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09/03/2006: Steve and Branko, together at last
A fellow named Steve from Nantucket... sent me a letter recently. He makes a very good point about writing. It is hard, as I have pointed out, to begin a television-writing career if you are either mature in years or distant in geography. But Steve reminds me that there are other kinds of writing. Prose, for example: novels, articles, short stories, non-fiction books of all kinds. It's an excellent point. And I should tell you that I meet people all the time who mention that they read my blog, even though they are writers of other types. They claim that they can find things in my discussions of script writing that resonate with their very different pursuit. If this is the case, then I'm thrilled and I pat myself on the back so vigorously I risk harm to my elbow.
So, for those of you who are simply not positioned for tv writing, welcome to the table, pull out a computer, and, please, write whatever shakes your tree! I've had a few (mostly Buffy-related) short stories published, so maybe I'll even tell a few stories about my own experiences writing prose. (First observation: It's hard. Right away, there are so many choices! First person? Present tense? I'm not used to having to make those decisions!)
Another great letter also arrived recently, from Branko in Croatia! Don't you love that?! He points out something I hadn't consciously noticed, which is the tendency of aspiring television writers to get hyper-critical about television. Good point. This does happen. In order to acquire tv-writing skills, you have to start applying critical thinking to those shows you want to emulate. And the side effect of critical thinking is that you start thinking critically. You notice things: Hey! That important event happened off-screen! Hey! That moment sold out that character! Hey! That act break didn't leave me wanting more!
Keeping Steve's letter in mind, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that the same thing happens to writers of other kinds as well.
For all the young writer/gripers out there, I just have to caution you that a negative attitude can seep into your spec and be detectable there. And it might seep into your other interactions, too. I once -- years ago -- got a letter from an aspiring writer who wanted advice, but who also pointed out that he didn't think it could be very hard to write an episode of something like "Yes, Dear." Hmm. In fact, it is hard to write an episode of "Yes, Dear." Sit down and try it.
The truth, of course, is that our ability to detect flaws is far stronger than our ability to avoid producing flawed product. So gripe if you will, but avoid feeling superior until you've got that shiny sparkly spec script finished. It's harder than it looks.
Branko also asks for more detail in the lunch descriptions. I think the "butter lettuce salad" conjured up some slippery images. Butter lettuce is a kind of lettuce with a lovely soft leaf, not a two-ingredient melange. So this one's for you, Branko:
Lunch: In-n-Out burger, animal style! (This is a burger from a very prestigious burger place, prepared with grilled onions and a tasty sauce.) Mmm!
P.S. A hearty wave and thank you also to Margaret from LA, who also sent a great letter! She wasn't able to come hear me speak at a local bookstore a few years back -- don't worry, Margaret! I don't recall saying anything especially good. Besides, there were visible traces of some kind of missle test in the sky that night, which make the sky look like it was literally ripping open. Some people were understandably distracted by what appeared to be an impending apocalypse.