Me and My Big Ideas

January 27, 2011

I think of myself as an “idea guy.” Why? Because I’m certainly not the alternative: the “work really, really hard sticking with it and writing multiple drafts until it’s the best it can be” guy.

Ideas are fun. Ideas are easy. When they come, they come. When they don’t, it’s not your responsibility. And when they turn into real work, well,… that’s usually when I get my next big idea.

Just this week I woke up with a fully formed idea for a TV series. This had never happened to me before. I was psyched, completely energized. Within hours I was Read the rest of this entry »

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Out to Readers

September 4, 2009

After an embarrassingly long gestation period, a first draft of Psycho Ex (with a name change) has finally gone out to its first round of readers. I should get feedback Tuesday after the long weekend.

This always feels weird. I am happy and satisfied and exhausted and not convinced it’s really happening – like the first week after college finals.

But there is a whole different additional dynamic at play with this one than usual, because – due somewhat to the original “Challenge” – it is much more an exercise than a passion project. Don’t get me wrong, the story was my idea, and I take its execution very seriously, but now that a draft is complete I feel “outside” the thing more than I ever have.

The thing I love/hate about writing is that when I work on something this big and all-encompassing, I get overwhelmed and lost inside it. I fall in love with it, and I don’t know if this is a blessing or a curse. It’s wonderful because I think/hope it adds heart and soul to the piece, but it’s terrible because I lose all objectivity and get lost. For long periods. With almost every script, I can vividly remember THE EXACT MOMENT when everything shifts and I come up for air, when I get back “on top of it,” when I get back outside and un-consumed by it and I start cutting and shaping and whacking at it with no emotional attachment whatsoever. This is when the work really gets done. But this is also when I feel guilty, like I’ve stopped loving someone simply because it is no longer the pragmatic thing to do.

I don’t think I was ever in love with this one. I spent a lot of time in the depths with it, don’t get me wrong, but it was never a passion project like Aftershocks was or Dead Guy is. I was more objective with this one all along, so there are parts of it (Act Two hopefully, Act Three definitely) that I think are better executed than my usual output. I would say I’m very happy with the execution on those (this Act Three is probably the best I’ve ever written). But it never took on a life of its own really.

Does this mean it will be less “alive” than it should be? Than it could be? Does this mean there won’t be enough “there” for the reader?

Will the reader know that it has less of a “soul” than it could have had? Or will it just be me?

Or have I finally shaken off the indulgent crap of falling in love with your material? Have I finally got on with the real business of writing?

Update: Just got my first feedback (thanks Tammy!). The weekend is off to a good start…


Holy Crap!

July 14, 2009

Wait a minute – You mean this happens to other people too?!

The words Dead Guy come to mind…


I Thought I Saw You

April 21, 2009

It was 2006 or 2007. I was leaving work, pulling my car onto Flower Street, when you zipped by right in front of me on your bike. I had to brake to miss you. I could have sworn it was you. But what would you be doing – at our age – zipping a bike through downtown L.A.? 3,000 miles and 20 years away from home? We made eye contact and you disappeared behind parked cars. I know it was you – you gave me that look. It was 1987 you, the last time I saw you. But it was you.

Are you even still alive? Google won’t tell me.

Last night I had this dream. My two sons (age 9 and age 4) and I had broken into your house. And you were pulling into your driveway and we were desperately trying to get out before you could get inside. But we couldn’t find our way out. You were putting your key in the door and we had to hide from you and get out before you could discover us. You try doing this with the 4-year old whose idea of playing hide and seek is yelling out where he is as soon as you stop counting so you can find him. Terrified of never being found again.

Somehow we made it out and walked past on the sidewalk just as you went inside. But you knew. You knew. You glanced backward and gave me that look again. That look like you knew something I didn’t.

My dad was in the military when I grew up so we moved around. Not nearly as much as some do, but I changed schools a few times. Different states. It’s rough when you’re a kid, but one huge thing I learned was how to come into a new situation and figure it out immediately. Intuitively. The politics, the dynamics of the relationships, all that. Every time we moved my parents told me not to be sad about the friends I left behind, but instead to just go to school and make new ones. I got practice at this – I got good at it. Figuring out who to be friends with and who not to. But there was one thing I never learned.

When my dad would come home from work and tell us we were moving again, we would be devastated. We would cry, we’ll never see our friends again, all that. But you learn to put that aside because it hurts too much. You learn to figure out the place you’re moving to, not to dwell on the one you just left. You learn to forget your old friends. But I never learned how to say goodbye – it hurt too much. Terrified of never being found again. So I never have.

So I never did.

Are you still alive? I saw you. Are you a ghost? I see ghosts. Different states. I see dead people. I saw you. Sometimes it feels like I can’t see alive people anymore.


Definition of Insanity

April 8, 2009

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. But they also say “if at first you don’t succeed, try try again.” So what do they know?

Look, you’re not going to get lucky. Nobody does. Whatever it is you’re trying to do, you need two things to succeed: a great idea and the skillful execution of that idea. One without the other isn’t enough. Where do you get these ingredients? The short answer is this: trial and error.

You try and try, over and over, discarding the weak ideas and refining your execution, going through your process. Always hoping for a different result this time.

Sometimes – too many times – you get one without the other. On the one extreme you have the killer idea that goes nowhere. On the other there’s the immaculately-polished turd.

How do you get past these? You work through them, all the way, as deeply and as completely as you can, then throw them away and keep going. Keep driving. Keep moving. Send your stuff out if you’re happy with it, but move on. The clock is ticking and you still need more practice. 

There’s a saying in the writers room: “You’ve got to kill your babies.” Harsh? Definitely. And that’s the point.

You’ve got to be willing to throw away everything, even the ideas you’re most in love with. Especially the ideas you’re most in love with. You’ve got to keep cranking. You’ve got to keep yourself honest. You can’t hang on to anything that can slow you down, that can keep you from moving forward, from driving the process along. Hanging on to one idea is just going to keep you pinned down and preoccupied when the next idea – a better idea – comes along.

When I think about creative people who have been successful, their success has almost always come from a steady progression of projects through which they’ve practiced and improved and reached a critical command of their skills. Then at some point that key idea comes along, and BAM! the idea gets executed with these skills and the rest is history. It is rare to hear of a creative person coming across his killer idea at age 19 or 23 or something and then spending years sheltering and nurturing and protecting that same idea until a miracle happens and the skills of execution arise out of nowhere. 

But you see people – talented people – clinging forever to that one thing. That one pet idea. For years, wasting time. And it breaks your heart. Forget about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result – these people do NOTHING and expect a perfect result. Now that’s a definition of insanity. 

These skills are learned. You have to earn them, from stretching. From work. Not from babying that same idea you’ve held onto forever. In love with your idea? Terrific. Now go write that idea. Then write another one. Just do it. Kill your babies.

This from the guy who’s been working on Dead Guy and Psycho Ex for about 2 years now.


Crazy Idea for the Weekend

January 31, 2009

What if Dead Guy is a musical? Thinking about this…


Quote of the Day

November 3, 2008

                              AL
                        (to Renee)
                Do you own a video camera? 

                              RENEE
                No. Fred hates them.

The detectives both look at Fred.

                              FRED
                I like to remember things my own way.

                              AL
                What do you mean by that?

                              FRED
                How I remember them. Not necessarily the
                way they happened.

– David Lynch and Barry Gifford, Lost Highway, 1997