06/25/2014 12:32 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Everyone's Right. Everyone's Wrong. What Do We Do Now?


Blake "Save the Cat" Snyder

Every day, before I do almost anything else, I send out a barrage of tweets and Facebook posts.

First, I schedule tweets about my novel-in-progress, Educational Experience, because I'm trying to be thoroughly modern about this "author platform" thing. Seems to be working, too.

Next, I release a stream of URLs, mostly to pages full of advice for writers. Others are political. Some are about research or scientific breakthroughs, fun facts. And some, yes, are the inevitable diet "discoveries" and cute kitties and doggies.

I use Hootsuite and Tweetdeck, mostly so that I don't have to go to each social networking site individually. And I've noticed an interesting thing of late.

I agree with almost everything I post. Even posts that contradict earlier posts I also agreed with -- I even agree with Facebook comments from people who disagree with things I've posted. Sometimes.

I'm not extraordinarily gullible. Actually, it's rather the opposite. I think about what I read a little too much, perhaps. And can, therefore, see all sides -- I'm better at it as I grow older, by the way. Things are a lot less "black and white" to me now. do I decide what to do with all this information? How do I -- how does anyone choose sides or techniques or new approaches from the deluge of data we receive every day from people like me?

And from well-meaning friends. And wily foes.

Time for a story. Remember those? That's how people used to teach, pre-Twitter.

I have been blessed, through the years, with mighty mentors -- my old Sun Times colleague Roger Ebert was my favorite. A close second had to be the "also late" screenwriter Blake Snyder, who penned the script for Blank Check and wrote THE book on screenwriting, Save the Cat.

I met Blake first the way I always meet good mentors. He made the mistake of putting his email address in his book. I wrote to thank him for the book. He liked what I wrote and asked to see a few scripts.

He liked them, too.

And he decided he would be what he called my "mentor for life." I was stunned and delighted, and we worked on a few scripts of my own and others during the all too brief time before he passed away.

I sometimes think he may have regretted taking me on from time to time. I am what is called a "pantser," or a "drafter." I do not plan my writing. Not on paper. In my head a little bit, yes. Each day, a little more, as I reread the previous day's work and new ideas crop up.

Blake, on the other hand, created the "formula" that is beloved by thousands and reviled by thousands more. It has become, like it or not, the standard by which many studios and agencies decide whether to buy or pass on most of the scripts they receive.

And some publishers have followed suit.

He tried and he tried and he tried to teach it to me. But whenever I used it, the idea I'd been so excited about would wither and die before I'd even begun the actual script.

First battle? Trying to get me to spit out the logline -- they sound like those little blurbs you read in TV Guide or when you click "Info" on your remote.

"It's a story about..." he would prompt. And I would sputter and ramble and mutter... and then give up.

I am like the Hopi katsina carvers on my ex's reservation, who pick up a piece of cottonwood root and ask it what it wants to be. They whittle and dig, and the little spirit begins to take shape. And then they lovingly do what it asks of them.

I discovered, though -- and unfortunately after Blake was gone -- that I could use his beat sheet formula. AFTER I'd done a first draft.

If I go back and tighten up the thing, making everything happen on or around the pages and stages the beat sheet demands, it really does help. I don't do it exactly as asked, but when it strengthens the piece... I do it his way.

But... the thing is that I have to do it my way, first.

And that's the answer to that question I asked a while back -- how do you choose? According to what works for you. What feels right. What you've seen with your own two eyes -- and felt in your heart and soul.

You also have to be open to reading through things that don't seem to fit, to find bits that do--that's the hard part for most people. Getting past that knee jerk reaction that rejects anything that doesn't have the right "buzz words" in it -- or has the wrong ones.

I'm trying not to "judge" anymore. Not as much, rather. It's tough in some cases, but I still try.

There's an old saying that goes, "Everyone is a teacher. Some teach you what to do, others teach you what not to do."

I'm dispensing with the second sentence these days. And adding "and everything" to the first.
My morning "barrages" have taught me that -- social media teaches, too. And my life is the "sifter" that helps me find the golden bits.

Are you smiling up there, Blake? It wasn't all for naught after all.

Image credit: Publicity photo from