Eddie On Writing

The following is an excerpt from the screenplay for the movie Limitless, directed by Neil Burger and starring Bradley Cooper.  It is a conversation between the main character Eddie and his publisher, and it never made it into the movie.  In it, they are discussing the terms of Eddie’s advance and his new views on writing.

He brings up some interesting points on writing and solitude.  This raises the question; why do you write?  For love, or for money?

I think it is entertaining and wanted to share.

INT. MARK SUTTON’S OFFICE – DAY

Eddie stands opposite Mark’s desk.

           EDDIE (V.O.)

But it takes cash to make cash…

Another ELEGANT MAN is there too, Mark’s boss, DUNHAM.

                          EDDIE (CONT’D)

I’d like to re-negotiate my advance.

                          DUNHAM

Well… sit down, we’ll be discussing that.

                          MARK SUTTON

First, ah… I want to apologize, Eddie, if I in any way communicated a lack of faith in        your abilities.

Eddie smiles coolly. In control. It’s Mark who’s a little nervous.

           MARK SUTTON (CONT’D)

Mr. Dunham has read your pages, and we’re prepared to make you what I

hope will be a very exciting offer.

                          DUNHAM

What would you say to ten thousand more and another forty down the

road?

Eddie holds there gaze, expressionless, but says nothing.

After an uncomfortable moment, Dunham continues.

                          DUNHAM (CONT’D)

We think this could be an important title, maybe one in a series. I

have to say, you came out of nowhere, but the good ones always do – – –

                          EDDIE

                          (INTERRUPTING HIM)

This isn’t going to work.

                          DUNHAM

What’s not going to work? The money?

                          MARK SUTTON

Eddie, we take you very seriously as a writer.

Eddie sounds almost regretful.

                          EDDIE

Yes, but I now see that writing, as a profession, is for marginalized

whiners not fit for anything else.

Sutton thinks Eddie’s kidding. He laughs nervously.

                          EDDIE (CONT’D)

No, I mean it, look at the life. Incarceration, loneliness,

burrowing down into your own psyche, increasingly insulated from

any truth, because you’re not in the currents of the world any more,

you’re rattling around inside the cage of your brain, self-

cannibalizing…

Dunham realizes he’s losing Eddie, and jumps in.

                          DUNHAM

You don’t think a best-selling author would disagree?

                          EDDIE

Oh, if you’re good, there’s some remuneration, eventually, after

paperbacks, but at best your career’ll be oozing along like a

snail, a few thousand more copies, whoop-dee-doo, you’re “developing a

readership,” — for what? So you can end up in Phoenix on a Saturday

night reading from your own work at some holdout indie book store to a

bored audience of ten? –Half of them there for the wine and cheese?

 

                          MARK SUTTON

Yes, but if your goal is to have a voice – – –

                          EDDIE

                          (INTERRUPTING)

I don’t think any goal will be really achievable, Mark, until I’m

sitting on a large pile of cash.

The mens mouths open, then shut

FADE OUT

 

 

Do Not Come Lightly To The Page

I missed my publishing schedule last week.  While there were extenuating circumstances, the hard fact is that I just hadn’t sat down to write anything all week.  Normally I have a few rough drafts to work from but I was fresh out.

My fall back in these situations is to review a book from my Kindle library; this time it was On Writing by Stephen King.  I’ll save the review for that article, but as I was working away, trying to cobble something together to post, I read a line that stopped me dead:

Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.

I realized that was exactly what I was doing.  I had come lightly to the blank page and was attempting to thoughtlessly jam something out in order to meet my deadline.  I was trying to generate “Content”.

The Curse of Content

“Content” is a funny thing.  It is what we show up for every day; on our phones, computers, televisions, books, and magazines.  The desire is insatiable, as is the need to generate more, newer, and faster.

For a writer (or other creative type) this can be a great gift.  There are no gatekeepers left.  If you want to write, you write.  And if you have a modicum of talent you will find an audience.  If only one person in a million likes your stuff, and there is approximately seven billion people in the world, that means there are seven thousand people on earth just waiting to hear what you have to say.

The need for content means that you can get your material seen.  Maybe not in the New Yorker to start, but a trade publication or website certainly.  Guest blog posts, articles on Medium and LinkedIn, industry newsletters.  It has never been easier to reach your target audience, and even get paid for it.

During a conversation with a friend who wants to be a writer;  I tell him to “just write”.  He says he needs a journalism degree first.  I tell him “watch this”; start to write, and get paid by an online publication within the month.  There are no barriers to entry.

The flip side of all this content being generated is all the content being generated.  There is just so much.  Some of it’s good, much of it’s bad, but when viewed as a whole it comes through as straight noise.  The content machine keeps pumping it out to keep the eyes and ears of the world entertained, whether it is good, bad, or indifferent.  The machine doesn’t care if it is good, just that it is out in front of you.

I won’t be part of that machine.

Bring the Gravitas

How must we then come to the page, if not lightly?

We must come with seriousness, dignity, and solemnity of manner.  That is gravitas.

That isn’t to say that we can’t also come joyfully or happily.  Writing should be enjoyable.  It can certainly be frustrating, so we need to inject it with some fun if you intend to keep at it.

We need to approach the page thoughtfully.  Just as you should think before you speak, we should think before we write.  Perhaps there is only the glimmer of an idea or situation, but if brought honestly then sometimes that is all it takes.

To bring thoughtfulness it is important to show up every day.  There is a physical training concept called “Greasing the Groove”.  The idea is that you take an exercise you wish to improve, commonly chin ups, and you perform many small sets that are well within your capability throughout the day.  Eventually, the volume of work put in grows greater than what you could perform during a single big session.

Writing is the same way.  Coming to the desk every day, even for as little as 15 minutes (or 1% of your day!) will result in a massive body of work in time.  It is the consistency that matters.

Stephen King shoots for 10 pages each day, which equals about 2,000 words.  As he says;

That’s 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book—something in which the reader can get happily lost, if the tale is done well and stays fresh.

Accomplishing this is easy.  You just need to show up every day, with intent.

Lightly No More

May 14th will remain empty as a reminder to never approach the page lightly again.  I love writing and have pages of ideas to develop.  All that is left is to sit down each day to do the work, with the door closed.

What kind of daily word count do you shoot for when writing?  More importantly, how do you get back on track when you stumble?

Improve Your Writing With Dictation

You’ll never guess where I’m writing from? I’m in my car!

Before you get upset, rest assured I am not driving with my laptop on the steering wheel. I’m using voice dictation and speech recognition software to take down what I’m saying.

Voice recognition software has been around for a long time but with recent advances in Mobile technology, especially Google speak, it has finally got to the point where it is extremely accessible. Even from the road.

I was inspired to give this a try from a recent article I read featuring a prolific author whose name unfortunately escapes me. She in turn referenced another couple of authors, one of which who was also extremely prolific; Russel Blake. This man writes at a pace of one book every 5 weeks and has become a cottage industry unto himself.

And word is that he does a lot of this writing through voice dictation while walking.

This makes a lot of sense to me as one of my big struggles with writing articles on the side is the fact that in a typical work day I’m already spending most of my time on a computer. So they have to go back to the keyboard during my time off is sometimes more than I can bear.

So how is this done?

It was an offhand comment during a conversation with my wife that sparked the search which led me to the article, which led me here, driving down the highway from Louisiana to Texas composing this. She mentioned an author who had been using the built-in software with his McIntosh to complete his work. So I was searching for reference to this guy, when I went down the rabbit hole on these other authors who are doing the same thing.

I’ve mentioned the Google Keep app in passing a number of times now and it has been truly the greatest new efficiency tool of come across this year. This simple app acts as a Post-It note format although with some advanced power user features that makes it truly spectacular. It can be synced across your devices so that what you writing your phone is available on your desktop is available on your tablet. You can save notes as pictures, drawings, or text.

And you can write them with your voice using Google’s built-in speech recognition software as I am doing now.

Really, this couldn’t be easier. Here I am driving down the road with my headphones plugged in to my phone comma and just talking away. The software works so well that I expect it will only take minimal editing on the computer once I get home to finish up this article (Note: I didn’t get to editing until almost a week later, but as expected, it was a breeze!).

There are a variety of speech commands that you need to learn in order to work with this software, but really it only takes a few to get going.  Then, when I’m back at the house, I’ll just open Google Keep on my computer and copy the text that is being generated into my word program for a final edit. This will consist of punctuation, spacing, and formatting. There is also a little bit of cleaning up of the language to be done, this a result of the sometimes awkward way in which the sentences come out of your mouth!

Some tips to help get this right

The first thing to consider is that the software is going to capture every turn of phrase or slip of the tongue. While you can clean up the uhm’s and ah’s on your computer later it is better if they are never introduced in the first place. This forces you to really think about what you’re going to say before you say it. I feel that an outline will help with this too very great effect, although I’m just going free free form jazz on this one!

The software pauses itself automatically after a period of silence. This is both good and bad. Good, because it allows you to collect your thoughts in between phrases and play with them out loud before committing it to paper. Bad because sometimes you’ll be speaking and then look to realize that nothing has been recorded.

There can also be a bit of lag in between your speech and the text getting down onto the screen which can be disconcerting. However the more you use this software the better the feel you get for how it’s going to behave and the better you can anticipate it’s reaction.

Final thoughts

This is my first attempt at writing like this but it will definitely not be my last.  I try to write a little bit every day because it is the little things, performed consistently, that equal big things. This just happens naturally over time and before you realize it you created something of magnitude where is in the moment you you only need to focus on creating that one small thing.

But some days I have trouble getting something on paper. Whether it’s been a long day at work or a full day on the road, it can be difficult to find the time and motivation. However, by using this tool I can turn previously unproductive time into a chance to create something. While I think the best results are going to happen with some pre-planning, the creation of an outline at a minimum, the increased productivity and words per hour that can be generated through this method will more than make up for the additional outlining and revision time required by this method.

On the topic of word speed, while I have not yet done enough testing to know what I am personally capable of, third party reports show that a well planned out, dictated session, can run upwards of five thousand words per hour. Which to a writer is an incredible output.  I had just over 1,100 words in my rough draft of this article, all spoken in 24 minutes.  This was well on the way towards 2,500 words per hour, with I’ll take any day of the week.

What’s your take on dictation as part of the creative process?  Have you tried it yet?  I’m very interested to hear how other people set up their work flows.