafka routinely stayed up all night writing, and William Styron (author of Sophie’s Choice, among other best sellers) woke up at noon every day and considered his “morning” routine to be staying in bed for another hour to think.

However, early risers make up the clear majority of creative thinkers. The list of creative early risers ranges from Benjamin Franklin to Howard Schultz to Ernest Hemmingway, though they didn’t all wake up early for the same reasons. Ben Franklin woke up early to plan out his day, while Schultz uses the time to send motivational emails to his employees. For many creative people, waking up early is a way to avoid distractions. Ernest Hemingway woke up at 5 a.m. every day to begin writing. He said, “There is no one to disturb you and it is cool and cold and you come to your work and warm as you write.”

The trick to making getting up early stick is to do it every day and avoid naps—no matter how tired you feel. Eventually, you will start going to bed earlier to make up for the lost sleep. This can make for a couple of groggy days at first, but you’ll adjust quickly, and before you know it, you’ll join the ranks of creative early risers.

2. Exercise frequently….

Read it all at Entrepreneur

Writing About Writing About TV

Gather ’round, aspiring writers about TV writing, we at TVWriter™ are proud to bring you this truly intellectual discussion about the kind of thing we do right here every day (till we get a gig writing actual TV, in which case, “Whoa, Nellie!”)



by Linda Holmes

It was years ago that TV critic Alan Sepinwall said something to me that I’ve remembered ever since and that he doesn’t remember saying: that writing about television was shifting its focus from what is said before shows are on to what is said after shows are on. It made sense to me, since my career writing about TV started with writing recaps of shows I used an actual VCR to record. With tapes. I didn’t get screeners, I didn’t get advances — I just taped things, and then I wrote about them. I think now, that shift is so obvious that it’s taken for granted.

This came up again recently when Quentin Tarantino sat down for a long and searching interview with New York Magazine. After he expressed, among many other things, his affection for the departed HBO drama The Newsroom, interviewer Lane Brown mentioned the show’s mixed reviews. Tarantino’s response, in addition to wondering whether anyone reads TV criticism, included: “TV critics review the pilot. Pilots of shows suck.”

There’s plenty of room to debate whether anyone reads TV criticism anymore (or any other criticism, for that matter), but the other part of the response suggests it’s maybe been a while since Tarantino did. (In fairness, he’s busy.) While looking at pilots is certainly part of what lots of critics do and a bad enough pilot, or particularly an actively off-putting or offensive pilot, can get your show written off if it’s bad enough, criticism of television has long since become — particularly in the case of anything with any ambition — much more about the visit and revisit and re-revisit. There are shows that don’t get that treatment, but The Newsroom did. Whether you think its reviews were fair or unfair, they were not, in the main, the result of nobody reviewing anything after the pilot.

Writing about TV is in a weird place, for some of the same reasons TV itself is. “Here’s a new show; they sent it to me in advance; here are some thoughts including whether it’s good or not” is still part of the picture, just like the traditional fall rollout of broadcast network shows is still part of the cycle of TV. But just like delivery has changed and content has changed, writing has changed, too. And that traditional vision, in which your task is to generate a single review of a new show based on a pilot and then perhaps to do a remembrance when it ends, is entirely incomplete.

As shows have gotten more serialized and more complicated, and as online writing has provided a lot more space, the practice of writing about every single episode of a show has gotten more common. Shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad have been proving grounds for people who built audiences by breaking down metaphors, commenting on form, dissecting story directions, and generally working alongside viewers who want a more thoughtful experience out of watching television.

Of course, even that has gotten trickier to do. Early in this series, we talked about how the full-drop model, in which seasons of shows are released all at once, complicates public conversation. It complicates criticism, too (in a way that, were it true that TV critics just review pilots, it wouldn’t). Just now, The New York Times is posting two-a-day reviews of the episodes of the new Netflix show Narcos, because … it’s as good a method as any.

Well, wait. Technically, those aren’t reviews; they’re recaps, and if you want to get a weird and surprisingly boisterous argument going that’s of interest to a tiny number of people, get the TV critics of your acquaintance to reach agreement on how different those things are and how you tell them apart. (Spoiler alert: they won’t.) For me, recaps are a little more driven by the structure of the episode and the commentary follows that structure, while reviews are structured more like traditional cultural criticism. But there are countless gray areas and countless writers where “recap” and “review” both seem like reasonable labels to attach to their work. Of course, I came up writing 15-page scene-by-scene epics about episodes of Survivor that didn’t publish for four days, which is the kind of thing that simply wouldn’t/couldn’t happen now. At the time, people sort of went with it. You will now typically be asked at least once why a piece is so long if it runs past about 500 words, and the actual answer I would have given then – which was “…For pleasure?” – would not suffice….

Read it all at NPR