For the longest time I thought I only liked to write solo. But when I was trying to get into TV, my big break came when I worked with a veteran writer who needed my help on a pilot. Eventually we became partners. It was mainly just for that one project, but what I learned from that experience amongst many, many things was it was so much fun. No one could make me laugh like Judy and the fact we would work and take naps and then work again taught me not to take myself or the work so seriously. The script would get done. There were two of us. If one person was feeling wonky, the other would push. You just had to show up if your partner asked. It was uncool not to.
Obviously though not all writing feels tailor-made for this experience. Novels, for example. Can't imagine Ernest Hemingway being a giggly partner. Nor O'Neal. Playwriting might not be the form either. Though I'm sure all forms of writing welcome partnerships. Why not? Who does it harm (but for someone's ego who needs to be an "auteur!").
And honestly, for me, writing works better with partners or even groups when it comes to TV and film and especially comedy.
Which is probably why I've been absent so long. Been writing with my partner. She's one of my best friends from way back. We began our buddyship in front of 30 Rock eating falafels during my lunch hour. I was just a wee little one. It was my first year out of college and I looked like a cross between Monica Lewinsky and an extra in a Pet Shop Boys video. But she liked me anyway and we became instafriends. Over the years, though both of us are very creative and have chosen careers that reflect that, we never fully embarked on a partnership in creating anything together. You know, it's like sex with your best friend - the risk of the friendship being ruined is huge.
And yet here I am. So happy we started on this adventure. For many months we've toiled away - primarily writing remotely - on our screenplay. It's a unique experience for me. Unlike my first experience where I was brought in to help another writer, this is completely my partner's and my own. That feels strong to me. Like it really is our baby. Yet similar to my first experience, I would say the joy of synching up with another individual in such a specific way feels very empowering, gratifying and divine.
So yeah - you might be a solo writer. But if you ever want to dip your toe into the partner pool, I have to say, thus far, I've really only experienced happiness from it. I've only grown as a writer and our friendship has grown as a result of the partnership, too. But most importantly, I've never laughed so hard. Laughing alone can kind of be fun. But laughing with your partner - that's the good stuff.
Writing when you don't want to is what separates the women from the girls, the men from the boys -- just had to do that. Always wanted to make it women but I love men too so I wanted it equal opportunity. Speaking of equality, women and men can be equally lazy. Lazy, avoidy, etc. And with writing, that doesn't work so well. The whole point is consistency.
It's REALLY annoying that to be a writer you have to write. I mean my God, how messed up is that? But yeah, that's what it takes.
So what I'm saying is you kind of gotta do your job. Doesn't matter if you feel sick, doesn't matter if you feel tired, doesn't matter if you think you're out of ideas, doesn't matter if you have friends in town or are away. Gotta keep at it.
Because that way you:
•Stay connected to your idea
•Allow your brain to think of your idea when you're not writing
•Have integrity and don't just pay lip service to your craft/profession when you tell yourself and others you're a writer
and... you... get to...
So remember, you don't have to write for one billion hours at a time. You don't even have to write for 5 hours at a time. But you do have to consider if you're not writing every day or on most days, think about what's in your way? While I'm a big believer in a daydreamy kind of break where you let art, culture and the world envelope you in terms of nourishment, a break is not a month.
Writers write. That's your mantra, daughter. Son. Did it again, couldn't help myself.
And if you're not going to write today after reading this then immediately go out, support your local bookstore and buy:
The War of Art.
Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up. - Pablo Picasso
When we're creating, when we stop trying to impress, when we relax and let our minds wander, we can bring forth our real voice and great work. Funny how I believe a little discipline actually leads to this state of relaxation that can illicit your true, inner voice. So while the end goal is truth - which we all know children are our truth-tellers - how to get there often takes showing up on a consistent basis so we have a solid foundation of good writing habits from which our ideas can emerge.
Just my two cents.
Write like the wind! Every day.
This morning I asked a client if she was having a hard time with time management. She had just described how painful it was to see the images in the news and then of course she wanted to post relevant items on her FB page. And yeah, there was some online shopping therapy, too. Lots of stuff in the cart but nothing bought. So when I asked, I was sure she'd say Yes, I need time-management suggestions. Instead, her response was "Focus Management. I need to focus." Brilliant.
How true is that phrase for the world we find ourselves in right now? We have such a hard time turning off the world, the world that is constantly hounding us to pay attention to it, that we don't get anything done. It's even worse if we have a lot of time. And even if we don't, we seem to always find a moment to look at our News app, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. And if we aren't getting notifications we're checking it every chance we get. I have a friend who's had to put a stop watch on for her bathroom breaks at work because she's reading the news on the turlet.
Quick suggestions for focusing:
*When you're writing, turn off your WiFi. Duh, right? But we don't always remember to do it.
*If you find you're always reaching for your phone, looking at Facebook one more time, or as my client described, look for one pair of shoes and four hours later your life is lost, then shut off your phone for an afternoon. A whole afternoon. Have "Forget My Phone" Friday Night. See what a little chunk of time can do to show you up close a) your addiction and b) how peaceful life can be without "the constant."
*As for when you allow yourself to be online, put a timer on. You know how I LOVE timers. Looking for flip flops? 20 minutes MAX, and I mean from perusing to ordering. Seeing what horrible items are in the news? 15 minutes max PER DAY. Period. End of story. Are you researching for your project and suddenly it goes from researching to suddenly some deep diving into Reddit? Yeah, I've played in that rabbit hole. Let me tell ya, research is a half hour endeavor. Period. In fact, write a list of what it is you're needing to find out before you take the research plunge. Then cross off your list what you find out while the time is ticking away and boom, shut the computer OFF when the half hour is up. Ding! You haven't wasted your life away.
Focusing isn't easy. But you don't want to be fuzzy. You want to feel good and accomplished and like you're moving forward on the daily. So try these very simple suggestions and let the world spin while you spin your gold. You won't regret it.
It is amazing that when you set a schedule and stick to it you get a script. Duh. I decided I was going to write every day for 10 minutes on this one particular project (I have 3 balls in the air right now). And yeah, 10 minutes is bullshit right? But I was like whatever dude, just writing for 10 minutes on the pilot every day. Not one day did I write for 10 minutes. I'd say the most of any day though was like 3 hours. The least was a half hour (and I felt shitty but I felt good that I at least showed up for it).
Well that was, what was that? March 1? I have a first draft done today! Today!
JOY! GLEE! ELATION! JUBILATION! CHEESE!
People, it just doesn't take much. Dedicate yourself, commit, show up no matter what. I had this friend say, and I probably already put her in this blog, "A writer writes, Cynthia!"
So pick your project and write for 10 minutes per day. Minimum.
Then you can make up a song too.
When you get an idea of what you should write it's such a cool feeling. It's like "Oh, wow, yeah, I LOVE that. Has anyone else written that before? I don't think so. Okay, awesome." You write it down. Please tell me you write it down somewhere, anywhere. Okay, great. Then it becomes about time and time management to see that idea through. And something else. Something harder than schedules and pens and paper and a new laptop and the right cup of tea and meditation.
It becomes about you showing up for your writing on a daily basis.
When can you write? How long can you write for? Can you stay focused? In earlier posts I discuss lots of easy methods and tricks to keep you on point. And while we all have moments where we fuck off, and I do believe fucking off is a part of the process, completely fucking off is part of a cyclical behavioral pattern that keeps you down, hidden, small and oftentimes, at war with yourself. Oh, and unemployed, unpublished and pissed.
What are you getting from that behavior? Ask yourself. And even though maybe there's something interesting in the answer(s), what I can tell you from my own experience is it doesn't make you feel good about yourself. You don't get a finished piece of writing procrastinating. To me it feels like pigging out on really bad food that has a lot of calories. You feel bad about yourself, your body suffers and it wasn't worth it. Empty eating.
Yeah so like perusing online for hours, calling every friend you ever made or washing your dishes for the bamillionth time doesn't really get you far in life. And what it absolutely does not get you is a script. Or novel. Or a sampling of the thing you say you are. A writer. Well that shit right there is painful. So painful. Yep. That's the bonus to procrastination. You end up feeling terrible about yourself and a fraud for calling yourself a writer.
Been there. Done that. And so I'm not judging, I'm telling you I get it. Therefore I'm sharing with you what works to stop being self-destructive and start being the writer you know you are.
Set your time to write, turn off your WiFi, and do your spark of Divine Inspiration a solid. Report to a friend who has similar goals on the daily what you've accomplished. ON. THE. DAILY. Yeah there are other things that work but those simple suggestions right there can yield great returns.
The internet will always be there. The dishes will get washed. And your friends who you lost contact with, well, you know, yeah, call them but WHEN YOU GET YOUR WORK DONE. When you sell something or finish something. It certainly will make for far better conversation than "Yeah, I haven't written anything in awhile but I do have this really good idea..." Yuck. You know what I'm sayin?
"In order to kick ass you must first lift up your foot." - Jen Sincero
One thing that I've done that has helped my writing immensely is to take risks. I think being uncomfortable is an important facet to being a good writer (hey man, I'm kind of uncomfortable right now writing this blog!). Risk taking of course sometimes takes the form of an action, like jumping out of an airplane which I'm never doing because i want to live, but it's a good example. I do remember though traveling to Europe by myself when I was 20 or 21. I didn't want anyone to know but I was terrified.
Terrified is good.
Writing about something you're scared to write about or that isn't a guaranteed hit, is the ultimate goal. Revealing a hidden or anonymous truth about yourself or relationship to the world is brave, real, and authentic.
Because if you've read this blog at all, I'm all about you and I as writers getting to the truth. The truth of our voice comes through and always wins out over trying to impress or fit in with what we think would sell. And often, it's the risk of being honest that makes something more attractive to the world - in terms of buying it.
I was reminded of this reading an article in the LA Times by a former client. www.latimes.com/style/laaffairs/la-hm-la-affairs-rebecca-cullen-20180224-story.html. As I told Rebecca, I can't imagine writing about my sexcapades. Very bold and my hat is off to her.
Different things I've done to sort of encourage my own truth-telling and risk-taking include creating a podcast, doing I think like 3 blogs before this one, and shooting an online commercial. All of these things were risky. The podcast was because I had no idea what I was doing and felt nervous every time. It was my voice and our literal voice does not lie. I was shaky-mcshakerson at times, trust me. But I learned to use that nervous energy to hopefully sound enthusiastic. In fact, I learned a lot doing that podcast. The blogs? I love writing so that might not seem like a big deal but I wasn't writing about writing I was writing about LA and hidden treasures I loved. I didn't really know what I was doing. Who cared what I thought? But I did it anyway. What the hell, right? http://opinela.blogspot.com.
And the commercial, which I created, co-produced and directed - I mean that was A BLAST! But again, I was scared. I wanted to do a good job. The buck stopped at me. And it was for a sex product. I mean talk about embarrassing convos with my elders and some of the more conservative Hollywood peeps I know. In addition, this was only the second time I would be directing something. Could I do it? That certainly was something I wondered. Something I prayed for. I really wanted it to be fantastic for everyone - the client, my talent, crew, and me - so you know, no pressure. Despite my fears, I think we did pretty well and it did open some doors for me, doors I didn't even know were there:
So it doesn't have to be every day but I implore you to stretch. Look outside of your comfort zone creatively. And not quietly. It builds a far bigger wrinkle in your brain to just, as they say, put it all out there. Imperfection gives us the strength to, when say we're doing our chosen art (the screenplay, the TV spec, the novel) operate that muscle of courage we need to write more truthfully and to represent our finished pieces more effectively. We're able to go where we haven't gone before. You know, we grow a pair.
Because otherwise, you're small, you're writing and creating for an audience of one, and if that's what you want to do, fabulous! But if you're reading this blog, I don't think that's the case.
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go.” — T.S. Eliot
I've been writing these short stories that have proven really helpful to me in terms of learning about my characters. I love them and feel for them - the characters, not the stories. I hope my stories are good. Who knows? But you know, that's the thing, sometimes I'm writing and I'm not sure what it is. Like why am I writing these people or this thing? Is it going to be something? Will this end up in something larger?
Or is this an exercise that will be chalked up to part of the process or "my process" or whatever process? Process. Such an annoying word. Like if I write something and it's a failure I know it's a part of my process but it bugs me. Feels like a waste of time until you know, I'm away from it and into the script that's actually really super duper working. Now. And I know I KNOW I couldn't have gotten there without my stutter step. Yep, a part of the process.
Also a part of my "process" (God, just writing the word is annoying) is distraction. So like while writing these stories I picked up a book as I tend to do. Gotta get my mind off the thing I'm doing. So this book-- I bought it for my husband when we were in Boston, not knowing he had already read it as most well-read people had.
Leading me to now reveal: I never read Joan Didion before. There. Boom. It's over. It's out. I just never did! I'm sorry! I remember hanging out with my super well-read friend, Alice, one day who was describing her influences and she said, "Don Delillo" (Me: nope, never read him), "Joan Didion of course..." and when she said "of course" I said, "Yeah, well, yeah." I mean just lied. Out right lied. Like I was Joan Didion's best friend or something.
As a result, I became positive I wouldn't like her. Like as if lying about reading her made her toxic for me. I think the "of course" made me think, Oh, she's really going to be complicated and I'll feel pressure to feel a lot of things I won't feel or I'm not smart enough to know why people think she's so good and will realize it and then I'll feel down. Yeah, fuck that.
But because I know I need distraction when I'm writing and have convinced myself I cannot be entertained by any film or television and because the collection was fresh and new, a never-been-touched-hot-out-of-the-Trident-Bookstore-shelves-new, I picked up Slouching Towards Bethlehem hoping for the best.
Well, I fucking LOVE JOAN DIDION! Doesn't mean I'm smart or anything I just do. I love reading about California then and the beauty and the history and the weirdness. It's just the right ounce of escape from my own writing. I'm able to be entertained with moments with Joan and they're just that, moments. Though they are stimulating. I am engaged. Not like the lackadaisical experience of watching another bad TV show or a movie that's supposed to be good while my butt is slouching towards numbness. Yeah, I like my moments with Joan and somehow they feel like she's in this moment in time, mine, a part of my... process. (what a weird fucking morning talk show would that be? MOMENTS WITH JOAN. Me and Joan Didion and coffee and stuff? On like The Sundance Channel or something).
Anyway, I hope at the end of whatever this period of time is with my stories and Joan, I'll be closer to creating something great, something entertaining, the entertainment I so badly crave!
And I mean a person who says this is my kind of person:
I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. - Joan Didion
My friend, Adam or as he is known in the art world, Adco, has a show tonight (Quixote Studios in West Hollywood). Can't wait! We had a conversation recently where I said something - I don't know what now but it had to do with believing in one's self - and he told me about an article he read where the artist Marilyn Minter was asked what she would have advised her younger self:
"Don’t disregard your gifts. The art world is going to challenge you enough, don’t make it any harder on yourself; stick with your strengths. If something comes easily to you, don’t dismiss it, explore and expand on it rather than trying to force it into the prevailing zeitgeist." -Marilyn Minter
We see finished pieces of art, writing - we hear music on the radio, on the stage, and we are astounded by greatness. We stand awestruck at the museum and see the sculpture or we read the writing and get chills. The finished piece. It all seems so seamless. So smart. So exactly right. Perfection. How it inspires us but also at times, arrests us. Getting to the finish line and not being intimidated by the finished works of our idols is our battle and half of that battle is won by appreciating what we already come to the table with on any given day.
Just because something seems easy or natural to you doesn’t mean it is weak—listen to your inner voice. -Marilyn Minter
Please, appreciate your gifts. Utilize them. Write down what your strengths are and put it where you can see it. Do use what you've got. Relish in it. Own it. Celebrate it. Improve upon it! If you don't, the world might be hard-pressed to notice what you want to say while you struggle to be a square peg wedging yourself into a round hole. It's one thing to challenge ourselves and stretch creatively. It's another to ignore what we came into the world with.
Why discount what you can do simply because you can do it? That doesn't make much sense.
I suppose that's why they call it a sin. Too Catholic for my taste but it would be a shame, for sure not to let the world see that which makes you strong.
Bestow your gifts!
This is mainly for script writers but you know, if it helps anyone else, go for it. By the way, I know the prevailing wisdom in blogging is to write and write without giving away the tip you’ve teased about until like the fourth paragraph in and then just marginally. There’s obviously a decent strategy there and nothing against that style but because that bugs me when I’m on the receiving end, I’m not going to do that here.
So I have found when I cast a character, it helps when I’m writing whether while breaking the story or in the script. But that’s a no-brainer. Many of us do that when we’re writing. But my cast is like the New York Times Book Review question of If you could invite any writer to dinner, dead or alive, who would be at your table? (my answers change so frequently it’s ridiculous and yes, I answer it. The Proust Questionnaire in Vanity Fair is my favorite. Today, my least favorite quality in a woman is jealousy, just FYI). Anyway…
My suggestion is to ask you that same question but the table is your screenplay so…
Who’s going to be in your movie, dead or alive?
In a recent thing I was working on, I said to my partner, Well, he’s like Dom Delouise, circa when he and Burt Reynolds were making movies. In another project (solo) I was like John Candy. Definitely John Candy. Late 80’s. I don’t just love chubby geniuses, or do I? You could do a hell of a lot worse.
Point is, let your imagination run wild. Despite all cynicism and realism about “this business” and “It’s so hard to sell anything…” blah blah blah meh, this makes it real in the moment I’m writing - colorful and vibrant and it honors all the greats, current or past, who’ve inspired me and well, you know, simply put, it’s fucking fun.
Just a teensy trick that’s really joyous and why the hell not? Too often people complain to me about writing. How it’s painful, arduous, so blank-page-angsty. Etcetera. Etcetera. So make it a little less painful. There are things to do. I got a whole bag of tricks to
Writer, Writing Coach, Writer Supporter.