riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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Pandemic Projects

So much of how we deal with these crazy times depends on our circumstances: where we live, whether we’re employed or not, essential or working from home, and what our family structure is, whether we’re partnered, single, with or without kids.

I happen to be single, without children. I own a house and live alone in a small upstate NY town. When the pandemic hit in full force back in March, I was sent home to work, but there wasn’t much to do, so I had a lot of free time on my hands.

Lockdown rules said we weren’t supposed to leave our homes for anything other than groceries, medicine, essential work and walking a pet. In those early days, the virus was raging through New York State, especially NYC, where my sister and other family members live. I was so sick with worry most of the time that I couldn’t concentrate on anything. In fact, I felt paralyzed.

Then my dog ran off more than once after critters (once, I actually had to circle the block in my car to find her). And this set me on a path to fence my property, which was the first Pandemic Project.

The fear of losing my dog, and the desire to protect her, was a powerful motivator. Luckily, Lowe’s was an essential business. The store became my go-to spot other than the supermarket. I set out to build an inexpensive fence in the back and front yard, mostly by myself, with a friend helping me when I needed an extra hand.

At the same time as the fence project, I started getting my garden together, buying plants, pots, soil, mulch, building beds, planting, mulching, and, of course, making countless  trips to Lowe’s. When I was working on the fence or the garden, I didn’t think about anything else. After a few hours of physical labor, I would be too tired to worry, at least for a little while. I was in my yard every single day, rain or shine, working working working. Both projects took me, on and off, about two months to fully complete.   

In the evenings, I zoomed with friends I hadn’t talked to in a long time, with family members. I watched movies. I wrote. And I started reading again.

Reading was a Big Deal because I hadn’t had the mental concentration to read a book since my brother died two years ago. The book that changed that, which I picked up two months into lockdown, was Alex Haley’s 800-page novel ROOTS. I could not put it down (more on this seminal book in a later post). After that I read the dystopian novel STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel, about life after a pandemic. Also couldn’t put it down.

Looming over these other projects was my screenplay, which I’ve been working on for a long time and decided to finish this year. Since, lockdown forced me to be home all the time, I figured this would be the perfect opportunity.

It was rough in the beginning. Being so terribly worried about family and friends all over the country and world was not conducive to writing. But I tackled it like all the other projects, a little bit at a time. There were days when I would tell myself, “all you have to do is write for one hour.” I would set my timer, silence my phone, turn off the WiFi, and begin. Inevitably, at the end of the hour, I would want to write for another hour, and another…. Then, when I could see the progress and the “light at the end of the tunnel,” it motivated me even more.

I finished the first official draft in May and sent it to my representation in Los Angeles. I completed a second draft in July (based on their feedback), and now I’m waiting for notes that will, no doubt, lead to the next draft. Each draft gets me closer to my goal.

I guess the thing that’s helped me deal with the pandemic the most is staying busy, and staying CREATIVE.

My advice to others struggling to stay productive during these times is to:

  • Have goals, no matter how small, and work towards them
  • Tone down expectations; realize that everything takes longer than usual these days
  • Avoid negative people and toxic energy like the plague
  • Avoid anyone or anything that doesn’t feel right, period
  • Go out of your way to be kind and forgiving to yourself (and others)
  • Get outside as much as  possible, while avoiding others
  • Change the scenery if you can; go somewhere new, even if just for a few hours
  • Talk to someone, a therapist or confidant, or write down what you’re feeling
  • Read, read, read, read, READ
  • Exercise in whatever way you can, stay hydrated and eat healthy
  • Stay in touch with the people you care about
  • Limit how much you listen to and read the news; take social media breaks

What has helped you? I’d love to hear about your Pandemic Projects.

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A Literary Life

typewriters-vintage-retro-style-wood-wallpaper-previewA couple of weeks ago, I was walking with a new writer friend who is disillusioned with her day job. When she said she’s craving a literary life, I responded with an enthusiastic YES! And we mused on what that would actually look like.

My definition of a literary life is one where you make a living as a writer. Perhaps I’m a romantic, but a true literary life also means you’re writing projects that you want to write, as opposed to just writing for money (a combination of both is acceptable).

Examples of people who led/lead literary lives, some more happily than others: Joan Didion, Stephen King, Virginia Woolf, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison, Ernest Hemingway, Ronan Farrow, Shirley Jackson, and countless others.

Ironically, since the pandemic hit and quarantine life began, I’ve been living a semi-literary life, at least getting a taste of it. Being sent home to work and having a light workload afforded me much more time to myself, not to mention the general shutdown of everything and inability to go anywhere.

For the first time, I was home all day and still collecting a paycheck. My time was not entirely my own; I still had to check work emails and be available for conference calls, etc. But this took up only a fraction of the day. The rest of the time I was almost living That Life.

What does a literary life mean exactly? For one thing, it means a lot – and I mean A LOT – of time alone (the primary reason why this life isn’t for everyone).

I live alone so this is easy, but even if I had a partner or roommate, I would still need to spend a large part of my day by myself. Often I wonder if I’ll ever meet another partner who understands and is able to respect my need for long stretches of solitude.

While alone, I am mostly thinking, also watching movies or television shows,  making notes, researching, outlining, reading, talking to myself, and, yes, writing. 

When I’m IN THE ZONE, I rarely answer my phone. I prefer not to deal with people or really the world. I do take breaks but I really try to stay in the zone as much as possible and avoid outside distractions. This is the only way I can concentrate. Even then these measures are not always enough.

Sometimes I have to turn my phone and WiFi completely off. I’ve pulled back from the many volunteering activities I used to do, and, even now that things are opening up again, I only occasionally go out. The few times I did venture out, I was so quiet that people wondered if I was okay.

By no means, am I a workaholic.

I’m less confident that I’m not becoming a bit of a hermit.

I’m not sure everyone understands my behavior, how seriously I take my writing, or the countless hours necessary to write something good (it doesn’t help that I’m a slow writer).

Regardless, I’m absolutely determined to make a living as a writer… and every day I get closer.

In the past three months, I’ve managed to finish my screenplay and write two freelance articles. I’m now in the very early stages of writing the next screenplay. 

Soon, my time will be 100% my own, as my job let me go due to COVID (my last day is July 31). But I’m trying to think of it in a positive way. Like maybe this is another step towards my goal.

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What to Write About

First of all, Hello. I am happy to report that I am still alive, living in upstate New York with my dog Ruby, and both of us are healthy (knock on wood). I do feel slightly mortified that it took an actual Apocalypse to get me blogging again, but here we are… at home for the indefinite future, trying not to go insane, ie. the perfect time to dust off this old WordPress site and hit “new post.”

Now that I have Nothing but Time, there are so many things to write about, I don’t even know where to begin.

I could write about my first ever trip to Paris in December 2019 and how great it was, and how relieved I am that I went when I did because who knows when it’ll be safe to go back and leisurely walk around museums and eat all the things in restaurants like one does in Paris.

I could write about the new screenplay I recently completed and sent via the matrix to Los Angeles, what it feels like to wait for feedback, how I’m trying to not count the days (7 so far) or analyze what each additional day with no feedback could mean, how disappointing it is that I’m not as over this kind of angst as I thought I was, and how I’m now questioning whether I was I ever cut out for this in the first place, and what was I thinking trying to be a writer?

I could write about the trip I was supposed to take to Los Angeles (after a 5-year absence) last month that got postponed (not canceled!) due to the pandemic and how much I was looking forward to it, especially holding a reading of the screenplay with actors. I’m trying to wrap my mind around doing the reading via Zoom.

I could write about how obsessed I am with gardening and how I can’t decide whether this is a healthy hobby or an expensive distraction from dealing with my actual life and all the projects I want to write but don’t seem to be able to concentrate long enough to actually begin writing.

I could write about how, in addition to how hard it is to start something new, it’s also extremely challenging to finish anything, which is a particularly frustrating conundrum.

I could write about how listless I feel these days, and how simple things like going to the grocery store totally exhaust me,  which of course leads to my using and eating everything in the house until there’s only one cup of rice left, a few condiments and one roll of TP (donated by friends) to hold me over until I can muster the strength to go back out to the store.

I could write about how my mood has apparently become totally dependent on the weather; on cold rainy days I can barely get out of bed, on warm sunny days I am manically working on outside projects like erecting a fence around my property and painting said fence, all by myself, which is equal parts self-sufficient, frugal and insane.

I could write about how when the pandemic began I obsessively begged my relatives who live in major cities to leave their homes and escape to the countryside before the authorities closed the bridges and roads, and how, six weeks later, they finally did escape, and now they’re marveling at the relative quiet (bird chirping having replaced ambulance sirens) relaxed atmosphere and green lushness.

I could write about how my community has come together to make masks and start food bank initiatives and other do-good projects, but I feel apart from all that and pretty isolated even though I’m only three blocks from Main Street.

I could write about how it’s been 9 years since Kaz died, 4 years since my father died, almost 2 years since my brother died, and almost 28 years since my mother died, and I’m still not over any of these losses, nor will I ever be, but I’m grateful at least that my parents aren’t here to witness the madness and dangers of this current U.S. administration and global crisis.

I could write about how much I’ve grown to admire Governor Andrew Cuomo and can’t decide whether I’d prefer him to be my President, my adopted father, or my new husband, but his daily press briefings are one of the few things keeping me calm and giving me hope these days.

I could write about so many things… but for now, I think I will just say

Hello. It’s nice to be back. I’ve missed this blog, and I’ve missed you bloggers and readers.

What are you up to?

What are you writing about?

How are you doing?

Talk to me.


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A New Lens on Life

Earlier this year I bought a used Canon 5D MII. Best decision ever. I’ve actually never owned a *real* camera, one that takes super nice photos, where you can control things. There are obviously more advanced cameras than this one out there, but the Canon 5D MII is a Very Good Camera.

Not only does it take gorgeous photos, but it also shoots beautiful video. When I lived in Los Angeles, I worked with professional camera people, and rarely shot my own footage. The fact that I can shoot video now is significant. It gives me a freedom I haven’t experienced in a long time. With this camera, I am re-training my eyes, learning a new instrument, practicing how to capture the world around me with both still and moving images.

It’s by far the healthiest move I’ve made in a long time.

Here are some still images from the past few months… I’ll post videos in the next post.


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The Key to (this) Writer’s Happiness: Organization + Routine

I think the key to happiness is… staying organized. At least, for me. I’m not one of those writers who works in a cluttered office. I like things to be neat and in their place, so I can find them when necessary, so I don’t have to think about the mess. I’m obsessed with lists, making them, crossing them off.

Lately, I’ve been taking care of things that have been on my To Do list for months. New brakes on car, repaying loans, sending thank you cards, organizing my office papers, making and showing up for doctor appointments, etc. It feels good to check things off, to not have them hanging over my head, to have order. I actually enjoy paying bills and balancing my checkbook.

I’m also easily distracted. So, routine (i.e. organized time) is my friend.

The other day on Instagram, @instarlodge (a residency center that I follow) posted the following: Louise Bourgeois was very habitual with her morning routine. She would drink a cup of tea “with some jelly straight out of the jar,” her assistant recalled. Afterwards, he explained, “she’d have a bit of a sugar high and be ready to roll.” Her morning Routine was so set and connected with her assistant she created 10 am is When You Come to Me (2006). Which all goes to say, we’re interested in your morning routine, how you set up for the day, the week. 

I responded in the comments: Wash dishes. Make coffee. Drink coffee and think while outside throwing stick for dog. Feed dog. Take shower. Dress. Review lists, make lists. Get to work.

(I forgot to add Make bed. Like, I can’t leave the house with an unmade bed.)

This basic routine rarely changes. Sometimes the dog and I will go for a walk or hike instead of playing fetch, but that’s the only variance.

In fact, the dog knows the routine so well, she doesn’t even get out of bed (on the second floor) until she hears my spoon stirring the milk into coffee. It’s like that movie Get Out, when the guy has an automatic reaction every time he hears the tinkling of a tea cup being stirred, except with the bionic hearing of a dog. I’ve tried stirring the coffee silently… but her four feet still thump-thump-thump down the stairs.

Once I tried feeding her before going outside; she looked at me like, “who are you?”

So, yeah, organization… and routine. This is my happy place (my dog’s happy place too). Because when life throws those curveballs, all that organization and routine get shattered like broken glass, and it’s so difficult to put the pieces back together, to find that steady rhythm again. Even good news can do this… but definitely bad news, stress and grief.

When I maintain my routine and stay organized, in control of things, that’s when shit gets done. My head is free to wander and roam. My writing is more relaxed and confident. I can focus on the task at hand… and I treasure this.

What’s your routine?


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Protecting Your Headspace

I don’t know how other writers work, but I need quiet and stillness when I write. Not quiet as in no sound, but quiet as in no drama. No voices other than the ones in my head that I channel onto the page. No energy or time sucking people or activities. No negative energy. This is how I create the headspace that allows me to feel free and relaxed and courageous enough to write.

These days, with two part-time jobs, two dogs, a house, and a community, not to mention all the news, it’s really challenging to create, let alone maintain, that space. I have always been an easily distracted and slow writer. It takes several uninterrupted hours to get into that space, that sweet spot when what I’m writing is within me, and I am within it, and we are sort of vibrating off one another all day, like lovers.

When you’re in that space, you can’t wait to get back to the computer, you daydream about what you’re writing, you dream about it at night, you wake up thinking about it, and rearrange your life so that you can be with it on a regular basis. Back in the day, I used to get obsessed and disappear for weeks when I was really into writing something. There was also no internet then, or less of it. But that kind of frenzied obsession isn’t sustainable long-term, nor is it healthy. In any case, now I have responsibilities that don’t allow that kind of abandon.

All last year I was craving that headspace, but there was simply too much going on. This year will be different, is already different.

It started last weekend.

Except for a couple of previously scheduled engagements, I didn’t venture out, even on New Years Eve. I actually found it liberating to stay home and avoid all the hub-bub, or what Kaz used to call Amateur Night. All the power to people who go out and party it up, I used to do the same. This year, however, it was important to me to spend the first moments of the new year being productive and writing.

I sent out my Happy New Years messages early, turned off my phone, and stopped listening to the radio. The town was quiet because of the cold weather, and people being hungover, so when the dogs and I ventured out, we didn’t see anyone. I stayed away from Main Street entirely. It’s only three blocks away, but three blocks can be far enough in a small town.

All these moves shaped the weekend into a mini writing retreat. I got a lot done. More importantly, this concentrated time allowed me to get into that space. I was able to focus  and think about my goals, and what it will take to nurture and maintain the headspace that will facilitate achieving them:

  • Establish a writing schedule, and stick to it like any other work schedule, meaning don’t schedule meetings or make other plans during scheduled writing time, don’t accept invitations, make phone calls, watch television, or surf the internet. Write after work from approximately 7 to 10 at night Mondays through Thursdays, write a blog post on Friday night, socialize, catch up on house chores and run errands on Saturday, and write all day Sunday. There will be exceptions here and there, but that is the actual schedule.
  • Hang out with other writers. Strength in numbers. Support systems are everything. I just joined a new monthly writer’s group with a few friends. Our first meeting is in three weeks!
  • Read more. Writing improves when reading a good book. I am currently reading The Handmaid’s Tail by Margaret Atwood, and Delta of Venus by Anais Nin, about one chapter per night before falling asleep.
  • Watch movies (sparingly, as reward) instead of television shows. Movies are shorter, require less time commitment, and tell stories more succinctly. As a filmmaker, it’s good for me to remember visual storytelling, not just literary.
  • Exercise every day. Eventually, I’d like to do more, but right now I walk and hike with my dogs.
  • Part ways with any situation or person that messes with headspace. This can be challenging because it’s not always easy to recognize, and telling people without hurting their feelings is tricky. I recently told two people that I needed to pull back a little, and was honest about why: I’m focusing on my writing these days, and something about this situation is stressing me out, so I have to pull away for the time being. Both seemed to understand and not take it personally.
  • If I can’t actually part ways with a situation, then reorient to that situation and learn how to coast. This doesn’t mean stop caring or trying, but rather stop being attached to the outcome. I am over here. The situation is over there.
  • Stick to the routine as much as possible. Do not deviate.
  • Take myself seriously. If I don’t take myself seriously, why would anyone else?

All one needs to know about writers is, they need to write in order to be happy.

Here’s a list of 10 famous writers and their writing routines (the  last one is hilarious).

How do you protect your headspace?

 


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Hiatus No More

Hello? Anybody out there? It’s me, Niva.

It’s been seven months since my last blog post. A very dramatic seven months, indeed. I moved from the rural area I once lived in to a small town; I started a second PT job, buried my father’s ashes, and have become more involved in local issues and politics.

And I still haven’t been writing.

Some of my new friends don’t even know I am a writer. Many don’t know about the situation that brought me to upstate NY in the first place, the loss and trauma that proceeded that move. I don’t go around talking about it, so why would anyone know unless they ask? Even when they do ask, I tend to answer in vague terms.

I told myself that I’m on a writing hiatus because I need to “live life” for a little while, which is all well and good… except what the hell is the point of life if I’m not writing? That’s what I do. And I miss it.

There have been signs here and there that I need to get back to it. Take, for instance, this conversation I had with a woman – let’s call her J – around the beginning of the year.

We were engaged in a business meeting when J unexpectedly said, “Do you mind if I share something personal with you? I know we just met, and I don’t usually do this, but I read some of your writing online and feel like you would understand.”

“Go ahead,” I told her.

“I haven’t even told some of my closest friends… but my husband was recently diagnosed with Stage IV ___ cancer.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said quietly, trying to keep pity out of my voice.

“Can I ask you some questions? I don’t know who else to talk to,” she said.

Of course, ask away, I told her.

She proceeded to ask me numerous questions about Kaz… how had I handled the news of his diagnosis, how involved was I with his care,  what was his mood like, how had I kept him motivated, how long did he fight it, when did he start to accept the inevitable, when did I accept the inevitable, was I there when he died, what was that moment like, how had the whole experience affected my life, how long did it take for things to feel “normal” again… and more.

As I answered all her questions, in the back of my mind I was thinking, you are who I’m writing my book for. In fact, I wished I could have just handed her my book and said, “Read this. All the answers are inside.”

Answering her questions brought me back to memories and moments that I hadn’t thought about it a long time. It took some effort to recall them without getting emotional, and I didn’t want to get emotional because it wasn’t about me, it was about her (I was relieved that she didn’t get emotional either).

Her expression was actually one of wonder, and intense listening. She was clearly hungry for information, which made my heart ache. I remember being in her shoes, painfully curious about what the future held,  desperate to speak to someone who could illuminate all the dark corners, hungry for answers in what was a perpetual state of not knowing.

I left our meeting feeling raw and somewhat drained, and sad for what this couple was going through, but also inspired. I told myself that when I returned to writing, I would keep this woman in my thoughts… and write to her.

It also occurred to me that maybe I haven’t been writing lately because I don’t want to “go back” there anymore. I wanted to focus on the present and the future, and take a break from the past.

Then the other day I met another woman who had left New York City several years ago to be her mother’s caregiver… her mother had had the same type of brain tumor as Kaz and succumbed to it nine months after diagnosis.

When we discovered this huge thing in common, it was like a light went off behind both of our eyes. We hardly knew each other, and yet we instantly knew so very much about one another. As she put it, it’s rare to meet another person who has witnessed, and been intimately  involved with, the slow decline of a loved one, especially to an illness that affects the neurological system.

“People need to hear your story,” she told me. “Why did you stop writing?”

I explained to her my theory about wanting to live life and not keep going back to the past, but even as I said the words, I knew the hiatus was over.

Another impetus has been the election.

There is so much divisiveness and negativity in the non-stop news cycle these days, and so little empathy and compassion for one another, even less so for the marginalized. I find myself wondering about all the aspects of life that transcend politics, rhetoric and differences. Where are the voices that will bring us together? And what can I do personally to make a difference?

Well, this is it. I have thought about this blog so much, about you the readers, and my fellow bloggers. And I’m here to say that the bitch is back.

Looking forward to catching up with you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Why Am I Not Writing?

I heard today on the radio an interview with someone who wrote a successful (NYT bestseller) memoir. After hearing a few excerpts read out loud, I exclaimed to myself and my dog, both of us in the kitchen, “I’m a better writer.”

It wasn’t jealousy or bitterness that motivated me. It was absolute clarity and self-awareness: I know what I’m capable of. I know that I’m good. I know, if I put my mind to it, I could write my way into the hearts and minds of millions of people.

And yet, I am not doing what needs to be done.

I can no longer blame grief. On the contrary, grief seems to be a muse of sorts. I wrote feverishly after Kaz died five years ago, and again after my father died this past February. But in the last few uninspired, exhaustive months, I’ve just been “living life.”

Oh, I’m writing… press releases, bios, web copy, articles, interviews. But that’s not me. That isn’t my voice. That’s the voice of the publication, or the person I’m interviewing, or just a blank impersonal corporate voice that we read online every day and sounds like no one in particular.

I’m trying to wrap my brain around why I haven’t been writing for me lately.

I could blame “writer’s block” but that’s not entirely true (and anyway there is no such thing). The truth is this writer’s brain is always writing – dialogue, scenarios, fantasies, entire plot lines – using real people as characters, actual events as inspiration. Maybe the difference between sanity and insanity is knowing when to take your inner dialogues seriously, and when not to.

Then again, my inner dialogues have become louder lately, which can happen when I don’t write for a long time. I start to feel less grounded… as if writing is the lighthouse and my center is the shore.

I could blame my PT job, which has been FT demanding lately.

I could blame my freelance career, which has also been demanding lately (not complaining)… and (even more dangerous) gives me the false illusion that I am actually writing.

I could blame the weather, which has been beautiful for most of the summer and therefore the antithesis to staying inside and writing. I have actually thought, “I write better in the winter.”

I could blame my dog, the ultimate joy… and distraction.

I could blame my new workout regimen, or my new obsession with re-watching HBO series like Deadwood, The Wire, Rome, Game of Thrones, House of Cards and Boardwalk Empire (drama is my thing, clearly).

All true. All bullshit.

Something else is holding me back.

Rather than self-analyze or berate, I’m writing this post to remind myself how much I love to write, how I need to write like I need air to breathe, that writing is the power that lights up my soul, and when I’m not writing that light is literally diminished.

When I don’t write, I am no one. Rather, I am just like everyone else. Time passes without meaning, without contribution, without voice, even though I am living and talking and communicating on a daily basis.

When I don’t write, something – thoughts, emotions, ideas –  accumulates in my brain, like so many marbles, bouncing around frenetically.

Writing calms me down, makes me feel purposeful, fills me up like nothing else.

A man recently said to me, “You can never know who you are if you don’t know where you’re from.” When I hear that I think not of a place, or a people, or a religion… I think of my passion.

Writing is what I enjoy most in the world.

Writing is torture, the only kind worth enduring.

Writing is power… not over others, but of expression.

Writing is freedom.

Writing is ultimate vulnerability, also the most powerful shield.

Writing is courage, love, heart, soul, music, rhythm, sex, nourishment, LIFE itself.

The only thing more powerful is Nature… the most prolific writer of all. And Nature never stops.

So, here I am… middle of the night… pleading with my inner soul…

Love yourself enough to write something every day for you.

Be disciplined and/or selfish enough to write no matter what the fuck else is going on.

Don’t ignore or be afraid of your voice, let it say what it wants and be heard.

Know that you have a story inside you that only you can tell.

And, most importantly, never ever ever give up on your dreams.

 

 

 


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Filmmaking vs Freelance Writing

A couple of days ago, I did a radio interview on local Catskills radio station WIOX regarding writing and the life of a writer. It got me thinking about my journey here, especially my journey from filmmaker to freelance writer. On the surface these career paths seem very different. They are in some ways… but in many ways they’re also similar.

As I’ve mentioned before, filmmaking requires a lot of:

(source: Vancouver Film School)

(source: Vancouver Film School)

  • money
  • teamwork
  • time
  • equipment

Freelance writing generally requires less of these things. There are exceptions. For example, the team of Boston Globe reporters depicted in the current movie Spotlight spent over a year writing multiple stories about the Boston church sex scandal. But for the average reporter or freelance writer working on a routine story, most assignments are handled solo with a relatively quick turnaround and require minimal equipment.

work station

Borrowing a friend’s work station over Thanksgiving holiday.

Traditional filmmaking and television also require:

  • many levels of approval before the public sees the product
  • many levels of collaboration and interpretation along the way

Journalism and freelance writing require approval and collaboration but on a smaller scale. As a freelance writer, I am usually dealing only with one person – my editor. The editor deals with his/her bosses, and they have to deal with the publisher, etc. But the chain of command is smaller than let’s say… network television.

(source: Pexels)

(source: Pexels)

This also means that your writing goes through less filters, whereas in Hollywood, once you turn in a script, it’s read by dozens of people. Even if you’re directing your own script, you usually have to answer to a lot of people before the final film hits the big screen.

Then there’s a little thing called THE TRUTH.

Filmmaking is by its very nature a recreation, presentation and interpretation of truth (even films based on true stories, or documentary films). A lot of folks would disagree on the effectiveness of journalism to present the “truth” (in the form of facts), but I think we can all agree that, in an ideal world, journalism is not supposed to be “make believe.”

Now… for the similarities between filmmaking and journalism/freelance writing:

  • Both are about STORY. At the core of all media – whether film, radio, television, print, digital or what have you – we’re all just trying to tell a good story. And the way we go about it is the same, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, by organizing and structuring the material into something that has conflict, interesting characters, a beginning, middle and end.
  • Both start with a pitch. A pitch is selling the idea for the story before you write it. In film, the pitch usually happens in a face-to-face meeting with an executive. In freelance writing, it usually happens via email to an editor. In essence, though, it’s the same (nerve-wracking) process: we present what the story is, why it’s important to tell now, why it’s right for this particular venue, and why we’re the right person to tell it. Then we wait for the Yay or Nay.
  • (source: University Libraries)

    (source: University Libraries)

    You have to be visual. Obviously, film is visual. But these days digital news media includes just as much video and/or photographs as print. Even when its straight print, we have to paint a picture with words… we have to show, not just tell, the reader what’s going on.

  • You have to HUSTLE. I don’t know any successful filmmaker or freelance writer who doesn’t hustle his/her ass off, or didn’t start that way. You can’t be timid or shy or wait for things to happen. You have to put yourself out there 100%. I find myself being even more aggressive as a freelance writer than I was as a filmmaker exactly because everything rests on my shoulders. I’m also new to the field and need to build my portfolio and relationships with editors. So, my inclination is to say YES to almost everything (unless the pay isn’t worth it), and to literally push myself forward. It’s a little daunting, but also exhilarating.
  • You need strong communication skills. While it’s true freelancing is a more solo experience than filmmaking, you still have to be able to talk to people… and get them to talk to you. In a sense, you have to build instant trust and be able to communicate (in other words listen, not just talk). I find this very similar to being a documentary filmmaker, as well as directing actors (which is all about listening).
  • You learn by doing more than anything else. Filmmaking and freelance writing are both professions one can learn and excel at without a formal education. It might be more challenging, but it’s possible. The more you do it, the more you study on your own, and the more you study others, the better you get.
  • You have to negotiate. I was never comfortable negotiating as a filmmaker. My attitude was “that’s what producers and lawyers are for.” Well, now I’m on my own. So, if I want more money, I have to ask for it! And I do. And I get more money. Even if I get $50 or $100 more, it helps. Am I making big bucks yet? No. But I’m inching my way up, and with every negotiation (every story, really), I gain confidence.
(source: $PHPhoto)

(source: $PHPhoto)

  • Time is money. You’re never more aware of this than when on a film set. The longer things take, the more chance you’ll fall behind in the schedule and go over budget (not good). As a freelance writer, you’re working for yourself and generally getting paid a fixed rate ( per story, or per word). So, the more time you spend on a story, the less you’re getting paid per hour. As a newbie, things take me a lot longer than people who have done this for years. But every story I write, I  try to beat my “record.” Practice, practice, practice.

    (source: Pexels)

    (source: Pexels)

  • You have to market yourself. Marketing is literally the difference between people seeing your film, or not… and getting work as a freelance writer, or not. Neither profession happens in a vacuum. You’ve got to connect with others and shout your accomplishments from the rooftops!
  • Less is more. In film and in freelance writing, the more you can say with less, the better. There are time constraints in the former, and word/space constraints in the latter. The ability to be succinct is key.

I’m sure there are more similarities and differences, but that’s all I can think of now.

Hope it provides some perspective!

me in oren office

Working (and a little pale) while traveling during Thanksgiving week!

 

 

 

 


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Keeping the Creative Spirit Alive

For most creative types, creativity is not a choice. It’s a must. Like breathing, we need to create in order to function and maintain a sense of emotional and mental balance. On a practical level, this means we need the space, time and necessary equipment to do our art. 12000898_10153586813975930_7373778667979507386_o

One of the things I love about writing is that it’s something I can do anywhere. I don’t have to rely on anyone else or any fancy equipment. All I need is my computer, or a pen and paper, and my imagination.

Filmmaking, on the other hand, requires technology – a camera at the very least, sound, lighting and editing equipment. This all takes money and usually a lot of planning. Often it requires working with a team, even a small team.

These days, the filmmaker in me is a little lonely and antsy. It’s been a long time since I’ve directed anything or even visited a film set. I’ve met some filmmakers in upstate New York, but I miss Los Angeles in this respect.

The one thing that keeps me going, however, is photography.

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Like with writing, photography is something I can do anywhere. I’m not a professional. I take most of my photos with my cell phone while walking or hiking with my dog. But what it gives me is so much more than that. It’s my new creative outlet.

These are some recent photos I took of the Catskills.

I’m lucky that where I live is very photogenic. The light is quite dramatic and it changes throughout the year. Winter light is even and diffused. Summer light is bright. Fall light creates these very long shadows.

Taking photos has developed into more than a hobby. It’s a way for me to practice my directing eye. When I take a photo (and edit it), I try to say something with it… convey a mood, a feeling, a thought, even a very, very tiny story.

The animals around here are also photogenic starting, of course, with my favorite model, Ruby.

I hope to get back to moving pictures soon, but in the meantime capturing these still moments is keeping my filmmaking spirit alive.

How do you keep your creative spirit alive?