No

Not yet

I love what I do.

I love writing. I love coming up with new ideas to write. I love helping other people put their ideas into words and then into action.

This is why I struggle with one of the shorter words in the English language: No.

Hello, my name is Randy, and I am addicted to new projects.

There was a time when my inability to tell people no stemmed from my fear of letting them down. Or more accurately, my fear of them never asking again and my value as a person being reduced to zero.

Not so now, luckily. Now, I find my value internally. I am, therefore I have value.

Interestingly, though, I still struggle to say no. But now, it’s a curse of enthusiasm and confidence, now fear and self-loathing.

And to complicate things further, that same enthusiasm and confidence attracts people who are more timid in one or both. People with ideas but lack voice, or with voice but lack means.

I am glad that they see me as a vector through which to explore and advance their visions. At the same time, I have to remember that my bandwidth is limited. It is less the hours in a day and more the daily ration of creative energy that limits me.

(BTW, this is why I don’t upbraid myself for spending hours on the computer or playing Solitaire. That is my period of recharge.)

At some point, I have to limit my involvement in others’ works. I have to save enough space for my paying gigs, lest I be hungry and homeless, and for my creative projects, lest I be frustrated and unhappy.

I have to say “No”.

You recently published a book and want to turn it into a screenplay? Great!

You’ve got an idea for a comedy sketch event? Fantastic!

I came up with another great concept for a movie? Congratulations! (Yes, even I drain my batteries.)

I’m not saying I won’t help, but don’t take it personally if I limit my involvement. It is not a reflection on you or your idea but rather on me and my limitations.

Today, I can work with you. Tomorrow, I may only be able to listen to you. The next day, I may not even be able to do that.

Oh, and I’ll do my best to recognize and respect those same boundaries in your life.

No doesn’t mean your idea sucks. No doesn’t mean I never want to work with you. No simply means I can’t, not right now, no matter how much I might want to. There are shades of No.

I can’t because I already have plenty on my plate. I can’t because I have to keep myself a priority. I can’t simply because I can’t.

But I wish you all the best in your efforts.

Yellow sub no2

In a slightly unrelated brain fart, the concept of No reminded me of one of my favourite revelations from the movie Yellow Submarine, the animated Beatles film.

Early in the film, as the forces of evil are over-taking Pepperland, a ballistic glove called Glove chases people and smashes things with his giant fist, including the letters in the giant Technicolor word “KNOW”. First, he smashes the K to make the word “NOW”. He then smashes the W to make the word “NO”, which becomes black-and-white.

Late in the movie, when the Beatles—disguised as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band—lead the people’s revolt to reclaim their land, the smashed letters reverse and become colour again.

What surprised me was that having watched the film at least a dozen times before, it wasn’t until late in my “adulthood” that I realized the message embedded within the two events.

No pic

 

Consider my mind blown!

Writing “Line by Line”

Do you want to be a writer but don’t have any ideas?
Are you afraid of looking like a fool?
Don’t have time to complete a project?

Then check out the blog “Line by Line”, a project to create a story one line at a time by anyone who wants to contribute.

No money down! No payments ever! No long-term commitments! No sense, at all!

At “Line by Line”, you’ll read sentences like:
“Without realizing I was doing so, my hand reached out for the vial, and Dorgon hesitated before finally releasing it to me, nervously licking his eyelid.”
and
“Instead, I pulled myself to my feet using his adam’s apple for leverage and pushing his face into the floor, such that I finally had the upper hand.”

Check it out!

This innovative new idea for building a story, line by line, day by day, was hatched by Ionia Martin and Julian Froment.

Glen Mazzara at Toronto Screenwriting Conference 2013

The Odyssey of Writing

Image

In his opening presentation to the TSC, Mazzara recounted the story of The Odyssey and used it as a metaphor for his own journey as a writer, comparing the setbacks and challenges experienced by Odysseus to his own.

As Mazzara explains, the story of Odysseus’s return home after the Trojan War is a story of changing winds. Such is the case with writers. When we decide to become writers, we have a lot of anxiety blowing in our heads. They can drive you insane. And bad news; those winds don’t go away, no matter how successful you become as a writer.

That anxiety permeates every scene you write. And once you start working with others, those people add to the confusion in your head.

Writers constantly look for validation, he says, they look for love. In this way, actors and writers have much in common as both groups are looking to receive love and adoration. The big difference is that writers know they’ll never get it, whereas actors maintain the delusion.

The chaos in writers’ heads also sets them at odds with the rest of the film and television industry, which is designed to run under more control. Thus a snarky relationship develops, with people in the industry constantly putting down or belittling writers and diminishing their works. The example he cites is the discussion of whether Shakespeare wrote his plays or it was a British lord with absolutely no record of having written a single literary word.

Mazzara says you simply have to get into a space where you are purely working on the work for the sake of the work. You have to learn to live with the anxiety.

 

He then looked at the concept of hubris and ego. In recounting the story of Odysseus blinding the Cyclops, he noted that as long as Odysseus remained “Nobody”, he was safe and managed to escape the island. It wasn’t until he stood on the prow of his escaping ship and proclaimed that it was Odysseus who blinded the Cyclops that things really went to hell.

When we write, Mazzara says, we have to remove our ego. We are only the steward of the story. The story wants to be told and we are merely the instrument by which this happens. And when working in groups, we have to be generous with each other and avoid taking credit.

He suggests that there is a tendency to try to manage our anxiety by taking the credit for work we have done or to which we have contributed, but we have to avoid this at all costs.

 

Mazzara then gets to the part of The Odyssey where Odysseus reaches Ithaca but finds his home invaded by suitors for his wife. Disguised as a beggar, he sets up a challenge that whomever can string Odysseus’s bow and fire an arrow through a series of axe heads will win the hand of Penelope. After all others have failed, the ridiculed beggar is given the opportunity and despite not being known for his strength, Odysseus strings the bow, makes the shot and then slaughters his disrespectful competitors.

All this to say that writing is about sticking to your strengths and doing it your own way. Mazzara showed loose sheets of foolscap on which he hand wrote his presentation because that’s the way he writes, by hand, on paper. When he tries to write on the computer, he finds himself editing his material and reworking lines as he writes them. On paper though, he can let the writing flow and works his way through the material in his head. However it works for you, he says, be sure you stay in the moment, stay in the story.

We all feel anxiety about conforming to how others do things. He is adamant that we have to fight this urge. As he describes it, it was a lonely journey for him to see that his method of writing works despite being antithetical to the way Hollywood works. Writing, he says, needs to be effortless.

As far as writing as part of a group in a writers’ room, he makes the comparison to a musical group heading into a recording studio, where everyone makes a contribution to the final product. Change one of the players or eliminate one component and the final product is different.

 

And finally, he says, there is a moment when you get your shit together and you know you can make it work. That is the moment you’ve come home.

 

In the Q&A, when asked about the bloody slaughter and carnage phase of The Odyssey, Mazzara said that was the editing phase of screenwriting, when the sheets are covered with red ink and look like they’ve been dipped in blood. In fact, he said, to lighten the blow on other writers, he refuses to use a red pen.