How to Avoid Cleaning the Refrigerator
With a 15-year career writing and producing network sitcoms and video games with credits that include Step By Step (ABC), Meego (CBS), and Brothers Garcia (Nickelodeon), guest blogger Cary Okmin entered the online arena. As a senior producer on the Disney Online Originals team, he developed and executive produced Branded Entertainment series and original concepts for clients that included Sony, Kellogg’s, Milk, Welch’s, and Target.
“There is nothing more exciting than a blank page.”– Some jackass who is most definitely not a writer.
When BJ asked me to be a Save the Cat! guest blogger, I was flattered. He suggested focusing on my experiences writing in the online arena, which I have been doing for several years. I couldn’t wait to sit down at my computer and spew all the knowledge I’d acquired into a few choice paragraphs. I was overwhelmed. I was ready to get started.
Ten hours later, when I finally sat down at my computer at one minute to midnight, my excitement quickly turned to anger. What did I ever do to BJ that would warrant him making me go through the agonizing, torturous, sadistic process of writing? And he had the nerve to say, “It doesn’t have to be long. Just a paragraph.” I can’t tell you how close I was to ingesting a handful of bath salts and going Hannibal Lechter on BJ’s face. And I had no idea why I felt this way. But then I remembered an old joke…
What’s the hardest thing about writing? Cleaning the refrigerator.
It wasn’t until I was sent out of “The Room” to complete a draft of the episode I had been assigned during my first sitcom staff job some 15 years ago that I really got the joke. I opted to write at home – you know, so I would be free of any distractions – and after several hours of “writing,” I was pleased to see my wife marvel at how clean the apartment looked. I didn’t even realize how productive I had been. And not only was our apartment spotless, but so was the first page of my script. In fact, so were all the other pages of the script.
Fast forward 15-some years and nothing has changed. When I agreed to write this blog (and I really was flattered), the very first thing I did was make sure that I was caught up on everything on my DVR (thank God for 90-minute episodes of Sons of Anarchy). Then, of course, I had to reply to three-week old emails that have sat ignored in my inbox, but suddenly took on a sense of dire importance. Oh, and then there was the refrigerator.
So what does any of this have to do with Save the Cat? Everything.
My 13-year-old son is currently in the final week of something called the National Novel Writing Month (or, NaNoWriMo, as the “kids” call it). If you’re not familiar with this, as I was not, it is a challenge for anyone and everyone to put pen to paper and write. No rewriting. No notes. No judgment. Just writing.
My son set his goal at 30,000 words for the month. No small task. So, naturally, when he came to me looking for some words of wisdom, or to see if he could borrow my software that did all the writing, I gave him some advice: “Go clean the refrigerator.”
After receiving a blank stare that only a non-amused teenager can deliver, I explained to him the nature of writing: It’s lonely. It’s frustrating. Literally every crappy chore you have avoided doing your entire life will be more appealing than writing. And then something odd happened.
Deep within the bitter and cynical recesses of my curmudgeon-y soul, I channeled my inner Cat. I thought about what Blake would have said to my son if he had been asked for some words of wisdom about writing. I remembered how excited Blake got when he spoke about writing and how enthusiastically he greeted every idea pitched in a class I took with one other person in the early stages of the STC! workshops.
He had an unbridled enthusiasm and pure passion for the craft. He genuinely loved to write, loved the challenge of staring down a blank page and bringing it to life. That was how I wanted my son to approach writing.
Before long I was saying things like, “a writer writes,” and “there’s nothing more exciting than a blank page.” I couldn’t stop myself. I was talking about the hero’s journey, quoting William Goldman, Syd Field, Blake – anyone I could think of not named Robert McKee – who has inspired me. And although my enthusiasm was greeted with a stare hinting that he thought I might actually be insane, my son began to write. And he has written 1,000 words every day for the past 22 days.
I am in awe of his perseverance and what he has accomplished. And since he will not let me read any of what he has written until it is complete, I have no clue if his premise is stated on page five, or if each chapter drives the story forward, or even if his main character will complete an arc. None of that matters. What matters is that he has learned to love writing – and not cleaning the refrigerator.