Storytelling and Writing Tips from Cameron Crowe


I’ll read or watch anything Cameron Crowe has done and always soak in any storytelling or writing tips he has. At this point, I feel like I owe it to him after all the years of great movies, books, and writing - even if I have to endure a few duds (see: Elizabethtown).

One could argue there's a lifetime of debt for Lloyd Dobbler alone. Few have reached this status of loyalty with me, but Cameron has earned it. It also doesn’t hurt that he was married to one of my all-time crushes: Nancy Wilson, of Heart (she was a rockstar when it wasn’t cool for girls to be rockstars). Cameron recently shared some thoughts on writing on Sirius/XM, and I was transcribing feverishly as the master spoke.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High - The Book

My introduction to Cameron was a little different than most who got to know him from his movies that made you laugh, think, and feel something. I read Fast Times at Ridgemont High when the book came out before ever seeing the movie that changed the game across multiplexes across America. I'd never read anything like it when it came out. It also kickstarted the genre of raunchy, teen, rated R movies. The best part is that 35 years later it still sits atop of the mountain.

Cameron recently wrote a feature on flavor-of-the-month, Harry Styles for Rolling Stone (for a background on his music journalism, see: Almost Famous). He was on the Rolling Stone radio show on Sirius/XM with some of the editors of the magazine and dropped some interesting thoughts on writing and how he views the different types of work he does. While his movies are household names, he also wrapped up a season of Roadies for Showtime recently, adding TV to his resume.

"It's all journalism."

He was asked if the approach for his feature writing as he does for Rolling Stone is any different than his approach or for screenwriting projects. Does one help the other?

- Crowe said, "It’s the same thing — it’s just journalism. You’re just trying to catch what was in the room. For a feature story, what are the candles, what’s the scent, what’s on the wall? For a screenplay: tell a story, pay attention to what people are wearing, what the room looks like. All your doing is trying to capture life. Whether it’s a story about Harry Styles or a movie [you're writing]. To me, that all comes from detail and journalism. It's all about detail. It’s all journalism."

What I took away from what he said was to work more on the setting and the details. Bring the reader into the room with you, which helps bring feeling to a piece, which is what we're all going for anyway. We want readers to feel something when they read our writing.

And the most important thing Cameron mentioned that I wholeheartedly agree with after decades of writing:

 "Rewriting is the key to writing.”

It’s right in line with Hemingway’s famous quote about writing: "Every first draft is shit.” This is where the heavy lifting in writing comes in. Rewriting over and over again, which is grueling and can be defeating. Cameron also mentioned he had a draft of a screenplay he’s currently working on that’s in the neighborhood of 278 pages. Your garden variety two-hour movie script is around 120 pages. He has some slight tweaking to do.

After all the movies, awards, TV shows, and accolades you can tell Cameron still loves writing about music for Rolling Stone over 40 years after he started. Almost like he’d do it now for free … almost.

The great philosopher, Lloyd Dobbler.

photo by GabboT via CC BY-SA 2.0