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What It Takes

What It Takes

Too Old For Heroes

By Shawn Coyne
Published: February 27, 2015

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Like you, every Wednesday morning, with my first cup of coffee in hand, I sit down and read Steve’s WRITING WEDNESDAY posts.

Preeminent listener, E E Cummings..."nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands"

His recent series on “killer scenes” and the ways in which he constructs his work have been off the charts for me.  Here’s what I love about them:

  • They’re personal…Steve does not pretend to be speaking from Mount Olympus.  He’s just giving us the straight dope about how he keeps his writing engines primed and working at peak efficiency. I was reminded of the importance of these idiosyncratic methodologies we all develop from Jeremy Anderberg’s Twitter post that linked to Hemingway’s interview in the Paris Review.  If Papa was timid talking about his process, fearful that to talk about it is to dissipate its magic, you know this stuff ain’t for the faint hearted.
  • They’re Meta-entertaining.  I love reading about how people create things.  What went through their minds.  How they solve problems.  It’s the classic “origin story” Subgenre of the Performance Genre.  Which as you know has the core value of Honor/Shame.  The trick is to honor your process, not to degrade or cheese it up for profit.  You’ve got to be truthful. And yes, as Steve proves over and over again, you can write about writing with honor.
  • They’re Inspiring.  I’m an editor/Right Brain kind of writer.  What that means is that I want to create a lot of little boxes or units of story, fill them up, polish them and then link them all together.  I start from the structural point of view.  That’s what makes me comfortable.

Reading about how Steve does it from the Left Side of the brain takes away a lot of the terror I’ve associated with the Muse.  I’m the kind of person who thinks the Muse has no interest in me.  I’m a blue-collar worker just banging out the word count and then getting out the sander after I’ve got some knotty pine to smooth.

It’s obvious that Steve does not do anything of the sort that I do.  He does not construct his stories so much as he tunes in and listens to his inner word whisperer.  He then pulls out the meaning of the messages that come to him from the great unknown.

Of course he’s a pro, though.  He wears the same blue-collar I do.

He knows all of the stuff I know (more even) so he organizes the messages in a general/global structure that aligns perfectly with Story nerd systems like mine.  He knows he needs inciting incidents, progressive complications, crises, climaxes and resolutions in every scene he writes etc., but instead of working to fill up boxes, he thinks about the whole trunk first.

I find his technique terrifying.

If I can’t label something and put it inside a methodology, I just as soon toss it in the trash can.  But after having read Steve’s Killer Scenes series, I feel better.  I’m more open to the quantum soup.  I’m not so quick to toss out a phrase that somehow jumps into my brain.  Now I’m putting them in little folders to marinate.

Which brings me to the title of this post…TOO OLD FOR HEROES.
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ADDITIONAL READING » ON WRITING

Additional Reading: On Writing

Bambi versus Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose and Practice of the Movie Business

by Mamet, David

Technically this isn’t a book about writing. It’s about Tinseltown and David Mamet’s love-hate relationship with it. But, along with Mamet’s witty and cantankerous evisceration of show biz, Bambi vs. Godzilla delivers masterly and extremely useful insights on getting movies made, surviving criticism, paying the rent and in general surviving Hollywood while retaining some scrap of sanity and integrity. Mamet is not just any writer. When he takes on a subject, you get it in context succeeding context—commercial, aesthetic, moral, ethical, legal, Talmudic, Tantric and Vedic. It’s like reading Thucydides if he’d loaded his stuff into a ‘65 Mustang and split for the Coast.

Ernest Hemingway on Writing

by Phillips, Larry W.

Papa never actually sat down and wrote a book about writing. Rather, editor Larry Phillips has compiled 140 pages of hard-core Hemingwayisms from the author’s books, stories, and letters. Great material, particularly the fragments of correspondence to Scott Fitzgerald.

First Five Pages, The

by Lukeman, Noah

As an agent and editor, Noah Lukeman read thousands of manuscripts from aspiring writers. He got to where he could tell in the first five pages if a submission was worth his time. In this gem of a book, he tells you the most common mistakes writers make—and how to eradicate them from your manuscript.

How To Be Inspired

by Williams, Nick

A no-nonsense how-to manual and psych-yourself-up kit, for those of us who sometimes need a swift kick in the butt to get us going.

Journal of a Novel

by Steinbeck, John

When he was writing East of Eden, Steinbeck kept a journal—just a few pages each morning, which he’d scribble as a kind of warm-up before turning to the actual manuscript. Fascinating insights into the writer’s life, inside and outside the covers of a book.

Robert McKee’s Story Seminar

by McKee, Robert

I always say that McKee is not only the best teacher of writing I’ve ever seen, but the best teacher of anything. I’ve taken this three-day intensive course twice—and I’ll take it again. Yes, McKee has been spoofed (in the movie Adaptation) and lionized (in a New Yorker profile.) But that’s because he’s the best. Full disclosure: McKee and I are friends. McKee wrote the foreword for The War of Art. McKee teaches this class in cities all over the U.S. and Europe, even as far away as Israel and Singapore.

Story

by McKee, Robert

This is the book that goes with Robert McKee’s Story Seminar. Terrific for writers in all media, but take the “live” McKee first. You’ll get more out of the book if you’ve heard the man deliver his stuff in-person.

Three Uses of the Knife

by Mamet, David

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