Another installment of AFF’s Writers on Screenwriting from one of our favorite women, writers, and people to get drunk with: Anne Rapp. After reading the below, please do click on her name to read her full bio – it’s impressive. Anne will be joining us for the 2010 Conference this October.
Anne Rapp’s 10 Rules of Writing
1. Read a lot. I won’t bug you with my list of classics and must-reads, but I can
suggest a few reading formulas: For every issue of People Magazine you read cover to cover make sure you read five good short stories. For every Chelsea Handler book you listen to on your iPhone while power walking, read another one of Chelsea’s books on paper. (Come on, give Chelsea her “author moment.” She deserves it!) Other good reading ratios would be: One self-help book equals Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.” One golf instruction handbook equals V.S. Naipaul’s “Half a Life.” And one cookbook equals George Singleton’s “The Half Mammals of Dixie.” Okay, so I lied about giving you must-reads. But I promise if you read these books and a lot more (don’t leave out Bukowski poetry!), you’ll be a better writer.
2. Hook up with (as in marry, date, or room with) someone who gives you a lot of solo time. By solo time I don’t mean you are at your desk while he or she is across the room asleep on the couch. I mean that person is not on the premises. Nor are that person’s children or relatives. (Pets are okay unless it’s a talking bird.) Writing requires a lot of staring into space, watching coffee drip into the pot and scratching your ass. A big part of writing is just being in your skin and in your head. Some of the best writing you will ever do will be when your paws aren’t even on the keyboard. And you don’t need witnesses. Personally I have perfected rule #2. I hooked up with someone who lives four hours away. I’m not suggesting that method for everybody. You can always dig yourself a cave out back for some privacy. But please, forget Starbucks! That’s not writing, that’s showing off.
3. Try your best to not hook up with another writer. You know those fantasies you have about falling in love with an awesome scribe, and life is perfect because you totally understand each other? And you spend glorious, enchanted evenings on the couch together, toes entwined, each with a laptop on your legs creating separate but equal masterpieces? Total horse crap. A wet dream. Ever see a two-headed calf? We’ve all seen one stuffed. But you’ve never seen a two?headed cow, have you? That’s because a two?headed anything doesn’t last that long. So if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of coexisting with another writer, at least try to avoid
competitive sports like ping pong or croquet. That’s when things usually spontaneously com-bust.
4. Ask yourself if you like being alone. If the answer is no you will have a hard time being a writer. If the answer is yes you will probably kick butt at it. If the answer is sometimes you are like most of the rest of us. You will sometimes write like the wind and sometimes be a total slacker. But that’s normal, so relax. Everybody can’t be Larry McMurtry.
5. Don’t spend a lot of effort writing the first sentence. It probably won’t be the
first sentence anyway, it will merely start you on the path to the first sentence. Unless, of course, you are Carrie Fisher and can write the perfect first sentence, like “I lost my virginity three times.” That’s in Charles Dickens’ league. But you aren’t Carrie Fisher or Charles Dickens (yet) so be realistic. Just get past the first sentence and then start cranking.
6. Don’t be an arrogant jerk if you get famous. There’s nothing more off-putting than a snotty, pretentious, swaggering tweed-weasel. As a rule the finest people on the planet are school janitors and Motel 6 maids. St. Peter will not have read your work. Blurbs mean nothing to him and the words “resonant,” “pathos” and “wickedly (anything)” are not in his vocabulary.
7. Keep your house clean and your desk fairly straight. And make the bed. It gives you something to do with your other hand while your dominant one is scratching your ass. You will work better with order around you. I’m not a feng shui nut, but there’s something to be said for waking up in the morning and opening your eyes and resting them on an environment that’s clean and orderly and peaceful instead of piles of crap and chaos everywhere. At least you begin the day with some clarity.
8. Don’t read too many books about writing. But I can recommend a couple, like Ray Bradbury’s. If nothing else, read it for one sentence: “Every day a writer wakes up and gets out of bed and steps on a land mine and blows himself into a thousand pieces, then he spends the rest of the day putting himself back together again.” I don’t know about you but my middle name is Jigsaw. Another good one is Steven King’s. He offers two excellent tips: Read a lot (same as my #1), and put your desk in the corner facing the wall. He’s right. Forget the house overlooking the sea or the idyllic cabin in the woods. You’ll write better in a coat closet. It’s not what’s out the window, it’s what’s behind your corneas. I once had the amazing good fortune to sit in Faulkner’s actual kitchen for a couple of hours and write at the table where he used to write. (A friend and curator of the joint sneaked me in.) You know what I did for those precious two hours? I spent the whole time writing all my friends and telling them I was sitting in Faulkner’s kitchen! Then I went home to my desk in the corner and wrote my own version of “War and Peace.”
9. Stop pretending you have read “War and Peace.”
10. Don’t sweat rejections. Every writer gets them. Book writers get tons of them in the mailbox or by email. Movie writers get them in the form of people never calling back, or just having an assistant call you with a cold-hearted Pasadena. I have a great cure for hurt feelings caused by rejections: Go out and buy a nice card and send it to someone you love, and tell that person in your most brilliant words how much they mean to you. I promise it won’t be rejected.