Monday, December 28, 2009


What screenwriting books do you recommend?

I get this question a lot from people.  We all know there are entire sections at Barnes & Noble and Borders dedicated to the art, craft and business of screenwriting.  I've read a great deal of these books.  I have many great ones on my home library shelf that are creased, highlighted and worn from numerous readings.

So here are some of the best books on screenwriting that I have read and continue to revisit for tips and inspiration.

Aristotle's Poetics for Screenwriters  by Michael Terno
The Screenwriter's Problem Solver by Syd Field
Screenplay by Syd Field
Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

The Screenwriting Forum by RobTobin                                                         
Writing Screenplays That Sell  by Michael Hauge
Story by Robert McKee
Screenwriter's Master Class by Kevin Conroy Scott
Adventures in the Screen Trade  by William Goldman 
Screenwriting 434 by Lew Hunter
From Script to Screen by Linda Seger and Edward Jay Whetmore

I also love and have re-read the following books about writing and filmmaking:

Bird by Bird  by Anne Lamott
On Writing by Stephen King 
The War of Art  by Stephen Pressfield
The Spooky Art  by Norman Mailer
The Big Picture by William Goldman
Three Uses of the Knife by David Mamet
Hello, He Lied  by Lynda Obst
You're Only As Good as Your Next One by Mike Medavoy with Josh Young
Making Movies  by Sidney Lumet 
Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez

I highly recommend that as a screenwriter you dust off your public library card because it's a super place to get your hands on books without spending a fortune.  At my NY Public Library, I can download books and listen to them on my iPod while I'm walking my dog or exercising, so take advantage of this wonderful free resource.  Support your local library and book stores. 

Enroll in the University of YouTube!  There are a gazillion free videos about screenwriting, storytelling, screenwriters, and filmmaking on the Internet.  Become a geeky Web student.  You can spend hours watching, taking notes and learning from pros who are putting their advice, tips, and books all over the Internet.  Take advantage of our Information Age and absorb what is out there.  Some of the Web videos are lame: about marketing, self-promotion and making a buck off aspiring writers, but much of it is very good and useful.

iTunes is great.  I download screenwriting podcasts and listen to them while riding the subway (better than hearing the guy next to me snore).  I subscribe to Storywise by Jennifer Grisanti.  Jennifer does some super interviews with major producers and writers in television and movies.  I also like Pilar Alessandra's On the Page.  Pilar covers a wide range about the business and craft of screenwriting with up-and-coming writers and established agents.  Of course, I also never miss Jeff Goldsmith's podcasts with major screenwriters through Creative Screenwriting Magazine.  Jeff is too cool for school.

I hope this helps in preparing you for 2010.  It's important to stay up on everything out there from screenwriting pages on Facebook to Twitter to new movies to new media to books to e-books to seminars.  But make time to write your script or play or book EVERY single day.  Don't spend days, weeks, months and YEARS reading about writing... or researching... we still have to do the hard part -- writing.  Make that your New Year's resolution come January 1, along with getting fit and learning how to play the guitar. 

Somebody recently suggested writers buy an egg timer.  Sit down and write for one hour with the timer on.  It will focus you to write and put in the time.  DING -- when the hour is up you can go about your business and eventually you won't need the timer at all -- unless you want to bake a cake.

Until next time.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


There is nothing like Christmas in New York. 

Okay, I'm sure it's beautiful almost everywhere for Christmas, but New York City just hums with excitement, lights and tourists this time of year.  The Rockefeller Christmas tree is quite a sight, all bright and tall.  I attended the 30th Annual The City is Singing at St. Patrick's Cathedral which put me in the Christmas spirit.  I just finished wrapping all my gifts and putting them under the tree.  Whew. 

2009 was a pretty good year.  I'm looking forward to 2010, a new year, a new decade and setting new goals.  What are yours for this new year?  Will you write that script?  Finish your book?  Contact those agents?  I hope whatever your goals are that you pick a new strategy and follow through with action every single day (and not just in January).  We can do it.  Just focus and follow through.  Mull over new goals before now and January.

But until then, enjoy your holidays and time spent with friends and family.  Unwind, eat special treats and live it up.  It's that time of year.  Hope you get all that you asked for and share your joy & gratitude with others.

Until next time, HAPPY HOLIDAYS from New York.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Okay, what did Sandra Bullock step in this year?  She has two hit movies "The Proposal" and "The Blind Side", just received two Golden Globe nominations and is having one of the most successful runs of her long career.  I smell an Oscar nomination.  She's come a long way from "Speed". 

It's funny because this year I wrote a play about Sandra Bullock called "NetFits".  It's a comedy about a young married couple who fight over having a joint NetFlix account.  The wife keeps ordering Sandra "Sandy" Bullock movies and bumping her husbands picks farther down the queue.
You can read the play below if you like.  It was produced and performed in New York on Off-Off Broadway on May 6th, 2009.
So hats off to Sandra Bullock and all her success!  She's 45 and riding a wave.  Who says actresses over 40 don't get good work?  Look at Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep.  Their movies are packing movie theaters.  Keep it up, ladies, we love you.                                                                 

A play by
Janet Lawler


A young, married couple are in the living room.  The wife tapping on her laptop.  The husband listening to his iPod and texting on his BlackBerry.

DANA:   Sweetie? Did you change the Netflix password?
TODD:  Hmmm? What?
DANA Our password. For Netflix?  I keep trying to log in to our account -- for like the millionth time -- and can’t.
TODD: Oh yeah. I changed it. Last week. Didn’t I tell you?
DANA:Um no, Password Phantom, you didn’t. That’s a relief. I thought I was suffering from early dementia.
TODD:  Oops. My bad.
DANA:  Helllllllllllllllo?
TODD:  Hello.
DANA:  What’s the new password?
TODD:  Oh, um, our last name... birthday combo... anniversary
thingie... something. I’ll e-mail it to you. Later.
DANA: Just shout it out, babe.
TODD:  Nah. You’ll forget it. I’ll e-mail it to ya.
DANA:  Ohmygod. You are the biggest control freak. You’re holding our Netflix account hostage.
TODD (removes earbuds) What? Say again? I’m twittering.
DANA:   Stop twittering... and tell me the password.
TODD:  Um. No.
DANA: No? No? Love Bucket? Did you just say no... to the love of your life?
TODD: Yeah. Because the love of my life keeps changing our Netflix queue every other day without telling me. It’s infuriating. You keep reshuffling our movies like a deck of cards.
DANA: I don’t reshuffle. I reorder. And mine usually land at the top.
TODD: Who made that rule, Dana?
DANA: Me. Welcome to marriage 101.
TODD:   I didn’t know marriage meant never seeing a movie I’d like again.
DANA:   Lesson One. Marriage is all about sacrifices.
TODD:   Dana, I think we should open separate Netflix accounts.  What? What’s that look about?
DANA:  Separate Netflix accounts?    Two accounts?
TODD:  Yeah. Yours and mine.
DANA:  We’re already driving the mailman nuts with red envelopes coming and going. That’s the lamest suggestion.  Paying double for movie rentals every month? It’s a waste of money. We’re in the middle of an economic Depression, you know.
TODD:  Yes, I’ve heard, Suze Orman, thank you. Separate accounts
will save headaches. Then, you can choose your movies and I can pick my movies... sweetheart.
DANA:  You’re serious?
TODD: Very -- because you put your movies up at the top of the queue and keep pushing mine down into oblivion. It takes me three weeks to climb my way back up to number one -- just to get shoved down again. And then, then, you take forever to watch your movies -- they pile up, sitting unopened on your desk for weeks -- stopping the steady flow of my home entertainment enjoyment.
DANA:  The movies I order we watch together.
TODD:  Has it ever occurred to you that I might want to watch a movie alone? We don’t have the same tastes. To be blunt, Dana, I hate your movies.
DANA:   Excuse me? You hate my movies? Hmmm. Who’s that person sitting on the sofa watching them with me every Saturday night and digging into my popcorn bag? Huh? That person looks an awful lot like you, Todd. Chews like you too. Mouth open. Loud.
TODD:   I’m trying to chew and swallow without tasting your popcorn... since you insist on buying that artificial flavored stuff like Honey Buttered Popcorn.
DANA:  Wow.  I see. So, now, you not only hate my movies... but my snack choices too?  What else about me bugs you?
TODD:   Oh, don’t open that can of worms.
DANA:  Oh, you already popped the lid. Big time. Bring it.
TODD:   Okay. Since we’re venting. I hate the way you hog the TV remote when you don’t know how to use it.
DANA:  You mean that contraption that you got from Best Buy? That’s not a remote, Todd -- that’s a NASA control panel. “Houston, we have a problem in Apartment 3C. Houston? I'm trying to change the channel. Houston? Copy?
TODD:  Truly boggles my mind how someone with a Master’s Degree in Engineering can’t comprehend a simple DVD menu.
DANA:   Oh, I comprehend plenty, Skippy. Plennnnn-tttyyyy.
TODD:   Amazing.
DANA:  We’re married what, eight months? But ohhhhh... I’m wise to you.
TODD:   Congratulations!
DANA:   What’s the new password, Todd?! I want it! Give it to me!  I mean it! Or --
TODD:   Or what?
DANA:   I’ll report you to Netflix. They have people who handle identity theft.
TODD:   What?! I didn’t max out your credit cards. It’s not against the law to change a password.
DANA:   On a joint account? It certainly is, Buckaroo. I think it’s a federal offense.
TODD:    Netflix is in my name, Dana. I pay the bill every month.
DANA:   Well, I pay the phone bill every month. How about I change our phone number and forget tell you about it? Huh? Or better yet, change all the locks on the door? And say, oops - - my bad, Todd, I’ll mail you the key later.
TODD:  Whatever, Dana.
(Todd turns away. Dana leaps on his back.)
(Dana hops down. Rumbles through his desk on another frantic search. Then, exhausted, she looks at him.)
DANA:   If you don’t tell me the password -- this relationship is over, pal! I mean it!
TODD:   You would break up our loving marriage over that?!
DANA:   Yes! On grounds... of mental cruelty! I was all psyched up about ordering a New Release but now I can’t! You’re a very cruel man, Todd Roberts!
TODD:   What new release? Let me guess. Another romantic comedy?
DANA:   Don’t worry about it, pal.  (A beat, then -- ) The new Sandra Bullock movie.
TODD:   Oh God. Now I’m glad I blocked you.
DANA:   See! Cruelllll-tttty! You don’t even know what movie I’m talking about.
TODD:   It’s a Sandra Bullock movie! That’s all I need to know.
DANA:  For your information, Sandy happens to be the MOST rented
actress on Netflix.
TODD:  Sandy? What, did you two have lunch together or something?
Sandy Bullock?
DANA:  All her friends call her Sandy.
TODD    News flash. You’re not her friend.
DANA:   If we met -- we would be.
TODD:   Oh. So, she’s your famous... imaginary friend?
DANA:  Funny. Since when don’t you like Sandra Bullock movies? You
laughed your ass off at “Miss Congeniality 2.”
TODD:  Yeah, at how bad it was. We were dating when we saw it. I
had to act like I liked everything back then.
DANA:   Oh, you mean, how I had to act when you made me see every
Vince Vaughn movie ever made? Then, have to listen to you recite all the tag lines from “Swingers”? “You’re money, you’re so money.” “Drinks first. Questions later. You’re so money.” I got news for you, Todd, Vince Vaughn is way overrated.
TODD:   And Sandy Bullock isn’t?
DANA:   Sandra-freakin’- Bullock is hilarious. Shall I list her movie credits? While You Were Sleeping -- brilliant! Hope Floats - amazing. Crash - riveting. I’m out of adjectives... because she’s that talented. Sandy’s got range, baby, range!
TODD:   Sandra Bullock’s got about as much range as our kitchen stove. Now, my boy Vinny Vaughn is golden. He’s home on the range.
DANA:   Your boy Vinny?    Who are you all of a sudden, P Diddy?  You’re an accountant, Todd. Talk like one. “I’m down with my boy Vinny”
TODD:   That’s right. My boy V to the V is a comedic genius. Shall I run his credits? Wedding Crashers --. hilarious. Old School -- a pisser.  His only misstep was The Breakup.
DANA:   We’re making the sequel if you keep bad-mouthing Sandra Bullock!
TODD:    Lame chick flicks... you force me to sit through them at your mother’s every Thanksgiving weekend.  Come back with your sisters all giddy from Blockbuster holding every romantic comedy ever made by Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson and Reese Witherspoon. It makes me want to slit my wrists with a turkey bone!
DANA:   Fine, Todd! You want separate Netflix accounts? You got it.  How about separate beds and lives while we’re at it?
(Todd taunts her for fun.)
TODD:   Dana? I know the new password and you don’t. Try to guess it.
DANA:   It wouldn’t be hard... you’re about as deep as a puddle.
TODD:   Bullock Lover!
DANA:  And proud of it!
TODD:  And I happen to be plenty deep. Check out my movie picks on Netflix.  Foreign films -- Il Postino. Au Revoir Les Enfants. Cinema Paradiso.
DANA:  You slept through those! You only watch movies with subtitles to impress your friends at work.  So they’ll think you’re intellectual.
TODD:   No -- they know we share the account. They forgave me for renting Failure to Launch and rating it with five gold stars! Thank God you don't get to judge the Olympics.
DANA:   So.  You might order the foreign films but I order the docs.
TODD:   Why do you insist on calling documentaries “docs”? Like you’re Albert Maysles or something. (DANA IS AT HER WITS END WITH HIM.)
TODD:   Nice.
DANA:   I have to put up with you writing all those pompous movie reviews on Netflix! Who died and made you Jeffrey Lyons? Who cares what you think about art direction and sound?
TODD:   Fellow Netflixers do!
DANA:   Right -- you and all the other wanna-be filmmakers, actors and screenwriters stuck in their 9 to 5 boring jobs... and crummy marriages!
(This stops Todd cold. He watches as Dana sits on the sofa. He approaches her.)
TODD:   Do you really think... our marriage is crummy, D?
(She doesn’t respond.)
TODD:   Do you? I was just kidding about... everything I said. I’m sorry if I take my movies seriously... maybe if... I went to film school like I wanted to instead of --
DANA:   Well, you didn’t! I didn’t follow all of my dreams either, Todd. You’re never going to be as cool as Vince Vaughn and I’m never going to be as pretty and witty as Sandra Bullock! Okay? That’s life. That’s why people go to the movies in the first place. To escape being so ordinary.
(They take a moment.)
TODD:   Our marriage isn’t crummy, Dana. We just don’t talk anymore.  We’re so distracted by work, family, friends... Facebook... Twitter...... and watching too many bad movies.
DANA:   I need a moment, Todd. Okay? Just... don’t say... anything.
(Todd sits next to her. Takes her hand.)
TODD:   Hey? I really liked one Sandra Bullock movie.
DANA:  Todd. Don’t even... which one?
TODD:   Speed. That scene when Sandy drives that big-ass bus down the freeway and she screams at Keanu Reeves “Stay on or get off? Stay ON or get OFF?”. Man, that was Oscar worthy. I even said it online in my review.  Check out Netflix if you don’t believe me.
DANA:   I would -- but I can’t log on.
TODD:   Six-April-07. That’s the new password.
DANA:  Six-April-07? That not our birthdays. Or anniversary. How am I supposed to remember that?
TODD:   It’s the day we met. The day I found someone who won’t let me get away with being an ass. Someone who tells me... to follow my dreams... even when I’m too afraid to. It’s a lot easier to bury myself in movies.
DANA:   I’m sorry I put my movie picks first. That wasn’t cool. But, they’re only dumb movies, Todd.  What we have -- will last a lot longer than some two hour DVD.
TODD:   Four -- I like to watch the commentaries.
DANA:   The way I see it -- deep down we may despise each other -- but our love is real.
TODD:   Can we survive a joint Netflix account?
DANA:   No returns. No exchanges. That’s what we promised each other almost a year ago. I’m keeping up my end of the deal.
(They kiss, then snuggle on the sofa.)
DANA:   We got a new movie in the mail today. Wanna go watch it -- in bed?
TODD:    Is it a special feature?
DANA:   It could turn into one.
TODD:   You’re so money and you don’t even know it!


@Copyrighted 2009

Saturday, November 28, 2009


So in keeping with the holiday spirit, I want to give away FREE copies of the book "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield.  I read this short book over the summer and found it very inspiring in overcoming resistance to my own writing (which we all must overcome in all aspects of our lives).  

Resistance is when we talk yourself out of writing, or any project (that daily exercise routine, eating better, starting that business, or whatever our goals are today).  We know we have to do our project in order to keep our sanity but yet we procrastinate.  And if we do this long enough, we give up.  We quit.  And then we feel horrible.  We'll then blame a lack of time, or our partner, or our job for us not being able to get anything done!  If only... if only... we'll point the finger at everyone and everything to take the blame off ourselves.  But only we have the power within to get our writing done every day, every week and every year.

We can NEVER give up.  No matter how hard it is or how many rejections we collect, we have to keep going.  We have to put the hours in, the sweat and then enjoy the fruits.

So... back to the contest.  Tell me the way you personally overcame resistance in your writing.  Tell me something that will truly help other writers.  Write your brief kick-in-the-pants regimen here in the comments section and you might just win a FREE book for Christmas.  I'll announce the winners before the New Year.

Thanks and let's keep working and don't let the holidays knock us off our game.

Until next time,

Thursday, November 26, 2009


This is such a wonderful day in our country.

I'm spending Thanksgiving in New York City.  The sun is shining.  It's unseasonable warm.  The Macy's Thanksgiving parade was incredible as always.  It's a great way to start the day as we chop veggies for the stuffing.  I took out a little time to exercise so I can enjoy this feast of food without too much guilt.  And the NY Giants are playing on TV tonight.  So this is a great holiday!

Right now the bird is in the oven and we're getting close to sitting down for Thanksgiving dinner.

We all have so much to be thankful for -- and I'm very thankful for this blog and all you bloggers out there who come and visit with me throughout the year.  You guys are great and keep me going.

It's been a terrific writing year so far and I give thanks for it and all of you.

Enjoy your holiday with your loved ones.  Special thanks to our American troops and allies this Thanksgiving too. 



Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Extreme Green had a staged reading last weekend by the Chicago Dramatists Theatre in Chicago.

It was an amazing experience and a great process for me to be involved with as a writer.  Six plays were chosen from about one hundred submissions.  Director Mike Menendian, the artistic director of The Raven Theatre, judged all the plays and made the final performance selections.  Mine was one of the six.

The day of the play's presentation I was assigned two Equity actors and Mike directed the  play.  The read-through went well and the rehearsals were fun.  Words on the page play so differently on stage and when coming out of an actor's mouth.  The writing is crucial but so is the acting.  It's interesting to see how actors break down a scene and how a director blocks out your character's action on stage.

What I love about playwriting is how quickly you get to see your work produced and performed.  I wrote Extreme Green this summer.  It was performed before an audience three months later.  The feedback is immediate and helpful (and in your face).  When you sit (and squirm) in that audience as the playwright, you know what works and what doesn't by the vibe of the audience.  They laugh in spots you don't expect and miss moments you thought were gems, but land flat.

The audience was kind, supportive and gave their opinions about each play to the playwrights.  Some advice was positive and some negative.  As a writer, it's important to listen (not defend everything) but be open to how an audience reacts to what you wrote.  Sometimes they want more details, or less information, or more of something else.  Sometimes they're confused.  Sometimes they love it.  Sometimes they don't love everything about it.

Overall, going to Chicago was a tremendous experience for me.  Chicago Dramatists are one terrific group.  The hit play "A Steady Rain" starring Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig had a run there (without the big stars, of course).  Now it's on Broadway and making millions.

So, time to do another rewrite on Extreme Green in case it gets another performance somewhere else down the road.  That's what's so inspiring about get your writing into a workshop.  If you write scripts or plays, ask some local actors or friends to come over and read your work aloud.

It will amaze you with what you'll hear and what you may not hear.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


Last night I saw "This is It" in New York City.  The audience turnout for the movie was sluggish.  I expected to have to stand in line to get a ticket or fight for a seat, but the theater was less than half filled.  The ticket taker said it was because of the World Series (with the Yankees keeping New Yorkers close to their TVs), or because the weather is still warm or because it's Halloween.  No matter what the reason he looked disappointed.  So did I.

Maybe moviegoers think it's too soon to see Michael Jackson up on the big screen rehearsing hours before his death.  Maybe we need a break from all the media coverage and hype.  Maybe we're expecting to see the worst projected up there on the screen.

It's just the opposite.

This behind-the-scenes documentary is fascinating and not what I expected to see.  I imagined the movie to be overly produced, overly edited, commercial and morbid.

It was none of that.

"This is It" shows MJ (as his collaborators called him) as the artist, not the celebrity.  We get to see the man behind the curtain and get a glimpse of his creative process, which is amazing to watch.  Jackson is decisive in details (and not just to hear himself speak.  His suggestions are on the money.) He pays close attention to everything from background video in the arena, to the lighting, to every note of music.  This isn't some drug-crazed icon who shows up to rehearsal for a sound check and leaves everything else to his promoters to figure out.  MJ is hands-on and knows everyone's job better than they do.  So don't be fooled.  He expects the best for his audience.

What I loved most is that this movie allows us to see Michael Jackson perform in full shot and without many edits.  The producers and editors didn't try to cover anything up or cut away just to distract us.  Michael Jackson commands that rehearsal stage and the screen.  He sings and moves with such grace that it's startling.  How can this be the same guy who had to be put under every night to sleep?  Here, MJ is lucid, doesn't miss a step, doesn't seem winded or tired.  He communicates directly and politely with his crew and is aware of everything around him.

We've all seen stars on drugs who can't function when performing... Britney Spears, Whitney Houston and Elvis.  They tremble, sweat, seem out of sync with their bodies and brain and talent.  Remember how Elvis looked just before he died on his concert film?  He looked like a man taking his last breathes.

Not Michael Jackson.  He seems in control.  He doesn't sweat and we see him dance without a cut away.  He never stops for water or to towel dry.  I got the impression that while most of us were jeering and sneering about him the last ten years, he was practicing and preparing for this comeback.

We see footage of the young dancers just watching him rehearse in absolute awe as he adds new moves to "Billie Jean".  They give him their full attention not because he demands it -- like a prima donna would -- but because his talent can't be ignored. It's as if he's showing these kids that, yeah, I may be 50, but this ain't gonna be your father's "Billie Jean".

One of the Jackson brothers said a while ago that Michael had studied Gene Kelly movies and lifted Kelly's idea of wearing white socks with black shoes because it brought attention to his feet.  Michael went further and added the sparkles.  We never took our eyes off those feet again.

But it wasn't only the glove, or the sparkles, or the white socks that captivated us.  It was what was inside those shoes.  His magical gift to dance like no other.  In this movie, we see how he becomes one with the music as if it's directly plugged in to him like an amp and flowing through his body.

"This is It" is not a morbid movie, or a freak show, or two hours of just watching a reason not to do drugs -- it's a glimpse at being Michael Jackson at a time when not too many people were supposed to be watching him (the rehearsal footage was shot for his personal library).

Let's face it.  We've all wanted to dance like Michael Jackson at some time in our lives, but fortunately without ever having to be in his shoes.

RIP, Michael.

Friday, October 16, 2009


I was just notified that my new short play "Extreme Green" will get a public performance by the Chicago Dramatists in Chicago on November 7th.  It's the play I worked on over the summer. 

Now let me explain, I have been writing screenplays forever (since I was a teen) and it's such a hard business to crack with constant ups and downs, encouragement, then rejections, deals, then no deals, options, expired options, and on and on.  I'm still writing screenplays, but they take millions of dollars to produce so it's not easy to sell one.

Last year I decided to follow another long-time love -- writing for the theater -- for the stage.  I always enjoyed seeing plays in New York and elsewhere or reading them in school. 

My favorite cool store in Manhattan is the Drama Book Shop on W. 40th Street.  Here is their link   It's awesome!  If you love reading plays like I do or great books about theater, film and TV, visit this shop or buy from them online.  They deserve and need our support as writers.  Anyway, I wrote my first short play "NetFits" last year.  It was selected by the American Globe Theater in NYC and performed at their 15th Annual 15-Minute Play Festival.  They chose to do it on my birthday, which seemed like a really good omen to keep writing plays. The play and the night of the performance went great and it was truly one of my best birthdays ever because I was surrounded by friends and family.  It was a chance to see my efforts come to life on stage, for my written words to find a voice through the actors, and it was exciting to hear an audience react to my work.

The theater bug bit me big time.  

So I wrote my second play Extreme Green about the local food movement.  It's a comedy with some social relevance, I hope.  And this too will be performed in the great city of Chicago!  And I'll get to visit family and friends there too which will be worth the trip in itself.

I have long advised writers here to expand your sights beyond the one fixed goal you have.  If you want to write a book, write a play too.  If you write a blog, do an audio podcast or write a short article.  If you're only into screenwriting, maybe change genres or write a shorter script (for a comedy or cable show).  Stretch, reach and never give up.  Knock on all doors. 

Dreams come true when the time is right and in surprising new ways.  If you're in Chicago on Nov. 7th I hope to see you in the audience!

Until next time.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


I'm reading a book called Improv Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madson.  It's an easy read that might help you as a writer.  Ms. Madson teaches improv, but says those same skills acquired for acting can also be used for all means of creativity.

Have you ever found yourself paralyzed with fear at tackling a project because you think it has to be perfect from the start?  Well, we've all been there and it's scary.  It's hard to sit down to write a new script, play or novel when we feel like it will take so much hard work and revisions just to get it correct for our own eyes, never mind for a reader's critical eyes.  

Ms. Madson recommends that we sit down to write "average" work.  Now, you may say, WHUT?  How is that going to get me closer to being produced or published if I write average work?  The point is that sitting down to write average work will free you to do your best work.  It's like in school when the teacher said "This quiz won't count against your final grade."  We generally relaxed and scored higher than if we thought it had counted.  Why?  Pressure, stress, worry and performance anxiety can kill creativity.  It's all mind games.  Use mind games to your advantage.

I also like that Ms. Madson advises to change your scenery to help motivate yourself.   Are you bored with writing in your usual work space?  When I was a teenager, I used to love to rearrange my bedroom furniture every six months.  I would clean out my closets, my dresser drawers, dust, vacuum and put my bed on a different side of the room.  It was the coolest feeling to walk into my bedroom and have it look like a new place.  Try it with writing -- if you usually write at your desk -- try writing at the kitchen table.  If you write at Starbucks, try the library in town.  Sometimes trying to create in a whole new environment will free you.

Good luck!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


I finished my second short play over the summer.  Now I'm getting it out to theater companies and short play festivals around the country.  Most artistic directors allow for electronic submissions.  Bless their hearts.  Do you have any idea how much a struggling playwright/screenwriter saves on postage, ink, paper and shoes by being permitted to submit work electronically?  You don't want to know, but trust me, it's a lot.

I sent out six submissions within an hour with this technology.  Remember the old snail mail days?  Writing, editing, printing, copying, packaging, labeling, mailing, and waiting for the response.  My Lord, how did we ever survive that process?  I used to run to the mail box for my rejections (I didn't know at the time they were rejections.  Writers are like blind dates -- we go into it always hoping for the best -- but usually wind up disappointed.)

Anyway, hats off to all the trees we're saving too by not sending out packages of paper anymore.

Do people read these electronic submissions?  Well, that's another posting.  I think they do.  I personally prefer a hard copy of something to read.  So I just contradicted the above.  I still love books and printed screenplays when it comes to my personal reading habits... but I'm moving slowly toward changing that.

I haven't read an e-book yet, but I may in the future.  It's just that I already carry around enough gadgets with me... cell phone, iPhone, iPod... plus my laptop and desktop computer at home.  I can't keep track of much more digital reading at the moment.

But Christmas is coming.  I might ask for one of those Kindle or Sony thingies to download all my new books on for 2010. 

Or maybe not. 

Some habits die hard.

Until next time.

Saturday, October 03, 2009


We always hear to show don't tell in our screenplays and writing.  Show, don't tell.  How do we do that exactly?  One way to avoid this is not to tell us the emotion your character is feeling.  Don't write "He looked nervous when he told her he was leaving her."  Instead, write "His mouth became dry.  He fidgeted under the table,  looking everywhere but in her eyes."  This shows us how the character is acting instead of just telling us.

Hemingway advised to write to the point.  To take out all the unnecessary adverbs and adjectives.  He once told a story in six words.  FOR SALE:  BABY SHOES, NEVER WORN.  Imagine that image in a movie and what it would show us... if the shoes were up for sale at a Flea Market or at a Yard Sale at a woman's house. 

Elmore Leonard says don't spend too much time describing your characters either -- like what they're wearing down to their underwear, or what they're driving including make, model, and serial number, or every morsel of what they're eating.  You can mention some but more should be visualized by the reader.  They should be able to know what the character looks like from the dialogue, his tone of voice, from the words they choose, or a simple gesture, like "She removed her white hat." 

We can use these tips in all forms of our writing... from plays, to scripts to novels to Twitter.  Keep it simple.  Keep it visual.  Keep it active.  Keep the reader's eyes moving on the page.

Enjoy your weekend!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I really like Drew Barrymore.  Who doesn't?  She just seems like a sweet person.  I was blown away by her recent HBO performance in "Grey Gardens" co-starring the fabulous Jessica Lange.  Drew Barrymore did a fine job with a tough role -- bringing sympathy and compassion to a very eccentric character -- Little Edie.  It earned her an Emmy nomination. 

Now Drew is ready to open her first feature film as a director.  She's been brilliantly successful as a producer in Hollywood with the "Charlie's Angels" franchise and other big hits.  She went through her troubled teen days and came out on top and continues to grow as an actress and filmmaker.  (Are you listening Lindsey Lohan?  It's never too late to get your act together until it's... well, too late.)  Drew's set to make her directorial debut with the female ensemble cast of "WHIP IT".  This is a Fox Searchlight film.  It's about a young woman (Ellen Page of "Juno") who joins her local roller-derby.  It's a definite girl-power movie.  Drew packed the theaters with women for "Charlie's Angels" and intends to do it again here.

I hope it does well.  We need more movies about young women willing to take their lumps to move forward with their lives.  Drew knows something about that.  She's a survivor and a fighter.  She's also only 34 and talented.   She's a Barrymore. 

"WHIP IT" opens on October 2nd.  Get your popcorn ready and dust off your knee pads.   It's roller-derby time.

Friday, September 25, 2009


Now that summer is officially over, I have to say it was a very productive one for me as a writer. 

I completed my second short play and the first draft of a book (treatment/possible screenplay down the road).  I usually only write screenplays, but I'm trying my hand at other markets and styles -- this year I wrote television news copy for New York City news anchors and for a website -- so it's been all about stretching new muscles creatively.  Stepping out of our comfort zone -- whether it's writing a novel, or non-fiction, or a play, or a script, or a short story -- all take time and courage.  It's important to try new things along the way.

The last few weeks I've visited with lots of family and friends.  When the hot weather turns cooler, everyone wants to "get together" for that last BBQ, picnic, summer movie or dinner date.  I've been so diligent about writing every day (except on weekends), that when I go into "social mode" it makes me feel a little guilty because I'm not working on my projects.

Well, this morning I attended a funeral for a lovely woman of 93.  Her name was Phoebe Fleisher and she's my second cousin's mother-in-law.  I didn't know her, but I know Phoebe's daughter Doris and she's a sweetheart of a person.  The funeral was a celebration of this woman's dynamic life.  Phoebe served for 50 years in the Salvation Army here in New York City.  She served at her church on Sundays and throughout the year for special events.  Friends spoke at the service and said Phoebe  never forgot their birthdays and always had the card in the mail early (enclosing a book of U.S. stamps as a gift).  She raised two fabulous daughters and many grandchildren.  She enjoyed life and always offered a hand to a neighbor in need.  One woman at the service had by chance moved into Phoebe's building years ago... and it was a blessing to this woman because she said she desperately needed a stranger's kindness and Phoebe offered it generously. 

As I walked home from the funeral this morning,  I thought about Phoebe.  And, I thought about my own life.  I shouldn't feel guilty if I take time away from writing to visit a friend, or attend a party, or meet a relative for a Broadway show.  That's what life is all about -- connecting, sharing and loving.  That's not to say we get to skip our work commitment, but we can't become so self-absorbed to lose precious times and days with our loved ones and friends.  Our characters are fictional -- our family and friends are real. 

I think we become better writers by being out in the world as well as parked at our desks.

Thanks, Phoebe, for that reminder.

Monday, September 21, 2009


I recently purchased a new Mac computer for writing and video editing.  Is it possible to be in love with your computer?  If not, then I'm definitely infatuated.  We bonded as soon as I lifted that new computer, monitor and slim keyboard out of that pretty white Apple box.  

It was like Christmas in September! 

All the hard work is over -- the connecting of cables, installing the software and disconnecting my poor old HP Desktop that I banged on mercilessly for five years (it contacted a nasty virus this summer and never fully recovered I'm sad to report).  We had to have the old reliable lady fully erased.  She's since been donated and has found a new home.  

After getting my new computer running, I completely updated my iPod and looked into what's going on out there in the iTunes world for writers.  Wow, a lot.  There are some amazing podcasts for screenwriters (I recommend all the Creative Screenwriting Magazine podcasts, On the Page podcast, Meet the Filmmakers podcasts (these are Apple's in-store interviews done here in New York with folks like Francis Ford Coppola, Spike Lee, Sam Mendes and many others).  Today my iPod is chuck full of fresh interviews (Oh, and I also recommend Times Talks.  It's a great podcast featuring top artists of every walk interviewed by editors from the The New York Times.  The interviews with Tom Cruise, Jane Fonda and Annie Lennox were absolute gems).  

This is all for free!  It's amazing how much helpful media is out there for us writers to consume at no charge.  We can learn a great deal through the Internet now, even from YouTube (no, not about skateboarding squirrels, but those how-to videos that experts post on any subject, even writing).  

Of course, the problem I have is finding the time to listen or watch all these podcasts, plus read magazines, read the news online and see the latest movies or TV shows.  I get most of my reading and listening done on the subway commuting back and forth from Queens into Manhattan, or standing in line at the movie theater or at the post office or working out.  

Consuming free media is a lot like doing research for my projects -- it's important to do, but it's more important to get your work done for the day and not use it to simply procrastinate.    

Today, I wrote my ten pages so now I get to go play with my new Mac (toy) for a while and then maybe watch Charlie Rose that I recorded on DVR (see what I mean, it never ends!).  

Until next time.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Recently here I posted about how much I enjoyed reading the book "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield.  It's a cool read about working through resistance and procrastination when it comes to writing or starting any project (that small business, a new workout, the latest diet, etc).  "The War of Art" offered me some practical tools on how to push through those obstacles that can slow, and even kill, my creative ideas.  

How many unfinished manuscripts do you have in your desk or stored on your computer?  We've all been there.  So I was curious about Steven's creative process.  (He's also the author of "The Legend of Bagger Vance" and numerous other novels.)  I asked him three questions and he was kind enough to take time from his day to answer them.  Bloggers, pay attention and feel free to take notes... there will be a short quiz  on Friday.

JANET:  I liked how Robert McKee said you'll pass up on a golf invite because you're too busy "working".  Obviously, Robert knows you're a professional writer and also a paid writer. How do you advise the unpublished/unproduced/unpaid writer to find that same focus and commitment when family and friends (or perhaps even a spouse) don't consider unpaid writing "real work"?  

STEVEN:   The hardcore answer would be "Get new friends and get a new spouse."  The more realistic answer is to solidify the commitment internally and forgive the spouse and friends' understandable doubt.  It's an odd fact but true that no one resists our growth more than the people closest to us, who fear (unconsciously usually) that we will move away from them if we grow and change.  They are dealing (again unconsciously) with their own Resistance, so that our hard work becomes a silent reproach to them.  There is no substitute here for will power and true, hardball commitment.  Nobody said it was easy.

JANET:  What is your revision process like on a book?  Do you go from Chapter One right through to the end for each rewrite or polish?  And how many passes do you usually make before sending it out to your agent or publisher?

STEVEN:    I revise in a kind of scattershot way.  Sometimes I'll work on a particular section, maybe near the end of the book, then go back to the start and revise there for a while.  Whatever feels right.  I usually do 12 or 13 drafts before sending it in.  These days, I've found, editors don't have time to do the old-time work that 
Malcolm Cowley and the legendary editors did.  Pretty much the writer herself has to self-edit.  So I do a lot of passes.  As soon as it stops being fun, I turn it in.

JANET:   How do you celebrate upon finishing a project?  Do you have any set ritual and is it when your last draft is done or when the book is actually published?

STEVEN:   This is a really good question, Janet.  I find that one of the great perilous moments is right after a project is completed.  Post-partum depression can get to you if you're not careful and really screw you up.  Here's what I do: the instant I'm done with one project, I start another.  The next day.  In fact usually I've already started.  I'll keep working on the new one without a break (and without any celebration of completing the prior one) until I feel I've got a beachhead.  Know what I mean?  Like I've got my troops ashore and plenty of ammo and a few tanks and guns to back me up.  The main thing is having MOMENTUM on the new project.  Then and only then will I let myself celebrate completing the old.  I'm not much of a celebrator, I must confess.  Did you ever see the movie "Das Boot" about a German U-boat in WWII?  The captain's praise for his men (who had gone through hell) was, "Okay, men, half a warm beer for each of you!"  

Well, there you have it, folks.  Bottom line -- writing is friggin' hard work.  It's not for the faint of heart.  But with a set schedule and focus (and less golf) we can all make our dreams a reality.  Dig out that unfinished manuscript, blow the dust off, or jump start whatever it is you've been putting off for too long.   Write on.

Until next time.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Photo:  Ken Hively, L.A. Times

Army Archerd died this past week at age 87.  

He was a reporter.  He wrote a well-known and well-regarded column for Variety (until 2005) and later continued writing his column for   

He was one of the original bloggers, you might say, giving us the latest news about Hollywood deals, casting and things he felt we needed to know, for better or worse.  He was the columnist that broke the news to America and the world that Rock Hudson was dying from AIDS.  Those who knew Army Archerd said his intent was never to be malicious, but to speak the truth when it needed to be told -- he also stood up against the blacklisting of the 1950s.  He served in the United States Navy during WWII.  

I grew up watching Army Archerd interview stars on the red carpet for the Oscars.  This was long before Joan Rivers and the more snarky personalities came along to do it.  He seemed to know everybody in Hollywood and they knew him.  There was a mutual respect for each other and the movie business.  

Just recently I discovered that Army Archerd was born in the Bronx, right here in NYC.  Hey, that's where I was born.  But, Mr. Archerd touched my life in a more profound way that was much more unexpected... 

Back in 1999, my original screenplay "Brutal Pattern" was optioned by a Hollywood production company and Mr. Archerd wrote the following about it in his column:

Posted: Wed., Jan. 13, 1999

Heche won't quit before shooting NYPD pic

GOOD MORNING: As for Anne Heche and Ellen DeGeneres quitting the biz, Heche called "Brutal Pattern" producers Mike Farrell and Marvin Minoff to tell them, "I didn't mean you!" Heche is set to star as an NYPD detective in their pic, in which she and her male partner (yet to be set) are tracking a serial rapist. The tough story is scripted by Janet Lawler.  The producers are enjoying the success of "Patch Adams," now over the $84.2 million gross mark. 

The producer Marvin Minoff later sent me that original Variety magazine.  I still have it and treasure it.  The script never got made into a movie like planned, but it was still a wonderful day when my unknown name and script got a mention in Mr. Archerd's column.  My mother was thrilled.

We also lost another great writer in Hollywood -- Larry Gelbart.  He wrote gems for the screen, theatre and television.  He wrote the TV series "M*A*S*H" and "Tootsie" among other well-known projects.  I grew up watching those doctors "Hawkeye" Pierce, Trapper John and B.J. Hunnicut on CBS.  Their wisecracking dialogue sung through my TV set back in the Seventies.  I didn't always get the jokes at the time, but I knew what I was hearing belonged to a unique voice -- that voice originated with Larry Gelbart, on the blank page.  Unfortunately, I never had the honor to meet Mr. Gelbart, but B.J. Hunnicut went on to someday option my script (actor Mike Farrell).  

What is it they say about those Six Degrees of Separation?

Both of these men, Army Archerd and Larry Gelbart were giants in Hollywood.  They touched all of our lives, in one way or another.
Until next time.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Sept. 11, 2009

It's raining here in New York City today and on TV the names of the victims of 9/11 are being read aloud while family members cry and carry pictures of their loved ones protected under umbrellas.

It's eight years since this great city and country came under attack.  How has your life changed in those eight years?  Did you get married?  Have a child?  Graduate? Write a book?  Travel?

I think back on how much my own life has changed.  I can't help but wonder how the thousands of lives taken that horrible day in NYC, Washington, D.C. and PA would have changed too -- how all those men and women would be living out their lives today if things had only been different on that September morning in 2001.  Like us now, they might be bemoaning the end of another summer, seeing their kids off to the first days of school, getting ready for football season, and enjoying every day life.

We have that opportunity today on 9/11/09 to live our lives just a little better for them.  We can hug and kiss our loved ones, call someone we miss, and through our words and actions contribute to our country again to make it stronger and united (and not only through days of tears).  Eight years went by in a blink.

Life does go on for sure, and we've all changed as individuals and as a nation, but it's important every year for us to look back, to remember and to never forget .

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


I usually digitally record a TV show on Fox Movie Channel called "Life After Film School".

It's a half hour cable program where one celebrated director, writer or producer sits down with three grad students and answers their questions about the business and art of filmmaking.  It's not the most spontaneous show in all the world, but the guests are generally interesting and offer mentoring advice to students.

This week's guest was Diablo Cody.  She is the Oscar-winning screenwriter for the movie "Juno".  She also has written the soon-to-be released movie "Jennifer's Body" (a horror movie with a vintage wink).

Diablo Cody is well-known as a writer, but said she feels more comfortable being off camera and that winning the Oscar was basically terrifying and an out of body experience.  She says an Oscar winner should have a body of great work and she feels undeserving of having won one ("I'm this buffoon").  She doesn't keep the Oscar around because it just seems weird to have one.  She's very self-deprecating and cavalier about the business because she says she never tried to get into "the business" like a gazillion writers.  She stumbled into it by writing her blog "The Pussy Ranch" when a Hollywood producer read it and called her up.  Diablo Cody (her real name is Brook Busey) says that her super fast launch in Hollywood just doesn't happen to most writers and she doesn't know why it happened to her, but it did.

But Diablo Cody was doing something important all along before being discovered and eventually writing her Oscar-winning script.  She was WRITING.  She loves to write and can't believe she's now getting paid to do it, but the point is, she did it even when she was down on her luck.  She believed in her voice and what she had to say, whether someone was going to read it or not.  The whole blog thing and Internet craze was fairly new when she first delved into it as a way to express herself.

She found an audience any way she could and now she writes movies.  Not bad.

I also liked that Diablo suggested for women writers to band together and help each other along.  She has an informal group of women screenwriters in Hollywood that she  pals out with and they give each other pep talks, notes, a shoulder to cry on and professional tips.  Find your niche and unite!

Until next time.

Friday, September 04, 2009


Have you ever paid for one movie but once you got inside the theater you went to see something else?


It happened to me today.  I plucked down my $12.50 at Regal in Union Square to see the new Sandra Bullock movie "All About Steve", but once inside the lobby, I decided to go see "Inglorious Basterds" instead.

I wasn't planning to ever seeing "IB" in theaters.  I get a kick out Quentin Tarantino's movies, but was going to skip this one for its scalping scenes.  But today, after I read the NY Times' horrible review of Sandra Bullock's new comedy -- I decided a scalping might be easier to take.  Sorry, Sandy.

"Inglorious Basters" was better than I expected.  It could stand to be edited by about twenty minutes (some scenes go way too long), but the characters were terrific and the story riveting.  I really could have done without all the scalpings, stabbings, choking and Brad Pitt's accent (I didn't buy him in this role.  He acted through the whole movie with his eyebrows like he was doing an impersonation of Rhett Butler.)  I liked his character, just not the way Brad portrayed him -- he never seemed authentic to me.  A little too clever and over the top.  But, hey, he's a A-list movie star and I still love looking at him (rope burn and all).

And for all you Sandra Bullock lovers, don't despair, my movie ticket will go toward her box-office totals instead of Quentin Tarantino's this weekend.  Will someone please write a great script for Sandra Bullock?  She needs it.

Have a wonderful Labor Day weekend.  Enjoy your BBQs and take a break from writing.  We all need to recharge and a three day weekend is the perfect excuse to slack a bit without guilt.

Enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Until next time.

Thursday, September 03, 2009


In a follow up to my last post about Steven Pressfield's terrific book "The War of Art", he writes about artists being open to a nudge from our muse or angels or some divine, subconscious inspiration that might whisper something to us in the creation process.

Do you believe in a muse of sorts in your process of creating?  Do you lose yourself in a trance-like state when you're writing?  When you've had an incredible writing session -- do you feel absolutely drained -- as if you weren't present when writing, but somewhere else for that time?

In his book, Pressfield quotes William Blake's "Eternity is in love with the creations of time."  Wow, I love this.  Does eternity care about what we're writing?

Paul McCartney says that he "woke up one morning with the tune in my head."  That tune turned out to be "Yesterday".  Where did that tune originate?  Was it a gift to us through another creative source?

This is deep stuff, I know, but I wonder.

Have you ever experienced divine intervention when writing?  Do you believe something untapped comes from a higher energy when you're writing or dreaming?  Or do you feel alone and on your own to pound out that next bad draft or masterpiece?

I've heard countless musicians, writers and painters say they awoke from a dream and had the beginnings of what later became an iconic song, book or painting.

What are your thoughts about your muse?  

Until next time.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


So I'm reading this book I got from the library called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and it's just what every writer needs -- a kick in the tush.

The book states how it's human nature to allow resistance to delay our dreams or to discourage us from action.  Resistance's best friend is Procrastination.  Don't we all hang out with these two more than we should?  Their like negative friends that keep a lock on our lives as artists. 

It's beyond difficult to start a novel, screenplay, play or article as a writer.  Some days it's hard for me to write this blog!  We sit around a wait for our muse or for that BIG idea or that block of time when we can do it.  Well, The War of Art says we'll never get anywhere if we allow ourselves to be talked out of working or delaying it until TOMORROW.

What Pressfield says is be a pro about your dream -- do the work.  Sit down and write.  Make it part of your day and no matter what get those pages, minutes or hours in.  If you do that every day, the pages will pile up and your book or script or play will materialize before yours eyes.  Don't be critical of yourself or foresee failure or obstacles -- just concentrate on the work of the day.

It's like working out.  If we say "I'll do it later" or "starting Monday"... we let ourselves off the hook today.  So breathe and sit down and write.  Then go celebrate by watching a movie, or spending time with your kids, or taking the dog for a walk, or whatever it is you do to reward yourself!   You deserve it.

(BTW, Steven Pressfield has written many other books like "The Legend of Bagger Vance",  ""Gates of Fire" and "Last of the Amazons.")

And special thanks to Jennifer J. Bennett who gave this blog an award for one of her recommended blogs!   Thanks, Jenn!  Check out her blog at... 

Until next time.

Monday, August 31, 2009


I was asked by ScriptXRay.Com to contribute something to their POV page about screenwriting. ScriptXRay is a great blog with lots of tools and helpful information. Check it out and here's a link to my piece.

Summer is coming to an end. It was a great one and very productive. I finished the first draft of my novel and a short play.

Looking forward to autumn in New York!

Until next time.