Writer’s Desk: Be More Than a Writer

There are people who have known all their lives that they wanted to be a writer. That’s a lot of us, to some degree. Then they tend to face that chasm between the want and the real. Is it a book deal? Getting an agent? Self-publishing and hoping a publishing house notices it? Being one of those strange tables at the publishing convention selling just one book that everyone stays away from?

The comparison between filmmaking and writing isn’t exact, of course. The former is far more collaborative and way more expensive. But filmmaker Mark Duplass made a worthwhile point when he said this:

It’s really hard, and particularly hard for screenwriters, because nobody wants to read your script. It just sucks. Until you’ve made something, until you’ve proven yourself, you’re basically a nuisance to everyone that you’re trying to get your script to, so you have to find a way to make yourself valuable. I know the first response is, “Well, I’m not a director, and I’m not an actor. I’m just a writer.” And my basic response is, “Then you’re going to be stuck.” I’m sorry, if that’s the way you think about it, you’re kind of going to go nowhere…

Don’t be afraid to be a nuisance. Get out there. Bring your book everywhere. Show it to anybody who will glance. Do what you have to do.

Unfortunately, being a writer takes more than writing.

Writer’s Desk: Start with a Severed Toe

The Coen brothers’ ‘The Big Lebowski’

The filmmakers and brothers Joel and Ethan Coen are productive as hell, but make a good game out of seeming lazy. In this interview from the book on the making of their 1998 faux-noir classic The Big Lebowski, they toss out a few notes about their collective writing process:

Trish and Fran [Ethan’s and Joel’s spouses, respectively], they’re both always saying, ‘I know you guys just go to the office and take naps.” Joel’s laughter implodes asthmatically. ‘It’s true – it’s actually really true. We deny it, but it’s true.’ His laughter fades. ‘But I wouldn’t want that in the book.’

Later on, they talk about how they work through the screenplays themselves. Mostly they go in order. Start at the beginning. But sometimes they have an idea or image they want to include and aren’t sure what to do with it. Like the severed toe that makes a fairly important appearance in The Big Lebowski:

‘You just come up with a bizarre image.’

‘Right. We want to goose it with a toe. And then you’re left with the problem of whose toe it is.’

‘You’re sort of deliberately setting up hurdles for yourself. Is that part of it, do you think?’ I say.

‘Well, yeah… I mean, that’s a way to work, painting yourself into a corner and then having to perform whatever contortions to get yourself out,’ Ethan says.

Painting yourself into a corner like that can be a challenge. But it’s one that can pay off.

Quote of the Day: Terry Southern on Hollywood, Writing, “Freakishness”

(Library of Congress)
Somewhere in Southern California (Library of Congress)

Today’s bit of perception about one of America’s most over-analyzed, unloved, and misunderstood “cities” comes courtesy of surrealist pie-thrower and comic raconteur Terry Southern (CandyDr. Strangelove). Interviewed at length for The Paris Review‘s occasional series on screenwriters (the interview took place in 1967 but wasn’t published until 2012) the Texas-born Southern expounded on that great Southern California sinkhole of creative energy and dashed dreams:

Hollywood, that is to say, Los Angeles, is not, of course, a city, and its sinister forces are very oblique. There’s no public transportation system whatever, so the people drive around as though they were living in Des Moines, and it has all the rest of the disadvantages of a small town, only filled with displaced persons. On the other hand, life there has an engaging surrealist quality, an almost exciting grotesqueness.

The cultural scene there in general is sped up, sort of concentrated. Southern California is a mecca for all manner of freakishness, beginning on the most middle-class level—hot-dog stands in the shape of a hot dog. If you go there, you’ll immediately see a carnival, Disneyland aspect that is different from any other place in America.

Southern also notes the differences between the ladies of Hollywood and those of the East Coast:

… girls who want to be ­writers come to the Village and girls who want to be actresses go to Hollywood.