100 bucks for four writing workshops over two Saturdays, with known authors/ experts, lunch included. Who wouldn’t sign up? Billions of people, evidently, because there were about 18-20 people in my workshops today. And that’s okay. More attention for me. How else would I get the chance to act – sing, no less – the role of Nancy Pelosi in a sketch that would have been right at home on Saturday Night Live? (After a little tweaking, of course.) It was all at National Louis University’s Writers Week.
That familiar-looking guy is Tim Kazurinsky. You know him from TV, movies and the stage – he was on SNL for four years (not the Lorne Michael years, though), has been active in Second City and just came off a four-month gig on stage with George Wendt in Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple in Overland Park Kansas. The home of bland beige townhomes.
He’s mostly a screenwriter these days. Biggest titles: he wrote My Bodyguard – an excellent film which must be Netflixed by me soon, now that I remember it – as well as Jim Belushi’s best movie, About Last Night, actually starring Rob Lowe and Demi Moore.
The useful, note-taking part of the workshop featured Tim’s Six Tips for Good Writing Habits, as below.
- Always have paper and pencil handy. Because ideas are heroes and you never know when they’ll show up. And if you think you’ll remember them, you won’t. They go away.
- Read, read, read. Newspapers, magazines, other writers… it’s all grist for the mill. Related thought: if you want to write a screenplay, download the script for a movie you think is super. Type it into your computer. Pull up a new, blank page and type it in again. In so doing, you will learn VERY important things about screenwriting that will just enter your brain, like osmosis. (I have the script forWhen Harry Met Sally in my drawer. I may try this.)
- Buy a big-ass notebook and keep it by your bed. Because a lot of ideas come to you when you’re drifting off, or are discovered, fully formed, in your brain when you wake up.
- Become a writing machine. Get a place, a time, a routine. Just three hours a day will do it, he says. (Although he backed it down to one hour in recognition that some of us don’t write for a living but have to spend 8-10 hours a day doing some thing else. Sometimes with dentists.) Remove distractions. “That Internet is a demon, too. TMZ is not research.”
- Seek out constructive criticism. Find readers you trust and listen to what they say. You’re not looking for praise, so “don’t let them blow smoke up your ass.” Don’t be defensive, and when 2-3 people are telling you the same thing, you should be thinking “hmmm….”
- Be a shark. Don’t go back. Plow through your first draft. Don’t tinker. Don’t look for perfection. Just use your enthusiasm to get it done. Then rewrite.
The fun part of the workshop: going through everybody’s sketch, scene, or concept for something funny. Some we just discussed, some he “cast” and were acted out. These ranged widely. One sketch featuring a behind-the-scenes look at super-heroes such as Iron Man, Green Lantern, and, amusingly, Rod Blagovich. Another was a classic bus-stop sketch featuring two gay guys and their female friend – all pretty funny and a little bit bitchy.
One featured a money-grubbing pope which was evidently too deep for me, because while it made others invoke Jonathan Swift, I was mostly thinking “when is this going to get funny?” Funny stuff in a bar. A guy who goes into the wrong house. Celebrity ultimate fighting featuring Kathy Griffin.
The “close stander,” who reminded me mightily of Seinfeld’s “close talker,” and led me to think of a recurring character, “the no-boundaries guy.” He eats your popcorn in the movies, caresses the nap of your velvet jacket, talks about deeply personal things and asks embarrassing questions. Or perhaps that’s just your mom.
Good about the workshop – gets your creative juices flowing, reinforces your good habits about writing without making you feel guilty that you don’t have more good habits, and provides some insight into what makes funny things funny. Totally helpful.