New Year’s Dissolutions

I’m always resolving to do things, and I think it’s time to make a change.

The sheer volume of life goals I set, and often expect myself to achieve, is intimidating. Or inspiring, depending on my mood.

So this January let’s try paring down the list. Not the list of what I resolve to do – no way, that would be admitting defeat which I never, almost ever do while all the blood remains in my body. Instead, let’s cut out some of the superfluous stuff I actually do, which I suspect keeps me distracted from the bigger, cooler, more interesting things I really want. You know?

I DISSOLVE: Watching TV shows I don’t care about
With the availability of Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and DVDs from the library, it’s easy to watch an entire five seasons of Breaking Bad without realizing it. You just one-after-another it whether you really want to or not.

My new philosophy is to disoblige myself from finishing a series just because I started it. Drop Dead Diva? I gave you six episodes, and that’s all I’d really like to pursue. Downton Abbey? You lost me. I’m giving myself permission to stop watching you so I can watch something else. I mean, write more.

Writing Everywhere

Writing Everywhere… it is possible

I DISSOLVE: Staying indoors
Being a writer and living in southern California comes with certain advantages. Why do I feel chained to my desk when I can write literally anywhere? All I need is a notebook! And probably a pen. Potentially a laptop. All of which are magnificently portable.

No more will I insist on sitting and staring at a screen to achieve verbal accumulation. To the streets, to the outdoors, to the beach!

I DISSOLVE: Driving everywhere
While LA is not the most pedestrian-friendly city in America, it is reasonably so. I have coffee, a library, several restaurants, public transportation and an ATM within 1 mile of my apartment. I have a grocery store down the street. And a clock repairman around the corner. Why jeopardize a perfectly good parking spot when I can walk to so many of life’s essential places?

I DISSOLVE: Working all day
This week I tried an experiment: knocking out my workday between the hours of 7am and noon. I won’t say it went perfectly, but I was amazed at how much I could accomplish in five hours. Since I tend to focus so intensely, I think short bursts of activity suit me much better than forcing a full day of lackluster performance. I certainly feel much more interested in writing my script!

I bet you have your own secret list of dissolutions for this year. Embrace it! Clear out the clutter! Let’s all let go of the stuff we don’t need, but we have it just because we’ve always had it, and make way for the new exciting stuff.

Want to?

Rebelling with Tchaikovsky

The concept of time off: I don’t seem to have it. But I keep looking for it, and maybe one day I’ll succeed.

After having not blogged since before Thanksgiving, I find I’m equal parts short on time and rebellious toward my editorial calendar. In case you’ve yet to hop on the latest fad, editorial calendars are these things writers are supposed to make so we know what to write on which day. Which means we have to figure that out weeks in advance.

Which, if you know me at all, you’ll understand this is simply not the way I operate. But I keep trying anyway, because I’m really good at feeling inadequate when I can’t do the stuff everybody says I’m supposed to do.

Which seems to mirror my screenwriting life at the moment, because after forcing myself to slog through yet another outline in preparation for my second draft, I now find myself passionately opposed to writing the script that goes with it.

They say women are mysterious, and I am proof.

I heard this quote from Tchaikovsky last night (composer of fantastic works such as the Nutcracker Suite), and I think we would have gotten along:


Then he also said:

If we wait for the mood, without endeavouring to meet it half-way, we easily become indolent and apathetic. We must be patient, and believe that inspiration will come to those who can master their disinclination.”
― Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

So this is me, attempting to meet the mood halfway. Against my will, against my better judgement, but with a little bit of hope… I’m sitting down to write and it might get ugly.

And it most certainly bears no resemblance to my editorial calendar.


This is really good advice. 

Each morning we emailed our writing goals and each evening we’d email what we called our accountability. In other words: had we done what we said we’d do that day?


I think I’m going to find myself a writing buddy. Do you have one? Any cautions, horror stories, or big happy reports?

Giving Critique (Without Losing Friends)

Being a writer, I seem to have befriended a bunch of other writers. We sometimes like to show each other the stuff we’ve written and ask the fabulously flippant yet incredibly dangerous: “What do you think?”

What do I think?

So many things. I think very many things about another writer’s screenplay. But I can’t tell you all the things I’m thinking, because 1: it will be overwhelming, disorganized and completely unproductive and 2: you’ll never speak to me again.

So in the interest of actually helping my fellow writer come up with a better script, I have a few basic strategies that help me craft a useful response. Three, to be precise.


1. Start with the good news. There’s always something encouraging and good about a person’s writing. I don’t mean a trite introductory nicety to delay the inevitable – but a genuine, “these are the things I admire about your style/concept/characters/dialogue and this is what I enjoyed about it,” kind of thing.

Some folks like to comment on each part of the script as they go through it – chronologically so to speak. So as they come across something they like, they note it in order. Even so, I still recommend starting with an overall happy note of feel-good optimism, because even if a script is bad – like, redefining my standard of bad – it still took discipline and courage to write it. And that’s worth commending, even if it smells worse than feet.

2. Look at the big picture. When you tally up all the problems with a script, what are the common themes? Are there any bad moves that snowball into other bad moves? Is there a chicken and egg situation?

It’s a lot easier to think about improving a few major pillars of a story than to try and get your head around a lot of smaller problems. Fundamentally, this is really the writer’s problem not the reader’s – but since I’m giving feedback I may as well make it good.

3. Inspire improvement. It’s tempting to suggest specific changes to solve problems, but I try to avoid this. I’m not writing the script. I’m not rewriting it. I’m just trying to help give some perspective to my friends so they can do the rewriting.

The last thing I want is to take over another writer’s story and start pushing it in a direction they don’t want to go. So rather than offering specific solutions, I’m just trying to inspire better writing. It’s probably not as difficult as I’m making it sound. You know what I mean, right?

Even after all that, I still reread my notes and take a deep breath before I hit send. And usually I get a reply.

Thanking me for my thoughts and expressing eagerness to work on the next draft.

Just as long as you’re still speaking to me.

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How To Write An Amazing Movie

Dear people,

Advice from established writers can be… tricky.

On the one hand, these are the wise who have gone before – I should lap up their shining words like so many drops of water from the fountain of youth.

On the other hand, do I really want more voices in my head telling me what I’m doing wrong and offering guidelines for being better?

When confronted this morning with yet another list of verbal gems from established Hollywood, I intended to bypass it and carry on with my writing. Blithely complying with the oft-repeated wisdom of the wise who have gone before, to simply write. “Writers write.” End of story.

I really needed some fresh enthusiasm though, so I clicked.

Just for a quick skim.

Within seconds I realized what I was reading was not simply the same wise words and inspirational quips that never fail to drive traffic and sell ads. These are stories from real people who struggle with real writing the way I am really struggling with it now. Little fizzes of awakening started zapping through my body, like instinct was meeting experience and being validated. In a way that I really need to be validated at this particular point in my career.

In a way that makes me want to write.

Stories like this one from the writer of Please Give and Enough Said.

Nicole Holofcener: I used to do [note cards], and it really just fucked me up. It would sort of kill the fun, and it would make me realize that I didn’t know how to structure a screenplay. Or I didn’t have the answers that you’re supposed to have when you outline a script, and I figured out somehow that I didn’t need to have the answers. And I would just start writing and see what happens, and usually, what happens is a mess, but a fixable one, and that’s kind of how I start.

Yes! Me too! I keep doing note cards because that is what we’re supposed to do, but maybe it is killing my fun. Maybe I need to come up with a way to do this that is fun for me.

It’s a relationship. Of the long-term variety.

Right? I mean honestly, does this not make sense?

I hope you will read and be encouraged by the rest of the article. Good stuff.

Let’s keep going.

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A Mustache for all Occasions

Inspiration is like striking oil – except that you don’t strike it, it strikes you. So I guess you are more like oil, and inspiration is… wait. The point is, inspiration strikes unpredictably. In the same way that striking oil can be unpredictable.

Right…? Well. You know what I mean.

Particularly, I was looking at fonts. Which is a super fun thing to do. has a ton of free ones, and I came across several that I liked, but just as cool and whimsical as the fonts themselves were the font names.


Mustache Gallery – for real. And I had just learned how to animate drawings in Motion, so the two ideas in combination created a powerful visual that must needs come to life.

Resulting in the video below.

“But what does this have to do with screenwriting? Or travel, for that matter?”

Well, probably nothing. But it was really fun to make, I love it, and I hope you do too.


Producing for Screenwriters

I’m a screenwriter. I love movies and words and popcorn.

But let’s say, just hypothetically, that producers have yet to bang down my door begging for screenplays. Do I just keep on writing and hope that someday those words will get moving?

I think you know the answer to that.

With my team at the screening of our 48 hour film, Dead End Job.

With my team at the screening of our 48 hour film, Dead End Job.

Producing is no easy job, but if we’re eager to spin our ideas into a living, breathing experience, I say go for it. Short films and web series can be done in our spare time with a limited budget, and it gets us in the mode of making stuff.

We are no longer dreamers and wishers. We are filmmakers.

Filmmakers are allowed to say things like, “I have multiple projects in various stages of development,” which works even if you are still trying to corral friends and family members into helping you shoot your first video.

Of course, filmmakers have a lot more responsibility than screenwriters. And chances are, there’s a reason we’ve been so focused on writing all this time… because writing is fun and producing might… not be? Or maybe we don’t know where to begin.

If you happen to be best friends with award-winning actors and a hidden gem of a director, I would suggest you give them a call. If not, it’s still highly possible to put together a team of really good people who can help you tell your story. Asking friends for recommendations, posting in craigslist, contacting the communications department at your local university, can all generate leads for your budding production team.

This approach always works for me, and it’s so much easier to work with a few folks who are pretty good at what they do, then to try and do everything yourself. It can be done, but why?


If you could use a little kick in the pants to get started, go to and sign up for the project in your city. Between now and the start date, make it your goal to recruit as many people as you can for your team. Then you all get to write, shoot, and edit your entire 4-7 minute film in 2 days.

And it will be finished, whether you like it or not.

Take a look at the trailer for the Dark Comedy I just produced and co-wrote. Go get ’em.

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The Making Of A Scene

A screenplay is just a bunch of scenes strung together. Anyone who says otherwise has clearly not read this blog post.

To completely oversimplify it, you write some scenes to set up your story, then you write a BUNCH of scenes to complicate your story and make everyone think the lead character is screwed, and finally you put a few more scenes to rescue the lead and end your story satisfyingly. That’s whatcha call a 3-act structure.

Needless to say, your scenes need to be incredible. So incredible that the thought of writing them completely cripples you with fear and self-doubt.

But when you’re taking a class, you got these things called deadlines. So you figure a way to skirt around the inevitable mental obstacles. I’d like to share mine with you, if you don’t mind.

Step 1: Take the “What Do I Care About?” Quiz

Question: What do I care about less, the possibility of writing a crummy scene, or the certainty of falling behind in my work and hating my own guts tomorrow morning?

If you chose ‘writing a crummy scene’ then proceed to Step 2. If you chose ‘hating my own guts’ then go ahead and put on sweatpants because it’s gonna be a Ben&Jerry’s-in-bed kind of day.

Step 2: Do a dance

Seriously. It will help you loosen up and make you feel a little more creative. Music is optional. If you must take six minutes to scoot through your playlist for something suitable, then skip it.

Step 3 (and most important): Think

Do you know what this scene is about? If not, think about it a little. Feel free to let your thoughts come out on the page, so you can read what you’re thinking and save any thoughts that might otherwise get away from you.

Say you need to write something about your lead character, John. John is about to do four hundred hours of community service, but something has to come right before that. Once you have some sort of idea of the transition you want to make, move along to Step 4.

Step 4: Outline

Just three lines: Beginning, Middle, End.

John tells Peggy he is really looking forward to community service. Peggy’s boyfriend Butch appears and gets the wrong idea. John gets a black eye and has an epiphany about the relationship between observational conclusions and underlying realities.

I have to say, employing this step in my writing process has been so freeing. It gives me a bony structure on which to drape the eloquent folds of my action and dialogue.

Step 5: Expand

Put in the stuff people say or do, and tada! You have a scene.

Just add like fifty more, and you’re all done.

The end result might be brilliant, it might be terrible, but that is what editing is all about. At least you have something! And really, I believe the motivational power of ‘something’ is really quite synergistic.

I’ll end with this piece from my new favorite artist, Ceslovas Cesnakevicius, because I think it is cool and adventurous. And I love elephants.

Art by Ceslovas Cesnakevicius

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Writer’s Block

Whenever I talk to someone about writing, they inevitably ask me if I get writer’s block. I find that intriguing. Is this a common phenomenon, that would-be writers just can’t think of anything to say?

I confess, I’ve never really believed in writer’s block. Not that I always feel like writing, but when you work for a communications company and deadlines must be met, you just have to produce whether you feel it or not. So I don’t tend to encounter writer’s block in that way – staring at the blank page with dread in my heart and motionless fingers.

I do, however, frequently run into problems with plot. I think this is normal. Some of my favorite films have brilliant plot twists that I would never have seen coming and that I have to believe took months of fervent effort to imagine into being. I mean, surely Christopher Nolan didn’t just whip up a brilliant ending to a complex story in one sitting.

It’s like Emma Thompson’s character in one of my favorite movies, Stranger than Fiction. She’s working on a novel about death and taxes, and just can’t seem to find a fitting way to kill off her main character and tie up all the loose ends of her story.

Eventually she devises the perfect solution, of course, but it takes time. And effort.

It’s work.

In my quest to become a screenwriter, I haven’t wrestled with a block so much as I keep turning over the plot of my baby screenplay in my mind, trying out different solutions and gleaning some insights and tossing out other ideas that just don’t fit. It’s a lonely business, especially since what I end up with is often still full of holes and needing further effort.

I was having breakfast with my mom the other day, and she asked what I was writing about. It’s never comfortable to answer that question, because honestly I am not altogether sure. But I gradually teased out the contents of the story I’m concocting in my screenwriting class.

She wore a look that clearly said, “I don’t get it.”

So I kept going, and sketched out some of the ideas I’d been toying with and the problems I still have and the solutions I’m looking for. And suddenly a light bulb fell out of my mouth. Inspiration struck as I was talking out my story. Not the full solution, maybe not even part of it, but a very intriguing aspect of my main character previously unnoticed by me.

It’s uncomfortable to share any creative work before it’s done. Especially with people you really want to impress, like your mom or your boss or your cute next door neighbor. But I guess the creative process is like that. Discomfort is a good sign – it shows you’re pushing beyond familiar territory and heading for fresh new horizons.

So here’s to being uncomfortable! And the potential light bulb moments that await. Cheers.

Day 6: Mingle

In case you’re just joining us, I’m a few days into Robert Brewer’s writing challenge, encouraging us to take steps every day for 30 days toward building a platform and developing your following.

It’s been a smashing experience so far, and I’m pretty excited to carry on.

Day 6: Read a Blog and Comment on it

A reasonable suggestion. Where to begin?

Since I blog primarily about stories, fiction, travel, and my personal experience with all those things, it seemed smart to look for other blogs with a similar focus. When I laid eyes on MORFIS, I knew my search was over.

MORFIS is a collection of art, illustrations, photography and design that takes you to another place. Browsing around the virtual gallery, I found myself smiling involuntarily. The imagination spread across the digital pages is really something. I was drawn in.

But it isn’t enough to visit a blog and merely appreciate it. We are to leave evidence of our appreciation.

I was hard pressed to choose, but I settled on a post depicting illustrations by Dan May, a highly detailed fine artist in Chicago. Take a peek at the blog and see what you think – I was quite inspired, and may even come up with some new stories based on what I saw. You can see Dan’s photos (and my comment) here.