How to Start Writing? Find The Moment of Intensity #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

I was sitting down with a colleague the other day and he asked me how I start writing a story? There are many cliche answers for this. Start with an outline. Start with a character. Start with a climax. There isn’t a wrong answer for answering this and it’s different from person to person, but I wanted to respond with something genuine. How do I start writing a story? 

I find the moment of intensity. 

Every story should stem from at least one emotional moment, an emotional moment that binds the reader and creates a connection between a human and words on a page. This is what a good story does; it is a vessel for empathy. 

When I start a story, I think about that moment of intensity. A victory in a war. A loved one passes away at my side. A break up moments before the prom. Moments of intensity can come in any form but it needs to be recognized because that is where you need to take the audience. 

The story therefore becomes this vehicle that guides the reader towards this moment of intensity. Once you know where you are going with your story, you can decide how you want to take the readers there. 

What I find to be a beautiful thing is that once you reach one emotional moment, I have knocked over my first domino — one emotion triggers the next and so the story continues. 

So let me pose the question to you: How do you start your story? Do you start with something on the surface: a beautiful scenery or an old mansion? Or does it start somewhere deeper down: a character in a heated argument or a secret love affair revealed? Let me know. I’d love to hear your process. 

The Best Writers of All Time Competition — ProWritingAid Free Document Summary

This is not an official sponsorship for ProWritingAid. However, if you would like to try it, please use this affiliate link here.  

One of my favorite features of Pro Writing Aid is the document summary, which lets me know overall, how good my grammar, spelling, and style is in that particular piece of writing. It’s a great overhead view of where I can improve. 

Then I thought, hmmm… I wonder how the greatest writers perform in this scoring system, after all, writing can be so subjective. I figured I should do a playoff bracket pitting some of the greatest writers and their most recognizable pieces of work against each other. 

I picked 16 great writers in the English language and plotted them into a bracket. One paragraph each, they will compete with each other to see which has the best overall score on Pro Writing Aid. The winner will move onto the next round. The loser will be eliminated. 

I define a paragraph as a series of connected sentences with a central idea or topic. Therefore, if the first paragraph is of dialogue, for example, and is quite short (three to five words), I can add on until the sequence of ideas are complete. Therefore, a paragraph in this competition can have more than one paragraph breaks in this interpretation. 

Take the first part of The Great Gatsby for example: 

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

This will count as one paragraph, because it’s a complete sequence. 

Now let’s get into the competition: 

Introducing the contestants! 

The 16 Great Writers: 

Ernest Hemingway – The Old Man and The Sea

JD Salinger – The Catcher in the Rye

F Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby

George Orwell – 1984

Virginia Woolf – Mrs. Dalloway

Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice 

Stephen King – The Stand

Mark Twain – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Charles Dickens – Great Expectations

John Steinbeck – The Grapes of Wrath 

JRR Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings

George RR Martin – Game of Thrones

JK Rowling – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughter House Five

Oscar Wilde – The Picture of Dorian Gray

Who will win? 

Watch the video here to find out. 

For more videos on writing, editing and the creative process, check out my YouTube channel

Stephen King vs Stanley Kubrick: How “The Shining” went from book to movie

It’s safe to say that if it weren’t for the adaptations, Stephen King would not be the icon that he is today. Love him or hate him, he had made an incredible career out of writing fiction that could be translated to on-screen success. Even if you have never read a Stephen King book, you know his stories: It, Misery… and The Shining. 

Perhaps one of his most personal works, The Shining was an adaptation he might not have been prepared to leave to another artist’s hands. If you let someone else adapt your work, they might make it better… and therefore, the story itself might change ownership. 

This is the story about the adaptation of The Shining, and King’s struggle to reaffirm what was originally his creation, a haunting struggle that has lasted nearly 40 years. 

The Shining was the first book that Stephen King wrote where he was considered financially stable.  On top of his earnings from his previous novels Carrie and Salem’s Lot he also received a multi-book deal from publisher, Doubleday. With pressure off of his shoulders, King decided to take a trip to Boulder, Colorado in 1974 to take on a short residency. 

It was there, during the off season, Stephen King and his family, spent one night at the Stanley Hotel. King had been working on a story called Darkshine — about a boy with psychic abilities in an amusement park, but he preferred a setting that was more isolating and the hotel served as the inspiration. The King family found themselves as the only guests in the 142-room colonial hotel. 

King had a dream that night about his son running through the corridor, screaming, being chased by a fire-hose. He woke up, lit a cigarette, looked out the window at the Rockies and by the time the cigarette was done, the book was in his mind. 

The first draft of The Shining took four months to write and was published on January 28, 1977. 

The Shining was Stephen King’s confession. As a young father, he felt a lot of anger towards his children. Like his character, Jack Torrance, an alcoholic who had recently broken his son’s arm, Stephen King was feeling a lot of guilt for his own poor parenting during those early years as a father and a struggling writer. He poured all of it into The Shining. As he puts it, he was “getting it out of his system.” 

At its roots, Stephen King’s The Shining was about a family disintegrating — his worst fear — however, what Stanley Kubrick had in mind was a bit different. 

Hungover and shaving, King received a call from Stanley Kubrick, one morning, saying that he wanted to adapt The Shining. Immediately, Kubrick started rambling about his philosophy about ghosts and how every ghost story is an optimistic story. 

At this point, Kubrick had nearly 3 decades of experience in the industry and many of his finest films were linked with a literary work rather through adaptation or written concurrently. Lolita released in 1962 was based on the novel by Vladimir Nabakov, Dr. Stranglelove in 1964 was based on a book called “Red Alert” by Peter George, 2001: A Space Odyssey was released in 1968 which was followed by a novel by Arthur C Clark, A Clockwork Orange released in 1971 was based on the novel by Anthony Burgess, and Barry Lyndon released in 1975 was based on the novel by William Makepeace Thackeray. 

It was easy to see how King was flattered to have Kubrick approach him, wanting to adapt his latest work.   

Kubrick had developed a fascination with ESP and paranormal activities, and when he received the manuscript for The Shining from John Calley, an executive at Warner Bros, he was excited to find that the story had a great balance of psychological and the supernatural. He wanted the audience to ask: are supernatural things even happening or is Jack Torrance just crazy? 

Kubrick preferred adapting a story as opposed to writing an original piece because he used the feeling he got when reading a story for the first time as a yardstick for his decision making as he directed the movie.  

During this time, Kubrick wasn’t particularly interested in making a horror movie. Many thought that he would be as he was known to hop around different genres. It was rather there were two stories on his mind. One was Stephen King’s The Shining and the other was Diane Johnson’s The Shadow Knows. Kubrick was a particular artist, he ended up choosing to do The Shining, but he hired Johnson to write the script for it — rather than pursuing The Shadow Knows, even though she had never written a script before. 

Stephen King, on the other hand, had written a script for the movie — but allegedly Kubrick never even read it. After reading the initial manuscript for The Shining — and even though he appreciated the story — he found King’s writing to be “weak”

Kubrick called up Johnson and proposed a meeting, as he had been known to do with other writers, and in that meeting he offered her the job of writing the screenplay for The Shining. So she did. In about eleven weeks working with Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson wrote the script.

The movie’s initial release was on May 23, 1980 and it received mixed reviews. The common criticism was that the film was too slow moving for a horror and many found that the characters were hard to relate to. Despite the slow start, The Shining, which cost $19 million to make, ended up earning a profit with a domestic gross of over $44 million. 

Yet, The Shining is one of the few Kubrick films that failed to earn a single nomination for the Oscars or the Golden Globes. 

Still the toughest critic was perhaps the author of the source material himself. At first, King gave a fair critique of the movie, famously saying that “There’s a lot to like about it. But it’s a great big beautiful Cadillac with no motor inside, you can sit in it and you can enjoy the smell of the leather upholstery – the only thing you can’t do is drive it anywhere. So I would do every thing different. The real problem is that Kubrick set out to make a horror picture with no apparent understanding of the genre. Everything about it screams that from beginning to end, from plot decision to the final scene – which has been used before on the Twilight Zone”

Kubrick didn’t care too much for what King said. He had his reasons for the changes he made, feeling that King had spent too much time focusing on the character’s background — or as he would put it overcompensating. 

For King, the character arch was the most important factor of his story. It was his personal tale, after all and Kubrick dismissed all of that. In the film, King felt that the Jack Torrance character was one note — he was always crazy. 

But perhaps the most critical change that Kubrick made to the story was the ending. First, he omitted all the toperaries that came to life in the novel, saying that due to the special effects of the era, it simply wouldn’t do and would have most likely come across as hokey. The second change was how Jack Torrance died. Spoiler Alert. 

In the novel, it was the explosion of an aging boiler that caused the death of the main character — while, in the movie, Jack freezes to death outside. 

King said it best, “The book is hot, and the movie is cold; the book ends in fire, and the movie in ice.”

Finally, the last shot of the movie was a of a framed picture years ago: a celebration at the Overlook hotel. At the center, we see Jack Torrance, smiling. This sparked the theory that Jack was a reincarnation of an employee at the Overlook and he was destined and doomed to be trapped in the hotel forever. This was the Twilight Zone moment that King referenced in his criticism.

While it might have seemed like Kubrick had ultimately disrespected King’s original work, one can actually see many moments in the movie where he was loyal to the source material. The famous ballroom scene, where Jack sits in the bar, desperate for a drink, and then encounters a phantom barkeeper named Lloyd is perhaps the most loyal to the novel. 

And for me, rarely can a novel make my skin crawl, but remembering how I felt when reading the sequence with Danny Torrance leading up to that bathtub scene. Then seeing it come to life so effectively on screen is perhaps the moment that linked both novel and film. Two very different experiences, one chilling visceral effect. 

Even though Kubrick’s The Shining didn’t get the recognition it deserved upon its released, overtime it gained critical acclaim and many even deem it to be his finest work. 

While King and Kubrick continued on with their careers. The Shining entered the height of its pop-culture relevancy: from the highly quoted “Heeere’s Johnny!” to the word REDRUM scribbled on walls to the iconic scene of the twin girls in the hallway. All visuals that Kubrick immortalized. King’s ownership of The Shining had faded.   

Nearly two decades passed. 

After gaining some momentum in television with the four-part mini-series of, what I considered his masterpiece, The Stand, Stephen King jumped on the opportunity to reclaim one of his most precious work, The Shining. 

Essentially, he wanted to fix everything that Kubrick did wrong. The script for the 3-part series was written exclusively by King, and he wanted to stay as far removed from Kubrick’s creation as possible. At times, he even rewrote scenes which Kubrick had used from the original novel — such as the famous ballroom scene. Anything that can be done to separate King from Kubrick, King did. 

On April 27, 1997, The Shining mini-series was released to tepid response. While some critics found it to be a creepy suspense in the drawn out 6-hour experience, many more found it inferior to Kubrick’s adaptation. 

Yes, King had more attention focused on alcoholism, the struggle with work/life balance, and the interpersonal relationships of a family, but it lacked the eeriness that Kubrick was able to incorporate with aesthetics, best shown by the wide hallways that seemed to both be endless and suffocating. All that represented the haunting of the hotel. This was lost  in King’s version, where he had chosen to use the spark for his original inspiration: The Stanley Hotel as the design. 

Simply put, placed side-by-side, Kubrick’s version was deemed scarier. And when it came to a horror story, that was the key criteria. King sought redemption and had lost. 

On March 7, 1999, Stanley Kubrick died in his sleep from a heart attack at his home in Childwickbury Manor, United Kingdom. A few months later, On June 19, 1999, Stephen King was the victim of a life threatening car accident while walking on the shoulder of a road in Lovell Maine. Stephen King survived, but the feud between the two artists was over. 

However, the story of The Shining was not. 

During a promotional tour for Stephen King’s novel Under the Dome in 2009, King brought up a concept for a sequel, a story which will follow an adult Danny Torrance as he navigates the world with his paranormal powers and his haunting past. King made a poll on his official website asking his fans which story they would want to read next: The sequel to The Shining? Or another instalment in his Dark Tower series? 

The poll lasted one month and in the end, The Shining sequel, which will be titled Doctor Sleep, beat out The Wind through the Keyhole, the Dark Tower prequel, by a mere 49 votes. On September 24, 2013, Doctor Sleep was published. 

In 2014, Warner Bros Pictures acquired the rights to the Doctor Sleep adaptation. It took over 3 years to secure the budget, and only when the studio saw success with the remake of the Stephen King classic, It in 2017, that they got the green light to move forward with Doctor Sleep. 

Mike Flanagan, creator of The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix, signed on to direct the sequel that — as he stated would have a three-way connection between Stephen King’s The Shining, Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation, and Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep. Doctor Sleep was a story written completely removed from what Kubrick had created, so one of the earliest conversations that Flanagan had with King was getting his blessing to combine the worlds. 

Perhaps a true test of King’s character was accepting that Kubrick’s film had become the undisputed representation of The Shining. It’s what the world recognized. The conversation between Flanagan and King went well, and King gave his encouragement. The movie is an adaptation of King’s work, but it will exist in the same cinematic universe as Kubrick’s film

Doctor Sleep is expected to be released on November 8, 2019, starring Ewan McGregor in the role as Dan Torrance.  

And with that, there is finally peace on The Shining front. 

What is your favourite version of The Shining? And Is there a movie-based on a book that you are curious about how it got made? Let me know in the comments below.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only work that I’m most proud of.

Writing in My 20s vs Writing in My 30s

I used to write a lot when I was younger. I used to stay up all night and hammer out three to four chapters. When I had a week off from school, I would dedicate a few days to do nothing but write. I participated in the 3-Day Novel Writing Contest three times — and even self-published one of them, The Past In Between,  just for kicks. I knew the well of my imagination and inspiration was never going to run dry. However, something else did… 

It wasn’t my motivation that got depleted, it was my time. Regardless of how successful you get as a 20-year-old, eventually, as the number increases, you will find that the free time in your day to do what you want will decrease. By the time I reached my 30s, my free time to work on my own projects were sparse. 

Now, I don’t want to make a rant about how busy I am, because being busy is lacking priority. If you don’t have time to do something, it is simply because it isn’t a priority. Working on my short stories or my novel isn’t a priority anymore. I have a full-time job, I have friends that I wanted to see, I have a dog I want to take on walks when the weather is nice, and I have a wife that I’d like to spend the prime of my day with. 

Those days that I used to block off simply to write are few and far in between. There are zero days in the year where I can just write. Even when I don’t have any plans scheduled with, I will still need to walk the dog, cook food, and maybe do some chores in preparation for the upcoming week. 

Yet, I haven’t stopped writing. 

Writing is still a large part of my life. It is a critical part of my identity. I still try to fit it in whenever I can, but it is hard to do. You know the saying, “The hardest part is starting.” And it is absolutely true when you are writing. Sitting down and getting to work is the hardest part. I believe it only gets harder when you don’t have an empty schedule to commit to it. 

Expectation: How I Like To Write

In my ideal world, I would have a day fully committed to writing. I would wake up with a fresh cup of coffee and hunker down and immerse myself into my work — deep work, as author Cal Newport would refer to it. I yearn to get into the flow where my writing is essentially pouring out of me like hot water from a kettle. 

I enjoy having the little distractions and blocks in between. I enjoy allowing myself to mill around the apartment for a moment thinking of the direction to guide my characters in.

I would usually have a movie playing in the background, something I have seen a million times before, just to keep me company. Pulp Fiction is a good one. Honestly, anything by Tarantino will do because it’s long… and it works to track how long I’ve been writing. 

This was how I wrote in my 20s. It was something I looked forward to like a vacation. But now… when I do take a vacation, writing is not what I want to do. Writing is fun, but writing is also work. When I have to prepare for a week at the office, I don’t necessarily want to put myself through a fifteen-hour write-a-thon. 

Reality: How I Write Now

Today, I write the same way I do a lot of other things. I squeeze it into my schedule. There are a few days in a month where I can commit myself fully to creative writing, but they are often hijacked. I’m not sacred with those days — although I should be. 

I write whenever I can, fifteen minutes before I head off to work in the morning, thirty minutes during my lunch break, or ten minutes as my dinner finishes cooking in the oven. Any spare time I have, I add it to my projects. It’s my way of making the most out of the little time that I have.

I find these little sprints incredibly hard, but with everything going on, if I don’t have them, I might not be a writer at all. So I sprint. 

I used to be a writer who needs a few minutes to warm up. This can mean sitting at the desk and getting into the right mind frame or it can mean rereading some of my previous writing, which is necessary if I’m working on a longer project. When I only have fifteen minutes blocked off to write that doesn’t leave me a lot of time to get into the groove. I need to start writing. There is no time to hum and haw about where to begin. I simply need to begin. 

Arguably in four scattered fifteen-minute writing sessions, I will probably get more words down on a page than in a 1-hour session, simply because of the urgency, I placed on myself. This had led me to the hypothesis that perhaps writing a first draft should best be done in a series of spurts, rather than one long marathon. This is an experiment I am curious to perform. 

There May Never Be An Ideal Time to Write

What I’ve discovered through these past few years as my time has been segmented and divided between all the people love and responsibilities and obligations I have is that there will never be a perfect amount of time to write. Just like how there won’t be a perfect amount of time to work out or practice an instrument. If you want to do something, you will need to fit it into your schedule. It doesn’t mean you can’t do all the other things in your life, it simply means that when you notice an empty slot in your day — which believe me, if you look, you will find it — take advantage of it. Make the most out of it. Don’t sit there and think about doing it. 

Remember, starting is the hardest part. So whenever you think that there is time to write, start. It’s that simple. Open up your project file, scroll down to the spot where you left off, and continue. Do this every time you have a break in your day and eventually, you will chip away at a project that you were waiting for a perfect time to work on. 

There is no perfect time. There are no better or worst time. There is only time.

Need ideas for your next writing project, check out this article on how I deal with too many ideas

How “Life of Pi” Went From Book to Movie

While Pi Patel might have spent 227 days trapped on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, executive Elizabeth Gabler and producer, Gil Netter spent 11 years bringing the impossible story from page to screen

Life of Pi was published on September 11, 2001, perhaps the worst day to have a book launch. Nevertheless, it sold over 10 million copies and won author Yann Martel, the prestigious Man Booker Prize. It was a huge success. 

Yet, it was deemed an impossible movie to make — and the 11 years in between publishing and the release of the movie directed by Ang Lee is a story about the complexity of adaptation. 

Life of Pi is arguably my favorite book. I remember reading it as a teenager and feeling like I had a choice in what to think. Not often a case for a high school student. I remember my teacher asking me: which story did you think was real? The one with the animals, I responded. 

I loved that book, because it wasn’t tarnished by a movie. My imagination wasn’t skewed. It would not have been my favorite book, if I saw the movie first. Yet, it might have became my favorite movie. This is the first in a series about adaptations: the story of how a book becomes a movie. It’s not about which is better, it’s about how such a feat is even possible.  

In 1990, Yann Martel read a review by John Updike for a Portuguese book that has recently been translated into English. This book was called Max and the Cats by Moacyr Scliar. It was a negative review and Martel never read that book. Still the premise stayed with him: a boy trapped on a boat with a man-eating jaguar. 

Reeling from the disappointing reception of his first two published books, Martel in the midst of quitting a work in progress about Portugal, travelled to India for inspiration. This was 1996 — five years before Life of Pi was published. It was during this trip that it all came together. 

By 2002, Yann Martel had become a household name. Winning one of the biggest prizes in literature will do that. In addition, Life of Pi spent 61 weeks on New York Times BestSeller. While Martel received criticism for not acknowledging Scliar, eventually all that faded, when he stated it could not be plagiarism of any form, if he had never read Scliar’s book. When put side-by-side, most critics failed to see many similarities between the two: structurally and thematically. 

In the same year, at the height of Life of Pi’s popularity, 20th Century Fox Pictures Executive, Elizabeth Gabler was on maternity leave, where she saw the novel everywhere. All the other studios had passed on Life of Pi, so when producer, Gil Netter called her and pitched the project — she recognized the complexity of the story: it takes place predominantly on the Pacific Ocean, it’s highly spiritual, it’s not a superhero sequel and it’s not easily summed up. These were all concerns.

Still, Gabler saw a lot of potential in the story, so she made the deal for the film rights with Yann Martel a little over a year after the novel hit the shelves. 

When an author options their story to a production company, it is not always clear how much they will make. They may make a deal for as little to nothing with a promise of a percentage of the budget of the film (if it ever gets funding), or they may get an upfront payment for film rights all at once, perhaps $500,000. It’s hard to predict how much exactly Martel made from optioning the rights for Life of Pi, but one may wonder if the lengthy duration it took to make the film and the trouble it will soon have with the budget work for or against him monetarily. 

In February of 2003, Gabler had officially acquired the rights to Life of Pi and pre-production began. Screenwriter, Dean Georgaris, known for Manchurian Candidate, Triston and Isolde, and Laura Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, was hired to write the script. 

M. Night Shyamalan — yes, M. Night — was first to partner with the project as the director in 2004. He had just finished with his movie The Village and Life of Pi was tempting, after all, Shyamalan grew up in the very city, the character Pi did, Pondicherry. However, he would back out of the project worried that the twist ending in Life of Pi would be affected if he was to direct it. People will be anticipating the twist the moment it began. That would hurt the story, and so, Shyamalan would sacrifice himself and begin work on his next movie, Lady In the Water. 

The project went in and out of limbo at this point. As of March of 2005, Alfonso Cuaron was rumored to have signed on to direct it — but stepped down to work on Children of Men. 

In October of the same year, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, director of Amelie was hired by 20th Century Fox to take on the job. Jeunette jumped on the opportunity — after backing out of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix not long before — and began working on the screenplay with his partner from Amelie, Guillaume Laurant. Things were working great, Jeunet had a script that the studio liked, he built miniatures of the lifeboat, and even started location scouting in India.    

Then a major problem materialized: the budget. For an Indian boy in open waters with a lion, the project would cost an excess of $85 million. According to Investopedia, the average cost of a major studio movie in 2007 was $65 million. So the mission was to get the budget to $60 million, however, that simply wasn’t going to happen for Jeunet. In frustration, the heads of Fox told him to produce the movie himself. 

For 2 years, Jeunet had been working on Life of Pi. Suddenly the movie was at a standstill as the producers sought new solutions. Then time ran out for him. Jeunet did not want to spend the rest of his life working on Life of Pi and four months later he had a script for a new project, MicMacs. Life of Pi was once again without a director. 

At this time, Life of Pi was getting a reputation as being an unfilmable movie. It was getting riskier and riskier for 20th Century Fox. With no marketable star and every money-sucking challenge imaginable for a filmmaker, the adaptation of Yann Martel’s Man Booker Prize winner seemed impossible. 

In early 2009, almost eight years after the novel was published, the fourth director for this film was hired, academy award winner, Ang Lee, best known for his diverse resume including Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain, and Hulk. 

Screenwriter, David Magee, known for Finding Neverland, was personally hired by Lee to write the screenplay, working closely together. Writers, if you ever feel like giving up on a project, remember everything Life of Pi went through… In three and a half years of working on the movie, Magee and Lee wrote 170 drafts of the script

Life of Pi was a story that is told primarily from the mind of the character. Pi alone on a lifeboat with a tiger. How can they translate it to the screen? Lee and Magee dove deep into the project: speaking with those who have survived at sea, visiting holy locations in India, and even setting out in a boat during harsh weather themselves to gain the personal experience. 

Once again, it felt as though the movie was back on track. Yet, there was still the issue of the marketable lead. Finding a young Indian boy to play the role of Pi — a huge responsibility — was challenging and lengthy. It required a worldwide search with Lee auditioning 3000 actors. In the end, he found Suraj Sharma and placed him in a setting as daunting as a lifeboat with a tiger, his first impossible Hollywood movie. 

Lacking a familiar name on the bill continued to be a concern for the studio, at least for the North American audience. At a time, Tobey Maguire, the original Spiderman himself, was cast as the author interviewing a much older Pi Patel, but Lee later felt that having a recognizable face would be more of a distraction than a benefit — much like having M. Night direct the movie.

On top of that, there was another worry for the studio. Yes, the same concern that troubled them a few years ago: budget.  

In 2010, Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman, two chairmen of 20th Century Fox called Elizabeth Gabler letting her know that they were going to withdraw from the project — ending funding completely. Life of Pi the movie was on life support about to have its plug pulled. The proposed budget was simply too big of a risk for the studio. 

Gabler called Ang Lee to deliver the bad news. Fox is off of the project and Lee was free to shop the film to another studio, a mammoth task to say the least — which may stall the film for another decade. Gabler was as disappointed as Lee. There was nothing else like it. Yes, it wasn’t the conventional movie with heartthrobs and superheroes, but that was what made it worth fighting for. 

To her surprise and admiration, Lee did not give up. Before the call ended, he told her he will make his way to LA to discuss the matter in-person. With him, he had Suraj Sharma’s audition tape and a pre-visualization scene of the shipwreck, the pivotal moment in the story that left the character Pi stranded at sea. In addition to those two selling points, Lee was willing to accommodate with the expenses. Gabler was impressed and she bought it to Gianopulos and Rothman. Together, they cut $25 million from the proposed budget. This was helped by filming many portions of the movie in Taiwan. 

In 2012, Life of Pi was released to rave reviews, earning the film 11 Academy Award nominations, including a nomination for screenwriter, David Magee for best-adapted screenplay and producer, Gil Netter for Best Picture, along with Ang Lee and David Womack. The film ended up winning 4 Oscars, including one for Ang Lee as best director. Not only was it well received by the critics, to the delight of the studio, the movie turned out to be a commercial success, grossing over $500 million worldwide, with a final budget of $120 million. 

Ang Lee claims it was the hardest movie he had ever made, taking him nearly four years. 

Not every adaptation will be deemed impossible or receive critical acclaim and be a commercial success. Yet, every adaptation will have their own unique story. Is there a movie based on a book that you are curious about how it got made? Let me know in the comments below. 

If you found this article helpful, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, it’ll include only work that I’m most proud of.

How to Deal With Too Many Ideas

If you are like me, sometimes you’d think you have a great idea, but then you discover as you are working on it, that it’s not that great. In a way, you spent more time on it than you should have. Today, I’m going to show you a technique I use to test my ideas before diving into a large project.

Write Your Ideas Down

Ideas are useless. They are worth nothing. The fact that you have too many ideas is of no value, so don’t hoard it. It’s important not to wait for a perfect time. You can’t save it for later. You are most likely going to forget it — good or bad.

Yet when you are committed to writing, and not sure which idea to pursue, it can get overwhelming. I know. I’m an idea guy. I have an infinite amount and it’s simply taking up space in my head. 

So recently, I decided to get all my ideas out into the open and bring it into the physical world.

My goal is not to randomly pick an idea and commit to it. I want to test the water on as many ideas as possible. I want to pull them out of my head and see it on paper, and really consider — is this something I want to work on for a long period?

How do I start that? 

First I take a notebook, it can be a blank one or it can be a used one, doesn’t matter, as long as there are still empty pages. 

On each page, I write down the header or the title or the question, essentially the thesis of my idea. Each one of my ideas gets a page or two. I then leave space for me to fill in the details later. I write down as many as I have or as much as the book can fit. Basically, this will be a book of writing prompts. 

Test Your Ideas 

So here’s the fun part. Now I have this small book of ideas with blank spaces for me to expand on it, to start working on it, to start testing out these ideas and see if there is any substance in it. Or if I’m even passionate about the topic.

My goal now is that each day, or once a week or whatever, I will open up to an idea. Next one in line, and start working on it. Here’s a rule: I have to work in order, I can’t go picking my favourite idea to work on at any given time. If I simply flip to a page I want to work on at the moment, I lose the discipline I need to tackle a larger project, especially if it’s a project on that topic. I have to be committed to going through the book in a respectful order. That way I can give each idea a chance. 

I have a page or two to get everything I need about the idea, it can be an outline, it can be the first few paragraphs, however, I approach it, by the end, I should be able to recognize whether this idea has legs. I can transition it into a bigger project, merge it into a work in progress, or I can move on to the next idea in the book. 

I find this to be a great writing exercise and a fantastic way to understand how I feel about my ideas. Most importantly, in the end, I will have a full book of ideas pursued and not simply a brain filled with them. I have something I can actually use whether it can be a part of a bigger project or simply a brainstorming exercise. 

Give this a shot. Let me know what you think. 

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The Executive Decision

The CEO gathered the whole team into the boardroom and demanded that each member give him one good idea for a marketing campaign. 

“We should get people and let them try the product.” 

“We should get a movie star and let him try the product.” 

“We should get a movie star and let him try the product, but he will also on a beach with a bikini model.” 

The CEO listened quietly the whole time as the team agreed with each other, adding ideas to ideas. Finally, he stepped in. 

Clearing his throat, The CEO said, “Thank you everyone for such a delightful brainstorm, it’s sad that we will never do it again. Our company is bankrupt.” 

The team was stunned. 

Was it the best way to lay off an entire company? Perhaps not, but as a CEO, sometimes it’s up to him to make the executive decision. 

For more of my comedic writing, please check out my Humour Section

Go Back and Read Your Past Work — Here’s How to Do It

I’ll admit it, in my short time on this planet, I have created a lot of content — content that I have little interest going back and enjoying. While one reason can be that I have way too much to do now: creating new material and reading, watching, and listening to other (more talented) people’s work; another more restraining reason is that I’m not convinced that it’ll be enjoyable. 

I believe that anything I create creatively, I make for myself, I’m the first audience member. That is how I pick my creative projects. I want my investment in time to pay off down the line. I create it with the intention that one day in the future I can enjoy it again as an audience member who has lost all connection with the initial creation process. 

While that is my encouragement to put in the time and effort — blood, sweat, and tears — I don’t know when it is safe to return to that piece of work. I worry that I’ll cringe. I worry that I’ll get critical. I’ll worry that I will see all the mistakes that I’ve made before and become unable to let go. Yet, I want to look back and see how far I’ve come. I am pulled and tugged by how I want to approach my corpus of old work. 

I start to wonder what successful creators and artists approach this aspect of their work, the revisiting phase. 

The Producer: Don’t Treat It Like A Job 

Perhaps the most famous incident of an artist claiming to have not seen his own work is Johnny Depp in an interview with David Letterman. 

Johnny Depp: In a way, once my job is done on the film it is really none of my business. […] I stay as far away as I possibly can. If I can I try to stay in a profoundest state of ignorant as possible. […] I just don’t like watching myself. I prefer the experience — I mean, making the film is great. The process is all fine, but then… he’s up there. You know what I mean?  

To me, there is a sense of freedom to that: to be able to create without the need to critique his work. As a copywriter, I can personally relate to that. I have a workman’s mentality to a lot of stuff I create. I don’t write a blog post to necessary go back and enjoy while sipping mai tai on a beach. I write it. I got paid for it. My obligation is done. Obligations are not enjoyments, and if you see your work as such… you might lack the fulfillment in your craft that can propel you forward. 

Perhaps that’s why some may think that Depp’s work today is derivative of his best from the past. If you start treating your creations as simply work, then yes, there is never a personal reason to go back and watch it. Then again, you should think about the work you are picking. 

The Fan: Make it for Yourself First 

Then on the other side of the spectrum is Samuel L. Jackson. There is a reason that Jackson is in so many fantastic movies, it’s because he has a brilliant philosophy for his work. 

In an interview with GQ magazines, Samuel L. Jackson said, “I like watching myself in movies….if I am channel surfing and I pass a movie that I’m in, I’m watching it no matter what. I have a drawer of nothing but my DVDs, so if nothing else, I can just go in and pull one out and put it in.”

When asked why some actors don’t enjoy watching themselves, he responded, “That’s bullshit! Actors that say, “I can’t stand to watch myself”, well if you can’t stand to watch yourself then why the f*** do you expect someone to pay $13.50 to watch you?”

Like chefs who cook food for others, that they would not eat themselves, an artist who is unable to enjoy their work should be viewed with slight suspicion. As if to say, “Oh, your work isn’t even good enough for you?” 

The Critic: Identify Errors

Sometimes you look back at your work and all you can see is the mistakes you’ve made. And in some pieces, the errors stand out more clearly than others. However, it’s sometimes better to bite the bullet, watch what you’ve made, and analyze why you dislike it. 

In a 2011 interview with Time Out, Lady Gaga speaks about her current relationship with her hit Telephone: “I hate ‘Telephone.’ Is that terrible to say? It’s the song I have the most difficult time listening to. I can’t even watch the ‘Telephone’ video, I hate it so much. Beyonce and I are great together, but there are so many ideas in that video and all I see in that video is my brain throbbing with ideas and I wish I had edited myself a little bit more.”

Trust in your taste. If you don’t feel the way Samuel L. Jackson does when reading, watching, or listening to your own work, ask yourself what you dislike about it. If you are blatantly ignorant, you may never learn to improve. And if it is more than just a paycheque for you, like it clearly is for Lady Gaga, then you must analyze the errors and do better next time. 

The Exhausted: Take A Long Break From It 

If the idea of consuming your old work is causing you to cringe, it might simply be the fact that you haven’t had enough distance from it yet. 

Talking to Rolling Stone back in 1993, Kurt Cobain stated: “It’s almost an embarrassment to play [“Smells Like Teen Spirit”]. Everyone has focused on that song so much. The reason it gets a big reaction is people have seen it on MTV a million times. It’s been pounded into their brains… I can barely, especially on a bad night, get through ‘Teen Spirit.’ I literally want to throw my guitar down and walk away.”

Like eating the same meal over and over again, creating content or performing can feel repetitive. As a filmmaker, after spending so many hours in the editing room watching the same scenes over and over again, getting it just right. Once it is completed, the last thing you would want to do is sit down with a bag of popcorn and watch the movie from beginning to end. The same goes with a writer writing and a singer singing. 

If you don’t take the time to put that piece aside, hide it in the dark, then you will feel fatigued from it. Your creation might be as delicious as chocolate, but if all you’ve been eating is chocolate for the past three months, maybe a piece of celery is what you need to cleanse the palate.   

The Historian: Treat Your Old Work As Snapshots of Your Life 

When you create something, you create in the present. You put your current emotional state into it. You choose words and form sentences in the way you currently know how. You tell stories and evoke emotions that relate to the person you are. When you look back on it, you are certain to see the changes, not only within the work but in yourself as an older writer. 

“It was interesting to come back to something I’d made and find how much it had changed,” writer, George Saunders tells New York Times about revisiting his collection of short stories CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. “Though we think we are making permanent monuments against which our egos can rest, we’re actually making something more akin to a fog cloud. We come back to what we’ve made and find out it’s been changing all along. We’ve changed, the artistic context around the story has changed, the world has changed. And this is kind of wonderful and useful. It made me remember that the real value of the artistic act is not product but process.” 

Like looking at an old photograph of yourself, for no other reason, revisiting your older work is a powerful way to understand the person you once were. The thing this exercise can achieve where simply looking at a picture of yourself can’t is that a picture can only show you what’s on the surface, but a piece of writing can show you want is underneath it all. 

At this time, I am debating with reading some of the work I have written, that I have worked so hard on: mainly those that I have published on Amazon. They haunt me in a way… but I think I might crack it open soon and see all the problems I made, my ability to entertain myself, and the younger man who was simply trying to express himself. 

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The Education Center: On Making Decisions

When to experiment and when to focus

Summer of 2016 

The web of my job had blossomed out from content writing. There was nobody at the time reporting to me. I just showed up and did my work, which consisted of coming up with an idea, researching the topic, writing out the content, and publishing it on the company blog. I didn’t want to think of it this way, but I was the lowest on the totem. That all changed in a few short months. Things started moving fast. 

Before David left we were working on a few projects that I never fully understood. Now and then I would be looped into a meeting, but I was mainly focused on creating content and never had a say in the encompassing strategy. That was at least how I felt. After all, I was just a humble writer. I didn’t even think of myself as a marketer at the time, let alone a marketing manager. 

During this period, I was getting a bit tired of the content I was writing. There was only so much I had to say about credit card chargebacks, and there was only so much an audience wanted to read about that topic. 

Where I was given some freedom was when I was allowed to try different things. I made videos, infographics, and at one point even a few podcast episodes. I’m glad that I was given the opportunity to try new things for the company and I was grateful for that. In a way, I was doing growth hacking without knowing that I was doing it. I was experimenting. Throwing multiple darts and seeing what stuck. I feel I need to do that as a new employee at a young company. 

My job as I saw it before responsibility was thrust upon me was to come up with a productive way to kill time. As imaginative as I was, killing time was not hard. I had content: blog, video, and podcast to produce… along with the education center. 

The way Evan described it, the EDU was supposed to be this gated second blog that viewers had to enter their email address and sign up to before they read any of my writing. I like to believe that people would enter their emails. I’m a professional writer, what I produce has value. I like to believe that, but that is pure optimism.

In the EDU, there would be content that our users will find helpful in growing their business and handling payments. The question then for me is, am I creating better content than our knowledge base? Will it replace the knowledge base — also known as the support page — where we, at the the time, were using a service called: Userbase. It was there that all our How to’s and FAQs were. Will the EDU replace that and if it should, why would it be gated? Nobody was going to enter their email to see any FAQ page. 

David and Evan could never seem to come to a consensus on what the EDU was going to serve. Yes, we need to produce content and we needed a lead generation channel, but we were not going to be able to create support content that is better than what the larger companies that we serve has produced. We were an add-on, they were the hub. 

The EDU was aptly named because in the learning-on-the-job classroom it was my first test. When David and Evan left, the wheels for the EDU page were already in motion. Terry had spent countless hours working on it. As time went by, I began to work more closely with Terry, the front end developer. When I started in the industry, I didn’t even know what front end or back end developer was. I literally felt handicapped as a digital marketer because I didn’t know how to code. I was in a wheelchair and Terry was pushing me along. He had been a great sport the whole time and I would go on to waste more of his work hours — and that stressed me out a lot.   

I remember sitting down with Terry for at least five meetings deciding how to configure the EDU so that it made sense. 

Here was where I had to think about being a marketer in a whole new way. I started thinking in terms of resources and in terms of competition. What can we do and what are the trends? I went back to thinking, yes we needed to create content, but why did I have to split up my resources? Why should the blog have to compete against another entity? 

I would look at blogs like Hootsuite and see that they have webinars and courses. We didn’t have a team or a department to create all the content like Hootsuite. Eventually, every company will need to be a media company on top of what they build and serve. I believe that. I love that idea because it’s such a hopeful future for us content creators. 

But I can guarantee you this, before Hootsuite had their fingers in all those different projects, they had one solid blog. Before you take on another project, you make sure what you are doing is performing well. There is no reason to double down on two failing ventures. There is experimenting and then there is careless spending. I’m fine wasting my own time discovering and testing, but I’m not okay wasting others. 

The EDU, which Evan and David couldn’t even come to a conclusion on the name for — was it going to be the Education Center or was it going to be the Academy? — became the bane of my work hours for probably three months. It was the first big project I had to put the hammer down on. It was not the first time I gave up on a project, but in my position at the company, it was the first time I made a decision to avoid loss of more money and resources. I recognized sunk costs and I prevented more waste. 

I consider it one of my proudest decisions I made in my first quarter or even year at the helm. It was a leadership decision. I thought critically about what we were doing and decided it’s not worth doing. However, I would quickly learn that it is much easier to kill someone else’s brainchild than it is to kill your own. I was just at the start of my journey and it was already intense. 

This has been based on my personal experience. Details and names have been changed in respect for privacy.

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How to Write More And Improve: Make 3 Types of Content

I play hockey recreationally, which means whenever there is a game, I show up, warm up, and play. And if we are good enough, we make it to the playoffs within our tier and sometimes even win the championship.

We don’t have a coach and we rarely practice drills. All we have are 3 separate periods to improve.

  • We have our warm-up where mistakes don’t matter.
  • We have the game where each success can propel us forward to better opportunities.
  • Then there are playoff games or even championship games, this is where we show off what we really have.

I see writing in somewhat the same way. The more you write, just like the more games you play, the better you will be. The thing is, you won’t always get to practice on a championship stage. Not everything you write will have the same level of importance. Sometimes what you write will simply be warm up. Sometimes it’ll be an inconsequential game. You take everything you learn from those two levels and apply it to the final one: the championship.

With all that being said, here are three types of writing (or any other sort of content creating) that I am consistently working on. This way, I am able to keep track of what I’ve made and see gradual improvements over time — much like looking at a scorecard after a game.

Content You Publish Right Away

This is my warm up content. This is me experimenting and practicing a new technique. This is my honing a specific skill. This is me making something, throwing it out into the world, and seeing how everyone — if anyone — response to it.

In this day and age, we might be wary of posting something unpolished, but let’s be honest, if it’s no good, the worst thing that can happen is that it will be ignored and be buried under a mountain of other content.

Obviously I try to do the best I can when creating, but when the horn sounds and warm up is over, I’ll publish it.

Find time daily or weekly to create something you will need to publish right away. No looking back. Make it and ship it within a given timeframe.

We all have a ton of ideas and this is a fantastic way for you to start executing it and see how it can start appearing on paper. Not every idea is genius, even though you may think it is. There is no point keeping it in your head. Make it and see what the world thinks.

Content You Edit and Publish

This is the regular season game. Each piece matters because they add up to the the corpus of work you have created throughout the year. Yet, your career is not going to be hinged on this. There will be another game coming up.

Here is where you create a piece of content and put a bit more attention in polishing it up. Perhaps editing it once or twice — maybe even letting a third party review it and offer feedback. These are content that matter to you. This is where you want to push yourself to improve in one specific area. You can apply some of the techniques you practiced during your warm up and see how it fits with the overall structure of your piece.

What makes this piece different from the last is that this one will have a deadline. These are creative writing contest, guest post submissions, a scheduled publishing date for your blog, etc. Like a regular season game, there is a set schedule for when you need to produce this content and when they need to be completed.

There needs to be something that will keep you accountable to keep producing. It needs to be good, but you also need to deliver.

Content You Refine Until You Are Satisfied

This is the championship project. This is the big one. This is what you’ve been working for your whole entire career. There isn’t really an urgency for you to finish this project, but you need to be hungry to get it out into the world. It needs to be the best representation of yourself.

Ideally, this is the project that will earn you credibility and perhaps even some money as a writer. Like a championship will solidify an athlete’s legitimacy, so will this content do for you.

Yes, even though you worked hard, you can never guarantee success in a playoff situation. You are competing against all the other content out there in your niche. However, unlike sports, it’s not a zero sum game. Just because another piece of content has done well, doesn’t mean yours can’t.

Take your time with this project. Take what you’ve learned from the previous two projects and slowly apply them here: adding what has worked and improving what hadn’t.

Continue creating content from the two previous steps, while working on this one.

This is how I approach content creation with the emphasis on creating more and learning as I go. Let me know what you think of this process and whether this philosophy has worked for you as well.

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