Category Archives: Life

Write Selfishly, Readers Will Be In Ecstasy

My laptop is ready to blow. It overheats so much these days that my keyboard is burning away my finger tips until I’m forced to take a break from any writing. These are the notes from a computing inferno.

It has come to my attention that blogging has become some sort of mental health pill for me. These posts are all over the place in topic but all share the same purpose for me as a writer: a way to stop moping and start writing. This blog is a perverse confessional, a manic cry to the world from an isolated bedroom, a message in an electronic bottle thrown out into the cyber sea, amongst all of the obscurity of millions of other blogs, billions of other words, hoping to leave a few ripples and maybe some waves.

This is indulgent. This is selfish. This is ok.

A writer has very few hopes of leaving behind many original pieces. Life is full of monotony. Even the anguish, the wars, the deaths, the physical and mental tortures have all been experienced and reiterated countless times. So why try? The reason is because you’re the only person who experiences these things the way you do. Write things the way you know them. Let the reader see big, universally known experiences through your eyes.

Kurt Vonnegut says in his novel Timequake:

“Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.”

This is why readers need to hear your voice. Maybe you’re saying something they’ve felt and so desperately need to have affirmed. Feeling alone in your thoughts can be crushing. For me as a writer, feeling unoriginal in my emotions, whether it is heart ache, insecurity, or confusion, is devastating.

Writing is a beautiful art form. You don’t have to be a “writer” to gain the benefits of writing. It’s something I think everyone should do. But I am a writer. I may be an aspiring writer when it comes to my professional dreams but in my soul I am nothing else. Like any dream I have to pursue my goals with blinders on to deter the blurs around me.

In Factotum, Charles Bukowski said:

“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”

So the message in this blog post’s bottle is the above: selfishly fight the good fight for yourself and your readers and throw anything that prevents you from doing so to the side and out of your mind. There is nothing but greatness waiting for those willing to shed comfort. Comfort is a tethering chain. Free yourself. Give your readers affirmation that they are not the only ones feeling this way. They will be as grateful as you are to the writers who have done this for you.

Breakfasts You Wait Up All Night For

Film poster for Diner - Copyright 1982, MGM
Film poster for Diner – Copyright 1982, MGM (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is there any place packed with more nostalgia, laced with greater laughs, or drenched with more classic memories than that of the town diner? Every American community has one of their very own; a little neon building with a menu ranging from eggs to lobster, ready to be cooked twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

How many movies and TV shows feature such an establishment in their storyline? Cheers is all about that particular hot spot. Barry Levinson’s film Diner centers on it as well. And while finishing the first season of the FX series Louie today on Netflix, I saw my own day’s events mirrored in the end of the season finale when, after returning home from a disastrous night on the town trying to pick up girls, Louis C.K. is greeted by his young daughters who are awake and alert and wanting to go get breakfast at 4:00 in the morning. The series ends on a beautiful note with the audience watching Louie and his daughters through a diner window as they eat together.

The scene captured a very simple, rich, bonding moment between a dad and his daughters that perhaps sunk a little bit deeper for me because I shared a similar moment with my mother early this morning.

I returned home after a genuine “night out on the town” complete with before and after parties in a hotel overlooking the Philadelphia art museum, topped off with just enough luck to find rides to and from the bar without paying for a cab, and a nice enough valet parker willing to let me forgo the $35 parking garage fee and store my car on the hotel’s entry ramp until his shift was over at 3:00 a.m.

Upon returning home late that night, around 5:00 in the morning, my mom was already awake. We’ve had strange sleeping schedules the last few weeks. I was far from tired and she knew it. So the idea came about to take each other up on an offer we’d been trying to fulfill all week: to grab some breakfast at the diner down the street. Until this point, we were unable to find time to do so since I’ve been sleeping late most days. But now, with the blue morning sun peering in our apartment windows, this seemed to be the perfect time.

In a little plastic booth fitted with its own individual electronic game machine, my mom and I both ordered Western omelets with eager anticipation. And although we didn’t talk much in this early hour; my eyes slightly singeing with sleepy acids, my thoughts still swimming in left over alcohol, I think we both enjoyed the moment as we quietly ate our eggs and soaked in the atmosphere of the diner we’d been coming to for years.

It was truly a magical moment. If my life was a syndicated program, one of the ones like The Wonder Years where an older, wiser me narrates the tales of my younger, goofier self, I’d have had some kind of eloquent closing line synced up with that breakfast that would lead right into the closing credits.

A Love Letter to California

Hollywood Sign
Hollywood Sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Working at a country club in New Jersey affords me two months of “vacation” meaning that the club closes for January and February due to lack of interest in snow golfing, which to me sounds like a lot of fun, actually. Nevertheless, I’m free to collect unemployment and reconnect with my thoughts for two whole months.

How should I celebrate this wondrous lapse in obligation? There is a wild child within me, chained deep down in the cellar of my heart that sometimes screams loud enough to connect with my brain. This wild child screams, “Go to California!” And maybe he adds a few expletives, too for good measure.

Oh California, what a lovely thought. Ah Los Angeles, the only destination for an aspiring screenwriter/director seriously looking for validity. How nice it would be to axe the “aspiring” part when I tell people about my time spent pursuing filmmaking.

I would love nothing more than to pack my Chevy with copies of my screenplays, changes of clothes, camera, and paperback copy of Woody Guthrie’s Bound for Glory as I set off on the kind of cross country, coast to coast road trip that movies have been fawning over for decades.

How glorious to travel, stopping as I please, all in culmination of seeing the big, bold letters of the HOLLYWOOD sign. I could careen my car up and down Mulholland Drive, hoping desperately to not be sidetracked by amnesia-by-car accident or run off the road by any Mr. Eddy’s demanding that I get a driver’s manual. (I’ve been watching a lot of David Lynch lately.)

California is a place where a young man with long hair can get by on conversation alone; swapping anecdotes for bottles of booze, wisdom for a warm place by a beach bonfire. It’s a place where I can transition seamlessly from my dream of surfing the Pacific coast to doing what they call “couch surfing,” trading my board for a place to crash for the night. If not a sofa, then a fine patch of stained carpet on a guy named Brody’s apartment floor.

I could even march into one of the big name production studio’s lots, barging into a tired producer’s office, and slam down a copy of my latest script pointing a definitive figure to the cover page saying, “This is the next big thing.”

And that old, tired producer wouldn’t be able to hold back a grin at my outsider naivety, my out-of-towner’s courage, and he’d probably cut me a check right there on the spot because California is a place where people take chances on newcomers based on gut feelings.

But alas, this love letter, though straight from my heart (fucker) seems doomed to be only the meandering thoughts of a boy stuck in his Pennsylvania bedroom hacking out fantasy on a piece of paper. It takes a lot of money and a whole lot of determination to be spontaneous, it seems.

Why do we thinkers, us readers, we with such passion burning holes in our soul; why do we, why do I feel the need to restrict myself from such desires? Perhaps it is just fate, with a firm grip of my inner workings, trying to tell me that there is no perfect place, no place more pregnable with dream-realizations than the place your two feet are standing. Certainly this fact is grounded by the words I read earlier today in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, that my promise land “is not down in any map; true places never are.”

Gone Fishin’: How to Catch Big Ideas in Deep Water

English: David Lynch, photographed on 10 Augus...
David Lynch, doing his signature spirit finger motion when discussing ideas floating around,photographed on 10 August 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I like quotes. I have spent many hours copying and pasting quotes from artists I admire into my Evernote app for further handheld inspiration. Recently I’ve been diving head first into the work of filmmaker David Lynch. I seem to find I have some things in common with Lynch, at least I perceive so. Specifically, I hold a great deal of admiration for his imagination and his idea generating process. In many interviews, Lynch refers to ideas as fish and his extended conscious-mind as a pond where these idea-fish are swimming around, waiting to be caught. Lynch says:

“Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper. Down deep, the fish are more powerful and more pure. They’re huge and abstract. And they’re very beautiful.”

 

I’m not embarrassed at all to say that quotes like this send me gushing like a teenage girl at a rock concert, (or a Justin Bieber/Taylor Swift festival. Is that what teen girls gush over now?)

Lynch’s rationale that we all have great ideas swimming around in our subconscious, waiting to be found and explored, is enlightening and liberating. He admits to not knowing the best way or even if there is a way of locating these ideas and bringing them to the surface. They just kind of come, sometimes when you least expect it, and you have to be ready for them. A forgotten idea can drive an artist mad, so keep your pen and paper (or trusty Evernote app) handy.

This journey into the “deep water” of one’s soul is not necessarily a Lynch original. I can recall a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald, “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” I love that quote. Writers must pain themselves and even torture their souls in order to squeeze the pulpy prose from their juicy brains. Good writing is about feeling something on a very deep level and having the courage to push forward, through the emotion and onto the page.

Even before reading this Fitzgerald quote, my first encounter with the term “deep water” came in a creative writing class where I met my current hero and greatest teacher, poet Christopher Bursk. Chris, whom would be agitated to be referred to by his last name in this post or in the classroom, spoke regularly about the importance of paddling out into deep water in order to write beautifully. Our assignments were often exercises in swimming in deep water; write a poem about something you regret, write about a person you would benefit from being dead, or the self-indulging, soul scrutinizing personal “Song of Myself” that we’d have to write and share in front of the class.

The greatest advice from Chris on writing about deep water was a story he’d tell us about taking his son to swimming lessons. The swimming instructor said the best technique for swimming out of deep waters and to the shore was the dead man’s float; where you put your head under and trust the water to keep you afloat as you paddle forward.

This is of course true for writing. Much like Fitzgerald’s quote, sometimes you have to trust that the pain or longing of the deep water will keep you afloat and just start paddling, start putting the words on the page, and eventually you’ll make it ashore.

These quotes and this advice have helped me channel emotions into some of my best writing. It’s a constant struggle though but I’m content with battling every day. It’s a compulsion to want to strike out every day in hopes of getting that good idea, catching that big fish.

I was thinking of myself, Lynch’s quote, and came up with an analogy. If you’re ever uncertain of why you can’t come up with a good idea, look at the process as you would look at fishing. When you go out fishing, they don’t always bite. Fishing is all about patience. Staring at your rod or checking your hook constantly won’t make the fish come any quicker. Sometimes you just have to lie back and let your thoughts drift when all the sudden you see your line bob and you scurry to your pole, your pen and paper, and start reeling the fish in.

Some people are better at coming up with ideas than others, just like there are master fisherman in the world. In this regard, I think I’d say I’m a talented idea fisherman. I get ideas, sometimes several ideas, every day and I try to be a work horse in order to get them all into a project, down on paper. For the analogy’s sake, I’m good at getting fish to take the bait. But I will say that I have trouble catching the big fish. I’m young and still learning to explore myself and be honest with my emotions.

If I do manage to hook a big fish, a great idea, I often find I have trouble reeling it in and getting it onto the boat. Or worse, sometimes when I do get these big fish onto the boat, adapted into a story or script concept, my ship sinks before I land safely ashore. Sometimes my emotional state implodes unexpectedly and my ship, my safety, submerges with all the ideas and ambition onboard.

So what’s left when I hit the water, away from the safety of the vessel? Usually I panic and suck in a lot of water. But then I remember the wisdom of my heroes, I put my head under the current and start paddling towards land. And sometimes I’ll find I’ve carried one of those big fish along with me as I step onto the sand.

My First Blog Post from My Smart Phone: An Attempt to Learn How to Blog Daily

This is a blog post written and posted from my iPhone. I’m aware that this is not major news to many bloggers who probably blog on the go all the time but this is nerve wracking territory for me.

I always post from my computer. I make a word document first and proofread and all that good stuff before posting. I’m just waiting to see how many spelling errors and autocorrect fails there will be when I’m done.

Moving on, I’m taking this minuscule step out of my comfort zone because I’m trying to figure out how the hell people can blog on a daily basis without being paid to do so.

I’m an aspiring writer. I write every day in order to get better. I write different types of things though. Not always blogs. In a good month, I’m lucky to have maybe 4-5 blog posts. One or two a week is great.

But I’ve been told before that in order to have a successful blog (whatever that means) and increase traffic then you really need to blog every day. How is it possible for someone with a full time job, going to school, being an avid party animal and good time enthusiast to post a new, entertaining blog every day?

Truthfully, it’s probably not so complicated. I really should learn to trim down my thoughts and post shorter blogs. Keep my topics precise and my thoughts clearly simple.

I’d like to ask my fellow bloggers what they think. How do you maintain a rigorous blogging regime? Do you post on the go? Do you worry that what you’re posting isn’t all that meaningful or “worth” the Internet space it takes up?

Help this nervous, recreational blogger form a steady habit of daily blog injections.

Chainsaw-Wielding Maniac Seeks Person of Similar Interests

October is already half way over, Halloween is steadily approaching, and yet I have not had anybody to watch a horror movie with lately. This is particularly perplexing because I love the horror genre. I’m a dedicated fan which basically means I have a ton of patience to sit through a genre strongly composed of trash in order to find the good ones.

I am fortunate, as are all horror fans, to have Netflix instant queue in my life which is crammed with enough scary movie titles to keep me up late and watching forever. I abuse this privilege multiple nights a week, toughing it through the cheesiest of plotlines sometimes in the name of fandom. (My most recent flick that I enjoyed was Ti West’s The Innkeepers, an eerie ghost story set in a closing hotel.)

But unfortunately I find myself watching my beloved genre alone the majority of the time. Gone are the days of going to Blockbuster with my brother and cousins to take a chance on a bevy of scary movies, load up on candy and soda, head home to cut out the lights, and connect with them in shared fear or snotty comments over the bad acting or lame special effects.

Nowadays, I can rarely find someone to accompany me to the newest horror flick in movie theatres. And with Halloween approaching and a movie theatre full of decent looking horror flicks (Sinister, House at the End of the Street, the upcoming Paranormal Activity installment) I find myself in desperate need of some companions.

This desire inspired me to send out this tweet: “I need friends who love horror movies and will go see them with me, no matter how crappy they may be. SINISTER being an example.” My hopes were met and I found a couple people to catch that movie with tomorrow night. But still, I wonder why it has been so difficult to find fellow horror lovers in my community of friends.

I frequent horror sites, I belong to internet discussion groups, I sometimes go to the conventions, I’ve interviewed horror filmmakers for my blog, hell I’ve even worked on horror movie sets alongside the likes of Doug Bradley aka Pinhead from Hellraiser; and yet I still have trouble finding someone to watch a scary movie with.

Consider this an open letter to anyone who doesn’t pass over the horror genre as unoriginal or hold contempt for a bad flick every now and then. This is a classified ad for anyone who has seen every installment in the Halloween franchise and knows Rob Zombie’s reboots were plainly bad.

If you like gore, mutilations, cuss words, things that go bump in the night, people in masks, ghosts, demons, witches, shaky cam found footage, chainsaws, killer klowns from outer space, and the occasional naked lady then I’d like to talk with you. Let’s watch a movie together.

“BE MY FRIEND!”

If Writing is Rewriting then I’m finally a Writer

I’ve always been a tad perplexed by the age old writing advice that “writing is rewriting.” “No great writer ever penned a masterpiece in his rough draft,” writing experts would say. This may be soothing advice for the many times I’ve completed a screenplay and while beaming with pride, I’d suddenly have my dreams of Hollywood schmoozing and houses in the hills ripped away when I read what I’d written and realized it was mostly just a heap of (insert whatever foul smelling waste you can think of here).

Although I was comforted in those lonely, depressing moments of supposed personal failure by the idea that I could always rewrite, fix the problem; the fact is that my track record shows I rarely get passed the thrill of writing a first draft, meeting the characters and learning their ways, and onto the hair-pulling, eye-gouging editing process that is required to polish a story into something worth selling.

Until now…

Friends, family, peers, fellow writers, and Hollywood execs everywhere, I’m proud to inform you that I have a rewritten feature-length screenplay on my hands. This one is different from the other attempted rewrites I’ve done in the past. This time I actually fixed what I set out to revise, added scenes where I deemed necessary, and molded existing pages into well-crafted works.

“How the hell did you do that, Greg Probst?” you might be screaming at your computer but probably not since you may not have any clue who I am. (I’m the author of this blog.)

But I’ll tell you anyway; this monumental milestone in my writing career comes after months of going back to the basics. I’d studied and read about how to plan, write, and format a screenplay for years when I was a teenager and realized I wanted to write movies. Since then I considered myself an old pro, writing away and leaving hard drives and floppy discs (yes I used those religiously when I first started writing and well after they went technologically extinct) full of over a hundred or more aborted screenplays; some with 5-10 pages, some with 30-60, others well exceeding the 120-page feature limit, all needing additional work that would never come.

So I analyzed my writing methods and even picked up the very first book I read as a 13-year-old lad to get started, Skip Press’ The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Screenwriting. I reread sections on outlining before writing, keeping a writing schedule, and tips on rewriting. So I started keeping a writing schedule and zeroed in on a few top scripts that needed work or finishing.

As of today I have one feature nearing completion and another that is successfully rewritten and being looked over for polishing. It feels like I’m a real live writer.

So what’s next for old Greg “The Writer” Probst? Probably years and years of writing and mastering the craft with hopefully some success in between.