Posts made in October, 2013

Miskates – Why Their So Easy to Make

Posted by on Oct 15, 2013 in Business Writing | 0 comments

You’re shoveling baby carrots and peanut M&M’s into your face an hour and forty-three minutes after you were supposed to be relaxing at home. They are the first bit of semi-nutrition you’ve managed to ingest since 7:32AM. You’ve finally finished the brochure or press packet you’ve been crafting since 7:33AM that needs to go to the printer first thing tomorrow morning. Your back feels like you’ve been swinging kettlebells all day and your eyes will be seeing a little blinky rectangle for hours. For no reason at all, the left side of your neck and three of your toes are experiencing something that can only be described as a “burning clamminess.”

You should really give the project a good once-over before you leave, but what’s the point? You’ve been staring at it for damn near ten hours. It’s as good as it’s going to get. Maybe if you’d rushed through it in twenty minutes some mistakes would’ve been inevitable, but not on a project you’ve spent all day cultivating. You know it’s perfect. You hit send. It goes to your boss who has lots of other shit to do, so he just assumes everything is correct and with a simple click it goes to the printer.

The next day you come in refreshed and ready to go, proud of what you’ve managed to accomplish. You open the file with a satisfied smile. The very first thing you see is your big bold headline…

Bob’s Fitness- The Right Place For All Your Fitness Needs

But then you read it again and it clearly says…

Boob’s Fitness– The Right Palace For all You Fitness Nerds

Uh-oh. This isn’t good. Booby Bob is not going to be happy about this and neither are your clients who have now been called sweaty, palatial nerds. How could this have happened?

Turns out the answer is very, very simple. Your brain doesn’t read what’s on the page. Your brain reads what it expects to be on the page. It’s all about what the brain expects. Expect, expect, expect. And if your brain doesn’t except your typos, it’ll just glance over them like many people will do with the blatant one earlier in this sentence. Now you may have caught it because you have fresh eyes on the page, but what are your chances of catching that mistake when you’re tired and your brain knows what’s SUPPOSED to be there? Not good. *If you haven’t caught it yet, come back to this paragraph after reading the rest of the entry.

So what can you do? Here are three easy ways to combat the problem.

1) Always – ALWAYS give your project a final once-over before sending it out. And before you give it that once-over, take fifteen minutes away from it – minimum. Get your eyes off of that project and on to something else – preferably a turkey sandwich, or a fish tank, or Wheel of Fortune – anything that doesn’t require you to internalize lots of written information. Get your mind out of that space so your brain can see it fresh upon returning.

2) Have someone else read it over. This could be your boyfriend, girlfriend, mom, roommate, or just an editing buddy at work. They will find all the stuff you miss because your brain is on autopilot.

3) During your once-over, read it out loud to yourself. And when you read it out loud, make sure to slow down and hit every word. Read each word individually, otherwise you might realize that forgot a word that your brain randomly inserted because it was what you intended, even though that word didn’t actually make it to the page. (Like the second “you” that was supposed to be that sentence but wasn’t, and the “in” that didn’t find its way into these parentheses)

Basically, what you need to know is that no matter how smart you are, your brain is kind of a lazy jackass that’s trying to do as little work as possible. It takes shortcuts. Why? Because while you’re fretting over the best way to fit words together, it’s multitasking, doing silly little things like reminding you to breathe and subconsciously scanning the room for escaped convicts holding sharp objects. Studies that I don’t feel like citing have actually found that the smarter you are, the faster you process information and subsequently the more likely your brain is to make these types of mistakes. So in other words, your brain is shady. Don’t just explicitly trust it.

In my next business blog, I’m going to point out the common ways these types of mistakes manifest themselves so you’ll better know what to look for. But until then, tough, I’m going to let my brain just poofread rest of this sentence all on on it’s own Good job, buddy. Prefect execution.

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Collaboration – What Happens When the Story Isn’t Fully Your Own?

Posted by on Oct 10, 2013 in Creative Writing | 0 comments

In the next series of creative blogs, I’m going to tackle an issue that can be a bit tricky in the writing world. It relates to the previous blogs, “Where Do You Get Your Stories From?” and “What Stories Do You Choose to Tell?” What I’m going to explore here is what happens when you’re writing characters and plots that aren’t uniquely your own. As a screenwriter, I’ve stepped in that warm puddle in a bunch of different ways. It can manifest itself in many forms such as…

1) Collaborating with a friend or writing partner on an idea you’ve both come up with together.
2) Being paid to rewrite a script that someone else has already written.
3) Being paid to write a script based on someone else’s very meticulous and incredibly detailed idea.
4) Being paid to write a script based on someone else’s vague idea about like, “Some guys in a situation or something.”

I’m going to dedicate a blog to each of these variables in the coming month, using specific examples from projects I’ve worked on in the past. This particular one, however, is going to focus more on the all-encompassing aspect of writing something that may not exactly be setting fire to your insides. To be honest, these types of projects are often tough to begin in the first place. For me, the process usually goes like this…

All right….cool. Sitting down to write. Sitting down to write this thing. Cool. Awesome. Let me just open the file here. And, ya know, what? I’m really thirsty. I need an orange juice. Yeah, I’ll write after I get a drink here.

One unusually long trip to the fridge later…

Ok, where was I? Totally hydrated and ready to go. Ready…to….go. Damn, ya know I haven’t checked Facebook since before I had that glass of OJ. Maybe someone liked that clever thing I wrote about hipsters. I better check here before I really get cracking on my work.

Ten minutes of reading random links later…

I wonder how many yards Peyton Manning has passed for in his career. I have to know right now or it’s going to bug me all day and I’m not going to get anything done. These people I’m writing for deserve to have my full attention so…

Yup, some of you are nodding vigorously. It can be incredibly difficult to sit down and write something that isn’t necessarily yearning to burst from your very soul. But there are a few ways to do it. Here are a couple tips.

1) If at all possible, allow yourself an extra 15-30 minutes to piss around.
Obviously, starting right away is ideal, but it’s not always mentally feasible. Take that allotted time to screw around on Instagram or do some crunches or play some guitar. But only allow yourself that half hour before you have to get cracking. Otherwise you’ll find you’ve spent your whole day clicking random Wikipedia entries. And while you may end up knowing a lot more about Lynyrd Skynyrd or smelting than you did when you sat down, unless your script is about… well, Lynyrd Skynyrd or smelting, it’s not getting you any closer to where you want to be. What I’ve found is that eventually, procrastinating becomes enough of a chore that I can’t help but start the project I’ve been putting off anyway.

2) Fully know the world you’re attempting to enter.
Is your story set in Brooklyn in 1946? If so, while you’re doing your crunches or playing guitar, your mind needs to start entering that world. Visualize the people that you’d see if you were to walk two blocks down the street. Pull up a couple pictures of 1940’s Brooklyn on your computer and look at the stores, the signs, the cars, etc. Get your mind to that space. It’s totally fine to do it gradually throughout the half hour you’ve already given yourself, but make sure to get there.

3) Find an anchor.
It doesn’t matter what. Find something that you, specifically, can relate to in the script. That might be a certain character whose eyes you can most easily view the story though. It might be a secondary character who reminds you of your sister. It might be simply trying to find things in your fictional society that relate to something you’re passionate about in the actual society out your window. But the anchor is key. Otherwise there’s no gateway to passion and the overall product will suffer.

If you’re having trouble finding an anchor, take the relatively easy step of writing down everything you like about the idea. It could be as complex as, “I really enjoy how the giant merciless androids represent the current pre-oligarchical reality of today’s America,” or it could be as simple as, “Robots are bad ass. I’m going to make some bad ass robots do some bad ass things.”

Whatever your mindset, finding that initial reason to get invested and involved in a story that didn’t solely originate with you is often the biggest obstacle you’ll need to overcome in the entire process. But it can be done. Some of my favorite scripts are ones that I’ve been asked to tear apart and rebuild, or written with a partner based mainly on their idea. So fear not, if you run into this situation, Grandpa Hank is here to help. But uh, first I have to grab some apple juice, check my email, and do some pushups. But right after that – totally here to help.

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Use vs. Used

Posted by on Oct 9, 2013 in Business Writing | 0 comments

Ok, for this example I’m going to make up a fake but surprisingly realistic Craigslist ad.

Crappy used bike for sale. Used to be blue before incident with cement mixer I don’t feel like talking about. One wheel missing and covered in cat urine. $20 or best offer.

If you’ll notice, the word “used” is in there twice. In the first sentence, it means “previously owned.” In the second sentence, it refers to how the bike looked at some random point in the past. Most people wouldn’t screw up the one in the first sentence. Just about everyone knows there’s a “D” at the end there. But a surprising amount of people will randomly forget that same “D” on the one in the second sentence. You’ve seen this mistake a million times.

Use to be blue before incident with cement mixer I don’t feel like talking about.

I’m not quite sure why this happens. I think it might have to do with the fact that for some reason Americans pronounce the “D” when it comes in this form:

USED BOOKSTORE

But we don’t pronounce it in phrases like:

USED TO BE

I know when I say the phrase written above, it comes out like, “Yoosta bee.” As in – “Yeah, it’s where the old gas station yoosta bee.” There’s no “D” sound in there at all. Consequently, I think we fool ourselves into believing there isn’t one. Also, “use” is a real word so our minds trick us into thinking it’s correct. Unfortunately it isn’t.

This can be a big problem if your press release headline reads….

After fourteen years, Browns fans say they’re almost use to all the losing.

Nobody is going to read that headline because any editor worth his meatloaf is going to know that what you actually wrote is:

After fourteen years, Browns fans say they’re almost employing an object for some specific purpose all the losing.

What are they using to internalize all the losing? A box of tissues? A rock hammer? A remote control to flip over to the Steeler game? (This joke would be way funnier if the Steelers weren’t 0-4 as I type this) What you mean is that Browns fans are almost accustomed to all the losing. So that’s a pretty easy tip. “Accustomed” and “used” both end in a “D.” If you can substitute the word accustomed into the sentence and it still makes sense, then you definitely want to go with “used.”

Essentially, these are the same phrase….

“Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll get accustomed to it.”

You’re going to want to go with “used” pretty much any time you’re not obviously writing something like….

“With a little creativity, you can get some great use out of all those old cassette tapes.” (I’m lying. This is impossible)

or

“For best results, use frequently on itchy and chafed areas 4-6 times daily.”

So in conclusion, don’t get used to that mistake. Even if you used to screw it up, just use these helpful tips to use the many uses of use… to wrap up this blog in the cheesiest manner possible.

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Anatomy Of An Idea – Where DO We Get Our Stories From?

Posted by on Oct 3, 2013 in Creative Writing | 0 comments

“Where do you get your stories from?”

“Why do you choose to tell the stories you choose to tell?”

As I wrote the fist couple blogs in this section, a thought popped into my head that caused me to briefly look up from my computer and stare sideways at a blank spot on the wall. Was I even partially aware of where my own stories came from? I was asking other writers to explore something in themselves that I wasn’t particularly sure I understood in myself. So that’s what I’m going to do here in relation to the untitled play I’m currently working on.

I’ve been a football fan my entire life. (This is a prerequisite for growing up in Pittsburgh) People in other parts of the country think I’m screwing with them when I say there was a giant, inflated linebacker doll in my crib that I used to crawl over and tackle forty times a day.

“Drive with the shoulder, wrap with the arms,” my dad would yell as it inevitably fell over on top of me, pinning my little head against a sippy cup. “That’s my boy. Get up. You’re ok. Hit him again!”

Until he retired two years ago, my father was a boisterous and somewhat well known public address announcer for the powerhouse high school program at Woodland Hills High School here in Pittsburgh. (At one point in 2010, there were eight former Woody High Wolverines in the NFL, the most of any high school in the country) As a kid, I worked as his spotter, telling him what number ran the ball and what number made the tackle so his booming voice could announce it to the 10,000 fans that packed the Turtle Creek Wolvarena.

Though I’d end up 6’2” and 165 lbs. when I graduated high school, as a freshman, I was built like a pipe cleaner. At 5’10” 107, I’m pretty sure my ribs were still visible through my winter coat. So even though I probably would’ve ended up a pretty damn good football player, it was about 50/50 whether I would’ve survived long enough to find out. In what was probably one of the best decisions of my life, I decided to stick to baseball. But football has always been in my blood.

I was alive but not quite old enough to know what was going on when the Steelers won the final two Super Bowls of their dominant run of the late 1970’s. All I knew about football was that a couple times a year, all my parents’ friends would come over decked out in black and gold, drink beer, and go berserk. A few years later, my dad and my Uncle Steve would occasionally use my cousins and I as beer mules to sneak their contraband suds into Three Rivers Stadium. (This was back when security didn’t pat down the eight-year-olds) The deal was simple. We’d get to go to the game so long as we wore our heaviest jackets through the line.

“Dad, it’s September. It’s eighty-four degrees! I’m sweating really bad!”

“You can take it off when we get to our seats. How many more Iron Citys can you fit in there?”

Our basement was adorned with black and gold Super Bowl mementos. I grew up with heroes- larger than life characters like Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier, Jack Lambert, and Mean Joe Greene. Like the blue-collar city around me, I learned to live and die with each play. Football was and still is a giant part of my life.

I believe it was sometime in 2008 when I read a disturbing article on former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Mike Webster. When I was a kid, he was a monster, the guy you could always count on to truck some defensive end to open up a gaping hole for Franco. The word “stalwart” was basically created to describe Mike Webster. He’s currently one of only 280 men to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

And the article described how he was broke, punch drunk, and living in his car.

The information laid me out like a free safety. How could this bull-strong, iron-willed legend have rusted down to the frame like that? He was a character I just couldn’t get out of my head. His story had to be told in some way. He couldn’t just be… forgotten, a man chewed up and spit out for our entertainment. He wasn’t just the picture on a commemorative mug. He was a real person with real problems. I needed to tell his story. I just wasn’t sure how.

Suddenly, I started watching football in a different light. Though I was programmed to live and die on every snap, I started getting this nagging feeling that somehow I was unconsciously participating in a mass bloodletting. That article opened my eyes to the seedy, slimy, underbelly of the sport. I started paying more attention to the greed, the entitlement, and the overall cultural hysteria we were infusing into this increasingly brutal form of entertainment.

The trouble was, as I was opening my eyes to the brutality, so was the nation. Former NFL players were committing suicide at an alarming rate. Suddenly a lot of people who didn’t grow up with football- friends who were theatre people, writers, and scientists started slamming the game and everyone associated with it. It shocked me to find out that in the minds of many, football players and fans were primal sub-human monsters without any redeeming qualities. And I obviously knew that wasn’t quite right either.

I pictured George Novak, the long time head coach at Woodland Hills High School, who has used football as a means to help countless inner-city kids stay in school. Kids from crippled old mill towns like Rankin and Braddock have gone to college and gotten an education because of that man and that sport. I thought of the camaraderie that my buddies who played high-school ball always talk about. How through collective struggle they discovered something deep inside themselves that helps push them through life’s difficulties twenty years after they last took the field. I saw how it brought together communities, raised money for charities, and gave families and friends an excuse to get together. A sport that was in one sense completely destructive was in another sense creating countless opportunity.

And that’s when I knew I had something. It had to be conflicted. It had to be a story about the ups and downs of the men who are willing to give so much to the game they love, as well as the women who sacrifice with them. It had to be a thoughtful and honest look at the real people who are affected by the inevitable toll that hit after hit puts on the human body over the years.

It took me five years to figure out the tone of the piece to the point where I felt I could begin writing. Five entire years. But I guess I chose to write this particular story for these couple of reasons.

1) One of my heroes, by all accounts a good man, was left mentally crippled and prematurely dead because of a sport I continued to feed into. I needed to explore that concept.

2) I wanted to show that not all athletes (especially football players) are simply grunting, overstimulated meatheads. There’s a reason for the stereotype, but in the end, that’s what it is – a stereotype. Many people (especially in the arts community) who aren’t cool with any sort of “group labeling” are completely ok with saying derogatory things about so-called “jocks” because they have a distorted image in their heads. I wanted to provide a different image.

3) I, myself, am an athlete in my mid 30’s whose body is slowly breaking down from years of collisions and injury. Every athlete goes through it. It’s really hard to describe the sinking feeling you get when such a reliable part of your existence begins to fade. When you’re a great athlete, your best days are always going to occur when you’re too young and stupid to really appreciate it. Professional athletes have most of their lives to live after their most productive skill goes away. What happens after the cheers and the glory fade? On a much smaller scale, it’s something that I’m currently wrestling with.

And so that’s why I’m currently writing this as yet untitled play. And that’s why I’m writing it now. The concept hit me like a train full of trucks in 2008, but I didn’t fully internalize it until recently. In a lot of ways I simply needed that time to figure out what it was that I wanted to say through these characters. Also, I needed to find out what it was like to lose a half a step -and then lose a full step – and then a step and a half -and then realize you’re a half step from done. In other words, I needed to be 36 instead of 31.

Anyway, that’s my story. That’s why I’m currently working on this project instead of the hundreds of others I could’ve chosen to explore. I didn’t force it. I let the idea and the timing come together. And hopefully, I’ll eventually have a story that accurately and dynamically reflects the concepts I want to portray. And if not… I’ll give it my best shot and come back to it someday when the timing is better.

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Press Release Example

Posted by on Oct 2, 2013 in Business Writing | 0 comments

Ok, so here’s an example of a press release I wrote for a buddy’s art exhibit in Jacksonville last year. I put it up here to show what they typically look like. You can also download the press release PDF example. I changed the name of the gallery and the phone number, etc., but not any of the other stuff, so if you’re interested, check out Jason’s artist page.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Artist To Burn His Collection In The Middle Of Bay Street

JACKSONVILLE, Florida (January 23, 2012) – “At This Time Last Year,” opens on January 26th at HAS Art Solutions on East Bay Street in downtown Jacksonville, gradually building before roaring into a celebration of the artist’s 35th birthday on March 10th that’s one part art show and one part theatrical street festival.

Jason Tetlak always told himself that by the age of 35, he’d be able to survive on what he made as an artist. Well, his 35th birthday is coming up on March 10th and even though he’s dedicated, prolific and incredibly talented, his art never quite combusted. His photorealistic portraits never quite found that mysterious spark that a modern artist needs to carve a name in the world of galleries and big time sales.

Then came 2011, a horrendous year that saw his comfortable suburban life collapse around him piece by piece. It forced him to completely alter his style, as well as attempt something radical – he’s put an expiration date on his dream. On Saturday, March 10th, his collection either sells, launching him toward the success he’s dreamed of for years, or it floats off as tiny pieces of ash into the Jacksonville night sky.

This group of work draws on the raw emotion and upheaval of the past 12 months in the artist’s life offering stunning and visually captivating pieces that fuse traditional canvas art with emerging mobile technology. Hailed by audiences as refreshing, inventive and a completely new approach to the artist/viewer relationship, this collection will be available for purchase until March 10th after which, if left unsold, it will literally be burned in the street and be lost to the world forever.

Spectators are encouraged to bring photos and mementos representing the things they wish to leave behind from the previous year. All will be burned in raucous celebration in the event Jason’s art sells out.

For more information, please visit http://art.tetlak.com or contact Jacksonville Downtown Gallery for artist’s statement/bio, interview and press material requests.

NANCY JONES
JACKSONVILLE DOWNTOWN GALLERY
904-555-1212 | jaxdowntowngalllery@jax.com

###

All right, a couple of things to look at. First off, note that the headline is about as direct as possible while highlighting the most interesting thing about the event. An easy headline would’ve been…

Local Artist To Have Gallery Show Next Week

Or

Jacksonville Downtown Gallery Features Local Artist

Both of these examples are direct, but neither really inspire the reader to continue. We deduced that out of all the interesting things about the event, the burning of the unsold art was the most dynamic. If you’re having trouble coming up with a headline, make a list of the three things you find the most intriguing about the event or product you’re writing about, then come up with a headline featuring each of those specific things. Chances are at that point you’ll have it.

Also here’s one other headline I’m going to include for no real purpose other than to take a completely unnecessary dig at my buddy Tetlak.

Foolhardy Local Artist Admits To Rooting For Cleveland Browns

Seriously, what kind of morose, self-deprecating individual continues to passionately root for the Browns? Hell, I might just write that press release anyway because it’s a sad, yet intriguing human-interest story that I’m sure the national media will pounce on.

There are a couple other things to take note of. Since the show’s big draw revolved around fire, I tried to include words that highlighted that particular theme. The words “combusted” and “spark” were chosen with a purpose. If you’re stuck on what to write, jot down as many words as you can that are related to the central theme. Sometimes that will help get things rolling.

Also, for streamlining purposes, new paragraphs aren’t indented. Apparently it makes it look a bit more uniform. Press releases have the general look and feel of a delivery truck.

The last thing to note is the weird series of pound signs at the end of the release. For some reason this archaic relic from 1933 continues to signify that the disseminated information has come to an end – as if without it some newspaper editor is going to sit there for hours rubbing his hands together muttering….

“This isn’t over, Darrell. It isn’t over until the triple pound signs say it’s over.”

Admittedly at this point in our history, the triple pounds are obsolete. You might as well just pop a cassette tape into your Studebaker. But it’s the way things are done. Not including the pound signs will send an unconscious message that you’re an amateur. And obviously you don’t want that.

So that’s how to write a press release. Hopefully these tips help you out.

Oh yes, one more absolutely critical thing I forgot the mention.

It’s damn near impossible to acquire a burn permit in downtown Jacksonville, so don’t even try.

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