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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Letter to a Young Screenwriter

I would like to address a few simple suggestions to a Young Screenwriter.

The Young Screenwriter in question is me.

Having just purchased Apple's new TimeTravel software, I will be TT-mailing (TimeTravel-mailing) this to myself as a Young Screenwriter, fresh out of college, just starting out. Unfortunately, this young self of mine is going to have to wait a couple more years before he has email, and it's possible this information may not arrive in time.

So it's not wasted, I also offer it to you:

Dear Young Screenwriter,

I've jotted down some things for you to consider. I have had some experience in the grand attempt to become a writer of movies. I have done it badly. But that's okay. Everyone does it badly. No one anywhere does anything as well as they think they should have. Those rare few that do are either enlightened or, more likely, imbeciles.

I urge you to study the following suggestions, which I have written down in no particular order - even though I have numbered them.

20 Suggestions To A Young Screenwriter

  1. Read. Read screenplays. Read them in screenplay format, printed on single sides of 8 1/2 x 11 paper. Hold a screenplay in your hands, with brass fasteners in it, with a cover page, as often as you can. Don't be afraid of killing trees. If you're that worried about the environment, then sell your car.
  2. Help other writers - nothing cures the strangling self-obsession and despair of the writing game like trying to help another writer make his/her story the best it can be. As a wise old man once said, probably quoting another wise old man, "There is no end to what you can accomplish, if you don't care who gets the credit."
  3. Watch movies - lots of movies. Watch the movies you like again and again and again. Become an expert on your favorite movies.
  4. Find a hero and become an expert on that hero's life. If you don't know who your favorite screenwriter is, pick one.
  5. Find a secondary art that you love, other than screenwriting, and practice it whenever the hell you feel like it. I like photography and drawing. Other people enjoy disco dancing.
  6. Don't be afraid of other people's feedback. On the other hand, trust yourself utterly - 8 times out of 10 you are right about that idea.
  7. But on the other other hand, things often go better when you assume you know nothing. Just bear in mind that when William Goldman says "No one knows anything", he means you too.
  8. Write the movie that you think is the coolest movie ever - trust your own taste. Eventually, you may find out that you are a lousy sci-fi writer and brilliant at comedy. Or find out that you are a lousy screenwriter but a brilliant novelist. But you will never find this out if you keep writing what you think other people want.
  9. Love your characters - desire them, whisper to them, sneak into their bodies and walk around in them, treat them as if you were a jealous ghost obsessed with their every waking and sleeping moment
  10. Love your audience - enjoy imagining the pleasure they will get from reading your script/seeing your movie, treat them as if you were a secret admirer whose only wish is that you could see the look on their face when they read that one scene. You know the scene I mean.
  11. Write as many scripts as you can. Accumulate a varied library of your own screenwriting. One finished mediocre script is worth more than an unfinished script which will be really great when it's finished.
  12. Write as many days a week as you can.
  13. A surprising amount of writing can be done in 10 minutes. If 10 minutes is all you have, take it.
  14. Rewriting is only valuable, when know what to leave alone. It is dangerously easy to suck all the blood and breath out of a script with unjudicious rewriting.
  15. Tell your agent to fuck off once in a while.
  16. Never accept the water. If you meet with a potential fan and they offer you a water - or a coffee - while you are waiting, refuse it. Do not let them off the hook. You are not there for refreshment, you are there for work (Obviously, this does not apply if it is a lunch or dinner meeting. Refusing the water in that case makes you look like a maniac).
  17. Avoid looking like a maniac. Don't be afraid that you won't stand out as someone interesting and unique. People who are afraid that they won't stand out, usually try to do things to make themselves stand out. These people make others very nervous and are usually shunned and ignored. You want to be friends with as many people as possible. Make it easy for them.
  18. If you can't remember what you did the night before more than once a week, deal with that problem first and put the writing career on hold. You're wasting valuable time trying to serve two masters.
  19. If you want to be in the movie business in order to become rich and famous and powerful, or to get revenge on your enemies, or to make your parents proud, or to fill that horrifying emptiness in your chest, please TRY SOMETHING ELSE. If you are meant to be in the movie business, you will be lead back to it.
  20. Finally, please throw this list of suggestions away. Do it immediately.

Always yours,

- Neal

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