Monday, August 15, 2005

Writing Workshop Lesson 1: Getting It Done

Greetings, writers:

There’s only one really hard thing about writing: Doing it. A lot of people want to be writers. A lot of them talk about what they want to write. They talk about it for years. They may even start typing that novel or screenplay or memoir. Only a small number of would-be writers actually type all the way to "The End." It’s like dieting. You always mean to get a fresh start on Monday. Then Monday comes and there are so many reasons not to.

The goal of this online writing workshop will be to get you writing on a regular schedule. That’s a start. Your ultimate goal should be to finish the thing you’re writing. That means not becoming discouraged by the time it takes to get something right and not getting your feelings bruised by critiques. It means not giving up.

Just keep telling yourself: I’m getting closer to finishing what I started. And when you finish it -- partaaaaay.

A few years ago, my friend, screenwriter Ed Stone, saw his first film go to Sundance and get picked up for big bucks by Miramax. He’d spent four or five years writing the script for Happy, Texas, and getting it produced independently. He hired his dream cast: William H. Macy, Jeremy Northam and Mo Gaffney.

I was impressed and inspired by Ed’s doggedness through that first project. He never gave up. Even on days when he didn't feel like writing or rewriting, he'd set a kitchen timer for 30 minutes. He'd write for that half hour and when he heard the buzzer, he'd stop and watch another episode of The Andy Griffith Show as a reward. Day by day, half hour by half hour, he got it done.

Ed has written more films since (his latest shoots in Manhattan this fall). There must be thousands of talented screenwriters in Hollywood trying to do exactly what he's done. “Why do you think it finally happened for you? Is there a secret to your success?" I asked him. His answer has stuck with me: “Finish writing the script. Do that and you're ahead of 99 percent of the competition.”

Yep, that’s the secret. Gettin’ ’er done.

So this is the challenge, writers. Through the prompts, exercises and other tools offered here over the next few months, I hope you will work toward getting it done.

If you don’t have a project started already, maybe this workshop will provide the steps you need to figure out what you really want to write. It might be an essay, a poem or an article. But there could be short stories or a novel in there that only you could write.

We’ll start with baby steps. Don’t worry, the assignments get a little tougher and a wee bit longer each week.

First, you will need to review some basics. Like the difference between "its" and "it's" and when to use "that," "who" and "which." Because accuracy and attention to detail count. Some famous writers once were asked to write essays on how to write, spell and punctuate. Their advice is simple and valuable. So check out Kurt Vonnegut’s How to Write with Style, John Irving’s How to Spell and Russell Baker’s How to Punctuate.

That’s your reading for the week.

Here’s your first writing assignment:

Write one compelling sentence.

Deadline: Tuesday, August 23, 2005. Please follow these rules:

  • It should be the first sentence of a story you’d like to write.
  • It should make the reader eager to read more.
  • It can be fiction or nonfiction.
  • Do not try to tell the whole story in one sentence.
  • It doesn’t have to be long or wordy to be compelling. “Call me Ishmael.”
  • Post the sentence in the “Comments” section on the blog entry titled “Assignment 1” so that we may all read all the sentences. Do not add any intro stuff like “Here’s my sentence….” Just type the sentence in. You may remain anonymous if you wish. Or sign it with a name or nickname you will use for the entire workshop (so that we can begin to recognize your writer’s voice).
  • Don't overthink.
  • Again, your deadline for this first writing assignment is Tuesday, August 23, but you may post it anytime before that if you think you’ve got a good one. But don’t rush. Make sure you’re happy with the result before you let us see it.

Welcome to the workshop, everyone! Now go write!

(And if you have questions, post them in comments and I'll try to answer as quickly as possible.)


Anonymous memikl said...

Michael had never felt such total fear.

2:30 AM  
Anonymous Andy said...

I already feel at home, if only as a result of Baker's clear statement of how to form a possessive for a singular noun ending in -s. This has long been a pet peeve of mine. I have a few commercial products out in one of the fields I work in that feature my last name in the packaging, as in "Andy Leviss's X". When checking the artwork before they were released, I insisted that the manufacturer go back and redo the package art to add the final "s" after the apostrophe; it bemuses me to no end that countless retailers who carry this item have actually gone so far as to re-edit the ad graphics to "correct" this "mistake". AARGH!


2:52 AM  
Blogger 00JOHN00 said...

Assignment 1:

Leonard was ringing up a crackhead for a rose-in-a-glass while also directing a John to the condoms when some suburban white boy asked- "Eh, y'all ain't gawt naw fawties?"

2:55 AM  
Anonymous egb3r said...

The real tragedy of Jimmy's life is that he believed his own myth.

8:03 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:21 AM  
Blogger Rachel Robinson said...

In the beggining it was as if the world was speeding past me while I was standing still; a rock in the river of life.

9:35 AM  
Anonymous stabledoor said...

Vala’s real life, like all real lives, began in the middle.

12:04 PM  
Blogger Andy said...

Assignment 1

Martha envied the ripples of light dancing off Amsterdam's Herengracht Canal onto the ceiling above her desk; they exalted in a freedom life had not allowed her.

2:26 PM  
Blogger Kurt N. said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ass. 1.

"Welcome to Hades, I'm Luke."

6:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it just me or are half of the entries in Lesson 1 try outs for the Bulwer-Lytton contest? -BG

10:44 PM  
Blogger Mont D. said...

Is it just me or were we supposed to be polite and helpful?

Mont D. Law

11:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with polite and helpful. I guess that I am looking for the starting point assigned by the professor. Many of the entries are fun. But are they compelling or are they simply humorous? I suppose that is something we will learn soon enough. -BG

6:03 AM  
Anonymous JM said...

I knew that, no matter what happened, nothing could make me scream like that.

12:49 PM  
Anonymous chikfila said...

She didn't think she was crazy as she layed on her bed planning exactly how she would kill him.

1:47 PM  
Blogger von said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:11 PM  
Anonymous Vogeltown said...

Nobody saw the small boy wander off from the path.

1:03 AM  
Anonymous DeMille said...

Bad news cascaded from the cafe patrons sitting closest to the televisions to the outermost reaches of Bar None; there had been a confirmed Sighting in Hokkaido.

1:09 AM  
Anonymous cdunlap said...

I know that this is more than one sentence but this is what I have come up with.

BANG! BANG! BANG! “Federal Agents from the Bureau of Prohibition” says the agent. “Open the door NOW or we will open it for you”.

9:31 AM  
Blogger twinkleness said...

The lemon was moldier than it had a right to be.

11:05 AM  
Blogger Roni said...

I thought I could plan my life out until she died.

12:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our group of friends started out with four people that fateful day, but, after ten minutes on the river and a tragic accident, only three remained.

8:51 PM  
Blogger birddog said...

He cringed as he watched the thick red dust settle on the paint of his ’57 Chevy.

11:31 PM  
Anonymous radius said...

Henry always felt dirty punching in his automated-teller machine passcode on those filthy, little keypads; he often felt that the only people left in the world still trading in cash were narcotics dealers, commercial sex workers, and himself.

3:02 AM  
Anonymous David said...

When the phone rings a three in the morning, you can be assured that you are going to have a rotten day or, in my case, a rotten decade.

10:59 AM  
Anonymous Drake said...

Were there one thing to be said about me, it would be that I maintained.

4:50 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I disappeared to 11 people today. Let me explain that.

1:00 AM  
Blogger Michele said...

The noise of my air conditioner going at full blast all evening drowned out the sounds of the world falling apart, so I was caught completely unaware this morning.

6:47 AM  
Blogger juniper jones said...

I hadn't realized the seriousness of the situation until the nurse said, "Wow, you're handing this really well."

9:44 AM  
Anonymous wardo68 said...

I'd reached the pinnacle, and it was time to move on.

8:20 PM  
Anonymous lazy1 said...

In a dream within a dream withing a dream, Joe opened his eyes and softly said: "Damn!".

3:04 AM  
Anonymous DebXena said...

My pen was out of ink again.

4:20 AM  
Anonymous Citycat said...

Katie Price had always considered herself to be an unusually easy going and open minded individual, but even she hadn't the foggiest idea how to comprehend the scene in front of her.

8:50 AM  
Anonymous linguist76053 said...

There is a, in life, a comfortable monotony...a complacency...that with ghastly consequence may be pierced and shattered by even the most accidental of indiscretions.

1:43 PM  
Anonymous linguist76053 said...

Ignore the extra "a" at the beginning of the previous sentence. Sorry about that.

1:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Assignment 1:

I'm standing scared, and I know why.

9:00 PM  
Blogger taingwethil said...

Tannel the Flick, at age nineteen, was having trouble falling asleep.

7:05 AM  
Blogger Me said...

My brother died on a Tuesday.

1:25 PM  
Blogger Typonaut said...

I found my vocation: crazy cat lady.

6:55 PM  
Blogger John Lanius said...

The rusty butterscotch walls of the Marineris Valley flowed up and away from me as I plummeted toward the Martian surface.

9:01 PM  
Blogger Penelope said...

I dated a baron once.

9:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No-one in the colony was aware of the huge ship sliding in-system at a tremendous rate, and even if they had been it would have made no difference.

(I know it's late, but I hope I can play catch-up, and I only found your site yesterday, and I don't expect you to mark this sentence.)

5:57 AM  
Blogger Debra Spincic said...

I didn't come to Indonesia to lose a husband.

(I also just discovered your blog & will try to catch up.)

3:32 PM  
Anonymous Smartest Tractor said...

Assignment One:
How was I to know the trunk of the parked car was still open.

9:08 PM  
Anonymous Eleanor said...

"Oh honey child, lemme tell you a story 'bout when I was your age."

8:41 PM  
Blogger Willow said...

It was always a shock to look in a mirror.

6:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who'd of ever thought I'd amount to something.

1:02 PM  
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