Category Archives: advice

The Writer’s Alphabet vol.1: A is for Assholes

letter AHere is the first post for the intended new column, “The Writer’s Alphabet” wherein I will take a letter of the alphabet and pick a word to profile that starts with that letter and how that word applies in the writing world. So, why not start with “A”?

What can “A” stand for? Assholes, of course.

Assholes: Everyone has one and everyone can be one. They can be hilarious and they can be evil. Let’s cover two aspects of the asshole. First let’s discuss actual people you might work with, or you possibly being an asshole yourself. Then, we can discuss characters.

So, people/colleagues/you. When it comes to this aspect of asshole-ness some people might think that being an asshole will get you further in the industry than being meek and mild. I argue against both of these perceptions and suggest following the “No Asshole Rule” that Bill Lawrence had on his successful show Scrubs. It ran on NBC for 9 seasons so I think Bill knew what he was talking about with this one. With the “No Asshole Rule”, Bill said if you want to work on this show, no matter your resume or pedigree we will not tolerate being an asshole. No diva behaviour, and no complaining. And, again, Scrubs ran for 9 seasons, so I think this rule worked out. When it comes to working with or being an asshole, I suggest grinning and bearing it and never going back with the former and simply not doing it with the latter. In my fledgling amount of experience in the writing and entertainment industry the best advice I can come up with for being a good writer/performer/entertainer is first, cut out all of the bullshit that is holding you back and second, be professional. Being professional begets becoming a professional and thus, working with other professionals. Following that train of thought, being an asshole…

As for assholes and characters? The bigger the better. Why? Because the bigger the assholes the more conflict they create and conflict, even in minute amounts, is the life blood of every story.

Consider this: Jimmy wants to go for a picnic with Janey. Jimmy looks outside and sees that it is raining. Jimmy throws the picnic basket at the wall and spills mustard, wine and delicious cheese everywhere. Janey ponders what the hell he was thinking because “that was some damn delicious cheese damnit.” Jimmy yells at the weather and then at the cheese and then at Janey and storms off to pout while Janey stares at the mess he made and ponders all of her life decisions.

So we have Jimmy being an asshole in his reaction to the weather (also an asshole in a way), his yelling at everything and his pouting. This has created conflict with Janey and himself and if the weather is sentient in this story then he has also most likely angered it as well, because the weather is just doing its job. If Jimmy simply said, “Hey Janey, let’s be awesome and have a picnic in the living room and maybe play a round of twister afterwards”, we have no conflict, and no story beyond a good “campfire” moment…before the tornado comes through and blows both of these non-assholes half-way across the province.

And I think that covers it for the most part.

To conclude, Being an asshole: BAD! Writing assholes: GOOD!

Thanks for reading.

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Psychology Today

Here’s a couple articles I came across that hold water with respect to writing and the creative process. Check ’em out!

Reinvent Yourself

Your Future Self Is…


Character vs. Plot

Focus on character over plot. I think this is the oldest, and most over-used, writing advice, besides ye olde nugget of, “if you want to be a writer then you need to write and everything else takes care of itself.” But it’s true. Both are true. Once you have committed to writing, what’s next? Create compelling characters. Obviously plot matters, but depending on who you listen to, there are anywhere from 3 to 33 story arcs. That’s really about it. So great stories come from the infinite amount of characters that can be created. Yes, one character might be only slightly different from another because they carry an old photograph in their wallet instead of a cut out from the newspaper, but that one difference could mean everything, depending on how you use it.

Character(s) beget plot(s). What one character does in one story could and should be completely different from what another character would do in the same story. Thus, you might have the same plot but it changes with what the characters decide to do.

Have you ever read or watched a story and felt some dissonence about a character’s decision? I would argue that is because the character(s) acted outside of their established pattern of behaviour for the sake of saving the plot. The elements of the story don’t jive, thus leaving the reader or viewer ill-at-ease with the story they are experiencing. The writer sacrificed the beauty of his or her original character for the contrived beauty of the unoriginal plot. There are also many other reasons why the story wasn’t viewed favourably, and I would argue that a lot of those have to do with the perspective of the reader/viewer, but I think the majority of the time it is because the plot drove the characters as opposed to the characters – the living and breathing aspects of the story – driving the plot.

And that’s all I really have to say about that. At least until the next time I post about it in 2015.


Writing, Energy and New York City

Monday I returned from a short trip to New York. While that lede sentence could take this post pretty much anywhere, what I want to speak about is energy. My dear friends and I flew Porter Airlines, which arrives and departs from the Toronto Island Airport at the foot of Bathurst Street just south of Lakeshore/Fleet Street. As I was walking back to my apartment in the Little Italy neighbourhood of Toronto, near the corner of College and Grace Streets – about a 30 minutes walk – I was struck with the energy deficit I was feeling. I don’t mean that I was extremely tired, though travel days do take a bit out of me, nor was Toronto experiencing a black-out. The energy I’m speaking of is more of a social-kinetic type for lack of a much better term.

For background, this was my fourth trip to New York City. In addition to Manhattan, I have also spent time in the Bronx and back in August of 2010 I stayed with friends for a weekend in Brooklyn’s Chinatown. By no means would I say I am a seasoned New York visiting veteran, but I do feel I have a decent amount of experience with the city, as in I could comfortably negotiate the subway system and give directions to the more well-known areas of the metropolis if need be. But I would say that’s more a nod to the genius of it’s planning than my own knack as an amateur tour guide.

Before we returned, I had a couple moments to myself and I made sure to be still and take in my surroundings, some of them very familiar and some foreign. What I tried to focus on was the energy I have mentioned. I did the same thing as I was walking home. Toronto is a beautiful, vibrant and diverse city. We have creativity and we have history, though we do need to do a much better job at preserving what heritage buildings we have. Besides the history ingredient they add to our city they also add a flair of wonder and a beauty that can and, most likely, will never be re-created. Unless you enjoy concrete giants, then, well, you disagree.

What those buildings also add is energy. They add energy in and of themselves, but also add to the energy of the city. Buildings, architechture and planning aside, my biggest take-away from this short jaunt is that everyone in New York is moving. They are all going somewhere. Even if it’s just to grab some milk, the energy of the city is motivating. The energy of New York is kinetic and, I think what I’ve been trying to say all along (and probably should have led with it) is the principle of inertia it inspires, in my case, creatively is unrivaled. This is obviously my romantic view, but standing and looking up and around at Union Square or Washington Square Park or hanging out in the Lower East Side, I felt as though I was being filled with the energy of the people around me, even if they had never picked up a pen or paint brush.

Toronto has this energy but I realized it’s not necessarily bursting forth from the city itself. Though now I have just started an internal (and maybe external?) debate with myself about my skewed perspectives of each city. Maybe that’s an even bigger take-away from this trip that I am literally discovering as I write this post. Maybe I need to take a walk and look at Toronto from the perspective of someone unfamiliar with the city. This would be hard because I grew up within Toronto’s borders, even if a lot of those years were spent in Etobicoke. I was going to speak about how New York’s energy is present in stunning amounts in both its people and its space, whereas Toronto’s is simply present in its people, however, I think I have just given myself a new project of which I will no doubt blog about in the near future. Give Toronto a walk and view it from the perspective I view New York. I’m not sure if that is even possible, but I’m up for the challenge.

This all relates to writing in a simple way: your physical space, if you take a minute to be aware of literally everything around you, not only immediately but also afar, can have and should have a serious impact of your writing. Picture yourself as the Sun and your surroundings as your Solar System. I’m not trying to promote even more narcissism amongst creative types, but it’s the best metaphorical similistic example I could think come up with at this point. But yes, you are the center of what is around you. Take in the energy that is being thrown at you and also give your energy back. Remember that philosophic gem about “what you put out there comes back”? It works for your relationships with people but I’ve learned it now also works with your physical space. At least it did for me. I was seeking motivation and I found it. Obviously traveling to one of my favourite cities and a hub of creativity helped, but I think it helped as much as it did because I went with the intention of finding it, just not in the way or volume that I did. Which is how I am going to approach my new “project” with Toronto and everywhere I travel from here on out. What is my intention? What do I want to find? What do I want to discover? What to I want to take home with me? What is here that I can make a part of me for the better?

 


Ned Vizzini and The Artists’ Health Centre

1387573583_ned-vizzini-lgNed Vizzini might still be alive if he had visited The Artists’ Health Centre, but then again who can say?

I found out today via Google search that the author of It’s Kind of a Funny Story et al, died by his own hand in late December of 2013 (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/ned-vizzini-kind-a-funny-667260). It hit me hard. I never met Ned Vizzini nor have I read any of his work though I have seen the film adaptation of It’s Kind of a Funny Story. In fact, I found out about his passing when I was making a list of books to buy for further reading and the first thing that popped up was news of his suicide. It hit me hard because I am a writer and I have had negative, sometimes very dark, thoughts. Ned had the success of which I have been dreaming. He had published books, had film adaptations made of his work, he was married and had a child. Ned had the very life that I am working hard and toward everyday. This is one of those stories that makes you think about your life, but also makes you realize that no matter what we have or want, it might not be what we actually need, or at least the combination of what we need. And by that I don’t mean he didn’t love his career or family, but that maybe Ned needed to talk to someone or do something to help him with his negative thoughts.  This is also one of those stories that hit me enough to at least spur action in the form of a blog post but also in my life. And that brings me to:

The Artists’ Health Centre located at Toronto Western Hospital on the 3rd Floor, West Wing @ 399 Bathurst Street (at Dundas) in Toronto. I have not yet taken a trip to the Centre myself, though I’m sure it is only a matter of time. I came to know about the clinic during a hockey of all things. Very Canadian, yes, I know. I was introduced to a writer who was a supporter of the cause and he handed me a flyer and the Centre was the first thing I thought of when I read of Vizzini’s passing, especially by suicide. The Centre is open Monday to Friday, 8:30am – 4:30pm with the hope of extended hours in the future. They can be reached at 416.603.5263 as well.

The Centre offers services such as: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Group for Artists with Anxiety Disorders, Conditioning for Musicians, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction groups, Primary Health Care, Psychotherapy services, and Support Groups. Please see the full list at their website: http://artistshealth.com/ahc/clinic/.

Mental Health is important for everyone, including those who do not suffer from a specifically diagnosed mental health disorder or disease. It is not just clinically depressed people who commit suicide or self-harm.

Artists, yes we should funnel our emotions (both positive and negative) into our art, but we should also not be afraid to seek help if we find those emotions are having a negative impact on our work and , of course, life.

Never be afraid to speak up and out. And if you can’t find someone to talk to send me message on this blog, I’m here. And if I can’t help, I can hopefully direct you to someone(s) who can. 🙂


RIP Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal passed away today. Others are able to eulogize him better than I but I will share with you two of my favourite quotes from GV.

“Write something, even if it’s just a suicide note. ”

“…style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn…” (AMAZING!)

Other quotes can be found at the Good Reads website.


“…guilty until proven innocent…”

“Every word is guilty until proven innocent.” – Kira Peikoff

Grabbed this one from Kira’s article in the April 2012 issue of The Writer.

I think it’s great with respect to editing.


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