You’ve been submitting to production companies, agents, and network writing programs for years and have yet to make any significant headway. And you don’t know why.
Take ten minutes, and just write.
But don’t write as you have been. Try following along with some steps provided in Pilar Alessandra’s book, The Coffee Break Screenwriter, which released its 2nd edition this year.
Then write like you’re held hostage in a room, strapped to a novel torture device, and the only way to earn your freedom is to expulse whatever’s inside your head. I don’t mean the kind of clenching-up-the-sphincter writing. I mean, saturate the entire room with your mojo.
Serving the Time
Believe it or not, that’s really close to my experience at Alessandra’s writing class in Studio City. I joined the hundreds who have flocked to her On the Page studio for guidance on story, structure, and style. As my Wide Lantern review of the first edition of her book attests to, Alessandra doesn’t require you to adhere to a certain method. She offers multiple options–many of them in workbook, Mad Lib-esque formats–for you to test to your liking. There are no absolutes and no doom-and-gloom punishment if you fail to follow her technique. That’s a big difference from most of the other screenwriting gurus out there.
The conceit of her book is based on utilizing the time you can steal away from your hectic life to write a screenplay. Her class flips that. You are given ten minutes, seven minutes, even just ninety seconds to complete her worksheets. The minute she says, “Go,” her students furiously write like their lives depend on it. Because they know, at some point, they’re going to be asked to share it out loud.
I’m 4/5 in the grave, and I still have nightmares of high school homework. But I’m a deadline writer; the need for that added pressure bearing down on me has been ingrained into my psyche. Alessandra may be 5’1 but that has nothing to do with how imposing she can be. In her class, it could be fear of being singled out or a wanting to prove that you can keep up that’s fueling you to write. But you also want to take advantage of her lightning-fast insight into your project or your problems.
Everything I was hesitant to put on paper came out. Things rushed out of me that I didn’t know were inside me. Unfortunately, the night before I took the day-long TV Pilot class, I guess my system started to crusade against my eating not-yet ripe nectarines. I made it to hour 6 without incident. But as I sat next to my friend who munched on–yes, a nectarine–something more than dialogue and scene directions started to bubble up.
For my writing, I was anything but clenched down. I could not say the same thing for my body. Fortunately I won the battle–until I got to Staples down the street not a moment too soon.
I tell you this because…I actually don’t know why except to say that Alessandra brings stuff out of you whether you’re ready or not.
But it’s also the motherly care she swathes the class with. You want to write because you don ‘t want to disappoint her. (Another Gonzo pause: when I came in sick to class, she checked in with me at least four times to see if I was okay.) She has that effect on you.
The 2nd edition of The Coffee Break Screenwriter is out, and it includes more worksheets geared for TV writing as well as her breakdown of the three act structure into four easy-to-digest terms: Trauma, Training, Trials, Triumph. (See more about the 2nd edition additions in the quick rundown above)
I’ll note that her class does not include being locked in a room or any torture devices. But with the success she has getting students to write in three minutes, you never know.
The Coffee Break Screenwriter, 2nd edition, is available from Michael Wiese Publications; OnthePage.tv; and retailers online and in-store.
Disclosures: As noted in this article, I’ve taken one class from Ms. Alessandra and am in the midst of another one. The founder of this website is a personal friend of Ms. Alessandra as well. I’ve received a complimentary review hard copy of the 1st edition and a complimentary review PDF of the 2nd, both direct from the publisher.