I had the opportunity to interview Steven L. Sears at the Writers of the Future 2015 Awards Ceremony. I had a great time, and got some amazing advice from him.
What advice would you give new writers?
First of all, never kill your kids. There’s a philosophy which is not really born about my own actual beliefs theology. Children have the knowledge of the universe because they just came from there. They know everything because they just came from where it all happens and they just walk out into our lives. What’s the first thing they hear when they get here?
No. And that’s a wall. No’s are walls. So the word no is a wall and we keep doing that. Usually it’s for legitimate reason. We don’t want the child to hurt themselves but we have to consider that a rep of no creates barriers and that eats away at our knowledge of the universe. More importantly it eats away our willingness to go back and play in that world. So I think what a lot of creative people who are successful later in life have done is 1. They heard the word no, but they applied it to practical things and not creative, or Two, they spent a large part of their life trying to unlearn the “no” walls. And online when when I’ve taught classes, those are the people who have struggled the most because they’re trying to recover their childhood. Or they’re afraid to recover their childhood. It changes their entire world. But when they success, they’re incredibly creative, because they went through the pain.
What inspires you in your writing?
Some of my answer is going to be a little weird because I look at it form a different perspective. My inspiration is that I’m a storyteller and I’m surrounded by a world of stories. I can’t say anything inspires me because that’s the water in my goldfish bowl. To me, that’s not unusual. The inspiration is never the problem. I look around and there are stories to be told.
I’m the guy who will walk down the sidewalk and then suddenly jump down to look on the round to look at an ant. A lizard. This morning in fact, I spent ten minutes sliding along the floor in my socks, only because it amused my dog. That’s going to end up in something.
So I can’t escape the inspiration. It’s all around us. It’s like the child with the walls. It’s all there. Your own life should inspire you. The fact that you’re standing here, is inspirational. Why wouldn’t you look around you and say “This is an awesome world. It’s got problems. I have problems as well. It’s an up and down adventure. All ticket rides are inspirational because they leave you breathless.”
What is your favorite part of Writers of the Future?
The new talent. I’m a big believer in new blood. The industry that I come out of, which is primarily television, people look at that as being a locked shop, “It’s who you know,” “You can’t break in” but the truth is just the opposite. We thrive on new blood. It IS hard to get in because there a lot of people out of there thinking they’re something special.
But it’s like that scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when he’s trying to get everyone to leave the window and he yells “You are all individuals.” And they all repeat “We are all individuals.” And the one person yells, “I’m not.” Well, that’s the individual.
What I like about this is that you see new talent being reinforced and supported and urged onward as opposed to: “I’m a great storyteller.” - “Well, that’s great. Take your story elsewhere.”
It’s the encouragement of new talent, because without that—dreams are not past tense. I never bother looking forward to my last dream. It’s the one in front of me that I haven’t seen yet. So I just saw a people on stage who have a lot of dreams but they just haven’t let me know what they are yet. That’s what I love about this.
There are a lot of times when people think, “My book is the best thing ever, and then hit the “This is the worst book ever.” What do you do to help them?
It’s very simple. I have a very simple solution. Every time I’m hired to write another screenplay or I’ve got another assignment for TV show. I start the same way. I sit in front of the computer, my hands over the computer and I sit there and I go, “How did I do this? I don’t remember how I did this last time. I don’t. Oh my goodness, look at the size of that monster.”
And then I think that I don’t have to look at the big monster. I just have to look at the next step toward the monster, so fade in. And then once I’m typing away, the kids come out to play in my head and then I just take dictation. I’m having a lot of fun. So the simple response to that is for those who say they have writer’s block. Or forty page block in screenwriting.
So what I say is "Just write." Just write. Take your next baby step. Because what you’re doing right then is doing the equivalent of whacking your way through a corn field. The corn is too high to see what you’re doing right now. You can go left, right, backwards forwards. Just keep chopping away at it. Go in a direction of some sort At the end of the cornfield, there’s a helicopter. And you can go up in that helicopter and see everything you laid out. And that’s when you go “Oh that’s what I did.” And then you can move things around. That’s when you get really excited.
Usually this is the first draft. I just say “One foot in front of the other. Or “Just keep swimming” if you want to use that. But just keep writing.
I’ve had my characters actually talking about not going forward.
And of course:
What’s your favorite color?
Kind of a maroon, green, sometimes blue.