Something special happened last week. The WGAw gave me an evening to showcase two of my spec sitcom pilot scripts. It was a little bit of validation that we all need once in a while – proof that, while the gatekeepers might often seem uninterested, writing professionals, in an official way, put their stamp of approval on my work.
Of course, that also meant that the pressure was on to live up to such a recommendation, so I did what any smart person would do: I called in as many of my talented friends as I possibly could. I cast some of the great/funny actors I know and, most importantly, I handed the scripts over to two friends/directors who I knew would “get” the material. I then sat back and watched the directors dissect the scripts scene-by-scene while the actors found laughs and nuances in the dialogue that I never knew were there.
In order to make the evening successful, I also had to make sure we had an audience. Once again, friends, fans and well-wishers turned out to pack the house and make it a fun night of actual “theater” and not just a dry script reading.
For me, the biggest pay-off was being able to watch the rehearsal process lead to the actual performance. We all write a lot of stuff. It is a rare treat to get original material like this on its feet and in the mouths of actors. The audience had a great time and I learned a lot about my own work.
I was also reminded that the most important part of any creative project is that you must enjoy the process itself – all of it, from writing, to casting, to rehearsing to showtime – because the rest is out of your hands. Did I want the evening to be a celebration and a good time? Yes. Did I also want it to be a chance to raise my industry profile just a bit? Yes, of course. We will see whether it did or not, but in the meantime, I’m very happy with the results, and I think the audience was too.
Keep typing everyone.
I have been typing a lot lately. Luckily it is something that I enjoy doing. Even when “the writing” itself isn’t going well, I get a certain, specific pleasure from sitting down, staring at the screen and typing; my fingers can pretty much keep up with the speed of my thoughts, which is pretty handy because, believe me when I tell you, even on my best day, my left-handed pen scratchings are slow, uncomfortable to do, and painful to try to read. What I’m saying is: If you want to be a writer, take a few weeks/months and really learn how to type. No matter what kind of writer you are, it’ll help to speed up and streamline your “process.” I learned how to type back in High School, in a three month class designed for college-bound Seniors. It is the one thing I learned in High School that I still use every day. Sometimes I think my 65+wpm typing ability is my most marketable skill.
Why am I telling you all this? Because today I finished yet another first draft. This time it was a low-budget “thriller” feature that no one asked me to write, except for the nagging voice in my head that demanded I do it. Where does this urge come from? I’m not always sure. I just know I start feeling a special kind of miserable when I’m not actively writing on something. Let me put that another way, not just writing on “something,” but actively plowing through confusion, self-doubt, dead ends and ennui to actually complete drafts of these projects. Finishing things is important. I know because I have digital folders full of started projects that couldn’t hold my interest, or lost their luster when a shiny “new idea” floated into my head. New ideas are easy to come by. Finishing your work is what separates writers from people who think they would be good writers. That idea that is still “in your head” might be better than Chinatown, or even The Great Gatsby, maybe, but as long as it exists only in your head then it isn’t nearly as good as my completed first draft of ANYthing. You don’t need a new computer. You don’t need $300 worth of “writer’s software.” You don’t need an office. You just have to start stringing words together. Prove me wrong Silent Bob.
For every cynic who likes to trot out the “making a big deal about the ‘New Year’ is useless and arbitrary” line, there are more of us who disagree. For whatever reason – culturally, socially, humanly – most of us 6+billion people collectively agree that, 18 days ago, something old ended and something new began. That collective thought has a power all its own – in ways that will probably be scientifically proven within the next 30 years tops (I’m lookin’ at you, Quantum Physicists) …well, assuming we don’t destroy ourselves before then.
Part of that excitement to come out swinging when the New Year bell rings, at least from my perspective, is a reaction to how little seems to get done in Hollywood between mid-November and January 2nd. “The Holidays” are something to be waited out. We wait for the new year to start. We wait for new budgets to be approved and for new hires to start and for everyone to be in the right mood to start thinking about new ideas & new projects.
And now that time has finally arrived.
One of my first to-do goals for 2016 has been to get my work in front of at least 30 new people by the end of January. This is a big deal because, while no one would ever call me ‘lazy’ as a writer, I have been very guilty of not being “proactive” enough when it comes to getting my completed work seen & read. I know that is on me to change. So, I am happy to report that so far in 2016, I have already gotten my pitches & loglines and at least one of my five spec sitcom pilots into the hands and reading piles of at least 14 new people (yes, contrary to most of what you hear, producers, agents & managers are people.) So far the response has been positive and hopeful. People want to read more and, really, that is all you can ask for. …but that doesn’t mean I’m going to slack off. The month is half over and I’m only halfway to my goal.
Meanwhile, I’m also still doing shows. I’m excited to start the new performance year off with a return to STRONG WORDS this coming Saturday in Silverlake. Maybe we’ll see you there?
By any measure, 2015 was a challenging year for me, you and pretty much everyone we know, but here we all are – still standing and looking forward to the new challenges and excitements of the new year. Before I completely plunge into ’16 though, I’ll take a quick and final look backwards at just a few particular measurements from the last 365 days, because I’ve been keeping track (sometimes my minor OCD-ish tendencies come in handy.)
I wrote a lot of words this year. The writing, both paid and un-paid, took many forms: short stories, screenplay drafts, monologues, ghost-writing, re-writing, long-form novel-writing, my weekly cartoon, some attempts at poetry (stop laughing) and other multi-media art/word projects. Some entire days were spent hammering away at the keyboard while other days I managed to make only my minimum self-imposed word count. In the end I averaged 525 words per day… which might not sound like a lot, but it comes to 191,625 words for the year (for reference, that is about one-quarter of The Bible.) If it still doesn’t sound like a lot of writing, all I can say is: Try it. …oh, and that total doesn’t include my 100’s of personal journal entries which, believe me, are even more long-winded than my blog posts. It also doesn’t include the extensive ‘notes’ I wrote for 23 friends who asked me to read & evaluate their scripts, monologues and short stories.
I performed in 18 shows this year. These were nearly all storytelling/monologue shows at various venues all over Los Angeles, but there were also a few attempts at straight “stand-up.” Some shows went great, a few times I tanked. That is to be expected. ALL shows were enjoyable on some level, and I was always happy to meet other writers & friends and hear their stories too. I am working on new stories for the new year.
I did a little of everything improv-related this year: I was hired to do some private coaching for a few very funny groups. I took a class at UCB to see what their system is all about and I did a few informal improv jams with old friends. All of it was fun, but it wasn’t nearly enough. I’m determined to do a lot more of all three things in the coming year because, for me, it always comes back to improv. I’ve actually been missing it terribly.
I had a good year. I did a lot of hiking, I ate more plants, a little less meat and a lot less sugar. I lost 15 pounds. In spite of a jacked-up knee, I managed to run a 5k in 35:45. I also meditated semi-regularly – just enough to make me realize I need to do it more regularly. I tried some new things this year too, such as banjo lessons, which were harder than I expected, in spite of my years of guitar playing. I even learned a little more html & CSS coding with the help of Codecademy. Career-wise, well, some years are slower than others, but I’m entering the new year with a lot of new, polished material and some interesting ideas.
…and hey. I hope YOU have a great year too. GOOD LUCK!
It has been a busy Fall so far. Although I’m currently “between paying gigs,” which can cause no small amount of anxiety and force some existential questions if one isn’t careful, I’ve also learned that the best use for these “down” periods is to re-double all creative efforts. Doing this helps remind me what really is (or at least should be) important to my mental health and feelings of well-being. Instead of wallowing in a place of fear, we have to see these times as a chance to remember why we’re here. Why we’re really here.
So, I’ve been writing. A lot. I don’t really measure my self-worth and feelings of well-being by my daily word count… but in some ways I do. Another draft of another screenplay. An outline of a new screenplay. Another pass at re-working all of my stories of Punk Rock misadventure into a new one-man show. Writing new stories too, and trying them out at some of my favorite essay and ‘spoken word’ shows around town – which also helps me re-connect with the many kind and talented writers and storytellers I know, but rarely get to see around town.
I’ve also been teaching some Improv and, I’ve been taking some improv classes. Even though I’ve been doing improv for, eeks, 20 years (!!), I eagerly signed up for a level 1 beginner class at the Upright Citizens Brigade training center here in Los Angeles while, at the same time, teaching/coaching some advanced Improv technique to alumni from UCB, iO and elsewhere. That isn’t as strange as it sounds. I don’t care how long you’ve been doing Improv, you can always learn (or re-learn) something in any improv class. I know I can, and did. It also helped re-excite my imagination, and helped me remember why learning, and doing improv has been such an important part of my life. It isn’t just about climbing on stage and getting some laughs from strangers. It is a way to approach life, people and the world with an open mind and a hopeful heart. If that sounds hokey to you, I’m OK with that. I had a good time in my level 1 class and I’m certain I will take some more UCB classes when my budget again allows. The UCB teaches a very efficient form of improv, a straight-forward “comedy delivery system” that, now that I’ve witnessed it firsthand, explains their current domination of the LA (and possibly the entire US) Improv landscape. Is it the only way to do improv? Of course not, but it is a great approach. No doubt about it.
And so we plow on. Getting the words out. Getting the thoughts down on paper. Climbing on stage. Doing the work – more importantly, enjoying the work. Trying to spread the joy.