Rebelling with Tchaikovsky

The concept of time off: I don’t seem to have it. But I keep looking for it, and maybe one day I’ll succeed.

After having not blogged since before Thanksgiving, I find I’m equal parts short on time and rebellious toward my editorial calendar. In case you’ve yet to hop on the latest fad, editorial calendars are these things writers are supposed to make so we know what to write on which day. Which means we have to figure that out weeks in advance.

Which, if you know me at all, you’ll understand this is simply not the way I operate. But I keep trying anyway, because I’m really good at feeling inadequate when I can’t do the stuff everybody says I’m supposed to do.

Which seems to mirror my screenwriting life at the moment, because after forcing myself to slog through yet another outline in preparation for my second draft, I now find myself passionately opposed to writing the script that goes with it.

They say women are mysterious, and I am proof.

I heard this quote from Tchaikovsky last night (composer of fantastic works such as the Nutcracker Suite), and I think we would have gotten along:


Then he also said:

If we wait for the mood, without endeavouring to meet it half-way, we easily become indolent and apathetic. We must be patient, and believe that inspiration will come to those who can master their disinclination.”
― Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

So this is me, attempting to meet the mood halfway. Against my will, against my better judgement, but with a little bit of hope… I’m sitting down to write and it might get ugly.

And it most certainly bears no resemblance to my editorial calendar.

In Process

No two writers are the same. Perhaps the process of creativity is one facet of the work world which is continually elusive, never really containable or describable. There doesn’t seem to be a pattern or formula that we can follow to replicate another’s success.

And yet we keep trying.

It seems I’m always comparing myself to other writers and spectacularly popular artists, trying to glean fresh inspiration and awareness from their example. It works up to a point, but there are only so many books to buy, videos to watch, and classes to take before I just have to sit down and face the page on my own.

I’m reading a fantastic book: The Forest for the Trees, by Betsy Lerner. Betsy is a book editor, writing to writers about the magnificent perpelxitude that is a writer’s life.

In a charming style that is so completely relatable, Betsy describes her perception of writers before she chose a profession that would grant her an intimate acquaintance with them – all the zig zaggy foibles, neuroses, and arrogance of them.

Now that she’s seen behind the curtain, those lofty perceptions are gone. But the fact remains that many of us continue clinging to this false perception that other writers are so different, so much more consistent and disciplined, so much more knowledgeable than we are.

We all – every one of us – is in process.

We all struggle sometimes. We all feel highs of elation when a perfect idea comes to us and the story seems to write itself. We all get stuck in the miry clay of creation, with that mysterious shape that could become literally anything. We all wonder if what we’re making will be any good. Or if it will be so good that no one gets it, and our treasured art is going to grace the walls of somebody’s poo palace.

"I may learn to like her. Hang her in my bathroom!" -- Oliver Warbucks

“I may learn to like her. Hang her in my bathroom!” — Oliver Warbucks

Every masterpiece had to start somewhere. There are no straight lines on the graph charting the progress of a creative work – it’s jaggedy and unpredictable. But it’s always an uphill climb.

I’m cultivating a new appreciation for this remarkable, unrepeatable process.

Participating in a writers’ group is a super way to do this. Reading and critiquing the work of my friends (and being read and critiqued myself) allows me to get in on that process, to participate in the despair of a fledgling new script and the exhilaration of watching it morph into something wonderful.

I’ll never forget the first month of my ScreenwritingU class, we had to build a story structure around the germ of a concept for our script, and then share it. As soon as I began reading, my heart sank – how did I get stuck in a class full of terrible writers? This is going to be awful.

Gamely, I considered several offerings from my fellow students and did my best to offer some encouragement and distill my long list of critiques to just a few of the most basic (and – I hope – helpful) suggestions.

Fast forward six months, and I was amazed at how much better everyone’s scripts were turning out!

But you see, it wasn’t that these were bad writers in the first place. They were just in process. They were allowing me to see what they were making before it was finished, before they even knew what it would become.

It’s a sacred privilege, and one that should be embraced carefully.

So if you’re reading this and feeling overwhelmed by the latest amazing book/artwork/movie/performance you’ve compared yourself to, please be reassured. You will get there. We will all get there.


Make Movies While You [Don’t] Sleep

No budget, no script, and 48 hours. Can you manage a 4-7 minute film that isn’t terrible?

This is the question I sought to answer over the weekend. Being new to LA, and eager to dive into the local creative space, I gamely signed up for the 2013 Los Angeles 48-Hour Film Project. With no assurance that I would meet – let alone successfully entice – any quality filmmakers to come along and join me, I put on my Producer Hat (the one with the feathers) and went out on a limb.

Producers Rule

It was an experiment that definitely paid off. Maybe it’s the sleep deprivation talking, but I loved working with my team and I can’t wait to do it again. I went from zero to twelve in less than a month. Twelve talented, enthusiastic and dedicated people threw in their lot with this wide-eyed newcomer and made a short film.

The tenets of the 48 Hour Film Project are that everyone has the capacity to make a film. The key is to just do it. So from Friday night to Sunday night, they give you a genre, a line of dialogue, a prop and a character – then send you off to get it done.

And we got it done. Barely.

First off, I had a mad week coordinating details with my team. 12 people is a wonderful number of helpers, but it’s also a lot of lives to revolve plans around. I was up to my eyeballs in email and to-do lists. It was awesome.

Friday night came with much anticipation, and my co-writer, Sue, and I eagerly awaited our fates. First we drew a genre: Dark Comedy. Yippee! I love Dark Comedy. But wait – that’s because it’s really smart and ironic and brilliant. Can we do brilliant in 2 days?

Maybe that’s why our official team name is The Brilliance. Oh yes.

After some feverish brainstorming and a solid six hours of writing (in which we changed everything – twice) we had a script we felt pretty good about. We grabbed a few precious hours of sleep and at 6:30 I was up with the chickens to make breakfast for my production team. And yes, we had eggs.

The next 24 hours were a whirl of excitement, intense effort, fun, juggling priorities, strokes of creative genius, disappointment, and hilarity. Everything you experience in the creative process, we experienced. Over and over again, on and on, for a solid day. Sustainable for a short time, but definitely not a lifestyle.

brillianceLuckily we escaped with our lives AND our relationships intact. Despite Avid’s very best efforts to break us, our post-production team remained positive all through the weary night and late into our final day of editing, color correction, and sound design.

Exporting files and burning discs in the car, we made it to the dropoff rendezvous just 10 minutes shy of the 7:30 pm deadline. Wiped out, but proud of the final product we delivered.

To anyone considering a 48 endeavor, I highly recommend it. It is a phenomenal kickstart to your creative tendencies, and creates a defined goal around which you and your compatriots can rally. Plus you are together for two long days, which will either make you fast friends or mortal enemies depending on what kind of snacks you serve.

Lessons learned from this wild ride:

1. Next time, find a director so I can focus on writing and making food and encouraging my sweet team of expert guerrilla filmmakers.

2. I’m definitely a producing writer. I love producing, but I wouldn’t want to produce just anything – the most fun for me is nurturing a story from beginning to end. This is really a helpful eureka moment, because I keep second-guessing that feathered hat.

3. I’d rather have a dedicated, professional, and enthusiastic team than all the time in the world.

Most of all, I garnered an even deeper respect for all the professional creators who steward hundreds and thousands and millions of dollars to create something worth watching. This stuff takes guts, you guys.

Creating is an adventure. Don’t sit back and wait to see if someone’s work will be good – get up and help them make it good. Pioneer that territory, blaze that trail. Give your critical tendencies a vacation and just go play.

It may not be brilliant, but it will be worthwhile. Promise.

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Pro: short for professional, shorthand for positive (as opposed to a con), and also the first three letters of a word I have been living for the past week and a half.

Yes, January 1-7, a time when millions are kickstarting their life goals with resolutions and plans – and arguably the time during which they will be the most faithful to those plans out of this whole year of 2013 – I am procrastinating. Like a pro. But in a positive way.

I want to write. I love to write. And not in the way of the classic Dorothy Parker quote (“I hate writing. I love having written.”) I genuinely enjoy the act of writing and I don’t know why I would want to put it off. In this post I hope to explore that phenomenon, in case there are other doers of fun things that put them off sometimes and wonder why.

Today is Day 16 in the Outlining module of my screenwriting class, although technically it has gone on much longer than that. Coinciding with Christmas, New Year’s and one or two other unusual things, this supposedly 10-day module has lingered about 22 days. I suppose it must end sometime, but it just hasn’t yet.

With all the hubbub of this time of year (especially this year, as it’s the first Christmas I’ve had to travel to get home and then spent days seeing all the family and friends I’ve moved away from), my assignments have piled up. And it seems with each deadline I miss, it’s that much harder to motivate myself to catch up.

At this writing, I’m only 3 assignments behind. Attainable. I can even fudge a bit and do today’s assignment, then backtrack and do the last 3 during the break between modules.

That’s what I’m supposed to do right now, is tidy up my outline so I can post it online and solicit opinions from my classmates. That sounds fun. I look forward to it. And so you see I’m writing this blog post instead.

What are brains made of? Why are we so weird in our heads? If you read books and articles on the craft and business of writing of any kind, from scripts to poetry, you will find some words dedicated to overcoming our writerly reticence. I mean, isn’t that bizarre? This is our dream, this is what keeps us up at night, these stories and words and exciting images that we alone can see and so we have to capture them and share them with the world. And that is a super cool thing to do. Why do we suddenly have to do anything but that?

I’m open to suggestions.

Meanwhile, here is a gif I found on Mental Multi-Vitamin’s blogspot:

This is gross, but it speaks to me.

Part of the problem in my situation is that in this phase of creation, I’m still in outline mode. I’m not brainstorming new concepts or writing scenes. Outlines are basically blueprints, so it’s like I’m spending 22 days on the plans for my glorious screenplay skyscraper, but I can’t start building it yet.

I like planning. It’s helpful. I don’t love it as much as writing, but I see the benefit of it and I’m willing to do the work. After all this time though, I’m getting antsy. Oh well. I guess that’s what separates the pros from the amateurs, is the willingness to persevere.

So I will persevere. I will click ‘Publish’ on this post and then turn on some music and then finish my outline. Right after dinner. And maybe check email. Actually, I have a load of laundry that needs changing too.

Never mind, I will procrastinate tomorrow.

New Year, New Rules

It’s 2012. Has been for nearly a day now.

I seem to be in a somewhat deadpan mood, so bear with me. I’m not unhappy, just a little worn out. Too many late nights, spending time with great people and celebrating big deals and eating a lot more sugar than is normal for my body. So. Indulge my short sentences and limited punctuation, if you please.

Perhaps you caught this article in Writer’s Digest suggesting 12 writing exercises coinciding with the 12 days of Christmas. I don’t know about you, but Christmastime is lucky to get an email from me, let alone gratuitous writing. Plus I didn’t see the article until last week.

So let’s start off the new year with some flexing of the writerly apparatus, shall we? Here we go:

Day 1:
Write 10 potential book titles of books you’d like to write.

Wow. 10 potential book titles. It doesn’t help me that titles are often pretty obscure references to the subject matter. I’m going to have to let my imagination do a dance on this one.

1. A Collection of Short Stories Having to do with Spies

2. Jack and the Magic Coffee Beans (I love fairy tales, and often play with twisting around some of the key concepts for major plot changes… in this instance Jack’s giant is on the hunt for a triple venti latte, no foam)

3. Ghost Hunter (Pac Man brought to life, eating his way through a foresty maze)

4. Proverbs 3 Principles for Success 

5. An Encyclopedia of Chocolate Customs and Creations Around the World (heavily researched, of course)

6. Ms. Magnifique’s Summer Camp for Young Ladies of Consequence (A novelization of my last script)

7. I Ran Away From Home And No One Noticed Until Christmas

8. Nine Ladies Dancing: Diaries of the Ruminostian Ballet (fiction)

9. Disciplines of an Angry Gnat

10. Where Are You Going? A Universal Comparison of Places, and What I Thought They’d Be Like Before I Got There

Wow, that was so much harder than I thought it would be. Not totally sure I would actually want to write each of these books, but at least most of them. The others are books I’d like to read. Or at least pull off the shelf and flip through.

To whomever is reading: What about you? Any book titles rolling around your brain?