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Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Does Somebody Know Something?

By Steven Pressfield | Published: October 1, 2014

Continuing on last Wednesday’s subject of Nobody Knows Nothing:

Maxwell Perkins, who edited Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, and Thomas Wolfe.

Somebody has to know something. We can’t all be flying blind. It’s unacceptable for us to throw up our hands on the topic of our art and our livelihood. (more…)

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Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Nobody Knows Nothing, Part Two

By Steven Pressfield | Published: September 24, 2014

We were talking last week about how hard it is to evaluate material, particularly your own.

Not even Quentin Tarantino knows everything.

How do you tell if your new novel, your start-up, your Cuban-Chinese restaurant is any good? Who can tell you? Whose judgment can you trust?

In the literary/movie field, entire industries have evolved to respond to this need. Robert McKee (full disclosure: my friend) has established himself, among others, as the guru of Story Structure. A vocabulary, from Bob and other analysts, has spread through every studio and production company. “Inciting Incident,” “Second Act Turning Point,” “All Is Lost moment” are phrases that every script reader and development exec knows by heart.

Why? Because they help bring order out of chaos. They shed light on the mysteries of story. Is this book/screenplay working? Why? If something’s wrong, what is it? And how do we fix it?

Story analysis is the industry’s attempt at a diagnostic instrument. Is it art? Is it science? Is it bullshit?

Should you, the writer, study this stuff? Should you craft your stories to suit the guidelines and principles of “story structure?” Will the exercise inhibit you? Will it make you self-conscious, over-analytical? Will it reduce your work to formula?

Should you remain ignorant?

Are you a genius?

Does your gift set you beyond the need to know the principles of your craft?

Here’s my answer in two questions:

1. Who has bent the rules more successfully over the past twenty years than Quentin Tatantino?

2. Who understands the rules better than Quentin Tarantino?

I’m a believer in knowing the rules. You have to be familiar with the vocabulary. You have to understand the conventions of the genre you’re working in, even if (particularly if) it’s a genre that you yourself have just invented.

And yet … (more…)

Posted in Writing Wednesdays
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Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Nobody Knows Nothing

By Steven Pressfield | Published: September 17, 2014

I used to work for a big New York ad agency named Ted Bates. The agency was constantly pitching new business.

Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus in "The Matrix"

The way it worked was the entire Creative Department, about 150 people, would be assigned to come up with new campaigns for Burger King or Seven-Up or whatever business Bates was going after. You were supposed to put 20% of your time against this, with usually a two-week run-up before the first inside-the-agency meeting.

These meetings were called “gang bangs” because everybody took part. They were held in the giant conference room around a table that felt like it sat a hundred people. This was back in the days when everybody had a pack of Camels or Marlboros in their purse or shirt pocket. The room was so thick with cigarette smoke, you could barely see from one side to the other.

In turn, each creative team (art director and copywriter) would stand, pin its storyboards to the wall and do their pitch. The entire room got to comment, though the ultimate verdict would be pronounced by the Creative Director, who sat at the end of the table like Morpheus or Zeus.

What lesson did I take away from these sessions?
(more…)

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