potential is a muscle

a blog about writing, shooting, climbing, eating, loving, cooking, cheese, money, teaching, my wife and kid, my dogs and being brave. And bacon.

I should update more often

D’s been gone since..tuesday. and the house is still standing, so far.

Today, I went to the WGF event in Beverly Hills. The only big things of note to happen:

I got to shake John August’s hand and tell him how much the podcast meant to me…I got a little verklempt, didn’t push for a photo with him, just glad I got to say it.

Big ol’ something-something Butler from the last time I saw John AUgust was there; man, I guess he can fly whenever her wants. 

Other than that, came hime, took a nap, then saw my kid play the lead in his school’s musical. I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW HE WAS THE LEAD UNTIL FRIDAY NIGHT. EFFORTLESS; he’s amazing, the only one on stage who knew what he was doing. Geez, I hope he doesn’t want to become an actor. Ain’t going to encourage or discourage, just see what happens.

Genetti possible changes: brothers…or friends? A jew and an italian, going against the stereotypes. I still like brothers.

major re-think: Edison all the time, demanding that his people find these men, really pushing the effort, insulted be the way they stole the camera he had stolen…

A new theme: Edison is the idea of becoming/being American IN THEORY, he talks about it all the time, theorizing, lecturing…meanwhile, men like the brothers are becoming American IN PRACTICE, actually doing it, with the sweat of their brows and the work of their hands. Take that.

At one point, do things get so hot that they pull a Butch-and-Sundance and go to Mexico for a while, stimying the efforts to catch them? Until they get chased back by Mexican military?

AND THEN THERE’S ME.

The Daily Routines of Geniuses

Juan Ponce de León spent his life searching for the fountain of youth. I have spent mine searching for the ideal daily routine. But as years of color-coded paper calendars have given way to cloud-based scheduling apps, routine has continued to elude me; each day is a new day, as unpredictable as a ride on a rodeo bull and over seemingly as quickly.

Naturally, I was fascinated by the recent book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Author Mason Curry examines the schedules of 161 painters, writers, and composers, as well as philosophers, scientists, and other exceptional thinkers.

As I read, I became convinced that for these geniuses, a routine was more than a luxury — it was essential to their work. As Currey puts it, “A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.” And although the book itself is a delightful hodgepodge of trivia, not a how-to manual, I began to notice several common elements in the lives of the healthier geniuses (the ones who relied more on discipline than on, say, booze and Benzedrine) that allowed them to pursue the luxury of a productivity-enhancing routine:

A workspace with minimal distractions. Jane Austen asked that a certain squeaky hinge never be oiled, so that she always had a warning when someone was approaching the room where she wrote. William Faulkner, lacking a lock on his study door, just detached the doorknob and brought it into the room with him — something of which today’s cubicle worker can only dream.  Mark Twain’s family knew better than to breach his study door — if they needed him, they’d blow a horn to draw him out. Graham Greene went even further, renting a secret office; only his wife knew the address or telephone number. Distracted more by the view out his window than interruptions, if N.C. Wyeth was having trouble focusing, he’d tape a piece of cardboard to his glasses as a sort of blinder.

A daily walk. For many, a regular daily walk was essential to brain functioning. Soren Kierkegaard found his constitutionals so inspiring that he would often rush back to his desk and resume writing, still wearing his hat and carrying his walking stick or umbrella. Charles Dickens famously took three-hour walks every afternoon — and what he observed on them fed directly into his writing. Tchaikovsky made do with a two-hour walk, but wouldn’t return a moment early, convinced that cheating himself of the full 120 minutes would make him ill. Beethoven took lengthy strolls after lunch, carrying a pencil and paper with him in case inspiration struck. Erik Satie did the same on his long strolls from Paris to the working class suburb where he lived, stopping under streetlamps to jot down notions that arose on his journey; it’s rumored that when those lamps were turned off during the war years, his productivity declined too.

Accountability metrics. Anthony Trollope only wrote for three hours a day, but he required of himself a rate of 250 words per 15 minutes, and if he finished the novel he was working on before his three hours were up, he’d immediately start a new book as soon as the previous one was finished. Ernest Hemingway also tracked his daily word output on a chart “so as not to kid myself.” BF Skinner started and stopped his writing sessions by setting a timer, “and he carefully plotted the number of hours he wrote and the words he produced on a graph.”

A clear dividing line between important work and busywork. Before there was email, there were letters. It amazed (and humbled) me to see the amount of time each person allocated simply to answering letters. Many would divide the day into real work (such as composing or painting in the morning) and busywork (answering letters in the afternoon). Others would turn to the busywork when the real work wasn’t going well. But if the amount of correspondence was similar to today’s, these historical geniuses did have one advantage: the post would arrive at regular intervals, not constantly as email does.

A habit of stopping when they’re on a roll, not when they’re stuck. Hemingway puts it thus: “You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again.” Arthur Miller said, “I don’t believe in draining the reservoir, do you see? I believe in getting up from the typewriter, away from it, while I still have things to say.” With the exception of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — who rose at 6, spent the day in a flurry of music lessons, concerts, and social engagements and often didn’t get to bed until 1 am — many would write in the morning, stop for lunch and a stroll, spend an hour or two answering letters, and knock off work by 2 or 3. “I’ve realized that somebody who’s tired and needs a rest, and goes on working all the same is a fool,” wrote Carl Jung. Or, well, a Mozart.

A supportive partner. Martha Freud, wife of Sigmund, “laid out his clothes, chose his handkerchiefs, and even put toothpaste on his toothbrush,” notes Currey. Gertrude Stein preferred to write outdoors, looking at rocks and cows — and so on their trips to the French countryside, Gertrude would find a place to sit while Alice B. Toklas would shoo a few cows into the writer’s line of vision. Gustav Mahler’s wife bribed the neighbors with opera tickets to keep their dogs quiet while he was composing — even though she was bitterly disappointed when he forced her to give up her own promising musical career. The unmarried artists had help, too: Jane Austen’s sister, Cassandra, took over most of the domestic duties so that Jane had time to write — “Composition seems impossible to me with a head full of joints of mutton & doses of rhubarb,” as Jane once wrote. And Andy Warhol called friend and collaborator Pat Hackett every morning, recounting the previous day’s activities in detail. “Doing the diary,” as they called it, could last two full hours — with Hackett dutifully jotting down notes and typing them up, every weekday morning from 1976 until Warhol’s death in 1987.

Limited social lives. One of Simone de Beauvoir’s lovers put it this way: “there were no parties, no receptions, no bourgeois values… it was an uncluttered kind of life, a simplicity deliberately constructed so that she could do her work.” Marcel Proust “made a conscious decision in 1910 to withdraw from society,” writes Currey. Pablo Picasso and his girlfriend Fernande Olivier borrowed the idea of Sunday as an “at-home day” from Stein and Toklas — so that they could “dispose of the obligations of friendship in a single afternoon.”

This last habit — relative isolation — sounds much less appealing to me than some of the others. And yet I still find the routines of these thinkers strangely compelling, perhaps they are so unattainable, so extreme. Even the very idea that you can organize your time as you like is out of reach for most of us — so I’ll close with a toast to all those who did their best work within the constraints of someone else’s routine. Like Francine Prose, who began writing when the school bus picked up her children and stopped when it brought them back; or T.S. Eliot, who found it much easier to write once he had a day job in a bank than as a starving poet; and even F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose early writing was crammed in around the strict schedule he followed as a young military officer. Those days were not as fabled as the gin-soaked nights in Paris that came later, but they were much more productive — and no doubt easier on his liver. Being forced to follow the ruts of someone else’s routine may grate, but they do make it easier to stay on the path.

And that of course is what a routine really is — the path we take through our day. Whether we break that trail yourself or follow the path blazed by our constraints, perhaps what’s most important is that we keep walking.

 

the big accomplishment: I entered the Nicholl Fellowship contest

which is the most prestigious contest in the world and we’ll see what they say. They’ll say what they will.

I just want this foot surgery to get done. 3 weeks, then 4 weeks on crutches and no driving. I may go insane. I’ve been eating like a moron and only gained 6 lbs.

Scripts go out. New ideas to work on. A re-imagining of ‘Three Days of The Condor’? Atomic Monks? rewrite ‘Higher’? My coach appears to be off the grid. Whatever I choose, the outline must be flawless. And I hafta have a solid, SOLID 2nd act.

I promised to buy my wife the diamond ring she wants to add to her wedding band. Why not? It’ll make her happy and it’s a big birthday for her. I hope I have a few more big birthdays with her.

Now I need to clean the bathroom and grade more papers. Arrgh.

the weekend

was very nice. Friday night, ate dinner at The Habit (good burger) and had an earthquake (good quake) (No damage). 

Saturday…Saturday, I added two scenes to Genetti and thought- either I re-write the whole damn thing – based on some arbitrary sense that I couldn’t possibly be good enough, and do it before April 10th- or it’s good enough to submit. Yeah, almost 8000 scripts were submitted to the Nicholl Fellowship last year…guess I’ll have to be better than all of them. If not? I’ll rewrite it from Kate’s point of view. See that? See what I did?

Then, my wife tried to charge me THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS FOR A JOKE ABOUT HER HOME TOWN. I went, I got the cash, I left if for her. She tried to return it three times before i would accept it, along with her promise to never do that again to me. It was a joke. Then we went to dinner with my family. Gosh, it was fun. My mom sparkles in any light and my dad, I am so glad he is my dad. My brother…ordered a dinner salad before his plate of fried lard, then had two bites…symbolic pre-penance, some would say.

Today: I cleaned, did laundry, looked at the script again, thought about ‘Three Days Of The Condor’ with a girl in the lead…went to Walmart, had a double-double and now I am going to bed.

fascinating: she teaches people to have charisma

Charisma is, in part, the ability to be genuinely mindful of others; to be emotionally aware. If intuition were our guide, we might assume that this couldn’t be learned. We might think that it was a blessing enjoyed by those born with an extra dose of empathy and the intelligence to make use of it. We wouldn’t imagine that charisma could be encapsulated in a series of tools, any more than a novel could be condensed into a tweet. Which is not to say that Olivia and her peers don’t succeed in making their clients more charismatic. But perhaps only in Silicon Valley would a group of engineers think they could hack their way to charisma with a series of neuroscientific shortcuts.”

 

there is such a movie there!

WHAT TIME IS IT?

Time to stop being such a little whiner about my foot.

Geez, there’s a woman on Dancing With The Stars…she’s dancing…and she ain’t got no legs, Lieutenant Dan.

this weekend: well started off by finding out that an acquaintance…died. John Gullett; he was one of the members of ‘Zombie Protection Drill’ writing group. He was always dressed in amazing, quirky outfits, always had a bright smile. You’d think he was stoned all the time, nope, he was Bahai and just seemed that way. I was early to one of our meetings and he was outside with a huge 35mm camera around his neck. I asked him if he had taken up photography and he said: no, but my friend said this was a good look for me. And I guess it was. He never actually WROTE anything and we would rib him about that. He did write something, an absurd little sketch about a guy being blown through various scenes by a strong wind, finally to land in his own bed. I mean, we’re screenwriters (I am, Dan, Josh, sometimes Chris) so wtf do we say about that. Eventually, he stopped being invited; someone said, if John’s there, I ain’t going because it’ll be two wasted hours of my life. Died in his sleep. So young.

Friday night, went to tim’s. we watched ‘Her’ and vaped and ate a huge pizza. Fun night. Saturday…tried to see ‘Grand Budapest’, got shut out so went to El Farolito for so much Mexican food. Sunday: shot skeet with trevor, my best was 14 out of 25, gotta get out there more. hung out there, came home, tried for smooching, got shut out, so I graded EVERYTHING.

what are ten things my bad guys could do to f stuff up?

1. go after the genetti family

2.send a spy out west (not jamie or roxy)

3. go to LA when they are out of town; cortland gets enraged…no, it was a long trip.

the fact is that I need to up the enemy action and tension- BUT THE BONES OF IT ARE GOOD.

So I go to the Nicholl fellowship page

And the max earnings limit is now 25K…
So i am back in. Deadline is April 10th. I might enter two if I can get TOTY whipped into shape.

Shit just got real!

Genetti changes: Cortland being an asshole; he sees an Italian market on his way to catch movie pirates- he goes in and beats the Italians inside, smashes their stuff…without saying a word

WEller dealing with reporters asking about Edison’s new invention: why is he keeping it so secret, this man who announces every thought he has?

(And he can’t put out the new camera until he can be sure that the original, the one Primo built, is safely locked away and not causing any problems for his reputation as a genius)

Have Edison talk to Weller, light a fire under him- this needs to be wrapped up; Edison still thinks all of this movie business is foolishness, but if he can use it to put good American ideas in good American heads…they’re simply people, really, they’ll think waht I tell them to think…
.

SO I am reading the last draft of ‘Genetti’

and you know what? It’s good.

Thought: what if they just start making the flood movie? Do we really have to see it? What if they get close to it…and we see all the assholes, the cavalry, Cortland, Chapel’s thugs, who else?

More action, more tension.

That’s the name of the game. If I can get that, do i need the nice Jewish guy who invents the projector? Do I need to bring that in?

Action. tension.

reddit discussion: ‘Just write a good story, and no one will care.’

“Read Her[1] , the film that won best original screenplay.

It breaks every rule in the book. Long paragraphs of text, uses tons of adverbs, tells us things the characters feel without “showing” us, uses past tense instead of present all the time.

But who cares, because it’s an amazingly well told story with characters that pop and dialogue that jumps off the page.

So. Stop worrying about all the rules and just write. Just write a good story and no one will care. Spike Jonze did, and he won an Oscar for it.”

 

and this is what I wrote:

Everybody makes good points. My view is that I am too old to worry about this crap. I am (wait for it) going to write the best script i can write. I am going to follow the rules when they serve the purposes of THE STORY. THE STORY IS ALL THAT MATTERS. 

Other than that: all I consider is:

Is the length okay?

Is the script shootable, produceable by a human cast  and crew in the span of a year or two? Oh, and living on this planet?

Are there parts that MOVIE STARS will want to play?

Will the idea motivate people to go out and buy tickets and tell their friends about it, thereby earning the production company a profit? 

This is my work. It lives in my head and then I put it on paper. They buy it, they don’t buy it, that’s outside of me. I just have to write the best script I am capable of writing, not be too big a dick to anybody (I’m actually a very nice guy) and keep going, keep going, keep going and get better.

 

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