Category Archives: Writing

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.

A Blog Suffers When You’re Trying to Make a Movie

I knew it has been a while since my last blog post, but I didn’t realize that today marks two months exactly since I last posted. Yikes. My apologies to anyone that has been anxiously waiting for my next post. (I’m aware that with that last sentence I’ve subjected myself to crickets chirping throughout the internet kingdom.)

I’m proud to say there’s a good reason why I haven’t been actively contributing to this beloved blog: I’ve been writing. Yes, I’ve been hard at work feverishly working on a new feature screenplay that was designed to be affordable enough to make myself on a shoestring budget. I’m ecstatic with the results and am proud to say it’s been my fastest turnaround on a feature yet. I wrote the first draft in two weeks and am already finished a solid rewrite. You wanna hear what it’s about? (I’m smiling and nodding at the computer like Natalie Portman in Garden State when she asks if Zach Braff wants to help her bury her dead hamster.)

Here’s a synopsis of my newest, coolest feature screenplay, a slasher/comedy entitled Die, Hipster! Die!:

When a group of pretentious college hipsters anger a gypsy fortune teller with their shallow youth culture, she summons James Mean, the Patron Saint of Cool from Hell to wipe out their hipster house party. It’s up to Luke and Brea, the only non-hipsters in attendance, to put a stop to this demon’s Crusade for Cool and to prove that there are still young people with character in this age of Wayfarers and Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Screenplay and log line experts of the internet community please don’t rip my way-too-long synopsis to shreds! I like it. But anyway, it’s a super cool, really funny, pretty hip, and original script that I’m proud to be moving forward with. Some Philadelphia actors love it and I’ve even gotten it into the hands of a few local producer types.

Major problem is money of course. I hoped to just start filming it this month and crowd raise funds as I went but of course, my ambition might have overshadowed my means a little, but only slightly. I’m going to get my “ducks in a row” as one producer mentioned and try to do this right. Who knows, it could be my The Evil Dead!

I’ve had a pretty good, productive journey writing and rewriting this thing. I started Transcendental Meditation in January (something I wanted to start blogging about but didn’t get around to) and I have to say I’ve noticed an increase in my productivity and problem solving when it comes to my writing. I can’t chalk my success with this screenplay completely up to TM, I feel like this moment was coming for a while. But there has to be something said about Die, Hipster! Die! being the quickest feature I’ve written post-meditation.

I was so excited to get up every day with a solid plan of attack: shower, meditate, and write. And not just blindly writing; I knew exactly what I should do next. Now, I have pretty close to what my finished product will look like and I’m in a writing rut. I want to write something! This whole process has been like riding yet another high wave that drops me off on the shoreline, leaving me to watch it roll back into the sea. That’s a feeling I’m used to and an analogy I beat into the sand. But hopefully, with a little help from TM, I can limit my turnaround time of how long I stand on the shore before paddling back out into the water.

This blog post starts up the writing process again. I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me making DH!D! a reality on the movie screen. It’s an exciting process that I’m looking forward to. But there’s no reason I can’t be writing the next script in the meantime. As Robert Rodriguez advises in his book Rebel Without a Crew, “be scary.” Constantly working, constantly be moving ahead on your next big idea, always being original; that is frightening. Be scary, my friends. Keep writing.

 

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.

Sorry To Write a Book When I Was Only Required to Write a Comment

“Hey look a new comment! Oh…”

I’m just going to go ahead and start a new category for my blog posts titled “Blogging” because I seem to have been only blogging about blogging lately. This is another attempt at blogging quickly and regularly, without first starting out with a blank Word document and thinking it over to death, in hopes of freeing my mind of burden so I’ll post more often.

I enjoy looking around at other people’s blogs. I always check out the Freshly Pressed page and read the ones that stick out the most. I find I get some of my best independent journalism, funniest stories, and most interesting non-fiction from reading people’s blogs.

And when I like a post, I follow Word Press’ tips and am sure to “like” and comment on it. But when looking at the size of my multi-paragraphed comments compared to other commenter’s, I feel like an overachiever…or worse that kid everyone hates in the classroom.

I try my best to give at least one quoted line from the post and my comments on it as well as other specifics so the writer knows I really read through it and have something to say. And I like to be as positive as possible, always thanking the blogger for sharing, especially if it was a personally honest post.

I just hope people don’t get freaked out by my long-winded commenting approach. If I write a lot, it’s usually because I liked your post a lot. And from the bottom of my heart, thank you for sharing.

P.S. I love when people reply to my comments with equally long-winded notes. That just makes me feel all warm inside.

 

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.

Abuse of Social Media Makes for Good Entertainment: 2 Celebrities Who Stand Out Among the Rest

The internet is the modern day wild west. And just like every character in a western film owns a gun, everybody these days has a smart phone in holster linked to Twitter, Facebook, and blogging accounts. However, as westerns have shown us, not every gunslinger was a good shot and not every modern day corpulent social media cowboy hits the target.

“Sext me.”

Celebrities can be particularly annoying when stepping out of their field of expertise; whether that is film, music, science, etc, and start unloading their personalities on the world via tweets. There are those uber-cheerful celebs that ask their millions of followers “How are you today?” as if they care to read the responses of every ugly low-life on their feed. Sometimes there are even celebrities that just like to stroke the ego, via Twitter, of other celebrities so that everyone can see how cool they are, being famous together and all.

But sometimes you get those wild card celebrities that act out in social media. They use their accounts as a platform of assault on a world that doesn’t get to see them on a daily basis. Two people that use Twitter and blogging distinctly originally are author Bret Easton Ellis and pornographer James Deen.

Bret Easton Ellis is the critically acclaimed author of American Psycho and other novels, some of which have been adapted into Hollywood movies. Although Ellis has had his fair share of criticism regarding the harsh subject matter in his books, he is typically forgiven and seen as one of the greater writers of his generation.

But he seems to be less forgivable on his Twitter account with his harsh, criticizing, often explanation-lacking tweets that he tends to post manically in flurries spanning over hours at times. This barrage of opinionated messages can only be explained as a “tweet rage.”

The critical backlash for Ellis’ tweets are on display in an article from the Huffington Post titled “Why We’re Unfollowing Bret Easton Ellis” where they provide evidence of their disapproval in this section:

“Last year, he compared watching TV show Glee to “stepping in a puddle of HIV.” Last month, he said on Twitter that an actor was too openly gay to play a heterosexual character. In July he called an unpopular figure “a complete and total old-school fucking Hollywood loser.” When JD Salinger died, he tweeted “Yeah!! Thank God he’s finally dead. I’ve been waiting for this day for-fucking-ever. Party tonight!!!” Today he called David Foster Wallace (who didn’t like Easton Ellis’s work either) “the most tedious, overrated, tortured, pretentious writer of my generation.”

So much hate from such a seemingly nice guy.

This disapproval is mirrored by the New York Daily News as well. It’s easy to see why so many people are bothered by Ellis’ unapologetic assaults in under 140-characters. But I personally think he’s the most interesting account I follow.

I can’t say I agree with half the things he posts about; particularly the awful, ignorant remarks about legendary author of The Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger. I also find myself confused about his musical tastes which sometimes rival the rants of Patrick Bateman before axe-murdering someone.

And as a movie lover, I found his picks for best and most overrated films of 2012 quite skewed. His tweets state, “Most Overrated 2012: Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Master, Moonrise Kingdom, The Sessions, Looper…” and “Best 2012 movies so far: The Kid With A Bike, Magic Mike, Prometheus, Chronicle. And with reservations: Argo and The Dark Knight Rises…” I wrote about my love for Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master and it is currently my favorite film of the year. Before that Moonrise Kingdom held that distinction. And although I liked Prometheus I can hardly hold back a laugh at the argument for Magic Mike or Chronicle but maybe that’s just me being too snooty and a movie-criticizing prick.

“I hadn’t noticed.”

Either way, I think Ellis is great for using Twitter to its fullest; as a platform for someone to send their most opinionated thoughts out into the world. As a novelist, he can weave his personal opinions into his fiction but unless he writes an autobiography, those words will never be completely true to his own beliefs, but instead those of the story. Twitter allows him to cast his voice over the microphone. And even if he’s spewing vomit at the audience, he at least does it in style.

Another celebrity that uses social media with some distinct flair is James Deen with his blog. Now “celebrity” is in the eye of the audience here. Deen is certainly a star in the adult film industry but it is also true that he is leaking into mainstream society with interviews in GQ and Esquire. He’s porn’s boy next door.

James Deen is the real life Dirk Diggler, for better and worse. Deen ditched Diggler’s foray into the music industry for a leading role in a mainstream Hollywood film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ The Canyons, starring opposite Lindsay Lohan. Am I throwing around the term “celebrity” too much if I call Lohan one as well?

Deen’s blog features a collage header of photos of himself ranging from him kissing a beer to posing alongside a porn actress with semen dripping from her chin. All of this labeled with a title and tagline that seems to sum it all up: “James Deen Blog: Boobs, Buttholes, Burritos.”

This site brings me such joy to read because it is everything I would have ever imagined a daily blog would be for a guy who gets paid to have sex with women every day of his life. Boogie Nights is one of my favorite films of all time and reading Deen’s blog is like sifting through the diary of Dirk Diggler if he were living in this decade.

His blog reads as a shining example of a generation of kids that have been typing most, if not all of their lives via texts, Facebook, Twitter, and school papers; but yet still see no use for punctuation or even capitalization.

“Hey, that’s not true about the punctuation. I’m always on time!”

His small paragraph rant-style blog posts consist of dozens of ellipses between sentences.

These posts also have such ridiculous, blatantly low brow, to the point titles as: “James Deen Lindsay Lohan Party Awesome Experience,” “Dillion Harper Vagina Tan Line Sex Bed,” and “Bondage BDSM Outdoor Rough Gangbang Sex Party.” And those are just the most recent posts. They go on and on like that.

Deen’s posts read like the disjointed stories from that cool, older kid that was held back a few years in junior high school; often mentioning a girl’s “really cool boobs” or how he “anally banged her asshole.” His words are enough to transport any adult male back to the gym locker room where we sat and giggled through a hand clasped over our mouths at smuggled dirty magazines.

Deen also seems to have zero attention span in his blog entries, which are probably typed out and posted from his phone while driving from one shoot to another around California. In one entry about a scene he was shooting, in what must be a form of flattery from Mr. Deen, he states: “i have never met christy mack before but she is pretty foxy and not too shabby at putting penises in her.” He goes on to display some serious drifting thoughts:

“i really adore asa (Akira) and want to make great things happen for her.  like build her a house or something.  i guess that is selfish because i have always wanted to build a house… maybe win the lottery?  nah, i would somehow try to get in on the winnings and get some money.  orgasms!!!!!!!!! i want to give her many many orgasms.  and hell i will throw in christy mack too.  FROM THIS MOMENT ON CHRISTY MACK IS THE PROPERTY OF ASA AKIRA.  it has been written therefore it is so.”

Deen stepped away from writing about sex for a moment in a post titled “VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE” where he used a bunch of exclamation points to urge his readers to go into the voting booths on Election Day and select “no” on Measure B, a California mandate requiring all porn performers to wear condoms. Deen was firmly against the act but later stated that he didn’t care if you voted for it as long as you made an educated decision: “therefore i believe you should make up your own decision based on whatever information is presented to you and i should have nothing to do with influencing your vote.”

Deen’s blog is very entertaining and never claims to be anything other than what it is; the diary of a young, successful adult film actor on the daily roller coaster that is his life. In short, it’s a blog about “boobs, buttholes, (and) burritos.” I can live with that.

After a year of blogging and using Twitter I sometimes find myself questioning the purpose of why I do either. My blog never really had a mission statement the way I see so many of my peers do. It’s always just been me talking about whatever I feel is interesting or necessary to write about. My Twitter is much the same; a micro blog for my opinions and a way of spreading links to my films and blog posts while trying to shout at celebrities.

Seeing two experts in their craft use Twitter and blogging to their benefit, the way Ellis and Deen have, gives me pride in where I’m going with my social media sites.

 

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.