Going Hollywood

Tess Gerritsen writes today about her first and last experience as a screenwriter. It’s a funny and all-too-typical experience.

But I don’t plan to ever write another screenplay again, and here’s why: for me, it feels like writing by committee.

She’s right, that’s exactly what it is. And it’s why I like it. No, not the getting notes from executives part…but being in the writers room, cracking a story with a staff of clever, creative, and enthusiastic writers. And I like production, collaborating with directors, actors, editors, composers, set designers, location managers, casting directors, and everyone else who brings the story to life. Does the episode turn out exactly as I originally envisioned it? Can I claim it as all mine? No, but that’s also part of the fun…and yes, sometimes, the disappointment.  Which is why I happily work both as a screenwriter and as a novelist.

What prompted Tess’ anecdote was a terrific post by my friend Paul Guyot on discipline. He writes:

Discipline. The single greatest asset a writer can own. Better than talent, better than imagination, better than anything.

If you have discipline, you are light-years ahead of anyone trying to write without discipline. It is no coincidence that the best writers I know – both prose and screen – are also some of the most disciplined.

And it’s no coincidence that the majority of people I know who have yet to taste any real success as a writer lack discipline. And most of them don’t even know it.

Discipline. Stephen J. Cannell, of TV and multiple novels, is disciplined. Up at 4:30am EVERY day, works out for an hour, showers, eats and WRITES. Every day.

He then beats himself up for another 1000 words. I think my friend is being way too hard on himself. It’s not about getting to the computer at a set time every day and writing…it’s about getting to the computer at all.

My ass is being bitten right now. And not in a good way. My lack of discipline is not only keeping me from writing today, but its domino effect on my entire process is awful. Because my deadline doesn’t care. It continues toward me. Like a freight train. And losing one day of writing means that when I do turn in my pilot, it will not be as good as it could be. Because I lost roughly six or seven hours that could have, most likely would have, been spent making the thing better.

You can’t always force creativity, regardless of the immutable reality of a production deadline. But I have to believe that if I have a bad afternoon or a completely wasted day, that I’ll make up for it later. I’ve never missed a production deadline — there is always a finished script to prep. And I’ve only missed one book deadline in my life (by two days). So I know, in my heart of hearts, that I will get the job done. Even so, the self-doubt, anxiety and fear always comes back.

I have a tight deadline right now on a book and two big studio pitches on Tuesday to prepare for…yet here I am, writing this blog post. Is it lack of discipline? I don’t know. I’m here at the computer, my fingers on the keyboard, aren’t I?

I write this blog as a promotional tool but, between you and me, it’s real purpose is as a procrastination device. When I’m stuck on a script, book, pitch or whatever, I turn to the blog as a way to stay at the computer and keep typing…otherwise, I might just leave the room and spend the day doing something else, something that isn’t writing. In fact, it’s how Paul’s post got written:

And this isn’t the first day I have not written. Because I lack discipline, this is one of many, many days in my writing career that have been spent not writing. Not staring out the window working, those days count as writing days. I mean simply not doing anything.

I hurt myself. I hurt my family. By not being disciplined. So, I’m trying to fix it. Right now. This very second.

See, I’m writing this because, one, I love JT and would do anything for her. But also because I’m trying to jumpstart myself. Get my bitten ass in gear. Because writing something, anything, is better than not writing.

I agree. But Paul is far more disciplined than he realizes. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be at the computer and he wouldn’t be beating himself up so much.

6 thoughts on “Going Hollywood”

  1. The blog is also a wonderful word gym, when you think about it. Because sometimes the words don’t come the way we’d like them to, no matter how hard we push, and having a blog and doing a quick fifty to hundred words on the state of the union address, movies we like or hate, or even how pissed off we are at being blocked is a great way to loosen up, like doing fifty quick pushups to warm up before the real workout begins.
    And when one doesn’t have a deadline or projects lined up (which some of us who aren’t named Lee are sometimes afflicted by) it’s a great way to stay in shape.

  2. I hear the comment about discipline, and what your colleague says about it being the “single greatest asset a writer can own.”
    Just my two cents, but I think discipline is particularly important to what you do not because you’re a writer, but a because you’re a freelance writer… You’re solely dependent on yourselves to provide your own income.
    In my opinion, being freelance is more where you get your respect from, and more where the discipline would be an essential requirement – more so than the ‘writing’ part. I know that I never intend to work for myself… I’m too scared!

  3. As a fulltime freelance writer I’ve found the “discipline” tends to be: don’t work, don’t get paid, gotta go back and get a real job.
    It’s nearly mathematical in its simplicity and nuclear in its effectiveness.
    And for God sakes, Guyot, isn’t there some Internet porn you could waste time with instead?

  4. Guyot had it right. Free Cell, Hearts, Spider Solitaire are my writing companions. I have renamed the default opponents in Hearts Doc, Bat, and Wyatt. I whip them all because they have only chip-brains.
    All that procrastination does do something for me. It’s like pumping muddy water from a well to get to the clear water. On the other hand, I’m in my seventies and have donated most of my used brain cells to Paris Hilton, who is in need.

  5. Discipline, Deadlines and Creativity

    Yesterday, in my post Going Hollywood, I wrote:You can’t always force creativity, regardless of the immutable reality of a production deadline. But I have to believe that if I have a bad afternoon or a completely wasted day, that I’ll


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