It’s Not Lice, It’s Confusion

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Monkey scratching

I was the kid in school who never wanted to proof their test before bringing it up to the teacher. I was the kid who as soon as they got to the last line of their essay, they just hit print. I used to have a writing partner who could never let go of a script – he would do rewrite upon rewrite upon rewrite, never believing it was finished. Me? My script is done when I get to page 100.

Okay, in all seriousness, I’m not that sloppy of a writer anymore. Now I proof, I outline, I revise and revise. But it’s in my nature to say, “Are we done? Good. Onto the next.”

I’ve been working on this outline now for a couple of weeks (note: Robert McKee says your outline should take months, but he’s a blowhard windbag so whatever.) I wanna start writing. I don’t know what to do next with my outline, so I want to say, “Are we done? Good. Onto the script!” But I don’t want to get lost writing the script. So my question is…

When is your outline done?

My feeling? Your outline is done “enough” when you can write your entire script without once having to look up at the ceiling, scratching your head. (note: there is nothing wrong with looking up at the ceiling scratching your head when you’re searching for specific words, phrasing, or dialogue. But there should be no looking up at the ceiling, asking yourself “where do I go with this now?”)

Anyway, that’s just my opinion.

Bur I sit here, in the cafeteria of my local Whole Foods, looking up at the ceiling, scratching my head, and asking myself, “Can I start the damn script now?” I guess I’ll know when I get to page 50 and I know (or don’t know) where to go next.

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You Don’t Have Writer’s Block- You Just Didn’t Finish Your Outline

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Working on an outline for a new script. Think Kristen Wiig, Amy Poehler, and Anna Faris.

I listened to a teleconference seminar on structure last week that was really interesting. It went into detail on the 15-minute segment method practiced by most Hollywood screenwriters. For those who are unaware, this is a process that divides your movie up into 8 even segments (i.e. if you have a 120 page script, each segment will be roughly 15 minutes.) Each segment has its own purpose, and its own rise and fall. Following this structure is a great way to lay out your script, avoid the second act slump, and more importantly, writer’s block.

cow writers block

As the teacher of the seminar said, “You don’t have writer’s block- you just didn’t finish your outline.”

Here is a (very) brief breakdown of the 15 minute segment method:

  1. Setting up the story
  2. Entering a new world
  3. Learning the new world
  4. The first major obstacle
  5. Things fall apart
  6. The hero hits rock bottom and the villain achieves his or her goal
  7. The hero takes on the villain’s allies
  8. The hero confronts the villain

Bruce Almighty

For people like me who write comedies, these breakdowns of action movies are sometimes a little difficult to translate into comedy-speak, but its doable. For example: “Things fall apart” in Bruce Almighty actually means “Bruce starts getting everything he wants.” I know, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but once you start overanalyzing a ton of comedies (like I’ve done these last few weeks, including Bridesmaids, 13 Going on 30, Bruce Almighty and Horrible Bosses) it starts become clearer.

By the way, overanalyzing movies is a great way for you to simultaneously appreciate the movies more and become totally sick of all comedies all at the same time. (If you ever feel the need to read a scene-by-scene play-by-play of any of those movies, oh yes, I’ve got it in MS Word.)

Some people can write without an outline, but most people (including everyone I know) can’t. I want my outline so perfectly laid out that by the time I open Final Draft, the thing is practically written for me already, and “writer’s block” is a virus I’m immune to.

Mika Brzezinski (and other female stereotypes)

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Mika book

I need to talk about Mika Brzezinski. Mika is a co-host on one of my favorite news shows, “Morning Joe” on MSNBC on channel 714 (MSNBC in HD, baby.) Almost every time she addresses any of the men on the show (and they’re all men, except for her) she makes biting comments like, “Can we answer this honestly?” or she rolls her eyes at Joe Scarborough, or she talks under her breath. She also sides, unnecessarily, with women, as though just because you’re a woman you’re right, or just because you’re a man, you’re wrong. I believe that she believes she is an example of a powerful, successful, and confident woman for others to emulate. Hey, she wrote a book on the subject. But I believe that she is an example of a self-hating woman who is terrified of her aging body (though she’s a very attractive woman) and puts up a front against men as though being against men is what’s going to make women stronger.

Mika2

She makes successful women look like their stereotype: bitches who bitch.

Why do I care? Because she gives us a bad name. On the show, she is resentful, irritated, and a know-it-all. And as a woman, I want her to buck the f*ck up. Cheer up, Mika: it’s not all that bad. Be the example for other women- don’t be what men hate about women. Show us that successful and powerful women are a good thing to have around- not something with a chip on its shoulder.

A few years ago, I helped run a sketch comedy show on the Internet with 5 men. I was the only woman. It was a real challenge for me to feel heard, feel respected, and feel needed, particularly because some of the men had very strong, unforgiving personalities (not you, Mick- you’re lovely). And occasionally I became a bitch because it was the only way I knew how to keep up and feel like I was an equal player on the team. But in hindsight, I wish I used something far more powerful and influential than my attitude… something all women should have in their arsenal… an asset that can get women the real success they want: confidence.

Mika, you don’t need to roll your eyes, or snip at Joe, or talk under your breath to John Heilemann or Donny Deutsch. You’re a beautiful, well-educated, intelligent woman. And hey, if Sarah Palin can look herself in the mirror every morning, then darn it all to heck, so can you.

How Doing Your Taxes Can Give You the F*ckits

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Just finished putting together all of our income, expenses, etc. and emailed it off to our accountant. Done.

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However, the IRS (and our accountant) is going to look at the ledger and say, “How are their expenses so much higher than their income?” Well, Mr. IRS Agent, we’ve had a financially complicated year. Between our car needing a heart and kidney transplant, me losing a couple of my internal body parts to a malfunction in my reproductive system, sending our older child to preschool for the first time, buying over $11K in gear and supplies for our business, all while losing our biggest client halfway through the year, can make for some uneven numbers in one’s taxes.

But today is Friday, and you know what that means? It’s a whole new day. Better yet, next Tuesday is the start of a whole new (tax) year. And I’m working on the (final?) revision of a kick-ass screenplay. Oh yes, that’s right- Kick. Ass.

My point? Just because 2012 looked like shitonastick, doesn’t mean you’re not going to be a superstar in 2013. Just because you couldn’t get a boyfriend last year, doesn’t mean you won’t get married this year. Just because your house blew away with some b*tch-of-a-storm named Sandy doesn’t mean you aren’t going to get it all back this year.

And just because you didn’t make a whole lot of money doing what you really love this year, doesn’t mean you won’t be taking Donald Trump out to dinner this year just so you can tell him he’s a douchebag.

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Secrets, Secrets Are No Fun (but great for inspiration!)

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I think it was in The Artist’s Way where I read that you shouldn’t tell people about the spiritual work you’re doing for yourself as their reaction may burst your bubble. Everyone has an opinion about this and that, and sharing with them something as intimate as your spiritual growth (particularly if you know a lot of scoffers) can stall your momentum. The same goes with creative inspiration. Last night I had a great idea for this new project I’m working on. I had been having a difficult time wrapping my head around this new script, as I didn’t know where to go with the story. But last night I figured it out.

Excited, and having an always-supportive husband, I shared it with him this morning. I said, “I figured out what I’m going to do with this script!” And I told him. But as soon as the words began coming out of my mouth, I heard how terrible they sounded. Boring. Dumb. Direction-less. I said, sort of fishing, you don’t like that idea, do you? He replied, “Nope!”

Crushed. Knowing myself, I usually would have taken his “nope” and ran with it all the way into a different career. But this time, I knew better. I realized I haven’t finished the new idea yet. It needed more thinking, more work. It’s a great idea, but it wasn’t ready to be shared… even with him.

Picasso

I mean, if Picasso had gone to his buddy and said, “Hey amigo, I’m gonna paint a whole bunch of shapes and colors that make people and places look all retarded and shit. Whadda ya think?” His buddy probably would’ve said “nope” too.

A Writer By Any Other Name Wouldn’t Smell as Sweet

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When can you call yourself a writer? Or an actor? Or a musician?

Once you’re playing music? Well, I played the piano yesterday, but I’m not a professional musician. Once you’ve acted in an independent film? Well, you didn’t make any money doing it, so can you still call yourself a professional actor? What if you wrote a book? Could you call yourself a writer? I’m writing a blog right now… does that make me a writer?

Work for free

Do I have to wait until I get my first paycheck for writing before I can answer the question from someone: “What do you do?” by saying “I’m a writer”?

This question has (sort of) haunted me since I graduated from college over 12 years ago. I moved to Los Angeles to become an actor, but I worked various jobs to pay my rent. If someone asked me what I did, I was hesitant to say “I’m a teacher”, or “I’m a bartender” because I didn’t really feel like that’s what I was doing. But I wasn’t making any money as an actor, and though I was going on the occasional audition and doing the occasional play or low-budget film, I also felt like kind of a liar to say “I’m an actor”. I pretty much gave up acting after a few years to pursue a career as a playwright and screenwriter. I’ve been doing that for a number of years now. But I haven’t made any money doing it yet.

But every day I work on my script that I intend to sell… yes, for real money. Plus now I’ve got a possible job to write the sequel for a movie that did pretty well a few years back. And that would be for real money too. (I’m not really talking about it until it’s more of a done deal.) In fact, these days I’m working more on my screenplay than I am running my and my husband’s business.

A parent at a music class for my daughter yesterday asked me if I worked, as she saw me without a job on a Thursday morning. I said, “Yes, I’m a writer and I help run our business.” I felt like kind of a poser, a “phony” as Holden Caulfield would call it, but the fact remains that I write. A lot. And I have every intention to make real money real soon.

Phony

As soon as that first paycheck comes in, though, there won’t be any phoniness coming out of my mouth. It’ll be a full fledged, “Yes! I’m a writer!” I guess this means that I believe in the argument that you need to be making money in order to say you do something. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to bring up the fact that I’m also a writer. Because I am.

Let’s Try More Smiling, and Less Hitting, Okay?

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Smiling no hitting

Walking across 96th Street from the east side of Columbus Ave to the west, a woman in an old Toyota turned through the crosswalk only feet before me. It is certainly legal to drive through a crosswalk if the light is green, but I do believe that the law states that no pedestrians may be in the crosswalk at the time. I was not only in the crosswalk, but almost directly in her path.

On a different day, I would’ve reached out and WHACKED her car with my hand (or my water bottle as I did on one occasion) all too ready to bear the consequences of what might come of it (not really- I don’t know how to fight and I hate confrontations.) How could she? Who does she think she is?? It’s a good thing I didn’t have my kids with me, or then I would’ve really been pissed (please note: in actuality, she has absolutely nothing to fear as, again, I don’t know how to fight and I hate confrontations.)

But today I tried something new. As her pseudo-beater of a car made its way past me, though I considered sticking a part of me out to “teach her a lesson”, I decided to smile instead. I smiled as this lovely child of the universe drove past me. “Have a good day,” I thought for her. And though I felt like a hippie with too much weed in my Raisin Bran, I arrived on the corner without a scratch on me, and with a slight smile on my face.

What does this have to do with my writing career, as I now sit here getting ready to continue my revisions on my script? My clear head allows me to think of good ideas, while my angry head helps me to slip into a pit of anguish and anger, which will ultimately cause me to throw my hands up and say “I can’t write today. I suck anyway.” Because I smiled instead, writing may commence.

To the woman in the Toyota, I say, “Have a lovely day.” To myself, I say, “Keep putting the aforementioned weed in your Raisin Bran.”

Point of fact: no weed was put in my Raisin Bran this morning. In fact, I ran out of Raisin Bran a few days ago. But my hippie southwestern husband did make me eggs with beans and salsa this morning and you never know what those Arizonans are gonna do to your food.

May the Schwartz be with you today, my friends. May the Schwartz be with you.

schwartz

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