‘All Screenwriting Books Are Bulls — ’ and Other Tips on Making Hollywood Blockbusters From Brian Koppelman, Six Seconds At A Time (Updated!)

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 7.08.05 AMBrian Koppelman is the co-creator/executive producer of Billions, a Showtime drama in the making about Wall Street (coming out in 2016), and the host of the excellent Slate podcast “The Moment,” where he talks with creative people about the moments in their lives where things began to really work for them. He’s also a screenwriter, producer, and/or director for the movies Solitary Man, Rounders, Ocean’s Thirteen, and ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary This Is What They Want, about Jimmy Connors.

In September 2013, Kopps started posting #sixsecondscreenwriting Vines (he’s @briankoppelman on both Vine and Twitter), usually while walking the streets of New York City, sometimes from L.A. when he’s there for meetings, sometimes from film sets.

And really, they’re about more than just screenwriting. They are great for anyone who aspires to any sort of creative work — I know they’ve helped me with mine — so I’m transcribing them here.

As of May 14, 2015, there are more than 300.

Thanks to Brian for this. Incredibly helpful for young people like me trying to figure this whole game out. Love it.

1. All screenwriting books are bullshit. All. Watch movies. Read screenplays. Let them be your guide.

2. “Write what you know” works, but it’s limiting. Write what fascinates you. Write what you can’t stop thinking about.

3. The so-called screenwriting guru is really the so-called screenwriting con man. Don’t listen to ’em if you don’t know their movies.

4. In what I thought was the beginning of a serious heartfelt convo, I told my dad I wanted to be a writer. He looked at me and said, “You want to write? Write.”

5. Calculate less. Don’t try to game the market. Write what you want to write. And drink plenty of coffee.

6. Of the many supposedly bullshit rules of screenwriting, the only one that’s legit is “write every day.”

7. There’s a whole industry of bunko men trying to convince you screenwriting needs to be learned in some course. Don’t believe it. 

8. The moment your screenplay leaves your hands, it becomes a commodity. So while it’s with you, treat it like a piece of art.

9. Instead of reading screenwriting books, read about your subject, the subject that fascinates, compels, and interests you.

10. With screenwriting gurus it’s all about the how. “How do I write this?” What writers should think about is “Why? Why do I need to write this now?”

11. You don’t need any expert’s opinion to write your story your way. Repeat that.

12. The modern screenplay I’d be reading over and over if I were starting out, for dialogue, character, and plot, is “Michael Clayton” by Gilroy. (Click here to read/download it.)

13. Every writer should read Murakami’s WHAT I TALK ABOUT WHEN I TALK ABOUT RUNNING. It’s a great book on runnng and an even better one on writing. (Buy here atBarnesandNoble.com.)

14. Forget about contests, agents—focus on what you can control: Words, pages, and the intention behind them.

15. The first screenplay my partner and I wrote was rejected by every agency as unsellable. It was ROUNDERS.

16. The Coen Brothers, Charlie Kaufman, Quentin Tarantino never tried to guess what Hollywood would make. They wrote their obsessions, and so should you.

17. Let me use fewer words than the books do to explain three-act structure: Beginning, middle, and end. So stop worrying, and start writing.

18. The best tool I’ve found for dealing with writer’s block is morning pages. Done precisely as described by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way.

19. David Mamet’s “Speed The Plow” is the best example I know of how meter equals voices, and what Hollywood execs really care about.

20. Mysteries of formatting revealed: Keep it under 115, make sure every scene moves something forward, and start your story before I get bored.

21. When I want a quick shot of inspiration, I watch AMELIE or Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN—movies that broke all the rules, but engaged the heart.

22. Self-doubt goes hand-in-hand with self-expression. Tune it out for two hours a day, and you’ll have a finished screenplay.

23. If Hollywood could come up with an algorithm to write screenplays, they would. They need storytellers. Remember that.

24. Look, I’m not saying form and structure don’t matter. They do. But it’s forming an emotional connection with the reader that sets you apart.

25. When I’m stuck on a first draft, I remind myself, “No one gets to see til I say they can.” Which gives me permission to finish.

26. I can’t tell you how to write dialogue and build a character. No expert can either. You have to love writing enough to figure it out for yourself.

27. Know this: Whatever your favorite movie is, at some point during the writing of it, the screenwriter felt completely lost.

28. Wanna study character development, plot, and dialogue? Read all 16 Matt Scudder novels by Lawrence Block, in order.

29. Quick pro tip from the airport: Try and write your first draft as fast as you can so the doubts don’t have a chance to creep in.

30. Hey, if you just can’t make progress on your screenplay today, write an essay. Bang out a short story. Generate some pages.

31. The more rules you’re trying to remember or beats you’re trying to hit, the harder it is to get into a state of flow. Just write.

32. Always write for yourself, but don’t be self-indulgent. Define your audience, and write for them, too.

33. Amateur writers tend to write characters dumber than they are. Pros try to write characters smarter.

34. If you want to see character reveal through small, important actions, watch Hoffman rewriting ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN.

35. Screenwriting gurus want to keep you in a place of fearful need so you’ll pay them. Don’t buy it. Just keep writing.

36. The “realist,” in a spirit of friendship, always wants to tell the writer the “real odds” of getting something made. Tune ’em out.

37. Don’t stress about making your main characters likeable or relatable. That’s development-speak. Just make them fascinating, and we’ll care.

38. You already know how to tell the story. Think of one that worked that got you out of a ticket, or got you a date, and figure out why.

39. I know writing is hard, but if you can tune out the extraneous bullshit—self-doubt, expert opinions—it’s a little easier.

40. There’s not one exec in Hollywood who knows what audiences want to see next year—so write what you want to see.

41. Writers who want to know how to get an unconventional story made and read some incredible dialogue need to get Spike Lee’s GOTTA HAVE IT.

42. Writers look for reasons not to write. So make a list of all the reasons you NEED to write, and put it next to your computer.

43. Hey, if you love giant, commercial blockbusters, then that’s what you should try to write. But if you love small, personal films, write those.

44. “Hey, aren’t you just filling them with unrealistic expectations?” I hope so. All writers start out with unrealistic expectations.

45. Protect your writing time. Establish rituals around it. Take a long walk. Make a particular kind of coffee. Get you in a state to write.

46. Writing a first draft can be a fragile thing. Don’t sabotage yourself by talking to people who don’t share your dreams.

47. I was a blocked writer ’til I was 30. So I know how painful it is. I also know it’s worth it to fight through it.

48. A great book about single-minded dedication to life in the arts is the Paul Auster translation of Petit’s ON THE WIRE.

49. Want intricate storytelling at a breakneck pace? Watch BOUND, the film the Wachowski brothers made before THE MATRIX.

50. If you power through and finish a screenplay, you accomplish more than 99 percent of the people who ever have a movie idea do.

51. Some days you just don’t feel creative. That’s okay. Write anyway. At least that way, you build momentum.

52. Here’s a nuts-and-bolts tip: Sometimes when I’m stuck in a scene, I’ll take it out of the document, make a new document, and just work with it fresh from there.

53. I find that nothing can change my state faster or get me in a creative state faster than listening to one of my favorite pieces of music.

54. I don’t know any professional writers who will tell you it’s easy. It’s worth remembering that. It’s hard for all of us.

55. The best writers I know are led by their curiosity, and they follow it until they find the story they want to tell.

56. If you’re a writer, and you want to understand setting as character, listen to Lou Reed’s “New York” album from beginning to end.

57. I walk through Central Park every day to get myself in the right head to write. What do you do?

58. Resilience is a writer’s best friend. Train like a marathon runner. Move a little further each day despite the pain.

59. When I say write what fascinates you, I mean figure out why and communicate that to the reader in every scene.

60. Failure is a huge part of any writer’s life. So you have to redefine the term so that any day you write is a success.

61. The best moments in writing are the ones you can barely remember. It’s like they happened in a dream. But the only way to earn them is to grind every day.

62. I can’t believe I’ve done 61 of these things without mentioning William Goldman’s books. Get ’em, read ’em.

63. It’s 1:30 on a Sunday and I’ve written a few pages. Are they good? That’s a question for the rewrite. What matters is they’re done.

64. So what’s the trick to finding an agent, finally breaking through? The trick: Don’t let that stuff distract you.

65. All the emtions you think you have to suppress to get along in civilized life you can work from when you write.

66. Should I outline or not? And which genre? The better question: What can I do today to put myself in the best state of mind to create?

67. If you’re trying to decide what to write, and you have on idea that scares you because you don’t know what people will think of it, write that one.

68. Hey, if you won’t introduce yourself to people as a writer because you’re not getting paid for it yet, try it this weekend, and see how it makes you feel.

69. This weekend, pick a movie off the AFI Top 100, and watch it. Not to study, not critically, just to enjoy.

70. Remind yourself that writing can be an act of individual freedom AND and connection with others. That’s why it’s so scary—and so rewarding.

71. Perfectionism can be a real asset in the final stages of any artistic project. But on the first draft, it’s a momentum killer.

72. Tell the truth: Does talent matter? Of course it does. Here’s the good news: Talent reveals itself over time.

73. When we celebrate risk-takers, we talk about mountain climbers and cliff divers, but I know creative risk-takers are just as brave.

74. If you keep starting creative projects only to bail before finishing, ask yourself whose criticism you’re afraid of, and why.

75. Here’s a tip for getting unstuck: Stop staring at the computer. Open a notebook and handwrite it, or talk the scene into a recorder.

76. I don’t always work on Saturday mornings, but I have an idea that I’m excited about and I want to keep the momentum going, so I’m on my way to the office.

77. For years I was discouraged by the idea that the kind of person who becomes a writer or director was recognized for that talent at an early age.

78. Most people spend only a small part of their day feeling fully engaged. So think of your writing that way, and it’s easier to commit.

79. When I say write what fascinates you, that’s because it’s easier to show up every day and do the work when you’re truly passionate.

80. When you really throw yourself into a creative endeavor, people in your life can become pretty critical. Remember, it’s them, not you.

81. If you only have an hour a day to write, look at that as a positive, because it forces you to focus and work with intensity.

82. IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE by Walter Murch is as insightful a book about film storytelling as any I can think of.

83. If you become disciplined about protecting your writing time, it makes it easier to fully engage in other parts of life when you’re not writing.

84. Do I have to move to LA to make it as a screenwriter? Do I have to be tall to play in the NBA? No, but you better outwork everyone else.

85. When I say don’t fall prey to perfectionism, I don’t mean lower your standards. I mean don’t use standards as an excuse not to write.

86. Whether or not to outline is really a question of how comfortable you are with uncertainty, which is also the answer to whether this is a career for you.

87. Don’t sabotage yourself this Thanksgiving. Decide ahead of time how you’re going to answer questions about your writing or other creative projects.

88. Remembering this helps take the pressure off. There are two first drafts: the first draft you write for you, and the first draft you show to someone else.

89. Many of us have what gamblers call a leak—a habit or enthusiasm that knocks us off course. Figure out what yours is and close it.

90. You owe your readers what you owe yourself: best efforts to be original, engaging, and compelling. You have as many drafts as you need to get there.

91. The section I have to write today is tricky and I do not want to deal with it. I want to play hooky. But then it would be twice as scary tomorrow.

92. Is it hard to get an agent? Yeah. Is it hard to get a producer to read your script? It sure is. Think it’s harder than what these guys do?

93. If you find yourself insulted by someone’s reaction to your work, use it as fuel. Just like every other writer who ever lived.

94. But what if I sit down today and have absolutely nothing to write? Think of the last huge argument you had with someone and write it as a scene.

95. It’s easier to deal with something if you anticipate it, so know that somewhere in the middle of your script you’re going to think it’s worthless, and fight on.

96. Sometimes you’re stuck because you don’t know what’s supposed to happen next in your story. Here’s a trick: just think of what your characters might do next, and write that.

97. There’s no magical answer to the question “What genre should I write in?” Other than: the one you love the most.

98. Nobody chooses to become a writer or any kind of artist because it’s easy. You do it because you have to.

99. New Year’s resolutions are like superstitions. They don’t have any power. If you want to write a script next year, start writing it today.

100. Hey this is No. 100. What are you going to do? What do you mean what am I going to do? I always do the same thing. Yeah, but people are paying attention. Don’t worry. Just write.

101. Writers: take advantage of every tool at your disposal. Sometimes, a Dylan song for inspiration. Other times, corkboard full of notecards.

102. Is writing sometimes lonely? Yes. But it’s worth it for those moments when time disappears and you feel connected to everything.

103. You know a great thing to do for inspiration, especially this time of year? Actually go to the movies and see a movie in the movie theater.

104. So what’s more important? Inspiration or discipline? Honestly? You need to use 100 percent of both.

105. The first time I got a bad review, it almost took me out. Then I realized if I got right back to creating, I could survive it.

106. Hey, if you’re going to become an artist of any kind, you have to know it’s almost impossible to succeed, and then work like you know you will.

107. There’s a great exchange in Men in Black that applies to life in the arts. “Is it worth it?” Will Smith asks. “Yes,” Tommy Lee says. “If you’re strong enough.”

108. When I finish a first draft, I put it away for two weeks, long enough to forget about what I was trying to do, then I read it and make notes and revise.

109. I think self-imposed deadlines are useful because they can prod you forward. Just make sure they’re also attainable.

110. Think of how much joy your favorite artists have brought you. Now imagine if your work can do that for one other person, and get to it.

111. Don’t share your draft with anyone else until you can’t think of any ways to make it better on your own first.

112. But how do I know if I’m just wasting my time? How do I even know if what I’m doing is any good? Nobody ever knows. Do it anyway.

113. Look, I get it. As often as someone tells you the Van Gogh story, rejection still stings. Fine. Now go create something.

114. People tell you the market’s too crowded, the odds too long. Is it more crowded than the market of Chinese restaurants in New York?

115. Professional artists don’t expect to create museum-quality work with the first sketch of a new project. They just want to get something down on the canvas.

116. Hey, with the end of the year coming, it’s tempting to get down on yourself for what you didn’t get written this year. Instead, celebrate what you did.

117. Look, I’m not saying you’re gonna get in an argument with anyone in your family between now and New Year’s, but if you do, write it down exactly for dialogue.

118. Is it possible you won’t sell that novel you’re working on or screenplay or painting you’re trying to finish? Yeah. Isn’t it awesome you’re doing it anyway?

119. I love the blue of the sky tonight and the way the yellow is kicking off the streetlamps. And I’m gonna remember it so I can use it sometime when I write a scene.

120. As we head into the New Year, remember, your imagination is more powerful than any critic, agent, studio boss in the world.

121. OK, it’s 2014, you’re going to write that screenplay you always promised you’d write. But what equipment do you need. [Shot of a pen.] But how do I get started? [Shot of pen clicking.]

122. Sometimes, right in the middle of a creative project, you want to quit. Did I ever feel that way? Only on [shots of ROUNDERS, KNOCKAROUND GUYS, THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE, THIS IS WHAT THEY WANT, RUNAWAY JURY, SOLITARY MAN, OCEAN’S THIRTEEN]. [Deep breath.] Glad I didn’t.

123. You want to read about writing? Memorize this [CONVERSATIONS WITH ERNEST HEMINGWAY, THE BIG PICTURE by William Goldman, KAZAN ON DIRECTING, MAKING MOVIES by Sidney Lumet, AN OPEN BOOK by John Huston, THE BOOK OF THE FILM JFK, SHOW ME THE MAGIC, THE FILMS IN MY LIFE.] Then see if you need experts.

124. I promised myself I’d write three pages today, but it’s already night. So I guess I’ll write them at night.

125. The greatest shooters in the history of the NBA all shot the ball differently. Just get it in the hoop.

126. I walk through Central Park every day. It’s entirely man-made. Someone dreamed it and drew it. What are you dreaming?

127. You think you’ve been trying to get a creative project going for a long time? Go watch the documentary THE GATES. Jean Claude and Cristo. Then get back to me.

128. I figure the person who wrote this [shot of PLEASE DO NOT USE CELL PHONES IN THE WAITING AREAS. THERE IS A SPECIAL AREA TO THE LEFT OF THE RECEPTION DESK FOR CELL PHONE USE. THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION.] and this [shot of PLEASE NO DRINKING OR EATING IN THE WAITING AREA. THANK YOU.] is probably the best writer in the office. What do you think they wish they were writing?

129. What do I do every day to keep myself in a creative space? [Shot of him writing “I journal.” Followed by shot of him closing his eyes and breathing deeply.] That was meditating. [Shot of his fingers walking across desk.] Long walks.

130. If rule number one is write every day, and rule number two is take creative risks, even when they fail you get stronger.

131. I’m about to enter this pizzeria, where I cannot do this [dumping parm cheese on slice] without thinking of DO THE RIGHT THING. That’s great writing.

132. When you write every day, you’re not just building up discipline. You’re engaging your subconscious, so it’s doing work, even when you’re just sitting there.

133. Hey, the next time someone laughs at your dream, remind them that Paul Haggis’s CRASH script was rejected for five years straight.

134. No one in Hollywood woke up this morning wondering how they can help you. But they did wake up desperately in need of great material.

135. There is no secret. Writing is all about hard work, persistence, and discovery. Anyone who says different is selling something.

136. If you can get past the sticky mid-point of any artistic project, you’ll be floated, at least for awhile, on momentum and inspiration.

137. Here’s a basic truth I like to remind myself of: If you write one page a day, you’ll have a first draft in three and a half months. Two? Fifty-five days.

138. People ask: Isn’t there one book you’ve read that helped you write a screenplay? This one did. (Doyle Brunson’s Super System.) Because it made me an expert in my subject.

139. Artists should cross-train for the same reason athletes do: To build different muscles. Write a song. Try stand-up comedy. Anything to make you stronger.

140. Ideas are really fragile in the beginning. Nurture them, make progress, before sharing them with others.

141. Once you’ve written a first draft and you’re on to the rewrites, strive for clarity. Even if your narrative is opaque and twisty, the prose shouldn’t be.

142. I know, some days, it seems like the words come so easy it seems like you’re flying. On others, it’s like you’re walking in a foot of snow. Just keep moving.

143. Yesterday I really struggled with a scene. Every word cost me something. But today I had some place to start from.

144. People try to fill your head up with so much career advice it’ll make your head do this. (Shot of spinning top.) So focus on the writing instead.

145. How many pages did you write this week? Whatever the number is, make that number your screensaver, and next week, look at it every day, and top it.

146. I’m gonna get real basic: Take notes on your life. Journal. Record it. Go use it.

147. I’m on my way to see a friend in the hospital, and I’m reminded once again: Hug who you love, and get writing.

148. People ask, how do you know when your stuff is ready to show other people? This isn’t science. Part of writing is developing that instinct.

149. You wanna be an artist, you better be ready to say no — to the temptations pulling you away from your work, to the wrong people, to your inner critic.

150. I look at these people running in the cold, and I think they’d have what it takes to succeed as a writer.

151. Some rules have a clearly identifiable purpose. (Shot of sign saying “Newly seeded lawn. Keep off grass.”) You know, this one makes sense. But most so-called writing rules are just superstition.

152. If you still feel pressure writing your first draft, don’t think of it as your first draft, think of it as a rough draft. Then revise, and that’ll be your first draft.

153. All I wanna say today is this: The romantic vision of the beautiful, tortured artist addict is a lie.

154. For one week, track how much television you watch. Next week, spend 1/3 of that time creating something.

155. It’s kinda gross and annoying walking to work today through slush, disgusting snow. But what if I chose to notice something else? (Shot of the beautiful blue sky.)

155b. Walking to work today, my eyes could be here (the gross snow) or my eyes could be here (beautiful snow-covered trees and park).

156. Do professional writers ever feel like we’re banging our heads against the wall and everything we’re writing is useless? Of course. We just stay at our desks anyway.

157. I was thinking about this old David Mamet quote today: “Nobody speaks unless they want something.” It’s good for writers to remember.

158. Here’s a great thing to do. Watch a movie from the year you were born, and read a novel from the year you were born. See what it stirs up in you.

159. You know what keeps me going doing these? It’s the support I get from the artists I admire. (Next shot: Rian Johnson, who says, “Seriously man — stop.”)

160. Next time you’re stuck, try this: Write a scene between a teacher who hated you the most and the one who loved you the most, arguing about you.

161. If you want to model a character after your cousin, your aunt, your uncle, your friend, do it. You can disguise them later. Make them real now.

162. It took me until 5:30 today to come up with a decent idea. Did I get discouraged? Of course I did. But I kept going anyway.

163. Hey Brian, what if I’m a good writer, I just don’t want to deal all that politics? Hey pal, what if I’m a good swimmer, I just don’t want to deal with all that water?

164. You know what I wish I was doing? Playing in the snow. Reading. Drinking. Playing with dolls. But I’m a writer. Are you?

165. Conditions are so bad today I almost tripped three times walking home. Doesn’t matter as long as I get there. Same thing with writing.

166. I was beating myself up about spending a Saturday reading and watching movies instead of writing. But then I remember: Input? As important as output.

167. I woke up with an idea that might fix a problem in a script. I want to try it before I realize all the reasons it won’t work. So to the office I go.

168. There’s nothing wrong with self-promotion. It’s show business, after all. Just make sure when you do it, the work is there to back it up.

169. There’s not one creative endeavor I’ve tried that wasn’t met with resistance and rejection at first. The trick is to ignore those things.

170. With all the striving, don’t forget the sheer joy of doing it. Watch Twenty Feet From Stardom to remind yourself.

171. Today a writer friend of mine told me he finally realized he only had to write the version of the script he wanted to write, and then the dread lifted.

172. Everytime I’m in LA for meetings, I remember how impossible it seemed when Dave and I were writing our first script. I’m so glad we finished it.

173. Runners have a saying: “Plan your run and run your plan.” For writers, it’s the same, whether it’s word count, page count, time at your desk.

174. The time you set aside to create is one of the only things you can control. Luckily it’s also the most important factor in getting things done.

175. Today’s lesson is as simple as it is sad: Watch a Harold Ramis movie, and feel how much joy he got making us laugh.

176. I promise you this: If you write every single day, a year from now, you’ll be a much better writer than you are today.

177. I was in the bookstore earlier tonight, and I realized that every single author made a decision at some point that they were a writer. Are you ready to?

178. Want to see a great example of what it means to grind in the pursuit of greatness? Watch the two Springsteen documentaries on Born to Run and Darkness. 

179. In the last day, I heard two great stories of people using rejection as inspiration. Remember: No one can stop you from writing.

180. People say it’s all about connections, but Dan, how many comedy club owners did you know when you got here? (Cut to comedian Dan Soder, who says, “Zero.”)

181. When Philip Roth says “Obstinancy saved my life, not talent,” embrace it. Because one’s in your control, and the other’s not.

182. Just spent the day on the set of an indie film. The writer started writing it four and a half years ago. Just glad she never gave up.

183. Almost every real creative breakthrough is so scary you’ll try like hell to avoid it. Don’t. Power through. See how good that makes you feel.

185. The next time you really don’t want to write, and you write anyway, circle it on the calendar. And the next time you decide not to, circle that. Then look back and decide how each made you feel.

186. Is luck involved in a Hollywood career? Of course it is. But since you can’t do anything about it, don’t worry about it. Just create something undeniable.

187. I used to run three times a week, 3-5 miles. But it got cold, so I missed a week, then I missed another week. Now I haven’t run in months. Write every day.

188. Have you seen that rejection letter some guys sent Bono and U2 in the 70s? Good thing Bono didn’t believe that guy and quit. Don’t believe the haters.

188b. The thing about the Bono rejection letter is, it’s easy to laugh at it now, but most of us in Bono’s shoes would’ve believed it at the time. Don’t.

189. As a writer or artist of any kind, you’re always bumping up against total failure. Learn to love that feeling. Learn to need it.

190. Screenwriting’s not a competition, but somebody’s out there, not daunted by the odds, writing every day, dreaming big. Is that you?

191. Do you have a favorite story you tell when you sit down with a group of people? Like when you robbed that bank? Or ate 10 hotdogs on a bet? Then you know story structure.

192. When people talk about a writer’s voice, they’re talking about the writer’s distinct point of view, so know what you think of your characters and the position they’re in.

193. There’s a great book about the dedication and persistence required to become a working artist: Born Standing Up by Steve Martin.

194. Hey, if you want to be inspired by the relentless pursuit of a creative ideal, watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It’s awesome.

195. It’s easy to get bitter and decide everything Hollywood makes is crap. Fight that impulse. Remember what you love about the movies, why you started in the first place.

196. Never been big on writing lessons, but one thing I’ve always done: Stand somewhere like a train station and make up stories about the people going in and out.

197. I’m acting in a movie today. And I get to see the movies, hear their dialogue aloud. Their faces say the struggle was worth it.

198. Pick your favorite song, movie, painting. And think about this: When the artist started, they had no guarantee it would work.

199. I love the Ace Hotel. But hanging out here? (Shot of a bunch of people working in the hotel lobby and bar.) That doesn’t make you an artist. Doing the work, that makes you the artist.

200. This is Number 200, so some numbers:

Write every day.

Watch great movies.

Challenge experts.

Dream big.

Chase that dream with all you got.

201. When I say write every day, it doesn’t mean, if you have a job that only allows you a couple days a week. You can’t make it happen. It means have a writing routine and stick to it.

202. If you chase a career in the arts. Some people are going to think you are crazy. They’re going to worry about you. But when you break through? They’ll be like, I knew it all along.

203. When I walk into a poker room, I remember how fascinated I was by this world, and how much I wanted to show it to everyone. That’s how you should feel about your subject.

204. What are you reading lately? What movies are you watching? What music are you listening to? I hope a whole bunch of stuff came to your mind. Artists are always searching that stuff out.

205. Writers react in one of two useless ways when we get notes. Screw you notes! Please sir, could I have some more? Instead, wait, then react.

206. I spent some time with a top athletic coach this week. He said elite athletes forget their bad games and look forward to the next one. Treat rejection that way.

207. When you do take notes and begin a rewrite, remember the criticism of the work is not a judgment on you.

208. It’s crucial at the beginning of any creative project to know why you’re doing it. That way you can remind yourself during the treacherous midpoint.

209. One more thing about notes and criticism: Just cause they say it doesn’t mean it’s true. You decide what you want to believe. Take what’s useful. Discard the rest.

210. When you have a day where you wake up and try to get pages done and nothing happens, it’s easy to get down on yourself. Instead, go for a run, see a movie, try again tomorrow.

211. I bet sometimes in the middle of a project you convince yourself it’s horrible. You could be right. But you won’t know until you finish revising and finish again. So keep going.

212. No matter how you are in your real life, don’t be timid on the page. Take big risks. Swing for the fences.

213. There are no dumb questions, right? Nah. Because “What should I write?” is a dumb question. If anyone knew, they’d write it.

214. I hate Times Square because it’s calculated, fake, inauthentic. Just write a screenplay written from a how-to book.

215. But when’s the inciting incident? How long can the first act be? How short should the third act be? When’s the low point? You know what your story needs.

216. How do you know if your writing day is a success? Did you sit down, focus, give all you had? Then it was a success.

217. You definitely know what puts you in your most creative state — how much sleep you need, what to drink or not. Question is, why don’t you always do it?

218. If writing a first draft requires boundless enthusiasm, reading it and making notes requires brutal honesty. Cut yourself no slack.

219. How many times have you heard someone say, “Oh I’m not a real writer” or “I’m not a real artist”? If you do the work every day, yes you are.

220. It’s easier to not write than to write. It’s easier to give up than believe. Do the hard thing, and do it again tomorrow.

221. What if instead of judging yourself in your writing, you considered it practice, or playtime, or a release? Bet you do it more often and like it more.

222. Can I promise if you write every day, you’re going to end up world-famous? Of course not. But I can promise you’ll learn to write better.

223. If you’re comfortable writing dramas, do 10 pages of a comedy. If you write country ballads, try a rock song. Then when you go back to your thing you’ll have new colors to use.

224. When golf legend Ben Hogan was asked where he found the secret to his swing, he said, “In the dirt.” Remember that next time someone says they know the secret to screenwriting.

225. Here’s a good and simple thing to remember: You only need one buyer, one believer, to change everything.

226. Of course it’s important to believe in yourself. But even if you don’t, do the work anyway. Do that enough, belief will come.

227. “Hey kid, forget it, nobody’s making a Western. Or ethnic films. Or movies for women. Forget family drama.” Just write what you want to write.

228. Go to your favorite writer’s IMDb page. For every title you see, imagine how many drafts were written, and how many unmade movies. Imagine the belief it took.

229Have A Nice Day by Nick Foley is an incredibly inspiring book about giving yourself permission to be whoever you want to be.

230. Sometimes the last third of a creative project can really slow down to a glacial pace. Don’t let it. Power through, then revise.

231. There are days you sit down to work and feel like you don’t have any ideas. Work anyway. Give your subconscious a chance to surprise you.

232. While it’s not exactly true that if you focus on the creative, the business will take care of itself, if you don’t? No business.

233. Remember this: There’s no one way to write a screenplay, no one way to tell a story, and any expert who says there is, isn’t one.

234. Hey, I know that when inspiration strikes, you know what to do, but don’t wait for it. Work every day so that it knows where to find you.

235. Gary Gulman‘s about to do a set on Seth Meyers right now. Hey Gul, how many nights a week you perform? (Gulman: “Seven.”)

236. What we’re all after is that feeling of creative momentum, like we’re skiing downhill. It takes will and discipline to get to that place, but it’s worth it.

237. When you see a great movie, it can seem like magic. Trust me, the people making it had as many frustrating days as you. They just kept at it.

238. You ever finish a piece of work and say, Man, I really put my heart into that one! What would happen if you really put your heart into everything you do?

239. Who do you trust? Whose taste do you admire? Know the answers to those questions before you ask someone to read to avoid self-sabotage.

240. Do you know what time of day you’re the most creative? Have you tried really early in the morning? Super late at night? Before a run? After a long walk?

241. Put the energy you use to chronicle real-world gripes — Everyone’s connected but me! She won’t read my script! — into making up obstacles for your characters.

242. How do you make it as a screenwriter? By not even stopping long enough to ask that question. Obsess over the work, be rigorous, keep going.

243. Hey, it is really hard to get someone to read your script. It’s really hard to break in. But almost everyone who has started where you are.

244. The more ambitious the creative idea, the quicker the self-doubt comes. Train yourself to recognize it as fear, and keep going.

245. I think it’s important for creative people to find some time to still the mind and be unconnected. For me, it’s meditation and long walks.

246. Each time you start a new creative project, you’re a beginner again. That’s scary, but I think it’s also beautiful.

247. “But isn’t Hollywood unfair?” Sometimes. “Don’t you have to know somebody?” It helps. “Then I’ll never make it!” Don’t be that guy.

248. “Yeah yeah, but what can you guarantee me will happen if I write every day?” You’ll know yourself better. “But what about success?” Uh, that is success.

249. Probably the second, most consistent piece of advice I give is to journal. Why is that? Because it tethers your subconscious to your conscious mind.

250. Artistic insecurity can make you hear discouraging words very loudly and encouraging words like a whisper. For the next week, reverse it.

251. Do you still get nervous when starting a new creative idea?

Seth Green: Of course.

BK: So what do you do?

SG: Do it anyway.

252. Hey, if you know there’s somebody in your life who doesn’t believe in your dream of becoming an artist, or who wishes they were taking the shot, don’t show them your work.

253. Before you can convince anyone else you’re an artist, you need to convince yourself. The way to do that? Do the work every day instead of talking about it.

254. Here’s a confession: I don’t have all the answers. I have no idea what you should write. The good news? You have the answers.

255. The safest thing anyone in Hollywood can say is “No.” So that’s what they say all the time. It’s just a reflex. Don’t believe them.

256. We love the story of Michael Jordan getting cut in high school. Most people wonder “What was that coach thinking?” I wonder, what was Jordan thinking even though the coach was wrong.

257. What are you, too tired to write today? Bad allergies? I know, you’re too busy. Too stressed. Or just too scared. Not to write one page you’re not.

258. Constructive criticism can be amazingly helpful at the right time, but a momentum killer if you’re not ready. Make sure you can handle it when you ask for it.

259. Hey, artists, remember, even well-intentioned experts can be wrong. Learn from criticism, but don’t blindly believe it.

260. This one’s important: Be merciful to yourself while creating, but merciless to the work between drafts.

261. Pursuing a life in the arts is delusional and irrational, right up until the moment you create something that connects. Don’t give up.

262. Before stressing about who you know to get ahead, develop a clear point of view, a unique voice, a clarity of purpose in your art.

263. Ask yourself, how much time do you spend creating, and how much time complaining? Is it enough? Is it too much?

264. Take five minutes a day to record your life. Nothing fancy. Write down what happened. How you feel what happened. What you hope will happen next.

265. Don’t let a so-called “artistic lifestyle” get in the way of your work. Most artists I know conserve most of their power and energy for the page.

266. Was at dinner last night with a legendary novelist. He said he still gets lost writing first drafts. All writers do. But if you press on, the answers always come.

267. I admit this isn’t a screenwriting lesson, but it’s what I want to say: Find someone who needs you to be kind to them, and be kind to them.

268. Sometime in the first week of a new creative project, write down all the reasons you’re excited about it. Refer back to it during the long slog through the middle.

269. I’m flying to LA today to meet with an actor. Times like this, I always remind myself that this all started 18 years ago because my partner and I wrote a script on spec.

270. The reaction to my essay “As the Father of a Daughter” has really warmed my heart. But it was so personal I almost didn’t publish it. There’s a lesson in that.

271. Some of my contemporaries say I’m filling people with hope. Like that’s a bad thing. Sometimes hope’s the only fuel you got.

272. Sometimes artists have a hard time balancing their need for solitude with their desire for connection and experience. This week, make a plan and stick to it.

273. Notice what works for you. Notice what doesn’t. Keep track. I wrote in the morning and felt like this. And then like that. And then adjust.

274. Sometimes you lose perspective finishing a first draft. That’s why you should put it away for two weeks, then read and revise, and then send it out.

275. I want you to know that when professional writers get together, it isn’t like “My script’s awesome, how’s yours?” “Perfect!” We all struggle to get it right.

276. Here’s a way to process notes: Ask yourself, If I’d thought of that note, would I want to implement it? If so, do it.

277. Which word scares you the most? Pretentious? Shallow? Derivative? Or just You Suck? Don’t give those words any power.

278. Writer’s block is mostly just fear in disguise. Recognize what you’re scared of, see how silly it is, and write on.

279. Why write? Why dance? Why paint? Or run a marathon? Or risk love? Because they can be paths for our best selves.

280. Don’t be ashamed of wanting people to read your work or buy your paintings or hear your songs. Just do the work to earn their attention.

281. I know some of you are watching these Vines and saying, You know what? Yes. I’ma start tomorrow. That’s exactly what I’m gonna do. Don’t. Start right now.

282. Say you have a day job and want to be a fulltime artist. And you have one hour a week to devote. Spend 50 minutes making art. 10 marketing. Zero complaining.

283. Whenever I meet somebody who says I wanna be a writer, I wanna be a painter, I think, no you don’t. Write. Paint. Then you are it.

284. Hey, I remember the day, the moment, I made the decision, I am going to write every day. All that changed was my entire life.

285. Everyone knows if you walk the stairs you get stronger. Very few people actually do it. The ones that do separate themselves. Write every day.

286. Yesterday my partner and I turned in a script that took us seven months to write. So today I started planning, journaling, thinking of the next one. Cause that’s what we do.

287. Whether your dad did an awesome job or a not so good a job, you have a strong point of view on it, right? Use those feelings to create something. I betcha it leads somewhere good.

288. Sometimes when you hear a successful artist interviewed, it can feel like they were predestined to — they say it was a calling, meant to be! Believe me, they struggled.

289. Someone today asked me why I never have self-doubt. Of course I have self-doubt! The whole point is to build a routine that lets you create in spite of it.

290. If you pursue life in the arts, you’re going to hear “no” a lot more than you’re gonna hear “yes.” So you have to give that word your own empowering meaning.

291. Think about this for a second — I mean, really think about it. Paramount didn’t want to hire Al Pacino to play Michael Corleone. Glad Coppola didn’t accept that?

292. I’m going to go back to an old theme. People calling themselves screenplay experts have never written a made movie. Ignore them.

293. Whenever you think you’re the only one struggling to get it right, pick up a biography of any artist you admire. You’ll find they all struggled.

294. You can’t silence your critics. Not the parent who wants you to get a real job. Not the friend who’s secretly jealous. But you definitely don’t have to believe them.

295. Hey, if you want to dabble in the arts as a hobby, that’s fine. But if you want to make it your life’s work, admit that to yourself, and do something about it.

296. Yeah, it’s really really hard to find an agent. So keep doing the work until it’s so undeniable that they find you.

297. For the next 24 hours, every time you want to complain about how hard it is to break in, think about your work instead.

298. If you don’t play by the well-established rules, you definitely can win in showbusiness. Right? Wrong, you are wrong. (Shot of “Dave Chapepelle” playing at Radio City.)

299. Do you know who this guy is? (Jean-Pierre Melville.) Watch his film Le Cercle RougeThen watch the rest of his films.

300. Three hundred. That’s a half-hour, six second at a time. All really to say: Give yourself permission to create, and work at it every day.

301“Your first screenplay will never sell. They don’t make dramas. And forget female-driven films.” Most supposed rules are just superstitions.

302. A truly unique creative voice, writer/director Paul Mazursky, just died. Read his memoir Show Me The Magic

303. This applies across the board, but it’s especially true for a creative person: Don’t lie to yourself. Be ruthless when you revise.

304. It’s easy to get discouraged when the work doesn’t go well. Don’t. Even bad creative days are better than days you don’t try.

305. In your quietest, most private moments, you ever feel that maybe you’re not good enough? Maybe you’re a fraud? So did almost every artist who ever made it.

306. There’s one thing every professional artist didn’t do on the road to success: They didn’t stop at the first roadblock or rejection.

307. Hey writers, artists: What would happen if instead of doing what’s safe, what’s been done before, you tried that idea you’re almost afraid to say out loud? How would it make you feel?

308. People in your life might tell you you’re wasting your time. Before you believe them, ask yourself one question: Do they really seem happy with their choices?

309. When we see the finished project, it always looks so perfect. Effortless, you know? But ask the person who made it. They’ll tell you about the work.

310. You know that feeling you get when you’re so involved in a creative project you disappear? That’s what we have. Would you rather be riding the career carousel?

311. Anytime you worry you’re selfish for pursuing your dream, picture the mood you’d be in every day if you weren’t. Which of those people do you think your loved ones would rather be around?

312. I’m about to audition for a part in a movie. I haven’t been on the other side of an audition in years. I’m a little nervous. But I’m always happy when I take creative risks.

313. Here’s a simple but empowering thought: Even when the work seems impossible, it’s not actually impossible. Just approach it from a different angle.

314“I’m in a creative rut. I’ve hit a dry spell. I’m bloocked.” Don’t listen to that voice! It’s wrong. Power through!

315. Every day someone asks me how to find an agent. I try to explain it. One more time. When the work’s truly great, the hard part will be choosing who you let represent you.

316. Artists usually have one of two reactions upon hearing criticism of their work. “You suck!” “I suck!” Neither one’s useful.

317“What happens if no one likes it? What if I’m not funny? What if they laugh at me? What if I’m a fraud?” Writer’s block is fear. Don’t let it win.

318. I’m sure there are days you think the haters are right and you’re not good enough. Days you know it would be easier to quit. But then you’ll never know what happened if you gave it one more push.

319. One voice says “Create.” The other says “Hide.” That one sounds soothing and protective. But it’s really fear — don’t listen to it.

320. In any creative pursuit you’re gonna hit roadblocks and detours and barriers. So keep your destination in mind, and keep going.

321. Somewhere down deep you know what you’re meant to be doing. What would bring out your absolute best self. Recognize it and start today.

322. Self-doubt can sound like a wise older brother telling you hard truths, but it’s not. It’s an evil uncle stealing the best you got.

323. You ever worry you’re not smart enough to do creative work? Not good enough? Not enough of an artist? Do the work anyway. That’s what we do.

324. How many times have you heard someone say “I’m still waiting for my big break? Still waiting!” Hey, stop waiting. Go after it.

325. When’s the last time you took a big creative risk? Tried something you really weren’t sure you could pull off? If you’re an artist, you know that’s when you feel alive.

326. Look, there’s a certain way to do things. The way things have always been done. Or you could do your own thing your own way, and you might actually end up happy.

327. It’s really raining hard. It’s pouring. But everywhere I look, runners are doing their thing. Run in this, you can run in anything. Same with creating.

328. What percentage of creative people never face rejection? Here’s a hint: Same number who’ve never been stuck. We all face those things and press on.

329. Maybe you’re worried that whatever you’re going to create next is going to make someone angry. Or you’re scared someone’s feelings are gonna be hurt. Do it anyway. When you’re done, you can always delete it.

330. Before you quit, ask yourself this: What really matters to you? Why does it matter? And what you’re prepared to do about it.

331. If making a big creative leap feels like too big of a risk, think about everything you’re depriving yourself of by not trying and take that leap.

332. Experts in the conventional wisdom can only tell you what worked yesterday. Creators have to tune that out and find the courage to do the work today.

333. In the short term, it’s way more comfortable to avoid the risk of doing creative work. But that short-term comfort leads to long-term pain. Take the risk.

334. Here’s a fear I’ve heard a lot about lately: If I want to be an artist, will I have to quit my job? Blow up my life? Disappoint everyone? Nah. Find an hour a day.

335. I’m not going to tell you to love rejection. It’s like learning to love bee stings. But you must learn to ignore the pain and to keep going.

336. All right, there’s a very specific dialogue writing tip: Check out “This American Life” episode 541. Notice how the ex-con offers the piece of gum.

(In February 2015, as he began work on his new TV show The Billions, Kopps reset with “Volume 2.”)

1. (On a film set.) See all these people? They’re here because they wrote a pilot on spec.

2. Experts say only a sucker writes a TV pilot on spec. (Shot of his and David Levien’s producer chairs on set of their new TV show The Billions.) Experts are real smart, aren’t they? Create what you want to create.

3. Most of the creative people we now think of as greats were told at one point in their lives to give and go home. Don’t listen.

4. What would happen if next time you sat down to create — not every time, just next time, once, to start — you didn’t try to guess what other people would like?

5. I know what that voice sometimes says. “Am I just full of myself? Should I just give up?” All the artists you love found a way to press on despite it.

6. Poker players remember their bad beats instead of the hands they won. As artists we do it too. Today, remember a time you nailed your vision.


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2 Responses
  1. Brandon,

    Thank you for posting these. Since I discovered the Vines pretty late, this is much easier than clicking through them all. Much appreciated!