A shower of ideas!

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As writers, one of the things we need to do that’s an essential part of being one is brainstorming concepts and what I keep hearing through the grapevine is: if you want to stay a writer, brainstorm a plethora of ideas. Constantly. 

As I have said in past posts, ages back, my quaint idea machine started with a single one but has since (thankfully) expanded. Our brains need mental workouts sometimes – in my case, honing certain habits, being DISCIPLINED (to an occasionally robotic extent that it extends to 3 AM in the morning where if I have an idea I am excited about, I can’t sleep)

Anyway, the point of this post is this: writing can happen at any place any time. For me, a lot of the time it happens when I hit the showers or I am driving – and I have gotten into the habit of writing down anything that inspires me. Even if it’s extremely random. Which is how I got this new concept last night… a new concept which was actually an old log line that I just wrote because I felt I had to write an idea down.. seemed like a dumb idea I was going to trash ten months ago but then I thought what the heck, keep it! It’s not adding anything to my hard drive space and then inspiration hit me today… like VOILA! And I revisited that old idea.

The same thing happened with another story. While we may never know how far success is in the cards for any of these, mind you, the point is – it turned into a good story I liked to write… and has cast a temporary smug satisfaction that comes with feeling good about something, even if it’s temporary.

So my somewhat profound or maybe-not-so-profound revelation : no idea is a bad idea without exploration. Of course there’s the oft chance it can turn into a bad one, but the point is ideas are ideas! Good or bad, they can come in handy.

The more you exercise your brain, the better you get… and the more you write and make it your life, the better you will feel doing it! So whatever fears, insecurities, doubts, harbingers, banshees affect your creativity, the best advice I ever got from someone is to put it aside and keep going – because you never know just how far it can take you and at the end of the day – your fantasies may just turn to reality… something I wish not only for myself but for all of you.

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The Art of Time Management!

So I just wanted to post up something real quick on time management . Anyhow, I have been purged with all sorts of appointments this particular week:

• Looking for new roofers to replace our leaky twenty-year-old roof.

• The dentist because after months of laziness, I look like this:

Not to mention my dear baby dog has a pre-neuter surgery appointment (Sad, but true – my baby – almost six months already – can’t believe it!) What were we talking about? Oh, yes – time management. So here’s the thing – my ability to wrangle time is like Indiana running after the giant ball thing in Raiders… and I think we can all relate. Whether you are a student, whether you are a parent, whether you are a working-at-another-job-and-doing-this-on-the-side dude, this is something that requires continuous work. Something I still struggle with, especially after the weekend when sometimes all I want to do is read comics and watch you-tube videos. Ok, and if you are not like me at all (watching you-tube videos) and also have the additional responsibilities of child-rearing and other stuff, the question is: how do you manage time – aka time to write?

A few years back, this was me: your friendly neighbourhood ‘sporadic writer’ who likes to write but only when the ‘mood’ sets, busy with a newborn, did it only when I felt like it, maybe once a week, twice a week. And why even that? Because I had one idea – just one that I thought would be fantastic if it ever became a movie. In other words, this writer was passionate about the material, but otherwise unsure and not quite committed.

The present. I have managed to develop a few things: better commitment to my writing, better time management but most of all – a vision of what my professional future should ideally be… something I had to search my inner being and discover for myself. Once I did, these are the words I stuck on my desk: ‘GET IT DONE’. That’s honestly all the things  it took me because I realized – my dream is not going to come to me. I have to push all the boundaries and do my best to PURSUE IT.

And commitment is a really tough thing because ‘writing’ in itself is immensely competitive, immensely challenging and immensely time-consuming.For me, it was the one idea I had that motivated me. The one idea has thankfully now turned into a truckload of ideas, some of which will hopefully launch into something better one day.

Anyhow, without further ado (I know – I think every post I write has this phrase now), here are some tricks I am currently using to manage my ‘writing’ time:

1) Think big. When I say ‘think big’ – if you love your story, believe in it… and commit to getting it done by a certain time, no matter what.

2) Set goals. Daily, weekly, monthly, yearly.

3) While this is what I currently do full-time along with being a parent, for individuals with additional jobs to pay bills, I suggest goals realistic for yourself. There’s the great 1, 2, 7, 14 over at go-into-the-story.

4) Write EVERY DAY like you don’t have another one. I had a huge moment a few years back when I realized my biggest regret would be that I never even properly attempted to turn my one great idea into a film for the world to see. Commit to this and I promise – you will see results.

5) Don’t have to spend all your time working if you can’t – take breaks, but schedule them in consciously so you can return to the task at hand. I like to give myself a breakfast hour, sometimes a couple after dropping my kids to browse the news, as well as some time to exercise, walk the dog and organize myself before I start my day fully relaxed but also rearing to go. After which I do my writing in half-hour increments and set my goals accordingly on a white board. I know other writers who use a timer or stopwatch. If distractions trouble you, go to this post I wrote a while back. I thrive on the freedom app.

6) Start ‘heavy’ and then ease up. For me, initially when I was just learning the ropes, I worked harder and spent more time, now I still work hard but because I can predict the time frame of each stage, spend less time overall. The more writing you do, the better you become. More details in the next point.

6) Prioritize WRITING in your daily life. If you work all day in another job to pay the bills (which most of us do), try waking up earlier to write or sleeping later. When I was just beginning to establish my writing process and there just didn’t seem to be enough time in the day , I would get up really early – like four in the morning, the quietest time in my otherwise very noisy home. Eventually lack of sleep does catch up to you though –  so I reserve this sort of thing now only for emergencies and if I am really behind. For me, I found waking up early and working easier than staying up late, because at the end of the day, my mind would be too tired and mushed-up to be productive.

7) Look at this opportunity to write as more than an opportunity: it’s your job, your stories, your babies that will never see the light of day unless you give them life, until you take that next step and nurture them.  It is only after I mentally trained my brain to accept this fact, I was able to move forward and discipline myself to roll out my first script. I can’t remember the specific screenwriter – but there’s a famous one who used to be a lawyer by day, and would come home by night and spend an hour each day dashing through his screenplays, which ultimately landed him his first gig. In fact, there are many famous screenwriters  who manage to discipline and commit themselves to do this. I believe we all can if we really want to.

8) Speaking of breaks, I would like to add – I absolutely do succumb to the temptation of a good TV show now and then or lunch with a friend. Without getting too robotic, I try to stick to certain times of the day or week for doing these things, depending on the specific stage of work, but usually on my end, these are fairly scarce since once I start getting into the writing itself, I can’t stop. Honestly, everyone needs breaks and it’s not a bad thing at all if you don’t fall too far behind with your day’s work. But here’s the thing with me: I allot and schedule time for everything, so I can make all the odds and ends of my day work.

9) One final point regarding setting goals. Starting out, I used to be quite over-ambitious with these, but being over-ambitious can also lead to disappointment when you fall behind and don’t achieve them. There are several everyday reasons and possibilities this can happen, and when it does, it can be a bit disheartening initially. For this reason, I do give myself permission to alter my schedule and sometimes even go as far as scheduling in some ‘catch-up’ time each day. Ultimately, more than a race, it’s a creative process. Some people thrive in a high-pressure environment while others prefer something more relaxed. I am sort-of inbetween, depending on the story I am working on.

Yes, folks, time management in general is a tricky art, but it can be done. Any more tips or thoughts on this, post in comments. Look forward to hearing from you!

UPDATE: Posted the wrong links before. I have corrected them now.  

Completing a First Draft!!!! Why we celebrate!

ImageHey everyone,

I know this is a bit premature considering all the posts on writing first draft I have been putting up in the last couple of months, but, after five weeks, I just completed a FIRST DRAFT of a PROJECT yesterday! Not a final screenplay, that’s certain – knowing how this process works with previous projects on my end at least, it’s probably going to go through at least a dozen or more drafts before I can say it’s even close to a spec script I would be willing any other human beings to see – but a FIRST DRAFT. After all that dreaming and prep: outlines, beat-sheets, biographies, I wouldn’t be the first person to say it’s the nicest feeling in the world to complete something! A beginning to an end and so on and so forth!

Here is why I am celebrating:

1) I have actually written something from start-to-finish – PAGE 1 – 100 (or sometimes in cases past, pages 1 – 250)!! Even if it’s not finished after this and I die before it is, someone in my family will find my will and have something to work with and finish it for me! (ok who am I kidding?  I plan to finish it!)

2) I have a story!!! Even if there are locations called ‘INT. PUBLIC PLATE – NOTE TO MYSELF: THINK OF A BETTER LOCATION.’, characters called BLAH BLAH BEN (talkative guy) and incomplete sentences like ‘”They made out ‘somewhere’ – must be somewhere good, have to figure out where”*’

3) I have CHARACTERS – people, situations and other likeable nonsense and gags that is probably not going to make it past first draft, but who cares? No one can argue that it’s all on paper!

4) It doesn’t matter if I have already done this once, ten times or a hundred! It still rocks!

5) It doesn’t matter that I literally almost never looked back while I wrote it, because when I do in a few weeks, I will know despite my elation, it’s crappy, but not completely and I can fix it!

Speaking of which, the best part of all my weeks of PREP actually CAME to something, so writing the first draft, which in the past (due to thankless procrastination) would take me months now took me just about four weeks, so for anyone out there who has had the same struggles to complete something, KNOW IT CAN BE DONE.

To conclude, I don’t have a complete screenplay of this particular project….yet! But I DO HAVE A FIRST DRAFT.

It’s a start!

P.S. For anyone else who wants to celebrate, here’s something to tantalize your taste buds!

Before your first draft – Part One – Loglines!

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Growing up in the early 90’s in a desert, I was one of those kids, the lazy ones who would rather spend  time in my room tucked up in a good book than go and enjoy the sunshine and play sports like my peers. It was also something my mom said I was doing while we lay on the pebbly Iraqi beach as refugees escaping Kuwait during the first Gulf War. My attachment to books growing up was so great, infact, that even when we were leaving Kuwait, the country I called ‘home’  and I had to choose what items I wanted, I left all my toys and took my books. Thus, through my love of good stories, my first writing adventures were born. Books were my best friends and movies became an extension of that.

Which brings me to the next point: what is the first thing you do once you know what you want to write? In those days, when all I had was a typewriter (eventually succeeded by a DOS computer and rickety dot-matrix printer), I would just…start writing, and see where it took me. Then, once I started educating myself, I discovered there were some small tricks here and there to get me to my writing goals sooner – which brings us back to our main subject.

A logline, as many of you are aware, is a brief, two-sentence bite of your idea – essentially your story concept in a nutshell.  Recapping generally, a good logline contains three components:

1) THE HERO/PROTAGONIST – who is the story about?

2) GOAL – what is the protagonist’s goal?

3) THE OPPOSITION/ANTAGONIST – who is against the protagonist? Who is stopping him from reaching his goals?

Some movie examples:

• What if Peter Pan grew up? (Hook)

• When a Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by an insane and corrupt prince, he comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge. (Gladiator)

• An attorney, because of a birthday wish, can’t tell any lies for 24 hours. (Liar, Liar)

• After segueing from a life of espionage to raising a family, Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez are called back into action. But when they are kidnapped by their evil nemesis, there are only two people in the world who can rescue them… their kids!  (Spy Kids)

• A young man and woman from different social classes fall in love aboard an ill-fated voyage at sea. (Titanic)

Observing each of the above in detail, you may notice the first one bends the guidelines I just mentioned above, quite a bit. However (assuming everyone knows ‘Peter Pan’), it immediately introduces us to its intriguing concept (What happens if the one boy in the world who never grew up actually does?), and last but not least, gives us a tantalizing taste of the story… which is still the right way to go.

So, before you slog your way through that long journey to your finished 110-120 page script, why not start by distilling and boiling your concept into a sentence? (Note: I must mention that writing a logline before you start writing is not any kind of be-all, end-all rule! I have also found it a pain-in-the-butt because it forces you to simplify everything into something cohesive – a hard task when your inspired brain is boiling over with details!)

That being said, it is something you will need anyway after you have finished your screenplay – the ability to pitch your entire story in thirty seconds and entice agents, production companies, etc.

So my bottom-line: try it out and see how far you get.

For more background on this series, read my rant from last week. Next week: Brainstorming.