Tag Archives: Writing

This Play That I’m Writing…

There’re 3 things to writing that are ever-present: the first excitement, the misery, and the new excitement when things begin to make sense.

Right now, I’m working on the first play I’ve written in – let’s ballpark it – six years.  Writing in and of itself can be hard, because – like all things – it essentially means setting aside time to actually do it.  Setting aside time gets even more difficult when you’re juggling production on a podcast.  Anyway, the difficulty stems from commitment, the ability to say you’re going to do something, and then see it through to the end.  For most people who take on the task of writing anything, this aspect can be the hardest part.  Never mind that after you’ve succeeded in finishing your task, and you decide to write something else, you begin to realize that being able to write something and having the talent to write something, are two completely different things.

To come back to the first point: the excitement comes when you first think of your idea.  It strikes a chord inside of you, which is why you’re so excited in the first place.  It’s an idea that speaks to who you are, and what you’ve learned so far in your time on this planet.  Then, you decide to dedicate time to creating it.  Whatever your writing process is from here, you do it.  Slowly, some things begin to make sense, others not so much.  You hit walls.  You begin to think, “Dear God, this thing is going to be terrible.”  Then you sit down to write the first draft, and after that you think, “Well, maybe it won’t be terrible, but it won’t be my best.”  At this point, depending on your process and what your schedule permits, maybe you take a breather.  Nothing crazy, but perhaps a few days off to go do something else, or just think about the story, the characters, take some notes as you need.  This phase is all part of “the misery”, because maybe you’re losing some nerve in what you’ve created.  Maybe you’re ready to abandon everything altogether (a character trait I’m very guilty of).  This is the less glamorous part of writing, because it denotes that storytelling is never as easy as it seems.  In order to accomplish anything, you have to be okay with not yet reaching 100% of what you want.  Then, you come back after a break.  You’ve had time to think – and I would hope you’ve been taking notes and thinking about ideas – and you start to build the second draft.  It’s as you’re building that things begin to click again.  Scene ideas and storytelling aspects that seemed obtuse begin to make sense by saying, “What if I put this here?” and “What if I just added this scene to introduce this guy?”  Suddenly you’re gaining confidence again, and it seems like you’re steadily moving towards your goal.  And by “steadily”, I mean “Like a turtle at the Tour de France”.  Either way, progress is progress.

There’s nothing easy to writing anything.  Ever.  Half of the battle though, is being able to stick around to see how it all ends.

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Clack, Clack Goes A Laptop

Writing can be one of the hardest things for a writer. It isn’t helped by your own sense of sprawling ambition, which can equally hold you back if you get too caught up in what something should be, versus what you’re – in fact – creating.

This year, I’m sitting down to write my first one-man show in half a decade, and I’ve purposefully set up at least two performance dates for my show in 2010: one this Friday for the month of January, and the next one a month later in February. I plan to keep this schedule up, and intensify it as I get further along, until I have a 30-60 minute script ready to present to an audience. I’ve done this to give myself a deadline as a writer, to create a schedule for myself as a producer, and to keep the juices flowing for myself as a performer. And I’ll be completely honest with you: I’m incredibly scared to have committed to this kind of process. What I’m sure you’ve also noticed is that part of it includes regularly presenting what I’m working on to an audience. For many writers, this essentially amounts to career suicide.

However, that’s also another part of the reason why wanted to do it. It’s easy – when you are writing, or acting, or producing, or even blogging – to constantly be revising in private. I think for anyone in the arts, it gives him a sense of productivity, without a need to show something for his efforts. Case in point: Guns N’ Roses’s Chinese Democracy. After a decade of build-up, most people severely disappointed with what GnR produced. The album created a mystique for itself, and an anticipation for something amazing, but because Axl Rose kept DELAYING the album’s inevitable release, I’m sure it got away from what he originally wanted to put out. His fans, while happy to finally see Chinese Democracy on iTunes, couldn’t help but feel like they got less than what they hoped for. This isn’t uncommon, albeit in this case bizarre. If you love something, of course you want it to be the best. And, in the case of a solo vehicle consider the stakes:

*It could create more career opportunities for me as a performer.

*It could create more career opportunities for me as a writer.

*It could change the way other people see me as a comedian.

*It could simply just be “something I wrote” if none of the above happens for me.

Risky, obviously; so much so that I’d want everything about this show to be perfect, just so it can have some kind of positive impact on my career.

But here’s the rub, my friends: you can’t control how anything you create – whether it’s a script, a film, a play, or even a resume – is going to impact your career. All you can do is do it, put it out there, and listen to your instincts. A producer I worked for put this way: think of your career as playing baseball – success or failure, you still have to suck it up, get back up to bat, and try for something great. And as long as you never give up, you’ll always be staying busy and productive.

If you ask me, sounds like a much better plan than waiting 10 years to release “the perfect album”.., though, for the record, I think “Better” is a great track.

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One Down, Another To Go

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Well, it took me long enough, but I finished my original pilot script for The New York Television Festival. It got intense at the end: as the June 15th deadline approached, I was juggling a volunteer stint at Sketchfest NYC 09 (which was awesome) and a four-day visit from my mom. It finally came down to four drafts of the script, and making the finishing touches to it at 4:00 in the morning on the final day of submission. By then, I wanted to just get the thing registered and to the NYTVF. By 4:30 a.m., Six Month Grace Period by Matt Fried was done and submitted. I sent off the final draft to the friends who’d help me out with a reading of the script the weekend before, and then I collapsed into bed.

Now, the next assignment: finishing my Always Sunny… spec by July 1st.

It’s funny – in the past, I always felt I could juggle everything. I thought being an actor, doing improv, and writing were full-time gigs that were interchangeable. But, it wasn’t until I made the firm decision to solely focus on writing this month, that I saw what I had missed by being all over the place. Now understand that writing is what I’d rather be doing. That’s not to say, “I’m done with performing.” However, in order to give these scripts a full focus, I left my improv group, and have limited my stage time to The Matt Fried Hour – a once-a-month commitment. By taking the time off, I’ve realized that performing is more of a release; an escape. It’s the most fun for me when it’s not the end-all, be-all. With writing, however, it was different. Opportunities to get my stuff read by actors, in front of an audience, seemed to just fall into my lap.

So it hit me: when a trend like that starts so early on, you have to follow it. But I’m cool with being a writer. I like writing. It’s easy work that doesn’t require pants. There will always be a part of me still wanting to perform full-time. Still wanting to be the center of attention. But I think I’m ready now to be the quiet guy standing in the back. Which is a weird thing to consider, but it’s true. Rather than demand attention through exhibition, I’d like to enjoy the quiet satisfaction of hearing my words said by someone else. And then, go to bed, wake up, and do it all over again. And – once again for dramatic emphasis – while not wearing pants.

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The Second Draft of Matt Fried

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So, consider this post me coming up for air after being submerged in a sea of writing and rewriting. Some days, you feel like you’re riding a tall wave – just you and what God gave you. Other days, it feels like straight-up waterboarding, and Dick Cheney is holding the bucket.

In the last week, I’ve plowed through work on an original pilot script and I’m still working on my Sunny script. During those same days, I’ve found myself inside my apartment for hours staring at a computer; rarely leaving except for the gym, grocery shopping, and maybe – just maybe – the occasional night off. This kind of cabin fever does something to your head. You find yourself going one-on-one with your talent and your ego. Your talent is always assuring you to press ahead; don’t be too hard on yourself if it isn’t perfect. Your ego is screaming at you “STOP. NOW. It’ll never be as good on paper as it is in your head.” Suddenly, you begin to wonder how long it’ll be before you start collecting your own piss in jars. Though (now that I think about it), I wouldn’t mind a stained glass window in my place.

I’m beginning to see that sometimes, the creative process is not easy. I mean: it’s easy in the respect that an idea comes to you, you think through it, and then you write it out. For a few hours, you feel brilliant. However, the hard part comes after: you need discipline to sit back down again and let yourself change a few things around. Worst of all, you need to let go of some great stuff that isn’t meant to work, and allow yourself to replace them with some new ideas that kind of fit, but they sound nowhere near as good as your first ideas. The big hope is that time, massive rewrites, and maybe a reading or two will ultimately take you to a newer, better idea that’ll knock you on your ass and make you say “I can’t believe I didn’t think of that before!”

And that, kids, is supposed to be how perfect comedy scripts are written.

All of this writing has taken a toll on my performance life. In fact, I’ve recently decided to take a break from improv until I get these scripts done. On any free nights I have, I’m trying to go out to open mikes and work on written solo material I have (known in some cultures as “stand-up comedy”). And of course, there’s still The Matt Fried Hour. It has occurred to me in the last week that perhaps part of the reason why I stuck by improv for so long – and found excuses to not go after other comedic pursuits – was simply because I knew the work involved would be big. There is something way easier about showing up somewhere, making shit up, and then a little later getting all the praise and a girl’s phone number. Since I decided to pursue writing these scripts, there have been many things I’ve done that my ego demands I avoid. Because it moves me away from a place of total security and artistic self-assurance. But, truth be told, I’m learning that when I do hear that voice in my head, it means I need to move toward what it wants me to avoid. Even if it means staying up until 3:00 a.m. trying to figure out how to make a joke about Samuel Beckett funny. If I don’t, then I wonder, “If not now, then when?”

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My Writing Playlist for 5/22/09

This is some of the stuff that I’ve been listening to heavily while I churn out the funny.

1. “Lazy Eye” by The Silversun Pickups
2. “In A Big Country” by Big Country
3. “Rockway Beach” by The Ramones
4. “Feelin’ Good” by Nina Simone
5. “La Maree Haute” by Lhasa de Sela
6. “The Beast And Dragon, Adored” by Spoon
7. The entire Wild Style soundtrack
8. “Sing Me Spanish Techno” by The New Pornographers
9. “Can You Tell” by Ra Ra Riot
10. “Sinnerman” by Nina Simone
11. “Red House” (Live at Woodstock) by Jimi Hendrix
12. “Timorous Me” by Ted Leo & The Pharmacists

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10 Things You Learn Quick About Writing Comedy

1. If I can’t tell if it’s funny, but sounds funny, there’s a 98% chance someone else will find it funny.

2. Writing is not the hardest thing in the world. SITTING DOWN to write way harder.

3. Good ideas are like girlfriends: you’re excited when you two first meet; over time you find out that not everything is perfect; if it’s not meant to work out, you can always look it up again one night at 3:00 in the morning.

4. Chaplin was right.

5. Don’t worry; Chaplin didn’t even know what he was doing until he was 36.

6. If you’re spending all day writing comedy, watch a drama at night, or go to an art gallery. It helps balance you out.

7. It is possible to take a joke and beat a dead horse. Especially when you’re trying to be some intellectual schmuck who writes a scene where Jackie Gleason is beating a dead horse.

8. If you’re tired and still trying to write, you’re not helping yourself. Very few people can write anything decent while exhausted. That is, unless you are Chaplin.

9. If you’re too tired from writing to get laid, you’re working too much.

10. Tell a story. Don’t worry about the jokes. Figure out the story you’re trying to tell, and then lose sleep over the comedy.

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That’s Right, Folks – I’m Following The Dream

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So: with our country’s roaring job market right now, I’ve been thinking for a while about what my next move is going to be as a writer. The freelance market is up and down. A couple of strong 9 to 5 leads got filled. Suddenly, it hit me:

I’m going to get my shit together and try to land a comedy writing gig.

What exactly does this entail? Nothing really different than what I’ve already been juggling (dozens of script projects, comedy shows, laughable paychecks), but now I’m not second-guessing myself anymore (meaning I’m willing to deal with the laughable paycheck for right now). The more I’ve been thinking about it, I want to get into TV and film. I want to write my foot into someone’s door. It worked for Tina Fey.

Does this choice include a move to L.A.? Not right now, but I hope at some point in the not-so-distant future.

A few studios out West are going to be taking applications at the end of June for writing fellowships in 2010. This would lead to work in L.A. and getting some professional experience writing for TV. Also, I’m working on a comedy screenplay I started in one of writing classes at The PIT. Not to also mention, a few spec scripts and a video sketch. I’d like to finish all of these, and I apparently have nothing but time on my hands at the moment. Therefore, I’ve decided to take a break from the job hunt and work to get all of these scripts done under deadline. I honestly feel that, if I don’t do it now, I’ll have nothing to show for it but regret.

If nothing comes of any of these endeavors, I’ll be fine. I’ve learned by now how to deal with professional setbacks. What matters to me – RIGHT NOW –  is finishing what I started and getting my work into the hands of someone.

So, here it goes internet – Day One of the rest of my life… I hope.

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Cloverfield vs. Matt Fried vs. Guilty Consciene

cloverfield

So, I finally saw Cloverfield last night. A little late at a year and a half after its release – I know – but better late than never. Suffice to say, I loved it. There is nothing better than a good, old-fashioned monster movie when you’re trying to relax on a day off. That’s what yesterday was all about; one day where I’m not: answering e-mails, going to the gym, doing comedy, thinking about comedy, going to comedy shows, writing comedy. I wanted to make Wednesday all about comic books, vegging, and monster movies.

Okay, I admit that I achieved 50% of my goal. I broke down and answered some personal e-mails, and marketed the blog for a little bit. Does this officially make me a workaholic? Probably.

In my hosting class, we watched an old Dick Cavett interview with Jack Benny (who at the time was in his late 70s to early 80s). Benny commented that he loved to work; he loved entertaining people. I love to work, too. Mostly because, I work from home. That means I am writing this from my work desk (i.e. bed). My work fills me with a sense of self-worth. It let’s me get just as stressed out as every other New Yorker. However, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s the work, or the stress of work, that gets me up in the morning. The fact that I have a typical schedule – packed with busy work activities and steady progress towards the achievement of a larger goal – makes me feel like a valid working individual. Similarly, if I don’t complete any of these tasks by the end of the day, I feel like I’ve wasted all my time. So that means: I will forego the gym, breakfast, lunch, laundry, vacuuming, showering – all in the name of working. Because without my work, I truly feel as if I’m just another lazy slob.

So, to be precise: yes, I am a workaholic. I’m the worst kind of workaholic. I’m the guy with high productivity and a guilt complex.

How does something like this happen? I guess, when you really care about what you do and you live in NYC, it just does. Ever since I started writing professionally, it seems like not much else matters. Which is why – though I do long for human interaction – I can get through a whole day or two without talking to someone else in person. I do recognize that this is unhealthy. But I can’t seem to help it, either.

For example, I’m writing a screenplay right now. I started writing it in one of my classes. It started as a 16 page treatment, that I then sat down with over Easter weekend and sought to revise as a bullet point plot outline. Just as I was passing the three-quarters mark, the Monday of a show week came up. Historically, the week of my talk show is always busy, and I’m forced to set anything else I have aside. Before I finally got to resting on Wednesday, I had to take care of various loose ends on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. Then, it is AT LAST Wednesday. For the last 11 days, my script has been sitting on my dinner table, unfinished.

But I’m telling myself “You’re resting today.”

But the script needs to be finished.

“You’re resting today.”

But the script –

“You. Are. Resting. Today.”

But –

“…”

Next thing I know, it’s 3:00 in the morning, and I’m pouring over the final details in my script. The sad fact is: I can’t relax until this thing is done. I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. I can’t let it sit and collect dust. It needs to be done. The script. My work. Sanity be damned.

I’m a workaholic. That’s just the fact of the matter.

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Tha Carter IV: The Cherry Orchard

Peter Bjorn and John is playing on my Last.fm (special thanks to Jacob Brown). I’m thinking about what I want to do with myself tomorrow (which is actually this morning, since I’m writing this very late at night). I really need a day off to rest, but I need to keep job hunting. My bills never really seem to stop coming. My exhaustion doesn’t really want to leave. I have six weeks off. Six weeks to take a break from my show. Six weeks to try and relax. Six weeks to find more time for myself as the weather is getting warmer outside.

And yet still, all I can think about is some giant wagging finger. “Matt Fried, you are a lazy son of a bitch.”

For the last year, I’ve been writing on daily basis. Not a day goes by without me writing, or thinking of an idea for writing something. I recently read a Rolling Stone article on Lil Wayne, who takes the same approach to making music. Not a day goes by that he’s not in the studio, recording an average of five tracks a day. That calculates – roughly – to 150 songs a month; 1,825 songs a year. He’s quoted as saying that without recording, his whole day can turn to shit. With me and writing, it’s the same story. I can always walk away from acting or improv whenever I want. But if you told me “Matt, don’t ever write again.”, I’d probably have a nervous breakdown by next Tuesday.

I’m trying to do a lot of things in this life. Chief among them is getting paid to write. Specifically, I want people to pay me money for writing funny things. But I realize that statement must seem a bit ironic, considering that this particular blog entry is very Nick Hornsby. Which isn’t to say that Nick Hornsby isn’t a talent writer – I love High Fidelity. I’m just trying to use Nick Hornsby as an example of being a midtwentysomething man-child, stuck in a professional holding pattern. Not unlike the way Chekov decided to mock the modern intellectual in The Seagull. You see, it’s this play about this whiny rich kid who’s pissed off because his cougar of a mom won’t pay attention to him. So, to impress the girl he loves, he shoots a seagull, and gives it to her as a symbol of his dead talent as a playwright. Chekhov was a very cheeky fellow. I actually rewrote said “gift scene” just last night at 4 a.m. It goes something like this:

Matt: “Here, I brought you something.”
Anne Hathway: “Oh! Is it that dress I was looking at on Fifth Avenue?”
Matt: “It’s a dead seagull.”
Anne Hathway: “Oh.”
Matt: “It’s dead. Like my talent. I love you.”
Anne Hathaway: “…”

Not nearly as effective, but still very poetic.

Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yes – I want to be a comedy writer. But I’m tired. I really want to just rest tomorrow. But there’s this gnawing sense of guilt in me that won’t allow it. It’s a familiar guilt that I’ve known for a long time. It’s the guilt that expects the world of me. It tells me “One day, you will be The Greatest.” On long days, it pushes me a little further. Because it knows what I want. But then, the rest of my body gives out. I can feel my brain become uninterested, and my will as limp as an overcooked spaghetti noodle. I think, if it were a year ago, I would’ve identified this feeling as procrastination. Now though, my better instincts recognize it as exhaustion. The difference being that procrastination is motivated by fear. Exhaustion is motivated by… well, being exhausted. Yet still, I can hear those voices. “Matt Fried, you’re a bum.” “Matt Fried, you’re worthless.” “Matt Fried, it’s no wonder you’re nowhere near famous yet.”

But here’s the trick, folks. You have to ignore it. As hard as it is, I will let myself be tired. I will let myself relax. Because you’ll always have those days where things get crazy. Those are the days you have to step back, remember everything, and trust your gut. Otherwise, you are the next Treplev – sitting on the F train, sipping espresso, handing out dead pigeons from a trash bag to every pretty girl you see. And all you seem to care about is how unfair life is, and how you do so much and earn so little.

I’ve got six weeks. One day isn’t going to matter. Besides, I know too many other good writers. God help if someone ever says “Hey Matt Fried, I wrote a play about you.”

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Writing, Being A Writer, and Taking A Rusty Nail Through The Foot

My Monday began with a very simple declaration: “FFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCKKKKKKKK MMMMMMMEEEEEEE!”

That, my friends, was the sound of agony. Not of a tortured soul. Not of a voice yearning to breathe. Not even a repressed hedonist with the prose of an 11th grader. More precisely – that was the agony being experienced by my central nervous system as a rusty nail pushed it’s way through the fleshy bottom of my left foot.

9:00 in the morning and, already, this day was off to a great start.

Monday wasn’t supposed to start this way. Sure, it had been a long weekend – filled with an audition, a video sketch shoot, and an attempt to recover on Sunday – but I was supposed to wake up with the Eye of the Tiger. On Monday, I finally decided to get back out on the job market at full blast. Even if it meant only sending out one resume a day, and working my way up from there. I was not going to surrender to pessimism. I was going to be unstoppable. I was going to go out into the world and land a new writing job. Because now, I had the resume and the experience. For a year, I’d been enjoying great success as a blogger and a contributing writer on Guidespot.com. After I landed my first substantial freelancer’s check, I made up my mind: “Forget temping. I’m lucky enough to live in a world where I can make money as a writer.” 2009 was going to be mine, bitches. I could already see my first interview in Rolling Stone being published in January 2010.

“It’s not mandatory that you get a tetanus shot, but if it’s been a while, you should probably come down.”

That was the sound of the record to the soundtrack of my life being pulled mid-“Death or Glory”. To be more straight-forward: the nurse working at the health care facility that accepts my crappy HMO insurance.

“You should get down here before 2:00 if you decide to get it.”

One hour later, I’m not sending out my resume to Maxim, or writing a pitch letter to ESPN Magazine. I’m sitting in my doctor’s office. There’s no wifi. I’m stuck watching the rain collapse in buckets on the outside streets. I hate this. It’s Monday morning and my blog is getting no traffic. I was too tired to write anything on Sunday. “Alright, Matt; then just wake up early on Monday and write something then.” Clearly Fate had other plans. Even worse, hours are slinking by and my resume is in no one’s hands. The whole day is going to go by and jobs are going to get snatched up by less talented, yet slightly more attractive guys. Times are getting tough and my $80 jury duty check barely got me through the weekend. Very slowly, but surely, I can feel The Fear creeping into my brain. The Fear that one morning I’m going to wake up with no cash, back in my first crappy studio apartment in Forest Hills, Queens, with no choice but to get on the god-awful E Train Express to an entry-level job in Midtown that I hate.

At that moment, I started to feel like the protagonist in my screenplay (I’m writing a coming-of-age teen comedy). The story is about an 18 year old kid with big dreams, dying a slow and ironic death in the suburbs. I’ll skip the coyness and just say that it’s completely autobiographical. Ten years ago, I sat in class after class in high school waiting for the last bell to ring. Then I was free to leave, move to New York, and start my life being famous and important. Ten years later, I can’t even defend myself against the stock inventory of Home Depot. This is quickly not turning into the future I wanted.

A few hours – and one semi-painful needle later – I’m back at home. I’m working furiously to send out my resume. I’m resigning myself to be okay with the fact that my blog is going without new content on a Monday. “There will always be the rest of the week.”

The day drags on.

Caitlin comes banging on my door, wound up like a mitochondria after thirty shots of espresso. Caitlin is the six year old daughter of my upstairs neighbor. She rarely takes “No.” for an answer, and makes that clear as she insists on bothering me when I tell her I can’t be bothered. In retrospect, the first mistake I made was answering my door. After twenty minutes (which includes her breaking into my apartment – not cool by her mom or me), I’m able to get her away from me and back to work.

It’s now 4:45.

I can maybe work for another hour. By 6:00, most businesses will be done for the day. I have a rule about job applications: I don’t do them on weekends and I don’t submit them after 6:00. I’m still exhausted from the weekend. My arm is tender from the tetanus shot. I’m beginning to think I should call it a day. That’s the luxury/curse of being self-employed: you set your own hours, and then spend your after-hours wondering if you did enough. This whole day did not go as I wanted. I’m wondered if this is even worth it. Maybe I should just contact a bunch of temp agencies; it’d be easy money. Maybe I should go on Unemployment; at least then I’d be getting some steady money from somewhere. Either of these options seem way easier than the course I’ve set myself on.

Then it shows up in my Gmail – an e-mail from a music blogger job. They liked my writing sample. They liked my resume. They want to talk to me on Wednesday. My eyes widen, “I want to get paid to write about music!” I respond back and confirm an interview time.

What just happened? Did my hard work just pay off? Can I actually get my semi-mutilated foot in the door to somewhere respectable in this town? To be considered for a job as professional writer? You and I both know the answer, my friends. My faith is restored. I wrap up my last application and then call it a day. It’s 5:30. My foot is still a little sore, but I want to get out of my apartment. I decide to drop-off my laundry and go take a walk. I need it. I deserve it. Always remember the lesson learned here, folks: even a day that starts with a rusty nail through the foot can still end on a good note.

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