Monthly Archives: May 2007

on not going gently


I’ve learned several things whilst throwing these several-day parties, and one of them is: I never have a camera. I know several of you attendees did, however, so if there’s any place they can be uploaded, I’d be much obliged.

In the interests of public service, or in case any of you would like to host your own bacchanalia, I’ll write down a few more things that such a gathering might teach you:

1. Outsourcin’! – Yes, Port-a-Potties are ugly, but they don’t all come in “I Smell Like Poop” Blue, and it’s better than a septic explosion. Also, we hired a local Smith grad who acted as a Production Assistant, doing all the little things that would have destroyed the day. Oh yeah, and get a dumpster. I can’t tell you how emotionally liberating a dumpster can be. You can put anything in it. It’s a repository for all of your angst.

2. Don’t get sick – You know that blog I wrote before the weekend, about how Tessa was barfing and wouldn’t stop? Well, while you were writing your comments, I joined Tessa on the bathroom floor, and spent two days limping around the Chronicles of Nausea. Thus I was 48 hours behind in preparing, which means – AGAIN! – I was doing all this prep shit like writing quiz show questions when I could have been actually hanging out with my unbelievably awesome peer group.

3. Ruth Buzzers – Speaking of the quiz show, I moved it from Sunday to Saturday to make sure all the people from far-flung lands could attend (Kabul, London, Scarborough, Los Angeles) but one of the categories – Our Idiosyncratic Friends – has a tradition of including every single person playing. If you’re in the game, there’s a question about you. With almost fifty participants, however, it meant a long show, even with Tessa speeding through them like Wink Martindale. Next year, we might have to combine people, or even have another cool category that I just thought of while writing that sentence.

By the way, have any of you tried to get quiz show buzzers lately? I was lucky to find my guy when I did, back in 2004. The advent of Krazy Christian Quiz Show Weekends has put those things at a premium!

4. Pre-production – I used to make fun of Tessa for being a little Josephine Front Row, but years of her flawless programming – combined with my constant flummoxing – have convinced me that pre-production is the only way to do these things. I lost the buzzers; I lost the cords that hook up the sound to project the movie on the side of the barn; I didn’t realize it’d take a full hour to funnel rare scotch into Erlenmeyer flasks; I was in Albany buying a coffee machine when the actual people who drink coffee had already flown in from England and were waiting for me. This is crap. No more. Next year I’m going to have EVERYTHING DONE so I can just play hoops with the boyz and talk shit with Salem.

Anything that was good? Tessa made it happen, and that, my friends, is the best present anyone could have wanted.

5. Keep the days free and nights packed – Two points on young American character: everybody wants to know what they’re doing that evening, but nobody wants to have anything to do during the day. This is almost belligerently true of me, and when you are locked in Fun mode, this is true of you. The answer to “what are we doing tonight?” should be “this, this, and this.” The answer to “what’s going on today?” should be “whatever the fuck you want.”

6. P.A. System – Oh, P.A. System, how I love you! You were relatively inexpensive at Guitar Center, yet gat forth so much pleasure. You made the talent show come alive, you rocked Chaircrusher and my nephew Sam’s DJ’ing into the wee hours in a packed barn, you burst forth sound for a TV pilot never before seen, you even allowed my wife to bark orders to the herd of cats I call my friends! P.A. System, as you delicately wafted Dave Brubeck over the barbecue, I thought, “how did we ever do this without you?”

7. Decide once and for all you are not going to lose your friends – There is a reason the Jartacular exists, and it’s not an exercise in my narcissism, although that was a good guess. It is because friendship is meat that requires the refrigeration of regular contact. I spent a long, long time making my friends, and they all spent a long, long time making each other – they have kissed, roomed together, danced in New Orleans, worked at shitty jobs and come back to the group house to vent; many of them had kids and swapped advice as their wee ones shrieked in the background.

The Man would have you believe that group gatherings and New Memories™ aren’t fit for people of a certain age, and damn near irresponsible for those who have started families. Some people begin to believe it, and they decide to miss one get-together, then two, and before you know it, they’ve forgotten what they’re forgetting. They drop off email lists, they move and don’t tell anybody. After ten years, they accidentally hear of another get-together, and they might even go – but it’s been so long that they no longer speak the language, and they’re mostly horrified at how their old friends seemed to have filled with water.

We, and I mean that collectively, have decided that wasn’t acceptable. Sure, some people come because I guilt them into it, some people may have been more piqued at the idea of tasting a 1940 Macallan than some frickin’ love-in, and others have decided they have slept in the barn fully-dressed and holding a bottle of Sambuca FOR THE LAST TIME. But it does feel like it adds up to something, yes?

I know these recaps can smell like yearbook signatures, but everyone who shows up brings with them such meaning. Me, I could not do without the following: seeing Bax and Annie, with her Da Vinci body, hoop in front of my daughter; my brother Steve answering questions at the quiz show; Kent bouncing up and down to the music; convincing Zia to take a suppository for her hangover; Lars hovering like a smiling wasp with a black camera; Jiffer’s feet still caky after all these years; Jamie singing “Mozambique” even better; the Rizzos throwing perfect spirals; Chip standing up and telling us how honored he was to have a category solely about him; Sean and Jordi emerging, sunny, from Barno’s fourth trimester; Kaz’s haikus; Scotty’s insatiable speed into tastelessness with Salem riding shotgun; Katie’s perfect skin on a perfect day. Oh, and the Budster!

This year, the Jartacular featured an explosion of language from Lucy, who was feted by Annie and Molly Regis, Isabelle Alexander, Oscar and Alexandra Kelleran, even Hank, Nora, Jack and Ben! By today, she was using sentence structures, adding little flourishes to her language, fully in command of her talking world. We have conversations now, and they are simply fantastic.

I have always said I will keep the Jartacular going as long as I can, then hand over the reins to Lucy. When I asked her what she did this weekend, she looked outside, smiled to herself and said “I played with my friends.” So did I.




the crop of Williams boys as of 5/28/07: Barno, Sean, Steve, me, Kent

I turned 40 years old on Saturday, and though it was one of the best parties ever – and that includes the Hall Crawl at Chi Psi in April 1989 – the roundness of the age does force you into saying to yourself things like “wow, um, I’m forty.”

Or, more aptly, it forces everyone else to do it for you. In the last twenty years, 40 has become 30, 30 has become 25, and everyone delights in how much younger being old gets to be. This is mostly true, not just because we’re all living quite a bit longer, but because our grandparents abandoned themselves to Old Age when they got into their late twenties. Folks like my great aunts and Tessa’s grandmother Nonnie all went from being vibrant 23-year-olds doing the Lindy Hop to staid 32-year-olds wearing broaches, horn-rimmed glasses and coloring their hair gray-blue.

In our industry, 40 might still be a bit hush-hush. Of course, actors can never divulge their ages, frequently giving IMDB bogus information and shredding all remaining copies of their high school graduation yearbooks, but even writers are supposed to exude a hipster vitality. Fortunately, both Tessa and I have retained most of our adolescent charm, and nobody would suspect how ancient we really are. Shit, I still have to deal with acne.

I guess I could hide it, but if anyone asks, I’m going to tell them. I am forty. It’s written all over this website, it takes almost no research. I graduated high school in 1985, and I saw Duran Duran on the “Reflex” tour. My years at college were defined by Smiths albums; I was already a freshman when the first shuttle exploded. I have Jarts because I played them before they were illegal. I am proud of everything it took to get here, and that includes stealing cookie dough with the Budster to pay rent.

It’s easy for me to say, I suppose. I’m a guy, and men are allowed to age gracefully, even getting “better” – their mellowing and subsequent beneficence of character gets to continue unabated, and they are also allowed to slide into corpulence, become “stately,” rotund with importance. Also, I’m married and have a kid, which means my age is largely of the “who gives a shit” variety, a freedom sorely lacking in the dating world.

But I’ll go on record to say that 40 is a benchmark in cultural irrelevance. You may not have noticed it, but you stopped caring about what I had to say just a little bit more than usual this week. There is a creeping rumor floating around that the 40-year-old has slightly lost his pulse finger, the outside jumper is no longer a done deal. There is the vague whiff of pity, a feeling that it’s time to get on with it, a countdown until someone can finally say “sit down and shut up, it’s someone else’s turn.”

This is why people lie about their age: to convince observers they still matter. All I can do, in protest, is to be utterly honest, take 40 back from the people who are afraid of it, and fight complacency until I vanquish all demons (or get plantar fasciitis, whichever comes first).

misery loves companies



Over the weekend, we went to stormy, soggy Northampton to see our wonderful niece graduate from Smith – Gloria Steinem (herself an alum from ’56) spoke, and let’s just say she has lost none of the qualities that made her such a force throughout the last forty years: she’s still so pissed off, so utterly correct, and so distractingly pretty. You can see how she was the perfect stealth feminist of her time, and when she took to the podium, the Smithie gals gave her raucous standing O that would have put several rock shows to shame.

We’re preparing ourselves for the biggest get-together we’ve had since our wedding, and as usual, the farm is not always cooperating. The wifi internet just clicked to life today after five months of dormancy, and there’s cute mice living in my socks.

Worst of all, Tessa came down with a violent nausea that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. She must have gotten it from some outside source, because the rest of us are fine, but I have never seen that kind of dry heave misery in my life. Damn near ten hours of it, and my beloved antiemetics didn’t even offer relief. And no, she’s not pregnant.

I’ve said it before, but nausea is nature’s dealbreaker. It is the sucker punch; the broken nose, the torn ACL, the brick to the small of the back that renders the sufferer hopeless, hapless and helpless. I understand that we need misery to contemplate ecstasy, but why does nausea have to be so unbearable? Couldn’t we just experience something a little more toned-down?

Today’s CODE WORD: what is the exact circumstance of your latest utter, debilitating physical misery? No bruises or bumps, I mean stone cold non-functioning hell. Use lots of juicy adjectives!

Up, up and away.

So… it’s the Mom here. Feelin’ cranky. Ian called me tonight just as I was about to fall asleep, and asked me to fill in.

And since I just finished an email rant about my flight home from Iowa yesterday, I thought I send out a version of that cri de coeur to the world wide well, you know…

For the past several decades I have been constantly flying around the country and even the world. A wandering minstrel, living a bi-coastal, tri-state lifestyle, in pursuit of a variety of musical projects. Which means I have a more than passing acquaintance with airlines.

I always loved to fly, and I used to have a dozen frequent flyer numbers, and memberships in a handful of the airline “clubs.” They let you sit quietly in a comfortable chair during a long layover, bring you drinks, and call you when your flight is boarding out there among the noise and chaos.

But several years ago my travel began to confine itself almost entirely to NY to California (and occasionally Utah) which meant that I could abandon all others and stick with JetBlue. Now, this very superior airline was founded and is run by my brother’s wife’s cousin. But that’s not why I’m loyal. JetBlue has new planes, nice people, low fares, reasonable change and cancellation fees, a generous frequent flyer program, in seat TVs, and a navigable, uncluttered, useable web site. I never fly with any other airline if I can help it. Oh, sometimes a quick flight from San Francisco to L.A. on the great wagon train in the sky (AKA Southwest). I can stand anything for an hour. But mostly it’s le jet bleu all the way.

Still, I had to get to Iowa City last week. For that you need Northwest Airlines, and connections through Minneapolis or Detroit into Moline Illinois, and an hour’s drive through the young corn. Iowa City is one of the nicest places on earth, but accessible it ain’t unless you just LOVE to drive across I 80.

Anyway, I got there, and then had to get back to NY on Sunday instead of the Monday I had originally booked. And it was a lesson in just how low rent and trashy a lot of air travel has become in the decade during which I was happily munching free biscotti and watching free TV on JetBlue. Northwest wanted to charge me a hundred and forty dollars to change from Monday to Sunday. Even on standby. After pleading old age, a deranged mind and a pathetic schedule and poverty, I got it down to sixty, then to thirty dollars. They gave me a flight that left Moline at eleven Sunday morning. Cool.

Except that when I got to Minneapolis at noon, I discovered that I had a four hour layover, in spite of there being two (2!) flights that left earlier than the four o’clock flight they had given me. So I cornered the desk for the one-twenty flight, and they said sure, they had a bunch of seats. But it would cot me another thirty dollar change fee. I asked for a supervisor, got one, talked her out of the change fee on the basis of stupid booking by their ticket agent. But when they called me up to the podium to give me a standby ticket, they charged me a twenty-five dollar stand-by fee.

Too late to charm or rant my way out of it, I paid it and got on the flight. Which had empty seats. Wait… why did they book me on the four o’clock flight? No one could explain that.

Then they brought the snack cart around. A small bag of trail mix was two dollars (no, thanks) and a “snack box” (my seat mate said it was “vile—cheap chips and string cheese”) cost five dollars. I guess the airlines have to pay for fuel somehow,

Oh, and I notice that on their web site, when they get down to only a handful of empty seats, and you are a “platinum member” of their frequent flier program, you can BUY a better seat than the one they assigned you. Why does this make me feel like I’m in a third world country?

On a happier note, I rode from LaGuardia back to the house with an honest to god New York cab driver who was straight from central casting. Totally rare these days. Cynical, funny, chatty, cranky, and utterly charming. He called me “deah” and “sweethawt” and it never occurred to me that I was being harassed. It was great.

OK, Ian, can I go to bed now?

Maker Faire: Like Jarts but Bigger!

This is Ian’s brother, Steve, filling in while Ian tries to figure out how to get the wifi back in service.

I’m looking forward to joining the family in New York for Ian’s birthday. I’m on the red-eye from SFO to JFK Thursday night.

This will be my first Jartacular, so I warmed up this weekend by attending the second annual Maker Faire at the San Mateo County Fairgrounds, an unusual event, in these litigious times, where they throw caution to the wind and invite everyone to “Void your warranty, violate a user agreement, fry a circuit, blow a fuse, poke an eye out!”

The fairgrounds are just down the hill from my new home in the hills of Belmont on the San Francisco peninsula. As I cruised down Highway 92, I could see the Collings Foundation B-17, coincidentally visiting Moffett on a national tour, growling low over the crowd.

I parked my charming 1982 diesel Rabbit in the lot with the tiki bar art car and headed for the modified fire trucks that actually belch fire!

A little farther on was a two-seat ferris wheel, propelled by the pedaling riders themselves. The chains and sprockets are open, inviting flying limbs and fingers. As I arrived, the clown operator held the swinging arm still, so a young girl could scramble down the superstructure from the second seat high above. An even younger boy scaled the homemade steel contraption to take her place, all under the smiling eyes of their suprisingly sanguine parents.

It’s good to know there are still kids in the world being raised by people who aren’t afraid of a little adventure.

Next was a merry-go-round where the parents sit in the middle pedaling, as their kids fly around the outside in seats suspended by carabiners and cargo straps. A girl of about 4 years old, her blond hair flying, wearing a pink dress and pink sequined pumps, wore an uncertain smile as she spun faster and faster, her eyes finally rolling around in their sockets. She’ll be talking about this when she’s 40.

Next was the life-sized Mousetrap game, where bowling balls roll and fly and trip the trigger on a two-ton block held aloft by a homemade crane to crush plywood cheese. Clowns that looked suspiciously like San Francisco artists, with their ponytails and goatees, ran around setting the traps and loading the bowling balls. A large, rather worried-looking gentleman tended the crane. Two of the crew were bustiered woman, one of them playing a one-man band for the crowd until things were set up, the other, the fiance of the artist, played the part of the mouse, complete with a long, fuzzy gray tail. When everything was ready, a clown came to the crowd just next to me to explain that this bowling ball would be flying just there, so if it missed the cornucopia up above, their job was to catch it as if flies out of the game. A young girl picked from the crowd wound the first crank, and the bowling balls began to roll. The first two triggers misfired, but the clowns poked the mechanism with sticks to get things rolling again. Finally a bowling ball fell into a bathtub suspended high above the game and then dropped through the “drain” onto a trigger below. That caused the skeleton to dive onto a platform, releasing the hook on the crane and dropping the block with a satisfying thud and a poof of plywood splintered cheese.

A zillion do-it-yourself projects populated the exhibit halls, using computers, air, fire, art, music, and static electricity to make lights dance, robots battle, lightning arc, and hair stand on end.

I spoke to the artist who creates digital clocks from anachronistic parts. We shared stories of the times we blew up projects.

Back outside, I dodged kids recklessly riding borrowed wooden bicycles. One was a unicycle stabilized by a trailing 2-by-4, so that those of us who believe unicycles violate the laws of physics can finally have the experience of riding one.

After several hours, I still wasn’t sure I had seen everything, but I felt it was time to eat a corn dog and then be on my way. As I dieseled back up the hill, I resolved to build more projects and void more warranties this year, so I won’t feel like such a square at next years Maker Faire.

Now it’s off to the Jartacular!

rash guard of love


Our family was reunited last night, as Tessa and Lucy flew into JFK from points west. Through a bizarre criss-cross of the Hudson Valley, I drove 4-5 hours through tornadoes and pounding rain to get them, but seeing li’l Punkinboots at the baggage claim made all of that dreariness seem fathoms away.

We were only apart for a week, but when Lucy saw me, there was an underlying resentment of “where were you?” It has led to this tiny disconnect, the faintest feeling that we are not exactly tuned to the same megahertz as we were before, when I was with her in those mystical seconds before sleep every other night.

Today, we were on my bed, where we usually play fortress games inside the pillows, but she just said “don’t want to” and climbed onto her babysitter instead. Normally, this sort of insouciance is par for the course; Lucy is an absolute sensualist and abandons pretty much everything if she thinks there might be new kinds of sensory input across the room.

But this tiny snub left me heartbroken, as if that week I was gone somehow relegated me to temporary cargo status, and I can’t tell you how sad it feels. Sure, she’s a 2-year-old and incapable of grudges, but it does feel like it’s going to take me a couple of weeks to gain her best graces.

I can’t imagine the pain fathers or mothers must feel when they have newly-divorced families, watching their own children grow up outside their purview, with very little power – short of a court order – to do anything about it. Shame and condemnation should befall the divorced parent who manipulates the alienation of the other parent; everyone has their faults, but short of criminal behavior, turning a kid against their mother or father is cruelty made incarnate.

As for me, I just need to take Lucy swimming. There is no greater pleasure in the Garden of Earthly Delights than to swim in the kiddie pool at the Santa Monica YMCA with the Lulubeans – when we’re both floating and laughing, I have to close my eyes and think back to all the times when I was feeling so low that I wondered why I bothered putting one foot in front of the other.

There were times so dark that I felt compelled to list the reasons I should stick around, and always, there was a sense that I must remain in control, just tread thick water, because something oddly luminous was ahead. I never wrote down this feeling, always kept my list very mundane as to be practical, but I was always sensed a distant white-blue light in my peripheral vision. Maybe it was just simple survivalism, or maybe just a few misfiring neurons, but there’s always a chance it was something altogether more amazing.


Too Lois For Comfort


Okay, I’d like to stake a claim for Greg Humphreys and myself, and possibly Ann as well. “Ghost Chimp M.D.” came from a late-night shit-talking session occurring sometime in December 1994. I posted it in a review on CitySearch in 1996, then mentioned it in the blog several times over the years. And last night it was on the Craig Ferguson show! How do these things happen, I wonder? I mean, besides the Hundredth Monkey Effect?

For the record, we also came up with “Make Room For Larry” (also all over the internet for some reason), and another series that featured a dumpster as a character.

Look, I’m not saying these are brilliant.

I’m just sayin’.

fixing in doorways, opium slaves



I just took 2 Tylenol PMs. How the hell is this stuff legal? Today’s CODE WORD: what legal substance, pill or product really, really changes your inner spirit? I will take away the obvious choices of coffee, alcohol and tobacco. What are your personal little mood-enhancing habits?



The axe finally fell on Studio 60 today, as NBC announced their new lineup and Aaron Sorkin was nowhere to be found. Full disclosure: one of our best friends David was a director on the show, and my stepsister Cyia was a regular guest star, so I followed its fate pretty closely.

Web sites like Defamer wasted no time in urinating on the Studio 60 epitaph, when really, they should be crying. No other show provided them so many opportunities to heap scorn on Sorkin, and one wonders what else they’ll have to write about now that Lindsay Lohan appears to be sober.

Seriously, what is it with otherwise-smart people hating Aaron Sorkin so much? Admittedly, the show would have dissolved on its own, but the unfathomable amount of shit-talking by writers, media pundits and blogs certainly didn’t help matters. Here’s what Sorkin set out to do: write a literate, funny, fast-talking, intelligent show. If you think he failed, that’s one thing, but the wave of opprobrium started way before the first episode ever aired. With each week, as the ratings dwindled, the haters licked their chops.

Well, they got what they wanted. “Studio 60” is off the air! To be replaced by… more episodes of “Deal or No Deal.” The next time any of these people complain about how stupid television is, they can seriously fuck off, because they only have themselves to blame. Sorkin tried to do something smart, and all he got was a load of shit (and yes, a lot of money – was that the problem?).

And don’t give me that tired old argument about ‘Studio 60’: “Why should we care about a bunch of wealthy producers trying to put on a comedy show?” Nobody asked the same question of “Desperate Housewives”! Why should we care about a bunch of doctor interns on “Grey’s Anatomy”? Why should we care if the world is saved on “Heroes”? In fact, why do we care about any television show at all? I mean, they’re all fictitious people, for fuck’s sake, and it was shot on sound stages in Burbank!

The rancor directed at “Studio 60” is a new type of criticism invented by my generation, and brought to its logical conclusion by Generation Y: straight-up anti-intellectual nihilism. The only people who do it well are Matt and Trey on “South Park” – everyone else is just drowning in a sea of their own snark.

Snark and anti-intellectualism are kissing cousins, except that the most snarky are the ones who should know better. They hate shows like “Studio 60” for trying too hard, yet have an ironic attachment to talentless vacuums like Paris Hilton. They think they’re overeducated, but if they were forced to elucidate an actual view on spiritualism, politics or even basic geometry, they’ll find their deductive muscles atrophied from years of sarcasm.

I read sites like Defamer, Gawker and the like out of industry obligation (hell, it’s how I found out my agent got fired a few years back), but it’s obvious they’re what happens when angry college radio DJs accidentally get control of culture. After 4-5 articles, I always feel like asking asking them if they actually love… anything. Does any work of art, let alone a television show, make them shiver with anticipation? Do they ever cry when something heartbreaking happens?

I know, I know, I’m going to the whorehouse when I’m looking for love. But it seems like everywhere you look for media criticism, there’s nothing but whorehouses. Snark is the worst thing that has happened to mainstream and alternative journalism in the last ten years. The only people I can stand to read anymore is our very own Virginia Heffernan at the NYT and the ThighMaster at Thighs Wide Shut, because both of them unabashedly love what they cover. Virginia eviscerated “Notes From the Underbelly” not out of mean-spiritedness, but out of betrayal.

These New Media Critics will read a blog like this and treat it the same way they treat all threats to their comfort: with offhanded derision. I’m here to say I’d like the Snark Era to be over. I’d like everyone to get psyched again. I’ve had it with the Underminer, the Flippant, the Too Cool for School, the Lazy Fetishist and the Easily Bored. You can make fun of the canon only if you know the canon. Leave Aaron Sorkin alone and save your schadenfreude for those most deserving: Republicans and Dook.

psychiatrist, 5 cents


When you are writing a script or a novel, you’re a constant adulterer. In essence, you’re always two-timing the thing you’re working on – while writing the script, you tease yourself with flitting thoughts of the actual world, and when you’re in the real world, you’re just waiting for your imaginary characters to say funny things. You laugh, and say, “oh Pretend People, how witty you are in my brain! I can’t wait to give you life on the page!”

And of course, while you’re writing their dialogue, you keep thinking about the ceiling mouldings at Home Depot.

I just finished a script at 4:30am last night, one that I have been living with for months, and I can’t tell you how happy I am to stop cheating on everything else. It’s a half-hour pilot loosely-based on one of my brothers, and for the first time, I had enough affection for the project that I won’t mind if it doesn’t go over like gangbusters. If you get to work on something really fulfilling, then it truly feels like means to its own end. Sure, you might live on ramen noodles, but hell, you created something you liked.

One thing about writing TV scripts, especially your own, is the elaborate tight-rope walk you get from years of hearing what is wrong with everyone else’s stories. Each time you hear phrases like “our protagonist has to be likeable” and “the show needs relatability” and “we need some wish fulfillment here” and “the comedy needs some punching up” …the tightrope becomes smaller and smaller until it’s a tiny thread, painfully slicing into your heels, and you’re a long way up.

The only thing left to do in those situations is to take a bold stand. One option is to write something that gives a thick middle finger to the rules, which leads to “stunt scripts” like the one where the entire Peanuts gang grows up and moves to New York. The first scene has Lucy screwing Schroeder in her apartment (or at least that’s what I heard). It will – nor could – ever get made, but the woman who wrote that spec script is now a much-sought-after writer.

The other option, as I see it, is to get personal. Use all of the basic storytelling rules, to be sure, but craft a story only you can tell, and use details only you would know. Perhaps that seems obvious, but you’d be surprised at how long writers will ignore their own best material.

You’ll always run into problems: perhaps your particular details will seem forced, weirdly random, indulgent or precious, and you’ll be asked to either make them integral to the plot or delete them. But if you let a few sneak through, and you genuinely enjoy the company of your invisible friends, then you’ve really done 95% of the work. The rest is editing, shuffling, and letting a fresh pair of other peoples’ eyes do their work. G.B. Shaw said “a great play isn’t written, it’s re-written.”

Carpenters get to stop at the end of the day to see the shed they built. Doctors see a smiling patient, plumbers dry their hands. But writers rarely get to spike their foam football in the end zone, so when you finish a big draft, it’s a big deal, future be blessed or damned. Both Tessa and I did it this week, and I think we’ll sit back, zone out, and watch some television.