Writing is hands-down one of the most difficult things I have ever tried to do. When you stand at the base of the David, you just get it.* Clearly, this is something made by a master. Look at the curves. The pose. It’s all there, in an instant.
Great writing, on the flippy, gives you no indication of how it was made. It’s just words on the page. If you want to re-type the Inferno, you can go right ahead. It will look exactly the same. If you want to write it from scratch… well, you have to be Dante.
The point of this muddled comparison is simply to say that my personal journey to find meaningful advice on the art of writing has been very frustrating. For some reason there are more idiots trying to give advice about writing than any other art. Here you’ll find those whom I consider to be, the non-idiots.
* Not that I ever have. The lines were too long.
LECTURES / INTERVIEWS / PODCASTS
- BAFTA Screenwriter Lecture Series – An absolutely essential resource for screenwriters. The range of writers is enormous and the pearls of wisdom are unending. The Charlie Kaufman speech is unbelievable, and really more of a way to live your life than a writing lecture. My other favorites are Brian Helgeland, William Nicholson, and Peter Straughan.
- Scriptnotes Podcast – A weekly podcast hosted by two veteran screenwriters, John August (Go, Big Fish) and Craig Mazin (Hangover II, III). Covers a range of topics including insights into the actual business of writing, and regularly features awesome filmmakers (Rian Johnson, Richard Kelly, etc).
- Cy Porter – I have no idea who this guy is, but he’s made tons of these awesome little YouTube tutorials on writing. He’s got a great, organic, unpredictable way of framing story-creation that I find really interesting.
- Creative Spark: Dustin Lance Black – This is an annoyingly-short version of what I’m sure is a very fascinating walkthrough of Black’s process. Using notecards is a tool most writers have heard of, but Black utilizes them in a very rigorous and specific way that I found enlightening. Additionally there are more writers in this video series, including John August.
- Andrew Stanton – The Clues to a Great Story – Who is better than Pixar? Andrew Stanton has been writing for Pixar since their inception. I love his “Unifying Theory of 2+2.”
- Ira Glass on Storytelling – As the genius behind This American Life, Glass is one of the modern masters of storytelling. This is a great talk that illuminates some of the blind spots of amateur storytelling.
- Stephen King “On Writing” – It’s been a long time since I read this so I can’t remember details, but I remember being blown away by the candidness of King’s description of his process. Obviously this man’s credentials need no verification.
- David Mamet “Three Uses of the Knife” – More of a philosophical treatise on the purpose of fiction. Every page of this book is dripping with brilliance, poignancy, and comedy-via-truth. Mamet smacks you around in the best way possible.
- David Mamet “On Directing Film” – In spite of the title this is actually more of an ultra-high resolution look at the mechanics of a scene. This is entirely from a writer’s perspective. Mamet forces us to look at every tiny moment and ask, “what’s the point?” Hail Mamet.
- Robert Greene “Mastery” – In stark contrast to his bro-centric The 48 Laws of Power, this book kicked my ass into gear… namely, the story of how John Keats wrote his first epic poem. A self-help book that admits that there are no shortcuts.
- Aristotle “Poetics” – duh.
WEBSITES / ARTICLES
- Wordplay – A collection of mind blowing articles by veteran screenwriting team Terry Rossio & Ted Elliot (Pirates of the Caribbean, Aladdin). The site is a relic of 90’s internet, but the insights in these articles are solid gold.
- Terrence Malick “Days of Heaven” – In addition to being utterly classic, the evolution of how this film was made is a masterclass in process. The brilliant, poetic, hilarious V.O., for example, that runs throughout the final film… isn’t even in the screenplay. In fact the screenplay possesses mountains of dialog that never made it to the film. Malick’s scene descriptions (big film school no-no) are gorgeous and rich. This should be the indicator that there really are no rules.
- Google Docs – The undisputed champion at cloud-based word processing and spreadsheets. It’s Google. It’s free. Yes, the NSA might steal your story idea but that’s a risk that’s worth taking.
- Workflowy – An amazing little tool that lets you make collapsible hierarchical lists. You can even use hashtags to link all your content together. I use it to build outlines. It’s free, but limits you to 250 notes. For every person you refer they give you 250 more.