Derek Johnson Muses

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Writing Tips: Every Day Writing

I suppose given how much I blog, I owe it to my readers to share some tips on how to write and how to break out of writer’s block. It said that the best writing advice is, write every single day, and a lot. But what?

The easiest idea I can tell you, dear readers, is to write down everything you did for the last week or twenty-four hours, even if you just make a list of actions and attitudes. Here’s an example I did earlier this week.

(My Road Notes posts also reflect this strategy.)

Last night, I was trying to get my sleep schedule back on track. I came in around 8:30 from mowing the lawn and showered. I then watched Terminator 3, a movie I can’t believe is 10 years old already. I can remember when I saw it in the Rivoli back in 2003, and the film had the biggest greenlit budget at time. It doesn’t feel as dated; actually, the CGI in it seems restrained compared to how much is in current movies. I started the movie at nine when I was eating dinner and finished the movie at 11. I had such a plan-I would skip my afternoon nap, and then I would go bed early and get my sleep schedule back on track. Of course, I still needlessly read on my kindle for thirty minutes or so before I managed to turn my light out at 11:36

Then my alarm went off at midnight. I had accidentally turned it to on when I shut off the radio yesterday. This time around, I set the alarm to 8 to avoid any future upsets. The disturbance in my sleep costs me forty-five minutes.

So this morning, I became conscious for the first time around five, and after fifteen minutes, I got up to start a load of lights. Then I went back to bed, and drifted between sleep and waking for a little while longer. Around seven, I forced myself up and began reading on my kindle.

That’s pretty simple, and it’s mostly actions, but it needs work. Usually, I find you have to write a certain number of actions to get a judgment or an assessment. Take the first paragraph. The judgment or assessment is I was trying to get my sleep schedule back on track in the evening. Under the that mindset, I worked outside, watched TV, and I read. There was a bad habit in that paragraph, namely the tangent I go on with my memories of Terminator 3. That is one thing that I do often in my drafts that I try to get out in my final versions as much as I can, spending too much time talking about a sub-point which has nothing to do with the main article. Usually, when I get to the judgment, I have an idea of what I need to build the post around. All of the rest of the writing needs to be taking out points that don’t support it and refining the ones that do.

Here’s another example of this strategy.



Why Seinfeld Worked

I have a confession: I love to watch DVD extras and audio commentaries, if they are talk about how a movie or episode (loser alert). Recently, I watched up some extras from Seinfeld DVD’s on YouTube about how Jerry Seinfeld developed his series for NBC and was blown away by his vision and work ethic. While it probably makes me a loser, I just find it fascinating how an individual idea can blossom from a two-sentence monologue to a full film or TV episode, or series. I learned a lot from how to turn conversations into the manuscript I’m now writing.

Here are some points I took from those DVD.

Strong self-image without being pushy: Seinfeld honed his crafted as a comedian for more than ten years before filming the Seinfeld pilot, and always thought of himself as a comedian, not an actor. He knew which network notes to take (adding Elaine) and which network notes to say no to (generic sitcom notes, specifically about “The Chinese Restaurant” episode), and didn’t try to go against NBC just for the sake of doing so. Jerry the character was a guy that “things worked out for”, against conventional sitcom wisdom.

Humility and lack of ego: didn’t take the best storylines his staff writers gave him and let them be used by the more eccentric characters on the show. As Jason Alexander noted, George and Elaine often had more interesting things to do than Jerry did. Jerry was the straight guy who often commented on the funnier antics of his friends.

And at one of the reunion roundtable, Seinfeld was concerned about if his co-stars felt like they were doing the right thing by walking away from the show when it was on top, after they had to return to the wasteland of reading tons of bad scripts.

Could take any story and make it funny: multiples times, one of Seinfeld’s writers would be telling Seinfeld and Larry David a story about something that actually happened to them, and it would end up as one of the stories.

Incredibly high standards: Recently, I happened to catch an episode of a typical 90’s sitcom which featured a single storyline throughout the episode. It was painful to watch the story stretch for twenty-two minutes. While other sitcoms where doing one or two stories, Seinfeld and David demanded four. They wouldn’t use ideas that writers said they’d always used before, and every idea had to be original. And the second the show was showing some signs of age, he knew it was time to walk away.


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