The Importance of Being Present
by Jess Hinds
An artist must practice being present. Presence is a requirement for connection. Connection is a requirement for truth and deep communication.
Listening requires you to be fully present, not just waiting for your turn to speak. You need to allow the words of the person, machine, inner demons, or whoever you are talking to, to enter you. Listen for what this voice is saying versus what they mean. Listen for what they want versus what they need.
If you get stuck when writing, you’re most likely not listening. Listen. Start from what you hear, feel, and see. Start with Truth. Truth will lead to Story.
The more you practice being fully present, the easier it becomes.
The dangers of writing without being present are like driving a car blind while listening to the GPS. The GPS might know the quickest way but it can’t see the car in front of you breaking suddenly, or the pregnant woman crossing the street, or the ‘one day only sale’ at Brilliant Ideas ”R” US. There are so many beautiful excursions and dangerous territories a writer must be present for. If you take the same path as another writer, it’s not a real adventure - you are just following footprints. It's the unique way you respond to the detours that makes the art yours.
Don’t wish it were easy. Then it wouldn't be worth it. If you want something easy, go take a nap. If you want to create a great script, be prepared to work. Work with presence, with surrender, and with vulnerability. We are emotional athletes. We must train.
Training daily to be present will serve you well, because you will explore from curiosity rather than judgement. You cannot judge when you are fully present. Judgement requires comparison - either to something you experienced in the past or a projection of something in the future. But if you are fully present seeing, hearing, and feeling everything inside and outside of you, you cannot mind-travel forward or back. So without that comparison you cannot judge, you can only experience. Experience without judgment is where great writers thrive. Truth, not judgment.
You can practice being present anywhere, at any time. Start with noticing what you are physically feeling, seeing, or hearing. Pay attention to the truth of the moment. The sky is blue. That man is wearing a green sweater. My shoulders feel tense. Her eyes are like green cobwebs. She looks sad when she laughs. Her sadness amuses me.
Being present with yourself, your characters, your director, your editor, your family, and your friends will always serve you. It's painful when the people in our lives don't really see or hear us. Don't do that to your characters, to your collaborators, or to yourself. Don’t do it to your inner writer, that child. Don’t do it to your inner elder or even to your inner adult who is trying so hard. Be present. Listen. Hold space for the truth. There has not been a single time in my life when this action has not served me well.
Writing a Screenplay is Like Solving a Jigsaw Puzzle
by Jess Hinds
My grandmother loves doing jigsaw puzzles. Any time of the year, but especially during Christmas time, there is a small table set up just for one of her thousand-piece puzzles.
The way she taught me how to approach these puzzles has helped me with my screenwriting more than any book on screenwriting that I have ever read.
When it comes to puzzles, most people say, "get the edges done first, then fill in the puzzle." Perhaps that works for some, but I am not like most, and my grandma could tell that that method was driving me nuts. I hated that I had to find all the edges first. My ADD mind and my lack of interest in the visuals along the edge led to boredom. After a while, it was so hard to find the last few pieces of the border that I would lose interest and give up.
So she told me to forget how everyone else did puzzles and to find a way that moved me forward rather than slowing me down.
So I started with a combo of finding edges and "clumping". Clumping is when you identify something - say a snowman or the red barn - and set those pieces to the side near each other.
I usually get about 60% of the border done before I lose interest, so then I jump to the clumped image I'm most drawn to and play around with those pieces for as long as they hold my interest, then I go back to the border and so on and so on.
Toggling back and forth between the bigger picture and the small details is a very helpful tool when working on a screenplay. If you get lost in the details - pull back. If you’re bored looking at the whole, zoom in and get lost in a single moment.
Further along in the process, I would get stuck on a piece and just stare at it. "It doesn't look like it belongs anywhere," I would tell my grandmother. That's when she would remind me, "just try it, multiple ways." Sure enough, I discovered that what often doesn't look like it fits, does, in fact, fit - if we just try it multiple ways.
Scenes that work in your head may never work on the page. And the scene that seems impossible in your mind might soar on the page. You never know until you try.
I highly recommend you keep a puzzle going this season as you say goodbye to 2019 and flow into a new year and a new decade with as much creativity, excitement and dedication to your writing as possible.
The puzzle will be a great reminder of your process and that your process needs to be unique to you.
Writing a screenplay is like putting together a five-thousand piece puzzle....without the box that has the final image on it. It's hard, but my grandma's advice always helps me through.
The Definition of a Writer is Someone Who Writes. Nothing More, Nothing Less.
by Jess Hinds
A writer is not someone who writes great stories every time they put pen to paper. That is not possible.
A writer is not someone for whom writing is always easy. That is someone who doesn’t identify as a writer.
A writer is not someone who always knows what to write. That does not exist.
A writer is not a writer who is published. That is a published writer.
A writer is not someone who has been produced. That is a produced writer.
A writer is not someone who writes professionally. That is a professional writer.
A writer is not someone who writes for money. That is a creative whore.
A writer is someone who writes. If you write, you are a writer. If you don’t, you are not.
The way you define what it means to be a writer matters. Your brain will chemically be affected by this.
You might need to reroute your brain 101 times for this definition to take effect in your brain. But it is worth it. It will take away much of the unnecessary suffering that most writers put on themselves.
Make a sign that reads, “A writer is someone who writes - nothing more, nothing less.” Post it near your writing desk.
When you think about sitting down to write, remind yourself, “A writer is someone who writes - nothing more, nothing less.”
When you sit down to write, take a breath and whisper, “A writer is someone who writes - nothing more, nothing less.”
When you are a writer and a daymare of rejection, humiliation, and/or failure pops into your head, discard it like an unwanted postcard, take a deep breath and look up at your sign that reads, “A writer is someone who writes - nothing more, nothing less.”
When you have finished your writing session, take a deep breath and remind yourself, “A writer is someone who writes - nothing more, nothing less. Today I wrote. Today I am a writer.”
When your writing gets published or produced, take a moment and remember, “A writer is someone who writes - nothing more, nothing less.”
When your writing gets praised, remind yourself, “A writer is someone who writes - nothing more, nothing less.”
When your writing gets criticized, remember, “A writer is someone who writes - nothing more, nothing less.”
When you get fired for the first time, remember, “A writer is someone who writes - nothing more, nothing less.”
When your voice starts to change because you have been through the roller coaster of life, remember, “A writer is someone who writes - nothing more, nothing less.”
When you write something that shakes you to the core and makes you question everything you have ever known, remember, “A writer is someone who writes - nothing more, nothing less.”
When you write something so beautiful you decide not to share it with anyone but keep it just for yourself, you will know, "A writer is someone who writes - nothing more, nothing less.”
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Vulnerability is Necessary for Writers. It is a Muscle. It Can be Cultivated. It can be Practiced
by Jess Hinds
There is no art without vulnerability. Craft requires skill. Art requires vulnerability. Both can be practiced.
The voice of a writer is all vulnerability. It is the part of you that no one else has. What is more vulnerable than revealing how different you are? It is in this difference that we find something in common.
No one is fucked up exactly the same way you are. The truth of that uniqueness will serve you well.
Many writers will shy away from this and instead opt to emulate others or what they have seen before. This is a waste of everyone's time. If you are not leading with the art, your voice, your point of view, your vulnerability, then what you write will be judged entirely on your craft. There are already thousands of people whose craft is stronger than yours—they have been practicing longer—and many probably have better connections than you. Writing to be mediocre, normal, or to fit in will not only lead to failure but you will also feel like shit doing it. Your true self will be buried deeper and deeper inside of you until eventually it dies.
Better to be hated for who you really are than loved for pretending to be someone else.
Vulnerability is strength.
Two soldiers walk onto a battlefield, one with head-to-toe armor and one with a light linen dress. Who is stronger? The one in the dress. The armor-clad one might be more protected, but this adornment implies a weakness in need of protection.
True connections demands vulnerability. If you want people to see you, you must take off the mask. And the one underneath that, and so on.
Vulnerability requires bravery. Bravery requires fear. If you want to practice vulnerability while you write, seek out what scares you. Then write about it anyway.
Vulnerable writing leads to strong reactions. As an artist, you should seek after intense love or hate from an audience. Someone loathing your book is a much higher compliment than people thinking, “that's nice.”
Art that angers people often reflects a part of the reader back to themselves that they are not yet ready to see. It is our job as the artists of our culture to do this. Of course, people are going to get upset. Avoiding their umbrage is not your job.