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Work Habits and the Imagination...

Is the title of chapter two of Jack Bickman’s “Writing and Selling Your Novel.” The prompt at the end of this chapter suggests listing a few ideas to improve productivity.

Here’s my list:

Get eight hours of sleep.

Plan your project month by month. Go back and see if you met your goal for that month. Reward yourself with a movie at the theater if you did. Re-plan if you didn’t.

Plan each week ahead of time. Stick to your writing schedule. 

Meditate for five minutes before you start a writing session. Write down or draw whatever comes to mind in a notebook. It does not need to be related to your current project. Turn the page over and forget about it.

Set a realistic quota of pages for each writing session (I think one good page per hour is realistic) and stick to it.

Write for at least 25 minutes a day.

Allow yourself to write crap. Allow yourself to overwrite. You can always go back and change it later.

Use your blog to track your progress and hold yourself accountable.

I’ve noticed some perfectionism has crept into how I approach my writing. I want it to be great the first time. But I have never produced something great the first time, no matter how long I agonized over a draft. I do hate shitty first drafts. I find them discouraging. I believe there has to be a happy medium. I think okay is the happy medium. I can live with “okay.”

Writing Habits


Once a year, I read the first couple of chapters of Jack Bickham’s “Writing and Selling Your Novel.”  I read the book cover to cover when I bought it more than a decade ago. Now, I stick to the first two chapters.

Every time I read the book Bickham’s advice endures. I always turn to this book when I find that my writing is in a slump, my will to write screenplays is flagging or I’m thinking about throwing in the towel.

In the first chapter, “The Professional Attitude” Bickham discusses the characteristics you must develop to become a professional writer. The second shorter chapter “Work Habits and the Imagination” is more practical. As the title suggests, he lays out the work habits that help you consistently get words on the page.

I hate end-of-chapter exercises in writing books. I usually start them in earnest but then give up a few chapters in. But as Bickham writes, “It’s easy to read right past such suggestions. That’s what an amateur – doomed to remain one – will do.” 


So in the interest of breaking bad habits, I decided to record my answers to Bickham’s prompts at the end of the first chapter.

What about your lifestyle, attitudes or work habits has not been professional?

I’m at my most productive at the start of the day. But lately, I have been putting off writing to the very end of the day when the kids are in bed. By then I’m ready to decompress and already making excuses for myself. A one-hour writing session from 9 p.m. turns into 15 to 25 minutes or nothing at all.
What do you plan to do about it?

I will commit to an hour of writing before I go to work and then write for another hour when I get home. Instead of waiting until the kids are in bed I can write for an hour after dinner between 7 and 8 p.m. I can put the kids to bed and then do less important tasks, like cleaning the kitchen and then relax until bedtime. I could also do more writing on the weekends. An hour when I wake up on Saturday and Sunday is doable if we don’t have anything else planned.

I will commit to one Saturday a month where I do a five-hour writing day, and make a recurring reminder so I stick to it.

I will use the internet blocking app Freedom to block the internet when I am working and move my phone to the other side of the room to eliminate distractions.  

Moreover, I need to hold myself accountable by making entries into my weekly/monthly planner. This is one simple thing I can do every day to track goals, hours and page quotas.

There. That’s wasn’t so bad.




Started a page one rewrite of my Americans spec script this week. After seven straight days of writing I'm up to the end of Act Two. Not a single page survived the cut from my first draft. This week, I aim to finish the script. First television fellowships deadline is May 30. That means I have 12 short days to knock this into shape...



Last Wednesday, Caltrans let me take a look at a rundown, boarded-up house that's less than five minutes from my apartment in South Pasadena. 

I paid a local handyman to pull the nails out of the board on a side door so I could take a look inside. A Caltrans guard is obliged to accompany me when I take a look at these state-owned properties. He told me that he thought there might be rats and spiders inside the house. But once inside there was no sign of any critters. It's a little dirty but with a clean-up, I really think this could work for my movie.

I've felt that the script could go one of two ways. I could approach the story with the stylized impoverishment of Trainspotting or look for a house in the style of the sparse farmhouse in Martha Marcy May Marlene

There's no water or power at the Caltrans house but with a clean up job, a generator, some creative production design and portable toilets, I think I've got a strong contender for a location.

Then on Sunday I took a drive down to San Pedro to look at a renovated bus house. This one has lots of character and an empty garage that could work for a crucial scene in my film. The owner was a cool guy and quoted me a price that's in my ballpark.

So, all of sudden I feel like I have two options. 

Our next goal is to get a co-producer lined up for the project and then set shoot dates. I'm getting excited all over again.

In addition, there's still my The Americans spec to consider. As I guessed, I've found it hard to carve out time to knock my script into shape. Fellowship deadlines are looming, with the first two at the end of the month. But more on that later ...


While progress on my film hasn't ground to a halt, sometimes I've grown frustrated with just how slow the process is. I've continued my efforts since my last post on finding a location, while in the intervening time trying to fit in some much needed creative work on the script and with my cast.

My ideal location, the historic Woodbury-Story house in Altadena, seems like a distant fantasy now. I would love to shoot there. But after several offers and counter offers, I've never got to the magic number that will work with my budget.

My other efforts have centered on the vacant houses in the Pasadena and South Pasadena area or word-of-mouth recommendations. After a bit of door knocking and Googling, I discovered that California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) had bought up hundreds of properties in anticipation of a highway project that never saw the light of day.

I emailed Caltrans and they put me in touch with a film production coordinator named Lynn. She gave me access to a couple of properties in the area, including a cottage about five minutes from my house. While its not ideal, I'm wondering if I could retool my script to make it work. Caltrans seems open to letting me use it at a price that's affordable.

In the meantime, I've put some more time into the creative side of the project. I'm almost done annotating the script with my shots. This week, I had a one-on-one meetings with all my confirmed cast members and we had our first cast meeting in South Pasadena on Tuesday evening to read through and discuss the script. 

I feel lucky to have assembled such a talented cast of young actors. Lyndsey Lantz, Tayla Holborow, Sarah Dulany Dryden and Brian Combs are confirmed for my ensemble.  The only role I have to fill is the male lead. 

I've already learned a lot during the pre-production process. I knew from the outset that this was going to be hard and expensive. But I don't think I realized exactly how hard and expensive. I tend to get obsessed whenever I dig into a new project and it occupies my every waking thought. Still, I have to remember that it is not brain surgery, it should be enjoyable and I have to be patient.