Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Empathy For All Seasons

Until I sell a script or sign a contract, I have to constantly keep myself on a tight budget. Although I’m a big fan of television, I can’t afford the luxury of outlets like Hulu, Nexflix or Amazon. I don’t even splurge for cable. But I don’t mind because basic TV has been amazing for the last couple of years. But unfortunately, I still have to deal with the commercials.

Most of the time I’m okay but there are exceptions. Take for instance this one commercial where a camera pans on a beautiful woman wearing a flowing dress lying across a king-sized bed (don’t most of them start out that way these days?) Then a sultry female voiceover plays and for 8-seconds you’re not sure what she’s selling until the name of the product displays on the screen. By then the target audience (in this case men), are so intrigued by her, they don’t care that this item may cause complications including death. Just as long as this supposed product could get him a woman like the one on the screen, it’s all-good. Now normally when a commercial like this comes on, I either go for a bathroom or kitchen run. But once in a while, one resonates with me.

Recently, a product for migraines ran a study where friends and family could feel what their loves ones go through when experiencing these kinds of headaches. They can’t simulate the pain, however, they’re able to see what affects sensitivity, light, and sound, etc., can have on a person with this condition. As one sufferer stated, “Sometimes you have to experience it (the pain) in order to get it.” Something about this woman’s comment and the concept of this study stayed with me.

I recently got into a heated discussion about my writing with someone who has basically been with me since the beginning of this process. This person made me feel that what I was doing—all the evenings, nights, missed events, financial struggles, the rejects (some kind and some brutal) were worth nothing because at the end of the day—at the end of all these years, I have nothing to show for it. Not…one…red…cent. These words cut me deeply.

I get that my friends have concerns. I know that it gets frustrating for them when they want me to hang out but I don’t because I rather write. I get that they worry about me being able to supplement my income while I write. I even get that they worry that by me sitting at a desk for hours—often without even moving to eat, drink or go to the bathroom—that this may be harmful. But I never once believed that any of them thought that what I was doing was worthless.

Using an example like a migraine might be a stretch but I used this analogy so that maybe we could understand what true empathy means; Identifying and understanding what someone else may be feeling or going through. What it takes for someone to sacrifice for a passion—a dream, a goal. Because when artists create, they’re alone. And because of the loneliness, we often need our friends and family to mentally support us.

I may write for the rest of my life without any financial success. But at least I know that I gave it everything I had. Yes, I pray that one day I’ll make a living with my writing but I also know that if someone offered to publish my writing today with out offering me a dime, I’d still do it. Because I love it that much.

So, I hope that if you have friends or family that are striving to be an artists, encourage them. Put yourself in their shoes. Because even though art can often be lonely, knowing that there are people around you that are empathetic to what you are trying to achieve and sympathetic to what it takes out of a person to work hard on a goal, means a hell of a lot.

To all my friends who continue to encourage me, I love and thank you. To the others________. Well, you may not be writers but I’m sure you can fill in the blank.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Seasons of Staying on a Path

I applaud writers who are able to stay focused no matter what demands are placed on them. I often have burst of these moments where I am able to write without distractions for months or longer but then there are times where I can get so distracted that it often takes me weeks or even months to find my rhythm again.

This happened recently. I’d been unable to truly focus on anything concrete with my writing. And because I’ve always questioned why this occurs it takes me another week or two to ponder the reasons why. At first I blamed it on my new job. After taking a sabbatical for over a year, it was hard to get back into the groove of working fulltime and trying to find time to write. I’ve now been working as a contractor for a little over three months and have changed my work schedule three times.

Also the hours and days are a bit unusual. A nine-to-fiver for most of my working life, I was placed on the 2nd shift which meant that I didn’t make it home until after 10:30pm or later. I originally worked, Tuesdays - Fridays and Sundays, then it changed to Wednesday through Sunday and off Monday and Tuesdays. Now with my new hours of 4/40 (work 4 days for 10 hours and off 3) I don’t make it home sometimes until midnight or later.

But any writer would be able to make the shift to finding time to write in the early mornings but I still struggle. My workday doesn't begin until 1:00pm but I still can't find the energy to nudge myself out of bed until after 11:00.

All of this sounds plausible and I’m sure many writers would understand why I’m having such a hard time. But when I really dig deep, I know that none of the above are the reasons. That the real reason is I'm disheartened.

I’ve worked hard for the last 15 years writing, drafting, taking classes, and then writing and rewriting. In the last year and a half, I really buckled down and finished what I thought was some incredible work. But at the end of my year, I found myself out of money and the need to get another job, something that I thought I would never have to do again and it makes me sad.

Since 2014, I’ve gotten more rejections that all start the same, ‘Thank you so much for your submission but unfortunately’… I’ve submitted to contests after contests only to make it to the quarter-finalist mark. And I’ve come close to selling a script and getting a short story published only for those doors that had been open to suddenly close.
I am not a one-hit-wonder writer. You know the type—one book and they expect to get a contract right away and I’m sure some do. But I don’t want to be that writer. I want to be an author known for many projects.

My first book is completed along with half of a draft of the 2nd in a series and I have an outline for the third. Three screenplays, some short stories and a couple of poems are also finished. Have I paid my writing dues? You tell me.

I’m sure there are writers out there who’ve done more and some who’ve done less. I just know that right now I’m fighting to get back on the horse. I can’t let myself down. I’ve got too much to loose at this point. I would hate to think that all the words I’ve written, and all the stories I still have inside of me will be for naught. I would hate to let all the people down who believe in me; who believed enough in me to buy me an Apple computer, who brag to their friends about their writer friend, and the ones who continue to pray daily for my success.

So for all the writers out there who feel like I do and who have to push themselves daily to face another day, and another blank page I say to them… stay focused, stay driven, stay faithful and most importantly, write damn it, write!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Season of Repetition

As a writer there are often key moments or words that stick in my mind either from a conversation that I’ve overheard or a comment someone might have made to me. I always pay attention to what’s happening around me since I never know when inspiration may hit. Some of the best stories are often just a table away. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you may look at it, cell phone conversations are making this a lot easier.

Most recently I’ve been hearing the word, repetition a lot. It first struck me when I overheard a conversation in the break-room at my recent job and then again during my training period since the work that I do demands a lot of attention to detail which one can only learn after a few months of repetitiveness.

At first I scoffed. After all, who wants to live a life of repeats day in and day out. But then whose life is not filled with repetitions.

I thought my life would be so different when I took a break to write for a year. Since my time was now my own, I dreamt of days to write any time I wanted. I had it outlined in my mind. I’d get up anytime of the day and maybe watch a little television, take constant naps, stroll on the beach, or meet my friends for weekly lunches. But that turned out not to be the case. Quite quickly and surprisingly, I ended up with a daily routine. Less than a week, I begin doing the following:

1. Take my shower, wash my face, then brush my teeth
2. Maybe comb my hair
3. Get dressed (same outfit of sweats and a t-shirt), make my bed and make sure my desk was clean
(something I never did when I was working fulltime)
4. Read my bible, the Daily Word and then pray
5. Check my email, scan Facebook and Twitter for 30 minutes
6. Make myself a cup of green tea
7. Write until 4 p.m. then eat my breakfast for 20 to 30 minutes while watching Barefoot Contessa
or Ellen depending on the guests
8. Write until I got tired

Even with writing you often have to be repetitive. For instance, if you are a screenwriter you need to follow the rules of formatting and the same can go when writing a novel—agents and publishers all want the same format: times new roman 12pt, double space, and a specific word-count. You have to be cyclic with rules. But this should never have anything to do with telling your story. And thank God this is where I can break free from the monotony.

Audiences or in this case readers don’t need to understand all the rules and guidelines it takes to make your story. They want it fresh and lively. Take for instance the Food Network Star competition. For the last challenge, each contestant had the opportunity to shoot a pilot. While one of the contestants was shooting his, he was asked to stop and restart. “Why,” he asked? I knew the answer immediately. Repetitiveness. Without realizing he kept repeating the same word. Audiences will notice that immediately and the same will go for your readers.

Being repetitive is not always a bad thing and is often necessary when helping you stay on point in your writing. Just make sure that it doesn’t reflect in your overall story.

A good storyteller takes the repetitiveness of life and makes it exciting. ~Sheilah Brooks

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Season of Patience…

I’m a modest person. I don’t need a lot of bells and whistles to be entertained. Give me a couple of great books or a few classic movies to watch and I’ll be good for months. One of my other simple pleasures is to have long philosophical talks about life while sipping on a cup of green tea with friends. A good conversation can open up so many ideas, opinions and debates. The thought that this art is slowly being replaced by email and texting saddens me.

Since I am often in my head (I talk to myself a lot), these conversations can stay with me for weeks, months or even years depending on what’s happening in my life. Recently I recalled a conversation that I’d had a few years back with my girlfriend, Dannette about patience. It was one of those discussions about our hopes and dreams (career, finances, relationships) and how we were at a time in our lives where we wanted these dreams to manifest; and like most people we wanted them… now.

This also led us to the meaning of being faithful which brought us to the word, patience. After all, the Word teaches us that patience is a virtue and should be included in our prayers alongside faith and hope. But surprisingly, my friend said that she never prayed for patience because praying for patience meant waiting for as long as it took for her goals to come into fruition. Simply put, God's timetable is not our timetable.

I didn’t comment at the time, but for a while I noticed I would skip phrases in the bible that spoke about patience and was careful not to utter the word even in my prayers. Like my friend, I was anxious for things to begin happening in my life and was afraid that God would take his time. What we may want now may take for what may seem a lifetime to us. But I realized that skipping over that word really meant nothing. That sometimes we may have to wait and that waiting without worrying or complaining is not so simple, but is extremely necessary if we want to be content with where we are in our lives.

Being patient is extremely hard for me. I’m not talking about waiting in a grocery line, in traffic or on the phone for a customer service rep. or for the light to turn green while waiting to exit my complex (that is the longest light ever), but waiting for that yes from an agent, to meet the right man, or for a lifelong dream to come true.

Most people know that I’ve been writing for years. In 2014, I put my writing into high gear finishing my book and starting another, writing a couple of screenplays and tightening short stories and poetry; basically getting everything tight so that when an agent called, I’d be ready. Sure, I’ve always sent out queries and entered fellowships and contests during the years, but this had been the first time where I felt that I had worked the hardest on my craft to get it to perfection. But still nothing.

Waiting and patience go hand in hand and that's where I am today. I’ve done my work and now I’m in an expectant stage. Though I may get discouraged, I know that there are successful writers out there who at one time were just like me. Writers who went through many, many rejects before they got that yes. Writers who probably thought about giving up when they saw their savings dwindling to nothing. Writers who have to encourage themselves while everyone around them thinks they should give up. And worst the voices in your head that are saying that maybe you should.

I’m not saying that I won’t get impatient while I'm in this Season. But what I am saying is that for now I’m living in the moment, being grateful for where I am today and recognizing that it has a purpose.

Romans 8:24-25 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The End of a Season

I’m a big watcher of television. From comedy to drama I love it all and so much so that if I knew I only had a week to live, I would want my last days to be filled binge-watching episodes of: Gotham, Scandal, Modern Family, Blackish, The Good Wife, The Big Bang Theory (God help me, but I love this show) and my all time favorite, The Golden Girls. I could list many, many others, but this particular blog is really not about how many shows I watch a week; it’s about what happens after the season of a show is over.

There used to be a time when I dreaded when my favorite show for the fall season was coming to an end. If I had a choice, these shows would continue on and on like soap operas—even though I may have gotten busy for a week, I could pick up right where I left off.

But for the first time in my TV-watching life, I became impatient for my shows to end so that the new season would hurry up and begin. I actually became annoyed when some of these shows were taking forever to windup. This became confusing for me. What had changed in the way I watched these shows? Was I becoming one of those gratification junkies? You know the type—always looking to purchase the next new thing in electronics instead of enjoying the ones they have for at least a week.

Eventually, I figured out my problem. The way I was feeling had nothing to do with television and everything to do with what was happening in my life. You see, at a time where most of my shows were going on hiatus, so was my writing life. To be more specific, after leaving my job of six years to write, I was coming close to the end of my savings and it was time for me to begin looking for a job. Unfortunately my season of writing freely, and without any distractions, was coming to an end. The knowledge left me saddened and filled with dread. I was not ready for this season to end, but I had no choice.

I now find that instead of writing for hours on end and having the best time of my life, I’m now spending those hours looking for work so that I can again save and pray that my writing income will eventually pave my way to independence, success, and eventually financially security.

I’m currently at a season of stagnation and I’ll write more about this season in my next blog, but right now it’s more about what’s next for me. Just like the ending of my shows, right now I have no idea what’s going to happen next.

I just pray that unlike my favorite shows, I won’t have to wait until the fall to see what’s next.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

TGIF - Thank God It's Finished... Well, sort of.

Yup, after ten years of working on my novel (although, for a couple of years I did put it to the side) I am finally done and boy do I feel… Actually, I’m not sure how I feel.

I finished my novel back in October 2014. After rewriting, redrafting, deleting, editing and re-editing I was confident that it was now at a place where it could stand on its own. Completing my manuscript was a very big deal. Besides getting a callback to audition for the Broadway musical, Rent (yes, I know you’re tired of hearing that story), it’s one of my biggest accomplishments. But it also makes me the saddest.

I can be an emotional person but I’m also a realist. Change is important to ones growth in life and I’ve always been the type to step out of my comfort zone even if it meant leaving the city where I was born, getting out of a long-term relationship that wasn’t going anywhere, or leaving a good paying job to work on a passion without any other means of financial support. But it doesn’t mean that those things don’t affect me, especially the money thingy.

When I moved from New York to California, I was sad about leaving my friends and family. And after leaving my last job of six years, I was a hot mess. And that’s exactly how I felt when finishing my book. I’d shared so much with my characters and they’d been such a part of my life for so long. I’ve cried with them, watched them grow, and have even shed tears when I had to kill one of them off. (I write murder mysteries, btw) But the hardest was saying goodbye to something that had been part of my life for years.

I believe part of that sadness was brought on by starting a new project. I know writers often have problems coming up with new ideas for their next book but that wasn’t my issue. I had been carrying around an idea for awhile and had even done a short outline. I was physically ready.

True, there was the excitement of writing something new, but mentally I wasn’t prepared to leave my old friends behind. Just like my friends and associates from my last job, I missed them terribly.

I’m good at letting go of the past, and I thought moving on with my new project would be quite easy. I now wonder if authors like Stephen King or Michael Connelly have had these problems. After years of producing so many other works of literature, do they ever truly let go of their first book?

Almost two-hundred pages later into my new manuscript, I’m still connected to my first. But I’m happy to say that I’m letting go more and more now that I’m becoming more invested in my new characters although it’s still a challenge.

My make-believe characters are not really much different than the real ones. I can phone, text or email my friends in New York as often as I want and when I get lonely for my old co-workers I can always meet them for a quick catch-up and much needed hug.

And I now understand that there is nothing wrong with staying connected to my first book because one, I would be using a recurring character, (that’s a bonus when writing a series) and two, when it hits the bookstores and becomes a bestseller, people around the world will become acquainted with my characters and once again, they’ll become a major part of my life.

Just like the memory of my first boyfriend, I’ll never let go of the memory of my first book. After all, he’s still the best kisser I’ve ever had.

PS: This piece is dedicated to my east coast friends and family, my favorite boss (you know who you are) and all those writers out there who are nervous about starting their new book

Monday, December 8, 2014

Editors - The Quicker-Picker-Upper

Hiring an editor can be one of the hardest things to do as a writer. It often means: trusting someone to understand what you are trying to portray in your writing, leaving yourself open and vulnerable to critiques, biting your tongue when the editor tells you something about your story doesn’t work and the hardest of them all, the idea of someone cutting sections of your book (which often feels like someone cutting chunks out of your heart). Because for most writers, writing can often feel like opening up a vein—it’s a big part of whom we are.

However, I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a professional editor look at your book once it’s finished. And by finished I don’t just mean that you’ve finished the writing but you’ve also gotten it as tight as you can (spell check, grammar, story structure). And I’m not just talking about self-help publishers with the purpose of offering you an editing service for signing up for one of their publishing packages. I’m speaking of an editor who can be a grammatical and story editor as well as someone you can hopefully build a relationship with.

Even with hiring an editor, it’s important that you do your homework. The editor I used for my first book asked me to send them my first 150 pages and based on the feedback she would provide, I would be able to use those notes to edit my last pages.

That process has helped me to become a better writer but it took awhile. My first big-girl job (and by big-girl I mean for a large company in a large city, i.e. New York) was at Citibank on Wall Street. My manager begin to let me write memos to the department but before they were sent out, they had to first go through the red-pen test and those red marks scared me. But eventually I begin to look forward to them because they helped me to become a better business writer.

However, years later when I decided that I wanted to be a writer, seeing red marks throughout my novel were frightening and overwhelming. My first thought—there is no way I can do these changes that she’s asking and it took over a year for me to get over that fear.

But now I know that what she did as an editor: the changes, the cutting, even the scolding of my continuing habit of telling and not showing or the over usage of adverbs has made me a better writer. And now with the beginning of my 2nd novel I know what to watch out for.

Editors can be expensive and as writers we often don’t have a lot of money especially those like me who’ve decided to leave a well paying job to finish that novel. But these days searching the Internet can also provide help.

Though I am not a huge Facebook person, often I can find free advice from editors on the site. Only a few months ago, I ran across an article from an editor on suggested ways look for small errors and mistakes by using the Ctrl F button to find over use of words, such as; believe and felt or words ending in ly. But any great editor, one who is going to turn your story into a sellable book, is worth more than their weight in gold.

Bounty paper-towel let’s you know that their towel is better than the cheaper brand—it can pick up a mess with one swipe. The same goes for a great editor. A great editor can help you create a great product to send to agents or publishers. But if you decide to go the less expensive route--no editor at all or doing it yourself, you may end up with a cheap product or in this case a poorly written book. So I implore you when it comes to your success as a writer, don’t short change yourself!