A Letter to Me as a Young Writer

Next weekend, I’m doing a workshop for young writers. All the teachers have been asked to send in a letter “to themselves as a young writer.” Here’s mine.

What I Really, Really Wish I’d Been Told as a Young Writer…

by William M. Akers

It’s never easy. Even when it seems easy… at some point, it’s going to get difficult.

Treat your craft with respect. Work hard at it.

Never write something you don’t care about. Well, that’s not true… sometimes you have to do homework.

Nobody wants to read what you’ve written. Your teacher doesn’t. Your parents might. When you have a boss, she is only going to want it to be clear and concise. Heaping more big words on the page for a higher grade is not a way to learn to write.

Don’t be so hard on yourself. This is difficult for everybody. You don’t know that because you’re alone in your room fighting your own demons.

Everybody worries whether they’ve got talent. Michael Crichton, who wrote Jurassic Park and 29 other books, worried he was untalented. In his office bookcase, he had every book he wrote in every language it’d been translated into so he could sit at his desk and look at all he had done and think, “I did that. I can get through the next one.”

You’re never going to figure out how to do it. Every project is a new project with its own invisible rules. For decades I thought I would come up with “my method.” When I finally realized there was never going to be a “method,” my life as a writer got much simpler.

Write about what you’re interested in. I knew nothing about the fall of Saigon, but I made a lot of money because I sold a screenplay based on something I knew nothing about, that fascinated me.

Welcome notes. Do not argue with someone kind enough to give you suggestions on how to improve your work.

It will never be perfect. One reason some people don’t write is because they’re afraid it won’t be perfect. Art & Fear by David Bayles asks “What in your life, up to now, have you ever done that was perfect? Nothing, right? This won’t be perfect either. So just get on with it.”

Keep a diary. Even a simple one. You think you’ll remember stuff but you won’t. It will make a gigantic difference when you’re older.

You’ve got to learn two things. How to write a sentence that’s clean and clear. And how to figure out what you want to say. Technique and emotion. Two worlds to conquer.

It will take years to get good at this! Don’t worry about it if you’re not great now. The wonderful thing about writing is: the more you do it, the better you get!

Don’t despair. If you do despair, at least write about it.

Enjoy the process. On some level, doing it has to be fun. If getting published is the only thing that will make you happy, figure out something else to do with your time. The process of creating the work had better be the reward.

Learn to be businesslike. If you’re not businesslike, people won’t be interested in working with you.

Never miss a deadline. Be early for everything. Selfish people and idiots are late.

No matter how much trouble your writing is in, if you sit down and work on it, eventually you will solve the problem.

Try to write comedy. It’s the hardest thing there is but, who knows, you might be great at it.

Impress your teachers. If they think you’re worth it, they will move heaven and earth to help you.


Filed under Criticism, Good Writing, Rewriting, Screenwriting, Uncategorized

Do you say “lock eyes” in your script? Everyone else does too.

If it’s there, maybe think about getting rid of it.

I see it all the time.



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If you allow us the opportunity to misunderstand your story, we’ll take that opportunity!!

I have a student who is writing a short film. The climax of the story involves the kids upstairs, getting their backpacks ready for school. They argue a little. Then they hear a huge crash from the kitchen. And another one. They run down stairs. Their mother is sitting in the kitchen amidst a pile of glass, crying. The father says he didn’t know the kids were there and leaves for work.

When I read the part about the huge crash, I thought, “Oh my. Mom has dropped a bunch of dishes.”

When I read the part about Mom sitting in a pile of broken dishes, I thought, “Oh my. Mom has dropped a bunch of dishes.”

You may have gotten it, but I did not.

Dad had been throwing the dishes at Mom. This was the big reveal that he is abusive and triggered her leaving. I missed it completely.

The writer knew exactly what she had in mind. She thought it was totally clear to the reader. I missed it. Is that the fault of the reader? I don’t think so. As my film school teacher said, “You can’t stand next to the screen and explain it.”

The writer’s job is to tell the story in such a way that the reader can only interpret it the way the writer intends. If you give the reader the chance to get it wrong, the reader will get it wrong.

This is also true in filmmaking. A shot that says exactly what the student means when they roll camera can take on a shockingly different meaning when they show dailies in class. “Oh my!” is what I hear from time to time. It meant one thing on the set and something else when screened for an audience.

Guess which one wins?


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

“Starter Words” are not a good idea.

For some reason, some writers like to get dialogue revved up with words that real people say in dialogue.

Right there at the beginning… (forgive the incorrect formatting)

Yeah, you know what I mean.

Well, I haven’t had a good one yet.

Aloysius, you know how I feel.

Listen, Chloe. I can explain.

Sure, I know what you mean.

Okay. You’re not my type.

Etc. etc. on and on, out to the horizon. This is not real people. It’s characters. And someone is reading it or watching it and you don’t want to bore them.

My thought… cut ‘em all. Add in only a tiny few starter words for characterization and a bit of spice.

Or, cut ‘em all!


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THE IMITATION GAME. Best subtext in a long, long time.

Alex Lawther did not get nominated for an Academy Award for his role as Young Alan Turing in THE IMITATION GAME.

It’s too bad, as his was the finest performance of the year. Not a lot of screen time, but whoa!, is he amazing.

And his heartbreaking final scene, where they give him the whole shot… never cutting away from his riveting work… we hear the headmaster talking to him… and never cut away from Alex Lawther. The guy is an AMAZING actor.

And, he’s helped by incredible dialogue to work with.

What he is saying is 180 degrees away from what he is feeling. Subtext! His heart is breaking, and he’s denying it completely with what he is saying. Obviously, I don’t want to give it away. So, I’m not doing a very good job of telling you what the subtext is.

Go see the movie. My favorite of the year. Should win Best Picture. But it may not.

Alex Lawther should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor. But he was not.


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Added a new word to the 7 Deadly Sins of Writing! “Emotional.”

I’ve been working on the “7 Deadly Sins of Writing” list of words to take out of your work for about a decade now. Other people have similar lists, but this one works for me.

Just added a new word! Isn’t that amazing! Stop the presses! “Emotional.”

I teach screenwriting and have a bunch of students and, this week, half turned in homeworks with the word “emotional” in them. I felt like I’d been hit in the face by a shovel. When you get something that is slightly wrong shoved in front of your face over and over, you finally notice.

So, when it came to class time, I said to them, “I am feeling very emotional right now.” They looked at me, blinking. I said, “And what emotion am I feeling?” None said anything because they had no clue. “Boredom?” “Insane joy?” “Homicidal rage?”

“Emotional” doesn’t mean a thing. It’s just a word that, when the writer writes it, the writer knows what the reader is supposed to feel. But, when the reader reads “emotional,” she hasn’t got a clue what she’s supposed to feel, because the writer didn’t actually tell her.

He only thought he did.

So, here’s the 7 Deadly Sins of Writing handout.

7 Deadly Sins of Writing 2015

A further thought on this topic.

I’ve been giving this handout to my students for years. Do they use it? Doubtful. At times, despite paying a crushing tuition for my advice, students have a way of feeling, “I know more than this loser. If he’s so hot at teaching screenwriting, how come he’s not rich and in Hollywood?” Sigh. Can’t help anybody with an attitude. I can only put it out there and hope they listen.

Some months ago, a friend from film school days emailed to ask for my book. After he read it, he emailed to say that the 7 Deadly Sins checklist was AWESOME. This, btw, is a guy with an imdb page as long as my arm. 43 directing credits. 8 television series as a producer.

And this guy LOVED the list. Thought it was incredibly helpful.

He’s won a WGA award and is currently being paid to write a TV pilot. And why can’t I get my students to listen?


Maybe you will! Hope so.

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Who uses the “7 Deadly Sins of Writing”?? ME!

Trying to trim fat from my novel.

Pulled up the “7 Deadly Sins of Writing.” Why not? I wrote it. I can use it just like anybody.

First one I Searched and Destroyed was “of the.” An insidious little snake, “of the” lurks in the shadows unnoticed and malevolent… until you SEARCH and REPLACE.

A 40,000 word book had 175 uses of “of the.” One by one, I rooted through and cut ‘em or rewrote ‘em. Got rid of 48 of the little pests. A goodly amount.

It was a pain in the neck, but a bunch of sentences are better now. Worth it.

Hope you’re having a good holiday!


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