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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Let Go and Let Story

Has anybody else out there been reading Eckhardt Tolle’s book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose? Or seen the web classes on Our Lady of It’s really interesting stuff. Captain Kirk had it all wrong. Consciousness, it seems, is the final frontier.

The core of Tolle’s teachings (which I will not try to recap in full here as it is complex and conceptual beyond my means to pithily and wittily reproduce it) is about the way our ego seeks hungrily to identify with labels that we create for ourselves and others: Mother, father, child, violent, depressed, writer, golfer, fat, thin, beautiful, victim, lucky, home-owner, renter, married, single and so on. Usually we identify with a whole plethora of external labels and situations. Hell, we even buy products as “identity enhancers” as Tolle says. Because when I buy a Kate Spade purse, Kerastase hair care products and Manolos, I am successful, beautiful and exclusive. And it feels so great. For awhile. Til I catch a TGI Friday’s ad on television and become subconsciously drawn to the idea that I too can enjoy fun dinners surrounded by great-looking friends who adore me if I go to TGI Friday’s and order the buffalo wing special. I think we’ve all seen this and experienced it in our lives. Many times over.

Just for fun – for the next few days, really look at print and televised advertising and pay special attention to the overt identity enhancing messaging in adverts. It’s one of those things that you know intellectually but when you really pay attention – it’s appalling. Inadvertent allusion to one of my favorite bumper stickers: If you aren’t appalled you probably aren’t paying attention. Oh but I also love: I think you left your stove on. Anyway.

Tolle stresses that ego-identification is not only not healthy, it is not a representation of who and what we really are on the inside. Identifying with external circumstances, accomplishments, labels and products is a one-way path to hell because it’s never enough until we realize we’re good enough sitting still with no Chanel, Mercedes or Sketchers in sight. We are good enough simply because we live, breath and create.

How does this relate to screenwriting? Patience, grasshopper – it always does, doesn’t it?

If there’s one thing script consultants dread it’s clients who are precious about their scripts and their writing. Ohhhh lord does that make it tough. It’s a no-win situation. And why are some writers precious or otherwise sensitive of their work? Because they are ego-attached to it. It’s personal. Well – of course it’s personal YOU wrote it. But that’s not what I mean. What I mean is that some writers are so ego-attached to the work that if their feedback is not terrific, they take that as a personal insult.

It’s not. When you are getting notes for your script, what you have to be thinking of is the best iteration of the story that can possibly exist with me as the writer?

This is roughly akin to “killing your darlings” but it’s more than that. When a reader gives you notes and they aren’t very complimentary and you feel your gall rising and your face heat up – take a deep breath. Your script is not you and you are not your script. The goal here is this: write the story in the best way for the story to be told. No one is attacking you personally. You are in service to the story – not the other way around.

And Wavers, the sooner you can learn this lesson and really internalize it, the more likely you are to become a successful writer in Hollywood. A town famous for not giving a darn for the lot of writers. We are chiefly considered to be amusing, neurotic dancing monkeys who can apparently write stories easily, quickly and for pennies. You and I know this is a grossly reductive and patronizing view but nonetheless you really have no excuse to be even mildly surprised when someone in Hollywood tosses you a tambourine and shouts Dance monkey! Dance!

So now is the time to really take a deep breath and see if you can divest yourself of ego-attachment to your writing. The good of the script is what we all want. Not for our own egos or insecurities to be petted and lied to.

Pour your heart into your script and then – let it go. Your writing comes through you but is not of you. Be in service to the writing, not your ego.

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Christian M. Howell said...

It's been awhile but I had to comment. I think the major problem with not accepting feedback is that the writer isn't clear as to what they are trying to say.

I actually love negative feedback as it enables me to explain my choice of words or actions to maintain the tone or themes that I try to display.

But of course, I hope that the negative feed back is more subjective as people can see the same movie and have a different feeling about it. (It usually is)

The problem is everyone wants to be a screenwriter, but they feel that in-depth education won't be necessary - it's a good thing engineering and medicine don't work that way.


Now even P-Diddy - who never wrote one original song - is saying that he's going to do it. Because of Cannes no less. So I guess there'll be more crappy movies clogging up the pipes.


Maybe instead of release forms there should be a little test. At least that way no one has to read 50 scripts from writers who aren't ready.

I've been serious about this for a year and at least 7 months has been specifically used for studying and reading. (Deleuze, Weston and Seger are my favorites)

I'd have many more scripts done but they wouldn't be at the level they are - by that I mean, formatting, structure, visual elements.

I would say it's the interaction I've had with produced writers and readers like yourself. I think I'll be entering the Silver next week. I got good feedback from BlueCat and with the success of Juno and SATC, maybe it's time for my coming-of-age chick flick.

Christina said...

I've read the book and think the message is great. There's one thing I want to clarify though - when I use Kerastase hair products, I'm not buying a label (no one sees what's in my shower), I'm buying the magic salve that turned my uninteresting, frizzy, fallow hair into a long silky mane that is the envy of my female friends. Just wanted to clarify.

Okay, okay! I'm over-identified with my hair. Eckhardt would probably have me cut it.

Seriously, Dennis Palumbo wrote a great book called "Writing from the Inside Out". Palumbo is a psychologist and also a screenwriter. He talks about something called "The Doubled-Barreled Blues" that writers experience. In a nutshell... the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Spec screenwriters write spec and after spec, each time hoping for a different result. So, by definition, they're crazy. I think because the target is ill-defined and the odds are so against the writer, writers do get really personally involved in their work and have trouble stepping outside of it.

So, good to watch out for.

rayannecarr said...

Interesting post, particularly with regard to the brand and life style envy/ ego gap.
I personally dislike clothing with brand names,and recently tried to find a baseball cap without a logo.
Easy uh?
Four shops. And in the end I had to buy a man's cap.
I don't need to be defined by the logo on my hat, but judging from the expression on the sales assistant faces, it would seem I am in the minority.
Interesting. I am sure we smart writers could use the concept for a storyline where the advertising folks are thwarted.

PJ McIlvaine said...

Great post!

Julie Gray said...

Christian - always so good to hear from you.

Christina - I'd be lying if I didn't admit I have some pretty high-end products in my shower too. I think screenwriting is WORSE than the insanity of doing something over and over again thinking you'll get a different result - because you MIGHT just hit it this time. Like gambling. But the key difference is this: with screenwriting, in theory, you are getting better every script.

Anonymous said...

Brand! You think you can do without. Think again. Most of us would stick to the brand we're comfortable with, literally and financially. Some would live beyond their means for flashy names, but soon find out the hard way when his BMW towed for none payment. I like the quality of A & F clothing and can afford it, but too embarrassed to wear their name. They should pay me as a walking billboard for their name. But if I have to, I pick their clothes over any generic name with 50% polyester. Am I shallow? No. Spoiled, but not shallow.

Laura Reyna said...

Good post. Two big lessons a writer has to learn: separating emotionallly from their work and how to accept criticism graciously-- and those 2 things are linked.

Screenwiting is a very public endeavor. You're hopefully gonna have a lot of people looking at your work. Some are not going to like it-- no matter how good it is. You have to learn to accept that.

This is esp the case at the beg when we're writing our "learning our caft" scripts. We need evaluation in order to improve. And being OPEN to evaluation is crucial.

Yoda said...

In the opening scene of "The Majestic", Jim Carrey's screenwriter character squirms uncomfortably while the studio executives off screen reduce his straight-from-the-heart work to mere dreck. When one of them says, "Hey! Let's ask the writer! What do you think?" Jim swallows hard and says, "I think that's... amazing." Hollywood is, after all, his town, and he's living the dream.

Unless, like Jim, you're sitting in a room full of people who are paying you to monkey dance, you're not really under any obligation to accept anyone's feedback. The trick is to sift through all those notes to pull out the stuff you can use. I'd much rather have someone give me 20 pages of notes that pick out every nit than a yellow sticky that says, "This is GREAT! I loved it!"