Category Archives: Guest Bloggers

“The Tragedy I See At Starbucks Every Day” – a new post by Art Holcomb

There are a few things I want you to know about this post, and all the articles that appear here from Art Holcomb.

First, I post these because I value the information he provides and the credibility of its source. Art is one of the premiere writing gurus in the business, not only in the screenwriting trade, but for novelists and playwrights, as well.

Art has launched a series of audio training programs that are game-changers for writers at all levels.  When these programs are referenced here, you should know that I’m not a paid affiliate, I don’t make a cent off your enrollment.

That said, Art and I have a mutual-respect for the work we do, because we share so much relative to the nature of the writing craft, and the value of it. It’s that last part that, perhaps, sets us apart in a digital space virtually clogged with “mentors” (so many of whom are teaching how to be a successful self-promoter and self-publisher, which is a completely different skill-set than writing an effective story, which in the heat of the self-publishing gold rush seems to have descended to footnote status).

It’ll never be a footnote here, or with anything by Art Holcomb (who might, in fact, endorse my training products, as well; that’s it as far as quid pro quo is concerned… it’s backed by belief). Indeed, for both of us craft will remain where it belongs: center-stage, at the forefront of the work, as the catalyst for careers and dreams. As I launch my own line of video-based training programs very soon (see HERE to sign up for that mailing list, which includes a FREE training module and on-going discounts), that will remain the focus and the entire reason I keep writing about this stuff.

And, why I’ll continue to endorse Art Holcomb and anything he puts out there to help up reach our writing goals.

Larry

*****

Hi – this is Art – and I’m glad to be back with my friends at StoryFix!

Let me start out by telling you a story…

I went into my local Starbucks on the way to a conference in Los Angeles the other day, and conducted the same experiment that I’ve done many times before.

Got my coffee (regular drip, half-and half). Sat down and looked around.

And there they all were. I counted twelve people on their laptops, heads down, a serious look on their faces.

Furiously writing away.

Now, as a writing teacher, I’m always fascinated with what writers are creating. And so, like a busy body (and not really having anything else to do), I asked each of them a few questions:

      – What are you writing?
      – What’s the premise of  your story?
      – How long have you been working on it?
      – What draft are you on?

And so, here’s what I found out that day, which really got my attention in an alarming way:

Of this group, six were writing screenplays, six were writing novels – a nice, even split. On average they have been working on their stories for more than eleven months each, one for more than four years. Three were just starting, the others were on – at least – their fifth draft.

And therein resides the tragedy.

As a screenwriter and playwright, I’m trained to produce work quickly. My ability to get paid depends on it.  And, as a professional teacher of screenwriters and novelists, I teach my students the all-important technique of writing fast: getting the work out of their head and onto the page… and then using all their craft knowledge and process abilities to complete the work in the shortest period of time possible.

This is a vital skill. For example, when under assignment by a studio to complete a screenplay, a writer is typically asked to produce no more than two drafts and two polishes of the work – usually in less than six weeks.

Years ago, I first looked around a similar Starbucks and saw a similar sight – writers working away on draft after draft, and getting no further along toward their goal of publication or production.

So, here was the truth of the matter.

These are likely projects that will never be finished.

These are dreams that will never be achieved.

I saw the problem as twofold:  Here were writers who needed better craft skills, as well as a better process for getting their work done.

And process was the real problem here. Because it’s something that few writers even consider changing.  Most have stumbled upon a way of writing that worked for them in the beginning and they’ve stuck with it without question ever since, perhaps rejecting any solid guidance that might challenge it.

A shame, that. A real professional is always listening, always open to new and better ways of doing the work.

Is that you?

Here’s a valid analogy: writers – especially anyone who wants to have a career as a writer – are really more like athletes.  As such, we should be constantly tweaking and modifying our process to get the most work out of ourselves. (I frequently remind myself that I have only so many hours in a day, so many days in a year – and only so many years left to leave my mark on the world.)

And so, to help writers develop their fundamental craft skills, I created a comprehensive course to teach just that (my StorySkills series – many of you have already taken it).

However, that was only part of the equation, because . . .

The best craft skills in the world can’t help you if you don’t have a way to ACTUALLY get the work done and finished.

So now, I’ve created a 6-week audio course that teaches you how to improve your process. 

It represents the same practices and techniques that professional writers apply to their work. You’ll learn my listening to the same lessons I give professionals and using the accompanying workbooks to drive the practices home.

The course is called Two Drafts -Two Polishes. It makes a system that professional writers use to write quickly to anyone who feels this need… because we all labor within the context of this need.

For more information, and to register, click HERE.

Imagine being able to get the story out of your imagination just as you see it, to be able to structure it for maximum impact quickly, and to polish it in such a way that agents and publisher find compelling. Can you imagine that? My guess is… you can taste that.

So, the questions you need to ask yourself today are:

– Am I actually completing the stories I start?
– Am I stalled in my current story… not sure what to do next?
– Am I doing draft after draft… changing the words but never finishing?
– Do I need some help?

 The fact is – there’s no point in writing if you never finish. 

It’s as simple as that.

Here is something I know is absolutely true: There is an audience out there waiting for your story.  But they’ll never get a chance to enjoy it if you don’t get it done.

Two Drafts -Two Polishes can teach you how. Just click HERE for all the information you need to get started. This isn’t a webinar to put on your calendar, it’s a training program that is yours, to experience at your pace, as many times as you like… in your car, in your office, and most of all, in your head.

Don’t be one of those lost souls at Starbucks! Take control of your process!

Take control of your writing career.

I’ll talk with you again soon.

Art

 

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Engineered for Success

A guest post from Bryan Wiggins

How Larry Brooks Helped Lead Me to My Path to Publication

indigo
 I don’t remember what classroom I sat in, or which teacher was my guide, but one day as I scratched away in my composition notebook at my tiny wooden desk in Green Tree Elementary School, I picked up the trick I’ve been using ever since to present my thoughts upon the page: the outline. That organizational tool’s ability to plot a premise, build its argument, and cap it off with a conclusion, powered me through school from my first book report to my final term paper.

When my daughters began their own editorial explorations, I shared the outline as the trail of conceptual breadcrumbs they could lay down to help them find their way. That began my writing relationship with both of them—one that continues to this day—although the red pen is just as often found in their hands as in mine.

Ten years ago, when the challenge of writing a novel lured me from the poetry I’d puttered with for so long, I turned to my trusty prose pal and used an outline to sketch my first plot. Soon, I was off and running, creating scene after glorious scene, and, ultimately, a wonderful mess. I tried free-writing my way out of it, eventually penning a therapeutic essay I titled 80,000 Mistakes. In it I fussed and fumed about the 80,000 words I’d tapped into my Mac in the early morning hours, trying to build a story arc that finally collapsed under its own weight. But I ended my sorry screed with a promise to myself: I simply would not quit till I’d figured out the novel’s form.

I filled my Kindle with every book that looked like it could help me crack the craft—more than two dozen of the titles that every hopeful Hemingway knows, mixed with others that only a form freak like me would read. The light began to shine with books like John Truby’s, The Anatomy of Story; it taught me how to lay that all important foundation—the premise—in a way that would carry me, if not to publication, at least to a tale that might add some meaning to my life. Jack Bickham’sScene & Structure was another bright spot, one that revealed why the stories I struggled with had been so episodic. From it, I learned the cause and effect relationships that create the chain-drive of a story, linking the series of scenes and sequels that keep readers’ fingers flipping far past bedtime.

But the tome that brought it home was Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering. It was the bridge I’d been searching for—one strong enough to support the weight of 100,000 words or more, to carry the world I’d built in my head to shine within my readers’ hearts.

I used my skills as a graphic artist to make a map of Larry’s formula, memorialized as the four-page “novel blueprint” you’ll find linked at the end of this post. I pasted the damn thing onto a foam core wall and posted it behind my laptop to refer to every single morning as I poked through my first novel, trying to put into practice again and again the principles I finally learned well enough to write from by heart.

I caught fire from my new learning, giving a couple of talks through the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance to pass on what I discovered in a Keynote presentation, complete with screenshots showing how I’d woven Story Engineering into my Scrivener template to keep me oriented as I dove in and out of scenes. I even convinced Boston’s Grub Street writers’ center for a guest spot in the big leagues, presenting at their national Muse and the Marketplace writers conference. There, in a room full of other hungry story structure seekers, I was rewarded with the questions and comments that let me know I was playing a small but vital role in passing on the torch that Larry first lit for me.

The Winter Queen was the first novel I built from Story Engineering. It rests right where it belongs —deep within the depths of my hard drive—as the fertile failure that taught me so much. My second, however, was (will be?) published onSeptember 27 by Harper Legend, a brand new imprint of “visionary digital fiction” from HarperCollins. I’m currently deep into the creation of its sequel, using the same Story Engineering concepts and constructions that have carried me so far.

Recently, I’ve been sharing what I’ve learned with members of the Pine Cone Writers’ Den, the ten-member writing group that meets monthly in my home. I sent one writer the novel blueprint a few weeks ago, and was delighted to hear it helped her break through to her book’s final phase of development. I invited another member over one Saturday morning, stretching a copy of the blueprint across my kitchen table as we discussed her memoir’s big story beats. We traded the red pen to plot just where those pivotal posts might fit within Story Engineering’s structural plan. I sent her home with that map and the hope that it serves to help stitch her string of moving spiritual passages into the published piece that finds the audience she deserves.

It’s too early to tell just how far those principles may take her, or the rest of us. There’s no question, however, that the most important book I ever read about the way to build a story will always play a part in mine.
Click below to view the Novel Blueprint document, which Larry uses regularly in his writing and workshops.

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