Oct 17


    Probably the biggest mistake beginning writers make is to share their material before it’s ready. That means, before it’s completed. DON’T!

     You only have a certain amount of energy, enthusiasm, and interest in anything you write. You can either pour all that into the work or squander it little at a time at cocktail parties, beer busts, e-mail, or phone conversations. Every time you tell someone about your story, you are subtracting some of your ability to tell that story on the page by telling it, pitching it, or hinting about it, to others.

     First of all, why waste that energy or enthusiasm because that’s what you’re doing when you talk about your work. Dorothy Parker, one of the world class wits of the early 20th century used to say, “I hate to write, but I love to have written.”

     Every writer can identify with that thought because having finished and published something, or had it produced if it’s a play or screenplay, is so much more fun than sitting in front of your computer with a blank page looking back at you. Myself, I’m one of the few who actually loves to write. I identify with Sir. Noel Coward who once said, “Work is much more fun than fun.” Coward, novelist, playwright, screenwriter, actor, and director, enjoyed what he was doing with his life and I share the view. I don’t dread the time I spend putting a story together or the research it takes to come up with characters, plots and titles.

     Still, the point is, no matter if you love to write or hate it, you can only do it if you have the drive and the enthusiasm to actually apply your butt to the chair and your mind to the task at hand. Pittle away your interest and you’ll end up with a whole drawer or filing cabinet of unfinished work no one wants to look at. It’s the finished work that you can edit, rewrite, rework and reshape into a masterpiece.

     This is not easy to do. If you love the story or characters you’re writing about you want to share it, but it is a calamity to never finish what could be the best work of your life because you can’t keep your mouth shut.

     You have to understand how vulnerable both you and your work are in the early stages. No one else knows what you have in mind with your story and there’s really no way you can get it across without giving away everything that’s in the story. You do that and you’ve all but killed the story for yourself. Why finish writing something you’ve already discussed in detail with other.

     (That’s the problem with Hollywood’s way of developing stories through and extended process that begins with a story pitch and the is mauled in a series of story conferences with the writer not being in charge of the story but being merely the scribe of the tale that survives what’s known as “development hell.” See the beginning of the movie “The Majestic” with Jim Carrey to see this process in action.)

     To paraphrase the boxing rule, “Protect yourself at all times,” protect your story at all times. Telling your story to people who are not on the same page as you. can kill your drive to tell this story because someone didn’t like it. But this has happened to every successful writer who has ever lived.

     When I used to teach screenwriting, one of the first things I would tell my students is that I may serve that purpose in their life. I’d then add, “Take my comments with more than a grain of salt, perhaps as much as a shovel full.” I was very open about what kinds of stories I like and what I don’t like but still encouraged them to write whatever it was that they wanted to see in a movie. I warned them that there will always be someone who supposedly knows what they’re talking about who will treat you like Charles Schultz cartoon character Snoopy who kept getting rejection slips tell him to stop writing, burn his typewriter, and never tell another story as long as he live. Snoopy’s reaction was always something like, “Standard form rejection letter.”

     You need to know what is acceptable to your potential audience these days in your type of story. Shorter sentences, paragraphs and chapters are more the “thing” in these days of electronic books. If you try to write like Dickens or Shakespeare or any of the classic writers of old, you’ll find you won’t reach today’s audience. Those great writers were speaking to the people of their day and you should write for your audience, too, and not for and English lit class. But do so in your style and the way you tell stories as well as your choice of words.

     James Fennimore Cooper (Last of the Mohicans and others) could take four pages to tell you it was a fall day. Today’s reader expects the story to jump off the page in the very first lines of the tale. Mystery writer Mickey Spillane from the 1940 through the 60’s used to say, “The first page sells the book; the last page sells the next one.”

     All of this is about style but it amounts to nothing if you’re story isn’t done. Finish it. Tell it or show it to no one, unless you can trust someone to be on your side.

      But be aware of well meaning friends who will want to tell you only good things when there may be, in fact, things you can fix and improve. That’s where a writers’ group comes in.
A writers’ group can be as few as three people of equal standing who are working their way through a project or a larger group with a scattering of talent and levels of experience. A writer’s group is all about, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”

     Find a writers’ group of other who share your passion and frustration or create such a group. Then you’ll have folks to share with who can be more helpful than destructive.

     Your take-away from this piece — you and your work are very vulnerable when it’s still in process. You need to protect both yourself and your work at all times but especially until it’s finished. Find or start a writers’ group if you simply can’t keep it to yourself.

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