Advice Column: Creative Karate

Yeah, I’m a writer. It’s cool. I try not to let that inflate my ego too much. A lot of times you have to play off the attention that people lavish on you when you tell them that you dabble in screenwriting, or that you’re working on a script. They say, “I heard you are working on a script,” and I usually just brush it off. Sometimes they ask what’s it’s about and I kind of throw my head to the side and say, “It’s complicated, man.”

A lot of times they want to know about all kinds of crazy parties and events you’ve been to. They assume that because you’re working on some masterpiece that you spend your weekends playing golf with George Clooney. The truth is, a good artist has to keep his head inside his art and not let all that Hollywood bullshit cloud your vision.

Keeping that in mind, I think it’s important to focus on yourself as artist and what YOUR vision is while hammering out a couple pages every night. What is it that you want to write? As crazy as that sounds, some new writers have a difficult time figuring that out. I’m here to tell you, you’re not alone. Artists like myself struggle with that every day. That’s why I always fall back on a few basic exercises to help get my creative mojo rising. Feel free to use these as you focus on your craft.

1.       What did I dream last night?

Dreams are maybe the most fascinating thing a writer can look at for inspiration. Everybody loves having them, and everybody loves hearing about them. I know, not everybody has the kind of crazy dreams I have, but that’s okay. Just think about what you dreamt last night and write it down. Whatever that is, that’s a story that people are going to be dying to hear.

2.       What happened at work?

If you’re like me, you work a square job while you get your foot in the door. That’s okay. Not everybody can become an overnight sensation like Diablo Cody. But work is an interesting place to find inspiration. Why do you think so many movies have characters that work in an office? The Matrix, Wanted, and Office Space all have office life components. Look at your day-to-day dealings with those higher-ups you have to put up with and work that into a story. Do you hate your boss? Maybe you can make a story about how he is actually the devil. But don’t use that one because it’s part of something I’m working on.

3.       Do I know anybody cool?

Everybody knows characters. And if you don’t know them—find them! They’re everywhere.  Especially people at bars. They have some interesting stories. I once wrote a short film while overhearing a couple at a bar argue over whether it’s right for the woman to pay for dinner on the first date. I turned that into a conversational, Quentin Tarantino thing and was able to squeeze nine pages out of it. And let’s face it, the more, the better.

4.       Write the Writer!

This is a no-brainer. You’re a writer, you write. You have to deal with that every day. Why not turn your own personal story into a story that people will want to buy. It’s also common sense—most Hollywood script readers are writers themselves. They’ll connect with your script more if they hear a story about a young writer trying to prove himself against all odds.

5.       Comic Books

Not everybody has the creative spirit to “pull fire from Promethius” as Shirley Jackson once wrote. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have a story tell. Think of some comic books or video games you’ve been into lately and consider turning those into movies. This is not only good for inspiration but it makes good business sense if you decide to go that route—Hollywood LOVES adaptations, and there’s plenty of studios just waiting to have the next big franchise handed to them by a new writer they won’t have to pay top dollar for. Having 120 pages on a title they may just now be hearing about is a slam-dunk to sell, so long as you stay true to what you liked about it.

There you have it, amigos. I’m off to work on some pages. See you in the ether.

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