As I’m working on my screenplay, I’m listening to the language of The West Wing and the Hamilton soundtrack. The rhythm and beat of the words, and the power of that language, are inspiring. Not a single word or line is wasted. They all matter. It’s writing we should all aspire to as writers and seek out as audience members.
What do you watch and listen to when you want to be inspired to write dialogue?
Yesterday was the first true workday back after the holidays so you know what means—many agents are open for queries again! I started sending queries for my second Emerson Page novel. Here are some tips for those new to queries:
– Follow every single guideline to the letter. Agents are flooded with queries so make yours stand out by following all their specifications. That might sound like a no-brainer but the number one complain I hear agents make is that people don’t follow their guidelines. Follow them, and you’re already ahead of many other submissions!
– Remember every query you send is one step closer to your dream agent. Querying can absolutely get discouraging. The process alone can be exhausting. And yet, unlike many fields, it’s the defined road to an agent which could lead to a possibility to get published. Do a little at a time. A few a day or a few a week. Whatever you can manage. It’s a long road so keep your spirits high and stay positive. We’ll get there.
Neil Gaiman often talks about the compost pile of writing, bits of information and small stories we collect even when we don’t know what we’ll do with them. I’ve got whole Trello boards, post-its, emails, file folders, and cut documents (documents where I place cuts I make from larger pieces of writing) filled with these.
These compost components hit me at the strangest times and in the strangest places. Sometimes, I dream about them and wake up in the middle of the night to scribble them down. This is the main reason that I have a notebook and pen on my nightstand.
Many times it takes years for these bits to become anything. Sometimes they end up strung together with other fragments. Many I’m still waiting to see if they become useful at all in any way. If everything I have in the compost pile now were to become something, I’d have enough material to last a lifetime, maybe two.
Do you have a compost pile of content? How do you sort and organize it? Have any of those fragments been turned into something larger you never imagined you’d write?
One of the most informative actions I’ve taken as a beginning screenwriter is to watch movies with their screenplays in my lap. I read a scene, watch that scene, and read it again to see how it translates from the page to the screen. Here’s what I’ve learned in this process:
If you’re writing a screenplay, reading screenplays and then watching their corresponding movies is the single greatest tool you can utilize. Are you writing a screenplay? Which screenplays do you recommend reading and watching?
One of my favorite parts of the writing process is research. I’ll dig through archives, old photos, memoirs, diaries, online sources, and anything I can get my hands on that helps me get a feeling for a time, a place, or a culture that’s in my writing. And as much as I love this portion of research, my very favorite channel is in-person visits.
My second novel takes place in New York City and Ireland. I live in New York so that in-person research was easy. I also went to Ireland for a week in 2018 to specifically do research for my book. Nothing could beat smelling the old books of the Long Room in Trinity Library, visiting an ancient tomb, learning about Celtic mythology in the oldest pub in Dublin, wandering the road of the Dark Hedges, and walking over the rocks at Giant’s Causeway.
All of those settings appear in the book, and those scenes are richer because of my visits there. Small details piqued by my senses are in the words because they’re in my mind and I can’t help but think of them when I set a scene in those places.
Have you ever done a writing trip to collect research for your work? Where did you go? What did you learn?
I’m a voracious outliner. Not everything always goes according to my outlined writing plan, but an outline gives me a place to start. It also gives me a way to chart my progress.
The tools I use for outlining are free and a combo of analog and digital:
1.) Handwritten index cards (or sheets of paper roughly the size of index cards). I like to pin them up on a wall and move them around as needed.
2.) Trello.com boards – this is a free online tool with a mobile app and website that updates across these channels in real-time. Think of it as an online list maker / bulletin board.
3.) Pinterest boards to store inspiring images.
4.) Unsplash.com is a site with free, high-resolution photos that you can store in collections. Like Pinterest, it’s also a great place to find and refer to inspiring images.
Are you an outliner? What are your favorite tools for it?
How can I write one new work per year for the next 10 years? I tossed this idea around in my mind on the morning of September 22nd, the last day of summer, as I thought about tremendously prolific writers I admire. What separates them from other writers is their productivity and persistence. And that’s what I want to have as a writer.
Here’s the math that showed me that this wild goal is possible: write 250 words per day for 360 days. (Look I’m even giving myself 5 or 6 days off per year!) That’s 90,000 words. That’s a book. That’s almost two books! 250 words a day? I could write that while my coffee’s brewing. That’s only half a page. That’s less than the length of this post. And that got me very excited and curious. Could I actually do this?
Yes, that’s just a first draft. It needs LOADS of editing and rewriting. Yes, if you’re a planner and outliner like me, that takes time, too. Yes, there’s research. And yes, marketing is also time-consuming and extremely necessary. And you also have to pitch your own work if, like me, you don’t yet have an agent.
But in my mind the breaking down of this enormous task moves it from possible to probable. I could write a new work every year.
Always around the end of summer / beginning of fall, the new yearly inspiration for this blog strikes me. Someone says something or I read something, and the theme just clicks. I don’t worry about it anymore because it really does just happen.
So, this is my 2020 theme: I’ll be writing about the process of getting down 250 words of a new work every day. Most of the time I’ll be sharing resources, motivation, and encouragement for writers. If you’ve got questions, please ask them and I’ll do my best to either answer or find the answer for you.
Here’s to a 2020 filled with words and creativity that we can share with one another. If you’re on social media, I’ll be using the hashtag #250wordstoday to collect all of these thoughts this year.