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
yourscreenplaysucks.com

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.

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9 Comments

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

9 responses to “A Letter to Me as a Young Writer

  1. Well said William. Your point on fascination is well made – at some stage you’ll run out of “write what you know” – and the interest/fascination must take over and sustain you through “known unknowns”.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      I heard Howard Nemerov, then Poet Laureate of the U.S., say…

      He wrote what he knew.
      It didn’t take long.

      • And fascination is free…

      • senthilkumar

        Hi sir… I send my script to production company…. after three weeks I got an message from them like: we found premise interguying. Exactly what is that means.

      • yourscreenplaysucks

        It’s good news that they find your premise intriguing. That means they like the idea. But, did they follow up? If they did not, then it really doesn’t mean much. It’s just nice that they responded and said they liked the idea. Good luck!

  2. Gabrielle

    While I enjoyed reading this, I will say that I don’t agree with the last two. I think you should write what you’re comfortable writing. Especially if you’re working toward writing as a career or at least writing to sell. What people interpret has comedy changes over time and is based on the individual. Donnie Darko has some pretty comedic moments to me, but to others, not so much. Also, at least in film I know this to be true, that just because you are talented doesn’t mean a teacher will invest in you or your work. Obviously, there’s a lot of bias when it comes to scriptwriting. So even if you are talented, if the genre of your script is not the teacher’s cup of whisky, then they more than likely will not find your work as interesting as someone else who may be (let’s say) less talented, but are working on a project similar to what they are interested in. When it comes to writing I think you should work to impress (1) yourself and (2) your audience. A 65 year old film teacher sweet on action films and thrillers may not be the audience for your well-written teen melodrama. I highly doubt that if Quentin Tarantino were a teacher, he would see the heart in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight novels, or screenplays. Yet, Twilight resonated with its target audience, but most of all, it came from the writer’s dream, and she shared her story in vivid detail, albeit a boring protagonist. But hey, that’s my opinion. I don’t believe in ass kissing, because that promotes bias, and usually the kind that we’ve seen for centuries in writing. And I totally disagree with using the word “worth” in reference to someone defining your ability. Maybe it’s because I studied psychology for a bit, but that last statement seems to demean art and passion overall. That’s basically like saying, “don’t believe in your own dreams if no one else does.” Sorry, I just don’t agree with that.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      I believe that, when I read the list out loud at the writer’s conference, that I cut the last one. On the fly. Decided, “Ick. I can’t say this out loud.” So I didn’t.

  3. Gabrielle

    *I should add that where I said “centuries” in writing”, I meant “decades”. And am referring to the fact that the original films and tv series have, for a long time, been less diverse because writers and filmmakers were not interested in writing material or characters for black culture or other ethnic cultures– probably because they were trying to appeal to white culture. Now, because writers are starting to do whatever the hell they want (or rather just try new things) we have shows like Blackish, Off The Boat, Empire, and films like 12 Years A Slave, Selma, Beyond the Lights; the latest re-vamp of Annie (even if it didn’t fare well at the Box office)… all tv series and films that feature diversity. I think teaching writers to be “people pleasers all the time”, or in this case “teacher pleasers” stifles originality and diversity. That’s all 🙂

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      You have to please yourself, or what’s the point? Chasing the market is a loser’s game. I sold my novel because I wrote it just for me and “damn the marketplace.” Now, I got very very very lucky in that probably the only publisher on the planet who might’ve loved my book, read it. All this writing stuff is SO difficult that if you aren’t having a good time writing it, and then it doesn’t sell then you’ve really wasted your time.

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