The following is a transcription of the talk I gave at the EIPPY Awards event in October 2015.
What I discover is that, when people get to writing, they forget why they did it. Does that make sense? The idea is, when you heard Lisa speak, she said there was a moment when I lost my job and I had young children: a moment of crisis that brought her where she is now. Bryan has numerous moments of crisis. I think he gets the crisis award. I personally had nothing ever happen to me. But if you read the free article that I offer on the thing, you’ll see that when I was six I brought my play into school and my mother had underlined all my pictures and she said, “This is great! We’re gonna put this on for the whole school. What’s the story?” And I froze because no one told me I needed a story. Twenty years later I’m on my therapist’s couch, and he says, “I think that’s why you do what you do because you help everybody find their story.”
I help people connect with that moment or series of moments—or what in Bryan’s case would be a very long conversation—and basically cobble this into… well, think of it this way: If a book can be compared to the pearl that an oyster produces, then the moment of irritation or this moment of crisis in your life is what created the sand that started this process. It really is up to you whether or not this becomes more sand or this becomes a pearl. That’s why I created my trademark writing system, which, as I say, hopefully one of these experts is going to help me take into a broader realm. Ever since I started working—or ever since I did screenwriting—I have always worked with an equal number of novelists, ebook people. I just helped someone who I met at Author 101 create a dating system through yoga, and I don’t know if it works for large numbers of people, but she just got married. So we know something good happened, right? One of the reasons that I’m here is to talk to you about that event.
Are you willing to actually do a writing exercise, since we all have to write? So, take a deep breath and while you’re breathing think of something yummy that you ate in 24 hours and write it down in one sentence really quick. And visualize it. And open your eyes and see it—like, I had a margarita last night, wow, I can see it! Now come on everybody, write! We gotta move those hands. Did you know that there are 74,000 nerve endings in your wrists? Did you know that? And that simply doing this is enough to get you out of writer’s block. Okay, this trademark writing system really works. So, moving your ankles, feet, everything has nerve endings. Everybody got a great food thing that they did? Everybody smiling? OK, now I’m going to make you get really sad.
Take a deep breath, close your eyes. Exhale with kind of a sad sound. Now find that moment that got you started, okay? Bryan is gonna have trouble, but for me I remember standing in my first-grade class having the teacher say to me, “What is the story?” I remember that as if I’m here. Can you write down that moment for yourself in a single sentence? Don’t worry, I’m going to make you happy again, and I’m going to teach you two things. Now write it down. There was a time when for me—make that many times—just pick the first one that comes to mind. Another time was I found this little cat that someone had abandoned by the roadside and just thrown it there, and I was about seven and my feeling about human beings … I’m still struck by it. Everybody got one? Okay, good. Now take another breathe, exhale, and now think about the cocktail you’re going to have after this event. Got some smiles? Good. I would like to congratulate you. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how when we’re writers we can just write. So a few tips:
- There’s no such thing as writer’s block. There’s only a smart person who doesn’t know what they want to say. So, next time you’re feeling “blocked,” get on the Internet and start researching things. Whatever is on your mind, it’s amazing how quickly we get to where we want to go.
- We are in control of our emotions.We made ourselves happy, we made ourselves sad, and we made ourselves happy. So don’t be afraid when you’re working on your material to go into that dark place, but you have rules. You work with a timer and you think about a nice thing before, and you make sure you have something nice about to think after, and you reward yourself with some kind of gift. But we avoid going there, and we listen to all these marketing people, who are essential, but we are the creators. We have to create it. They can’t sell it. We can’t sell it. No one can sell it until it’s created and it exists. You know everybody throws words around like “heart centered” and stuff like that. This is for real. You write about the problem you’re having. You want to write that down, that’s a good takeaway. We always write about the problem we’re having.
I’ll tell you one quick story, I wrote a screenplay about two years ago. It’s about this woman who runs a B&B and her daughter dies. I thought to myself, “Why would I write a story like that? I’m a comedy writer.” And then one of my friends said to me, “Didn’t you recently get divorced?” And I realized I had transferred all of my grief, because it felt like a death to me. I didn’t do it consciously, but the movie’s getting made and I feel better about everything. And I’m very personal, as you can see, because I don’t think I have anything else to work with. Again, the only thing I hear a lot is “Oh, it’s not about me.” The answer is: It better be about you, because you are a channel for the universe and you are a specific channel. I mean, if you want to use this kind of language that people are using, OK? It’s all about your unique perception, which I think is a more accurate way… In other words, what makes a story unique is not about the story but who wrote it.
We writers are the creators. We have to be very, very respectful of our own creative process, and we have to understand that the best role in the world is people want us to do things that they want us to do for their own reasons. So, basically, just say no and work with yourself. What did you learn today? There is no such thing as writer’s block. Why is that? Because if you don’t know what you want to talk about then go find something to talk about. It’s very basic and common sense. Second thing, you are in control of your own emotions. You can get happy; you can get sad. It’s as simple as changing your thought. Isn’t that extraordinary? It’s so simple. Okay, what else did we learn? It’s all about you. Stop the “It’s not about me; I’m just an instrument.” The answer is: Yes, you are the instrument, but why did they pick you? This self-deprecating thing is driving me crazy. Writers hate themselves enough without putting themselves down the second time. Be respectful. Whatever your belief system is, if you’re given a message or a call, or whatever language you want to use, to be here in a room, to invest this kind of time and money, then what you have to say must be important, so you have to own it. Own it. What I would say to you is a plea because I do this work. I’m offering three coaching sessions. People spend thousands of dollars working with me to figure out their precise thing because what makes you special is your perception. So when I hear wires uttering platitudes like “I want to make a difference,” I just want to lie on the floor and bang my head. What kind of a difference? You can make a big problem too. You can make books, you can kill a tree, you can kill 10 trees, and you’ve made a difference, right? So, again, I’m an English teacher, so “Be specific. It’s not a red dress. It’s a scarlet dress.” Right? And when you’re talking about what your called to do, be specific. Don’t utter everybody else’s platitudes. I’m going to slit my wrists at lunch. “Difference! Difference! Difference! Channel! Channel! Channel!” It’s not that it all isn’t true, but again your gift is in your fight for the right word. That is what writers do. We fight. Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the wrong word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
My Web site is MarilynHorowitz.com. There’s nothing on it. I’m a screenwriting expert. That’s how I’m branded. So, if you want to talk about movies, that’s fine. But what I really do, most of my business, is working with people like you to get to the point where someone like Ellen or any of these other people make sense. I’ll be here through Rick’s thing. I’ll be on the panel tomorrow night. I’m a very friendly person. Come talk to me. Thank you so much!
To view the video of this transcript, please click here.
Here’s to your successful writing!
Professor Marilyn Horowitz