Friday, June 24, 2011

The HAECOF Method

It's been a good week for TV writing. I'm happy to report that the words for my new pilot are flowing -- over 30 pages worth. I even have a title for the episode: "Twouble." I have big plans for this pilot. I'm going to produce a trailer for it and submit it to the 2012 New York Television Festival. This is a big deal for me. It will force me to stop hiding behind my computer and really make something, add an actual thing to the creative cosmos.

If I had to sum up my show by way of comparison, (picture me in a short skirt pitching 15 HBO execs) I'd say it's The Office meets Gossip Girl meets Sex and the City. While I normally dislike these kinds of comparisons, thinking about my own show this way has served one important purpose: it reminds me when I'm getting too close to what's already been done.

I don't know about you, but when I'm writing -- a novel, a movie, a tv show, anything -- I normally steer clear of its "peers," meaning any book, movie or tv show that resembles my own even in the slightest. It's a method borne out of fear, mostly; my fear of being compared to someone else and falling short, not my fear of ghosts.

When I'm in between projects, I fuel up on as much of my "peers'" work as I can. But during my own creation phase? No way. I was reminded of the importance of adhering to this method of mine -- the "How to Avoid Eating the Contents Of Fridge" method (HAECOF) -- when I did something really stupid yesterday and watched the pilot for the maddeningly amazing BBC series Pulling. And now, because I did not follow HAECOF as my protégés pictured above have been doing, I am in need of a larger HBO pitching skirt.

What about you? When you write, do you look to the works of other "similar" writers for inspiration and creative, um, lubrication? Or do you feel dragged down by their amazingness?

Speaking of inspiration, I read a very good short story this week by Elly Zupko called "Fixed." Check it out here. It contains swears and sexy bits so if you want something to read to your kids or puppy, click here instead.


  1. I don't write books or scripts, but have been known to write music. Not often, but sometimes. I would totally write more, except that every time I get an idea for a song in my head, it reminds me of about 4 other songs that sound the same, and I get obsessed with making it sound super-original until I give up. But I probably miss out on making a lot of good stuff.

    I guess my point is... I agree with you? Put on the cone of silence when creating? It's just that when you finish and the cone lifts, don't be too critical if it's close to something else because you might trash something awesome.

  2. The fact that you can write songs at all blows my mind, Matt. I mean, words AND music AND coordination AND rhythm AND stage presence? Wha? I write one sentence an hour and I usually spill coffee on myself in the process. You musicians are freaks of nature, in my opinion. And I wish I was one of you.

  3. Thank you for the shout-out!!

    In regards to the question you pose, when I'm the creation process, I do reach for inspiration, but I've never considered whether it was from "peer" work, which is an interesting way to put it. I have two go-to sources: really, really amazing writing (say, a bit from Blind Assassin), which makes me think, "She's working with the same 26 raw materials I is possible"; and really, really awful writing (say, a bit from a trashy romance I have on my shelf), which makes me think, "Geez, I can do way better than this--and she's in print!"

    I agree that it's a good idea to stay away from work that is similar to your own. When a person is in creative mode, I think they become much more sponge-like. Everything becomes fodder. You do risk picking up voice, themes, structure from other work without even meaning to. So that's why I only read bits. :)

  4. Hi Elly: I totally agree about being a sponge when in writing mode. It's like my brain is wide open to evey angle and possibility and I feel my mind saving it all for later. I often read lots of YA books when I'm working on my own literary fiction because they're so far removed and keep my mind off my own project when I know my brain needs a break. (The Hunger Games was very useful in this regard.)