Drawing a Line

I just went up to my office door, which has a Post-It note or two stuck there. My office is a wreck, always has been. But a vertical space is pretty easy to keep tidy. At least it is for me.

One of the Post-Its is a list of the major projects I’m working on. Since I put it up, I’ve drawn three lines through projects. Two are finished. THAT felt good.

One I abandoned.

That felt even better, in some ways.

I had this great idea for a TV series for a long time. Based on true events from our nation’s past, I had the idea to set it in the modern era and repeat history. Great idea. The problem was, I had no business writing it. None. Just because I thought it a lovely idea, didn’t mean I needed to waste my precious time working on it. For years, I’ve thought, “I’m capable of anything. There’s nothing I can’t do well, if I spend enough time and energy on it.”


Knowing when to quit is a wonderful thing. I am not suited to write a political thriller. I need to be writing what is more or less easy for me to write, not make some giant (impossible) stretch into, not only, unknown territory, but suicide mission territory. Why be stupid?

Drawing the line through that project suddenly gave me MONTHS of free time, yawning ahead of me, to devote to something I am suited to write.

I am changing my tune about this stuff. I used to tell people, “If you watch bank robbery movies more than anything else, you should really think about writing bank robbery stories.” I don’t think that any more. I think you need to write what you want to write, but to take a long hard look at your skill set before you dive into the deep end. What are you naturally suited to write? What are you better at than the other folks on their laptops at the Starbucks? What are you better at than anybody?

That’s what you need to be doing.

I can’t tell you how good it feels to look at that Post-It note, knowing I won’t waste a year of my life on an idea that I am 100% unqualified to write.

Leave a comment

Filed under Good Writing, Screenwriting, Writing Process

Gonna Be At The Story Expo?

Howdy, howdy!!

I’m giving two talks next Saturday at the Los Angeles Story Expo.


Everybody in the screenwriting world will be there, including me.

I’ll be pontificating about: Beating Writer’s Block. Working on that lecture now, and, to my surprise, I have a LOT to say on the subject.

I’ll also give a talk from Your Screenplay STILL Sucks! Greatest hits from my upcoming book. Well, it’s upcoming if I can finish writing it.

So, hope to see you next weekend in Los Angeles.



Filed under Screenwriting, The Business, Uncategorized, Writing Process

How Do You Know Your Work Is Finished?

When you put it away for a while, pull it out and find it hard to believe that YOU wrote it cause it’s so good. That’s a sure fire tip off.

1 Comment

Filed under Good Writing, Rewriting, Screenwriting

Show. Don’t tell. They tell you this all the time!

Here’s my example, from something of mine.

I looked at his mother. What a pathetic mother she was. Instead of standing up and defending her child against a screeching neighbor, she just sat there holding her Oreo over her glass of milk, not dipping it, frightened like a deer when a car is about to mow it down.

Don’t tell us she’s pathetic. SHOW us that she’s pathetic.

I looked at his mother. [CUT THIS... What a pathetic mother she was.] Instead of standing up and defending her child against a screeching neighbor, she just sat there holding her Oreo over her glass of milk, not dipping it, frightened like a deer when a car is about to mow it down.

So, the readers get to figure out that she’s pathetic. Much more satisfying for them. If they don’t figure it out, it’s your fault.

I looked at his mother. Instead of standing up and defending her child against a screeching neighbor, she just sat there holding her Oreo over her glass of milk, not dipping it, frightened like a deer when a car is about to mow it down.

Do one entire rewrite concentrating only on the Show Don’t Tell problem. Once you start looking, you’ll find it everywhere. Like roaches.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

No One Is More Arrogant Than A Beginner

So sayeth Elizabeth Ashley.

One of my students has gone on to critique scripts. The apple doesn’t fall far… He’s a hell of a writer and gives excellent notes. He sent me this email.


I just read one of the worst scripts I have ever encountered. I have a new respect for your suffering.

Let’s see… hm….

1. wrong font… arial all the way
2. dialogue made me want to jab a fork into my eyes
3. how about this: fade up/fade down. Could you hear my shriek?
4. typos
5. naked slug lines… I honestly don’t even think he knows what that means
6. characters just appear in dialogue. I can only assume that they are ghosts since there is no identification on them at all… and this isn’t even a sci fi script
7. interchanging names. What in the hell. If you’re calling him Jeff, why in the hell would you call him Chuckles? That’s annoying and confusing and makes me hate you, dear writer
8. so freaking boring I prayed for a coma
9. spoke to him about getting your and Blake’s books and he said he didn’t need them, that my suggestions were null and void because I’m not a Hollywood producer
10. wants to film in two months, has no money raised and actually called Leonardo Dicaprio’s agent
11. wonders why I refuse to help him at this point

What is wrong with people!?

Again, my respect to you and your reading of material that makes you want to throw yourself into boiling pits of lava.


That sounds far, far worse than what I am sent, probably because I require clients to read my book before they send the script. Precisely why I wrote the book, so you can solve problems on your own.

My favorite part, and I have sadly seen this before, is the “You can’t know anything because you’re not in Hollywood.” Well, does one also think, “You can’t write because you’re not in Hollywood.”??? Gosh, I hope not.

What about the idea that ANYbody’s idea that improves your work is a good thing?


Filed under Uncategorized

EDGE OF TOMORROW – Tom Cruise & Emily Blunt Can Pick ‘Em!

Go see EDGE OF TOMORROW and read NOTHING about it ahead of time if you can.
I knew nothing of the story whatsoever. Lucky me!

I knew the movie had a good Rotten Tomatoes rating, and that’s all I knew. Well, I knew who was in it.

It is SO fresh, so new, so interesting, so surprising… it will make an ocean of money and the screenwriters are to be congratulated over and over and over because all those who are connected with the film got work, got paid, will profit, etc. All because someone had a VERY COOL IDEA and executed it beautifully.

I’d love to see the first draft or the pitch pages, to see how it worked its way through development.

I have not seen a movie that I enjoyed this much in a long time. Certainly not this year.

It’s been out a while, so it will be leaving the theater soon, but it’s well worth a trip to the theater. Don’t wait for DVD or whatever the hell people wait for these days. Shell out the big bucks and enjoy yourself.

The script is so complex, and so is the movie, but it’s never hard to follow. It must have hurt their heads to write. Hat’s off to them all!

Let me know what you think.

1 Comment

Filed under Good Writing, Screenwriting, Writing Process

7 Deadly Sins of Writing

In the first book, there was a list of the Seven Deadly Sins of Screenwriting. 16 of the little pests. I found a few more.

Using Find (Ctrl F or Apple F) in your computer, chase down these words in any form you find them. Losing them or changing them will strengthen your work.

“Find” spaceisspace should find only the word you’re looking for, not every “is” in your screenplay.

He is grinning… becomes… He grins.

The convicts are singing opera… The convicts sing opera.

Nacho hightails it out of the town… Nacho hightails it out of town.

Ralph can’t tell that she’s French… Ralph can’t tell she’s French.

She laughs. She then looks at Alice… She laughs. She looks at Alice.

Tika walks down the hall… Tika prisses down the hall.

Sitting at the poker table, Doc deals the cards… At the poker table, Doc deals…

The surgeon stands at the operating table and works… At the operating table, the surgeon works…

Cheryl is looking at Stephanie… Cheryl studies Stephanie.

I am just totally exhausted… I am totally exhausted.

of the
Tom sits by the entrance of the mall… Tom sits by the mall entrance…

The tape begins playing… The tape plays.

She starts moving toward the den… She moves toward the den.

Betty is really pretty… Betty, hot as a two dollar pistol, struts in.

The kids sing a very old song… The kids sing a traditional song. (“very” means the following word is weak…)

She turns and looks at him… She looks at him. (Don’t overdirect the read.)

the phone
Bonnie hangs up the phone… Bonnie hangs up.

He pours some coffee… He pours coffee.

Kevin, still in paint covered overalls… Kevin, in paint covered overalls.

the room
He puts on a tie before leaving the room… He puts on a tie before leaving.

his face
Nora has an amused expression on her face… Nora is amused.

seems, appears
Tony seems upset… Tony is upset… So, is Tony upset, or just appear to be?

her way
Carol pushes her way inside… Carol pushes inside. (“his, its way” too!)

They both stare slackjawed at the comet… They stare slackjawed at the comet.

Jonah realizes Sam is the killer. (A script’s not a novel. Stay out of their minds.)

(as on the end of an adverb!) search for lyspace Also search for ly. and ly, as lyspace will not find an adverb at the end of a sentence, etc. Grade school writers go wild over adverbs. You’re past that now. Use them, um, sparingly. If at all.

Search for and (most of the time) change these words in whatever you write and the results will be tighter and more clear. Okay, so it’s twenty six deadly sins. So sue me.

FYI… “priss” as a verb really threw the person who translated the book into Japanese!

You don’t HAVE to take these words out all the time… duuuh… but you do need to be aware that a lot of the time, you don’t need them.


Filed under Bad Writing, Good Writing, Rewriting, Screenwriting, Uncategorized, Writing Process