5 Tips For Every Writer – Keynote Speech from The 2023 Los Angeles Screenwriting Competition…
I was honored to be invited as a keynote speaker for The Los Angeles Screenwriting Competition Awards Ceremony 2023 (https://lascreenwriting.com/). It’s a wonderful film competition for writers and so I wanted to do justice by them and share the tips that have benefited me in my writing. You can catch all the nominees, speeches and winners here: https://www.youtube.com/live/XaAZXbmJOCE?si=AXareAYFzzj-0hOl. And submissions are open for next year too! So, if you’re a screenwriter with a short film or feature script, don’t hesitate to go their website or FilmFreeway.com to get your screenplay in the running. Please share your thoughts down in the comment section or hit me up on social media @PhilSvitek.
Welcome to the Los Angeles Screenwriting Competition Award Ceremony. I want to take a moment to applaud everyone’s efforts in this huge achievement. And no, I’m not just talking about those who are nominated or who are about to win an award. I’m talking about everyone who submitted a script into this competition.
And that is because it takes a tremendous amount of resilience and discipline to be able to do that. So many people think about writing a script, some even begin, but so few finish. And so it is a huge personal victory, as well as a victory for the world, as Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art, might argue.
I want you to remember that as we head into the awards section of the ceremony because it can be easy to get lost within comparison. But the creative journey is an individual one. It doesn’t matter whether you were just recently bitten by the writer’s bug or are an experienced writer at this stage.
We’re at different stages and the question to ask yourself really is, Am I better today than I [00:01:00] was yesterday? And if the answer is yes, then that’s progress, and that’s what you want. In an attempt to help every screenwriter along on their journey, I figured it’d be beneficial to share five tips that have tremendously benefited me, and I think they can benefit you.
Tip number one, art is observation. In an interview with Tim Ferriss, acclaimed music producer Rick Rubin argued that art really is just observation. The actual making of the product is craftsmanship and skill. And so in order to put out that product into the world, we need to observe the world and see its universal truths to really figure out what we’re trying to say with whatever it is that we’re making.
And when it comes to a screenplay, I’m not just talking about the down to earth stories, right? I’m talking about sci fi, horror, fantasy, it doesn’t matter. Because all of these still share a fundamental truth that we’re trying to express about humanity, the human condition, and so forth. Those who witness the world and can translate it into their art are the ones who can penetrate Into audiences hearts and the reason for that is because they can translate their own experience Into one that the audience gets to experience firsthand and share in that joy that sadness Whatever emotion it may be So, as you go about your day to day activities, take stock of the world you walk around in. What’s happening? What are the deeper truths? And my advice to you, always carry a notebook because you never know when an observation strikes you, and you want to make sure you jot it down.
Tip number two, embrace the magic of ma moments. Which of course begs the question, what the hell is a ma moment? In 2002, Roger Ebert spoke with acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki. And he noted about his films that he appreciated the gratuitous motion in his films, saying that instead of every moment being dedicated to the story, sometimes people will just sit for a moment, or they will sigh, or look in a running stream, or do something extra, not to advance the story, but only to give the sense of time and place and who they are. Miyazaki quipped, We have a word for that in Japanese. It’s called ma, emptiness. It’s there intentionally.
Using these subdued mom moments allows for reflection, imagination, interpretation. And not just visually, but emotionally. That’s what strengthens the bond and connection between the protagonist and its audience.
Incorporating these ma moments can take a lot of courage because often times when others read your script, they can look at that and say this needs to be cut, it’s boring and it’s not advancing the plot. But when you really know what you’re trying to achieve with those specific moments, they can have a profound effect and you have to be able to fight for them.
Let’s examine Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. In the movie, ten year old Chihiro takes a train ride. And as she does, there’s not much happening. Instead, she just observes the world around her. There’s stillness, there’s calmness. And this allows for the audience to see the outside world that is passing by her. And by extension, we can feel that we are a small part in a big world, just like Chihiro.
These Ma Moments are the essence of authenticity. Your audience will thank you for incorporating them because you’ve invited them into a world where emotions transcend the limitations of language and where silence speaks volumes.
Tip number three, overcome writer’s imperfection. Many times writers will write, write, write in this wonderful flow state, and then all of a sudden it just stops. We tend to call this writer’s block, but this is a false term because what’s actually going on is we have this fear because of our critical selves that what we’re writing is not up to a certain standard that we deemed for ourselves. But the only way through this is to continue writing. You have to look at the amount of crappy pages you have written.
Is it none? Is it just a few?
Well, keep going, keep writing crappy pages because that will allow you to penetrate through the struggle that you’re having. The truth of the matter is that regardless of how great a writer is, we all go through these periods where the well of creativity seemingly dries up.
But as I said, the key to it is to keep writing regardless of the quality of that writing. Because guess what? You can always revise those crappy pages, but you can’t revise something that’s not there. In fact, Neil Gaiman wisely puts it, write down everything that happens in the story and then in your second draft, make it look like you knew what you were doing all along.
Here’s a little secret. When he says second draft, he doesn’t technically mean that. It can be the third, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth, the one hundredth, it doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, you will be judged upon what you present, never what the audience or the reader doesn’t see. Embrace the messiness of writing.
It is a creative journey and through that bumping of your head. Things can arise that you never imagined and oftentimes forming the best scenes in the entire story. So, there is no writer’s block, only writer’s imperfection, and there’s a way through it if you just keep on writing regardless of the quality.
Tip number four, discipline and inspiration aren’t mutually exclusive. William Faulkner once joked, I only write when I feel inspired. Fortunately, inspiration strikes at 10 o’clock every day. What Faulkner highlights there is that the inspiration comes because of the discipline associated with our writing.
Professional writers understand that inspiration is not a requirement. Think about it in this poetic way. Once you begin to work at your desk, It’s as if the muses reward you for putting in the effort with inspiration. And so I encourage you to have a writing routine. Now, it doesn’t have to be a daily practice, but as long as it’s consistent, a couple hours, you know, within the week, whatever it may be, it will pay off.
Part of that is it keeps the story fresh in your mind and your unconscious brain working and solving various plot problems and whatever else that may need to be solved within the story to make it work. So discipline and inspiration really are synonymous for any successful writer out there. Now, quick caveat, on some days you will have tremendous output and on other days you will struggle. It goes back to writer’s imperfection. Just keep writing, regardless of the quality, and you will eventually get to the story that you’re trying to tell.
Tip number five. Read and read widely. Stephen King argues, those who do not read, cannot write. And I believe this wholeheartedly, as do other successful writers.
By reading, you elevate your craft. Refer back to tip number one, art is observation. By reading, you observe the tropes of genre, the pitfalls of cliche, and so forth. To Stephen King’s notion, I add to read widely. Read horror, read sci fi, read fantasy, read comedy, read drama, read all of that because it just enriches you in such a profound way.
By reading widely, it will make you aware of what is out there. It will teach you how to write better dialogue. action lines, and so forth. And that’s regardless of the quality of the script. You will start to absorb these scripts and be able to judge what is good and I want to apply it or this is bad and I don’t want to have that in my scripts.
But beyond scripts, I encourage you to also read novels as well as non fiction. Great screenwriters such as Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, read all kinds of books. And not that they’re necessarily adapting them, they just draw inspiration from it, filling up their proverbial reservoir of all this creativity from those works of art.
So I encourage you to read, read a lot, and read widely, because it will tremendously help you as a writer. So those are the five tips that have tremendously benefited me, and I hope they have the same effect on you. We are now ready to head into the award ceremonies portion of the festivities. Once again, I want to applaud everyone who submitted you are winners in my book, and I cannot wait to see where you go from here.
So please keep writing.
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