An organized mind is a happy mind

Sometimes life just sort of squashes down on top of you and you're left lying there, all splayed out on the floor, a bit flatter than normal, contemplating the sheer weight of THINGS YOU HAVE TO DO.

Wash the dishes! Get the car tuned up! Go to your after-work sports team event! Write Act Three! Make a project plan for your new boss! Floss your teeth. Watch Eli Stone! Go to the store! Throw out the limp and rotting lettuce in the fridge. Get rid of the unintentionally blue cheese while you're in there. Back up your hard drive. Organize iTunes. Update your iPod. Delete the 75 episodes of Family Guy on your TiVo. (Isn't technology supposed to make life easier?)

So, you're lying there, resembling a pancake, or perhaps a crépe if you've got a really lot of things weighing you down. Then you think of one more thing you need to do.

Get organized.

Phew. That's the hardest one of all. I've been putting it off for months, but I plan to make a start first thing next week. And this time I mean it.

I'm going to make lists. And maybe even a schedule. I'm going to set aside actual time to organize my accounts for tax purposes. I'm going to sort out the cupboard, which seems to be spawning dried fruit, nuts, and various grains. Perhaps my cupboard is self-filling storage space and I never knew it. Limitless food. Like on Star Trek.

Hmmm, computer, I'd like a Black Eye shake from the 101 Coffee Shop please. (Apologies to people who can actually quote TNG properly. I haven't watched it for like 10 years.)

Now observe carefully, dear audience, as I magically tie all this into writing.

If you ever find that, inexplicably, you can't write. Or worse, you just don't feel like writing, then sit down and get organized. Push all that weight off your body and out of your brain. Seriously, it'll free up at least a gig of brain RAM so you can create.

Artery Cloggery
Ever eaten at the Elf Café on Sunset? No, I don't think you have. It's in Echo Park. You'd never notice it if you didn't know it was there. It's vegetarian. The best vegetarian food I have ever eaten. That's why I know it can't be good for you. But man, it's good!


So that's why pilot season is so spotty

Hey kids, guess what? Writing a pilot is harder than writing a spec of an existing show.

Yes, I hear a chorus of "No duh's" out there. [No duh is a product of fear.]

But for those of you who've never written a pilot before, it's a lot harder than even the people who say it's a lot harder would have you believe. 

I was feeling like my outline – which I wrote and rewrote and rewrote with input from the smartest people I've ever had input from before – was pretty solid. Nicely plotted with room for creativity and change as required. So I figured "Hey, I'll bang out my first draft in less than a week, like I've done with my other spec scripts."

[Insert sound of screeching tires post-slamming-on-the-brakes here. Or that sound they use on ANTM of, like, a needle being scraped across a record.]

I started to write, but as soon as I got to the dialogue, I realized there are no little actors' voices in my head, delivering the lines as I write them. There's no internalized show rhythm, defining how long the scenes should be. No produced scripts telling me what style the action lines should take. No audience familiarity with the characters to replace carefully worded descriptions.

All of a sudden, zillions of new decisions must be made. And they must be made by me! Yikes!

Artery Cloggery
I'm dying for a Black Eye Shake from The 101. Which is why I better find time to go to the gym today.


I admit it, I could be wrong

For a very different opinion on the DGA Deal than the one I gave just a few short days ago, you can see what John Wells has to say via Craig Mazin's site.

Of course, it's up to you to decide whose opinion is worth more.

1. The guy who invented ER, took over The West Wing from Aaron Sorkin (will not rant about that here), used to work as a proper rock'n'roll roadie (really?), was formerly some kind of big wig in the WGA, and has won more Emmys than could fit in a hockey bag...


2. A person who has three spec scripts and the seed of a TV pilot under her belt and really didn't know anything about the WGA, residuals, EST, or anything Union-related before the strike started a few months ago.

It's up to you.

I admit, I've not parsed the fine print of the DGA deal (and have no plans to do so) and my take on it is more visceral than intellectual, but I'm still sticking with my initial stinky old cheese reaction.

NBC Burbank today

Not enough time for a real post – the script pages for my magnificent writers' group are due this Wednesday and they are in no shape for human eyes just yet – but I just wanted to alert anyone who might have missed it that there's a mass writers and fans strike day today, brought to us by fans4writers:

Monday, Jan 21, 2:30pm-5:30pm
3000 W Alameda Ave
Burbank, CA
Meeting Point: Check-in table is located on Bob Hope Dr. (Johnny Carson park)
Parking Option: Street parking on Bob Hope and Riverside

I plan to be there, so look for me. I'll be the one with the red t-shirt!

Artery Cloggery
Mmmm, home-made brownies brought yesterday by a teammate to Lei-out, a ridiculously fun, impossibly beautiful Beach Ultimate (Frisbee) tournament in Santa Monica. Pam from the office might hate it, but I adore tossing a disc around. Still wouldn't date Andy though!


This is why I never want to be a director

The DGA deal is done and the reaction around town seems to be set on Cautiously Optimistic.

My personal reaction? Hideously depressing.

The headlines are all reading like the DGA has gotten a super fantabulous deal, citing 80% increases on this and 50% increases on that. Well, guess what? An 80% increase on 0.3% is still a crappy crappy deal. Not to mention that those headlines don't take into account caveats such as "We get to not pay you anything for the first 17 days that we stream a show on which you poured out your heart and soul." Uh, dudes, when do you think people want to watch new TV? Right after it comes out, or, like, 18 days later? I'm not a lawyer, a WGA member, or a greedy corporate whore, but the whole internet residual end of this DGA deal smells like ripe old cheese to me.

Plus, I'm so damn exhausted by the language that the news media uses in this strike. In The Daily News today (I know, it's a rag, but they won't stop delivering it to my house, even though I've asked them nicely – with pleases and thank yous just like my Mom taught me)... ahem. Anyway, in The Daily News today they say this:
Hollywood directors reached a tentative contract deal Thursday with studios, a development that could turn up the pressure on striking writers to settle their two-month-old walkout that has idled production on dozens of TV shows.
Like there was no pressure before now to try and settle the strike. Like the writers have just been sitting around enjoying a happy fun fun holiday at the expense of all the below-the-liners in Hollywood. 

Um, hello, but how are the WGA supposed to end the strike when the AMPTP refuses to even discuss a contract? I suppose if the WGA leaders were to go to the AMPTP leaders and offer up their first-born children, sign a blood oath, and agree to scrub Nick Counter's Italian marble floors twice a week using only their own personal toothbrushes dipped in Anthrax-laced floor cleaner, they just might be able to end the strike. C'mon folks, and I say this in capital letters just to relieve some of my bottled up anger --


This is good vs evil, this is St. George and the Dragon, this is James and the Giant Peach. Uh, no, perhaps not that last one. 

The multi-billion dollar companies who own the studios are not going to go broke by giving the writers 1% of anything. Hell, they could give the writers 1% of everything and it would still be like you or me losing 20 bucks on the way to the cinema. But they won't. Why? Because they have the money and therefore they have the power and they can do whatever the hell they like. 

If the WGA folds now, on highly unfavorable terms, then the last two months might as well have never happened. But they did happen and it has hurt a hell of a lot of people. So shouldn't it all have been for something?


The game that improves your dialogue

On New Year's Day, which was, I realize, like a million years ago now, we went over to a friend's house. The party didn't really get started until we played a game called Catch Phrase. Before we began, my friend was excessively excited about it. Everyone else was calmly eating bagels and lox and getting over their New Year's Eve hangovers, but my friend just wanted to start the game. Now!

I didn't really get how anyone could be that excited over a board game. Until I played it, that is.

If you've never played, here's a quick rundown. There's a little wheel thing, and when you hit the doohickey on the side, it reveals a word or phrase in a little window. You then have to give hints to your teammates until they guess what the word is. Once they've guessed, you quickly pass the little wheel on to your opponents. The team not holding the wheel when the timer runs out gets a point. The excitement is all in the timer. It beeps faster and faster as it approaches the end and your heart beats faster and faster right along with it.

It's pretty much a flawless game.

But here's the really interesting thing – if you're a dorky writer type like me. If you get a chance to play (and I strongly suggest you do), listen carefully to the way that each person gives their clues.

One person I played with would always, unconsciously, format her clues like this:

"I like to put this in my coffee." or "I like to park my car here." or "I like it when this falls from the sky."

When I gave clues, I would almost always provide a setting first and then get specific.

"On a farm, you use this to plow your fields." "To climb up on the roof, you use this thing, it has rungs."

Another friend would reference a movie or a song in his clues. Yet another guy would almost always think for a second and then say one concise sentence that would leave no doubt as to the word.

This phenomenon was amazingly consistent. Once we each established a technique that worked with our individual ways of speaking and our unique frames of reference, we rarely abandoned it.

And when you think about it, each type of clue-giving tells you a huge amount about each of my friend's characters. Right?

Think about it. You could decide what type of people these are, just from the above.

Oooh, the power of words. I love it.

Artery Cloggers
I woke up early New Year's Day with the thought of fresh banana bread in my head, so I made some for the party. With chocolate chips and walnuts. My only regret is that the anxiety and stress caused by playing such an intense game (yes, there was sweat and sore muscles afterwards, just like real exercise) left me with little appetite, so I only had a tiny slice. Guess I'll have to go make some more. Right now. Instead of working on my pilot outline. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah!


A mark, a yen, a buck, or a pound

Yep, it's January 1st, the day when, traditionally, people the world over start hyperventilating when they think of their bank account. Me too. I'm gasping for breath.

Money is something that never gets discussed in all those "How to become the world's best TV writer" books. They tell you to spend all of your time writing, thinking about writing, or watching other people's writing - I realize that doesn't sound right, but a lot of times for me that's what watching TV is, watching how other people write.

Anyway, they never say how to get by while you're waiting for your big break. And since that wait could be years, struggling TV writers (and struggling writers in every genre) need an alternative means of making a buck.

Many of my writing friends have standard 9 to 5ers (or 7 to 9ers for my friends who have industry jobs). This leaves them approximately 3.25 hours a week in which to write. Not ideal. A few people I know, including me, have decided to scrape by on savings while dedicating themselves to learning their craft. For a lot of people, this still somehow results in about 3.25 hours of writing per week. They do have a lot of time for mountain biking, surfing, eating, sleeping, grocery shopping and all that other stuff, though.

On the whole, I'm pretty disciplined about my writing. I've been a freelance writer for years, so I know how to get down to work with a minimum of internet surfing beforehand. And I have a ticking clock.

My year of living freely is over now and I need to stop sucking the life out of my savings and start earning.

This year, I need to seriously start making money again. Sigh.

I wish that meant jumping into a job as a staff writer. But it probably means taking on some temp gig where people half my age disrespect me while I do ten times the work they do. Sorry, just flashed back to my first-ever temp receptionist job in London. Yikes. I don't wanna go back there.

Erm, so my point is, uh... money, it's a pain in the butt.

Happy New Year!

Artery Cloggers
I can't believe I haven't yet raved about Beard Papa's Fresh 'n Natural Cream Puffs. If you believe the tale on their website, Beard Papa's originated in a tiny bakery in Osaka, but it really doesn't matter where they come from, because they are – and this is fact, not opinion – the best dessert ever. If there was an official dessert of heaven, this would be it. If you could eat a cloud, this is how it would taste.

First-timer's tip - get the plain Papa with the plain filling. After you've had it a few times, and only then, you have my permission to go wild with eclairs, chocolate filling, fondant, and more. Nice!