Monday, December 30, 2013

TV writer answers the question: "Why write?"

Guest Post  

Stacey Evans Morgan 

   (Today's writing advice comes from Stacey Evans Morgan  co-executive producer/writer for the sitcom "Love That Girl".  She has also written and produced for several other sitcoms including "The Parkers," the "Jamie Foxx Show,"  and "One on One.'  And she is the author of the children's book "Cocoa Princess."   Here, she shares what motivates her to write.) 

Inspiration from TV writer/author Stacey Evans Morgan

Why write? 

     Words are powerful.  They can start wars, heal broken hearts, comfort, confuse, exhort, ignite, liberate… I could go on, but you get the message. There is an old testament scripture in Habakkuk 2:2 that says “Write the vision and make it plain on the tablets” and that has always been a good reminder to me that a vision is set in motion after it is written down. As writers, we possess the power of the pen/keyboard, yet sometimes the first words of that unwritten script, book, proposal, poem, letter, etc., that resides in our head, is often the most difficult.
    Once those first words are written, the journey begins and there’s no turning back. So, perhaps that is why we sometimes procrastinate when it comes to writing those first words: Fade in… It all began… Dear John. We are nervous of the outcome, yet, as long as those words and characters are held captive inside your soul, they become relentless in their pursuit to find their way onto paper. They will nag you during your sleep, meet you in the shower, distract you on the road at every red light, poke and prod at you until you get your butt in motion and simply write the vision.
     Perhaps, we fear the words we write will be looked upon as inferior yet while we procrastinate, some hack writer is out there hacking away at the next installment of their vision, perhaps riddled with type-o’s, lack of story structure and inspiration, yet that person writes because he/she feels as if they’ve got something to say and they’re disciplined and/or motivated (creatively, financially or both) enough to at least free their minds, regardless of whether or not their written word is profound or not. And who said a writer’s goal must be to create a profound masterpiece? If the words you write convey your intended message, you have succeeded in your task. If those words touch lives, even if only a few, mission accomplished!
    There are people who call themselves “aspiring” writers and they use that term because they have not written professionally (e.g., had the thrill of seeing their name on screen, or recognized as a published author). But, once a person realizes a “byline” or screen credit does not define their calling and they can proudly proclaim “I WRITE, THEREFORE I AM A WRITER!” they have liberated themselves and now have to shift gears from neutral to drive top speed in their calling.
    I have been blessed to enjoy a career as a professional writer (television, film, plays, author, poet), and whether it has been a lean or abundant season (financially and/or opportunity wise), I realized a long time ago that writing is not just what I do, it is the essence of who I am and it is that one thing I can truly say I would do for free. As a matter of fact, I have done it for free or in some instances, close to it! Your words will outlive you, and there is a generation that has not even been born, who will connect with your written expression. Perhaps it will be a film, a book, a speech or simply a letter that your great, great grandchildren will gain greater insight on what life was like at the time you wrote it. But, whatever IT is, you have got to write IT!
     As we approach the new year that awaits us with endless possibilities, I encourage all writers to take a moment, close your eyes, give yourself permission to be still and listen to your soul and once you open your eyes, it’s time to write from your heart and enjoy the journey even if the first draft is crappy. That’s what rewrites are for but you’ve got to have something to rewrite so… WRITE THE VISION!

Stacey Evans Morgan is the Co-Executive Producer/Writer for TV One's first scripted series "Love that Girl" now in it's 4th season.  She has written for stage and television including The Parkers, Jamie Foxx Show, One on OneNAACP Image Awards, Meet the Browns and currently has a new television and film project in development slated for production in 2014.  Stacey has also made her debut as a children's book author with her new book/audiobook project "Cocoa Princess" and strives to continue creating projects that will encourage, educate, inspire as well as entertain people of all walks of life.

Monday, December 23, 2013

TV personality shares her secrets to getting motivated to write

Eunice Elliott
   (Today's writing advice comes from Eunice Elliott,  who can be seen on Alabama's 13,  as a member of the Morning Show.  She is also a radio
personality and performs regularly as a stand-up comedian.  She has run her own PR firm, representing pro athletes, and has written and produced TV shows.  She's the type of person who sets her mind to something and actually gets it done -- and writing is no different.  I am glad she was willing to share some of her secrets  with us.) 

Writing Advice from comedian and TV/radio personality Eunice Elliott:
How I get myself motivated and get it done... 

      To me the art of writing is just a matter of logistics and semantics.  You have something to say, to share.  You have something that will enlighten, entertain, inform or inspire the masses.  At least that’s what you think.  The thoughts that come before ever putting pen to pad are what the miracles of life are truly.  And if you are then able to take that swirl of masterful mind play and actually transcribe it, well Wow! Just Wow!
    The hardest part of being a writer is actually writing.   Actually taking the time to stop thinking (if that’s possible) in order to get the previous thoughts out of your head.  As a writer you see your thoughts as pictures and words, but actually seeing the words on paper can oftentimes cause you to stall out, lose interest or just get frustrated and discouraged. How many times have you read that previous sentence and thought, “That’s wonderful. That’s great. What’s next?”

Date night 

     So what IS next? When I just need to “stop the voices” in my head and document their brilliance I actually schedule time that I’m allowed to write.   I use the idea of “allowing” myself because then writing feels more like a treat and less as a chore.  I light scented candles, grab a glass of wine, put on some non-lyrical music (because I will have a private, personal mini-concert for HOURS, and I am a girl) and I sit in front of my computer and write. My writing sessions almost feel like “date night."   This is my thoughts and my words special time to get together.
    Most times, there is no structure, no form.   It’s just words; the words that have been swirling in my head.   I just need to SEE them outside of my head.  Then and only then am I able to connect the dots…make sense of the brilliance that I’m certain is divinely planted, because in general terms I’m not that brilliant (flashes of greatness certainly).

 "Get to" vs. "Got to" 

    When I don’t know the words to communicate the thought, I write the closest thing I can think of and keep writing.  Many times the perfect word comes after  I have moved on and not spent an obscene amount of time on that perfect combination of letters that represents the pictures in my head.
     Look at writing as a joy, something you GET to do vs. GOT to do (although if you’re passionate about writing, it is something you’ve GOT to do). The more that you treat your writing time as a special time of your day, week and life you’ll remember why you write, find great inspiration and will hopefully enjoy a happily ever after with your words.

Eunice Elliott is a stand-up comedian, television and radio personality who enjoys writing, producing and public relations. When she’s not posting on Facebook or taking naps with her dog Gladys, she can been seen on Alabama’s 13 as a member of the morning show.  For more on Eunice check out her website at   or click these links to follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram

Friday, December 20, 2013

An Xmas story in 140 characters or less?

Rudolph says, "You can do it!" 
      Christmas stories are classic.  From "Rudolph"  to "A Christmas Story" to "It's a Wonderful Life."   But those writers had pages and pages to tell a tale.  And let's face it, no has time for that on Dec. 20!    We still have last-minute gifts to buy.
      So let's be just as brilliant -- but brief.
     Here's the challenge:  Create a full Christmas story in 140 characters or less on Twitter.  Just one tweet with the hashtag  #xmas140.
     Remember, a good story should have a beginning, middle and end.   And it should have a touch of  humor or tension -- or both -- to keep it interesting.   If you need a  few tips before you dive in,   check out this article: "How to Write a Good Twitter Story."     Or, for a little inspiration,  see how some authors did it when The Guardian gave them a similar challenge: 140 character novels. 

        What have you got to lose?   Try it!
                      1.  Write a Christmas story in 140 characters or less
                      2. Tweet it with the hashtag  #xmas140   (If you're not on Twitter,  post your 140 character story in the comments below.)
                      3.  Read what others have tweeted.
        I  can't wait to sip my eggnog and read the stories!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

How to find out if you REALLY want to be a writer

   Still feeling blocked?
   Can't start that screenplay, that book, that movie, that play?
   Maybe you don't want to be a writer.
   Don't get mad.  It's not a criticism.   It's about finding your "True North."
   Could it be you really want to be an actor?   Or a producer?   Or a director?  And you are forcing yourself to write because you think you should?  Or maybe you can't write that screenplay because deep down you don't want to write screenplays.  You want to write poems.  Or sketches.  Or greeting cards.  But you don't think those things sound as cool  or "acceptable"  as saying, "I write movies."  
    Believe me, I understand.
    I worked in journalism for years because I thought that's what people who wanted to be "writers" were supposed to do.   It was a job folks understood.  You could make a living.  The problem was, I quickly found out I didn't like writing "journalism."   So I shuttled over to the editing side of the biz and for years quietly beat myself up for being a writer who didn't want to write.

Getting liberated.

    And then one day I was introduced to sketch writing.  It was liberating.   I loved it.   It re-ignited my passion.  I wanted to write!    I really wanted to write!
     I found out I love writing scripts.  I'm not saying I would never write a book or anything else,  but I know my thrill comes from seeing something I've written come to life on stage or screen --  especially if there is comedy involved.  I found my True North.
    So if you're stuck, don't just question what you are writing.  Look at why you are writing it.  Be honest.  Is it really the -- genre, style, format -- you want to be working in?
     It is so easy to get caught up in other people's writing goals.   Just because someone else wants to write  a book a year doesn't mean you have to.  You can write that teen romance web series  or that line of greeting cards you've been secretly dreaming about.
      I truly believe you will only make time to write what you want to write. (Unless you're being paid, but that's a topic for another post).    You'll write what is fun, even if it's hard.   And once you acknowledge your True North it takes away the jealousies or need to compete with other people.   Because now you have your own path.

A practical way to find your passion. 

     So how do you find this True North?   It's not hard, but it does require some soul-searching.
     I used the book the Artist's Way and I swear by it 100 percent.   Sure it's "self-helpy."  But it is also very practical and gets you to your True North pretty quickly.   Without it, I would have never found script writing  or stand-up and would probably still be laboring away at a newspaper somewhere  -- if I hadn't been laid off by now.
    If you don't have time to delve into a book,  here is a quick little "Find Your Passion" questionnaire.
     But I do want to note that a True North can evolve as you evolve.   So it may be a good idea to keep the questionnaire around and fill it out again every couple years.
     What have you got to lose?    If you're going to make New Year's Resolutions (goals) anyway...shouldn't they actually be your own?

    Have you already found your True North?  How did you do it?

Monday, December 16, 2013

5 unique creativity tips from acclaimed playwright

Adam Szymkowicz


(Today's tips on how to be a more productive writer come from award-winning playwright Adam Szymkowicz, who has written dozens of plays, the successful web series "Compulsive Love," a few screenplays AND couple of TV pilots.  We worked together as writers on a TBS sitcom.  In February, he will be offering a class in NYC on writing a web series.  And I am thrilled he was willing to share a few of his creativity secrets.) 


Some things I do when I'm stuck or need a burst of creativity... 

1.  People talk about showers as places to come up with ideas.  Something about the tactile nature of it.  Showers are great b s\ut you can only take so many showers.  Something that works as well for me as a tactile idea generator is sitting in front of a fan, especially in the summer.  I like to lie in bed with my bare feet near the fan.  But you figure out your way.

2.  Gingko Biloba.  I like to take one of these pills on days when I want to think more than normal.  It increases blood flow to the brain—I don’t take it if I already have a headache or are hungover  because the headache will get much worse and if I take too much it decreases my response time and makes me spacey, but on a day when I want to get something done and don’t have to be anywhere, it’s great.  NOTE: There are some side effects so you should check with your doctor first  if you have health issues or are taking other medications.

3.  Writing when half awake either first thing in the morning or when I wake up in the middle of the night often allows me to bypass the inner critic.  For some reason, he’s not awake yet.  And I’m still in touch with some of the strands of the subconscious from the dreamworld.  The walls are down and I can write and not worry so much whether it’s good yet.

4. Sometimes I think about what I’m working on before going to sleep.  You could work it out in your sleep and have a solution in the morning or stay awake figuring it out.  If I figure something out in bed, I better get up and write it down immediately.  Just because it’s there now doesn’t mean it still will be in the morning.  Also in this half awake state sometimes it’s a good idea to write some more.  See #3.

5.  I haven’t done this in a while but sometimes if I want to break out of my normal modes and language habits, I will use google translator to translate something I’ve written into Korean and then back into English.  Or you can even do English to Korean to Greek to Mongolian back to English or something more complicated of your own device.  I use it as a way to open up language sometimes.  It’s not for writing reports but it’s better than a thesaurus for cracking your brain open.  “Cracking your brain open” can become “Open your mind CRACKS.”   Sometimes I need to open my mind cracks.

Adam Szymkowicz studied playwriting at Juilliard and Columbia.  The New York Times has called his plays, “sweet, sexy, neurotic friendly,” “fabulously weird and weirdly fabulous,” “weird but likable,” “hysterical,” “unabashedly silly but also shrewd,” and “disturbing but touching,” and the LA Times said, “exhilarating, nerdy-sexy, and silly-smart.” His plays are published by Samuel French, Dramatists Play Service, Original Works Publishing and Playscripts.  He runs a blog where he has interviewed over 625 playwrights.  www.aszym.blogspot.comThe first season of his web series, "Compulsive Love" is now online at   He's teaching a class in web series writing in NYC starting in February.  For more,

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Fun Friday Writing Challenge!

   I've been talking about being productive.  Today, let's take action.
    It's Free Writing Friday. Let's get the creative juices flowing. Just 250 words based on the prompt below.
    Start a short story.  Start an essay.  Start a script.  Write jokes.  Haikus.  Limericks.  Anything.   Just write.  WRITE.
    Who is up for the challenge?   You can use the exact words from the prompt in your work.   Or you can just let the words spark your imagination.
    Let's have fun.  You have until midnight.... Tick-Tock.
Please post your work below to encourage others to take the plunge.

PROMPT:   "Prenatal Voodoo"

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The #1 Procrastination Pitfall Revealed

     I finally organized all my stand-up bits on Evernote ... and added tags for easy searching!
     I researched several articles on play structures.
     I set up  notecards and markers for several writing projects I have percolating.
     I'm finally getting this procrastination thing under control.  Getting stuff done!  .... Or so I thought, until an article by blogger James Clear  stopped me in my tracks.
        He suggests that many times people mistake "being in motion"  for actually "taking action"    ("The Mistake Smart People Make: Being In Motion vs. Taking Action" )
        Hold up!  There's a difference?
         He explains in the article:

       "Motion makes you feel like you're getting things done.
 But really, you're just preparing to get something done.  And 
when preparation becomes a form of procrastination,
 you need to change something. 
      This was hitting a little too close to home.
       But wait!  There's nothing wrong with planning!  Planning is a good thing.   I don't want to jump into every project blindly.  I closed the blog and started color-coordinating my notecards.   What does he know?!    I do get projects done.  Lots of them.  But my personal projects...
       The article kept nagging at me.  I found myself compelled to look it up again....
       This time I really thought about how he defines action and motion.  He says,

       "Motion is when you're busy doing something, but that task 
will never produce an outcome by itself.  Action on the other
 hand, is the type of behavior that will get a result". 

           Gulp again.
            So organizing my new jokes is good (motion) .... but it's nothing if I don't actually get on stage and test them. (action)
             Researching play structure is good (motion) ... as long as it results in starting to write a play. (action)
             It was sinking in.  Don't fool myself  into thinking the prep/busy work is actual "progress" toward a goal and stay stuck in it.  (He uses a great work-out analogy in the article).
            One question still remained:  Why do we do it?
           His answer hit me like a ton of bricks.

                    ..."we do it because motion allows us to feel like 
               we're making progress without running the risk of failure." 
          Uh ... triple gulp.
           It's hard to argue with that.
           But he offers hope.   Jump over to his article to see some very practical tips on how to TAKE ACTION!
        Now, if you'll excuse me.   I've got some stand-up to do.

Monday, December 9, 2013

4 Writing Prompt Sites To Get You Motivated

Need a little creative boost?   Here are some of my favorite writing prompt sites.

The One-Minute Writer
Their motto is "You have 1,440 minutes a day.  Use one of them to write."   I particularly like this site because many of the prompts can be used for joke writing and the page comes equipped with its own timer.

Thirteen Writing Prompts by Dan Wiencek.   What this site lacks in volume it makes up for in wackiness.  These are exactly the types of prompts I get excited about:  "Write a scene showing a man and a woman arguing over the man's friendship with a former girlfriend.  Do not mention the girlfriend, the man, the woman, or the argument."    Anyone up for this challenge?

The Story Starter I love this site for its utter randomness.  Just click on the button and see what pops up:  "The kind hiker did bypass surgery in a dark alley after the picnic to end the feud..."   Somebody please finish that story so I know what happens!  

Creative Writing Prompts
Okay, it isn't the prettiest site, but it does have 346 prompts up at all times -- one for almost every day of the year.   No excuses. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

10 Holiday Gifts to Inspire You to Write!

If your New Year's resolution is to write,  here's a list of fun, practical gifts to put on your holiday wish list!

1.  Aqua notes  Get your best ideas in the shower?  Tired of carving paragraphs in the soap?  Try Aqua notes.  A waterproof notepad.  Now there's no excuse to let that novel idea go down the drain.

2.   "Unjournaling:  Daily Exercises That Are Not Personal, Not Introspective, Not Boring!"    This cool book has 200 writing prompts that will keep you busy for days. A couple of examples: "Why on earth would Yankee Doodle stick a feather in his cap and call it macaroni?  Come up with a plausible explanation."  Or "write a paragraph about a girl named Dot but use no letters with a dot (no i ro j)."   Who wouldn't want that kind of quirky, creative nudge?

3.  Don't Break the Chain Calendar  First of all it's FREE.   Yes, I said FREE.  It's a downloadable calendar created by the Writers Store, based on Jerry Seinfeld's "Don't Break the Chain"  writing tip. Seinfeld says he hangs a year-at-a-glance calendar on a wall and puts an X on every day he writes new material.  The idea is to not "break the chain" and write every single day of the year.   So, print out this calendar on some pretty paper and follow Jerry to more productivity!

4.   Black Dry-Erase Board with Neon Color Pens    Yes!     A BLACK dry erase board.   NEON pens.   For BRAINSTORMING.  Really, need I say more?

5. Writing Classes   The Writers Store offers an array of screenwriting and TV writing courses online. (Some are free!)  Gotham Writers' Workshop  also has a wide range of classes that includes:  mystery writing, food writing, novels and sci-fi writing to name a few.  If you'd rather do a class in person, classes I can personally vouch for are: Sketchworks Intro to Sketch Writing  (Atlanta),  Screenwriter Michael Lucker's Screenwriters School  and Writer Lamont Ferrell's Sitcom Writing 101 (Atlanta).   Rather study alone?  Award-winning writer Steven Barnes offers several self-study courses  for purchase on his website.

6.  Writers Wall Clock    This clock really lets a writer know what time it is:  Time to publish?  To edit?  To mix a margarita?    Maybe watching the clock isn't so bad....

7. Working Writer's Daily Planner   You need deadlines to be motivated?  Application deadlines and other resources are built right into the calendar.  It also includes info on finding writers groups  (Are you a writers group whore?), conferences, grants, workshops and contests.  If you're not careful, this gift could make procrastination impossible!

8  The Storymatic.   There's no excuse for writers block with this deck of 500+ cards around.  The rules are pretty simple:  Draw four cards and follow what they say to create a main character and the start of a story.  Then the rest is up to you.   Let your imagination run wild.

9.  My Life in Graphs a Guided Journal   It's 128 pages of fill-in-the blank graphics to chart your life:  Venn diagrams, bar charts, pie charts. It's a visual way to do some soul-searching and probably come up with some ideas for jokes and stories.

10Writer Hat  Put on your thinking cap.  How can you not want to write with this on your head?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

5 Ways to Conquer Your Inner Critic

My inner critic is like Kanye West.
He just won't SHUT UP.
(And yes, it's definitely a "he."   And he's green.  I have no idea why.)
"You call that writing?"
"No one is going to like that!"
"Oh, Lord!  That's not funny at all!"
All before I even finish the first sentence.
My inner critic sucks as a writing partner.  He really does.   But, hey,  most times he's the only one awake at 2 a.m. when that wave of creativity strikes.  And he's the only one guaranteed to sit right by my side wherever and whenever I want to write.
So I had to learn to use him (or shut him up) effectively.

Here are 5 tips:

1.   Ask him what he would do.   The minute I start to hear my inner critic make comments like,    "That's not funny!"  I stop and ask him what would he do to make it more funny.     The inner voice has to put up or shut up.  Either way I win.  I know it's sounds crazy, but I swear it works.
2.   Reward the critic with the rewrite.   As much as I hate to admit it,  sometimes my inner critic has good ideas.  He just has horrible timing.  So, when he is stopping me too often, I make a deal with him. He leaves me alone now, and  I let him help me with the 2nd draft  -- when his critical eye will be more helpful.

My inner critic is also a '70s cartoon.
3.  Give him a face.   I learned from the Artist's Way that when you can "see" the inner critic he/she is easier to dismiss.   Or cut up.  Or throw darts at.  Or laugh at.  Or stick in a drawer.   I put tape over his mouth.  It makes me giggle.   You can draw the critic.  Cut a picture out of a magazine.  Or use a real photograph if the voice is a person from your past or present.
4.  Try using a "#".    Blogger Andy Shack has a Hashtag method  to quiet the inner critic.  He uses the little mark as a promise to the inner critic to make the correction later.     It's actually quite brilliant and something I'm going to try.  And I could see how it would the rewrite faster.

5.  Change your goal.   This is another method that works for me.  Make the first goal quantity and not quality.   Instead of  striving for the "perfect"  script, joke or novel,  I tell myself  to just produce 5 pages or 5 jokes no matter what they are.   This allows the critic to relax.  And I often end up writing double or triple the amount I set because I've taken the pressure off.

What methods have you tried to silence the inner critic?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Am I a writers group whore?

"Am I a writers group whore?"
The question popped into my head as I made a spinach and kale smoothie and plotted out my work week.
"No... whores get paid," I realized.
"Jeez.  I'm a writers group slut!"
I've done it all.  Support-type groups.  Hard-core critique groups. Laid-back "reading circle" groups. Small groups. Large groups. Groups with friends.  Groups with strangers. Online groups.  And sometimes two or three groups at once.
I didn't discriminate.
If I was asked to be a member,  I just said yes.
Then I got burned out.
Now, I'm celibate -- from writers groups.
And it feels a little weird.
I guess it's because I have a love-hate relationship with them.  
Some of groups really helped me.  Being accountable weekly/monthly kept me productive and gave me the push I needed to choose writing over watching a "Gilmore Girls"  marathon -- most of the time.
Other groups never got into a groove because of scheduling conflicts.
And some others just weren't a good fit ... bad  relationships that I was determined to make work anyway.
Lauren Sapala writes in Should You Join a Writer's Group?   that it's crucial to make a list of your five "must-haves"  before picking a group.  I would add that defining your personal writing goal(s) is a good first step, too.  I did neither.  Because luck always works, right?

The Dark Side of Writing Groups is a pointed look at the ugly underbelly of writers gatherings and gives some good tips on the importance of finding/forming  a group that has people who really know how to -- and are comfortable with --  constructively analyzing other people's work.  The best groups I've been in are ones where people gave really good critiques and got you excited about your work.
Lastly, here's a funny list of 13 Writers Group Members to Avoid  ...

My slutty days are over!   I'm making a must-have list and I'm gonna find my ONE perfect writers group... or, maybe, two.... three tops...

Do you have any thoughts/advice on writers groups? What would your 5 must-haves be?