Setting Goals

My key to productivity is that I’m a planner. I’ve written before about the James Caan movie where someone said something about the 5P principle.

I discovered how effective being a planner is. My articles over the last week show that. I’m writing scripts at a pace seven times faster than other screenwriters.

And you know, there’s indeed the possibility that because of my writing volume, that I may end up with a job as Script doctor – one of those guys who takes other people’s scripts that don’t work, and get them to work. There are some professional Script Doctors who Hollywood studios actually buy a script from an unknown, send it to the script doctor who changes it all around, and the script doctor’s name is the one you see on the movie credits. Two of my favorite movies “Black Hawk Down” and “Patton” were done exactly that way. Although I’ll point out that the director of Patton felt, after reading Coppola’s original, that the doctored version removed the essence of Patton. So he took all the parts the studio heads hated about Coppola’s script and stuck them right back in!

There is justice. The same thing was done with Black Hawk Down, where one man had it, a script doctor was brought in, and then the producers felt the essence of the movie was removed, so they brought back in the original guy. “You got a passport? Be in Casablanca the day after tomorrow. We’re shooting.”

Anyway, getting back to my original point (if I had one), there’s a way to set goals. If you’re writing a novel, it’s this: 1,667 pages a day. Do that.

If it’s a screenplay, it’s as many pages as you can write in a day. I can do 8-10, so I set it at 7 to be safe. I then go to Microsoft office online, and add in a to-do every day. “Name of script, page #” is the reminder. I have to be at page 21 tonight, or so.

Trust me. Try that.

Your movie will be done in no time, because those reminders force you to get busy. Plus, if you’re already working with a producer, he knows when I’m working on the script!

So, no minesweeper for you!

How to beat Writing Exhaustion

One trick I’ve read people talk about for beating writing exhaustion, is to have a “for the fun of it” book project. Your version of Casablanca. If anyone who was part of the East Anglia class, they’ll remember my scene for the writing assignment where I took Casablanca and added Tokugawa to it. It was… really strange.

So, the idea is, you can write something like, taking Winnie the Pooh, and writing your own stories set in that world. It is IMPORTANT, as I’m discovering, to write every day.

When you have a writing exhaustion day, but you still have to write, write in your “for the fun of it” book. It doesn’t have to be great – just fun.

Try Charlie Brown.

Gilligan’s Island.

Winnie the Pooh.

Star Trek.

Tolkien, if you’re into that.


The Flintstones. Brady Bunch. It doesn’t matter what, just as long as you like it, it’s a world ready to play in, and you have time to write!

The idea is, to always be writing something. It doesn’t have to make sense, just that you’re using descriptives, narratives, dialogue, character descriptions, timeline, events, and above all, goals and frustrations (conflict).

If you’re a nonfiction writer – and its amazing to me how many more of those I meet than others – practice selling pens or something along those lines. Write a book why people shouldn’t be allowed to _________. Why _________ will make them smarter, healthier, wealthier, and live longer. It doesn’t have to be correct, it doesn’t have to be interesting or something you believe – it just has to be PRACTICE, and fun.

Writing Exhaustion

What happens when you’ve got writing exhaustion? I usually hit that towards the end of a script.

Let’s diagnose it first. You know you’ve got writing exhaustion when you sit down to write your seven pages, and suddenly you want to edit.

Hint: Your brain is procrastinating. Editing comes AFTER the writing is done. As a movie or TV writer, you have LOTS of time to edit. 75% of your time is editing. But you’ve got to write before you can re-write.

Pulling my beat cards off my beat board last night, I was staring at script #3’s beat sheet. And staring. And staring.

Okay, brain is overtired. I’m going to allow myself ONE DAY to stop.

So, today, is my beat sheet day. Hopefully, by tomorrow night, I’ll have the beat board done. Then do it in Final Draft, then LIbreOffice Calc.

I should be writing the script, at seven pages a day by the time you read this. Because I’m writing this Saturday morning.

My producer thinks I’m a writing machine. I’m right at on the last script the same pace I had back in the 80’s, writing a full length screenplay in 10 days. WGA guidelines require I do it in 90.

So I think I can allow a day or two to let my brain recover.

A writer’s Voice

Really, there’s only one way a writer develops their voice.

I never sat down to ask myself, what’s my writer’s voice? I just wrote.

The more you do something, odds are the better you get at it. I’ve got a caveat there! The more you do something and are properly critical of it, the better you get!

My first novel, I found my writer’s voice partway through. And I was so close to it that literally, I couldn’t see any other way to edit it, to write it. Precisely every word belonged there. Precisely every scene belonged there. Of course, I’ve seen a video where a writer finished a 155,000 word novel, and was told by his publisher, “We don’t publish anything over 70,000.”

So he cut at it, slicing out scenes he thought HAD to be there, chopping sccenes of almost everything. And to his surprise, it was a much better novel.

Recently, I started taking my first novel, and… cutting at it. Scenes I’d originally swore that were a “publish/no publish” condition (in other words, the editor wants that scene out, I turn down the contract) I have sliced out.

Because I found a timeline problem. One of my characters gets religion in the beginning of the book, and a few months later is an ordained Pastor, a graduate of a Seminary.

Spot the problem yet? It’s like writing a book where one character gets interested in law, and three months later is in practice as a lawyer. There’s a simple thing called schooling that requires at least 4 years. Although many seminaries require at LEAST a 6 year degree before the student is deemed ready to preach.

Um…. cut out the one big publish/no publish scene.

Once you cut ONE scene you’ve deemed too crucial to cut, then all of them are fair game. And I realised I had a mostly passive cast and plot, just drifting along until two thirds of the way through the book. Then conflict DRIVES them.

Now that I’ve got a few years of writing experience, including some writing for pay experience – the novel suddenly seemed, well, blah. That’s when I realize I’ve got a writer’s voice. And it’s changed.

The points today?

  • never assume something in your books is publish/no publish.
  • Never search for and practice a writer’s voice. You get it, and it changes.
  • Reading critically, anyone can improve their own writing.

Books – Writing

When writing in my novels (temporarily on hold!), I don’t really feel the need to do a Stephen King.

Stephen King often puts people he knew in his books. Unfortunately, he may have borrowed situations from people he knew, or their mannerisms, and then applied them to a fictional character. Then the real person, who doesn’t know that Stephen only borrowed PART of them, reads the story and is crushed to see that Stephen is calling them some kind of strange.

My advice is this – if you’re trying to write a novel (I’ve got a lot to say about that), then avoid the Stephen King route. He’s doing what works for him, but it probably won’t work for you. He probably spends an amount of time in “What if…” then borrows people he knows to put in there. Then, the characters begin to change to force the story, and they’re no longer Betty Sue from Pownal or Lewiston, but so and so from Salem’s Lot or wherever.

Here’s what I recommend – spend an inordinate amount of time in “What if?” Then populate it with imaginary people. You’ve actualy got a lot more freedom that way. “But I don’t know who they are?” Good! They can become anyone you WANT them to be! What does it take to drive the story? make them that.

Write The Script!

Now here’s the last step from what I’ve been explaining all week. Open Final Draft. Split the screen. Beat board on the right, script on the left.

Go to index card view. Make 40 index cards. put temp headers on the cards right now. INT. GODZILLA’S MOUTH – DAY – CONTINUOUS.

You’ll change it later. unless you’re writing a Godzilla movie, The temp headers let you know when you switch back to script view where your beats are. Color code your index cards to match your beat board.

this part’s sheer drudgery, but there’s no way to LINK the cards on your beat board to cards on your script. Go to “summary view” and copy/paste the beat board cards to the index cards on the script.

now, you gotta write something. Go back to script view.

This part I can;t help with, other than to say WRITE. Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to read, just write. Write a script.

You’ll be surprised that what is coming out of you is good stuff. At least, that’s what I feel.

If you HATE a scene you’re writing, others will hate it too. Just sayin’.

Now, you owe it to everyone that if you’re writing, you’ve got to get the right books on scriptwriting. I’ve found one that’s so good, I won’t even tell you what it is! And no, it’s not Michael Hauge’s book (although I’ve got that too).

You owe it to everyone to learn to polish your sword.


That’s from a book by a 17th century Samurai. His book was written in vague sayings. People over a couple of centuries began to realize that his book, taken allegorically, was about mastering ANYTHING. Learning to polish a Samurai sword was essential in those days. Do it wrong, ruin the sword. do it right, improve it.

Writing a screenplay is very simple. Writing a good one – takes a lot of work.

Beat Board part 2

I mentioned that once I have a beat board done, I have two more steps. The next one is an interoffice one. I open Libreoffice Calc (microsoft Excel) and I start right away. I make header rows, and now I start plugging in the info from my beat board. Takes about 90 minutes.

Next, I color code it. It really doesn’t require saying “green is this guy” – I’ll do that inside Final Draft. Right now, pick a color for cell 1. No color cell 2. Another color cell three. no color cell four. And so on. This helps your eye move across the spreadsheet without it all blending together. Yes, it takes an extra hour. In the meantime, i’m internalizing my movie.

Then send it to the producer. In my case, that means putting it in a shared folder in Dropbox. Now he’s notified automatically it’s ready for him to look at. An email telling him it’s ready to final (approve) is a courtesy. Do it anyway.

Open Final Draft. You’re not going to have time to finish it tonight. But get started. In Final Draft 10, my system is that every Save The Cat beat is a structure point, and my own beats are beats. If you’re using dropbox like my producer and I do, then what we do is simply save the file to Dropbox in the shared folder, and open it from there to work on it. Unless I’m offline (like in the morning), every time I hit save, it updates it on his computer as well.

Now, for the procrastinators (which is all the writers), this arrangement is scary. My producer KNOWS when I’m working on the script. Every time I hit SAVE, a popup window will surface on his computer telling him I’m working on it. If you’re a procrastinator, and you delay working on something while you internalize t, don’t lie!

Just tell him that’s how you are, and it takes 3-5 weeks of sitting and looking at it before you start writing. Because he’s going to know. My preference is 3 days of poking at a beat board, then seven pages of script a day. My producer thinks I’m a writing machine.

All right, I’m in Final Draft. it’s day two, and all I got in were half of my STC beats., Now it’s time to get busy. If you’re older, this means taking your glasses off and putting them back on a hundred times in one night. You take them OFF to look at the beat board, then put them back ON to type in the computer.

If you don’t know how to connect a beat you make in Final Draft to the timeline, just drag it up and touch the time line. The beat gets a page number assigned to it. Now, sometimes Final Draft gets quirky. A beat i need on page 12 ends up on 11 or 13. Just grab the square or diamond on the time line, and drag it.

Color your beats in Final draft as the last step. I specifically use certain coded colors now, to let the producer know who’s in the scene. The main character is green, so most of the cards end up green. A simple glance at your beat board lets you know if you’ve got problems.

click save. Tomorrow, you’re writing. That’s all the time you need to get your story internalized. 1 week maximum. Blake Snyder would have hated working with me, because I don’t procrastinate the way he did. I’ve got deadlines.

Assembling a Beat Board

This week featured two nights of serious work on a beat board. Understand that what I’m writing comes almost a full week before you see it!

The process is this: I sit down and work seriously on writing out my template for whatever I’m working on. I like to use the Save The Cat template, but I’ve also got a template I made myself. I’ll explain mine, because if you’re a writer, I want you to buy Save The Cat, and if you’re not, it’s not that important!

My template is to take Acts 1-3, and add 7 beats per. Really simple. I abandoned that recently, but it did save me a huge amount of time in one project.

So! Armed with my template, I take my index cards, and begin transferring from my template to my index cards. I didn’t want a MASSIVE beat board like some people use – my producer uses a giant one, but he’s also got to put in things like locations etc. I think his is like 8 ft by 4 feet?

Mine fits in a frame for a painting, as recently described.

Okay, Save the cat gives you, what, twelve beats? The book explains you’re going to have 40 beats, minimum. If you own the book, you’re aware that the rows are Act 1, Act 2, Act 2, Act 3. And most of his cards fit right in the beginning, middle, middle, end.

That’s one lonely beat board when it’s done. I had my 21 beats, but of course, 10 or so were duplicates. That caused me a little stress two days later, because I thought the board was ready for a final, but not yet. Because three of them were duplicates.

Okay, any way you slice it, you need 28 more cards. Ideas are simple. Write something down. you’d be surprised what pops out of you. You get this by a lifetime of watching movies. most of the ones I watch feature wars, or men in styrofoam suits stamping on scale plaster models of Tokyo.

By the way, the original Godzilla movie from Japan (not the American remake) stands as one of the best movies ever made. I’m not kidding. Americans were shocked to discover that in 2004, on the 50th anniversary of the movie. You can learn a LOT from that movie. And of course, I’ve mentioned some movies that are textbook examples. You need to own Remember and The Lost Battalion.

Okay, here’s the issue – your fingers cannot be hesitant. You wrote a beat. Go by guts. It feels right here on the board. no second guessing right now. No second thoughts. Stick the thumb tack into the board right there!

I finished the board the second day. I don’t know how fast you’re supposed to do that. Blake Snyder recommends taking your time on it, because that way you internalize the movie. I guess I have some developed mechanisms to get me past that, because I do it quickly, and then I start writing once it’s done. But I have two more steps in it.

Once my beat board is done, look at it again day three. That’s when I discovered the three duplicates. now I wrote the last ones very quickly. Got them in place. I only moved two cards after that.

Beat board is done.

Deadlines and Writer’s Block

Yesterday showed me the truth of something Michael Hyatt said two seminars ago.

“There is no such thing on this planet as writer’s block. you just don’t have anything to say, or you don’t know how you want to say it.”

I’m roughly paraphrasing it.

I’m under deadlines to finish a lot of work very quickly. And I guess that’s what it’s like to be a writer professionally – and you better get used to it.

I don’t have time for writer’s block. So, I open Final Draft, knowing I have to write, and write something. Procrastination starts to set in. I have to stomp on that. Don’t have time for that. Close the search windows, close the explorer windows. Final Draft is open, and I haven’t written word one.

I’m able to get several pages of script in before it’s time for bed. See, writer’s block really doesn’t exist. Like Michael Hyatt says, you either know what you’re going to write, or you don’t.

Strange Things in My office

I’ve got some odd things in my writing office.

There’s a 1948 LIonel Train engine in my book case. A Lionel Scout, as a matter of fact.

I’ve got a tall metal cabinet, carefully hidden – and an N scale train engine (a Burlington Northern 4-8-4) sitting on it.

There’s a Chinese Spear behind the door. Cool fact about it – when I bought it, I bought it from a Kung Fu master – and I conducted the exchange successfully in Mandarin Chinese. He even picked through all the ones he had to choose the best one for me.

Snakes are terrified of that spear, by the way. They RUN when I go out and practice the circle move with it. If you’ve ever learned how to use a chinese spear, you’ll know that move.

There’s my beat board, of course. Very close to my desk.

My desk does not face the window. That’s on purpose, by the way. You can’t write if you’re busy watching the Blue Jays looking in. We’ve got some weird birds in my neighborhood. There’s one that grips onto the brick wall and stares in the back door sometimes.

And those birds are why I’ve got a tin of peanuts inside a desk drawer.

I have a certificate written in Japanese on one wall. Directly across from it is a painting by a Chinese artist, and signed in Chinese.

Years ago, i ordered some airplane model kits from Ebay. It was a lot, and the delivery was delayed by a relative of the seller, who’s only explanation of the long delay was, “there was a family tragedy.” I suspect what happened was someone opened a hobby shop that failed, and tragedy took place connected with that failure. I have one model airplane from that still, a P-47. I’ll never get rid of that plane because that was connected with someone’s dreams and life. And that plane is all that’s left.

You don’t throw something like that away because a propeller breaks.

And I’ve got some stuffed Opus the Penguins hidden in my office. none of them can be seen in the open, but I’ve got the graduation Opus, and the shower Opus, complete with bath towel.

And… prize piece… There’s a small square cardboard box with “Deep 13” written on it. Inside is a piece of the set from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie.

What are some odd things you have that have stories connected with them?