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Posts Tagged ‘bird by bird’

“I recommend you dispose of anything that does not fall into one of three categories: currently in use, needed for a limited period of time, or must be kept indefinitely.” 
Marie Kondō,
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and OrganizingHard Drive_3428.jpg

This week I’m doing a little winter cleaning. Starting the process of condensing 30+ hard drives of videos and photos over the years down to one 4T hard drive. A greatest hits if you will. And the best of the best will also be stored on 1T in the cloud.

Something I’ve put off for years because it’s an overwhelming task with no billable hours. But I have a plan and Anne Lamott’s “bird by bird” theory (that she learned from her father) that’s keeping me sane.

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”
Anne Lamott
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life  

So I’m taking this hard drive by hard drive. I just finished going through my first drive so it feels good to get out of the gate.

I think the “bird by bird” concept is simple and profound. Whether it’s cleaning your house, writing a script, or editing a project.  The following quote has helped me get get rid of many books, movies, items, and clothes this year:

“Imagine what it would be like to have a bookshelf filled only with books that you really love. Isn’t that image spellbinding? For someone who loves books, what greater happiness could there be?” 
Marie Kondō

If you need a jolt to kick start some organization in your life check out the podcast interview Tim Ferriss did with tidying master Marie Kondo. 

Scott W. Smith

 

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“We work out the story on index cards to break it down.”
Screenwriter Ted Elliot (Pirates of the Caribbean) on how he and writing partner Terry Rossio work

“While I always outline scripts, for me it’s 50/50 whether I use index cards or not.”
Screenwriter John August

A few years ago the popularity of Blake Snyder’s book Save the Cat! introduced a whole new group of writers to using index cards in the screenwriting process. I’ve seen writers mount their index cards on walls, neatly place them in Moleskine* notebooks, and even stack them on their desk using a funky little system. Some even have a color coding system for their index cards. (Some technically use post-it notes.) But screenwriting via index cards has been a long-standing tradition in screenwriting circles.

“I write each sequence on (three-by-five index) cards. One card for each sequence. I usually end up with twenty-eight, thirty sequences per hour of film. I put them on the floor so I can see them from up here. Probably because I was a film editor. I think it’s very good training for a screenwriter because I can tell the actual lengths of sequences in terms of film. Frequently, before I write them, I know pretty much how they’re going to come out, in some strange way…I’ve rarely written anything that I‘ve looked at and said this doesn’t work at all, because the cards seem to tell me this.”
Edward Anhalt (1914-2000)
2-time Oscar-winning screenwriter
Panic in the Streets (1950), Becket (1964)

One bonus of using index cards is they are cheap and another is you can find them easily in every city. If you’ve never used index cards here’s a simple little exercise you can do to get your feet wet. The next time you watch a favorite film at home get a stack of index cards and write down every scene in the movie. Just a line or two of what the scene is about and what characters are in the scene. When the movie is over flip through the cards and see if you get a feel of the story.

Now you just need to do that with your own ideas and stories. I find 40-60 scenes is what most narrative stories can hold. To borrow from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird concept, you don’t need to write your whole screenplay at once, just chunk it out card by card. Not every writer uses index cards, but the next time you see a photograph of a writer in their office look at the background and see if you see any index cards lying around or mounted on the walls.

Even though my screenwriting software does index cards for some reason I prefer the old school, basic white 4X6 index cards (with lines). I like writing on the cards (in black ink) and like being able take them with me and just shuffle through the cards when they are not mounted on a board. Essentially I am doing what Anhalt is talking about—I’m running the movie in my head.

And sometimes like on the script I am working on now I just use the index cards to write down a thought or two. (Most recently I wrote down “Atlanta” and “Size 10 shoes” on a note card that was something I wanted to work into the script.) I could (and sometimes do) make notes to myself on my iPhone or place it on the bottom of the script, but the index cards are really my favorite way of keeping track of new ideas.

Anybody have any index card tips you use or index stories to tell?

*Moleskine has a Storyboard Notebook that has three 16:9 panels which looks pretty useful.

Update 11/30/10, John August link: 10 hints for index cards

Update 1/11/11:

“There are index cards everywhere in Aaron Sorkin’s office…The writer of The West Wing and The Social Network likes to use those cards, tacked to a large corkboard, to keep track of key elements. Social Network’s pivotal scenes are still up there, with notes that read, “Mark and Erica in bar,” “Mark walks back to dormitory” and “Mark begins drinking, blogging, hacking.”
Christy Grosz
Inside Aaron Sorkin’s Writing Process
The Hollywood Reporter

Scott W. Smith

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“The very first thing I tell my new students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason they write so little.”
Anne Lamott
Bird by Bird
page 3

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It was Anne Lamott’s book Traveling Mercies that first drew me to her writing and I quickly followed it with bird by bird; Some Intsructions on Writing and Life.  Lamott writes in a way that makes you believe that there is something significant about writing and about life. And she does it with her own quirky style. She was is also the subject matter of a documentary by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Freida Lee Mock called Bird by Bird with Annie.

“The very first thing I tell my new students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and want to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason they write so very little.”
                                                                        Anne Lamott
                                                                        bird by bird 
                                                                        page 3 

 

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people…Perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness and lifeforce (these are words we are allowed to use in California). Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived.
                                                                        
Anne Lamott
                                                                        bird by bird
                                                                        
page 28 

“I believe in lists and I believe in taking notes, and I believe in index cards for doing both.  I have index cards and pens all over the house—by the bed, in the bathroom, in the kitchen, by the phone, and I have them in my glove compartment of my car. I carry one with me in my pocket when I take my dog for a walk.”
                                                                        
Anne Lamott
                                                                        bird by bird 
                                                                        page 133

 

BTW—If you’re looking for a little St. Patrick’s Day thoughts check out the post Screenwriting from Ireland.

Scott W. Smith

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