What I Learned In The VIP Lounge


VIP Lounge
Lounging around.

There I was in the VIP Lounge. My left hand held a champagne flute while my right shook hands with my writing idols Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, the creative geniuses behind LOST.

It was 2010 and I was living in Los Angeles, learning everything I could about screenwriting (except how to afford living in L.A.), and had spent a lot of time at the Writers Guild Foundation Library reading produced TV or film scripts and writing my own.

I had gotten to know one of the staff members, a great guy named Javier. One day he tells me that he had an extra ticket to an event happening that very night, the Writers Guild Foundation’s Panel for Emmy Nominated Writers. It was to be hosted by hilarious actor Rainn Wilson, and would feature writers from The Simpsons, 30 Rock, and Mad Men, just to name a few. But the panelists who interested me the most were Damon and Carlton.

Little did I know that the most valuable lesson I would learn that night would happen before the panel.

I arrived not knowing what to expect. Javier couldn’t make it, so I was solo. I gave the ticket girl his name, and as she handed me the ticket she said something that completely took my by surprise: “The VIP Lounge is over there.”

I hadn’t even known about the event until that day, and yet I had somehow received a VIP ticket simply by being in the right place at the right time.

So I played it cool. “Ah, yes. Thank you.” Oh yeah, I’m smooth. I strolled in there feeling like James Bond, until I realized that I was rather underdressed in my t-shirt and jeans. Oh well, nobody seemed to notice.

A caterer was kind  enough to walk by with a tray of champagne flutes. I grabbed one to calm my nerves. I was so excited! These guys were doing exactly what I wanted to do. On top of that, I was surrounded by other writers and people in the industry. It was truly a magical night, and one of the best memories I have of my time in Los Angeles.

As I sipped the champagne, I turned to see Damon Lindelof there in the same room as me. I could not let this opportunity get away. So I approached him and introduced myself. I asked him if he had any advice for aspiring writers (it’s so nice not to include the “aspiring” anymore).

His advice was surprisingly simple:

Read
Read this, if you can.

Read.

It doesn’t sound like much, but there’s more to it. Damon explained that reading other people’s writings can help inspire your own. In fact, some of the concepts in LOST were inspired by Stephen King’s The Stand.

In addition to getting ideas from what others are writing about, it is also a great way to learn different writing styles. Knowing what writing styles have worked will help you develop your own successful style.

I thanked Damon for his advice. Before I could come down from the cloud I was on, Carlton Cuse walked into the room.

Of course I approached him and introduced myself. I also asked him if he had any advice for aspiring writers (once again it’s very nice to not to include the “aspiring” anymore).

Carlton’s advice was just as simple.

Write
Just write something.

Write.

This should be obvious, and yet it needs to be stated because some writers put more time and effort into not writing. In fact, I’ll bet all writers have spent at least a short period of time doing everything except writing.

Carlton used a real good analogy. He said that if you want to become a violinist, you would have to practice your violin every day. The same rule applies for anything, including writing.

If you want to call yourself a writer you darn well better write!

The only way to improve your craft is to continuously practice it. The more you write, the better you will become at it.

If you’ve reached a day when the words just won’t come out (I’ve had plenty of those), then try something new.

Write about a different topic or try a different writing style. If you mostly write copy, try writing a poem just for fun. One thing I like to do when I’m stuck is freestyle write whatever pops into my head. That at least gets you started writing.

Read and write.

Probably the two simplest, most obvious, and yet most valuable pieces of writing advice I’ve ever received. From the mouths of my writing heroes, no less.

Read the works of other writers, so you can learn your skill. Write to put what you learn into practice and master your craft.

The rest of that night was also fantastic. And it was all thanks to Javier (I owe you one) who I met at the Writers Guild Foundation Library, where I spent my time reading and writing.

11 comments

  1. Dan, What a night! Thank you for this awesome post. I was so feeling the emotion, the adrenaline, and the awe through your words. And, yes, your idols gave the best advice ever! This is the exact same advice that I give to aspiring writers who often contact me to ask how I became a “real writer”. I just tell them that I read and write tons. As writers, if we are only interested in our own voice, our own process, and our own psychology, we will rather quickly find ourselves in a dark room all alone and blocked. Good writing is all about taking other people into our skin by way of their expression. There is no shortcut. Hugs to you, my writing-brother.

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  2. Oh, I am totally geeking out that you got to meet them. Did you at least give them a swift kick in the shin for the Series Finale? Because I mean, come on… they robbed us 😉 That’s very good advice though! I have definitely gone through MANY A PHASE where I did everything BUT write… It’s so much more fun to read about writing and daydream about writing and plan your writing than to actually… write. *sigh* I’m still so jealous. I would have needed a pitcher of that champagne to calm me down 😉

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