Where do you write and what do you use?

Started by Adam0199, March 19, 2003, 11:27:21 PM

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Definitely the shower, yes.  I'd say the best time to write is right after a shower.


Quiet! Script in progress
By Robert Masello, Special to The Times

I didn't move to L.A. to become a screenwriter; I moved out here for love of a woman.

And because that woman had needs — needs that could only be fulfilled by 400-thread-count linens and celebrity facialists — I wrote a script. And then another. And because I discovered that writing for TV and film sure beat what I was doing before that — writing scary novels and Cosmo articles — I joined the Writers Guild of America, where, once we've sold enough material to become eligible, all good TV and screenwriters go.

And although it's really a union, we're writers, so we like to call it a guild, which has a nice Renaissance provenance to it. We don't wear doublets or anything like that, but we do like to foment rebellion (in today's parlance, strikes) and engage in all sorts of intrigue. It's lucky that L.A. has an ordinance against carrying a rapier. By last count, the WGA, West, had about 9,000 members. But if you want to know how many people in L.A. are actually writing screenplays, you'd have to get a full city census, then subtract the comatose — and that would be your number.

And at this time of the year — when all kinds of awards, most notably the Oscars, are being handed out — virtually the whole town is as edgy as Michael Eisner at a Comcast picnic.

Especially because, in many respects, the life of the Hollywood screenwriter is usually so placid. It's a life lived along a parallel track to normal adulthood. While other men and women are dressing up nice and going to offices, we're generally getting up late, putting on a shirt that might have been worn the day before, sitting down with a couple of newspapers and "the trades." The trades are Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, and some super-successful screen and TV writers, I'm told, actually get them delivered right to their homes. The rest of us usually meander down to the nearest Barnes & Noble, where we wait in line to read a copy without having to buy it. Professional courtesy dictates that you try not to leave coffee or cinnamon stains on it.

Spotting us is easy. That's us there, in the baseball cap and loose-fit Dockers, grinding our teeth as we read about the latest monster script sale — "Paramount Antes Up $2 Million for Spec Feature by 14-Year-Old Vons Bagger!" Last year alone, the guild registered 50,000 treatments, scripts and ideas — and 182 movies were produced under guild jurisdiction. You figure the odds.

That's us over there, too, slumped in a chair behind a laptop, idly drumming our fingertips on the rim of our empty coffee cup. If Starbucks didn't exist, screenwriters would have had to invent it. Many screenwriters — particularly the ones who have never sold anything — don't like to work at home. They like to be out among the people, where they can be seen, and admired, as they create their masterwork. This is called Screenwriting as Performing Art. The last time I was at the outdoor cafĂ© of the Borders bookstore on the Santa Monica Promenade, the place looked like an Apple showroom, and twice I was shushed by screenwriters so immersed in the creative process that they could brook no disturbance. And going home to work, where they might actually have had privacy and silence, was apparently a nonstarter. (If a script is typed in the forest, and no one is there to see it, can it ever be optioned?)

Another simple, distinguishing mark of the screenwriter is pie. We like it. Show me a pie, and I'll show you a writer shoveling it in. The great thing about pie is that it's a time waster and a table holder, all in one. Writers don't get together to eat, anyway. We get together to whine and moan; if a screenwriter had written the Bill of Rights, the right to complain would be the first one on the list. To that end, we need a place where we can occupy space for the maximum amount of time, for the minimum cash outlay. Go to the Palm and they expect you to order a $32 steak, eat it and get out. But go to Du-Par's at the Farmers Market, and you can hold down a window table for hours, on the strength of one coconut custard and a decaf.

But what, you may be asking, do we have to complain about? So far this life probably sounds pretty good: work sporadically, be paid inordinately well (when you do work) and drink for years thereafter from a magical spring called residuals. (Residuals arrive, unexpectedly and unpredictably, in any denomination — some checks are for $10, others are for a thousand times that — or so I hear.) Just to give you some idea of what's at stake, in 2003 the guild processed roughly $200 million in residuals payments. Which makes them way better than their closest equivalent — unemployment insurance — and a lot more dignified.

And dignity, especially at this awards-crazy time of the year, is never far from a screenwriter's mind. The Writers Guild Awards were last week, and the Oscars are coming up, so there's still a bumper crop of bitterness out there waiting to be harvested. When all of those around you are being nominated and celebrated, you just want to say, "Hold on one darn minute here! You want to know what I could have done if I'd (a) been asked, (b) was self-motivated or (c) had talent?" Speaking for myself, I wasn't up for anything, but that doesn't mean I don't feel robbed. The screenwriter's sense of personal injury is as finely tuned as a bat's radar.

Other topics we enjoy endlessly revisiting, simply to stoke the fires of our outrage? Ageism ("Just because I got momentarily disoriented in the meeting, and thought everyone was speaking Chinese, they dump me!"), the cutbacks in our once-renowned healthcare program (you get nothing, not a dime, toward your Viagra prescription), the general disrespect.

The one thing we don't like to talk about is our work; it would be unseemly. If you're actually employed, on a paying job, your friends don't want to hear about it. (And for all you know, you're rewriting the script your lunch mate was fired from the week before.) If you're not working on anything with a guaranteed return, you're reduced to talking about your spec (for "speculative") script as if it is something you're planning to complete one day. If you want to talk about your novel, that's OK; every screenwriter believes he's going to chuck it all at some point and write the novel that's been itching to get out. These novels appear with all the regularity of the Abominable Snowman.

You can talk about money, too — but not if your problem is where to invest it. Late payments from the studios, extra drafts for no extra money, DVD royalties that came to 50 cents — that's all perfectly OK. A show of misery is always a welcome sight. In fact, if it's not money we're carping about, it's our rep. Indeed, to boost the image of screenwriters in general, the guild launched its 70th anniversary ad campaign, with billboards and all; you might have seen some of them around town. They include a line or two of dialogue from a famous flick ("Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown.") and an unidentified face (the screenwriter's, in case you hadn't guessed). But would you like to know the name of that unfamiliar kisser?

Well, we're not telling! That's for you to go to the library and look up! What are you — lazy? Only a bunch of writers, miffed at their lack of recognition, would be so clever as to wage an expensive ad campaign that still doesn't mention the writers' names! Quick — who coined the phrase "Your own worst enemy"?

And now, there's also the big question: Who's going to win what on Sunday night? A decidedly informal poll of the writers I found dining at Jerry's Famous Deli in Westwood voted this way. Best adapted screenplay? "Mystic River." A solid piece of work by a veteran pro, Brian Helgeland. Best original screenplay, the big kahuna? "Lost in Translation," though there was some reluctance to heap any more blessings on Sofia Coppola, a young woman whose life seems too good already. Writers like to rectify, not reinforce, a cosmic imbalance wherever they see it.

Of course, if you want to quibble about these picks, no problem — we'd be more than happy to kill a few hours debating them with you. You can find us, like the lost boys in Peter Pan, soaking up the sun in the middle of a work day, popping into the movies for a cheap matinee or hailing the waitress for another slice of pie and a coffee refill. If you're a screenwriter in L.A., and you play your cards right, you never have to grow up.

Michael Jackson may have moved out of Neverland ... but we're not budging.

Robert Masello, whose credits include "Charmed," "Sliders" and "Early Edition," teaches screenwriting at Claremont McKenna College.
"Don't think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it's good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art." - Andy Warhol

Skeleton FilmWorks


movie magic casts the spell
in the basement
music a must

no pen and paper
i don't believe it if it is in my own handwriting...
all i see is 'my' words..
when you open up things in courier new
it almost doesn't seem like your own
helps you be less self-conscious??

hand-written scripts end up balled around my trash
mustmustmust be digitized to get energized.
cigarettes & red vines - pt anderson definitive resource

fortyfps productions


How do you write poetry?

Do you decide to sit down for an hour and produce 8 poems (much like writing screenplays)?


Do you write what you feel when you feel?

The first approach feel less honest but I guess that's what working poets do.


Quote from: kotteHow do you write poetry?

Do you decide to sit down for an hour and produce 8 poems (much like writing screenplays.

I wish I could write 8 screenplays in an hour. Kotte, you are accomplished so I believe you. Teach me the ways.
Falling in love is the greatest joy in life. Followed closely by sneaking into a gated community late at night and firing a gun into the air.


Quote from: Stefen
Quote from: kotteHow do you write poetry?

Do you decide to sit down for an hour and produce 8 poems (much like writing screenplays.

I wish I could write 8 screenplays in an hour. Kotte, you are accomplished so I believe you. Teach me the ways.

hehe...not really what I meant...

You write screenplays, you sit down for an hour or two...to get some writing done. You may not always feel like it but you do it anyway...to get the work done. Can you do this with poetry as well?
I feel extremely pretentious when I force poetry.


Quote from: kotte
Quote from: Stefen
Quote from: kotteHow do you write poetry?

Do you decide to sit down for an hour and produce 8 poems (much like writing screenplays.

I wish I could write 8 screenplays in an hour. Kotte, you are accomplished so I believe you. Teach me the ways.

hehe...not really what I meant...

You write screenplays, you sit down for an hour or two...to get some writing done. You may not always feel like it but you do it anyway...to get the work done. Can you do this with poetry as well?
I feel extremely pretentious when I force poetry.

I was just funnin ya. I think poetry is alot harder than screenwriting because, well it just is. I say that ebcause I can write screenplays, but I can't write poetry. That is my whole basis.
Falling in love is the greatest joy in life. Followed closely by sneaking into a gated community late at night and firing a gun into the air.


It's interesting that you mention this. Seven years ago after the death of my father I found myself writing a lot of poetry, short stories and essays it started to evolve as a went along. I wrote most of this in Spanish though. I was really into Borges, Neruda and Benedetti.
It's been a while since I last wrote poetry. I guess this transition occurred when I had the urge to express myself visually and I always wanted to be a filmmaker so I made an armature feature. That was the pivotal moment that made me absolutely wants to become a filmmaker. It took me a year and a half to complete using friends as actors it turned out to be a pretentious exercise with very artsy images full of plot holes flairs of great acting and blotches of really bad acting, very Tarkofskian, ripping off Kubrick frames art house and an ending that I don't even know what the fuck it means.

Today I'm totally for screenwriting. I still like metaphor as long as it comes from a real place. Story. Story. Story. I was so obsessed with semiotics and visual texture and depths of field and I expressed so much visually on my first flick that I got a lot of shit out of my system and now I can obsess on the screenwriting process. I finished writing a 34 min short film. And I've been writing my feature for about a year and four months now.

I would say that screenwriting at first hand seems to be simpler than other literary forms. I think it's the most complex. Because screenwriting is all about structure. Get to the point and write great dialogue make it interesting and real and funny. The space between the last line of dialogue a character has spoken and your next descriptive line or slug line makes the difference in a great screenplay. That small line, that split second pause to your reader will be like "this shit's got lots of depth, this shit's dense"

I write screenplays in English and the whole exploration of the language is fascinating the way people talk, the beats, the stuttering and those perplexed articulating moments. I feel very comfortable writing screenplays in English, even more than in Spanish. I wouldn't attempt to write poetry in English though.
were spinning


when something is too difficult for me to put on paper, i switch to english, or evade for some time untill i'm ok with that. I began spontaneously, but now i now the procedure.

Times New Roman works for me. I tried out that Courier New and failed. In TNR looks like i'm reading somebody else's book.


I keep a word doc. open at all times to write poems in if anything ever "hits me" while i'm at my comp, but i'll never write poetry because I have to.  I think its more personal than that.


"Don't go to Starbucks with your computer so that people see you typing, just write."

Neil LaBute in Slate Magazine

This is me. :)
But I'm seriously not doing it so people can see me type...it stimulates my creativity...and keeps me off the internet.


If I had a laptop, I'd probably still sit at home and type.

For me, writing is divided into two parts.  Generating material and putting it on paper.

Now, coming up with the ideas is where I just observe everything.  I usually get quieter and just look at things, observe how people talk, mannerisms, etc.  I make connections to a possible situation if I have one, and get a small idea worked out.  The I build on the characters.  Their traits usually write the rest of the story or at least a huge part of it.

Then, I take the rough idea, sit down in front of Microsoft Word and type like a madman.  The ideas freeflow out, and then I edit that draft.

Just yesterday I had a burst of inspiration and I kicked out somewhere like 20 pages.  It was over a few hours, but it was worth it.  My story is really piecing together, and few feelings can top that.
"As a matter of fact I only work with the feeling of something magical, something seemingly significant. And to keep it magical I don't want to know the story involved, I just want the hypnotic effect of it somehow seeming significant without knowing why." - Len Lye

classical gas

i usually think about ideas for a story while driving around aimlessly; jot down the ideas while sitting in my car in my driveway or complex parking lot, listening to popular music (it helps for some reason) and drinking a little alcohol....to, typing out the story on the computer early in the morning or late at night, on loads of caffiene and good music, or silence, whichever is needed.  
it's always worked for me...but then again, it hasn't, because i'm still here, typing about my writing process.


Quote from: GhostboyI write in my room, in the dark, with music playing (or sometimes a movie playing in the background). I use Movie Magic Screenwriter; I used to be a purist and type everything in Word, but then I tried a program and it hooked me within a few seconds.

I also used to do the laptop/cafe routine from time to time, but then I accidentally 'liquidated' the motherboard on the darn thing. Oh well.

I'm really not too good when it comes to handwriting, unfortunately. I've been spoiled; I'm too impatient. Hearing the keys clack away keeps me going.

i also sit in my room in the dark listening to music playing.  i still type on word though.  and i can't handwrite.


I've been dragged kicking and screaming from Microsoft Word to actual screenwriting software.  First one called Sophocles, which I grew to love like a casual affair, and now Final Draft, which is growing increasingly like a stale marriage.

The best part, though, is writing dirty words and having the program read them aloud.  That's when I really feel like I'm contributing to mankind.
My house, my rules, my coffee