Monday, July 22, 2013

The Best Writing Advice I Ever Got.

There is a tradition among writers known as “passing it along.”  This likely grew from the
earliest days of storytelling, sitting around a campfire and spinning tales.  And that’s precisely
the way I ended up getting the very best advice I’ve been told about writing.  (Except I wasn’t
sitting around a campfire…)

It turns out to be helpful for a lot of things, too.  The advice came from a friend, the wonderful writer Jack B. Sowards who wrote Star Trek II:   The Wrath of Khan.  And as it happens, this advice was given to him by the celebrated writer of How the West was Won, James R. Webb. (See what I meant about writers passing it along?)

One day when Sowards was starting out as a writer, he had a meeting with James Webb, who
said to the young man that he was going to give him the absolute best advice about writing there
was. Excited, knowing that he was about to get the wisdom of the ages, Sowards took out his
pen and made sure he had plenty of paper to keep his notes. He sat up, cocked open his ears and
prepared to take down everything. Webb looked at him. And said only one word: "Finish."

That was it. That's the best advice. You can only have a story when you've finished it. Then, you
can go back and make it better. But nothing happens until it's completed.   And the shocking
realization is that that works throughout life.

But the opposite is true, as well:  to finish a story, you have to “Start.”

The other day, I was asked how I got the idea for The Wild Roses.  My answer was, “I have
absolutely no idea.”  The odd thing is that I know exactly where I was when the idea popped into
my head, “The Three Musketeers, but with three women.” But I don’t have a clue what I was I
thinking the instant before. Yet for nine months I didn’t write anything.  I just didn’t know what the story was.  So, I put The Wild Roses aside.

But nine months later, things changed.  (Ah, the whimsy of life – nine months turns out to
actually be a fine gestation period.)  One day, I was on the phone with my pal, Rob Hedden, a novelist and filmmaker.   He had just sold a screenplay to Paramount Studios.   I was thrilled for him, and we spent a half-hour talking.  Eventually, he got bored with my questions and said, “What are you working on?” The honest answer was, “Nothing.”  But I offhandedly mentioned,  “Well, there’s this idea in the middle of my mind.  The Three Musketeers but with three women.”

Rob almost leaped through the phone to grabbed me by the lapels.  “You have to write this!” he
kept shouting.  “And I don’t want any excuses.” Okay, I figured after that, hmmm, maybe the idea for The Wild Roses was worth addressing again.  So, as important as it is to “finish,” it turns out to be a good thing to have a friend who yells…“Start.”

 The Wild Roses is only available on Amazon, in both paperback and eBook.

Robert Elisberg's profile photoRobert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting.  His novel, “A Christmas Carol 2: The Return of Scrooge” reached #2 on Amazon’s Hot List for Comedy/Parody.  His screen work includes an upcoming adventure for Callahan Filmworks, and co-writing three of the “Skateboy” movies based on the international series.  Elisberg is a long-time columnist for the Huffington Post and the Writers Guild of America, whose political writing is included in the anthology, “Clued in on Politics” (CQ Press). Among his other writing, he co-wrote a book on world travel; co-wrote the song, "Just One of the Girls," for the Showtime movie “Wharf Rat;” and wrote the book for the stage musical-comedy, “Rapunzel.”  He has contributed to for such publications as the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, and Los Angeles Magazine.

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