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. 

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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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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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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.

Want more writing tips and inspirations? Follow my writing journey on YouTube!

Why You Are Feeling Embarrassed For Being A Writer

You are in a group — it can be your friends or it can be your family — and suddenly someone points to you and tells everyone that you are a writer. You’ll see a few eyebrows raise up, but mostly you’ll see a room full of unenthused stares. One member of the collective will turn to you and ask, “Oh yeah? What do you write?”

I rarely feel embarrassed, but it is in this very moment, the moment before I tell people about my work, where I feel the most ashamed in my choices. What do I write? A little of everything… I write stories and I write researched articles. I write press releases and I write scripts. I write emails and I write text messages. Where do I even begin?

What I tend to say is just that, “I write everything,” which is the most nothing answer one can give.

Imagine it this way. Someone asks you, “What kind of music do you like?” To which, you respond, “Oh, a little of everything.”

While that might be true, it doesn’t entice the other person to learn more about you. Instead, you are making them do all the work. Interest can fade very quickly, but here is how you can spark it rather than defuse it.

But first, let’s understand why we gave that answer in the first place.

A Writer’s Self-defense

Giving a really broad explanation like “I write everything” is a defensive response. You are afraid that the more information you give, the more it will reveal about you — opening you up — making you more vulnerable.

Let’s stick with music for a moment longer. For example, someone asked you what kind of music you liked, and you responded with, “Folk.” A potential return for that is that the other person hates folk, and they will be ready to lay down all the reasons why they hate it.

All through my life, I have encountered people that hate the stuff I like. I’m sure you have too unless you live in a really tight bubble. And I believe that if you like something, you will stand up and defend it. However, at a random social event where I’m suddenly put on the spot, I don’t feel much like standing up for my little creative projects.

“Oh what do you write?” someone will ask.

“I write short stories about travelling,” I could respond.

“Oh, I don’t like those,” people will say, “I don’t read. It’s boring… I’ll just rather go travel. I don’t care what other people think…”

Well… then… I guess I’m just an idiot. Sorry for not being able to amaze you.

Even before they have read any of your work — or even given it a chance — people can shut you down. That feeling is crushing. Suddenly you are in the middle of a group, with a stupid smile on your face, wondering where to move forward from that awkward exchange.

This, of course, happens with a lot of other creatives. When you find out that someone is an actor, you’ll ask, “Have I seen you anything you’ve done?” A wonderful guessing game that actors love. And since they aren’t Leonardo DiCaprio, they will feel awkward listing off their credits like this is some sort of audition for your approval.

Is there a way to remedy this awkward feeling, when you get put on the spot as a writer? Or after announcing your work in progress?

Yes, of course, there is.

Don’t Talk About Your Projects, Talk About Your Mission

What is the one job that gets criticized the most? The showrunner for a hit television show perhaps. Maybe… But in my mind, one of the toughest job in the world is being a politician. You are selfishly climbing ladders, but also selflessly defending causes. As a writer, you have to see yourself in much the same light. As much as you want to write the best work for yourself, it is really the influence, change, and reflection you want to cast upon the world.

It’s time to start thinking of your stories as more than just mere tales for entertainment. A good story is transcendent. It is designed to make the reader or listener think. It is designed to inspire. It is designed to make people feel empathy or find relatable. A story is here to change a life.

Think about the mission you want to accomplish by writing. Surely it is more than just selfishly being published, right?

Think of any good story and the theme, history, or moral behind it. There are only so many stories in the world after all, and most people have seen and heard them before. However, what matters and what last are those themes that remind people that beyond their own perspective there are many more — yours.

So when someone asks you what you write. Don’t be embarrassed that you are using a platform to express your thoughts. Don’t even talk about the writing itself or the story. Talk about the mission you want to accomplish with your writing. What in the world do you want to change with your words? Who are you wanting to inspire and influence?

Take a look at some of the most recent Academy Award winners for screenplay and see how most of them, when receiving their prize, don’t even talk about the craft, but rather, what they were trying to communicate.

You are not simply a writer, you are a voice for your readers, those who have chosen you and believe in your world view. The only thing is… they might not have chosen you yet. But there is still time. You are early. And that’s okay because what a pleasure it is for the people gathered around you that day at the random party to see you at such a humble state with such a bold mission.

Rehearse What to Say, The Next Time Someone Asks You What You Write

Let’s role play. Pretend that you are attending one of those many annual parties. Your friends happily introduce you to a guest you have not met before. You friend says, ”This is _____, she’s a writer.”

The guest asks, “Oh… what do you write?”

To which you respond not with details of your current work, but the objective you want your writing to have on the world. If you can’t think of what that may be… take a moment to really consider it. What do you really want your work to do?

There are many people writing about dragons, romance, and swords. There are many people writing about their last moments with their grandma or the dog from their childhood. There are many people writing about spies and seductive lovers. So don’t talk about that stuff… talk about something beyond that. What does your writing do besides attempt to entertain? Once you can find the answer to that, say it… and I’ll assure you, that you will feel less embarrassed as the guest will start to engage you in a deep conversation.

What other areas of being a writer makes you embarrassed? I’d love to hear it… if you don’t mind sharing.

If you like this article, you might consider buying me a beer, it helps to keep me writing.

Writers, Are You Missing an Opportunity to Foreshadow?

One of the early stories I wrote, I had a character who received a family heirloom from his mother early in the story. Then in the remainder of the story, we never hear about this family heirloom ever again. Looking back now I wished I could have tied the family heirloom to an event later on in the story.

Your story might have many moments like this as well: where a character, item, or place is introduced only to be completely forgotten about in the succeeding chapters.

Those are missed opportunities for foreshadowing. The item didn’t create tension in any way, and if you want to write a page-turner, you’ll have to. Yes, maybe it lets the character know a bit about his mother, it was a vessel for backstory or even a flashback, but it’s not foreshadowing.

There is a term Chekhov’s Gun, a concept introduced by Anton Chekhov which says, if you show a gun in act one, the gun needs to go off by the last act. There needs to be a payoff. That is foreshadowing. It sets the stage and prepares the readers.

If an event at the end doesn’t have a setup (such as a foreshadow), it can be jarring. For example, if I did the opposite; if I wrote that the solution to all the character’s problem was to trade his family heirloom for a million dollars, but the heirloom was never introduced. Then the story doesn’t make sense.

An effective foreshadow links two events together like a joke. A setup and a punchline.

The thing is, a good foreshadowing isn’t obvious to the reader. While reading my story, the reader can assume that the heirloom was simply an inheritance that he will treasure. However, in the third act, the heirloom will return and saves the day.

Nevertheless here is what you need to do when incorporating foreshadowing into your story.

  1. Outline first, make it subtle, don’t force foreshadowing into a story that doesn’t need it
  2. Give some distance between introducing the subject of the foreshadowing and when it is revealed. You want the readers to be aware, but not have it close enough so that they can connect the dot themselves.
  3. There must be a payoff: If there is a gun in act one, it needs to go off at some point in the story…

Want more writing tips and inspirations? Follow my writing journey on YouTube! 

Spelling and Grammar Apps Review

Grammarly, Hemingway Editor, Expresso, and After the Deadline

Some may think that using a grammar or spelling app as a writing tool is akin to using auto-tune as a singer. In a way, you’re bypassing important skills and disciplines of writing, such as having a good handle on the tools and structure of the written language.

Yet, in this day and age, to not use any given tool available would be a foolish move. It can be debated that what is important is the ideas being communicated, and if there is a way to ensure the communication doesn’t get disrupted by spelling and grammar mistakes, shouldn’t we take advantage?

Personally, I’m a proponent of spelling and grammar apps.

First off, writing is not editing. The task of an editor is a complete shift in the creation process. In a short timeline, it’s sometimes hard for a writer to make that transition. As a writer, you would want to have another set of eyes — even robot eyes — to have a look at your work before you share with your company. Additionally, writers who don’t use these apps still have access to them. It’s like walking instead of taking the bus. Yes, walking is healthier for you and you might save a few dollars, but the bus is still an option. You are by no means a hero.

With all that off my chest, I would like to share 4 free online spelling and grammar tool with you. And as a bonus, I will give a little review of them, showing off what they are capable of.

A Paragraph with A Lot of Writing Errors

In order for me to evaluate the apps, I needed a sample with as many types of errors I can think of. Inspired by the city I live in, I wrote the most heinous paragraph ever. Which, it may come as a surprise was actually pretty hard to do. Give it a try, try to purposely write a paragraph with some spelling and grammar mistakes.  

This is what I came up with:

They’re is a lot to see in Vancouver. Lets explore what there is to do. If your traveling hear on a sunny day, I recommend you go to stanley park. This park is bigger and better. It’s a beautiful place. The sea wall is enjoyed by runners and joggers every day. In the park, you can find a nice field to relax and bring a picnic to have with a friend or you can even go to the aquarium or take the horse-drawn carriage and tour the whole park. There is a much more to do in Vancouver. A historic neighbourhood, you can go to is Gastown. On a busy day there are to many tourist but if you go during off season you don’t have to worry about that people. However don’t wander aimlessly too far east or you might end up in Downtown Eastside. I insure you, that it is not where you want to be.

This is the best (and the worst) I can do apparently. Let me know what you think and if I have missed any other notable errors.

4 Spelling and Grammar Apps

Now that I have a sample, I’m going to start plugging it into the apps and websites to see what results I get.

PolishMyWriting.com (After the Deadline)

I pasted the paragraph into the text box and clicked “Check Writing” and a bunch of squiggly lines appeared beneath some of the words and phrases.

As you can see, PolishMyWriting.com missed a lot of spelling errors and the run on sentences, but picked up on complex phrases and words that could be omitted. Sort of…

Overall, this app is good for final touch ups after a more thorough edit. It missed a lot of mistakes and definitely won’t save you from embarrassment if you are relying solely on it to fix your first draft.

Hemingway App

The first notable insight that the Hemingway app provided is the readability score. As you can see, my horrible paragraph would be accessible to a third grade audience.

This app did a good job catching all the extraneous words and run-on sentences, but missed all the spelling errors. This app is definitely not a spell check and should not be relied on as such.

If you are writing content for a wide audience and want your ideas to be communicated as clearly as possible, then the Hemingway App is a great product to help you achieve that.

Grammarly

Of all the apps I’m reviewing today, Grammarly is perhaps the most popular. It’s worth mentioning that I am not looking at any of the paid versions, I am only reviewing the free version.

And here is how I feel about it:

Grammarly did a good job catching most of the spelling errors and punctuation mistakes, but was not helpful in catching passive voice, run-on sentences or vague descriptions.

If what you want from a spelling and grammar app is to double check your work as you move quickly through your draft, then Grammarly is a fantastic choice and has been one of my favourite tools.

Expresso App

The Expresso App is an interesting product because it is not designed to help you correct errors but help you understand certain trends that might be appearing in your writing.

This app has a lot of details and can be a little confusing to use especially if you are not too confident with spelling or grammar in the first place. I recommend clicking into each category individually and understanding why this word or phrase is highlighted. Not every highlight is a suggestion to change, it’s more or less just telling you why it’s noted for you to consider.

Paste some of your writing in and see if you can spot any notable and you get to decide how you want to use that information. Good luck.

There you have it, those are 4 free spelling and grammar apps that can assist you as you write. My personal favourite is Grammarly because they offer a Chrome Plugin. What’s yours?

Are there other apps or tools that you are using? I’d love to check it out. Please share.

For more tips on editing your writing, check out this YouTube playlist: Editing Your Epic Novel

How to Write a Page-turner like Game of Thrones and Goosebumps

Have you ever read a Goosebump book by R.L. Stine? Maybe when you were a kid? Remember how they were structured? At the end of every chapter, there is a cliffhanger. You know, to keep your young mind reading.

R.L. Stine was a master at doing this, however, as we got older, we became more suspect — you can only trick us so many times with a “sound coming from behind a door” page-turning trick, and have it turn out to be a cat or something else inconsequential.

Example:

Last line in Chapter 26: I suddenly felt a chill. A dark shadow slid over me. And I realized I wasn’t alone in the house.

 

First paragraphs of Chapter 27: I spun around with a gasp.

Was it Shockro? Some other scary creature?

A tall figure leaned over me. I squinted in the darkness, struggling to see his face.

“Dad?”  I cried as he came into focus. “Dad I’m so glad to see you.”

-Shocker on Shock Street – RL Stine

goosebumps

You can do better. Yes, better than RL Stine.

When you write your compelling story, you can structure it in much of the same way as a Goosebump book. A cliffhanger at the end of each chapter. However, not every cliffhanger should be life or death. There needs to be a variety. You need to balance it.

 

The 10-Episode Structure

The structure I want to share with you today is taken from modern day 10-episode-seasons-television series, such as Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad.

At the end of every one of these episodes, you get emotionally invested. You have to keep watching. It’s not even a question. However, the only reason that you are emotionally attached to the story is that each chapter or episode itself has a Freytag’s pyramid to build up the tension.

When it is done well and when you reach the end — call it a cliffhanger or call it a hook, either way — you are hanging on until the very end of the season (for an ultimate hook that gets you anticipating the next one).

So like a novel, a television season has a story arch. From episode 1 to episode 10, John Snow or Walter White goes through an inevitable and surprising change.

What’s interesting is the way each episode when pulled out of the rest, can be analyzed and found to have its own story arch.

So you have the season’s story arch, which spans all 10 episodes and looks something like this:

story archAnd, each episode within itself will have its own story arch. Like this.

story arch10So each episode should begin with an inciting incident, followed by a raising action, culminating in a climax, and then a denouement where you can hint at the next inciting incident, which is why we never return to the same level of drama as the beginning. Things have changed.

Take, season one of Game of Thrones. I use this example because this season is as close to the book as you will find in any adaptation.

There are two main stories happening:

A) Ned becoming the hand of the king

B) Dany becoming Khal Drogo’s wife.

 

Game of Thrones (Season One) Endings Breakdown

Episode one: We start off by introducing all the characters and what their objectives are. Robert Baratheon arrives and encourages Eddard to leaves Winterfell. And that is the main conflict in the episode, will Ned leave his life or not. We find out that he does, and the episode ends with Bran getting pushed out of the castle window by Jamie. That is an epic cliffhanger.

Each episode after that offers a little more details and increases the stakes. Each ending with another cliffhanger.

love

Episode 2 ends with Bran waking up (oh no, is he going to reveal who pushed him?)

Episode 3 ends a shot of Ned watching Arya train, the sounds of real blades clashing, echoing in his head. (uh oh, he’s getting worried… what’s going to happen to him)

Episode 4 ends with Catelyn Stark arresting Tyrion Lannister in a tavern, accusing him of being the one who hired the assassin to kill Bran, concealing the Lannister’s secret. (this is surely a mistake, but is it?)

Episode 5 ends with a battle between Ned and Jamie out on the streets, Jamie has discovered that his brother has been captured. Ned ends up being stabbed in the knee.

Episode 6 ends with the B story about Daenerys in Essos. Remember what I said about building cliffhangers with variety. This is what’s happening, now it follows another character. The Dorathkis give her brother a golden crown, pouring gold on his head, thus freeing her from Viserys. And so the plot thickens on that end.

crown

Episode 7 ends with Joffrey claiming the throne after his father’s death and Ned accusing Joffrey of not being the rightful heir. Thus watches his men get slaughtered and Ned arrested for treason. (at this point, we still think Ned is the good guy and he can surely get out of this mess).

Episode 8 ends with Sansa begging mercy for her father to Joffrey. And Joffrey seems reasonable, offering that all Ned will have to do is confess his crime. (oh good, surely Ned will come to his senses)

Episode 9 ends with Ned having his head chopped off. (this is probably the most intense cliffhanger in the history of television.)

Episode 10 ends with Daenerys’ dragons hatching in the fire of Khal Drogo’s pyre.

dragon

End of season 1.

In the end, the story we set out to understand is made clear. We find out about Ned Stark’s journey as the hand of the king and we find out Daenerys experience as Khal Drogo’s wife, a Khaleesi. But as two stories are resolved, many more are revealed.

 

Exercise

Once you have the first draft of your story, you can start breaking it apart like a television series. Finding the micro story arch within the macro story. Once you have that you can create little cliffhangers at the end of each chapter or part, increasing the stakes each time.

Give this exercise a try and let me know how it turns out in the comments.

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.

Why You Should Write More Than You Need

IMG_09091

I come from an acting background and the dogma that I had entering any audition was to give more the first time.

What do I mean when I say “give more”? I mean overdoing it a little, hamming it up, being more emotional, more passionate, more vocal than what the script calls for. I put it all on the plate — like at an all-you-can-eat buffet during the last call — and then letting some spill off. I do this because it is easier for the directors, producers, and fellow actors to tell me to dial it back as opposed to adding more after.

If I come into the scene with subtleties and that is not what the director wants, then it is more challenging for me to increase the levels or expand the emotions, especially on the spot. It’s always easier to cut or reduce than to fill or to add, especially on the spot. Always give more the first time.

Of course, this theory can be applied to many aspects of life and other professions. As a writer, I will give my editors more. If they ask for 500 words, I’ll give 600. From there, they can trim. You can’t style hair that isn’t there, and you can cut what is not written.

For more tips on editing your writing, check out this YouTube playlist: Editing Your Epic Novel