This was an early days project, a zine about marketing and promoting your independent project. As I reflect upon it now, all these years later, I feel that it is both very earnest, but also, a reminder that so much of the foundation of how I approach publishing as a profession is bound up in what I learned from making zines. There is so much functional wonder and problem-solving in the DIY approach of every aspect of zine-making — from the writing to the design to the production to the distribution and promotion — it lets you truly feel the creative process in your core every step of the way. Seeing pages you made fly out of a photocopier, the utter satisfaction of pushing down a stapler and feeling the physical mechanics of bonding your work, sealing up the finished product in an envelope and dropping it off in the mail to a very specific person. There is a completeness to it, a cycle of creation that is pure and wonderful. Earnest? Yes. In the best of ways. It’s good to occasionally be reminded of and to embrace earnestness, especially from the early days.
I’ve hit some walls with the writing. I’m not short on ideas, but very much lacking in the discipline of writing, as well as feeling out of sorts with the writing process — being able to go from idea to pages in a way that feels like it’s working. Also, I had a tarot reading in which I was told that my same old, go-to methods and strategies are not working anymore, that I need to blow things up and start anew. This unnerved me.
I don’t have any answers yet, and this isn’t a comprehensive explainer on how I solved this personal writing challenge. But I’ve found some very helpful resources, and already I feel some of that flow coming back to me.
Let me share one right now:
Save the Cat — a popular method originated by Blake Snyder in the screenwriting world — structures the narrative through 15 beats. It essentially distills the necessary plot components and story arc that will drive your characters and concept from the opening scene to the credits. It was developed for scriptwriting, but it can be applied to novels as well — any story, really. To wrap your head around the method, it’s fun to analyze films you know very, very well, and see how the 15 beat structure adheres to those films. For example, try it with The Karate Kid, or Star Wars. It’s also fun to put it through the paces on a film like Mulholland Drive, which is more of a plot puzzle and very esoteric in the way the story unfolds. And yet… You can find the beats in there.
Here’s a beat sheet for Point Break featured at the Save the Cat website to bring it home for you. I mean, you’ve seen Point Break at least ten times or more, right? And doing this exercise is a fantastic excuse to fire up the movie and give it yet another watch. There is no breaking point with a film like that. It’s a forever thrill ride — “Utah! Get me two!“
I’ve read some great summaries on the Save the Cat method, and played around with the Save the Cat beat sheet guide/template on past and current writing projects. I’ve also watched a couple of very informative videos — one that workshops the framework, and another that explains the beats, making sure to note that each beat does not equal one scene in a movie — some beats are just a scene, while others are sections that include multiple scenes. Very helpful to know.
Here’s a great overview and workshopping video from Reedsy on the Save the Cat method:
And here’s a Film Courage video drilling deeper into each of the 15 beats that features Naomi Beaty, a screenwriting teacher and screenplay consultant, as well as a Save the Cat instructor.
I’m taking all this in to help create better story arc and plot structure. Just running through the beat sheet on some of my past projects, as well as trying to make it work for my current project, is inspiring new ideas and interesting approaches. I’m also in the process of reading and marking up my copy of the Save the Cat book.
Are my blocks unblocked? Not really. But I consider all this progress.
Now let me get back to those beats!
Sara Teasdale wrote many poems about love, longing, and New York City. Here is a poem that combines all three, with the moon gazing down in wonder at the electric, always-on lights of a city that never sleeps. These are lights that inspire and energize, that widen the eyes and keep you seeking and striving and hungry for more of whatever it is your are looking for.
(From Rivers to the Sea, 1915.)
Are you heading towards the lights?
Sent a telegram to the sea
coded in wave crashes
and the ink of salty mists
Through thundering clouds
and a lightning storm
I received the sea’s reply
More sea poems can be found in Always Find the Sea.
We spent the whole day
lying on the grass of a sloping hill
imagining whole cities we could
pick up and move away
at will so there would be
crowded sidewalk cafes open all night
and dancing shadows seen in
candlelit windows high above
bustling, honking, lit-up streets
but also nothing at all
no one around, no coming and going
nowhere to be
except on an expanse of rolling fields
where we could bask in the heat
of a lingering sun
and drift off to dreams of us
lying on the grass of a sloping hill