A Writer’s Diary: October 2015

This week, I’m revising the new pilot. It occurs to me that I didn’t stop working long enough to enjoy the moment of finishing draft one; I was already diving back into the beginning and reorganizing scenes and sections of dialogue. Given the subject matter, which is kind of difficult, I’m especially concerned with getting the tone right. Believe it or not, by the way, when I’m writing the tougher moments, the soundtrack to my personal writer’s room has either been classical with lots of cello, or other soundtracks – or the silliest, perkiest pop music ever recorded.

I’m just gonna say it: Katy Perry’s “Firework” has been on heavy rotation. Don’t judge me.

Despite the seriousness of the storylines, it’s been fun to write the characters, and as usual I have my favorites, which change session to session. They’re what are going to make this (or any) show work. I feel good about my process in coming up with characters, but haven’t gotten the hang of just knowing that I’m telling a story with properly-calibrated obstacles and conflict.

I’ve been hibernating quite a bit to finish this draft, eating and sleeping it, practically. This show is more indicative of the type of  I envision writing generally, while my first pilot, Pirate Queen, is a big action-oriented series with a grand scope. So I want to get the new one ready and start shopping it as well. At this point, I can at least refine the all important logline and pitch for the new show.

Last month, I wrote a post with a colleague for my “day job” blog that crosses over well here, about how to overcome creative blocks. It was a blast collaborating with a visual artist and designer on that; I love getting ideas from other creative folks on how to feed and nurture creativity.

In part, that’s why I’ll be recapping Manhattan when season two premieres next week. Because watching other folks’ stunningly executed complex television is so good for the old confidence. I kid. Of course it’s good to keep consuming and reading new stuff as I’m creating my own work.

And I should wrap up a proper draft of my pilot #2 shortly. Plus, I’m developing a couple of ideas to turn into freelance pitches. In some ways, I feel as though I’m huffing up a lot of stairs to keep up, frankly. That could just be a subconscious preoccupation though, since I work in a sixth floor walkup studio in the city, and our elevator operator and I take the same lunch hour. Which means: BONUS WORKOUTS. I’ve got this, October, but I’m working for it.

Speaking of overcoming blocks, workouts and freelance pitches…this week’s writing class assignment beckons.


A Writer’s Diary: What’s in the Hopper this September

Hi. It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?

By my count, it’s been about four years since I was blogging here (or anywhere) even semi-regularly. Like many folks who got started in the early 2000s, there came a point when taking a good break was the best thing to do. Then, I was writing a lot for a job. And then, happily, more life kept happening, but it didn’t lend itself to this format. Those were great for different reasons – they’ve led to my current job, among other things – but as time went by, I kept coming back to my folders and notebooks of screenplay and TV series ideas that were sitting, languishing in cabinets and boxes. And one day, I decided it was high time to do something about that.

So I started working on scripts in earnest. I took a couple of workshops and courses, wrote every night and weekend, edited every day to and from work on the train, and lo and behold, I’m now networking and pitching my first TV pilot concept and script. Even more exciting? I’m working on my next script, and incubating the idea for the one after that, even more eager to keep learning and growing as an artist. It’s the most creatively satisfying work I’ve done in recent memory, perhaps even ever.

And that’s the short version of what I’ve been doing for the past year and a half or so. That’s the creative turn that I plan to write more about here as it unfolds.

You can see my first pilot script, PIRATE QUEEN, a period drama about Grace O’Malley, on The Blacklist (if you’re a member) and via Stage 32. If all goes well, we’ll all get to see it on the air. Sooner rather than later would be great.

In the meantime, I’m working on my next pilot script. Until I’ve copyrighted it, I’m keeping the concept under wraps, but it’s a very different show. The story is a provocative contemporary drama about community and family. I’m looking forward to writing it, which should take until early October. And as I said, I’m incubating the idea for the third series, this one a workplace drama. I’m awash in random notes and scribbled names for that one as we speak.

And what else is up next here on Ginsberg’s House?

My two most recent posts are a hint. They’re an episode recap of episode 8 of Manhattan, WGN America’s series about the Manhattan Project, and a season one overview post to bring people up to speed on the show and who’s who on the show.

Here’s the deal with those. I love MANHATTAN, but I wrote the recaps to capitalize on a lot of work I did on a spec script for the show that I wrote last year. (Spec scripts are scripts for shows that are already on the air you do as a writing sample or for educational purposes, not your own original pilot.) I learned a lot while doing so, and I figured this was a good way to make use of that work. I’m throwing some good karma to a show I feel deserves some love, in the hopes that someday, someone else helps do the same for PIRATE QUEEN or another creation o’mine.

To that end, I’m planning to recap season two here, starting in October.

In the meantime, I also have a guest blog post on The Philadelphia Story for Go Into the Story (The Blacklist’s blog).

Happy writing, all!

do you know this feeling?

One of the sad realities of graduate student life is that more often that not I’ve had to put off reading or writing  that I’m extremely excited about.

So it is that I’m just now writing this entry in praise of one of the two great memoirs I’ve read recently, Keith Richards’ “Life”, which was published a few months back.  (My thoughts on the other, the brilliant “Just Kids” by Patti Smith, is forthcoming, I promise!)

Richards refers to women’s bands as “chick’s bands”, is intensely peeved and preoccupied with outrunning law enforcement worldwide owing to fairly open (and often heavy) hard drug use, and refers to Truman Capote as an “old queen”.

Let me tell you something: despite all of the above, I must confess I am now a little bit in love with him.  He’s always been my favorite Stone, because when you listened hard to that impossibly deep catalog he and Mick and the others created, his guitar riffs and just plain genius were unmistakable to an old-school rock fan like me.  How about this: he came up with the riff for “Satisfaction” in the middle of the night, when fortunately for us all, he half-awoke and used a bedside tape recorder to lay down the skeleton?  That tale has been told before but finds its way here as well.

Sure, there are also the colorful episodes involving his best pals, downright tender and poignant musings on his epic brotherhood and decades-long falling out with Mick Jagger, and some great recollections of his boyhood in England.

Two themes stand out for me, one of which was pointed out by Liz Phair in her review of Life in the New York Times.  He provides wonderful bits of insight and observation about what it is to be a writer (in his case, of course, of songs, but these bits transcend genre.)  How about, upon realizing that one is a writer, you then realize, “to provide ammo, you start to become an observer, you start to distance yourself. You’re constantly on the alert…Which in a way, makes you weirdly distant. You really shouldn’t be doing it. It’s a little of Peeping Tom to be a songwriter”.  That realization is both critical and endlessly weird to many of us; when I had it at some point a long time ago, I started thinking of myself as walking along the yellow midline of the road of life, always with one foot in, and one watching and listening, soaking it all in.

He sums it all up in my favorite line of this book: “I’m here to say something and to touch other people, sometimes in a cry of desperation: “Do you know this feeling?”


So, those two–and many other–sections are substantively wonderful, but then he takes it over the top for me by way of a few food-related riffs.  First of all, do NOT crack the crust on Keith Richards’ shepherd’s pie.  Ever.  Just, NO.  And while I cannot honestly condone his behavior, his response to someone getting a spoon in first, or running off innocently with some spring onions meant for a late-night bangers and mash supper he’s cooking, the fact that these episodes end with him basically threatening people’s lives kind of cracked me up, because, um, well, we won’t go there angermanagementcakes.

Bonus: his recipe for bangers and mash is included. I may have teared up with adoration right then. Not going to lie.

Definitely a great time for rock aficionados, and perhaps writers as well.  I’ve been spending time during this break revisiting the Stones quite a bit as he mentions their process, and my god do they hold up.

Now, to have a nip of Dr. Daniels in the man’s honor…

is this thing on?

I’m back!

Getting all of my writing projects organized, commenced, and re-commenced is the business of this summer.  So voila!

On the fun side, I’ve (re)discovered Pandora Radio. Oh. My. God.

The National/U2/Neko Case/Madonna/New Wave channels a-spinning so much goodness, with plenty more of anything one could imagine, I suppose.  All in all, an exciting improvement from a site I hadn’t visited in quite awhile (yes, a long, long while.)

What an inspiring observation!  I wonder where else we could apply this logic…

this week’s random musings…

1.  Is it highly portentious or creepy that while reorganizing my screenwriting materials, notes made for a project about 9 years ago included a character description SCARILY like someone I’ve only just met in the last couple of years?  The resemblance is uncanny.  Is that supposed to be the movie now?  WAIT.  Whoa, now I’m off on a wild fun thoughtrain. This could be interesting.  Also, wasn’t there an episode of Star Trek: TNG where this happened? (Moment of Geek, tm).

2.  I think it’s time I brought a really nice, comfortable, fabulous chair home.  Soon, when our lady of student loans and income tax refunds arrives, and I’ve responsibly caught up with some things, I’m musing that my only reward (read: not going into savings immediately) may have to be scoring a really great reading and writing chair for my bay window nook.  That spot has needed cozying up for awhile.  However, Ginsberg’s gastrointestinal tendencies have me a little nervous about this.  I’d put him up against anyone’s infant in projectile vomiting skills.

3.  My yoga podcast quote this week was from Anais Nin, Mme. Boldness:

“I am an excitable person who only understands life lyrically, musically, in whom feelings are much stronger than reason. I am so thirsty for the marvelous that only the marvelous has power over me. Anything I can not transform into something marvelous, I let go. Reality doesn’t impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls.”

Sounds fun.

i just want to sit with my words in peace…

Tonight, I finally broke through a logjam and figured out a story arc, imagined how some scenes would work, where they would hang along the chain to make up this project I’ve been mulling for a long time.  I sketched out some ideas, and even started having some “lines” pour out onto the page.

The page in question? A notebook for my sort-of-statistics class. We hadn’t really gotten started yet.  It figures that after weeks of attempts, this would happen literally the moment I reenter school-land and lose some time I could be using to work on this thing.

The real conundrum: I had thought until quite recently that part of what was stopping this story was worrying about what other people thought.  It wasn’t; that is a problem easily managed, frankly.  It was about what I thought, and what I might say. Whatever notions I do have about how slippery the real, full scope of “the truth” is, part of it always comes back to that personal challenge: can you be brave enough to work into what scares you?  Those really are the moments when creative work can leap, but going into those places and letting yourself open up is the hardest thing.

Besides, realizing that you can’t get anything else done because you have to write what is sitting in front of you, quietly demanding to be told, becomes reason enough to at least write the blasted thing. What happens to it afterwards could well just be “filing it in your drawer” and taking it out again someday, later.