A couple or three old stories and musings on creative direction for my writing career
Posted On July 25, 2021
So, an hour ago when I was stuck in the line-up for the McDonald’s drive-thru, I had a brilliant idea of how to start this blog, but now it’s all gone.
Oh well. Can’t have been all that brilliant, I guess.
I think it had something to do with refocussing my writing efforts and sidelining some more projects so I might eventually, y’know, get something finished. Also I have a vague recollection of some story Trent Reznor once told in the late 90s about having writer’s block and Bono supposedly telling him to just work at it until he was writing music that was so good that it would be criminal to not put it out.
Two ways to interpret this, depending whether or not you like Bono and whether or not you like Trent Reznor (at the time of reading it, I hated Bono but liked Trent, now that polarity is reversed): 1. Bono was being encouraging and thus we can blame him for all the garbage Trent wrote and released after getting unblocked. For like the last 25 years. 2. Bono was subtly telling Trent he sucks and needs to up his writing game.
Either way, for the last 25 years Trent seems to not have a good grasp on “so good that it would be criminal to not put it out.” (I’m paraphrasing from what I remember reading.)
At least the Irishman tried, I guess.
Which brings me to another side note: when I was a student at Nimbus, Bob Ezrin used to come and visit and tell us stories from his career, and one of the ones he told us was that when Trent brought him in to wade through boxes of tapes of songs and other shit Trent had written for the Fragile to try to whittle it down to an album and in what order to put the songs in. Bob tried to get Trent to go with the single album song list he came up with, but Trent wouldn’t listen and insisted on a double album. Bob gave him a double album song list (as it was actually released), but again advocated for the single album playlist, which Bob felt would be much more impactful.
Bob refused to tell us which songs he wanted Trent to cut (believe me, I tried to badger him into telling us!), but The Fragile came up on my iTunes last night and I can’t help but wonder if the real answer was “all of them. Start over!”
(Now, granted, that’s clearly not what Bob told Trent back then, but it’s what my 2021 ears would go back in time to tell him, lol…)
Why am I telling this story… oh yeah, so getting back to what Bono allegedly told Trent (that my 2021 ears tell me Trent at the very least misinterpreted, lol)… I’m trying to whittle down projects to a more impactful couple.
Y’know, a single album playlist, not a double album.
And that “so good it would be criminal to not put it out” thing popped into my head whilst at the McDonald’s drive-thru.
Because I have one of those. Not music, though I’ll have to make some music to score it, but the “weirdo sitcom-y web series with Barbies.”
Everyone I tell about it thinks it’s hilarious, yet I find myself dithering and putting off starting work on it, and finding more busywork that I think I have to finish first… and then there’s the matter of this whole sideline tangent wherein I was going to spend some time each day writing pulpy romance novels under a pen name because money and 10 different script ideas and a livestream I might start and this and that.
As for the romance novels… well, this brings up another story from a decade ago, a friend, K., who I’ve long since lost contact with.
K. was an audio engineer who was assistant to a big-time mix engineer. And one day when said mixer was working on an album for one of the bands I used to work with for the indie label I used to work for, somehow the topic came up in the control room about back-up plans and jobs and such.
K. mentioned that he’d turned down a bunch of job offers, some to work for labels, some to be a tour manager or touring soundman, etc. even though they paid better than what he was then making.
Why? Because he wanted to be a studio engineer. And time spent being a tour manager was not being in the studio. And it would screw up the trajectory of being in the studio to gain skills, experience, connections, and opportunities to continue being in the studio and working towards his actual goals.
Which is to say, K. was telling us about opportunity cost. As he put it, if you want to do something, you need to spend as much time as possible doing that. You take other jobs, you end up spending all your time doing those other jobs and you lose your dream.
And it’s worked, based on his Discogs. I’m sure it’s still a struggle, but he’s still doing studio engineering.
Anyway, I don’t think I’d thought in years about that little exchange (which I’m sure was aimed more at a now-deceased mutual friend of ours who was there and, if memory serves, was feeling a lot of pressure to be doing all these other sorts of jobs that were getting in the way of his dream to make his own band succeed), but it popped back into my head this week when I was trying to figure out why I just could not get myself to sit down and write that first romance novel even though I have 6 pages of outline and character exploration and I think it’s a solid story.
K. didn’t want to be a tour manager. So he refused to become one.
I don’t want to be a romance novellist. So I keep not working on the first one.
Maybe that’s stupid when it’s a pretty easy way to make money… I’m not saying it’s an easy career, certainly not if you want to actually be good at it, but I’ve previously made money on Amazon writing pulpy erotica stuff under a pen name, though it’s been about 5 or 6 years and I was always lazy about it, so I know I could do the same with romance and I think I could be good at it if I tried. The romance novel industry I think pulls in $1.5 billion US a year, and there’s a surprising number of authors who rake in $50K+ annually doing it, no reason to think I couldn’t be one of them.
But I just can’t make myself sit down and write that damn novel.
Maybe I’m a snob, lol…
But back to what K. said… so what do I wanna do? Well, that keeps circling around because—hey, SQUIRREL!!!!—I’m easily distracted and there’s too many things I’m interested in, etc.
And once upon a time I wanted to be a rockstar, until I tried the whole music thing and realized I didn’t wanna do the work, lol.
So it’s a combo of “want to do it” and “actually want to do the work.”
And that brings me to comedy writing. And the web series (back to what Bono allegedly told Trent). I will actually happily sit down in Final Draft and write episodes of it, endlessly re-read and tweak them, all whilst laughing at my own jokes. And thinking about the themes of the show, and coming up with plot points for more episodes to be written later.
I think we have a winner.
And, I mean, I have been writing comedy in one form or another since 2014, between stand-up, podcasts, now scripts, and I think I used to write pithy one-liners for Twitter as well back when I still used that cesspool.
It’s just a matter of focussing down on a niche and getting stuff finished and getting serious.
So, the web series is king. It will be my flagship project, and I’m slowly making myself do the non-fun parts like examining my existing scripts and plotting out what the sets need to look like and how I should build them and all that grunt work that I have to buckle down and do in August and September so I can start filming in October and get the first episode out for January (it involves the Oscars, which I used to always think were at the end of Janaury, but I guess they’re actually in March? Well, I guess if all else fails I have an extra 2 months’ cushion, though I kinda want March for a St. Paddy’s Day episode… well, we’ll see… a couple months after it goes up, no one will care if the Oscars episode actually went up 2 months early, right?)
Aside from that there’s the whole thing about what other forms of comedy to write?
I’ve done stand-up and I like it except I have a short attention span and podcasting suited me better since it was always new material. Maybe I’ll get back to either one or both, dunno, though there’s not much stand-up where I live and I refuse to return to Vancouver… where there is also not as much stand-up as there used to be.
If I was going to stay here on Vancouver Island permanently, I could certainly get in touch with some local venues and organize stand-up nights, especially since I still have some pals who are touring comics from Vancouver and of course through them I could renew a bunch of old connections and acquaintanceships, but… I want out of here in a year or two. I suppose it would be worth trying anyway to get something going and hopefully find someone who can keep it rolling when I leave. Y’know, leave this town more fun than I found it and all.
But… yeah, I probably won’t bother, lol.
Reviving Under My Skin might well be in order, though we’ll see. I don’t want it to just devolve into bitching about dumb shit rock stars post online again (as it was when I tried reviving it earlier this year when the Karen Kunts had us in lockdown), so we’ll see.
I know I have a standing invitation to hop onto at least one of my friends’ comedy podcasts, so that’s cool, I just think I should have something to promote first, be it UMS or the web series or whatever.
And I am thinking of a late-night style livestream at least once a week, but I’m still brainstorming that one.
Back to writing.
I’ve been brainstorming possible sitcoms to write pilots for, the only thing is: I don’t wanna be a sitcom writer. (Aside from my own web series, that is.)
Yeah, it’s a solid job if you can get it, but I’d have no choice but to live in LA (and you often have to already be living in LA before getting hired to a writing room, so you get that catch-22 of how to manage to live in LA when I’m not a Yankee and how to afford to live there when I’m not already a TV writer, etc.) And it’s 14 hour days spent writing for someone else’s dream.
K.’s wisdom applies here.
It is possible to just write a pilot with a show bible and maybe a couple further episodes and sell that IP for someone else to develop the show. Seems to me I once read about Gavin McInnes having done a bunch of that before he became persona non grata a few years back.
But that’s a hard racket to break into at the start. It would be much easier to sell a feature script (and that’s not easy either, but we’re talking a matter of degree). You also can live somewhere more affordable but still a short flight away for easy access to meetings (Phoenix comes to mind, yes there’s still that pesky “how to live in Phoenix when I’m not a Yankee” problem, but it’s entirely feasible to buy a place in Phoenix and stay there a day shy of 6 months each year… assuming I didn’t manage to marry an American in the meantime).
And I’ve heard cases of someone writing a feature comedy script but whoever bought it wanted it turned into a sitcom… now we’re talking! LOL…
So… methinks the smart thing is to turn some of those ideas for sitcoms into features and then as I try to get reps, tell them I’d be willing to turn these features into sitcoms if that makes them more saleable but make it clear I don’t actually want to be a TV writer.
As for that romance novel plot…. well, maybe that can be a fun rom-com feature, huh? Dunno if it will end up being “so good that it would be criminal to not put it out,” but hey, I would argue that neither was most of anything released by Nine Inch Nails in the last 25 years, so whatever.
Well, let’s see if I can’t get on track and get some shit finished now with all this in mind.