Written for www.stage32.com
How to Handle it When Someone Says: "You're a
Writer? I've Got a Great Story You Should Write!"
In my experience there have been three types of people who approach me with ideas:
1) Those who have no idea what the creative process entails, nor respect for the creative person.
With people like this, I am polite but stay at a distance.
2) Those who really want to write their stories themselves, but are blocked by their own fear and/or
denial. With people like this, I am polite but will share advice.
3) Those who want you to write their story for them and are willing to discuss a contract and fees.
With people like this, I recognize that there are stories that need to be told ,and it is a privilege to do
Below, I'll tackle each one, and how you, as a writer, might handle each.
The Saga of the Silly Sister:
In regards to those who have no idea of what the creative process entails, nor respect for the creative person, I share the example of my neighbor.
Every day at 11:00 am I check my snail mail. Sometimes I run into a neighbor with lipstick-dyed red
hair and theatrical makeup. The few times I saw her she was dressed in vibrant colored Bolero blouses with ruffled sleeves, long Prairie skirts, and 1970’s platform shoes. I politely acknowledged her, picked up my mail, and went home. One day I had the feeling she was waiting for me. This was confirmed when she finally spoke up in a loud, shrill voice.
“So, you’re a writer? I’ve got a great story you should write!” Without taking a breath she blurted, “So my sister, who is gorgeous and curvy, visited my cousin who lives in a 55+ community and when she showed up at the pool in her bikini, all the old men went crazy and had heart attacks. Isn’t that a hoot?”
I relaxed when she finally took a breath and inquired, “Did anyone actually die from a heart attack after being blinded by her beauty?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is she on trial for murder by bikini?”
“No,” she said.
“Is she being sued for emotional abuse because she dazzled in a bikini?”
"Then what is your story about?" I asked.
“You’re not a very good listener, are you?" she said. "I told you, the story is the men went crazy. Isn’t
that a hoot?”
The next day, I picked up my mail at 11:00 am, and out from behind the bushes popped miss frilly
sleeves, eager to regale me with another story.
Breathlessly, she exclaimed, “So my gorgeous curvy sister was locked out of her house because she
lost her keys and called me at 2 am. I stood guard while she crawled through a window in her
apartment. Isn’t that a hoot?”
I waited for her to exhale and breathe normally. When I was sure she wouldn’t faint, I asked, “Was she arrested for breaking and entering?”
“Did she crawl through the wrong window and startle her neighbors?”
“Was she accidentally shot, mistaken for a burglar?”
“No, the story is she lost her keys. You’re just not paying attention!”
By the third attempt, I stopped her cold and said, “I charge a fee for my time and talent.”
“A fee?" she said, wide eyed. "Why? You’re just a writer!”
I’ve never seen her again.
There are those who really want to write their stories themselves, but are blocked by their own fear
For over 25 years, a friend of a friend has announced to friends, family, and anyone else who would listen, that he is writing a book about his life as a foster child. He has never put a word to paper. As a favor to my friend (and without committing to doing the work), I met with the man and listened as he struggled to tell me his tale. He was vague about the story he wanted to tell and had no idea how to approach the task. I suggested the following:
• With written permission, record conversations with people about whom he wished to write.
• With written permission, record conversations with people with whom he shared his experiences.
• With written permission, record conversations with people who witnessed his experiences.
• Record his own impressions of his life to date.
• Decide if it is to be a book, \screenplay, article, or blog.
• Read everything related to the subject.
Once he could decide on the story he wished to tell, he would have to decide how to tell it. I recommended he take a course. Local schools often offer beginners writing courses. I further advised him to learn about language by reviewing his knowledge of grammar, spelling, and the need for crispy, descriptive words. I gave him a Thesaurus to keep by his side. Some great places to suggest one begins are:
Stage32’s educational bundles and seminars offer extraordinary opportunities for learning the craft of writing. The Gotham Writer’s Workshop where I began my screenwriting program lists a wide range of courses on writing, whether it is screenwriting, memoir writing, article writing, and more.\
Writers Digest offers many courses including non-fiction, freelance article writing, memoir/life story writing, and screenwriting.
I urged him to set small goals. Start with a title. Write a synopsis of the story. If he felt blocked, I encouraged him to play the “what if” game. What if my biological mother…? What if my foster father …? I recommended he write his first five pages. Then follow up with five more. I reminded him that before he knew it, he would have succeeded in his ultimate goal to write a story. The rest is business.
After completion of his work I suggested the following:
• The need for a proofreader.
• The need for an editor.
I asked him to consider copyrighting his work, register his work (WGA East), and to review The Schedule of Payment guidelines listed on the WGA websit in the event he wanted to hire someone to help him.
If he chose to write a book and self-publish, a search on the Internet would provide him with options. If it were a short story, he might consider pitching it to newspapers, magazines, and publishers. He would need to create a good pitch letter.
I then moved to marketing and suggested entering contests as a starting point. Depending upon the format and genre, there are several contests available listed online. That way he could be assured his work would be read by a professional who will give feedback.
Finally, I suggested he join Stage 32, LinkedIn, or Facebook and focus on the various writers groups within each site for networking. As his eyes glazed over, I gently shook him out of his comatose state just in time to remind him that this process is a commitment of time, energy, and money.
That was two years ago. To date, I understand he has still not put a word to paper. But at least if he does decide to try to write, he has some idea of how and where to start. A good thing to remember is that there are no expiration dates on dreams.
The Petulant Partner:
Those who want you to write their story for them should be willing to discuss a contract and fees.
Then there was my first contract: A man brought a charming, inspiring story to my attention and I agreed not only to write it as a screenplay, but to write it with him since it was his story.
We worked from 6:00 am to 9:am three days a week for about a year. At the end of the period we had a good screenplay which placed in a couple of contests and was optioned by a so-called producer who overpromised and underdelivered. My partner initially had very high expectations for success. When things did not move fast enough for him, he lost faith in the screenplay, me, and the entire process. He didn’t understand that our work was not being rejected, it simply was not being selected. There is a huge difference.
I learned that lesson from an actor friend who reminded me that auditions and contests are an invitation for all to participate, but that the people who run them have specific ideas of who they need or what is required. If you or your work was not selected, it doesn't mean you or your work was rejected. It means that what you had to offer did not fit their image.
My petulant partner asked me to withdraw the screenplay from the public and it is now one of those jewels buried in my desk. I invested two years of my time and effort in the project in which I still believe, but until my partner does, it remains hidden from sight.
And so, I continue writing my own stories in screenplay or novel form. I am about to release my second novel and my third book is in its first draft. Yet, undoubtedly, people will continue to say to me, "You're a Writer? I've Great Story You Should Write!"
***Re-Blog from Stage 32***
Written for www.stage32.com
Have You Checked Your Drawers Recently?
Prior to the advent of the Internet, faced with early retirement from a career that spanned decades in the executive offices of some of Manhattan's leading companies in the profit and non-profit sector, I searched for a way to keep occupied and stimulated. Cleaning out drawers seemed like a valuable enterprise.
Hiding in my desk drawer was an arsenal of creative ideas; a treasure trove of scribbled notes. Endlessly fascinated by people, I had a habit of recording unusual behaviors I witnessed and entertaining quips I heard. I found story outlines and celebrity quotes. I wrote poetry as a child and my adult writing consisted of procedural manuals, progress reports and carefully crafted correspondence. Clearly I had tales to tell but had no idea where to begin until I retrieved a brochure from a charismatic young man introducing screenwriting classes to passersby on a busy Manhattan street. The seed was planted.
I attended the classes, bought my first textbook and started the process.
I thoroughly enjoyed story-telling through scene, character and dialogue. My goal was to simply finish a screenplay. After several re-writes, I accomplished my goal, finished the screenplay and promptly registered it. I shared it with select friends and family, some of whom were kind, others truly excited for me and then there were those with stifled giggles and raised eyebrows. I placed it in my desk drawer.
I’m reminded of a soul-soothing quote: “If you’re absent during my struggle, don’t expect to be present during my success.” – Will Smith
I continued to study the art and craft of screenwriting and read an interesting article written by a young woman whose first screenplay gained notice and prominence until she was asked "What else do you have?" Having no other work to offer, her success was short-lived. I understood.
After a move cross-country, I decided to write another screenplay. I attended seminars, read screenplays, watched movies and was encouraged to network. I knew no one “in the business.” I worked with coaches and joined local film and writing organizations. Mostly everyone I met was in a similar situation, talented creatives with large dreams, hungry for any morsel of positive reinforcement. I finished my screenplay, registered it and situated it in my desk drawer.
A customer of my husband's, who is totally unrelated to the film industry, discovered I wrote screenplays and mentioned she was friends with a film icon whose decades-long career had stalled. He was desperate for one more role and would I send her my screenplay for him to review? Would I? This was before electronic submissions, so that night we dashed to Kinkos, printed it from a disc and the next morning we were first on line at the Post Office to send it Express Mail. We waited. She called weeks later and asked for two additional copies. We complied. And we waited. Four weeks passed and I called. Would I mind sending more copies? Okay, more printing, more Express Mail, more waiting. The hope and pride that a famous actor was reading my lines kept my skepticism at bay but why did she need all those copies? After 14 months of more of the same, we heard the news that he passed. The screenplay went back into my desk drawer.
By the time I tackled my next screenplay, co-written with a man bursting to tell his compelling story, the Internet was blooming; networking was easier. My partner tirelessly shopped our screenplay around and quickly lost interest when it was not picked up by a major studio. His intention was to win an Oscar. Failing that, he refused to give it any more time. Clearly, his goals were far more developed than mine. It was added to my desk drawer.
I found a scribbled quote: "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." - Winston Churchill. I moved on. I was confident enough to bring my other work out of the drawer and entered a few well-known contests. My screenplays placed; I did not realize that was an accomplishment; I only knew I didn't win. I set everything back into my desk drawer.
Of the many lessons I learned from business, those below are a part of me.
It’s All About the Work.
Never do or say anything that could be used against you.
Look people in the eye and get to know them before you pre-judge anyone based on age, color, handicap, looks, name, race, religion or size; Acceptance and respect go a long way.
Enjoying the writing process, I wrote a screenplay with a different partner and two more screenplays on my own. Two producers suggested I turn my first screenplay into a novel which would make it easier to sell to Hollywood. I let that seed germinate.
Up until this point, I had written dramas and drama thrillers, so I tried my hand at comedy. It was the easiest script I wrote and I laughed the whole time while writing it so I entered it into several contests; it placed in five and it won in the sixth. There I was giving a speech at a black-tie, red carpet event, my moment!
Doors began to open. There were agents, attorneys, producers and a deal. My vision now expanded to the possibility of seeing my work on screen. We gathered cast and crew and I had my first encounter with an established director who said he liked the script, didn't want to hurt my feelings but the first scene needed to be cut. I was fine with it and eagerly skipped through the development process. A meeting with a major studio was arranged. I was not invited. Last minute changes in the presentation created a firestorm and the person representing my script had to be escorted from the premises. It all went to hell. My desk drawer was filling up.
I've continued to network and build up a base of colleagues who come and go, some have over-promised and under-delivered but no doors are shut. I've been working with other writers/directors on their projects so I stay busy and happy. Remember the two producers who suggested I convert my first script to a novel? Well, they are no longer in the business but I removed the screenplay from my desk drawer and last year I accepted that challenge. 'Very different writing from screenplays but I completed it quickly and it was recently released. So, every day I learn new skills and am entrenched in marketing my novel. I created a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter account and am having fun. I speak at book clubs and small groups and have been asked to do interviews. I've begun my second novel also based on one of my screenplays and moved my work from my desk drawer to shelves. My screenplays don't age, I do.
For new writers, I share the following:
*Protect your gift by surrounding yourself with supportive people.
*Protect your work by registering it.
*Protect your health when you are focused on a project.
*Balance your energy.
*Surround yourself in comfort; you may be sitting for awhile.
*Walk away from your work area every hour or so to keep the circulation moving.
*Exercise at your own pace anytime you can.
*Save all of your work. If you must cut a scene, a character an incident, chances are you can use it in another project.
*Meet your internal editor; I believe we all have one. It will let you know what's working, what's not.
*Be honest with yourself. Aiming high is good. Overreaching may hurt.
I know well the process of sending inquiries before sending out my work, but recently took a leap of faith on the advice of a friend whose friend suggested I send my book to a celebrity he knows. I did so with a letter of introduction. It was returned unopened.
*Stay with the process.
*Know and follow the rules - they work.
*Good work will always be recognized, just not maybe in the time frame you hope for.
Remember, success is not always based on what one becomes, but often by what one overcomes.
***Re-Blog from Stage 32***