Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Unsurprising Correlation Between Running and Writing

I've started running.

I bought new running sneakers from TJ Maxx. I found a beginner's 5K training plan on Pinterest. I set an attainable goal - the Every Angeleno Counts 5K to support Homeboy Industries in October. I found a local park that lets me run circles on the dirt path without distraction. I downloaded a set timer app to guide my walk/run interval training. And I track my daily progress on my new/old hand-me-down Fitbit.

Oh, and one more thing -

I hate running.

That's right, I absolutely despise every second of it. I get bored instantly, it feels uncomfortable, I constantly want to stop and go home. I have yet to experience a euphoric endorphin rush, or perhaps no wave of hormones can withstand the power of my dislike. All I know is when I'm running, I would rather be doing anything instead of running.

But even after running just 3-4 times a week this month, I have made an unsettling discovery -

I love the feeling of having run.

When I get home from a run, after pushing myself through all the discomfort and agony, I feel frickin' fantastic. My body feels powerful and my spirit is high. I get to be one of those people who says "I went for a run today" and mean it! Love, love, love it.

Then it hit me this morning - my struggles with running are exactly the same as my struggles with writing. With both, getting started is the hardest part. Then there's the overwhelming feeling of wanting to quit that I need to push past. And if I can get past that bump, it's somewhat smooth sailing. Interval writing is the best method for gearing up for longer writing. And the feeling of having written is the best.

I shouldn't be surprised, I suppose. Finding success in both running and writing starts with discipline, dedication, and determination.

I've taken similar steps to drive success in my writing. I bought blank journals I love from TJ Maxx. I set attainable goals - write every day and work toward finishing my next pilot script. I found coffee shops and other spots for writing all over town. I downloaded the Amazon Music app to listen to film soundtracks while I write. And I track my daily progress on social media and by joining Camp Nanowrimo for July.

And I similarly love the feeling of having written. There's no better sensation in the world, in fact. Being one of those people that can say "I finally cracked my main character's backstory today" is the best because it denotes forward momentum. And forward momentum is what all writers crave.

Here's another unsettling discovery -

When I run, I write.

It fits so naturally. I'm still cooling down when I sit down with my notebook and start spilling out my thoughts. I take a break to make some breakfast, but then I'm right back to my words. Writing, writing, writing.

So now I have two areas of my life that require self-encouragement and discipline - running and writing. Hopefully discovering how they feed each other will help keep both endeavors on track. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

My Summer Break

I roll out of bed in my parents' house an hour earlier than usual for our special morning excursion - blueberry picking!

At 7am, it's already 75 degrees outside, with temperatures expected to climb to the low 90s.  My mother hands me a pair of thick wool socks. "My boots are too big for you, so these will help keep your feet from slipping around." Wool and hot weather don't mix, but I put them on obediently. She's the expert here, having been to this orchard many times during blueberry season. 

I don the rest of my pre-determined uniform - long pants, long sleeve windbreaker, and baseball cap. I look ridiculous, but my mind remains focused on the beautiful task ahead.

A ten-minute drive and a five-minute ride in a tractor-pulled wagon later, I'm picking ripe, fresh blueberries while standing in a row of bushy plants. Heavy rain the day before has washed the earth clean and the berries look gorgeous. "Whatever you eat now is profit," my dad says with a chuckle, popping a fresh blueberry into his mouth.

For the next few hours, we each have our own blueberry picking energy. My dad is focused, my mom is determined, and I am... relaxed. This is what vacation looks like - nothing to do but breath fresh air, pick blueberries, and slow down.

I needed this vacation.

Everyone needs a vacation, of course. My overworked sister getting her MBA while still seeing patients full-time as a plastic surgeon, my brother and his wife, the DC power attorneys who are fixing up their place to sell while looking for a new one - they deserve vacations more than anyone I know.

But I decided to take one too. Because after writing a spec script in 11 days to submit to the writing fellowships, a realization hit me --

As a writer attempting to break into the competitive world of television writing, I spend every moment of my life in stress, anxiety, and fear.

There is no down time, no end of my work day when I leave my writing behind. The expectations are always there so the work is always there. My thoughts are constant and get tangled into each other like a thicket. 

Here's a typical ten second window into my mind --

"This story isn't working and I have no idea how to fix it. Is it even any good? Maybe it is too much like that other show and I should throw it away and start over. Why didn't that showrunner hire me? What could I have done to sell myself better in that meeting? I need to be writing more. I need a bigger portfolio. I need to finish my book. Maybe I'll never be good enough to break in. That means I just wasted the last 8 years of my life. I should have gone on more dates in my 20s instead of focusing on my career. I would probably be married with a kid by now. Is it too late for me? Will I ever get a job? Will I ever be good enough? Why, God, WHY?!?!"

I know I'm not alone in this - all writers have these thoughts. They come with the territory when you're an artist. But these thoughts have been running on a nonstop loop in my mind for the last eight years. Eight years of self-doubt, self-flagellation, and self-judgment.

Time for a break.

I've been pretty good with my 2016 write-every-day #365project up until now, only missing a day or two here and there. But for the month of June, I decided to take a rest. I haven't been writing every day and I haven't opened Final Draft once. I'm letting ideas swirl and just be without immediately trying to force them into story. I'm having long overdue coffee dates with people, watching television shows I've been missing, and - gasp - reading a book. I'm allowing myself to relax and it's been heaven.

My writing doesn't need me this month. My writing needs new perspectives that are not going to emerge while I'm feeling so exhausted and spent. My writing needs me to take a break and recharge so I can jump back into my work excited and renewed. My writing needs this vacation too.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Hard Lessons Learned From Writing My Last Pilot

Finishing my last pilot script was frustratingly tough for me. Finding time to write outside of my 12-hour work days was a big challenge. And when I did have time to write, generating creative inspiration in my exhausted state wasn't always easy. Getting sleep was never a more precious commodity.

Committing to my 365 project of writing every day this year helped me maintain some semblance of consistency, but this damn script has still felt like an albatross on my shoulders for months, pecking at my brain and squawking about how much I suck as a writer.

And that's not what writing should feel like.

So now that the script is finally done, I'm taking this opportunity to look back at the hard lessons I've learned along the way and committing to doing things differently in the future. Because oh no... I'm not doing this again... EVER...

Hard Lesson #1 - I need to write faster.
I started brainstorming this idea in July of 2015. I finished readable drafts on 11/17/2015, 01/22/2016, and 03/15/16. 8 months from start to finish is unacceptable. Broadcast networks develop brand new pilot scripts in 3 months or less!

Next time, I'm putting myself on a strict deadline schedule and not letting things drag out.

Hard Lesson #2 - I need to get to script faster.
3 full months of my 8 month writing time was spent working on the outline phase, which turned out to be a waste of my time since there were so many things I didn't figure out until I got to the script phase. Continuing to write and rewrite my outline for so long was just another way for me to procrastinate. There are plenty of writers who never write outlines before diving into script.

Next time, I'm allowing myself two drafts of an outline tops - a first draft and a revision. That's it. Then I need to start writing the script. And speaking of procrastinating...

Hard Lesson #3 - I need to stop giving in to fear.
I gave myself way too much permission to procrastinate on this project. Justifying my stalling with complaints about my long hours and sleep deprivation. Reasoning with myself and allowing myself to ignore what I had to do.

But I know the truth - all procrastination is fear. Fear was the root issue under all of my procrastination. Fear my story sucked, fear I would be found out as a giant fraud, fear of people telling me they were shocked I was such a terrible writer - these fears consumed my every waking moment.

And the worst part is I listened to all of them. I allowed myself to believe my fears and stepped away from my keyboard so they wouldn't come true. Which is ridiculous because by stepping away, I was doing the biggest thing that would ensure my fears came true.

Next time, I'm not giving in to those thoughts. The only thought I need in my brain is, "What do I want to create today?"

Hard Lesson #4 - My perfectionism is crushing me.
Seriously, it's not good. I beat myself up so much, I should have a frickin' gold MMA belt or whatever the big prize is in that world. I blame my academic overachieving upbringing for teaching me that a perfect score is always the goal.

The truth is there is no "perfect" in writing. A script evolves to a finishing point, not a perfect score. Next time, I'm giving myself full permission to be imperfect.

These were hard but important lessons for me to learn and I'm taking them into the future with an open heart and mind. Thankfully, I did have a few good takeaways that were the silver lining to my experience --

Happy Lesson #1 - I'm getting better at character and dialogue.
Those were my biggest weakness after breaking up with my former writing partner. 9 pilot scripts later, my characters are finally jumping off the page and sounding like real people. Not quite Rob Thomas/iZombie level cleverness yet, but much better than when I started.

Happy Lesson #2 - Writing groups are my best tool for success. 
My writing groups were invaluable for getting feedback and finding new ways to attack a script that I was steady hating throughout. They also gave me deadlines, encouragement and support. Hooray for writers supporting other writers!

Happy Lesson #3 - Soundtrack music is my jam. 
Listening to instrumental film scores helped me focus and concentrate, and a full album cycle was a great way to do a writing sprint. The soundtracks that got the most play during this script writing process included Outlander, Jurassic World, and X-Men First Class. Thank you Bear McCreary, Michael Giacchino, and Henry Jackman!

Now that this script is done, I can finally embark on my self-imposed challenge of writing 6 scripts in 2016. With 290 days left in the year, that works out to a script every 48 days or so, i.e. - a script every 7 weeks. Ha!

Let's get started...

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Monday, January 18, 2016

Drowning in Fear

When you fall asleep watching Making a Murderer, nightmares are inevitable.

Mine was about driving onto an icy lake and various scenarios of drowning. According to the dozen or so dream dictionaries I just referenced online, my dream has less to do with a fear of water than my overall struggle with fear.

And damnit, my fear is winning.

As I lie here, gripped with panic over what I should have done differently in my dream scenario, I'm overwhelmed with the feeling that I never should have been in that minivan on the ice, I shouldn't have listened when the person driving me said it would be fun, and I should have done more to save them when it all went south. But most of all, I'm feeling never do something that risky again.

That's giving in to my fear.

Which is not what I should be doing - as a writer or in life. Being an artist is all about disregarding and circumventing the omnipresent fear that you're not good enough, everyone hates your art, and that you're making a huge mistake with your life. 

Fear kills creativity and fluidity. It stops the process in its tracks for a time consuming, soul sucking, losing battle that drains all the wind out of my sails. And picking myself up can be exhausting and feel like a losing battle as well. Fear is the absolute worst.

I don't have time for fear. I don't have time to waste on these self-doubting diversions. I have so many scripts to finish and deadlines to meet and so, so many words to write. I need to move forward, not stand still. The stories abound in my spirit and I need to get them out.

Perhaps my nightmare was simply showing me how much my fear has me at the moment. A warning alarm alerting me to the fact I need to push through something right now. It's certainly a message I can always use - now more than ever.

So that's how I'll take it. I'm not going to drown. Avoiding the adventure and driving away isn't the solution. There's a scenario where I drive onto the ice but don't drop through. I have my thrill and stay safe enough to make it back to shore. I don't die. I'm just fine.

Okay. Time to write...

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Fiction Friday: Dinner for Three at Le Bernardin, Part 2

"That man is in love with you. I saw it in the way he asked if your steak was prepared correctly and how he made sure you told me about your new assignment at work. He cares about you and wants you to be happy."

Mara felt her sturdy, reliable resolve wavering. "But he's an idiot. He thinks grass fed butter is good for you."

"No one is perfect. Not even me."

"But dad -"

"Mara. He loves you."

Mara shook her head. "He hasn't said it. He's never made a move of any kind."

"Probably because he's waiting for you to let him in."

The truth broke open the flood gates. Mara tipped her head onto her father's shoulder and wept as he wrapped his arms around her, holding her close. The precious wall that kept her safe and contained had just been challenged by the person she admired most in the world. Its days were numbered.

"You are so brave with your career," he whispered gently. "Be that brave with your heart."

Mara pulled away, wiping her eyes with her pea coat sleeves. "But I don't know how!" she said, suddenly a child in Poughkeepsie again.

"Why don't you start with this? When Hugo calls to ask if you got home safely, which I'm guessing he always does, try listening to him instead of listening to your judgments."

Mara closed her eyes, embarrassed. "God, why do you have to be right all the time?"

"It's a gift and a curse."

"Thanks Dad." Mara hugged her father again, knowing full well how lucky she was to have him. "Now come on, you need to write. You have a deadline on Tuesday."

"My kingdom for another week," he said with feather light chagrin as they pushed through the turnstiles.

As Mara rumbled with the train, she thought about what she would say to Hugo when he called. What Hugo might say about meeting her father. The questions swirled, but she pushed them away. Tonight, she would hold the doubts at bay and simply try to listen. She knew it might only last for five minutes or less, but she had to start somewhere. And her future might as well start now.

The End

Phone Writing

I love writing on my phone. It's just a hand-me-down iPhone 5, but it has enabled me to have a whole writing life separate from my laptop and notebooks.

I primarily use Evernote for tracking pieces, but sometimes it feels easiest to use the Notes app that came with the phone. This morning, I re-wrote a whole scene from my current pilot into an email window.  It's no-frills, but sometimes that's all I need.

The great thing is that I can squeeze in an interval of creativity anywhere. The expectations don't feel as high when you're just tapping on your phone. And I've found the time it takes to type out words is perfectly in rhythm with the pace of my brain, so I get in a nice groove, similar to when I write longhand.

Someday, when I get an iPad, I'm never going to want to get out of bed...

Monday, January 11, 2016

Waiting and Writing

(I wrote this on my iPhone notes app while waiting for brunch to start Sunday morning...)

Why is it during moments like this that I feel the most possibility? In the minutes right before. Before friends arrive, before the event begins, before I have to get out of bed - before life happens. Suddenly, in these moments, I want to write.

These are the fleeting times when ideas float in and I take out my phone to jot some things down in my Notes app. Sometimes fragments of ideas, sometimes a whole piece begins to form as I tap rapid-fire with my thumbs. Until the moment is inevitably interrupted when whatever I'm waiting for begins and my brief burst of momentum is lost.

I'm realizing these bursts probably come because these are moments I'm just with myself. My mind isn't filled with tasks I need to complete or things that need to be written. I'm truly just alone with nothing to do but wait. And in that waiting, inspiration finds me.

Perhaps this is the mentality I need to adopt the next time I sit down to write. Just wait. Be with yourself and the inspiration will come. Trust that any moment could be that moment before. Could it really be that easy? Let's see...