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...

(If you liked these images, why not follow me on Instagram?)

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...

Friday, January 8, 2016

Fiction Friday: Dinner for Three at Le Bernardin, Part 1

Even through the grating awkwardness of the dinner, Mara thought to herself, "Knowing is such a blessing." 

There was a time when she frowned with questions at the thought of introducing Hugo to her father - Will Dad give him a chance? Will Hugo say the right things? Will Dad understand what my heart sees in him? Mara's attention had been inundated by these worries for the better part of a year.

But now, after months of non-movement and needless missed opportunities for progress (by Hugo, of course), Mara was clear that this overly optimistic man-child was not the one for her. Evidenced into reality by the terrifically awful display of social graces before her. 

Dinner had been a mistake, but inevitable. Dad wanted to meet this Hugo person in his daughter's life and Mara didn't know how to articulate the fact that Hugo was on his way out of her heart. In fact, he was practically gone.

And yet, he was here. "Man, can you like tell me something?" Hugo blathered, as if he was talking to a high school buddy and not a Man Booker Prize-winning author. "Like, how do you do what you do? Like inside? You know what I mean?" Her father stared at the question for a split second before answering with the dignified poise and grace for which he was known in literary circles. Mara longed to shrink into her filet mignon.

After an awkward man hug on the sidewalk and a wholly unnecessary lesson on the inner workings of Uber, Hugo was taken away in a purple PT Cruiser. Mara exhaled at last. Dad looked at her with a gentle smile and said, "He's nice."

"Don't worry, Dad. We're just friends."

"If you wanted to make him more than that, I would approve."

Mara sputtered with laughter before realizing her father was serious. "Are you kidding me, Dad? He talked about home brewing and maca root powder all night. If you wrote a character who sounded like him in your next book, the Times would call you a hack!"

She started toward the subway, her temperature rising. Dad followed silently. "And the way he talks about his dog like she's the love of his life. Do you know I was mistaken for her once? Someone I met at a party said, 'You must be Hugo's girlfriend Natalie!' And I had to explain that Natalie was his pit bull and I wasn't his girlfriend. It was humiliating."

"Honey, maybe you -"

"He never finished college," she continued, bounding down the escalator. "He can't fix a damn thing around his house. When something is broken, he just throws it away. 'That's why they have stores,' he says. Oh and he's on record saying his favorite book is The Berenstain Bears and the Missing Honey!"

Mara stopped at the turnstile, unable to locate her MetroCard in her bag. Her father stepped forward and placed a hand on hers, stopping her angry rummaging.

"And he loves you."

Mara blinked. "What?"

Creative Kindling at Work

I did not want to write tonight.

My first day back after being sick for two days was jam packed. By the time I wrapped up work at 8pm, all I wanted to do was go home and eat cookies.

But I have a script to finish and no cookies in the house, so I procrastinated with email and social media, i.e. - I feared, feared, feared for another hour before forcing myself to open my notebook and start writing.

Once I did that, this is all the creative kindling it took to get me into the groove:

Proof that A) creative kindling really works, and B) I am a ridiculous individual for stalling for an HOUR before starting to work. Just ridiculous.

Hopefully I can take this lesson into tomorrow. We'll see...

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Music for a Sick, Rainy Day

Stomach flu took me down today. Sadly, being creative was the last thing on my mind.

The last time I was this sick, I remember attempting to push through and work on my script, answer emails, etc. My inability to focus on healing resulted in my sickly state lasting almost a week.

This time, I wasn't going to make the same mistake. For the last 24 hours, I've been focused on three things - sleeping, resting, and doing nothing. My mind has been blissfully empty - no overthinking about my outstanding obligations and deadlines. I listened to music, watched The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 again (man, that movie's a bummer), and ate half a banana.

And I think it worked! 36 hours later and I think my body has turned a corner. We'll see...

So here's my creative offering for today. Whenever it rained when I lived in Boston, I would play the Corrina, Corrina soundtrack on repeat. The day never seemed as gloomy with breezy, summer music playing. 

I made a YouTube playlist of all the songs so I could listen to them on my phone, since I no longer own a CD player. Take a listen for yourself and just try to feel gloomy. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Damn You, Fear

I didn't write enough over the holiday break. If you asked, I could produce an epic list of excuses - I was spending time with family, working on scripts for my writers' assistant job, cleaning out my inbox, staring at a fascinating, engrossing spot on the wall...

But I know my writer procrastination all comes down to fear. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, said it too:

Ain't it the truth. My fear in my writing relates to my life-long struggle with not feeling good enough - a struggle I know I've completely made up in my head. It translates to my writing with a feeling that I suck, I suck, I suck and I can't even face how bad my script is. Even in times when I don't think it's there, I'll often realize that it's always there.

There's a writer's mantra I've heard - ass in the chair. As in, "No excuses. Just sit down and write. Now."

I think it's time for my own writer's mantra - an affirmation that addresses the real reason I don't write enough - fear.

When I searched the Web for "mantra against fear," I discovered something called the Litany Against Fear. Apparently Frank Herbert used it in Dune:

That's a bit too long for me, even though it communicates an important sentiment. Fear isn't something to get rid of, rather something I need to acknowledge and conquer. It's always going to be there - the goal is to not let it hold me back.

A simple search on social media turns up a bunch of great quotes about facing fear:

I don't know what my perfect affirmation will be - I'll let you know when I find it. Until then, I'll keep you trying to write without letting my fear stop me. Perhaps it will be some version of this:

Friday, January 1, 2016

Fiction Friday: Lemonade with Aunt Sandra, Part 1

(Inspired by this picture writing prompt from the Hedgebrook Twitter feed.)

Bart snapped a picture with his phone, his overactive mind already weighing the benefits and limitations of Clarendon vs. Sienna. This was not a #nofilter moment. The setting was as dreary as his mood. He wanted to be at Aunt Sandra's house as much as he wanted a hole in the head. He contemplated the origin of that archaic phrase as he swiped at his phone.

"You kids and your phones," his Aunt Sandra said as she approached. "I brought you out here to see your face, not the top of your head."

Bart didn't look up, defiantly protesting that he was summoned at all. "I'll just be a second."

She held out her hand. "Just for ten minutes so I can tell you something. Come on."

Her tone left no room for argument. Bart abandoned his picture posting and locked his phone before placing it in her palm. "Thank you," she said as she sat in the opposite patio chair.

Bart stared at her matching melamine pitcher and tumblers as she poured them lemonade. "If this is about what I did to my mom's car, you don't have to -"

"I have cancer."

Bart's head snapped up. Aunt Sandra was still pouring herself lemonade. "What?!" he sputtered.

His mother's hippie sister sipped her beverage, then said simply, "It's stage four pancreatic. They caught it too late. And we all know what happened to Patrick Swayze."

Bart had no idea who Patrick Swayze was, but his eyes began to well up immediately, all his hip 15-year-old bravado gone.  "No...no...Aunt Sandra..."

"I'm throwing a party next weekend and I was wondering if you could DJ. Your mom says you're getting pretty good."

Bart broke down into tears. "What are you talking about? I...I can't..." He sobbed, choking on the smell of aging plants from her brownish yard.

His aunt got up from her plastic chair and went over to him, pulling his hunched body close to her. "It's okay, buddy. I've had a great life, really. I just want to go out in style."

She let him cry for another stretch before slapping him on the back and saying, "You can finish crying when you get home. This is my time now and I want to hear about what you did to your mom's car."

(To be continued...)

#365project for 2016

I always have ideas when it comes to new year's resolutions. And yes, on occasion, I meet my own expectations. I still remember the year I gave up Kentucky Fried Chicken (at the time, it was a problem), the subsequent year I gave up donuts (sorry Dunkin), and the year after that when I gave up all candy. My dentist approved.

Creative resolutions are tougher since there's so much inherent change and instability in an artists' life. But I always try, because in general I know the more I move toward developing a disciplined writing practice, the better I will become at writing.

Last year's resolution was to complete 100 auditions. 2015 happened to be the year my acting career took a nose-dive, so I didn't even reach two dozen. 

This year, I'm focused on my writing. Instead of my usual 2-3 scripts a year output, I plan to amp that up to 6 full-length network television scripts in 2016. I'll also planning to publish my second short story collection. Ambitious goals - thank goodness I'm an ambitious person.

To do all that, I'm going to need a lot more creative kindling, i.e. - a lot more writing. So my #365project for 2016 is to write and share something every day.

Starting with this blog post!  

The writing can be in any format, such as a paragraph of fiction, a six word story I can share on Twitter, a one-page scene, or a blog post. Anything goes as long as it's original and shared.

Won't you join me on this journey? Follow me on Twitter and Instagram to read my pieces.

My year starts right now!