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Writing Secrets from Ari Handel, Screenwriter of “Noah”

I had the opportunity last week to chat with Ari Handel, the screenwriter of the upcoming Paramount motion picture “Noah.” Ari is both a producer and writer, known for The Fountain (2006), Black Swan (2010) and The Wrestler (2008). He was actually trained as a neuroscientist, and earned his Ph.D. in that field. Then he made the decision to move into the entertainment business with his old friend Darren Aronofsky. When it comes to Noah, we’ve heard the hype and the controversy, and I wanted to get straight to the writing. Here’s what’s important to Ari when it comes to writing:

1. With every project, he always sets either a daily word target or time limit.  Once he hits the either one, he rewards himself and stops. Without targets we often become lost in the work. We get stranded in the ditch of never ending work, and never experience the victory of a job well done. Rewarding yourself for hitting a pre-determined target is a very popular technique for serious writers. Ernest Hemingway became famous locally for mixing martinis after a hard day of writing.  But how you reward yourself is up to you…

2. When he stops, he always leaves something to be done.  That way when he picks up the next day he’s not stuck. He has an easy to start place to begin work. Writer’s block often happens when a clean break leaves a writer without a hook to start again. When Ari leaves something undone at the end of one day, it gives him an easy place to start the next.

3. Although he’s not a “morning person” normally, he becomes one when it comes to writing.  He likes the early morning with no interruptions, no kids, and no distractions. On this blog I’ve mentioned the recent book “Daily Rituals” that track the schedules of 161 artists, writers, painters, inventors and other original thinkers. The vast majority were morning people. Recent research indicates morning people make more money and have more fulfilled lives. While that’s certainly not true of everyone, it’s something to consider. I can get far more accomplished in 2 hours in the morning, than I could in 4 hours later in the day.

4. He feels that research is vitally important to the writer.  For Noah, not only did he work on the project for years, but he consulted early Christian and Jewish sources, as well as both old and recent scholarship.  The more solid the research, the more seriously you take the subject.  Plus – he feels that even with imaginative work, you need to create a solid, believable world around the idea. Then you can build.

5. He will often come back to the writing later at night after the kids have gone to bed.  Well, that just proves he’s a family man.  In fact, that was all we had time for because he had to leave to get to his daughter’s birthday party…..

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3 Comments

  1. Great article. All of these points also apply to my method of writing. Regaring point 2 in particular, I have a rule to never stop work at the end of a chapter.

  2. Good points. I love that he keeps himself grounded, he knows what his priorities are (re: family), but knows how to maximize productivity with the time he has, even if it’s not much.

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