ALLIGATORS IN A HELICOPTER

a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Sunday, June 11, 2006

So I'm Turning Into "That Guy"...

So I'm turning into "that guy", and it's making me unhappy.

That guy I'm turning into (who am I kidding? I'm there.) is the guy who is really smart about screenwriting, and gives a lot of people a lot of good advice, and isn't doing shit himself.

The kind of guy who eventually people are going to say "Why should I listen to that guy? What has he done?"

That guy.

I don't want to be that guy.

But I'm slipping. I'm swamped with work, and writing is not just taking a back seat -- it has been left at the rest area about 500 miles back, frantically waving as it gets smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror, with no one noticing.

I'm swamped, and I'm tired, and the last thing I want to do at the end of the day (or the beginning of the day, or the middle of the day) is write.

I know I have to. I have to regularly open my new, already-being-ignored laptop, and just make myself write, and make that a priority.

I know.

But I turned 43 two weeks ago. I'm getting achy in strange places. I'm tired. I'm in a funk, I'm weary, I'm overworked, I'm every writing cliche you've ever heard of.

And now I'm the whiny guy too. Fuck. I don't want to be that guy either. Though I'll even whine about my tired busy life if it'll help kick-start me out of this funk.

Sigh.

Well, I'm blogging again. That's something.

And at least the Mets are winning.

Tell me a joke. Something.

32 Comments:

At 6:18 PM, Anonymous Joshua James said...

Hmm, it's a tough one, Scott. Can you afford to take two weeks off and devote that solely to whatever it is you wish to write? Ten hours a day for fourteen days, just to write something just for you?

Maybe a balance, then, doing two or three weeks on (reading other scripts) and two weeks only writing - back and forth . . .

Honestly, I don't know how you do it. I love to read and in college and through my twenties, I would read maybe three to five books a week, but now that I write so much, I find I cannot read nearly what I used to . . . in fact, other than the newspapers, I don't read nearly what I used to - I save it up, and when I finish a project I dive into four or five books I have waiting for me.

I know this isn't the cheery thing you wanted to hear - just throwing ideas out for you. The other thing I do is get up at five thirty and do only my writing for at least two hours a day. Then the other stuff for other people.

Set some realistic material goals for yourself in terms of pages and find a way to make that happen regardless of the quality of the work. Trust it will be good and crank it out.

Hang in there, bud.

As far as jokes . . . hmm, have you heard the one about the guy who was told by his doctor he had sugar in his urine, so the next morning he pissed on his wheaties?

Now there's a guy with problems.

 
At 6:19 PM, Blogger Corey Bond said...

My recommendation: Take a cue from Samuel L. Jackson's presentation of Best Movie on the 2006 MTV Movie Awards (clip)and change the name of the blog to "More Motherfucking Alligators on More Motherfucking Helicopters."

 
At 6:22 PM, Blogger Chesher Cat said...

At least you have a good excuse when you're not writing. I've got all day, every day to write and I still find it hard to produce. You're little rant is great incentive for me - so I thank you for that.

My suggestion? Take the first two hours of your working day and write for yourself. Then tackle all the crud you get paid to read. Being the professional you are, I'll bet you can easily make up the two hours over the course of your day. Especially if you've taken care of your own creative needs first.

As for the whining...once a day, turn over an egg timer and bitch to your heart's content until the sand runs out.

 
At 6:50 PM, Blogger Spanish Prisoner said...

I suggest don't think about it. Just do it. Don't hesitate, jump into the scene you are working on. Don't bother yourself with anything else. It's your story, your script, your creation. You want it to go on. It's exciting, fun, suspensful, hilarious, a masterpiece. It's yours and only you can do it. It must be told! Make it happen!

 
At 7:14 PM, Blogger Steve Axelrod said...

Here's my Dad's icy little formulation: "Writers write." Of course, he also used to say, "Will write if cornered." I think the trick is finding a story that makes you want to get up at five in the morning. Another quote, from Isak Dinesen,and it certainly applies to screenplays: "You should never get married or start to write a novel unless you can't believe your luck."
Two writer jokes.
First writer calls the second one on the phone and says "How you doing?" The second one says, "I'm great. I just got a three picture deal at Universal. NBC picked up our pilot and Farrar Straus is going to publish my memoir." The first one says, "Okay, I'll call back when you're alone."
A writer comes in to see his house trashed and his wife beaten up. She's barely conscious. "Who did this to you?" he cries. She chokes out the words: "Your ... agent."
The writer grins delightedly. "You mean -- he came to the house?"
We're a pathetic group. But at least we know it.

 
At 7:18 PM, Blogger Rene said...

Dude, I like your blog a lot but I'm tired of reading this post every few weeks. Enough.

Everybody is tired. Everybody's getting old. Everybody's been in your rut. There's not enough time now, and there won't be enough time ten years from now.

You're a hell of a lot closer than I am to making it and entries like these depress me. You don't want to be "that guy"? Then stop defeating yourself and don't be that guy.

I'm going to write. You should too.

 
At 7:34 PM, Blogger Webs said...

Fred goes to visit his cousin Bob on the farm. On his way to the house, he passes an incredible pigpen. The fence is lined in velvet, the trough is silver, and there's a gold nameplate: "Princess". But the pig inside has only three legs.

Fred rings the doorbell, Bob answers, and they greet each other. Fred asks about the three-legged pig and the amazing pen.

"Well," Bob says, "That's one special pig. One day I was out in the field and the tractor tipped over on me. Princess there heard my cries. She leapt out of the pen, for she was with all the other pigs back then, and she ran out in the field. WIth her little snout, she rooted and dug, and she moved enough dirt to let me wiggle out."

"Wow!" says Fred. "That's some pig. I can see why she gets such treatment. But why does she have only three legs?"

"That ain't the half of it. One night, my wife and I were asleep. A fire broke out in the kitchen dopwn below. Princess saw it, and again jumped out of the pen. She shimmied up our drain pipe and with her small hoof rapped on the window until we woke up. She saved our life that night."

That's amazing!" says Fred. "What a special animal! That's the most amazing thing I heard of. But why only three legs?"

"Well," drawls Bob, "You wouldn't want to eat a pig like that all at once."

 
At 8:34 PM, Blogger Dave said...

I'm in a similar boat. It's tough sometimes when you're mentally drained to actually try and write.

I think the big thing is, if you look at what you're doing, odds are, you're probably doing everything for others, and then when it's time for you, you're probably just trying to wind down or relax.

You need to find a time when you have some energy and just say screw it to everything and everybody else and do something for your self. Hopefully, the writing is enjoyable enough to do at that time.

I know it's probably tougher for you after reading so many scripts and probably watching so many movies. I find it almost impossible to be excited about any idea I have - hell, *any* idea.

All the movies I watch - virtually none of them excite me. The ones that do are invariably comics (x-men, spiderman, etc.) no doubt harkening back to my childhood.

Just remember, it's your second job, and you have to put in the hours.

Good luck. Keep going!

 
At 8:51 PM, Blogger Bill Cunningham said...

I too am 43.
I too ache in strange places I didn't used to.
Here's how I break a slump like what you're going through:

1. Get up at 6 am every morning M-F.
2. Go for a half-hour walk outside before breakfast.
3. Come bac, eat cereal and be in the shower by 7am.
4. At 7:30 be at the desk and begin writing for an hour and a half. Don't answer the phone, email or anything like that.
5. At 9 am stop writing, get up and stretch and begin your day as normal.
6. On Sat & Sun write when and if you want to...

You'll find yourself thinking of writing as you walk, shower and eat breakfast. Then when you sit down you will find you're ready to go.

You'll also find yourself wanting to write on Sat & Sun...

 
At 8:58 PM, Blogger stu willis said...

The psychological pressure that aspiring writers put on themselves to perform as a writer certainly doesn't help.

Sitting down and saying 'be creative! be creative' never helped anyone; and waiting for the muse can be a LONG wait.

A bit of advice I liked was sitting down and warming up by writing a letter saying what you're going to get through in a writing session - problems you're going to look at, scenes you're going to tackle, etc. By thinking about them without actually starting on them, you make it tangible, and you signal to your brain 'you can start thinking now'.

But its hard. Real hard. But it ain't ever going to change.

 
At 9:05 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Rodio said...

Guy walks into a bar......ouch!

 
At 12:10 AM, Blogger Ismo Santala said...

Two Surrealist sculptures had a baby. It was an Ikea table. They named it Black Sheep.

*

Scott, I'm 20 years younger than you. (Holy shit! Think about it!) I lack your experience and skills, but my writing life is less strained.

I have few obligations, lots of free time and a tremendous desire to learn more about writing.

Your on-the-nose post (because I feel this stuff is the subtext of much of what you blog) acts as a reminder that there's something more important than learning how to write. And that is to learn how to cope with not-writing.

I hate the "get your butt in the chair" mentality. Write when you want. The work is only an extension of ourselves. We need to be in a safe and rested state in order to produce our best work. Life comes first. Enough with the masochism!

 
At 1:36 AM, Anonymous George said...

Scott, this whining is getting tiring. You need to simply acknowledge that you are a writer first and change your lifestyle to reflect this truth. My suggestion for you is set deadlines. It seems they motivate you. (Remember the contest?) Set yourself realistic deadlines that are more short term. Like must get done X amount of pages by end of each week. And write every FUCKING day! Even if it is only for 30 minutes. (God, man, do it for our sakes! Spare us another blog like this! Do it for your “write-aids”!) Someone else made a great point about the regularity of the act of writing making it easier to stay locked in. You will start thinking about your story all the time which will make it impossible not to write. The best part about doing it every day is that when you miss one day it doesn't derail you. It really is like working out (which I suck at sticking to). Regiment is the key. You have a great reader work regiment now add a screenwriting one that corresponds with your lifestyle. The days of binge writing are over. You're older, married and have lots of bills to pay now. I suggest at least an hour a day and do it in the morning before everything else. I know writing at night is more your thing, but it's easier to blow off sitting down at the laptop to write when you're brain fried from reading other people's shit than in the A.M. when you’re fresh. Change your routine. I know you can do it. You did for your physical health. Now do it for your creative health. This is no joke.

 
At 5:03 AM, Blogger The Moviequill said...

my advice is to become Drunk Guy

 
At 5:51 AM, Blogger A. M. said...

Nice try, Scott.

You didn't assume any of this would fly, did you? Least of all the age thingy. Try again when you're 80.

You're tired. Are we to assume you went to the gym 3 times/wk - and sat at the juice bar until allowed to go back home? Did ya work out? Sticking to the new healthy diet?

Only you know what's really going on.... If you hit a wall w/ the script, wrote yourself into a corner, got bored by your story, it looked okay in the outline but the script just isn't working ..... whatever. Something. Did you start over with it or work on something else?

1 hour a day. Don't say that isn't possible. 1 hour a day should give you at least a page. See where this is going?

I know how this can feel, the pain and tiredness and work and overwhelm. But it's not going away. An "ideal writing situation" isn't going to fall from Heaven as long as the day gig is paying the rent, so better figure out how to make it all work.

Give yourself an hour in the morning. Screw the contest deadline. Focus on 1 HOUR a day of writing. And then take it from there.

If you don't put that laptop to use pronto, I demand you send it to me. ;)

 
At 6:00 AM, Blogger Belzecue said...

Scott --

I seem to recall reading that in ancient Greece you were not considered to be a mature adult until you hit 40. (Or I just made that up.)

Of course, I imagine life expectancy for ye ancient Greek fellow was about 35. So, clearly if that dude survived past 40 then he was a worldly wise fellow indeed.

Anyway, think of it this way: you are now mature enough to crank out something meaningful instead of a testosterone-filled smack-em-up.

Go to.

 
At 6:07 AM, Blogger Tom said...

Don't panic. Cranky screenwriters get work too (see John Milius).

I was thinking maybe this was a problem, then I remembered you're a Met fan. First place by 6.5 games? What could be a problem?

 
At 7:11 AM, Blogger Brett said...

Lessee, Scott...

40-ish years old? Check-- here, too.

Every 24 hour period comes pre-loaded with 27 hours of crap to deal with? Ditto here.

Distractions in such number that you need a clone version of yourself to deal with them all? Too familiar.

Aches and pains and exhaustions you never had before? I hear ya, brother.

All this advice to "re-arrange your schedule" or "find one hour a day" is well-intentioned and I understand where it's coming from, but I'm also close enough to the same shit as yours (minus the blood sugar maintenance stuff, on which point I concede you got me whupped) to know that sometimes you do not have the luxury of making such changes. Sometimes you are so committed, so engaged, so otherwise disposed that the best—the absolute best—you can hope for is to survive the storm.

"Get me through this one, Big Guy, and I promise I'll not get into the next available such Unfortunate Situation."

Deal with the critical stuff first, then worry about the secondary stuff. Thing is, you have to make the call on what goes into which pile.

Just never give in. Keep your legs moving, and soldier on out of pure spite if you have no other motivation to compel you. But never give in.

And have fun. This is the good part.
.
.
.
B

 
At 7:37 AM, Blogger Scoot said...

Scott,

Unlike George, I don't mind the "whining." Maybe it's because your struggles and self-criticisms are often painfully familiar to me (also 43 years old, and rarely writing as much as I "should" be).

I have a wife, child, and two non-writing-related jobs. Personally, I don't think I could cover scripts as you do and still find the time/inclination/passion to write. I think my time away from writing (and reading) helps build up the desire. Maybe it's time to take a hard, honest look on the impact that your coverage career may be having on your writing career.

Years ago, when I was trying to write shorts stories, I obsessively read the masters (Carver, Munro, Wolff, etc.), believing that I needed to know exactly how they did it. This led to me seriously doubting myself. I began analyzing every word, every turn of phrase -- i.e. what would Carver do at this moment in my story? Boy, this killed my writing. I had to stop constantly thinking about it. I had to stop reading.

I don't know if the above relates at all to your predicament. Maybe it's totally different. No doubt much of the stuff you read, unlike Carver, is pretty awful and you come away with the feeling, "hell, I can do a lot better than that."

This is my first post (in any blog), though I've been reading your blog obsessively for months now. I just want to let you know that I appreciate it. Maybe because I feel in a similar place to you, yours is the first blog I check each morning before (on good mornings) I start writing.

 
At 8:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scott -

As writers we study the hero's journey. But when we look in the mirror do we find one? Are we a hero to ourselves?

Depends how you define a hero. Remember, being a hero is not always a chain of unbroken success.

Terry Rossio wrote an article in Wordplay advancing a theory of heroics called "impressive failure" which dissects "Raiders of the Lost Ark" by saying - "He loses the golden idol. Marian is kidnapped and he's unable to rescue her. He finds the Ark, but it is immediately taken away. His bluff to destroy the Ark is called, and he gets recaptured. ... And the government ends up with his long sought-after and much suffered-for
prize. ... Indy fails so well, in fact, the audience is impressed as hell, and hardly aware of the fact that he's failing. The defeats are just setbacks that create more opportunities for heroism. As an added benefit, Indy wins the audience's sympathy -- the poor guy's trying so hard, you can't help but root for him."

Be heroic in your failures and search for an opportunity that will propel you into the 2nd act of your life.

Are you tired of working as a reader? Is it Kryptonite to your writing super-powers? Search for a different path. A different form of inspiration.

I suggest glue-sniffing.

 
At 9:15 AM, Blogger shecanfilmit said...

Um, okay - I went through this type of thing like six months back and recently broke through it. I blamed my lack of writing on a pressure-y day job and a needy younger boyfriend, when in reality I wasn't showing up to write because I wasn't showing up. It had nothing to do with the job or they guy. (Though they certainly didn't help.)

I read three different books on writer's block. The 3rd one unlocked the gates, though all three helped. Also, one of Billy Mernit's posts around New Years. He made the observation that many newbie writers REALLY don't like to write. You have to be honest with yourself - maybe what you really like to do is what you are doing now, reading. Maybe you aren't meant to be a writer. I doubt it, because otherwise you wouldn't be so upset by it.

My best advice - go and buy this book:

"Unstuck: A Supportive and Practical Guide to Working Through Writer's Block" by Jane Anne Staw.

By the end of the book, I realized that I wasn't writing for completely different reasons than I thought. Once I was aware of the real issues, I was able to address them and have been writing again, every day.

If you read the book, every single chapter and really follow her, I will be surprised if you will be able to keep yourself from writing.

Good luck!

 
At 9:18 AM, Blogger Twixter Scripter said...

At least you have a cool blog.

 
At 10:07 AM, Anonymous Starkie said...

And yet you still have the time to Blog...

 
At 10:24 AM, Blogger Formerly, The Dude Spoke said...

Scott,

We all go through these times.

But first and formost, we need to think about The Mets. Having transplanted to the west coast about a year ago, the hardest thing to give up was Mets games on WFAN. (Let's go Mets... F-A-N) Watching them kick a supreme amount of arse this season (so far, I'm not bragging until October comes around and we're still doing that good) has been my shining spot of the year, and that comes with losing the love of my life, losing a script deal, and all other sorts of things that have prevented me from writing lately.

Let's be hinest, we've got a solid line-up and we're playing as a team. There isn't a deadwood player in the bunch. And my new favorite person on Earth? Carlos Delgado.

So, cheer up, my friend. Writing comes in waves. You're just at low tide.

(I'm not a very good writer, hence the lame metaphor. Yet, I continue to write, and that should mean something. Don't stop. You'll find your drive will come back. here's hoping that's not at the expense of a Mets losing season.)

 
At 12:57 PM, Anonymous phillip said...

So that you don't burn too much time here instead of writing, here's the shortest joke in the world:

An Irishman walks out of a bar.

 
At 3:48 PM, Blogger Abe Burnett said...

If it's taken you 43 years to turn into THAT guy, you're not doing too bad. I'm already that damn guy and I'm only 28. I'm the guy that my brilliant, hard-working (or should I say prolific?) screenwriter friends come to in a jam...often. Lots of my ideas get dropped into their scripts and films and play even better than I envisioned; but me? I watch the sands of time pass through the hourglass of my life, one by one, each a moment that is gone, evaporated. I guess on the plus side--in my case--I still have plenty of time to steer a different course. So that's good.

For you, I'll suggest something I was reading about recently. It's called Kaizen. It comes from Japan; the concept is that you can accomplish a great deal if you approach your life in a small way. Rather than considering the fact that you have X number of screenplays on the backburner, and it's been two years since you finished your last script (this is me I'm referring to), you focus on small, extremely manageable steps. Rather than asking yourself to write an hour or two a day, or even 10-20 pages, simply ask yourself to write whatever is most simple for you. For me that'd probably be along the lines of a scene, or maybe even just a slug line, description, and the first character to speak's dialogue.

At this point you're probably thinking, "well, great, how does that get me anywhere? Sure, I'll eventually finish that script...in like five years, at that rate." But not true. What you'll discover is that one small, easy step leads to an ever so slightly bigger step. Before you know it you'll be writing a good deal everyday--four whole scenes, or a couple hours, or ten pages... The important thing is to start small, exercise patience, and progress slowly.

The idea is supposed to be that approaching problems in this manner reduces your brains tendency to reject too much of anything new. It also circumvents the brains natural fear of change.

As an example, the book I read told of a woman whose doctor had indicated she needed to start exercising. But she hated exercising with a ferocious loathing. She'd tried to get going on it many, many times, only to fail time after time. Finally, she ended up in this Kaizen guy's office. The first week he simply asked her to walk in place in front of her TV every day for a single minute. The next week it was five minutes (or was it two? I can't remember). And so it went, until eventually she was exercising two hours a day, running, swimming, and more importantly, sticking with it. That's just a single example; I'm sure there are many more.

Maybe give that a try? Maybe don't even try to write on any one of your scripts... maybe just start out asking yourself to write a single random scene involving characters that you read about in the morning paper or something. The point is to start out so excessively easy, and progress at such a slight pace that you eventually achieve your initial desired goal.

 
At 9:32 PM, Blogger Jeff Tidball said...

Read The War of Art. (Amazon link.) It is the best book for your situation, bar none. Also, it's short. (Also, ignore part three. It's lunacy.)

Writing for two hours, first thing in the morning, somewhere other than my house (away from Internet distractions) is what works for me.

 
At 5:37 AM, Blogger Piers said...

Three things.

One:

What's wrong with being that guy?

My English teacher at school didn't write any great novels. My Chemistry teacher did not advance science in any way whatsoever.

But they were both bloody great teachers. And that's important too. You don't have to have written the greatest screenplay in the history of the world to be a great teacher.

Two:

Stick with the writing. You can make time, even if it's not as much time as you'd like to.

You know this already. It never hurts to hear it again.

Three:

Q: What's red and invisible?
A: No tomatoes.

 
At 8:54 AM, Blogger Systemaddict said...

I don't know if I can add anything the previous post wouldn't have-- But here it is from me...

You've been nothing but supportive, articulate, helpful, scolding (in a good way) and insightful in other peoples works...this isn't lost on most- at least not me.

You're also a damned fine writer. If you weren't - or you weren't any of the above - people wouldn't look to you for help and wait with open ears. But the key here- is that you're a damned good writer. Plain and simple. Don't let that be lost. Everyone falls into the swamp of external forces at some point- but it does make you realize that everytime you get a moment to yourself, whether or not it's for writing or family, you must cease it and put your best into it...I don't think you give anything less than that.

Cheers
James

 
At 10:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Rene.

Also the sad fact that everybody has to face up to on all these writing blogs is that we're not all going to make it... it's just not possible for all these aspiring writters to make it in a business where only a few hundred people manage to make a living a year.

So if you are getting beat down and tired of writing maybe it's a sign.

 
At 8:40 AM, Blogger Highlander said...

Okay, got here from Kung Fu Monkey. Yeah, you are the whiney guy. Here's why --

I have a girlfriend I just got engaged to. She has three lovely daughters whom we both adore. She works a crappy job at a downtown architect/construction firm. I work an even crappier job in a call center. We pay our bills and we spend what time we can with the kids and with each other and all this time she and I are both knocking ourselves out trying to figure out how to get someone, anyone, in the publishing biz to take a serious look at any one of my seven SF/fantasy novels or my dozens of short stories or my military memoir or my spec comic book precis' or any of that stuff I've produced over my adult life that I can't get any one to look at, and the reason we both do this is that she knows I'm a talented writer and I know I'm a talented writer and we would both love it if I could get paid to write and I CAN NOT.

You, apparently, can.

You just, you know, don't WANT to.

Cuz you're 43, and you're achey, and it's so much BAH-ther.

Here's how this goes -- I will write all of your assignments for you. On time, and the work will be acceptable. You can have 70% of the money. In addition to the 30% I'd want, I also want a writing co-credit.

I'm achey, too. But I really want to write for a living, and I promise you, if I ever get to, unlike all the other professional whiney writers I know, I will not bitch about it.

 
At 12:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In reference to the above poster, for the longest time I swore I would never be a whiney writer if I made it pro.

I've been a pro five years now and I can't shut the fuck up with the complaining. Some days I almost want to quit. And I love writing. It's the shithead exec's you have to deal with that make it horrible (I write for TV).

The lesson? It all sucks. There is no God. When you die you turn off like a radio. But keep doing what you love. And never say never.

 

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