Think wrongly, if you please, but in all cases think for yourself. – Doris Lessing

Go forth into the unknown, explore the caves of your unconscious, fear not your “dark side,” find the gold.

— Robin Hoffman (@AuthorAlchemy)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Young Filmmakers Waltz to Success on Kickstarter

KICKSTARTER.COM, billing itself as the largest funding platform for creative projects in the world, says “Every week, tens of thousands of amazing people pledge millions of dollars to projects from the worlds of music, film, art, technology, design, food, publishing and other creative fields.”

I am one such donor, and now I've had the thrill of seeing the first creative results. For a short film project entitled A Waltz, I made a donation online—along with 85 other backers—to help fund its production costs.

There were various rewards for being a backer on this project, depending on the amount. My donation will reward me with “warm fuzzies, special thanks in the credits and a copy of the DVD.”

On Kickstarter, your project does not get funded until you reach your funding goal. For production company Pickled Amygdala this meant raising $3,500 in 45 days. Backers pledged a total of $4,010 and the project was funded on April 3, 2011.

The next challenge was for director Dillon Wall to orchestrate a shooting schedule during a timeframe when all crew members and the two actors would be available. This took until October to be realized, but the planning and the waiting was worth it. Dillon and his team had a phenomenal experience shooting the film, which you can read about at the link provided at the end of this post.

Meanwhile, Dillon has kindly agreed to answer some questions for Boonies about his experience.

Welcome, Dillon. Thanks for speaking with us. First, what did you learn from the Kickstarter process?

One thing I learned from the Kickstarter process is that budgeting and fundraising are absolutely essential to making a good film. They aren't necessarily what you think of when you first jump into the industry, but the business side of art (especially in a medium as commercial and expensive as film) is crucial to the success of the artistic process.

It also affects the project in ways I didn't expect. We have way more people genuinely invested in the film's progress, which keeps us motivated and keeps the production moving. It starts to feel like you have a huge support group behind you, and everyone wants the movie to succeed. That's a really important thing to remember during the hectic hustle and bustle on set. Keeps everything in perspective.

What did you learn from your three days of shooting the film?

I've been on sets before, but never as a producer/director combo. From that vantage point, this set actually taught me a lot. First of all, everyone looks to you to maintain a positive atmosphere on set. If the director/producer is happy, then everyone else can feel happy. If the director/producer is throwing a fit, the set can go to a very dark place very quickly.

So I found it important to remember to keep my cool, even when we lose twenty minutes as a really long freight train passes by, or when we have five minutes of sunlight left and some teenagers decide to get into a honking battle in the parking lot next door. These things are out of our control, and the only thing we can do is shoot the best film possible, and have fun doing it. When we have fun, it shows up in the footage.

Cinematographer Brandon Fraley

What was your favorite moment of the entire process up till now?

My favorite moment in the entire process. . . . Well, when Mom (writer Judy Clement Wall, see below) first finished the script and I read through it, I got this crystal clear image of one of the shots I wanted towards the end. When they are dancing on the train station, I wanted a (time for some technical jargon) counter dolly shot to track with them from left to right and wind up looking at the sunset with our main actors in the foreground.

My cinematographer told me he was skeptical at best that we would be able to get the shot with our budget and time constraints. I told him we were going to try it anyway. Sure enough, the final shot of the final day of shooting, with about thirty minutes of sunlight left, our crew set up the dolly and we got three takes of my dream shot. And they looked absolutely amazing.

My hat goes off to the cast and crew and especially my cinematographer Brandon Fraley for pulling off a shot that none of us have ever seen in a movie before. Very cool to see. I was on cloud nine for the rest of the day.

What is your best advice to other young filmmakers who are trying to find their groove?

My advice to young filmmakers is to make friends. You can't do this alone. When I was starting out I was often writer, director, producer, cinematographer, and editor; I know a lot of young filmmakers start out that way.

It's tough to get to the point where you are confident enough in your vision to articulate it to another artist but, believe me, when you surround yourself with other creative and professional people (and trust me, they are out there), the job is already half-done for you. It's easy to get down on yourself when you try to carry all the responsibility on your own shoulders. But if you get a couple people together, and everyone takes the piece that they love to do, that's when magic happens.

The waltz moment. Actors Edward Hightower and Emily Cary.

Next, I interviewed Judy Clement Wall (known to her friends as j) about her role as screenwriter.

Welcome, j. What was your process for developing the story idea?

Dillon told me about an image that flashed through his mind of a man and a woman in a train station. The man was giving the woman a scarf. He said he just had that image, but no story. I said, "Let me write a story for you," and he said okay. (He's great like that.) I guess I wrote the script answering three questions that immediately came to mind. Who is the man? Who is the woman? Why would he give her a scarf? From that the rest was born - and it helps that the movie is very short. A snapshot in time, two people at a crossroads.

How do you feel about screenwriting now that you've stumbled into trying it?

It was really fun . . . and challenging. A whole different kind of writing. In my fiction, I spend a great deal of time in my character's heads - stuff you can't translate easily to film. I want to write some flash fiction pieces for Pickled Amygdala, in part so I can challenge myself to communicate a story in visuals and dialog. It requires a writer to be very clear, very precise. I like that.

Thanks to Dillon and j for their awesome responses to my questions.

Dillon and team: Best of luck during post-production and all the steps after that. Can't wait to watch my own DVD of A Waltz. :~)

Photos used with permission from Dillon Wall and Pickled Amygdala


Read Dillon's exciting post about their final day on set:

Update #13: Finished Shooting!

Watch the video that helped raise funds for the production costs:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Movies Under the Bridge

IF YOU ARE a fan of classic movies—or any kind of outdoor movie event—then you'll enjoy the story I did over on my travel blog (Milliver's Travels) about Yellow Creek Theater in Poland, Ohio.

Check it out here: Movies Under the Bridge

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Where Exactly Is the Boonies?

THE PICTURE OF the chile wagon (an old beater pick-up truck hung with strings of red chile, aka chile ristras) posted in the header of my blog was taken by Brian back when we lived in Taos, New Mexico.

A symbolic image of New Mexico is intrinsic to this blog because I took up screenwriting while living in Taos. And my first screenplay is set in NM.

We've moved several times since then and I'm still in the boonies. Currently, I live in Youngstown, Ohio, part of the Rust Belt. Yo'town's big claim to movie fame is Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, a retired Italian-American boxer who was born here and whose boxing career was portrayed in a 1980s made-for-television movie. More recently, Mancini has been living the Hollywood dream, acting in a handful of films. He lives in L.A., where he operates two movie production companies.

Not sure any screenwriters from Yo have ever made the grade in Hollywood. I should research that.

I was born in Wallace, Idaho—population 784, according to the 2010 census—so if any future screenwriting success ever managed to generate my own Wikipedia page, my yokeldom would become official.

When I named my blog, I didn't consult with the Internet on the meaning of the term “the boonies.” I already had my reasons for choosing that name, and it didn't occur to me to look up the definition. Amazingly (or amusingly), this morning when I Googled “definition of boonies” just for kicks, I found out there's a Wiki page devoted to it.

Pretty much everybody knows that boonies is short for “the boondocks.” Here's the official definition from Wiki:
The term boondocks refers to a remote, usually brushy rural area; or to a remote city or town that is considered unsophisticated.
I had always assumed it must be a Southern term. I just found out it originated in the Philippines (spelled slightly different) and was introduced into the English language by American military personnel serving in the Philippines during the early years of the 20th century. Other languages have their own equivalent, including Spanish.

In 1965 (when I was five years old), Billy Joe Royal had a hit with “Down in the Boondocks.” The song is a lament from a young man who feels the pain of people putting him down because he was born in the boonies.

I didn't specifically think about that song when I named my blog, but those lyrics must have been simmering in my subconscious. Because that's my lament. Actually, lament is the wrong word for it—that's my challenge.

Like many aspiring screenwriters, I was not born in L.A. and I don't have a way (yet) to move there. But I've witnessed the rise of services that make the movie biz more accessible to writers from out of town. I wrote about one here (see my post about eMeetings, a start-up from the folks at PAGE Screenwriting Awards). I found another one last week that's still in the experimental stage but could be quite powerful—and lucrative—for writers who live in the boonies (more about that in an upcoming post).

The boonies are not dead yet! Let's wallow around in our proverbial swamps and keep writing.

Milli Thornton (aka Milliver) is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at Milliver's Travels and the Fear of Writing Blog and coaches writers individually at Writer's Muse Coaching Service.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Hazards of Studying a Good Script

THE TROUBLE WITH studying good scripts is that they're so good I forget to pay attention to the mechanics of the script.

I had that experience again last week while reading Chinatown by Robert Towne.I hadn't seen the movie for several years and had forgotten many of the details of the story. But as soon as I started reading Towne's script, the visuals began flooding in. Not only the visuals, but even the way Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway delivered their lines. And the tenser the story got, the faster I read.

I couldn't slow down for INT. or EXT. or whose POV it was. After a few pages I could guess the settings from my memories of the movie and just go for the meat instead.

I've been having the same experience this week with The King's Speech and Adaptation. I'm reading The King's Speech online in a pdf I found on and Adaptation.offline, in a book from The Shooting Script series (Newmarket Press). They're both so good I'm devouring them.

I suppose I take it all in on some level—plus the more scripts you read the more natural it all seems and the less you have to sweat the details. But, still. I'm here to learn as well as enjoy.

Now that I'm thinking it through in writing, I think the problem lies in semi-following the standard advice: study a script as you watch the movie. (I haven't watched those three again yet, but I chose the scripts because I'd already seen the movies.) I think the standard advice is extremely sensible. But when I already know and love the movie, I tend to get too lost in the story to study formatting or scene structure.

I think I'll mix it up more from now on. My new theory, as of this minute, is that reading scripts for which I have no prior exposure to the movie will force me to pay more attention in the schoolhouse.

I can start right away with the other half of the Robert Towne book: published by Grove Press, it also contains the script for The Last Detail. Another Nicholson role but one I've never seen.

Should be an interesting experiment. Will the screenwriter cause me to vividly visualize The Last Detail playing out on a movie screen? And will that distract me from the mechanics of the script?

Can't wait to find out.

Milli Thornton (aka Milliver) is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at Milliver's Travels and the Fear of Writing Blog and coaches writers individually at Writer's Muse Coaching Service.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Hug a Treatment Today

I'VE TALKED BEFORE about how much I love creating a script from a treatment (see Treatment Blitz), even though for most of my other writing I'd rather fly by the seat of my pants. My most recent experience has reconfirmed this so deeply, I ended up wanting to hug my treatment for being so good to me.

Last week I finished the first draft of my second screenplay; a dramedy set on the Oregon coast. But first, using my treatment, I reconnected with it after a break of eight months.

So much had happened to me during those intervening months, I doubt my brain cells could have retained the story without a memory aid. Plus back then I had written four treatments in a very short time—that's too many stories for my 51-year-old brain to keep track of without cue cards.

So that was the first gift my treatment gave me: I was able to reconnect with my story after a long break, rediscovering my passion for my characters and their doings.

When I opened my dramedy in Movie Magic on September 26, I was starting on Page 36. As a self-imposed deadline, I gave myself a comfortable two weeks of writing approximately five pages per day. Instead, I finished in one week—a week that consisted of only three days where I actually worked on the script.

(I finished on Page 83, having purposely skipped over some places that I prefer to expand on later, such as parts that require research.)

Apart from the shortness of the first draft, the main reason I finished so soon was because my treatment served my well. I had done such a complete job of it, sections of the script were practically writing themselves as I transplanted, for example, fully-developed dialogue from the treatment to the script.

Perhaps every screenwriter who uses a treatment has this kind of experience. Or perhaps it's because I do so well writing the story out in regular prose first (albeit in the style of a treatment template vs. classic storytelling, as in a novel). I don't know which it is because I haven't talked to other screenwriters who rely on treatments to write from. All I know is the glorious feeling of finishing in half the time because I'd done the prep.

I'm hooked!

P.S. I use the treatment template in Writing Treatments That Sell by Kenneth Atchity and Chi-Li Wong. Theirs was the first book related to the craft of screenwriting that I ever read, and I'm glad that's how I got started: on what still feels like the right foot.

Milli Thornton (aka Milliver) is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at Milliver's Travels and the Fear of Writing Blog and coaches writers individually at Writer's Muse Coaching Service.

Friday, September 30, 2011

A New Marketing Outlet for Three Finished Scripts? I'm Motivated!

GOT AN EMAIL from ScreenwritingU yesterday. There was a big underlined question part-way down the email:
Do you need help finding representation?
The email went on to outline the impossibility of trying to get anyone from the industry to respond to query letters from undiscovered screenwriters. Everything from legal paranoia—we can't read your stuff because you might accuse us of stealing your idea—to agents who are too snowed under taking care of their existing clients (plus referrals from people they already know) to read the work of strangers.

The editor of the ezine, Cheryl Croasmun, said: “Our friends at PAGE International Screenwriting Awards have a new service that we think will help you get connected to representation.”

I've seen a bunch of sites where you can list your work and hope that agents or producers will love your logline and request your script(s). I figured this would be another one of that ilk. But not so. It's called eMeetings, and it guarantees to get you in front of agents and managers.

“We just launched our eMeetings program this month, and over 30 writers have already received requests for their scripts – and I'm thrilled to announce that one talented screenwriter has already been offered representation!” — PAGE

I went to their site,, to check it out. In a nutshell, eMeetings will accept only a limited number of writers for each monthly program. Each month, three L.A. reps will look at the material presented by each writer. They'll read your query letter, study your profile page and send you a personal reply. Reps will request to see more if they like your work.

The fees are very reasonable. Depending on how many months you want to participate, the fees range from $179 to $299, which includes some good discounts for taking more than one month.

One of the features of the eMeetings venue is that you don't have to query the agents cold turkey. Podcasts are provided where the agents discuss what they're looking for right now or what they specialize in. You can then tailor your pitch to better suit what the agent has expressed.

(Another thing I like is that I didn't see anything about the need for live pitches. It's all done by query letter and with the info you provide on your profile. Since I haven't conquered my fear of pitching yet, that makes it all the more doable.)

I really appreciated the part where the eMeetings crew lets you know who shouldn't waste their time or spend their money here:
Who should NOT register for this program?

If you have not completed at least three feature-length screenplays or teleplays, we do not recommend you register for eMeetings. Most Hollywood agents and managers are not interested in signing writers who:

a) have written only one feature screenplay or teleplay
b) have written only short film scripts
c) have concepts or ideas for movies and series, but have not written the scripts
d) are not fluent in English
I currently have one finished screenplay that's been through three readers and nine rewrites. My current script is half-written and I should be able to finish it in October. After that, I have four treatments plus one other script idea to choose from. Reading the “who shouldn't bother” part just gave me a heap of extra juju to get on with my writing!

If it's up to me not to fall through the cracks in Hollywood, I have a slim chance. But if it's up to me to capture the attention of 3-9 “already captive” audience members (eMeetings books the time of the agents and managers who participate), then I have a fighting chance.

As long as I do my best with my scripts, write a great query letter and maximize my profile to show all my writing experience, eMeetings will do the rest.

I'm in! Not as a customer yet . . . but with the goal of finishing three scripts and preparing myself to show my work.


Milli Thornton (aka Milliver) is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at Milliver's Travels and the Fear of Writing Blog and coaches writers individually at Writer's Muse Coaching Service.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

I Can Writes Comedy

LAST JANUARY I started my second script. Following the story from the treatment I'd already written, I forced myself to add a minimum of four pages a day (but it usually turned out to be more than four). After one week, I had 36.5 pages written.

That's one-third of a script. In one week. I could have had my second script finished by mid-Feb if I had kept going at that rate.

Instead, I quit altogether. Why? Because I was worried it wasn't funny. And it's supposed to be a comedy/drama.

(OK, dramedy, but I hate that word.)

Reading the script today after eight months of forgetting all about it in favor of other writing projects was a revelation. It's a funny script! (I was even laughing out loud in parts.) And it retains all the angst of the female characters, so I've struck the balance I wanted to strike.

Today is the Saturday event for Sept. over at 10K Day for Writers.
Have only written 1,839 words so far, and I had a list of stuff I was planning to work on. Mostly blog posts for Fear of Writing and Milliver's Travels, plus another brainstorming session for the new screenplay idea I'm incubating.

But all that has changed. Taking the time to read my manuscript was just as valuable as spending that time on writing. And now I need to relook at my priorities.

Originally, I was planning to take up the new script idea in favor of finishing my second script—because this new script idea seemed worthier of my time. But now that I've read #2, I feel recommitted to it. It's funny and the audience will relate. It's entertainment, with a way for the characters to redeem themselves and learn something about how to live life. Of course it's worthy of my time!

This is another lesson on how we can mis-perceive our own writing when we're too close to it. I help writers with that all the time, but that doesn't mean I'm not immune to it myself.

Need to do some serious time management work here. Because now I really want to finish script #2. I can still incubate my new script idea while I'm doing that.

(Note to self: Come back and read this post the moment you fear your script is dull and should be set aside for something with more "purpose.")


Photo courtesy of See more CHEEZburger.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Which Magical Powers Shall I Use Today?

EVERY WRITER AGREES that part of the joy (and sometimes the terror) of writing is when we can see or feel the impact it has on our audience. Someone leaves a blog comment, sends an email, tweets or speaks to you in person to tell you that you've moved/helped/inspired them or entertained/made them laugh.

I've had readers of my book say “You've probably heard this a million times, but . . .” and then they tell me they got a revelation or had a breakthrough while using my writing prompts or doing an assignment in my online course. Sure, there are patterns to what I hear. But I never get sick of it.

The day I'm bored by feedback from my own readers is the day I need to croak off and let somebody younger take up my sword.

Today on my travel blog, a reader left a comment on There’s a Passport with Your Name on It saying that my story inspired her and her husband and two sons to set the intention to get their passports.

Since for four people that'll be about $550 in passport fees (including photos), not to mention the persistence to get the paperwork done and rustle up the birth certificates, I was a little awestruck. While writing the story I'd had flashes of hope that it might move someone who'd never had a passport to actually think about applying for one—but mostly I was too busy writing to get caught up in hoped-for outcome. This documented result was way more than I'd visualized.

It reminded me of the magical powers we have as writers.

Mind you, until I started thinking about it after reading that comment, I had never said to myself “I have magical powers as a writer.” Just knowing you have power can be thrilling, motivational and scary . . . but magic powers? When I see it in that light it puts even more fun into the whole writing caper. Not to mention huge impatience to cast some more spells out there!

I decided to ponder the magic powers I've used (or plan to use) in existing and future scripts.

For my first script (which is sitting in a pile of submissions at a producer's house near London, with a friend providing reminders on my behalf), I want moviegoers to feel all the same stuff they feel while watching Back to the Future: disbelief suspended by comedy and outlandish modes of travel, identifying with my main character's mission enough to root for a happy ending, entertained to the core.

I also hope the sex angle will make a few viewers squirm (it's one of those TMI things) while leaving them amused with—or maybe scornful of—the main character's predicament. I want them to feel they're more powerful than he is, until they see the rabbits he pulls out of his hat to save some butts that are special to him.

For my partly-written second script, I want to make the audience laugh simultaneous to the two halves of any couples (potential, existing or broken off) identifying so strongly with the man-woman stuff it reminds them of their own lives. I also want the lone wolf element to prickle people's set-in-stone beliefs, just as she does with her fellow characters.

For my latest script idea, the one I'm still incubating, I want to shake people up to think about possibilities beyond what they normally imagine, but in a way that relates to their own lives and problems. I want to take them into other dimensions.

How about you? Which magical powers are you wielding in your latest script/novel/poem/blog post? Do you fully believe in and accept your powers?


Milli Thornton (aka Milliver) is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at Milliver's Travels and the Fear of Writing Blog and coaches writers individually at Writer's Muse Coaching Service.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Incubating a Story

EXCEPT WHEN I'M using my own writing prompts, I usually start writing after a story has already started to filter (or flood) into my mind.

This was very true when I wrote my book, but has only sometimes been true about screenwriting.

For my first script, the story came to me as a huge download after I looked at the cover of a book with a picture of a steam train on it.

For my five treatments, it was a mixed bag of approaches: one was a story that just came to me, another is based on real-life events, another was created from a two-word “high concept” title I coined from a funny situation with Brian, and one was a story created from a spiritual/metaphysical concept I want to write about using the sci-fi/fantasy genre.

The fifth treatment is based on a story from my book that Brian has long been telling me just begs to be adapted as a script. Strangely, that's the only one I've struggled with and the only treatment that remains unfinished. The one that was a completed and published short story before it was ever an idea for a screenplay.

Today is 10K Day over at my Fear of Writing blog and I'm working on a brand-new script idea. So far, I'd call the process “hopefully percolating a story idea.” I started with purely a concept (albeit one I know a lot about and have a great passion for) and now I'm feeling my way into this.

For part of my 10K Day writing, I turned on my Dragon dictation software to brainstorm out loud, hoping that the act of talking myself through it would help locate my story.

I started by expressing all the background blah-blah-blah about why I want to write a script using this concept, etc. etc., just to get that out of the way. Then I did some quick research online, looking for a relevant definition, and along the way I picked up a few other snippets of info that will help.

Then it was time for the magic to come. You know, the story. I had prepared myself for the brainstorm in ways that should have worked . . . but they didn't. I ended up with eight short paragraphs of “what I know so far” plus three ideas for themes or scenarios that can help flesh out the story.

But still no characters popping out the mist, no shreds of dialogue, no “and then this happened” momentum. I started feeling drained and decided that sometimes even the coolest methods for writing don't work because you're not quite ready.

I ended my brainstorming session by telling Dragon to type this:

Even though this was not the story or story-fragment brainstorming session I was hoping for, I know I've primed my subconscious mind with some good material. Perhaps I just need to allow it to percolate.

Sometimes chronicling what doesn't seem to work can be interesting. I often look back and see it worked better than I thought it did. Here's hoping. . . .


Milli Thornton (aka Milliver) is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at Milliver's Travels and the Fear of Writing Blog and coaches writers individually at Writer's Muse Coaching Service.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Joys of Collab

I'VE ALWAYS wanted to collaborate with someone fascinating to write about their area of expertise. A couple of times I started to, but the project always floundered before we could produce much.

The first time, I was going to write a book with a man who teaches people how to play the didgeridoo (Australian Aboriginal wind instrument made from a hollow tree branch) for health and spiritual purposes. I did extensive interviews and wrote several chapters . . . but the didge player was allergic to reading manuscripts, so that made it impossible for me to continue. Couldn't proceed without his input on what I'd written.

The second time, I was going to write a book with Taos artist John Farnsworth. Farnsy is a raconteur who has led a colorful life and his style of painting has carved him a niche in the art world. Just the kind of real-life character I long to write about! But then serious health problems overtook me and I had to drop it.

But now I have another chance to collaborate with a creative person whose area of expertise is of great interest to me. This time it will be a screenplay not a book. Our genre will be something approximating sci-fi/fantasy/metaphysical.

We're going to combine his expertise and years of professional practice with my personal experiences in the field he works in. In the beginning, I'll be the main writer. Later, we plan to use the online function of the script software to work on the script together.

We're just getting started and we had our first Skype session last night to brainstorm ideas. We don't have any characters or a storyline yet, but we do have the beginnings of an angle on how to approach the story. And we have a working title. Not bad for 30 minutes of Skype time.

We're both mega-busy people and our biggest challenge will be carving out time to work together. But we've agreed that even short bursts of time here and there can be productive.

Last night's Skype was both fun and creatively stimulating. I'm looking forward to more.


Milli Thornton (aka Milliver) is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at Milliver's Travels and the Fear of Writing Blog and coaches writers individually at Writer's Muse Coaching Service.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Blown Away by What I Wrote

YESTERDAY I REREAD one of the treatments I wrote during my treatment blitz last December/January.

I was planning to show it to the person I'll be collaborating with on a new screenplay idea, so I just wanted to make sure it was readable enough to make sense. We'll be working in the same genre—sci-fi/fantasy/metaphysical—so it would be a writing sample to show what I can do with that genre.

Instead of a business-like interlude where I focused on whether the writing sample was ready to go, I ended up being blown away by the story itself.

For sure, there are some things about the treatment that need brushing up—do a little research; add some dialogue—but the story itself was titanic. And while I could recognize my own learning experiences in the details, the theme of healing with love overtook me with a depth of emotion that goes beyond the act of storytelling.

I remember now that was how I felt while I was writing it. I was surging with goose bumps during certain parts, and at the end I was weeping.

After reading it yesterday, several hours passed before I felt normal again. The emotions were almost too intense to wish I could stay in them, even though it felt like I'd been touched by the divine.

This story is so much bigger than me. I think it came from somewhere else. I was just the willing vessel.


Milli Thornton (aka Milliver) is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at Milliver's Travels and the Fear of Writing Blog and coaches writers individually at Writer's Muse Coaching Service.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Vital Ingredient: Confidence

LAST NOVEMBER, a friend in London offered to show the treatment for my first screenplay to his producer friend.

As outlined in my December blog post, Writer Discovered While Waitressing, since I didn't have a deadline I took a gamble. Instead of submitting right away, I sequestered myself and wrote three more treatments in a short burst of time.

This paid off when I was encouraged to submit two treatments instead of one. To my way of thinking, if the producer's reader (his wife) didn't like the story for the script I'd already written, at least she would know I wasn't a one-trick pony.

Pretty much a dream scenario, right? Two treatments delivered directly to the wife of the producer. I was over the moon and dreaming big. I was even talking big (at least to my husband). How embarrassing later when nothing happened.

But before I knew nothing was going to happen, I decided which of my new treatments to use (Choices, Choices) and progressed a third of the way through writing script #2. And I started seriously attacking my biggest problem about becoming a screenwriter: pitching.

While I feel good about my writing skills, not so with my verbal presentation. My voice is monotone and I'm lousy at figuring out how to describe my story. I even bored myself into numbness practicing my stupid pitch.

Long story short, I went to great lengths to try to improve my pitching skills (including getting some coaching) and all it led to was MORE FEAR.

I fear and dread horribly the situation of having to pitch. People can throw their wisdom and advice at me ad nauseum but that doesn't reduce the fear whatsoever. In fact, it makes it worse.

Fortunately, in the time that has passed since then, I have gained some confidence that I thought was out of my reach. I did this through the process of soul writing,and it was agonizing at first.

I wasn't expecting to gain confidence from it, actually, but that's what happened. Unfortunately, it's not specific to pitching, but at least I have more self-belief than I did last year when the London opportunity played itself out.

Then last week, after not hearing from him for seven or eight months, my friend in London emailed me. He didn't have any lightning bolts from heaven -


- but he did say he was planning to keep reminding his friends to look at my treatments. Pretty inspiring to hear this news after months ago coming to the conclusion that the opportunity was dead. That one email switched me back into high gear and I started putting my screenwriting first again.

I still don't know whether I'll have enough confidence to pitch my stuff verbally (being asked for a treatment was so much easier!). But now the screenwriting bug has bitten me even deeper and I just have to see what happens.


Milli Thornton (aka Milliver) is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at Milliver's Travels and the Fear of Writing Blog and coaches writers individually at Writer's Muse Coaching Service.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Choices, Choices!

This may be a formality, because I think I've already made my decision. But it doesn't hurt to explore the possibilities in writing.

It's time to start script #2. Script #1 has been revised nine times, been through coverage and put to the test by Your Screenplay Sucks! My treatment for script #1 is with a producer's reader—who may or may not like it and may or may not want to see the actual script.

Exciting though that is, script #1 is no longer my baby. Script #1 has grown up enough to be out in the world showing its pimples. Empty nest syndrome? Not really. I've been too busy having a treatment blitz.

This afternoon I finished writing another treatment. I'm now in the glorious position of having five treatments to choose from. Five stories. And all of great interest to me. Here are the genres:
Coming-of-age/romantic comedy
Social drama/romance/maybe a thriller
Romance/dramedy (such an ugly word)
I'm leaning toward #5 on the list, the one I just finished. Partly because I'm really into that story right now, and partly because I think it would be the easiest to write. By far. I have abundant material for it staring me in the face, with new material being created every day. It's a fun subject and one I know intimately from personal experience. It's a story I believe many couples will relate to, so that will help me feel I'm writing it for myself (as a movie I'd love to see) as well as friends I can visualize watching it while they laugh and cry in recognition.

#1 on the list would also be relatively easy to write. Easy is good right now. I'm looking to capitalize on things I learned and proved to myself as I wrote the first draft for script #1. I wrote that one in 29 days, including a week spent on writer's block because I was inexperienced about how to get through Act III. (That dreaded moment when you realize Act III AND your ending will be wimpy unless you can pull off something a bit juicier than what you first thunk up.) This time around, I'll know exactly what to do if I hit a bout of writer's block in Act III.

(See Related Topics at the end if you want to know how I worked through it.)

#2 from the list above comes with some mental blocks. For this one I'll be adapting one of my own short stories. I already had a go at starting this script and it didn't feel right. I need a strategy or some extra knowledge about how to handle an adaptation. #2 gets ruled out as being a little too complex right now. I'd like to build confidence writing several more scripts first.

#3 is complicated, too, because of the perceived need to stretch it into a thriller. Thriller is not my favorite genre but, given the nature of this story (based on true events), I'm not sure I'd be doing it justice if I don't take it all the way to thriller. Again, that one goes on the list of things to tackle when I have more experience.

#4 is another subject I'm intimately familiar with and it would be relatively easy to write. However, the story is a little dark and I'd like to start the New Year with something really fun.

Which brings me back to #5. Guaranteed fun! Plus I already have an audience in my head that I can write for. This amounts to a variety of married friends, in particular one friend who recently shared an anecdote that would be perfect in the movie. I like the idea of having an audience of familiar faces laughing and crying and reciting their favorite lines as I write.

So there you go. This was doomed from the beginning to be a foregone conclusion. But it never hurts to double-check yourself in writing.

I'll be starting script #2 during the 10K day at Fear of Writing this Saturday 1/22/11. It feels good to have a plan!



How I Broke Through My Stalled Story in Act III


LIKE TO LEAVE A COMMENT? I've just installed IntenseDebate comment system and now the comment link has disappeared. Grrr. But you can get to the comment section for this post by scrolling up and clicking on the post title. Apologies for the inconvenience.

Friday, January 7, 2011

STOP Listening

I've been helping other writers for 10 years. I'm accustomed to being in the role of mentor. During that time, I rarely read advice books about creative writing. I was too busy living my own method and course and book for how writers can break out of their old wounds or blocks and feel the adventure of writing.

When I recommitted to screenwriting in November, I brought my screenwriting books up from the basement. I started reading screenwriting blogs again. I also said to myself, “I need mentoring.” I started purposely looking for mentors, in whatever form.

And with that came advice. Only some of it was direct—from friends or a coach. A lot of it was from books and blogs. But today that has to come to a screeching halt. Not forever. But until I'm ready.

It's not that the advice was bad. For the most part, it was all good advice. Some of it was really excellent advice. There were a couple of times when I hit the exit button on a blog where I knew the advice was wrong for me (at least, at this time). But mostly, I feel enriched.

I also feel saturated. And even bored. I first noticed this when I was reading my copy of Riding the Alligator by Pen Densham. Now, this was a book I couldn't wait to read. And it's a fantastic book. But not right now. I was snuggled on the sofa, reading it and feeling stale. STALE. On a topic I love so much I could bore you silly talking about screenwriting for hours on end. (Ask my husband ;~)

So I closed the book. I thought all I needed was a good night's sleep. But I just didn't get the message. I continued reading advice online. And now it's to the point where I have to yell at myself to STOP listening.

Milli, I hear you.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Treatment Blitz

I believe in treatments. Writing treatments got me started as a screenwriter. Ages ago, I read a book called Writing Treatments That Sell
by Kenneth Atchity and Chi-Li Wong and this was where I started, before ever attempting a script.
Definition: A treatment tells the story. As opposed to a synopsis that describes the story.
For creative writing in general, I'm not big on outlining. I'd rather write the cliffhanger way, where I'm always sweating because I don't know what's going to happen next. But I would not like to attempt a screenplay without a roadmap.

Who wouldn't love to have the legendary experience of Sylvester Stallone writing Rocky, where he locked himself in a room and wrote the script in three days? I always assume he wrote from gut-level passion for that one, with no treatment in sight. Maybe I'll try it once like that. But later, after I've finished more scripts.

The story for my first script came to me out of nowhere when I looked at the painting on the cover of a book my husband bought. Not knowing the first thing about screenplay formatting, writing the story first was the most accessible way for me to get started. And though much of the marketing advice in Writing Treatments That Sell was years premature for me, the template for writing a three-act treatment was not.

I'm not normally a template person. The only other time I've tried to use a template was to write a pitch for my first script based on a template from Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds by Michael Hauge. I followed the Hauge process faithfully but felt scummier and scummier as I did so. It all felt so fake, I couldn't go through with it.

From that, I learned a valuable lesson. Take what works for me, what feels right for me, and ignore the rest.

So far, the Atchity & Wong three-act template has helped me finish five treatments—including one blitz where I wrote three in a row in a short timeframe. The object of that exercise was to have a variety of genres to show when a friend offered to share the treatment for my finished script with his producer friend. (see Writer Discovered While Waitressing)

I'm about to start my sixth treatment today. It's not that I need a mountain of treatments before attempting my second script. It was a process of figuring out which story I want to commit to next. Murphy's Law! It turned out to be the one I'd written notes for in December but not the treatment.

My intuition is telling me this is the story to go with next. But if I'm listening to the wrong voices, writing the treatment will let me know.

Today's treatment will start with the usual fear: the one whispering that I won't know how to execute my story. But that's just part of the terrain. If I falter, I can look at a Tweet I made on @fearofwriting yesterday:
“Stop waiting for permission. Stop looking for a magic formula, a special book, an inspiring moment. Just do it!” ~ FoW student @janesedixon

Monday, January 3, 2011

Who Am I?

I am a screenwriter.

To start 2011 from my creative heart, it was imperative to post those four words. Even though saying it brings up fears. “I haven't proven myself yet. I only have one finished script. I haven't pitched to a real producer/ executive/gofer at a studio yet.”


None of that matters. Because to be who I want to be in 2011—to feel how I want to feel creatively—I must now state those words in public. I must emblazon them on my blog, whether anyone reads it or not.

I've already done it privately. I cleared a page in my planner just for screenwriting. I called it I Am a Screenwriter. I love looking at that page. I love the feeling that I've already done some of the things listed on the plan.

Next, I rearranged my office to reflect screenwriting as my #1 writing focus this year. I put all my screenwriting books together on one shelf and gave them the prime position. I cleared all unrelated stuff off my creativity work table and spread it with screenwriting-related projects. I decluttered my desk to symbolize someone who knows what she wants.

But all that was too safe. I can still hide here in my office without changing my outward identity.

So the next thing I did was start a Twitter account (@boonieschick) just for my screenwriting. I have one for Fear of Writing, of course, and I'd been using it for screenwriting Tweets occasionally—but that felt like a big compromise. Like mixing the wrong colors together to get a blander shade of paint. I needed my own place to express myself about screenwriting. To build my identity as a screenwriter. And right now that doesn't mean platform. It means identity. The way I see myself. The way I feel about myself.

The next step was to resurrect this blog. And to determine what it's for right now.

The purpose of this blog right now is to express myself as a screenwriter. Whether anyone reads it or not.

Next, I switched from using fearofwriting as an ID when I comment on other people's blogs to using Boonies Chick. It's not that I'm ditching FoW. It's the identity thing again. I've been the Fear of Writing lady for the past 10 years . . . but that is not my own, personal identity as a writer.

Who am I?

I'm a screenwriter.

There. It was easier that time.

P.S. I feel excited about who I am.