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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

WRITERS WRITE

I often get asked, via social networks, if I have any advice for aspiring writers.  

This is what I know:

My path to writing was incredibly circuitous, so I wouldn't recommend my career approach.  It took me a long time to find my voice and realize that my need for expression could be expedited through a keyboard.  I had a dozen careers before I landed on The Shield and as a result I was a generation older than most of my peers.  I think those "wasted years" (and by wasted, I mean, I was literally fucking wasted) fueled my need for success.  I've always felt like I've had to "catch up" to everyone else.  Truth is, I still feel that way.  I'm not one of those writers who can feel good about the success of others.  When I read about a writer getting a gig or an award that I covet, I burn with envy.  That burn fuels my desire to win, to produce, to take action.  And I do.  Which brings me to my first and most important piece of advice -- writers write.  

Every loser douchebag in this town has a screenplay in their back seat.  Or an "amazing idea" for a movie or TV show they want to share.  If you want to be a writer, don't worry about selling your shit, that will happen.  If you are a writer, you write.  Every fucking day.  You generate a body of work like any artist.  Screenplays, TV specs, pilots, etc.  If you are good, if you have a voice, you'll work.  Trust me, the industry needs original voices.  A substantial percentage of working writers in this town are hacks who keep failing upwards.  They bounce from show to show after one season and for some reason showrunners keep hiring them.  Why?  I'm not sure.  I think we get lazy and seduced by credits instead of looking for an original voice.  I know I'm guilty of it.  Although my last three hires on SOA have been uncredited writers with more diverse voices.  And my show is better as a result of it.

My second piece of advice is to stop reading the trades to find out "what's selling".  That's creative death.  If your writer friends or agents are encouraging you to write the next Inception, Lost or Modern Family, tell them to go fuck themselves.  Write what excites your imagination not your wallet.  Find something that inspires you, that makes you feel something, that pushes your primal buttons.  This process will lead you to the discovery of your instinctual themes -- the emotional motifs that identify you as a human being and an artist.  A few of my themes are redemption, fatherhood and the identification of manhood.  These are the emotional pulls that fuel my need to create and guide my creative choices.  Find yours.

My last piece of advice is to stop buying ridiculous fucking books that teach you "how to write".  Most are written by writers who couldn't get a job.  If you want to learn how to write screenplays, read great screenplays.  If you wanna learn how to write television, read TV scripts from shows you admire.  

Those are a few random thoughts off the top of my head.  I hope it helps.  And no, I will not read your spec Sons of Anarchy

33 comments:

J.S. Grewal said...

Is there any place where I could read scripts from Sons of Anarchy or the episodes you wrote on The Shield?

Thanks for the advice!

Big admirer of your work.

Hummingbird said...

Thanks Kurt. I'm a just a tad late too (53) so I really feel the catching up- I bet more than you! Haha. I try to write a lot. I write articles, been published for many decades but the real creative desire for me is my unfinished fiction works so I am going to make them happen and then move on to the next project. One project at a time. WRITING! THANK YOU KURT!Great advice. I'm putting the books in the bin. :-)

Hummingbird said...

By the way I have a picture of me at 8 mos pregnant in 1977 selling my VW bug, GREEN, automatic shift, so I could pay for my home birth. It looked just like that bug! See we're kindered spirits.

Sean said...

aww, but, i have a GREAT idea for Sons:

Sons...in...SPACE!

come on, Kurt. you know you're interested.

Tim said...

But Kurt...I know a guy who knows a guy that wrote is script LMAO

Denise Shelton said...

Great advice. I think there are some good books out there though about the business and how to approach the powers that be. After following advice from J. Michael Strazynski's book, I got a spec script read by Phoef Sutton producer at "Cheers" and I love Goldman's "Adventures in the Screen Trade." Of course these guys are both incredibly successful so they do have good advice. Two things I have learned: workshops and books are great up to a point but they tend to delay the actual getting down to work. It makes you feel like you are making progress in your writing when actually you are not. The other thing is that you should not discuss your work or ideas with others and that means anybody until you have them fully fleshed out on paper. Again, talking about it gives you the illusion that you are doing it and you're not.

Dave Hestand said...

Kurt, very well said and inspiring! You are amazing as is evidenced by Shield and SOA. Keep up the great writing.
David H. Hestand
Ogden, Utah

Meriluuu said...

Hello! I'm from Spain and i'm studying Right in Madrid. My only main is becoming a journalist specializing in legal stuff. Writting is much more than showing a thought or telling a story, a new or an event, writting is the power of creation. Being a writter means discovering as many truths as your brain can invent, is sticking to your owned reality.
Meanwhile i'm studying spanish laws, i'm writting a book. My first book. I don't want to be recognised for this labour, but i'd found myself between every word and every single line I write.
Literature feeds our souls, and mine feed my lines. And I think that remaining faithful to ourselves, our ideas, will be the key of success. Thanks for your text. It's really inspiring!
PS: I'm sorry because my english is not very good. I hope you understand what I mean :) Cheers from Spain.

aimee mckinney said...

Thanks for the encouragement! I think that is all we ever really need...give 'em hell!

Kevin Michaels said...

I fucking love this. My writing career has also been one twisted, circuitous route (with a detour as a corporate samurai/hired gun), and it's taken a long time to find my own voice. It's all about desire/passion. Getting everything down on paper and bringing life to stories and characters and themes.

Somebody once made a comment about Jimmy Barnes (a singer who once sang with INXS)...they said he sings every song like he's never going to get a chance to sing ever again. I like to think that writers have to have that same mentality: we need to write like there's a chance we will never write another word again, so we have to make everything count now.

Great post!

scott smith said...

Thanks Kurt for your inspiring words.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your candor, and I love your work on SOA. I grew up in L.A., as a figure skater (renegade) of all things, and I heard my share of wannabes preaching the false gospel of writing to their idea of what was of the moment, instead of trusting instincts and risking rejection by being authentic. Fortunately I have some great role models in my life, why I post anonymously, but I'm glad you put the ideas in this post out there.

People need to get real, and pay their dues. Some inspiration to add comes from Brenda Euland's, "If You Want to Write," and Pressman (?) "The War of Art."

Thanks for your work and for sharing your spirit so openly. I also spread your letter to Lindsay Lohan -you continue to inspire me, and my husband.

Best wishes to you and your family!

Jane Eyre Super Girl said...

Thank you for that.

Karina Kantas said...

I get frustrated when successful writers give their advice on writing, especially when I'm doing everything right and getting no where.
I do write what excites me, unfortunately, writing novels about outlaw motorcycle clubs, is not something literary agents are interested in (at the moment)
They only want what's selling, and won't risk taking a chance on an unknown genre, even though we both know the huge marketing potential for books of this genre.
I'm hoping that SOA stirs up enough interest and agents sit up and take notice.
Thank you for your insight, Kurt it just fires me up even more.

Louis-Philippe St-Laurent said...

Thx for the wise & genuine advice!! Looking forwarsd to season 4 man. You guys do an awesome job. Youre thoughts are very deep and arent a paradox to how it is in real life. Real inspiring writing thx for letting it out of youre head and sharing with us. Maybe I can do the same one day!!

Robyjean said...

As a person who writes in a whole different profession, this makes me smile. I love to write. I love the process, good or bad it is my chosen form of therapy. I write because there is no other choice. A long time ago it stopped being what I do and became who I am. It fascinates me that everyone doesn't want to write and that people think there is a secret to it.

I love your show for many reasons but what hooked me and holds me to this day, is the power of your voice. Thank you for sharing it.

Robyjean

Lady Ridesalot said...

Thank you so much for the great advice! I've enjoyed reading many of your posts, but this one has definitely captured my full attention.

You just gave me that swift kick I've been needing! Although I'm just an average blogger with a full time j-o-b (I work in a Dental office, which makes for some very funny material sometime!)I love to write! I'm very passionate about riding motorcycles, so I write about my experiences, and cool places in my area (Alabama) to visit. I've been told by others who've read my material to pursue my talent. My problem is, I feel like there are thousands of people out there just like me, so ... who would read what I write?

Your post today just started a new fire in my gut. I need to do just what you said... just write. Maybe all I need to do is compile my writings together and see what happens.

You are so informative and inspiring... Thanks again!!

Love your work and can't wait for the next season. I'm still relishing in the fact that Jimmy and Stahl got they're just desserts. And I'm VERY happy for Katey and her Golden Globe win! She deserves it!

SOA Rocks!!!
(sorry this is so long, but I just couldn't stop typing!)

James Blight said...

If you can't read our Sons of Anarchy scripts, Kurt, can you give us a lead as to where we can buy yours?

D.A. Badger said...

I think you kind of nailed it there. What you are saying does not only count for writing but for almost anything in life. I know that saying this as a student might seem stupid seeing i have little experience in life but i've noticed it is what keeps me motivated in my studies.
More than once am i tempted to screw university and just go be an outlaw. As much as i would love to be an outlaw biker, i'd much rather be working on becoming a concert planner/studio owner.
All that to say that unless you do not feel that drive/passion you're probably doing the wrong thing.

This just confirms my opinion on the matter.
Thank you for that.

D.A. Badger

Tim said...

That's great and all, but how much do you want for the VW?

Neil Vogler said...

Hey Kurt, this is a great post, typically direct and bullshit-free. But man am I annoyed that you won't read my SOA spec script. I had this great story where Clay told Tig about his inappropriate man-feelings, Tig hit him, and then later they got pizza and had a cry together. Would have been ratings gold, man. RATINGS GOLD

Anonymous said...

You are real. I like you and will always remember your voice, blatant honesty, and humanity.

Sincerly,
amwilborn

Bob Meyer said...

Thanks for the advice.

The Mulkster said...

Well said, as usual, Mr. Sutter, if I may.....There are so many people out there who call themselves "writers", that it becomes a bit overwhelming! Who do you believe? How can you tell? Who really fucking knows?
One thing that I really believe- to my core- is that the ability of one to convey, on paper, raw human emotion and express the primal human reactions to natural experience is a skill that cannot be effectively taught to anyone, anywhere. In fact, I will go so far as to proclaim that having the ability to write (and do it well) is a quality that you are quite simply born with. Sure, one can strive to emulate these skills by copying the greats, but the effort is futile. You either have "it" or you do not. Steinbeck is a great example. His shit moves people in a wide variety of emotions, yet, his style is rife with the fundamental simplicity of life's realities. His writings are not a giant production of words and glorified pentameter, it is raw human experience and, when you read it, you cannot help but fill your head with the images and feel the emotions of these characters bleeding out of the paper and into your very soul. That is what a writer does. There are not many ways to explain it. It just happens and, when it does, it is a thing of beauty. One of life's gifts!
Mr. Sutter, your advice is spot on. If you fancy yourself a writer, get your ass to work. If you are any good, you have been blessed with a gift. That being said, you are responsible for how you use that gift. Don’t be a dumbass and consider yourself divine. You are one of the lucky folks out there who have a skill, so use it or basically fucking lose it. Like the plumber who honed his skill by toiling around in the loam, digging the ditches and still showing up to work every day, you, the writer, must get out there, just the same, and work your ass off to get that meaty golden turd-of-fortune (or whatever else it is that you seek). Me? I'm just gonna’ sit on my ass over here and yell at you all for being a lazy bunch of sons-a-bitches! Good day!

-BornOnFire

Sarah Pankratz said...

Great advice! I think a big thing that aspiring writers get caught up in is while trying to discover their own "instinctual themes," they get misconstrued with the themes of writers they idolize. Instead of focusing on finding their own voice, their own style of expressing their own message, they look to great writers, like you, and try to emulate it.
You are one of the few television writers out there who can truly capture raw human emotion, the effect it can have on a person, and the ones around them. You really know how to cut to core of how above all, family is everything. That along with a great cast who know how to deliver your words effectively, no wonder your show is such a success! “Do what you love, love what you do,” writers write, plain and simple. Thanks for being an inspiration.

indianacat aka lowecat on the twitters said...

Rule #1, writers write.

A good friend of mine in the Indiana Tarts and Tartans Gerard Butler fan club once provided me with 28 rules of writing. I won't copy the whole set here (OK, enough sighs of relief!), but will share the most important rules with all y'all:

Don't put off writing, just write. MAKE the time.

Don't be afraid to write. Don't be afraid to rewrite.

Don't write all 'I' or 'me'. If you want to publish, use third person. Not as limiting.

Don't use long narratives; dialouge can be a friend. Ask any screenwriter.

Like a full moon to a velvety black sky, like water to a sun - scorched land, like paper shrievling in fire, like a moth to a flame, the overuse of adjectives can kill a good idea.

Don't want everyone to read it. Write as if it is for you alone to read.

Don't look for a talent scout, or think you're writing the next Pulitzer Prize winning novel. Write because it does you good.

And for those reasons, I write. Yes, it's not entirely an original creation. The main characters come from already established genres; it's fanfiction (Star Trek classic, Phantom of the Opera, and, natch, SOA).

It starts with 'what if?' and ends with 'and that's the way it might've gone.'

For me, a day without writing is a day that I feel unproductive. I can only imagine what it feels like for you.

So if you want to write, do it. Don't worry about bein' the next Kurt Sutter, or Mark Twain, or Charlotte/Emily Bronte. Just write.

And enjoy it.

Kddillon said...

Sutter,
Nothing to do with writing. Sorry. Just a SOA fan and had a story. I'm a KG teacher in VA. I'm spreading the word in my elementary school with the DVD's. Another KG teacher and I love the show. We're rotating my DVDs around campus to recruite new followers. I have a PE teacher, a guidance counselor, and a 4th grade teacher. Others are waiting for them to be done so they can watch season 1 and 2. I'm hoping for everyone to be caught up and ready for season 4. An earlier season 3 DVD would be helpful. If we could even watch season 3 earlier during the summer, it would be awesome. Can you imagine teachers on vacation chilling in my house waiting for SOA in July? The goal is to have a viewing party this season. Tuesdays at 10 might suck for our kids the next day, but we can do it later in the week. It's funny to listen to our conversations in the teacher work room now. We don't want to ruin it for anyone else so we talk in code. Grown women and their husbands are putting the kids to bed and putting in my SOA DVDs. I hope that you're not pissed that I am sharing my DVDs. More viewers for next season. I hope that you read this and know that one elem school in Va is sharing SOA. We watch and discuss. Thanks for keeping SOA going. Looking forward to more,
Kristie

Bo Sun said...

Great advice, not just for writing but for life in general. Fuck what the others say and just do your thing (while also toward those you admire for inspiration).

Anonymous said...

It's taken me a few years to figure out some really basic things about both writing and how I write. Typically for me, the important things were stuff I already knew, it just hadn't occurred to me to apply them to writing.

Making TV or movies or anything of that ilk is a collaborative process and will likely always remain so. That stated, there's a massive difference between collaboration and listening to people when they inevitably proffer their opinion.

When people ask me what I'm writing, most of them just use it as a precursor to uttering the following line, "Do you know what you should do...?" I hate that fucking question, I hate that fucking word. If I wanted to know what you're about to tell me, I'd have fucking well asked for your advice.

My biggest problem is always trying to get that bright shining idea in my head onto the page in a coherent fashion. Just to have it exist in the world outside my brain for however brief or long a moment before others come along and complain that there's not enough lowest common denominators and I should change it. (There's that word again)

I mean, the bit that comes after the writing is discouraging in so many ways. Trying to scrape together money to make it, trying to deal with people whose sole expressed interest is "Where's the tits?", trying to keep caring and just plain giving a shit in the face of so much avarice and apathy.

All I want to do is write. Honestly, it's all I ever wanted to do. Sometimes, I'm pretty good at it. I just want to make something that isn't shit. Yet I find so many people bewilderingly standing in my way.

dirtywater22 said...

Sutter,

Thanks for the advice. I'm sitting here reading this blog entry and agreeing with everything you said. But I don't always do what it is you say to do and that is why I needed to read this blog at this particular moment. In addition to being a fan of SOA and the Shield, I'm also a screenwriter. I have no professional credits yet, but I also haven't pounded the keyboard with my fingers tips to turn the ideas in my head into the stories I envision.

It is clearly about the writing and thanks for the reminder that writers write. I needed the verbal kick in the ass. Any news on season four?

Jonny Stranger said...

Out of all the writers who work for Rupert Murdoch, you are my favorite.

thelamest(dot)com said...

great post. Especially the learn through reading good screenplays/books etc as apposed to buying "learning how to write" books.

From my own view point I already know most of the stuff you've stated, but I constantly need to be reminded that this is true!

I've been guilty in the past of creating something and spending too long marketing it instead of moving onto the next project

About Me said...

One book I did like that helped jumpstart my writing was Steven King's book titled On Writing. More of a narrative of Steve's life than anything, but it helped connect me back to what drove my soul and ended up being written when I DID write, so it was useful and grounding in that respect. Just like Kurt, I've always been skeptical of "how-to" books. You know, the "those who can't do, teach" thing. Obviously, that's not true in every case. Lee Strasberg and Frank Vincent are examples of quality actors who also became great teachers. I must say, we're all getting quality advice on a free basis with every post from a little thing called Sutter's Ink. But Steve's book might also help one of you like it has helped me. Even if it doesn't have the all the fun expletives.