Film Courage: How do we know our own writing level, the level that we’re at? We all think that we’re good at something or excellent at something. We see the world through a certain lens, it fits together with our experiences, so we think we’re making sense. We think it’s brilliant in terms of our life experience. But how do we really know or maybe we won’t?
Eric Edson: I don’t think you should know you are one in the class who are really good because that’s kind of putting a cap on yourself. I would say…and we do talk about this…I point out to them in terms of (as we’re workshopping everybody’s work and yes, everybody is at different levels), that I say we all come to this room from different places. We all have been writing for different periods of time. Some are closer to the beginning than others. Some have already done some stuff, sold some stuff, so we are making allowances for that, that nobody will be on the same level and I would say that…I would just say don’t worry about your level. It’s not relevant to the process of learning to master a craft. And you know, a difficult craft at that.
Just do the work in front of you. Be you and write what you have to write. Because the thing ultimately with writing and the beauty of it is even when a story is derivative, perhaps you’ve got an idea for a plot but you’re saying “No, no, no…I’ve seen that a score of times before or through the decades kind of stuff.” And I would say “Yes, but no one can write it exactly the way you would write it.” It’s not about level, it’s about individual point of view and insight into the human condition. And that I would say for all times is to be encouraged. That’s what we do, we seek ourselves in what we write, even when we’re writing for money (for pay). And you can overdo that, but I think you need to be doing it (some of that) in absolutely everything you write because, what was that? Some book came out in the 1930’s. I forget who wrote it who said there are basically 36 plots in all of literature, that’s it. Well, that’s what the thing is with genre, you know with genre are you going to write a western? Well, that’s been done a few hundred, a few thousand times, hasn’t it? Well, you will do it your way. You will do it the way in which it has not been done before. Or if that’s not how it turns out, keep working on it if you wish or put it in the drawer. And you will have learned some lessons about writing and yourself along the way.
But the level thing, it’s just that we’re running different races so much levels. It’s like some people started sooner than other people so of course they are going to be ahead. But I would admonish writers (neophytes and experienced ones), don’t worry about that. You can make yourself nuts worrying about the level because you will always be writing what you want to write unless you get hired to do it for a job. But you will be writing what you want to write, the way you want to write it.
Now just work to make it the best you can make it be, that’s all. And one day you may surprise yourself. Just when you think you aren’t so good and this happens. Oh, we all go in cycles. Yeah, this should be mentioned, too. I mean up one day and down the next day suicidal, I mean this is art. This is writers. You know, welcome to the club. On that big wheel, the emotional journey of what it is, what we do. But you are also learning whether this art form is for you or not along the way. Are you in it for the long haul. That’s the only question you need to keep asking yourself. Am I getting enough food out of this? Creative food, juice, and sense of that growing sense of command (incremental command) of a much to be respected craft that can be quite intricate. That I’m hooked, that this is what I need. I mean it has been said that you know for writers, it hurts more not to do it than to do it. Are you up for a lifetime of all the range of emotion you are going to be going through as a writer, as an artist? Is this what you want to do, really? You want to be an artist, that’s great! But understand that it is not the simple and easy choice to make in life quite the contrary. But it is a fabulous, fabulous journey unlike any other, I think.
Question for the Viewers: How do you know that writing is your life calling?
Film Courage: Eric, can you tell us about the first screenplay you sold, what was happening in your life at that moment in time and how many had you written previously?
Professor Eric Edson: Wow! That takes me back…I was still at UCLA as a grad-student. And I was in my first year working on my PhD. I knew I always wanted to teach at the college level at some time, so I wanted to get those required degrees in early. And I just loved college and I wouldn’t let anybody tear me out of there. So I was still working on the PhD. But there was another student there (a doctoral student) whose step-father was a director! And he asked “Do you have anything? Do you have any stories?” (Watch the video here on Youtube).
BUY THE BOOK – THE STORY SOLUTION: 23 Actions All Great Heroes Must Take
MORE VIDEOS WITH ERIC EDSON
About Professor Eric Edson:
Eric Edson has written seventeen feature screenplays on assignment. His produced script credits include PASSION’S WEB for Showtime, and he co-wrote and co-executive produced the NBC Movie of the Week LETHAL VOWS starring John Ritter and Marg Helgenberger. Other films include THE ROSE AND THE JACKAL starring Christopher Reeve, THE SOGGY BOTTOM GANG starring Don Johnson, and DIVING IN starring Kristy Swanson. Eric has also written for episodic television.
Professor Edson’s new book “THE STORY SOLUTION: 23 Actions All Great Heroes Must Take,” published by Michael Wiese Productions, uncovers for the first time the 23 Hero Goal Sequences® used in every successful motion picture to create dynamic, three dimensional heroes and link together all plot development from first page to last (Read more here).