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“Inspiration is never really very far away if you look for it. It’s all around you, you know…. When a song comes, it’s kind of magical. You know you’re picking up some kind of signal.”
Tom Petty
Interview with Charlie Rose in 1999

Here’s how Petty said he wrote the song Wildflowers:

“I just took a deep breath and it came out. The whole song. Stream of consciousness: words, music, chords. Finished it. I mean, I just played it into a tape recorder and I played the whole song and I never played it again. I actually only spent three and a half minutes on that whole song. So I’d come back for days playing that tape, thinking there must be something wrong here because this just came too easy. And then I realized that there’s probably nothing wrong at all.”
Tom Petty (Not sure where the quote originally came from)

Related Post:
Inspiration Flying Under the Radar
Analytical vs. Intuitive Writing
Creativity and Milking Cows

Scott W. Smith

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“I wrote at least a thousand words a day every day from the age of twelve on. For years Poe was looking over one shoulder, while Wells, Burroughs, and just about every writer in Astounding and Weird Tales looked over the other.

I loved them, and they smothered me. I hadn’t learned how to look away and in the process look at myself but at what went on behind my face.

It was only when I began to discover the treats and tricks that came with word associations that I began to find some true way through the minefields of imitation. I finally figured out that if you are going to step on a  live mine, make it your own. Be blown up, as it were, by your own delights and despairs.

I began to put down brief notes and descriptions of loves and hates. All during my twentieth and twenty-first years, I circled around summer noons and October midnights, sensing that there somewhere in the bright and dark seasons must be something that was really me.

I finally found it one afternoon when I was twenty-two years old. I wrote the title The Lake on the first page of a story that finished itself two hours later. Two hours after that I was sitting at my typewriter out on a porch in the sun, with tears running off the tip of my nose, and the hair on my neck standing up.”
Ray Bradbury
Zen in the Art of Writing 

Bradbury sold The Lake to Weird Tales for $20. And his original voice was off to the races.  Do the math… all it took for Ray Bradbury to find his voice was 2 hours of writing —plus the 1,000 words a day for 10 years.

Scott W. Smith

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When Emmy-winner Stephen J. Cannell died in 2010 his IMDB credits were extensive. I can’t image many others who wrote 450 TV episodes or produced more than 1,500 episodes. But there’s really no secret to how he did it—it’s basic math. He began his days at 3:30 AM:

“You know, when you say, ‘He created 42 primetime television series—how’d he do that?’ Well, you’d be surprised at what you can do if you get up and write for five hours a day everyday for 35 years.”
Stephen J. Cannell
Script magazine interview with Ray Morton

How did he get into that position where he was getting paid well to write for five hours? Again no secret—more basic math.

After Cannell graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Oregon he worked for his father. After work he went home and wrote for five hours every night. And he did that for more than five years without seeing anything he wrote get produced.

“I was like a machine. I swear I had a stack of material you could sit on.”
Stephen J. Cannell

That’s a great image to leave you with today. I’m not sure how big that stack of paper was, but if you measure the height of a 100 page stack of paper and multiple it by the height of an average chair you’ll come up with a pretty accurate number. Basic math.

P.S. And Cannell’s IMDB credit list continues to grow after his death. Most recently he was credited for the 2012 movie version of 21 Jump Street and the 2014 sequel 22 Jump Street because he was co-creator of the original TV series starring Johnny Depp.

Scott W. Smith 

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I don’t know what what writer John Grogan’s dream was growing up in Michigan, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t involve two Hollywood actors eventually playing he and his wife based on an international best-selling book that he wrote.

But that’s the way it went down. The Marley & Me author is a good example of Mike Rowe’s “Follow your opportunities” school of thought.

“I got into writing by default because I was so bad at everything else. Algebra, geometry, French, chemistry, physics — they all escaped me. But writing, now there was a subject I could have some fun with. By eighth grade I was penning parodies of the nuns, and in high school, besides writing for the school newspaper, I started an underground tabloid, which earned me a celebrated trip to the principal’s office.  From there it was on to Central Michigan University, where I earned the princely sum of twenty-five cents per column inch writing for the campus newspaper while slugging away at a double major in journalism and English.

“My first full-time writing job came immediately upon graduation in 1979 when I was hired as a police reporter for the small and lackluster Herald-Palladium in the Michigan harbor town of St. Joseph. I rode all night with cops, photographed murder victims, picked my way through smoldering house fires and sat over coffee with grieving parents.”
John Grogan (Marley & Me)
About John Grogan

Grogan says his “ticket out of small-town journalism” was a fellowship at Ohio State University where he’d earn his master’s degree.  A second fellowship to the Poynter Institute for Media Studies took him to St. Petersburg, Florida. After that he got a job at Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. And it was in South Florida that a little dog named Marley came into his life.

Fast forward a few years and he and his wife would be portrayed in the film version of Marley & Me by Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston.

Follow your opportunities and be faithful in the little things. And as yesterday’s post pointed out, it doesn’t hurt your chances of success if you wake up early and get some early morning writing in before your day job.

Scott W. Smith

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Writing Quote #63 (Anne Rice)

“I write about outsiders seeking redemption in one form or another and always will.”
Novelist Anne Rice  (The Vampire Chronicles)
2016 Billboard interview with Alice Cooper

Related posts:
Hope & Redemption
Storytelling Soul Game
Fear, Pity, Catharsis (Tip #69)
Broken Wings & Silver Lining
‘The Verdict’ Revisited

Scott W. Smith

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“When I was younger and finally got an agent—I was turned down by everybody—finally an agent who said he would represent me I may have told my family there was a book in the works. I really don’t remember; it was a long time ago. I had read so much about how to get published and I knew that rejections are just part of the routine. And there are great stories about writers you’d been rejected so many times for great books and it really keeps you going. It motivates you. At the same time, I was a busy, busy small-time lawyer—wasn’t making any money—but I was busy. I was a member of the state legislator in Jackson, which took up a third of my time, plus my wife’s having babies. So life is really complicated. I didn’t have any time. This was a secret little part-time hobby of mine, if it didn’t work out that was okay. I had a law office. I had a career. It wasn’t like I was suicidal when I got rejection letters. [But writing] gave me a very big dream. I’d only been a lawyer for four or five years when I started writing. And once I started writing and the pages started piling up, it became this huge dream about writing full-time, and not having to be a lawyer. There’s a lot of frustration with the practice of law, and I was kind of burned out I think.  The dream got bigger.  And I thought with each rejection letter, maybe I’m one step closer. Keep submitting, keep submitting.”
John Grisham (The Firm, The Whistler)
Interview on The Moment with Brian Koppelman 
(11/1/16)

Note: Grisham has had more than 30 novels published and with an estimated over 250 million books sold he’s one of the bestselling writers in history. In addition to that he’s had 11 features film films produced based on his writings. Not bad for a small town southern lawyer who started out writing as a part-time hobby. Keep dreaming. Keep writing. And keep submitting. (Reading this blog is optional, but you must read this post: J.K. Rowling’s on the Benefits of Failure.)

Related Posts:
“I can’t keep handling this…rejection” Advice from a now Oscar-winning screenwriter.
Emma Thompson on Rejection & Persistence
Perseverance (Werner Herzog) “Perseverance has kept me going over the years. Things rarely happen overnight.”
‘The Anticipation of Rejection’ —“This is a business that’s based on rejection and the anticipation of rejection.”
Rod Serling on Rejection
Rejection Before Raiders
Mike Rich and Hobby Screenwriting
Damien Chazell on ‘Pushing Yourself’
The American Dream & Robert Zemeckis
Postcard #48 (Oxford) The literary tradition in Mississippi

Scott W. Smith

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“I’m doing the outline [of my story] upfront so I always know where I’m going. I work on the outline for weeks, months, sometimes even years if I can’t get it right. But when I start the book on January the first to finish by July the first I’ve got a clear outline—I know exactly where the story’s going— I know how it’s going to end. I love John Irving books, and John Irving says he writes the last sentence before he writes the first. I’m not that smart, but I know what the last scene is before I write the first scene….It’s important to outline because if you don’t know where you’re going you can waste huge amounts of time.”
John Grisham (The Firm, The Client, The Pelican Brief)
Interview with Brian Koppelman

P.S. Grisham does say in that interview that he does have some “freedom and flexibility” to change his outline, but the reason “he can’t take a left turn for no reason” is he’s on a deadline to publish a book once a year. He didn’t outline his first book (A Time to Kill) and it took him three years to write and came it at 1,000 words (his editor cut that book by a third). And because his outlines sometimes take an extended time to complete, he can have multiple stories in play to make sure he gets one book done a year.

Related posts:
Screenwriting Quote #93 (John Grisham)
John Irving, Iowa & Writing
Postcard #48 (Oxford)
Analytical vs. Intuitive Writing
Stuart Beattie’s 5-Page Outline
Story Plotting the Harry Potter Way (It’s worth noting until J.K. Rowling came along, I believe John Grisham was the most financially successful living writer. Maybe ever. But when you look at the combined success of Grisham and Rowling and realize they both outline their stories you have to at least take notice. On the flip side, Stephen King doesn’t outline and Quentin Tarantino says “Basically, my writing’s like a journey.” )

Scott W. Smith

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