I look at other bloggers and admire their snappy posts. I admire their catchy headlines. I admire their succinct 400 word articles. I admire the actual utility of their posts. I admire their website design. I admire the amount of comments they get for each piece. I admire their (surely amazing) search engine optimization.
I look at my posts and see headlines that are generic and ambiguous. I see several thousand words articles that drag on and on and on. I bet no one is going to read them. Or, comment on them. I see posts with surely no utility to any one. And, I don't even really know what SEO is nor why I should desire it.
I look at other novelists and admire their dense characterizations. I admire their truly literary plot-lines. I admire how they write about stuff that "matters."
I look at myself and wonder why I always have to take things to the gutter. Why I always have to make a joke of things. Why I always have to lampoon life. Why I always come up with similar characters that are kinda sorta just like me. Why I can't just write stuff that easily fits within a particular genre.
I look at myself and wonder why I can't just be as good as these other people I admire. Why can't I be more like them?
I look at myself and wonder what am I doing wrong.
And then I realize:
I'm the only person in the world doing what I'm doing.
Maybe I should admire myself for a bit.
This is another HOW TO FAIL deleted scene that was actually an entire chapter. It was originally Footchapter Twelve-B but in later edits it got shortened into just a small passage (pgs. 289-290) in Footchapter Eleven-A "How to be Aimless & Uninspired."
I thought it would be nice to run now, four years after lots of children picked bad college majors which they're now finding absolutely no use for in the "real" world. Shudder.
You don't need to go to college to aquire most skills. You can learn them on your own. College should only be used as a trade school for white collar piece of shit jobs.
I didn't need classes to know how to write. I either had it or I didn't. And, you're already on pg X of this book so I must have it; or you randomly opened to this page; or you were assigned this for a class (seriously?! Stuart Fish is taught in schools now? How flattering!)
I majored in both film and English. Perhaps the two most useless majors in America after general studies.
You see, the problem is, one can't major in the stuff you really want to major in:
*Picking up hot chicks
Meanwhile, there are countless worthless and useless things people can major in:
*________ Studies (Women's, African-American, Rock 'n' roll)--These aren't "studies." You're essentially paying money to goof around. These colleges are tricking your parents into letting you party for four years under the guise of study. Watch a documentary or two on said _______ or read a couple of books and you'll know more than enough on the subject. And if you're a woman or an African-American, your life is your study. If you're a man or white, you don't need to study those minorities "studies." You're already a majority of fortune on planet Earth. Even if these things interest you, you certainly don't need to spend 80 hours on it.
*Hotel/restaurant management--Seriously? If this necessitates a major then why are so many restaurants running just fine under the helm of a nineteen-year-old college drop-out? And hotels? What's there to know? Mexican women need to clean up the room and makes the bed. Black men need to mop the floor and unclog the toilets. White girls need to run the front desk?! You don't need any ethnic studies classes to know those things.
*History--The major for lazy people that think they're intellecutal and like owning lots of books.
*Physical education--You must be kidding.
*Latin--Studying a dead language is always savvy.
*Teaching--Why would you need to major in this? Can't you pretty much teach something the second you learn it? A 2nd Grader could teach a 1st Grader how to be a 1st Grader, right? And a 9th grader could teach an 8th grader. A 12th grader could probably even teach like a 10th grade "honors" class. Done and done. Katie confirms as much.
My major in film was particularly useless considering my school was using equipment that DW Griffith would have laughed at, and that was a man that thought racism was hilarious so you know he's got a bang-up sense of humor. So, perhaps, maybe I didn't even major in film but actually majored in something like Antiquated Filmmaking.
Wow, my major was even more useless than I thought.
As for obtaining a second major, I sure picked a great one: English. When English is your first language--and you don't even have a second one--you really don't need to major in it. English in college is essentially just like being in a book club that costs $40,000 a year, has only annoying people you hate in it, offers no refreshments at any of the meetings, and a book club where people actually read the books.
No, to not have a useless college major, one needs to major either in a select trade (welding, nursing, massage) or a highly select set of knowledge (biology, rocket science, astrology).
Of course, very few people major in those fields, many major in as equally of worthless majors as I did. Yet all of these people with all these terrible fucking majors, just like me, have managed to find work, to eke out a legitimate living, have a decent paycheck, some savings, be normal.
Why can't I?
What have I done wrong?
I think I went wrong in going to college in the first place.
I should have just skipped it. Sure, I would ultimately have gotten laid less, probably, between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two, I would have played far less beer pong, known none of the intricacies of keg stands and that thing where you stick your key into the side of a beer can and chug, but I would have...oh, I don't know, had four more years of failure on my permanent record. But at least I wouldn't have had a degree.
No one besmirches a NON-college grad that's a failure.
I'm glad I shortened this chapter, it wasn't very good. Having said that, Stu was prescient: I AM taught in schools now!
Check out other "How to Fail" DELETED SCENES here.
I have this one friend who has been reworking and re-polishing the same movie script for years. It was the first script he ever attempted and he started it in college. He's 32 years old now. I have another friend who has been editing his "great American novel" for at least the last decade. Yet another friend who has been trying to put together this same short film series for at least seven years.
I suppose most people would be inspired by my friends' stick-to-itiveness in continuing to pursue their labors of love. But, I'm not. These so-called "labors of love" are absolutely killing their careers.
I really wish they'd just put these projects aside and start something new.
Quite frankly, it's irrelevant whether the aforementioned labors of love are any good. (Having read bits and pieces of them I can say that they are.) What is relevant is that they aren't getting made. Whether through lack of courage, lack of initiative, lack of money, or lack of being picked by a studio or publisher. They could of course pick themselves, but I doubt they will. I suspect that people with labors of love like having them over their head. They like identifying with them. They like some built-in resistance in their lives. Think about the Michael Douglas character in "Wonder Boys," a once-great novelist having wasted the last decade stoned and plugging away at a 2500-page opus of a follow-up second novel that will surely never be ready for publication. Because he won't let it be ready.
Having a labor of love is a great excuse for not failing.
"But, I AM working on something. I'm working on the best thing I've ever written! I just can't get funding/studio support/a publisher to back me/someone to release this!"
Sounds like a great excuse to me.
If these projects were truly labors of love, would they really hurt so bad? Quit loving something so much that hurts so bad, that makes you waste so much of your life. Labors of love are just like abusive husbands. "But, he wouldn't hit me if he didn't love me!"
I don't start any writing projects that I don't love, but I, nevertheless, try not to ever make them into labors of love. Easy come, easy go. Love them, but don't labor over them. Still, there's been a couple. A few that "got away." Several scripts or works in my past that I reminisce about, go "Damn, how did that never get made?!," even pull it up on my computer to see if I can rework it again. You usually can't. Thus, you need to be able to cut ties and start something new.
I'm not saying all labors of love are bad. Without labors of love, "Apocalypse Now" would never exist. Nor would pretty much Stanley Kubrick's entire oeuvre. (Having said that, even Kubrick had a labor of love abuse him for several decades and never see the light of day--"Napoleon.")
But, if a project is absolutely controlling the last decade of your life, and no traction is occuring in actually getting the project released, you have one of two choices:
1. Pick yourself and figure out a way to get it out there (self-published, self-funded, whatever).
2. Or, admit you're just dicking around and move on to something new.
I think it's actually more that people are scared about beginning the "labor of something new"--actually figuring out something new to write and then starting from page 0--than they are wedded to that aging labor of love.
If you recall that Michael Douglas character, he actually needed a tragedy to move on from his labor of love and start anew. But, once that labor of love was "tragically" wiped out of his life and he had no choice BUT to begin a new project, the words just flowed and he quickly did complete a new novel.
If you have a labor of love that has been monopolizing your artistic thought for years...how about dumping it today and starting fresh with something new?
Begin your "labor of something new" now.
Here's the winning film from "The Cheat Sheet" Film Festival. An adaptation of "The Ambiguous Woman" called "Cool & Relaxed."
THE AMBIGUOUS WOMAN
She had given him her business card (Molly Stone/Weber Shandwick/Acct. Mgr.) and not just scrawled her number on a cocktail napkin, which seems less formal, tackier, less personal, but which he would have much preferred. He would have thought she really liked him if she had snatched his Blackberry from his hand and manually entered her number into his phone like he'd seen other girls do before, maybe added a personalized contact entry for herself, “Molly the cute girl at Gingerman,” which would have actually filed itself under T as “The cute girl at Gingerman [comma] Molly,” like the descriptor was her full surname, but still he would have liked that a lot better. He would have definitely called her if she'd done that. But, no, she had just said, “Well, gotta go meet my friends for dinner. Here's my card, shoot me an e-mail.” Shoot her an e-mail? It was her business e-mail. Shoot? Shit.
If you want to read the rest of "The Ambiguous Woman," click here
Or, buy the entire collection here.
MORE FILMS FROM THE FILM FESTIVAL TO FOLLOW...
Often, when I'm sitting at bars, my mind starts wandering to thoughts of other bars, better bars, that I plan to open. One day...
The best part of any wedding is the cocktail hour. You've just spent the last hour sitting quietly in a church or synagogue, bored out of your mind, watching some virgin priest pontificate on the sanctity of marriage. You're ready to explode! And, the cocktail hour is your respite. You go from bored to quickly being overwhelmed with sensory stimulation. You're standing, schmoozing, plates and plates of exotic finger foods are being hurried out of the kitchen, and you're throwing back as much open bar Scotch as your can cram down. Cocktail Hour would bring this same excitement to real life. For a certain cover charge--I'm thinking around $50--you'd get to eat and drink as much as you want for an hour. We'd have, say, five "standings" a night. Everything moves quickly in Manhattan, why not make dinner move even quicker? Get stuffed, get loaded, pick up a floozy. All in an hour.
Only negative: I actually went to two non-wedding cocktail parties this past week and both were pretty boring. Long lines to get drinks, slow and small apps, too polite of conversation. Cocktail Hour would have to figure out that perfect sweet spot between Upper East Side WASP snob-fest and drunken frat party.
I'm a guy that likes to try a lot of different things. Typically a beer drinker, when I hit up a favorite craft beer bar (for instance, Rattle n Hum in New York City), I like to order flights. That way I can try small samples of four different beers in one shot. By the end of the night, sure, I'm loaded, but I've tried 20 different things as opposed to just five or six. This is one reason I hate cocktail lounges. Many of my favorite cocktail lounges in New York (The Stanton Social, PDT, Death and Co.) have massive cocktail lists. I want to try them all. But, due to both pricing (usually $12-$15 per) and booziness, I'm only able to have maybe two or three in an entire night. Thus, my bar Tiny will offer cocktail flights. Four different miniature cocktails served at once.
Only negative: My bartenders would detest me. They would hate having to whip up four tiny cocktails for every single person, every single round. Also, finding tiny cocktail glasses may prove tough.
Just like it sounds: a brewpub that is also a small publishing house. We'd brew up both our own beers and our own books. We'd even have beer and book pairings. And, the first beer released would obviously be How to Fail Ale.
Only negative: Publishing is dead and, as I found out, drunks don't read.
If you like these ideas and have money, let's talk. If you like these ideas and just want to steal them from me, feel free. But, at least, let me drink on your house for the rest of time.
More to come...
When I talk to students, they want advice.
I could help them hone their writing and filmmaking crafts, which I do, sure.
I could be snarky and say: "Get good at lifting heavy shit." Because film sets are all about lifting heavy shit and lugging it around, especially if you're low on the totem pole.
I could even tip them off to the best drink deals in Manhattan so they're prepared once they move here.
But, the one advice I have, that I think is more important than all else is: start getting fans ASAP.
It's easy to sit back and be mad every time Snooki gets another book deal, every time Kim Kardashian gets another TV show, every time they make another furiously fast movie. But, that misses the point.
Sure, all of us could write a better book than Snooki('s ghostwriter), make a higher quality TV show than anything Kim touches, or write a movie with a more thought-provoking logline than: fast cars furiously chase each other.
The point is, though, that these people and franchises already have massive fan bases. Already have massive "tribes" as Seth Godin would call them. You don't. (I don't either yet).
So, it's less of a risk to release a new Snooki book because surely a few tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of her 2 MILLION Twitter followers will purchase it (but probably only look at the pictures). The same is even more so true for fans of Kim Kardashian or any successful movie franchise as all a person has to do is prop themselves in front of a screen for a bit.
It's risky to invest in you or I. You don't have many Twitter followers, neither do I all things considered. If I had a million, a lot more of my projects would get greenlit. A lot more people would enjoy them. (Even though the writing would be exactly the same as my writing is this second.)
[Today we won't even discuss that you should quit waiting around for someone to pick you--to greenlight your project, offer you a book deal, etc--and just pick yourself. The fan/tribe-building still holds true.]
I met students at Syracuse last weekend that didn't even Twitter accounts. Or blogs. Or Tumblrs. I was furious! What are you doing?!
"But, I have nothing to promote yet."
"I'm too busy to Tweet."
"I have nothing to say right now."
At face value, this seems valid. But, you do have something to promote: yourself. Always.
If you could leave college with a few thousand Twitter followers, if you could have 5,000 fans of you and your brand by age 25, if you could have 20,000 or 50,000 or 100,000 fans by age 30--when you've finally honed your skills enough to produce quality work--then the rest would take care of itself. Easier to convince a publisher or film studio or TV exec to work with you if you already have proof you have a lot of fans.
At this point in time, you might not be good enough just yet to produce great work, but you're always able to start slowly building a tribe. To start acquiring fans with a funny Tweet here, an interesting blog post there, day after day after day. Start those days today, and soon you will be able to reverse engineer your way to a project every one of your fans will dying to see.
Then, like Sun Tzu said:
"You will be certain to win."
"Cool & Relaxed" -- the winning project from The Cheat Sheet Film Festival
Become one of my fans on Twitter.
Join my Tribe by LIKING me on Facebook.
For a brief while, earlier drafts of "How to Fail" presented a Stu Fish character who absolutely, and almost inexplicably, detested Nora Ephron. He both thought her most responsible for the downfall of quality Hollywood entertainment and perhaps even society, all due to her chick flick troika of "When Harry Met Sally," "Sleepless in Seattle," and "You've Got Mail."
Things finally come to a head when Stu and his screenwriting friend Wesley run into Nora on a studio lot in Hollywood. Afterward, Stu explains to Wesley (who greatly admires her contributions to the film industry) why he detests her so:
Things I hate about Nora Ephron:
- I hate her fucking name. It just sounds repugnant. Both her first and her last name. I hate that she has a sister named Delia too. Delia?! Give me a fucking break.
- I hate that she was one of the few people that knew who Deep Throat was and held it over everyone like she was awesome. No, you aren't awesome, you were fucking Bob Woodward.
- speaking of that, I hate that she is now married to Nicolas Pilleggi. How can the brilliant writer of "Goodfellas" and "Casino" be married to such a shrill, undertalented wench? Even worse, how can she have more career Oscar nominations than him?
- I hate how she thinks she is so awesome. A feminist par excellence. A master observer of the the human condition. Of female/male dynamics. The relationship scribe of the century.
- But most of all, and the only thing that truly matters--I detest her fucking movies. We're talking about her trifecta of pussiness specifically. I'm not referring to stuff like "Silkwood" or "Michael," though those are awful movies in their own right. I'm talking about "When Harry Met Sally," "Sleepless in Seattle," and, yes, your beloved "You've Got Mail. "You've Got Mail" is just a rip-off of "Sleepless in Seattle," with a twist of "Shop Around the Corner," which was just a rip-off of "An Affair to Remember" which isn't particularly a great movie to begin with.
Ultimately, I dropped the Nora hatred from the entire book and, aside from a few stray mentions of "You've Got Mail," you won't find anything about Nora in "How to Fail." Nevertheless, I imagine Stu still hates her and, I suppose, I kinda do too, but it just felt weird to include in the book. And, ultimately, it really wasn't all that funny.
I (as in Aaron) still think about Nora Ephron far too much though. She's hard to avoid. She always has a new movie or book or fucking Huffington Post commentary. She's always quoted in stories and on TV and anywhere you look. I sometimes even accidentally walk by the UWS coffee shop where "You've Got Mail" had some of its major scenes. I just don't get it. Perhaps I never will. Perhaps I'm just insanely jealous of her insane success. At least her last few movies have really, really sucked.
Check out these other Director's Commentary and Deleted Scenes:
#1 -- "FUCK YOUS" (dedication page)
#2 -- "QUOTING BIGGIE SMALLS" (including famous quotes)
#3 -- "BLURBS" (cover blurbs)
#4 -- "CHAPTER ONE" (genesis of HTF idea)
#5 -- "THE FAILURE INTERVENTION" (deleted scene)
#6 -- "I'VE NEVER BEEN HAPPIER" (deleted scene)
#7 -- "HOW TO FAIL ON A DATE" (deleted chapter)
#8 -- "HOW TO MAKE GOD HATE YOU" (deleted chapter)
#9 -- "BENDERS" -- (deleted scene)
There's the oft-repeated aphorism to "write what you know."
I've never agreed with that. Writing what you know leads only to grocery lists.
I think the phrase should be amended to "write what you feel."
What makes us connect with some written words but not others?
How come something we know is "well-written" still leaves us cold, while we can't put down other things that are generally agreed to be hacky?
This is the question of my life.
One I've been trying to figure out forever.
I was in love with a girl in junior high but, of course, had no clue how to possibly make an opening romantic salvo. So I came up with a plan. Yearbook day was approaching and I figured if I really wrote something romantical (that's even better than romantic) I would slay her heart. So, I started drafting something up. Seriously. While not paying attention in class I meticulously crafted what I would write in her yearbook. It had to be short and sweet, of course, but it also had to be sweet and romantic, not too creepy, not too forward, and beautifully written.
After I'd finally penned something I was happy with, I memorized the entire thing. Then, on yearbook signing day, when she casually asked if I would sign her book, I said, "But of course!," located a nice big blank spot in between the other goofballs who had scratched out stuff like "R.H.T.S. (Raise Hell This Summer)" and "H.A.G.S. (Have a Great Summer)" and quickly wrote the passage I'd memorized. I figured she'd be all the more impressed by my abilities at being an impromptu Shakespearian yearbook sonneteer.
That evening I got a call from the girl. She told me she'd read and re-read my message all day and it had made her cry it was so sweet. She'd even shown it to her mother. Success!
From that point on, I truly realized the emotional power of words and have long been trying to figure out how to best employ them in my commercial work. I still don't completely understand it.
I don't understand why unquestionably great writing by--OK, I'll name names--say, Jonathan Lethem in "Chronic City" or Colum McCann in "Let the Great World Spin," leaves me cold and emotionally unmoved, while universally derided pap like The Millennium Trilogy I'm embarrassed to pick up, yet am unable to put down.
And, I think it all comes down to "writing what you feel." Stieg Larsson was clearly passionate about the mistreatment of women and threw together a impassioned plotline about one woman's revenge against such atrocities. While a lot of "well-written" book are well-written in that boring MFA way that completely lacks emotion.
How does writing become viral?
It's easy to understand how a funny YouTube clip or clever zinger on Twitter or even a great non-fiction work of "eureka!" ideas become viral, but how does fictional writing become viral? I've never been sure. Why does The Millennium Trilogy and "Twilight" and tons of shoddily written chick lit get passed around continuously while technically "better" written stuff gets only read by critics, never recommended to others.
I wish I knew the answer, and though I feel I won't be an authority to speak on the subject until one of my works actually becomes such a success, for now, I suspect it's from writing what you feel. Writing emotionally-charged stuff that is guaranteed to connect with other people that have surely felt the same thing as you feel. It doesn't even matter if it's poorly written, or told under the guise of a story about teenage vampires, or slapped between two pink covers.
If you could only write what you know, there'd never be science fiction or historical epics or novels about utopian societies. There'd just be books about poor and lonely writers sitting in coffee shops trying to figure this shit called life out. And, that's not enjoyable for any one. [Actually, Stephen King actually wrote a very emotionally-charged book about writing. No surprise, everyone loves it and it has become the definitive how-to writing book of this era. It seems even guide books need to be emotionally-charged.]
Of course, back in junior high and high school, sadly maybe even college, I tried to continue using my skill with words to my advantage but a lot of girls just ended up getting a lot of stupid notes. Perhaps I didn't like them as much as that one girl in junior high. Perhaps I just couldn't muster up the emotion. Then again, these notes probably did in fact become viral when the girls showed the notes to all their friends and laughed.
We need to focus more on writing yearbook messages, and less on writing grocery lists.
Would more people read my blog if it had a red and blue color scheme?
Would more people Like my Facebook page if I added a Like-gate?
Would more people RT my tweets if I tweeted more often?
Would more people subscribe to my mailing list if I offered special newsletter-only content on a monthly basis?
How often should I be using my Mail Chimp?
Should I only be showing a portion of my blog posts? Only the titles?
Should I be only posting things online at certain optimal-impression hours?
Should I worry about SEO?
How often do I need to be blogging?
Do I need more evergreen content?
Am I annoying my fans? Or not offering them enough content?!
These are the kind of thoughts that stupidly haunt me sometimes. That make me obsessed. They're hard to avoid. But, it's really just mental masturbation. How to masturbate at work: worry more about the tiny insignificant facades of "work" than actually doing the work.
Oh, and they are insignificant concerns. Excuses for why your book isn't selling as well as you think it should. Excuses for why you don't have as many Facebook fans, don't get RT'ed as much, don't have a massive opted-in mailing list.
It's hard not to find yourself fooling around on the internet and finding blogs and Facebook fan pages and Twitter feeds that are getting the results you want--but don't have--which make you think:
"Should I be doing what that guy's doing?"
You should only be worried about creating great work. Great unique work. Completely different from everyone else's work.
Like a pithy blog post with links to everything I've ever worried about.
Which I hope people will now click on.
The first ever (but I'm guessing not the last ever) "The Cheat Sheet" film festival was a bigger success than I would have ever imagined. Certainly something I didn't completely think would ever come to fruition when I began writing the first story from the collection, "The References," less than two years ago in December of 2009.
In the movie business there's a term: high concept.
It refers to a work that can easily be described in a succinctly stated premise. One sentence or so.
Now, this term is often used disparagingly, but I don't think it needs to be. In fact, I intentionally wrote all eleven "Cheat Sheet" stories to be as high concept as possible (check out the succinctly stated premises on the book's Amazon page). I wrote the stories with an eye for them one day being adapted for screen--and easily at that.
Most short stories are pure literary exercises, writerly masturbations--a man lying in bed dying while thinking about his life, for example--which is about as low concept and un-exhilarating for screen as humanly possible.
But, just because a story is high concept, just because you set up a strong plot backbone in the original material, doesn't mean the film will be great. Execution is key and it's so easy to fuck up a good idea with a few errors here and there, a little bit of uncontrollable bad luck. Until you've made a film yourself, you'll just never know how damn hard it is.
These Syracuse students that participated in the adaptation process via Tula Goenka's upper level filmmaking class worked tirelessly on the films from late January when I first came to class to tell them the assignment all the way to, in some cases, putting the final edits on a film a few hours before the festival!
It's grueling work turning a twenty-five page story into a fifteen minute movie, but the kids--I call them kids--pulled it off. All four films were damn good. Not flawless, of course, that will come with time and finer honed skills, but still damn good and impressive in their own way. These are kids I'm going to be begging to work with me soon, begging to work for eventually perhaps.
The winning film was "The Ambiguous Woman" adapted by Amy Paterson, Lindsay Steinkamp, and Xiu Qing Wu. Truth be told, going into the screening, I thought they were a longshot to pull off the victory. Not because of their talent or anything, but because "The Ambiguous Woman" seemed to me one of the harder stories to adapt due to an abundance of interior monologue in the main character's head. But, their execution with such a degree of difficulty was unique and skilled, especially since they flawlessly cast the male lead. A lesser actor truly could have botched the entire project. They even had the balls to change my title, opting for "Cool & Relaxed," a naming which nearly made me vomit when I first saw it on the festival program, but which I was completely sold on by the time the credits rolled.
The other three films were also good, all having their own moments of brilliance [a tour de force sex montage cut to Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog" in "The References"; a truly trippy "Twilight Zone"-esque portion of "Gross Humans"; and a stunning ending to "The Boyfriend Trials"] but a few more problems here and there ultimately cost them.
Filmmaking is a "failing promiscuously" kind of art form. You have to fuck up countless times in order to actually get good at the many aspects of it. So, I'm glad I was able to help the students get a few more fuckups out of the way early in their careers.
The kids seemed very excited at the work they did this year and the opportunity the festival afforded them. I even heard some filmmaking students that weren't involved express dismay that they didn't get such an opportunity! I hope I get to do it again next year with a new batch of kids, perhaps a new batch of colleges even.
It was a massive success.
And, I can't wait to show you the films soon enough.
Special thanks to Tula, Craig, Jake, Jules, and all the filmmakers and actors involved in the films.