All writers need notebooks. Even if you do the majority of your writing on the computer, you’ll want something physical to jot down your ideas. I find notebooks to be a fantastic way of qualifying an idea. It’s how I decide whether there is juice in it worth squeezing.
If you talk to 10 different writers and you’ll find 10 different ways of using a notebook. But what is the best notebook? Two brand comes to mind: Moleskine and Leuchtturm1917.
I’ve always wanted a really nice notebook, but I’ve never allowed myself to splurge on one — and I know a lot of you feel the same way. But then I thought, hey! I’m a writer. My expenses are pretty low (pen and paper, is really all I need), if I can afford it — and I feel like I’m going to use it all the way through, why shouldn’t I have a nice one.
So, if you have that thought as well, now you get to pick: Do I want a Moleskine or do I want a Leuchtturm1917? Well… I did splurge and I bought both of them and I want to share my experiences so far with you.
This is the Moleskine Classic Collection: Plain Notebook with 240 plain pages at 13 cm x 21 cm (or 5×8.25 inches). It cost $24 CAD retail price
Behind the label, it has this area for you to record your travels, so this notebook is clearly designed for someone traveling… although they didn’t market that on the front. It has one string bookmark and a foldable pocket in the back with a pamphlet that includes the history of Moleskine.
It feels nice in my hand and is pretty solid and sturdy. I’m sure it can take a beating in my bag and survive, but honestly, the texture of the cover is a little underwhelming. Perhaps I expected it to be a bit softer, but maybe that’s just me. It has the standard elastic band strap to keep the book closed and like I mentioned the pages are all blank, which as a writer with messy writing, it’s not super ideal.
When I open it, I find that the binding is a little tough. But I’m being knit-picky with that as the more I use it the more it’ll give. The paper, however, is a little thinner than I hoped for, but once again, I’m knit picky. Overall, it’s a pretty good looking notebook. $24, I don’t know.
This is the Leuchtturm 1917 notebook with 251 dotted pages, and here’s the bonus: the pages are numbered. It’s 14.5 cm x 21 cm, so it’s slightly bigger than the Moleskine. The retail price is also $24 CAD.
It also includes a lot of features including a table of contents, which I don’t think I’ll ever use because my notebooks are never organized in any logical way, as well as: 12 perforated sheets, 2 bookmark strings, stickers, and expandable pockets, much like the Moleskine.
Honestly, off the bat, I like the feel of this one a lot more. The cover does feel a bit softer which is what I like. However, I don’t necessarily want it to be bigger, but it is… The texture of the pages is less smooth than the Moleskine one so I can grip it and turn it a little bit easier. And the dots does help me write straight. I also feel that it folds open a bit better than the Moleskine one too, which is nice because I don’t have to break it in.
I’m very impressed by this Leuchtturm1917 notebook to be honest. I hear a lot of good stuff about Moleskine, but for writers, I think this one may be my go to from now on. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s put these two books through the pen test.
I used 5 different types of pens on the book to see how each of them performs.
Classic blue Bic ballpoint pen
Papermate Ultra Fine felt pen
Papermate erasable gel pen
Energel metal point rollerball gel pen
Pilot Kakuno fountain pen
Surprise: The Bic ballpoint pen wrote delightfully well on both notebooks. It’s almost surprising how well it performed. If you spend all your money on this notebook, you don’t have to worry about the pen.
Disappointment: The erasable gel pen was unpleasant to write with on both notebooks. Unless you are really worried about the condition of your notebook that you need to erase things instead of scratching them out like a chaotic good person like me, then go with another writing tool.
Best: The best writing experience is with the Energel metal point rollerball gel pen. It’s so smooth, it looked and felt like I was writing with the fountain pen, but without the mess that comes with the fountain pen.
However, with the pages, this is the ultimate test, the ghosting on the other side. If you plan on writing on both sides of your notebook, then this is important to know which holds the ink better.
Here is what it looks like on the Moleskine. As you can see, all the pens are visible, but the one that got through the most is the Energel metal point rollerball gel pen.
On the Leuchtturm1917, to me, performed a little bit better. The Energel metal point rollerball gel pen was still the one that got through the most. Overall, it’s just a little bit fainter than the Moleskine.
At $24 CAD each, these are two pricey notebooks. To me, it is clear that the Leuchtturm 1917 gives me much more value for the same price. I feel like Moleskine has a lot of clout, maybe because they have a brand name that is easier to say, I don’t know. But when I’m done using these two books and I was to get another one, I am certain I will get a Leuchtturm 1917 again.
As a writer, it’s everything I need and more. I’m really looking forward to filling it up with my dumb thoughts.
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Writers have to live through a lot of uncertainty. We need constant reminders that we are not BAD writers. One small criticism can cripple our frail confidence. We put so much of our humanity into the craft that sometimes we can lose ourselves in the process and feel we have little worth when our writing doesn’t turn out the way we’ve imagined. When those feelings grab a hold of us writers, it can be a slip down a dark and scary slide of sadness.
One technique to combat this feeling and gain some perspective is by going to Amazon, clicking into a well-known, well-respected novel, and scrolling down to the 1-star reviews.
By reading these reviews, you’ll see where a lot of criticism comes from. Most often, it’s not even from the emotions evoked from the work… but rather, the critic’s own personal demons. This shows that no matter how harsh criticism can be, it is always simply another person’s opinion and you cannot take it for full value. In fact, you shouldn’t take it for anything.
In this article, we’ll look at some 1-star reviews that I screen captured from Amazon and examine why the reader wrote what they wrote — and maybe give some cheer to writers who are currently in a slump with their own works.
1) Everybody is Stupid But Me
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone:
I call this the “Everyone is Stupid But Me” critique, because instead of looking for qualities in the writing and story, which had drawn in millions upon millions of readers, this critic chooses to belittle those who’ve enjoyed the book. This critic wants you to know that if you like this, then you are an idiot. Yes, it comes across as petty and envious. A good review doesn’t attack the audience or the fanbase, but give examples of where the story is flawed. All this critic did was address the unoriginality of the story, but never offered any examples of what the story was derivative of. These types of critics are bullies and it’s best to ignore them completely.
2) Bad Memories
Pride and Prejudice:
There must be this book from your past where you felt so much anger towards that you stopped everything you were doing to go online and write a bad review. There must be! Or maybe not. Still, books can do that to people. It’s like a bad relationship. Suddenly you remember that horrible argument you had with an ex and you just want to go on social media and tell everyone what an awful lover he was. Wait… did you even remember it right? Maybe it was he that broke up with you… Whatever, the memory isn’t important. What’s important is that I’m angry and I’m going to take it out on Jane Austen’s book sales.
3) It Doesn’t Match My Reality
I kind of like this review because it’s full of optimism. The thing is, there is no way to argue with critics like these because they’re already set in their beliefs. They have a representation of what is an acceptable novel in their mind and if anything doesn’t match that then it’s deemed poor writing. This is a closed-minded person, unwilling to join in on a conversation — a conversation that is completely relevant today. This is an attack on building dialogue and sharing ideas. In the end, this reader implores us to let Orwell’s writing die just as an experiment so that the world only contains literature and other art forms that are suitable for this reader’s reality. What this critic is suggesting is book burning, which is a tactic used by some of the most malicious dictatorships in history. Just saying…
4) How Dare The Author Makes Money
Game of Thrones:
There is a lot being criticized in this review, but I want to focus on the sentiment that an author should be able to tell a story in “1,776 pages” and nothing more. Otherwise, you’re a greedy writer. This reader cannot believe the galls of a writer trying to make a living with his craft and doesn’t realize that George RR Martin had in fact written many standalone novels. This is an attack on the author’s merits, but knowing that George RR Martin spends up to a decade working on a novel in this saga, the sensible person knows that it was never about selling more books. When you put a piece of work out there, people will begin to question your intentions and come to their own conclusions about you. The moment you try to sell your work, some will consider you no longer an artist who performs a craft for the good of society, but rather as a sneaky capitalist out for their money. In comes this hero to warn the unassuming public of what is happening. There is more to say about this review, but I’ll leave it at that for now.
5) I Like It, But I Hate It
Of Mice and Men:
Okay, so I’ve been on the fence about giving a service or product a five star or a four-star review, but I’ve never debated whether to give a one or a five star. That’s what the range of five stars are for. In this review, the critic claims to have found the story well-written and praised its honesty. The only reason the book got one-star was that it made the reader depressed. In this reader’s opinion: if a book makes one sad, then it is not a good book. This reader does not understand the range of star ratings or the range of human emotions and how sadness is reasonable, in fact, an important emotion to feel. Additionally, the reader does not want to view the world unless it is through diamond-studded 3D glasses. It’s worrisome to know that many are like this reader and will opt for entertainment that keeps them in their comfort zone.
No matter how polished your writing is, regardless of what topic it is about, or how long or short it is… someone will have an issue with it. Of course, everyone has a right to give their opinion, however, we should understand where opinions stem from. Most of the time, it’s not even about your work, they simply have this little darkness in them that they need to share — and they’re using your work as the vessel… which is important.
You’re doing important work.
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This is my YouTube channel. I make videos about writing, about authors, screenwriters, and filmmakers — you know, creative stuff. Why? Why would I do that when my ultimate goal is to write stories? Shouldn’t I focus on writing stories?
There is certainly a lot of advice out there from experts and “successful” people talking about the importance of focus. Focus on one thing, get really good at it, and then transition to something else after. I’m certain that is a great strategy for many, but I also learned a lot about myself over the course of my life. I’ve discovered that I need a balance of inspiration and motivation to keep me productive. I can genuinely say that if it weren’t for my YouTube channel, I might have stopped writing completely.
Here is how making videos have improved my writing:
Pairing: By doing two things that are semi-related, such as writing and making videos, I use one to push the other one forward. Writing supports my passion for making videos, because each video needs a script and a story.
Community: I’m not lucky enough to have a core group of people with time to motivate me, so I want to create one. Making videos and posting them online allows me to reach people across the world that have the same interest as me. Instead of waiting for someone to invite me to a workshop or anything like that, I get to create my own platform and anyone who is interested is welcomed.
Accountability: It forces me to be a part of the culture. It forces me to be accountable to not only enjoy entertainment but analyze it critically. Making video allows me to not only be a passive consumer but become an active critic. It forces me to think critically and creatively while analyzing a piece of work be it a novel, as I would do in a book review video, or about a creative choice, as I would in my longer-form research piece such as my exploration of The Shining adaptation video.
Presentation: It forces me to read my writing out loud. Reading and communicating is a skill and it takes practice. What is art but a means of communication? In the grand scheme of things, I want to be a good communicator and one of my most powerful tools as a storyteller is my voice. Unfortunately, I don’t have a live audience to listen to my tales so, in order for me to train for my eventual TedTalk, I must make videos and read my words out loud.
Pleasure: I enjoy making videos as much as I enjoy writing. It’s two things I enjoy doing. I would not be completely happy if I’m not doing both. If I never end up being a successful writer, because I spent too much time making videos, that’s fine, because I spent my days doing something I enjoy. But let’s be honest, I don’t think I’ll be writing if I’m not making videos about it. That’s simply self-awareness on my end. Maybe it comes across as not being focus to some.
Not only is it the end of another year, but it’s also the end of the decade. This is a good time for us to take a moment to recalibrate. It’s a good time to look back and see what we’ve accomplished and what we want to achieve in the coming years.
Goal setting is so important, especially if they are personal goals. The thing about personal goals is that there are no deadlines. Nobody is going to chase after us to write that novel or submit that story. There is no boss or manager nagging us to get our drafts done. If there is something you want to achieve, you have to set the goal and timeline yourself.
However, you don’t want to set goals that would discourage you. Don’t set goals that are out of your control. Don’t be vague with goals and separate wants from goals.
Want = I want to be a published writer
Goal = I will submit my novel to an agency
Today, I want to offer 10 measurable writing goals for you to consider in 2020 and beyond. None of these goals alone will guarantee you a successful career in writing, but committing to one of them will ensure you’ll take one step closer to completing a piece of work that makes you proud.
Write a paragraph every day: A little every day adds up. With a busy schedule, we cannot expect to always have time to pound out a chapter in an afternoon. But with consistent habit and even writing one paragraph every day, by the end of 2020, you have a substantial piece of work. Developing a habit is more valuable than an occasional sprint.
Come up with a new idea every day: Want better ideas to write about? Well, start coming up with bad ones. The more ideas you have, the more selective you will be and the better you’ll become at conceptualizing interesting topics that you are passionate about. Coming up with a new idea doesn’t have to be painful. Look out the window and jot down what you see or record the essence of a conversation you had with a coworker. Once you have a lot of ideas, you can start bringing them to life. Here’s an article on how you can approach selecting your top ideas.
Submit a story in a contest: What did Michael Scott say? You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. It’s true. But it’s not only about winning. I find that writing contests are a great motivator for writing and polishing a piece of work I have. Writing contests also have a clear deadline. Parkinson’s Law states that a project will take as long as the timeline allows. Here is a list of some of the writing contests in 2020.
Finding your weakness to improve: Everyone has a weakness and the sooner you recognize what it is, you can start focusing on improving it. If you have issues with creating believable characters, take 2020 to practice character development. If you have trouble ending your story in a satisfying way, find examples of stories with powerful endings and analyze it. This year get 1% better.
Find a critiquing partner: An alpha or beta reader that you can rely on is worth the price of gold. This is someone who you can share your writing with and get feedback, and in return, they can depend on your criticism as well. Finding someone that will challenge and motivate you will help you be a better writer and editor. If you don’t already have someone in your life who you feel comfortable and confident sharing your writing with, then 2020 is the time to find them. They could be your friend or family, or you can explore online and in-person writing groups — or even a workshop or a creative writing class. I’ll speak more about that in goal #8.
Learn a skill that compliments writing: Writers should be constantly learning. To write about someone that resonates with your readers, you need to be able to understand the workings of the wider world. Anything you learn while you aren’t putting pen to paper or typing on your keyboard can inspire you. Whether it’s making music, painting pictures, or making videos, you can apply those skills back to writing. Learn to cook a new recipe or try a new sport. Learn a new language or interview a family member. Learn something and then write about it. I wrote an article about the concept of pairing, which talks about the value of finding two closely related activities to keep improving.
Read 20 books: By now, I feel I don’t need to convince you about the importance of reading for writers. However, with all the writing you are planning to do in 2020, you mustn’t forget to read as well. Make time for it! Whether you are a fast or slow reader, reading 20 books a year is a very achievable goal. Try reading books on different topics to diversity your consumption. Start now, make a list of 20 books you want to read this coming year. This very act should fill you with excitement. If you don’t want to read, why even be a writer?
Attend a conference or workshop: In the end, it all comes down to the people you know. By showing up to events and workshops, you will be introduced to those who are already in the industry. Sure, you can read my blog posts and watch my videos and get some insights, but I’m just one guy. When you attend an event with a whole collection of like-minded individuals with similar goals, you can start to learn different processes and techniques. This is also a great way to be apart of a community, and being a part of a community is a wonderful motivator to write. You will feel accountable to share something in a workshop or have a piece be critiqued by a professional at a conference.
Revisit an old piece of writing: One of the best ways to gauge your own improvement is to look back and see how far you’ve come. Yes, it might be painful, but revisiting your own work with a critical eye can help you see where you have developed and give you a sense of “oh, I know how to fix it now.” Don’t dwell on the imperfection. The piece of work was a snapshot of where you were months or years ago. It should offer you the same sensation of looking at an old picture: I was young and naive, now I’m more experienced now.
Find your mission: When of the most awkward experience for writers is when they are asked what they write: “a little of everything…” tends to be the lame response. This leads to us feeling embarrassed about what we actually do. This year, consider your mission as a writer. What do I want my writing to do? The moment you discover how you want to change the world, the society, the culture, or just your reader, is the moment you feel empowered. This year, find your mission.
Those are 10 clear and measurable goals for you to consider in 2020. Is there one that you particularly like? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear what you plan on achieving this coming year!
For more writing and editing resources, 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.
If you like this article, you might consider buying me a mocha, it helps to keep me writing.
Read a lot and write a lot. That is the hot tip established writers will tell aspiring writers. Except, how do you balance the two? Should you split your reading and writing time 50/50?
So here’s the dilemma, you have this idea for a novel… but you also have that book over there that you want to read. What would be more valuable for your time? Reading? Or Writing?
This is a problem I have because my TBR list keeps growing and so does my list of story ideas… I’m known for biting off more than I can chew. Nevertheless, here is how I approach balancing reading and writing.
I like to think of it in the same way as exercising and dieting.
Ask yourself, what is your goal? Is your goal to finish writing a novel or submit to a writing contest? If so, then prioritize writing. Or is your goal to more intuitive? For example, if you want to write a blog that requires you to make commentary, then perhaps you need to read more to be perceptive.
Just like your physical health where you have to decide whether you are losing weight or gaining muscle, you need to start aligning your reading/writing habits to meet those goals. If you want to lose weight, you wouldn’t just be working out and if you want to gain muscle you wouldn’t just be eating salads.
First, figure out your goals and then slowly design a routine that enables you to write and read in order to meet it.
Reading is the healthy food you eat. TV or surfing the Internet or playing video games are less-than-healthy food when you are trying to be a writer. You can have your cheat days, but on most writing days, you need to refuel with a book.
So the two activities have to work together. It doesn’t have to be a perfect 50/50 balance. You can write more and read less one day and then read more and write less another. The key is to cut out all the other activities that don’t nourish you or doesn’t motivate you to write.
When you wake up: write, when you are on lunch break: read, when you get home from work: write, before you go to bed: read. Find little pockets of time here and there to commit to becoming a better writer.
Drain the well and then refill it. Exercise and then eat a hearty meal. Don’t think of your reading time as time you should be writing, but rather a necessary part of the writing process. You only have 24 hours in the day, so it’s not about picking one or the other, it’s about eliminating the other activities so you have more time to read AND write.
I like to read a few different books at the same time. I find it helps me motivated to read more and it generally inspires me to write a lot.
Don’t get too distracted, but here is my YouTube channel filled with writing inspirations and ideas to help with your creative process. Check it out!
For more writing and editing resources, 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.
Submitting to a contest is a great way to stay consistent with your writing. After all, nobody is nagging you to finish that short story — it’s a personal project and you need to motivate yourself. Writing contests give you deadlines, pushing you to write and polish the draft so that it is reader ready.
Additionally, entering writing contests is a fantastic way to support the literary community, and who knows, you might even win some money for your stories.
So let’s get right to it! Make a goal to submit to one of these literary contests in 2020.
Now for the writing contest (contest details are subject to change):
Submission: Stories previously published in print, electronic, and online in 2019. PRINT refers to stories published in a hard copy form. ELECTRONIC refers to stories published ONLINE ONLY, regardless of whether a publication is primarily a print or online publication.
What would you do after a publisher rejects your novel for being too disturbing? Well, if you’re Chuck Palahniuk, you would write something even more disturbing and submit it.
While working at Freightliner, a truck company, as a diesel mechanic, Palahniuk regularly carried a notepad with him while he worked. In addition to the details about fixing vehicles, the book also contained snippets of Palahniuk’s first published novel: Fight Club.
Fight Club placed a mirror in front of the concept of masculinity during the 1990s, where males instead of being sent off to wars and take up arms in defense of something worth fighting for — were encouraged to take on cushy jobs and embrace commercialism. With nothing motivating men to step out of their comfort zone, they became caged animals, tamed… but still with feral instincts.
Palahniuk’s story acknowledges the men’s movement and how every man is battling forces from two sides: one to abide by societal rules and one to break it.
Yet without the adaptation, the story of Fight Club and the influence it would have on young men of that generation wouldn’t have materialized. Today, we’ll explore the story of Fight Club and how it went from Chuck Palahniuck’s debut novel into the cult classic it is today… and how it has continued to stay relevant after 20 years. Let’s talk about Fight Club.
Palahniuk began writing fiction in his early 30s, after attending workshops led by American writer, Tom Spanbauer. It all began as an attempt to meet new friends, but he ended up getting inspired by the fiction form and Spanbauer encouraged him to perfect his minimalistic writing style.
Tom Spanbauer describes his teaching style as “dangerous writing”, saying on his website description:
I must listen for the heartbreak, the rage, the shame, the fear that is hidden within the words. Then I must respect where each individual student is in relation to his or her broken heart and act accordingly. when my relationship with the student is solid, and when the student has a strong foothold in his or her writing, I bring out my jungle red fingernails, play the devil’s advocate, be the bad cop, the irreverent fool–whatever it takes to teach perseverance, self-trust, and discipline.
With that Palahniuck pursued his craft head-on while holding a day job where he found time to write during work, at the laundromat, at the gym, and while waiting for his 1985 Toyota pickup truck at the shop.
Invisible Monster, originally titled “Manifesto” was the first novel Palahniuk tried to get published… years before Fight Club. It was shot down because the publishers didn’t have an appetite for a story about a disfigured model with multiple identities. Powered by indignant persistence, Palahniuk set off to write a novel even further from the norm.
During a camping trip, Palahniuk was involved in an altercation that left him bruised and swollen. Upon returning to work, he realized that none of his co-workers acknowledged his visible injuries or showed any interest in his personal life. That indifference from others was the spark for Fight Club.
Fight Club’s Project Mayhem is loosely based on The Cacophony Society, where members are self-designated and gatherings are randomly pitched and sponsored. These events usually involve costumes and pranks, as well as venturing into areas that are restricted. Palahniuk is a member — and was a victim of a prank once when the members of the Cacophony Society showed up during one of his readings in San Francisco.
On August 17, 1996, Fight Club was published. It was a positive reception and won Palahniuk the 1997 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award and the Oregon Book Award for Best Novel. Critics praised Palahniuk for his unique writing style: caustic, outrageous, funny, violent, and unsettling. However, others found issues in the novel’s heteronormative themes and the violent aspects of the plot. Yet even with the publicity, the hardcovers for Fight Club didn’t perform greatly in sales with only 5,000 copies sold.
In the rerelease of Fight Club in 1999 and 2004, Palahniuk says that all he did was update The Great Gatsby. He describes the two stories as apostolic fiction, where a surviving apostle tells the story of his hero. In both tales there are two male characters and one female — and in the end, the hero dies.
Even though the book didn’t make it onto any top sellers list at the start, a copy of the novel made it to movie producers Ross Grayson Bell and Joshua Donen. Bell remembered reading the novel and getting to the twist in the story, which caused him to reassess everything he just read. He stayed up all night, too excited to sleep. He was about to produce his first feature film, but to affirm what he felt about Fight Club, he hired a group of actors to read the book out loud, restructuring it and cutting out the excess in the novel that couldn’t be presented in a film.
Bell recorded the reading and shared it with 20th Century Fox producer, Laura Ziskin, who produced such films as Pretty Woman, What About Bob?, and As Good As It Gets. During a drive to Santa Barbara, Ziskin listened to the recording that Bell shared. As the current executive of the mid-budget division of 20th Century Fox, Ziskin saw potential in the story of Fight Club — she herself was uncertain of how to approach it, but she was confident that Bell was the one to lead it and hired him as the producer.
The film rights for Fight Club was optioned for $10,000 and the adaptation process was on its way. Bell first sent the novel to up-and-coming director, David O. Russell, who was looking for his next project after releasing Flirting with Disaster in 1996. Unfortunately — or fortunately — Russell didn’t understand what the story was about and declined the offer. Later, Russell will admit that he obviously didn’t do a good job reading it.
The manuscript made its way around town and got rejected from directors such as Buck Henry who directed The Graduate, Peter Jackson who directed The Frighteners, Bryan Singer who directed The Usual Suspects, and Danny Boyle who directed Trainspotting. Because of this lack of interest, the manuscript got a bad reputation.
David Fincher, on the other hand, was attracted to the story at once. Coming off of projects such as Se7en and The Game, Fincher was establishing himself as a director who can apply a unique visual style to a story with an edgy theme. While his movies to this point were hits and misses: Se7en: a hit; The Game: a miss. He had come a long way from his days of directing music videos, some notable ones including Rolling Stones, Madonna, and Aerosmith.
Fight Club attracted Fincher for many reasons, but it was the relatability to Palahniuk’s story that really moved him. Fincher himself was a man in his late thirties and he recognized the same anger evoked in the novel, where a certain breed of men was unable to evolve at the speed society required them to.
Nevertheless, there was some hesitation for Fincher to sign on with 20th Century Fox. In 1990, Alien3 was in pre-production and things were not going well for franchise producers David Giler and Walter Hill and director, Vincent Ward. Due to creative differences, Ward would end up being fired — and Alien3, a movie with a $56 million budget and an unfinished script was now without a director.
In comes 28-year-old David Fincher to save the blockbuster movie. Giler and Hill found Fincher through his music video credits, specifically Madonna’s “Express Yourself” and Aerosmith’s “Janie’s Got a Gun” and hired him for his feature directorial debut. Yet, it wasn’t so much as saving the movie for Fincher, as it was surviving it. With no history as a movie director to back up his experience on set, he became a puppet for the production company. Even as an avid fan of the original Alien directed by Ridley Scott, and even having a cohesive story that linked everything together, the studio refused to budge and Alien3 became a piece of cinema devoid of key decisions from the director. Fincher was not proud of the result and he was not happy with his experience working with 20th Century Fox.
It took Fincher three years to recover and at many points, he felt as though his career as a feature film director was over.
However, 20th Century Fox opened the door to Fincher when he came knocking about Fight Club. Fincher saw the movie heading in two directions and gave the studio the options: 1) Fight Club could be a low-budget straight to videotape movie or 2) it could be one with a big budget and big stars. Obviously, he had very little interest in making a low-budget movie, but since Alien3, he had learned a few tricks and used it to negotiate. The studio didn’t buy in at once but were intrigued enough to give Fincher a chance.
Screenwriter, Jim Uhls had been working on adapting the story of Fight Club from the beginning. He received the manuscript about the same time Fincher did from someone he knew who worked for a production company. He was told that every studio in Hollywood had already passed on it. Uhls was blown away by the story and even though he felt that it could never be made into a movie, he thought it would be a great achievement to be paid to adapt it, so he began to write.
The story was deemed unadaptable by many — as the novel was essentially a long monologue. Where Uhls made a difference was building the scenes around those key moments inside the narrator’s head. Slowly Uhls began to gain some interest around 20th Century Fox, but what sealed it was his attendance at a large lunch meeting with the executives and David Fincher. Uhls sat strategically next to Fincher, who was somewhere between an acquaintance and a friend. It was there during the lunch meeting where the two talked about Fight Club and the obstacles of making it into a film, but it was more than a conversation and Uhls knew it: he was there to pitch himself.
Much like how Fight Club was Chuck Palahniuk’s first credit as a novelist, the adaptation was Jim Uhls’s first credit as a screenwriter.
During the late 90s, voice-overs have gotten a reputation as being a trite and uninspired technique to deliver exposition in a movie and many studios wanted to avoid it. However, Fincher recognized that the story hinged on the internal dialogue of the narrator. Without it, it would be a depressing story — and that was not what he was going for. It took Uhls and Fincher seven months to complete the script and still it required help from director, Cameron Crowe and screenwriter, Andrew Kevin Walker.
During the casting process, producer Ross Bell had Russell Crowe in mind for the role of Tyler Durden, but it was producer Art Linson that began conversations with Brad Pitt. Having already worked with Fincher in Se7en and the studio’s desire to add a bankable star as the lead, Pitt signed on, hoping to wash the dismal failure of Meet Joe Black away.
There were a lot of options on the market for someone to play the unnamed narrator: Sean Penn or Matt Damon were top contenders, but it was Edward Norton that won the role with his aligned vision with Fincher. Both Fincher and Norton saw the film as a satire — it was not an action movie, it was a comedy. And Fincher knew that Norton could give the type of “wink wink” comedic performance required having seen him in his previous role in The People vs Larry Flynt.
Once cast, the two leading men took lessons in various martial arts, including boxing, tae kwon do, and grappling. Additionally, they took a course in soap making.
Fincher wanted to cast comedian Janeane Garofalo as the role of Marla Singer, but she declined due to the sexual aspects of the film. Courtney Love, Winona Ryder, and Reese Witherspoon were up for consideration as well, but in the end, Fincher went with Helena Bodham Carter because of her role in the 1997 romantic comedy, The Wing of the Dove.
In 138 days, filming was completed, but not without hiccups. The movie was budgeted for $23 million and ended up costing $63 million. There were threats made by the executives from the partnering studio, New Regency, for Fincher to reduce the cost, but he refused. It was only when the executives saw the dailies during a three-week span that they were convinced that it was money worth spending.
It took over 1500 rolls of film, three times more than the Hollywood average, to capture principal photography. David Fincher affirmed his reputation as a director who liked to shoot many takes.
While the movie was shot predominantly in California, there ended up being over 200 locations, in addition to over 70 sets. For a movie with only 300 hundred scenes, this was a lot. Fincher didn’t enjoy this aspect of the process and remedied it in his next movie, Panic Room in 2002, which was shot predominantly in one location.
There were disagreements on many fronts on how to properly market Fight Club. The studio at first wanted to market it as an art film, geared towards a male audience because of its violence. Yet, when you have Brad Pitt as a star, it’s hard to not push him to the front of all your publicity material, however, Fincher resisted against that. Instead, he decided to film two fake public service announcements presented by the two lead characters. The studios were not thrilled with that creative stint and instead spent $20 million to create materials that highlighted the movie’s fight scenes, buying ad time during viewing events dominated by the male demographic such as WWE.
On April 20, 1999, two students at Columbine High School entered their school and murdered 12 people before turning the guns on themselves. This incident rippled through the entertainment industry and the studio — claiming it wanted to avoid competing with the summer blockbusters — pushed the release of the film from July 1999 to October 15, 1999.
The job of promoting the film was no easier for the actors. As Brad Pitt and Edward Norton did their circuit, they discovered the difficulty of explaining the movie without giving away the key parts. None of the marketing efforts properly communicated what Fight Club was, and most who initially went to see it in theatres expected to see a film about fighting.
Fight Club bombed at the box office, earning only $37 million in domestic gross and $100.8 million worldwide. Fincher left LA to Bali during the opening weekend to escape the inevitable negativity and recalibrate his life.
Yet, the movie’s failure didn’t banish it to obscurity like so many others. Word of mouth started to spread, a cult following was established, and in an age of growing sensitivity, real fight clubs were formed. Across America, from universities to the tech industry, from gentleman clubs to gathering of pre-teens, people were getting together to throw punches. Many of which were filmed and leaked online — thus breaking the number one rule and leading to arrests. On top of that, these gatherings began partaking in terrorist activities such as bombing attempts. Fight Club had reached critical mass and achieved longevity in many home entertainment collections, selling more than 6 million copies on DVD and VHS its first decade.
While today, Fight Club is deemed to be Palahniuk’s and Fincher’s masterpieces, it’s said to continue to do damage as a cultural influencer of violence. In a world so politically separated, is this the sort of entertainment that encourages those with a lack of power to take matters into their own hands, often leading to dangerous results?
One group that have latched onto Fight Club as their bible, is the incels, a collection of bitter violent men who harbor resentment because of their involuntary celibacy. The most recognized member is Elliot Rodgers, who in 2014, went on a killing spree at the University of California. When asked about the situation in an interview with the Guardian, Palahniuk stated, “the extremes always go away,” comparing the incels to radical feminist, Valerie Jean Solanas, who attempted to murderer pop artist, Andy Warhol in 1968.
In a society many deemed to be getting overly sensitive, a term coined by the novel may best represent the toxicity that the story leaves behind. The term is “snowflake,” an insult now commonly associated with the alt-right movement, usually directed at the liberals and their inflated entitlement and sensitivity.
20 years after the release of the movie, the message of Fight Club is as relevant as ever, but many of us are moving towards a more progressive viewpoint and want to put Fight Club behind us. Some now even deem it to be an example of a two-hour-long mansplaining episode and that it is nothing more than a childish representation of past. Albeit, we must recall what Fight Club was intended to be… it was not propaganda, it was satire. How it’ll be received in the decades to come? Only time will tell.
Fight Club is a story of pent up rage, a clenched fist held too long and must be thrown. It’s a cautionary tale of what can happen if we don’t find ways to release the anger in a peaceful manner. Fight Club is not condoning violence, it’s supporting all the other means of expression that isn’t violent, such as peaceful protest.
After watching the film, Chuck Palahniuk went on to say that he believes the movie was an improvement on the book. Perhaps he saw what Fincher did…
Many changes were made during adaptation, but perhaps the most notable is the ending. In the novel, the narrator wakes up surrounded by the members of Project Mayhem in a mental hospital after shooting himself. While in the movie, the narrator and Marla mend their relationship just in time to watch the city below crumble. The novel ends with the impending return of chaos that is Tyler Durden, while the movie ends with a new beginning — a new life with Marla.
Which version did you prefer? And what are your thoughts on the impact of Fight Club in today’s society? Is it dangerous? Let me know in the comments below.
What does it mean to introduce a character properly? When we write a first draft, we add a character into the scene and hope that through their actions and interactions with other characters will give a clear portrayal of who they are. So if that’s the case, you want to pick the right point in your story to showcase your character. Picking that moment is the key.
Today, I want to look at how Vince Gilligan introduces the main characters in Breaking Bad and what moments he chooses to focus on. We are going to flashback in time to episode one where we meet Walt, Skyler and Jesse.
Then I want to explore the techniques used during the introduction in both the script and in the show to see what was changed (for better or worse) and what we can learn from it.
In wonderful Breaking Bad fashion, the series opens at the climax of the episode. This leaves the audience wondering, what did I just get myself into? It acts as a hook. We all now want to know more about why this man wearing a mask in his underwear is racing through the desert in a smokey trailer.
Then, Vince Gilligan does something interesting, he allows the character to introduce himself. Walter White finds a video camera and allows him to open up in this completely vulnerable way. He gives his full name “Walter Hartwell White”, he gives his address “Albuquerque New Mexico” in the script it’s Ontario, California. So now you know who this person is and where he lives. Easy. Then he says to the camera that this is not an admission of guilt… which adds a bit more intrigue, and finally, he addresses his family, his wife and son, and even mentions his unborn child.
This introduction gives us all the basic boring details and leaves out all the juicy parts of the show, making us want to learn more. It’s done in a fashion that may feel blunt if it was used too often, but it doesn’t here because of the other nuances: the Winnebago, his underwear, and the sirens coming from the distance. If it was simply Walter talking to the camera without any of these external elements, then it would be a lazy intro, but here, it’s an astoundingly economic way of introducing Walt.
Skyler’s introduction is more subtle but as effective. She brings Walt veggie bacon for his 50th birthday. Right away, we know that she is very concerned about her family’s health. Then she starts interrogating him on when he’s coming home. Skyler, we learn right away, is going to be a metaphorical thorn for everything Walt is going to do, even though she does it through love. It is setting up for drama to occur, because we feel this tension building between these two characters. Skyler wants Walt to do something but Walt’s mind is clearly somewhere else.
Walter Jr. does a very good job at breaking the tension between his parents. We see him enter with his crutches and is right away snarky with his mother. Walter Jr. becomes Walt’s voice, everything that Walt is unable to say to his wife, Jr. doesn’t have a problem with saying to his mother. This shows us almost more about Walt, because we now see how crappy the veggie bacon is and how there isn’t enough hot water. We also see how he is sick, he doesn’t like confrontations, and he doesn’t have enough money to upgrade his home. All of this emasculates Walt.
The introduction of Skyler and Walter Jr shows that Walt is having a hard time taking care of his family, but it also shows how much his family loves him. As you introduce more characters, and they begin to interact with each other, especially with your protagonist, you reveal more about each of them. And that’s clearly something we see in this short breakfast scene.
In the script, Walt’s birthday party takes place in an Applebee’s so the introduction happens quite differently. In the script, it indicates that Skyler and Marie are sisters by saying “We see the resemblance.” Then Marie goes on to question and judge Skyler for drinking wine, who defended by saying it’s okay to drink after the first trimester, citing Newsweek. Which I’m not sure about. This part never made it onto the screen. Instead, the first time we encounter Marie in the show is in Skyler’s kitchen as she is pouring herself a glass of boxed wine.
This is actually a very impressive scene. In the kitchen, it gives us an early impression of the animosity between the two sisters with so few words.
A friend compliments Skyler’s lack of a belly, even though she’s pregnant, and Marie is unable to handle it. We are introduced to Marie and discovered that she’s unkind to Skyler. Immediately we know what type of person Marie is…
Is Marie anyone’s favorite character?
Hank’s intro in the script differs from how he is portrayed in the show as well. This is actually interesting to explore.
Hank is introduced in the script during Walt’s birthday dinner at Applebee’s. Hank is responding to a story about Walt’s boss, who was named Amir. He says a bunch of offensive and ignorant things about the man’s culture and ethnicity. This is his way of putting down someone who has been giving Walt a hard time. He cannot believe the injustice that Walt, who’s super smart, has to work for this man that was clearly lesser than him.
In the script, Hank is described as everything Walt isn’t: bold, brash, confident. And there is a line that says, Walt notices that Walter Jr. admires his uncle.
In the show, Hank’s introduction is with him showing off his pistol in front of a group of spectators, a group of men including Walter Jr. right in the corner. Hank is a man’s man. Whatever that means. Then Hank handed the gun to Walter Jr. where he encourages his father to hold it. This shows that Walt is scared and weak, unlike Hank, especially when Hank starts busting his balls.
In a script, it’s easy to say that Hank is the complete opposite of Walt, but how do you show it. In the first episode, Gillian used the gun. One held it with complete confidence even handing it off to a minor, while the other one holds it like Keith Richards with a glass of milk.
One of the funniest thing I discovered when working on this specific project was that Jesse Pinkman’s name in the script was originally Marion Alan Dupree. This goes to show all writers that a name you choose for a character is never final.
In the script, Jesse or Dupree is described as a white, gawky, early 20s — picture a hip Shaggy from Scooby Doo.” He comes falling out of the window like he does in the show. And yes, the housewife with the boobs hanging out was there in the script too.
Jesse makes eye contact with Walt, who is the only one who sees him. We wonder about this connection between the two. Why isn’t Walt ratting him out?
To be honest, I feel the introduction of Jesse is flawed. While many of the intros in the episode were economical, this one seemed rushed. Some reason, Jesse being outside his house when Walt approaches seems too convenient for me. So quickly Walt is blackmailing him and all I really know about Jesse in the short time is that he could somehow seduce a housewife, he lost his partner, and that he’s full of wisecracks.
However, if you look at the story through Walt’s character arch, you realize how important it is to make this exchange fast. He had the leverage, and he needed to use it right away. This was his only connection to the world… the world where he breaks bad. There was a lot of focus on what the story of the first episode is about. It’s not about Jesse Pinkman; it’s about Walter White. He’s the hero of the story.
The last character I want to talk about in the first episode is Krazy 8. In the script, Krazy 8 is introduced as someone who is living in a place that is a cross between a frat house and a crack house — and he was playing NBA on PS2.
This, of course, leads to many questions. How do you show a cross between a frat house and a crack house quickly and have it registered with the audience? Another thing is that Gillian wanted Krazy 8 to be more intimidating, so playing video games might not be the best activity.
Instead, they changed it up so that Krazy 8 is training his dog to attack a lynched dummy. Even when Jesse walks in, Krazy 8 doesn’t stop, it shows that he doesn’t find Jesse that important. Only when Krazy 8 discovered that Jesse is selling that he shows interest. Krazy 8 doesn’t respond to everything Jesse says. He asks his own question. Even when Jesse had the goods, Krazy 8 holds dominance.
Write fast. Write as fast as you can. Don’t overthink it. Don’t worry if it’s factually correct or if the dialogue sounds real or if you stay consistent with the character’s eye color. Write fast.
Ernest Hemingway stops writing whenever he feels like he is in a good flow. He doesn’t want his well to run dry. But Hemingway writes every day. Hemingway isn’t working 9-5, Hemingway doesn’t need to cook food for his family, Hemingway doesn’t need to drive his mother to the doctor for a check up. Hemingway doesn’t have to do all the things you have to do, so don’t compare yourself to Hemingway.
Don’t let a project simmer too long. Cook it on high heat and serve it up. Write fast and get it written. You cannot edit a piece of work that is not written, so get it written. If you have 1 hour to write. Write fast. If you have a whole day to write. Write fast. Get it written. Get your idea on paper. Plow through any resistance or overthinking.
How should a character walk across the dining room? What’s another word for “slowly”? What’s another word for “with purpose”? It doesn’t matter, use the word that comes to your head now. Write fast.
Get from point A to point B without dallying too long on the details. You can come back and expand on it later. You will be distracted. Your friend will call you and ask, “What’s up?” You will go out for dinner. You have work the next day. You want to catch the game tomorrow. You have to meet the in-laws for dinner the night after. By the time you get back to your writing, all the momentum is gone. Write fast, get as much down on paper as you can. Get your first draft done. Deal with the second draft. Deal with the third draft another day. Get the first draft done.
Just so you know, I wrote this whole rant in five minutes. It was all the time I had.
Let me know how your writing sprint is going and good luck!
There are many reasons to write regularly. I don’t mean writing to communicate like emails or text messages, but journalling, writing fiction or working on a well-researched topic.
Why is this something we should do? Why write a story when there are already so many other stories out there? What makes me think my writing is so much better than anyone else’s? For anyone feeling the resistance, I want to talk to you today.
Writing is Working Out
Writing is not about impressing someone with your vocabulary or turn of phrases, just like how going to the gym and working out is not about beating someone up at a Costco parking lot. Going to the gym is about taking care of yourself and doing something for your physical health. Writing is very much like going to the gym, but instead of working out your body, you are working out your mind.
If you’ve ever done any meditation, you know that you are supposed to focus on mindfulness, which is being conscious of what you are thinking about, but you are not chasing any of those thoughts, you are simply allowing them to pass unencumbered.
Writing, on the other hand, you are chasing every thought. You are capturing all your thoughts. You are making connections with all your thoughts. You are analyzing them and diving into them and understanding why they are there. Writing, when it is flowing, can get you into that meditative state. Writing is the blend of exercising and meditation if that makes sense.
You are working out your thinking muscle, which can apply to literally every part of your life from business to communicating with your friends. Like working out, you allow writing to be an outlet for your emotions. Before you yell at something, write. Combine it — go for a walk and then write. It is possibly the healthiest thing you can do.
Writing is Finding Time to Think
We make decisions every day and we call that thinking, but it isn’t, really. It’s reacting. We are reacting to the surrounding environment. We are reacting to what people are telling us. We are reacting to our mood and emotions.
Let’s be honest, in day-to-day life, we are not too far off from mindless zombies trying to get through our responsibilities and obligations so we can go home and lie down. We get through the day without analyzing or reflecting on what we’ve accomplished.
Socrates says that the unexamined life is not worth living. He means that if you don’t take time to understand the decisions you made, then you don’t understand your goals, you don’t understand what you are living for, and you don’t have any wisdom to pass on before you die.
If you block off some time to write, you will have prioritized time to think and examine your life. This is time to reflect on your previous experiences and what you’ve learned. This is the time to examine where you are in relation to the goals you want to achieve. This is time to record the ideas you want to share.
And here is the most important thing: I rarely know how I feel about a topic until I write about it. Anything political, anything philosophical, and anything about art, I don’t truly know until I sit down and write about it.
We all write for different reasons, but these are two reasons I write. Let me know why you write in the comments below.
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