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11 September 2009 @ 10:31 am
Various writing stuff.  
The truth hurts, sometimes.

Go read this article, from Oscar winning screenwriter Josh Olson.

I'm patient. I'll wait.

All done? I want to print it out and post the whole thing on my refrigerator. I want to blow up my favorite bits and post them around my office cubicle tiny receptionist's desk. (I'm not a receptionist, FYI, I just sit at a receptionist's desk for the interim.) I read this, and even though I'm still coming at this from the other side (that of mostly unpublished, aspiring author), I know it's true, every blessed word. Harsh, but sadly true.

Favorite bits:

It rarely takes more than a page to recognize that you're in the presence of someone who can write, but it only takes a sentence to know you're dealing with someone who can't.

And this, which I believe applies to a whole lot of people out there as regards any sort of writing. Because an awful lot of people who have never tried believe they can write a book, that writing a book is somehow easy and doing so will make them instant successes and millionaires. (*snorts*) Writing is hard. Writing a 100,000 word novel is really hard, and so is doing it again, and again, and again. Not to mention the difficulties of actually getting an agent and getting that book published to make any sort of money at it at all.

Which brings us to an ugly truth about many aspiring screenwriters: They think that screenwriting doesn't actually require the ability to write, just the ability to come up with a cool story that would make a cool movie. Screenwriting is widely regarded as the easiest way to break into the movie business, because it doesn't require any kind of training, skill or equipment. Everybody can write, right? And because they believe that, they don't regard working screenwriters with any kind of real respect.

Which brings me to:

I was dying to find something positive to say, and there was nothing. And the truth is, saying something positive about this thing would be the nastiest, meanest and most dishonest thing I could do. Because here's the thing: not only is it cruel to encourage the hopeless, but you cannot discourage a writer. If someone can talk you out of being a writer, you're not a writer. If I can talk you out of being a writer, I've done you a favor, because now you'll be free to pursue your real talent, whatever that may be. And, for the record, everybody has one. The lucky ones figure out what that is. The unlucky ones keep on writing shitty screenplays and asking me to read them.

Okay, so this is kind of harsh. I think you totally can discourage a writer, and that sticking with writing long enough to get good at it is really freakin' hard, just like writing a 100,000 word book is really hard. But it also reminds me strongly of the story mizkit once told about meeting one of her author idols once upon a time, Anne McCaffrey, and how she shyly told Anne she wanted to be an author, too, and Anne's response was a rather harsh sounding "Quit if you can. Go do something else." (I'm paraphrasing, but the gist was if she could quit writing, she should.)

Because for the most part, being a writer is a thankless, unappreciated job at which it's difficult (but not, thankfully, impossible) to make a living. I've said for a long time that you have to be just a little bit crazy to spend months of your life producing 100,000 words that no one but you and your best friends and family may ever read, and then spend more months editing and revising it, before doing it all over again with something new. Then, say you do get a publishing contract - chances are, you won't be able to quit your day job, much less get wealthy. And then there come the reviews. Someone, somewhere, is going to hate it and think it's the worst drivel they've ever read. Yes, there's just a little bit crazy in all of us who write. (Just my opinion.)

My last favorite bit was the story Mr. Olson told about Picasso:

There's a great story about Pablo Picasso. Some guy told Picasso he'd pay him to draw a picture on a napkin. Picasso whipped out a pen and banged out a sketch, handed it to the guy, and said, "One million dollars, please."

"A million dollars?" the guy exclaimed. "That only took you thirty seconds!"

"Yes," said Picasso. "But it took me fifty years to learn how to draw that in thirty seconds."


Indeed, sir. I wonder how much that napkin would go for on ebay?

In any case, all of this really resonated with me this morning, because last night a Published and Successful Author took an hour out of her life, out of her off time, to chat with me on the phone and give me some invaluable insights. What started out as a question posed in e-mail, and a very generously offered personal answer over the phone about one small thing, led to her offering me a glimpse behind the curtain - she shared stories that will make me think about how I want to approach my career as it's taking shape, stories you'd never hear unless you were sitting at the pro table around the proverbial water cooler at the writing con - and even then, it's much more likely they'd talk about them in private over margaritas. These weren't super secret sekrits, or gossip, they were life lessons of the writer, actually learned the hard way by people who've taken the path before me.

She didn't have to share them. She didn't have to talk to me and offer anything at all, but she did, and I consider that hour of conversation absolutely invaluable. I only hope when I'm a Published and Successful Author, I will be as generous to someone else.
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Tessa Gratton: lolwut percytessagratton on September 11th, 2009 05:48 pm (UTC)
f I can talk you out of being a writer, I've done you a favor, because now you'll be free to pursue your real talent, whatever that may be. And, for the record, everybody has one. The lucky ones figure out what that is. The unlucky ones keep on writing shitty screenplays and asking me to read them.

AHAHAHAHAHA! Thanks for sharing.
rhienellethrhienelleth on September 11th, 2009 05:53 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that paragraph struck me as funny, painful, and also harsh. And probably true. Because an awful lot of writers seem to have something else they do really, really well (Maggie and her art, for example.)
Tessa Grattontessagratton on September 11th, 2009 05:58 pm (UTC)
Heheh, totally.

I just nabbed the article for my blog, too. Thanks!
jessicafeatherweight on September 11th, 2009 05:57 pm (UTC)
Wow. That article was brutal, but very honest. I don't want to be a writer. At all. I used to, but I grew up and realized that while I did enjoy writing to some extent, there were tons of people out there who were a great deal more talented and who had a great deal more drive. While I know I can string words together and that my academic papers are well-written (it's my ideas, I guess, that need work), I know that I would never be able to put that much into writing.

So I get where you're coming from, but I think it's really awesome that you're still trying. Your time will come though, seriously. One of my friends from lj (same age as me--23), wrote several novels and two years ago got an agent and got the book sold. She worked full-time, basically, on writing and it took her 2-3 years of constant querying to get a response. But now her second book is coming out in 2010 (both of them are from St. Martin's). So keep on going!
Celli: stompy bootscelli on September 11th, 2009 06:47 pm (UTC)
I just left a temper-filled comment on the followup to that, because everyone responding all, "your an elite pig!" or whatever, is actually a self-entitled pig, and I want to kick some people.

*pant pant pant*
rhienellethrhienelleth on September 11th, 2009 06:48 pm (UTC)
Oooooh, I did not even read the comments! Now of course, I have to.
Celli: writingcelli on September 11th, 2009 06:51 pm (UTC)
Some people get it. Some are rage-inducing. Mine's the fourth, I think, on Gerrold's essay.
rhienelleth: Ronon pissed off - goldie_galrhienelleth on September 11th, 2009 06:55 pm (UTC)
OMG. I just got to the one where the guy rants about how no screenwriter should ever have Picasso's name mentioned in the same breath as them...because Picasso R Srius Artist, you know.

Unlike writers.

*rage*
Dragonsinger: Grace - Erinyadragonsinger on September 11th, 2009 07:00 pm (UTC)
Some harsh words, but he is right. Ever since I was a little girl, I knew writing was hard. But it was so much fun making up characters and stories and writing them down. I wanted to do that more than go play on the playground (I was a weird kid).

No, I don't expect to reach the level of JK Rowling or Stephenie Meyer or Nora Roberts, but I'll be happy if I get a meager following.

Nope, he hasn't talked me out of writing. he just made me more determined.:)

So, what were those insights the published author gave you?
rhienellethrhienelleth on September 11th, 2009 07:16 pm (UTC)
Hey, let's be honest - every writer hopes in her heart of hearts to be the next Nora (I know I do!) Who wouldn't, really?

But just to be successful enough to have people out there who don't know us from Adam who love our words and stories - and then to actually get paid to write those words and stories - that's the dream we're working for.

And when we're lucky enough that someone further down that road actually looks at our stuff and offers advice, a real writer thanks them and takes it, and thinks about it, and values it for what it is - the opinion of someone more experienced. That doesn't mean everything they say is golden, but it certainly means there's probably something valuable in what they have to say.

ETA: Of course, I've also had the experience of the pro who openly mocked me and ridiculed my writing in front of a room full of people, after I'd paid for the workshop and his/her time. So, not all pro advice is good advice. FWIW


Edited at 2009-09-11 07:30 pm (UTC)
Dragonsingerdragonsinger on September 11th, 2009 09:06 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't call that person a pro at all since they didn't act professionally. (((HUGS)))

And, yes, deep down, I dream of the glamorous premiere of the movie based on my book, but I also know that's not necessarily reality.:)
Nuquiet_rebel on September 11th, 2009 07:07 pm (UTC)
Thanks very much for sharing that article. It only makes me want to work harder and makes me realize I am going in the right direction.
Nuquiet_rebel on September 11th, 2009 07:07 pm (UTC)
I should clarify--a LONG direction, but at least it's in the right way. Haha.
rhienellethrhienelleth on September 11th, 2009 07:10 pm (UTC)
Which is exactly how I felt when I read it. :D
Patron Saint of Pessimism: Christmas-Handgunswoodrunner on September 11th, 2009 08:42 pm (UTC)

I read that article yesterday and tabbed it so that I could do a post about it myself, but you beat me to it. I think I still will...

I thought it was a great article and something every writer needs to read. Yeah, there's a major "ouch" factor, but it needs to be said.

jennemjennem on September 12th, 2009 01:19 am (UTC)
Which brings us to an ugly truth about many aspiring screenwriters: They think that screenwriting doesn't actually require the ability to write, just the ability to come up with a cool story that would make a cool movie. Screenwriting is widely regarded as the easiest way to break into the movie business, because it doesn't require any kind of training, skill or equipment. Everybody can write, right? And because they believe that, they don't regard working screenwriters with any kind of real respect.

YES. Exactly. I have fairly brilliant and creative ideas wandering around in my head. I daydream when I'm running, when I'm driving, etc. I'm just intelligent enough to realize that I can't write. Ha!
Fatemafatema on September 12th, 2009 04:04 pm (UTC)
There's this teacher here who's been working on a novel idea for a while, but hasn't actually written much down. He's only written down the first 7,000 words or so I think and last night he told me that those 7,000 words are perfect and don't need to be changed and I thought, "You're delusional if you really believe that," but didn't say it because I've seen how much you and other aspiring writers on my f-list WORK to spit out those words and how many edits you go through and how much work is involved. Most people don't get it and I don't think I'd ever have the courage to be a writer because it just takes so much work. And it's not my calling anyhow, but yeah. When he said that, I thought of you and I thought of quiet_rebel and a few other LJ friends and just went, "Yeah, no, you're not ready for the reality of the situation, but you might get there someday."