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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Review: Live To Write Another Day by Dean Orion

Live To Write Another Day
A Survival Guide for Screenwriters and Creative Storytellers
Dean Orion
Sky Father Media
Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) Members' Titles

Dean Orion has written an atypical yet nonetheless useful volume for writers with plenty of encouragement and new ways to look at the lifestyle. The title contains more information than it appears:

  • "Survival" indicates not plot/character/setting advice but advice to keep your writing lifestyle going.
  • "Screenwriters and Creative Storytellers" indicates a broad range of writers who use story, but most people will automatically think "novelist" when they think of writers. Orion has made his career writing scripts for movies (bought but not produced) and for video games. This alone should help open writers' eyes to the broad possibilities out there if you want to be a writer.
The book is divided into the following sections:
  1. "The Writer Gene" -- the "gene" is the desire to write stories (although if you don't write for extended periods, you may not be a writer).
  2. "The Art of Procrastination" -- just because you're not writing does not mean you're not writing. He sees writer's block differently. It's part of the creative process that will help you get through the problem you've encountered. The key: Don't get anxious about not writing but use it to inform you.
  3. "The Write Environment" -- Find different places where you only write. He used a business office after hours so it was a place he had to go to write. (Great idea.) You need to get rid of distractions and temptations. The writer only needs a desk, chair and an outlet. But sometimes you need to change that location to reinvigorate creativity.
  4. "Writer's Block" is a myth. You just need a creative solution. The solution exists. Your brain may naturally go through these processes in seeking the answer. Simply relax and trust that it's there in the big picture, and find the process to get there. Use similar situations you've come across in your or other people's writing. Your problem may have occurred earlier in the story.
  5. "Tuning in the Radio" -- Story's have a perfect form. Research so you don't panic later. Take a broad range of notes without limiting yourself. Write down notes, then concepts, then create your story outline. The story doesn't have to be perfect. You'll fill in the blanks as you go along. Use index cards or a whiteboard so you can view and rearrange things as necessary. Dig deeper into characters. Interview similar people around you. Write one line for each scene and see if the story flows.
  6. "This Draft's for You" -- Don't share your work until you have a first draft (I recall Larry Niven did, though). Use this story to exorcise problems or feelings. When you give the story out to be critiqued, make sure it's ready for outside influence.
  7. "The Art of Giving Notes" -- Notes mean "critiques." Be ready to give good notes and you'll be ready to take them. Accept other people's feeling. Let them feel like they're a part of your team. Don't just offer problems but concrete ideas (some writers get positively irate when they receive concrete ideas, but I'm with him on this--not that a writer has to do "X" but seeing what a critiquer means is useful). Be empathetic and humble because it's hard to see our own flaws. Ask what's the big picture, how clear is it. Look at setups and payoffs, as well as character wants and motivations in each scene.
  8. "The Art of Receiving Notes" -- Orion is a script writer so he has to be open to changes. Allow stories to be in a constant flux, state of change. Anything can go. Value the critic's opinion and pass over ones you don't find useful. Which notes can build on your story's core theme?
  9. "The Art of Executing Notes" -- Forget the notes on the rewrite. Use your index cards or whiteboard to rewrite major changes. Let go of any scene. How does each change add to your story core? Consider giving the note giver your outline before executing.
  10. "Writing Partners" -- Use trust, respect and commitment. Set ground rules. Be together for brainstorming. Be willing to sacrifice and compromise.
  11. "Pitching Stories" --  Be able to express yourself verbally and on paper. Pitches are performances of character, with hooks. Be open and flexible to whatever happens.
  12. "Writing for Hire" -- Gather your writing samples together. This is a group project, not yours. The critic or note-giver is always right. He's the employer. Shape the notes according to your vision. Same with writing classes. The teacher's always right. Keep your passion projects going to feed your soul.
  13. "Art vs. Commerce" -- financial success does not = writing success. Luck is important. Be ready for luck. Success = writer gene + process. It's a long haul. You define your writing success. Is your story the best you can make it?
  14. "The Write Community" -- Surround yourself with writers to exchange energy, ideas, and moral support.
  15. "Live to Write Another Day" -- He ends with motivational advice about your career. Don't play it safe. Be your own hero. Record your culture's history.
You may not have heard of Dean Orion before, but he's made this his career and has useful advice worth paying attention to. Grab a copy, study and apply to your own writing habits. I've read it twice, skimmed it and plan to read it again.

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