New Story Posted: Holiday Spirit

Nothing’s ever finished, but it can be posted. Head on over to “Stories” to download a free PDF of my latest screenplay, Holiday Spirit.

Holiday Spirit centers on a disgraced New York City lawyer with a drinking problem who flees to his great aunt’s farm in Maine to dry out and recuperate only to discover that she is secretly running New England’s largest moonshine operation.

Check it out, and let me know what you think!

moonshine_jug

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Darden

It’s high time for an announcement: Next month I enter the MBA program at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

I’m super excited and can’t wait to start. From what I’ve heard, the program’s going to be intense and I won’t have much time outside of it. I plan to spend those precious free moments catching up with Rebecca and writing creatively.

All of this to say: There’s a strong chance I’m about to disappear for an extended period of time. But not to worry–more posts will come, sooner or later.

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Even though I’m sure my head will be especially deep in business over the next couple years, I intend to keep this site focused on creative writing. (Which isn’t to say the two won’t overlap from time to time.)

Meanwhile, before the program starts, I hope to 1) finish Holiday Spirit and publish it here and 2) brainstorm/outline my next story so I can more easily pick it up during the school year. (Teaser: it’s a novel about airships, secret societies, and an archipelago in the clouds.)

airship-under-construction

Image source: silodrome.com

Until next time, whenever that may be!

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When Are You Done? Or, How Many Times Can I Say Tinker?

I’m almost finished with another draft of Holiday Spirit, a screenplay I’ve been working on for a little while now, and it’s got me wondering, like a loving mama bird, when do I punt this fledgling out of the nest?

No project is ever truly done. You can always tinker. So when and how do you stop?

fledgling
Fledgling, pre-punt.

I try to stop myself (note: “try”) when I find myself putting in too much for what I’m getting out.

And I mean that both in terms of my story’s development and my own development as a writer. I try to adhere (again: “try”) to the wisdom of the Pareto principle, the idea that 80% of results come from 20% of efforts, and suppress the temptation to tinker. If I’m asking myself if I should stop, chances are I should.

As a co-worker of mine once observed–I think rightly–tinkering is less about the piece being tinkered on and more about the psychological state of the tinkerer.

I suspect (gasp!) that tinkerers often tinker in order to give themselves the illusion of control and to avoid something–the same reason I clean dishes or do laundry when I should be writing. That particular “something” the tinkerer is avoiding could be a lot of things, even something unrelated to the writing itself. But often enough, it’s probably the next step in the storytelling process.

Attempting to sell a story you’ve finished and start a new one are two of the hardest steps of all. It’s far, far easier to contemplate the placement of a particular comma.*

Unless you’re already a great writer who’s mastered the craft to such an extent that only commas remain to be conquered, you’ll probably reap far greater writerly rewards from hitting print and moving on.

Enough from me. What do you think? When do you stop writing and start sharing?

Very-Basic-Print-icon

*This is not to disparage the importance of the placement of particular commas. I know “commas save lives” (see Google). If you find yourself disagreeing with what I’m proposing, try applying the Pareto principle. It should make this post, and my general point, more palatable.

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Stacking the Deck

In What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, author Marshall Goldsmith discusses (among other things) one of the defining traits of “habitual winners”:

They stack the deck in their favor. . . . They do this when they hire the best candidates for a job rather than settle for an almost-the-best type. They do this when they pay whatever it takes to retain a valuable employee rather than lose him or her to the competition. They do this when they’re fully prepared for a negotiation rather than winging it. If you study successful people, you’ll discover that their stories are not so much about overcoming enormous obstacles and handicaps but rather about avoiding high-risk, low-reward situations and doing everything in their power to increase the odds in their favor.

This idea has huge implications for writers.

what got you here

Occasionally when I’m reading a great book or watching a great movie or TV show, I feel like the writer somehow “cheated.”

I may even get a little jealous, a little angry. I think, Hell, with characters this good, how could the story be bad? Even I could write a story this good with characters like these. It practically writes itself!

Now that’s silly, of course. Because the writer created the characters too. The writer got to choose them. But my silly anger reveals something important about how writers can increase their chances of writing good stories and become “habitual winners.”

Successful writers can “stack the deck” in their favor by making good story choices from the outset.

Why? Because stories are chaotic systems. In a chaotic system, one small change in the state of the system can lead over time to a drastically different later state. The classic whimsical example is a butterfly flapping its wings in one place and causing a tornado thousands of miles away.

So you start a story and make a few first choices about story elements. I’ve been using character as an example, but it could be any element–setting, plot point, theme. Over time, as your story grows, the results of these first choices–good or bad–magnify exponentially as they interact with and inform all the other story elements.

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Source: J.L. Westover, www.mrlovenstein.com

So start off right. Being published and enjoying commercial success may have a great deal to do with chance and luck, but writing good stories is (to a large extent, at least) governed by skill and choice.

Use chaos to your advantage.

Make good first choices.

Stack the deck in your favor.

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Randomness: The Agony and the Ecstasy

I recently finished reading The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow, and I’m still processing what the hell I just experienced.

Really, the title says it all. It’s a book about the crucial role randomness plays in all our lives even though we might not understand it.

The book offers major insight into why some writers are published and successful and others are not.

drunkard's walk

In the first pages, Mlodinow lays you out with a brutal theory: success is largely based on chance.

That thing you did that one time that you’re so proud of? Chance.

J.K. Rowling? Chance.

The world’s best mutual fund manager? Chance.

It’s enough a break a body. Enough to make you start wondering, If success is largely dependent on chance, why bother trying?

It’s hard to do, but keep reading. Because in the final chapter, salvation comes at last:

What I’ve learned, above all, is to keep marching forward because the best news is that since chance does play a role, one important factor in success is under our control: the number of at bats, the number of chances taken, the number of opportunities seized. For even a coin weighted toward failure will sometimes land on success. Or as the IBM pioneer Thomas Watson said, “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.”

And what is publishing but a coin weighted toward failure?

So stop worrying whether you’re “good enough”–no one’s “good enough”–and start writing.

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