Writing Workshop Lesson 1: Getting It Done
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.)