Third Cocktail Question

cocktail-party ETBScreenwritingFinishing up with the third cocktail question: “Would you like to hear a great idea for a movie?”  For some reason, when people know you are a screenwriter they feel compelled to tell you their story or ask your opinion on their idea.

As you are listening, realize you are sitting in the place of a beleaguered studio executive.  What can you learn from this experience?

Always listen to the idea carefully because it’s a great opportunity to learn two of the most valuable lessons about pitching.  Pretend you listen to screenplay ideas for a living.

First, notice the person isn’t nervous.  They are simply sharing something that they are interested in and feel  passionate about.  They are hoping you will like the idea but the fun is in just communicating the it.  That is the greatest lesson of pitching.  Don’t go into a pitch meeting with the expectation or desire to sell the pitch.  Just enjoy sharing your story.  That goes a long way in eliminating nervousness.  Have fun.  Make it fascinating cocktail conversation.

Second, keep it short and punchy.  You want a strong opening, a series of interesting complications and a satisfying payoff.  That’s it.  Any more than ten to fifteen minutes is overkill.  Einstein once said”  “If you can’t explain it briefly and simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”  And he was talking about physics!  The best thing you can get anyone to say in a meeting is: “Tell me more.”  Then you have permission and the interest and attention to elaborate.  You don’t want someone looking at the watch and thinking:  “Get to the point already.”

Isn’t that what anyone wants in a cocktail conversation:  A fun story that is mercifully short.  Get in. Get out.  Leave them wanting more.

Second Cocktail Question

writing ETBScreenwritingContinuing the cocktail party questions– “When do you find time to write?”  People who meet me know I have limited time and a lot on my plate, travel, teaching, consulting, etc.  The question also assumes, and sometimes people say it outright, that if they just could find the time they would write.   Of if they are working writers, they wish they could find the time to write a passion project.

I am a big believer in increment progress.  That is the key, to me, of accomplishing your heart’s desire– whatever it is.

The incremental progress approach to goal-setting or realizing a dream is the only way I’ve found that remotely succeeds.  It’s not glamorous and it’s not dramatic.  It is chipping away in small bits until the job is whittled down and completed. Otherwise, I find accomplishing a big dream, desire or goal way too daunting.

That is where The One Hour Screenwriter came from.  Pretty much anyone can find one extra hour in a day.  Getting up earlier, going to bed later or using a lunch hour is a possibility.  It’s just 60 minutes.  Applying yourself in a  concentrated and sustained effort for just one hour a day, can finish up a first draft in 22 weeks.  The One Hour Screenwriter takes you through the process hour-by-hour, day-by-day and week-by-week. It show you how to get unblocked, how to write without judgment and how to keep going from beginning to end.

The trick is breaking the job down into bite-sized bits.  It makes the task manageable and gives you a series of very small goals.  If you know anything about 12 step programs that’s how they work– getting through one day at a time and not getting overwhelmed by anything beyond that one small segment of time.

What are you waiting for?  If not now– when?  Start using those sixty minute increments to work toward your dream.  Start writing what makes your heart sing!  It will make the rest of your day go so much better!

Three Cocktail Questions

kurt_vonnegut ETB ScreenwritingI have a theory that every professional gets asked three annoying questions at a cocktail party.  These differ by profession.

If you are a screenwriter the questions are some variation of:  “Where do you get your ideas?”  “How do you find time to write?’ and “Would you like to hear a great idea for a movie?”  If we move past the irritation these questions turn out to be quite profound.

The first stupid question:  “Where do you get your ideas?”  is both a mystery and a terror.  No writer knows where inspiration comes from and every writer is terrified the spigot might somehow get turned off.

Inspiration is a gift pure and simple.  No one can control a gift.  It is given or not.  You can’t necessarily can’t earn it. And you probably don’t deserve it, in the grand scheme of things.

That leads me to Samuel Johnson, who wrote the following words in his diary on April 3, 1753, while working on his Dictionary of English.

“O God, who hast hitherto supported me, enable me to proceed in this labour & in the Whole task of my present state, that when I shall render up at the last day an account of the talent committed to me, I may receive pardon for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Kurt Vonnegut said once that he used the passage himself as a sort of writer’s prayer to say before work ,

That seems to be a wish to carry his (Samuel Johnson’s) talent as far and as fast as he can.

Yes. He was a notorious hack.

And you consider yourself a hack?

Of a sort.

If you’ve got a writer’s prayer or a way you cross your fingers, knock wood or seek the writing spark, please send it on!   Genius or hack all writers are nervous about the gift of inspiration– and what they do with it.  Including me!

Tomorrow: Stupid Question Number Two