How to Write

“A pretty stenographer that you’ve seen before comes into the room and you watch her—idly. She doesn’t see you although you’re very close to her. She takes off her gloves, opens her purse, and dumps it out on the table—”

Stahr stood up, tossing his key-ring on his desk.

“She has two dimes and a nickel—and a cardboard match box. She leaves the nickel on the desk, puts the two dimes back into her purse, and takes her black gloves to the stoves, opens it and puts them inside.There is one match in the match box and she starts to light it kneeling by the stove. You notice that there’s a stiff wind blowing in the window–but just then, your telephone rings. The girl picks it up, says hello—listens—and says deliberately into the phone, ‘I’ve never owned a pair of black gloves in my life.’ She hangs up, kneels by the stove again, and just as she lights the match you glance around very suddenly and see that there’s another man in the office, watching every move the girl makes—”

Stahr paused. He picked up his keys and put them in his pocket.

“Go on,” said Boxley smiling. “What happens?”

“I don’t know,” said Stahr. “I was just making pictures.”

Boxley felt he was being put in the wrong.

“It’s just melodrama,” he said.

“Not necessarily,” said Stahr. “In any case nobody has moved violently or talked cheap dialogue or had any facial expression at all. There was only one bad line, and a writer like you could improve it. But you were interested.”

“What was the nickel for?” asked Boxley evasively.

“I don’t know,” said Stahr. Suddenly he laughed. “Oh yes—the nickel was for the movies.”

Boxley relaxed, leaned back in his chair and laughed.

“What the hell do you pay me for?” he demanded. “I don’t understand the damn stuff.”

“You will,” said Stahr, grinning. “Or you wouldn’t have asked about the nickel.”

The Love of the Last Tycoon
– F. Scott Fitzgerald

Wow. Right?

I’ve never read The Last Tycoon, but I read this article by David Bordwell and put it on my list, if for no other reason than to read that scene. I highly recommend reading the whole thing yourself, especially if you have time on hiatus.

Coincidentally, I went to a meeting of aspiring writers last night. It sadly reminded me of why I don’t often go to writers’ networking events. So many people think they know how to write just because they’ve read Syd Field or Robert McKee.

But how many of them would ask about the nickel? Not nearly enough.

There are definitely a lot of inexperienced people at my TAPA get-togethers, but they all seem aware that they don’t know anything. That sort of self-awareness is sadly lacking amongst wannabe writers.

You know who goes to these sorts of events? Wannabe writers. You know who doesn’t? Actual writers. Also, agents, managers, producers, and anybody else who can actually do something with your script.

“They’re wannabe writers. So what? I’m a wannabe writer, TAPA.” Fair enough. But the ratio of people who want to write as opposed to those who want to be writers is very low. Too many people think selling a script is like winning the lottery: it doesn’t take any skill, and there’s a lot of money in it.

Which is not true at all. Writing is something you have to like doing, whether it’s a script or a play or a website. Of course, you want other people to read what you write, and that’s where the agents, producers, et al. come in. You want your script to be made into a movie for the world to see. None of that will happen at a pitch fest or writers’ meeting.

So, here’s my advice to aspiring writers who want to network: don’t go to writers’ events. Instead, go do literally anything else. Meet people, make friends, all that jazz I’ve been writing about for a while. Some of these people that you get along with will be writers. Start a writers’ group with them, not some random stranger you met at a bar in Hollywood on a Thursday night.

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5 Responses

  1. So painfully true. If you’re an Actor hanging out with actors, at least actors will help you get a job if you’re not the same type. Writers who are working don’t have much time to help other writers do much at all. Writers who arn’t working, don’t know how to get work. (Which is much more than just ‘writing a great script.’ That may get you ranked in a contest, but it won’t get you work)

    Most aspiring screenwriters might be better off starting with short stories or books. Short stories and books might get popular and become known as ‘IP,’ a valuable commodity Hollywood, Scripts by the unknown screenwriters arn’t worth much at all. ‘Civilians’ don’t know how to read them and Insiders don’t really want to.

      1. Intellectual property; a pre-existing story or character.

        1. Thank you. It was on the tip of my tongue. I’m slightly embarrassed now that I couldn’t pull that out! Lol.

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