For anyone still reading this ridiculously inconsistent blog, the writer’s residency in April was fantastic all around – great people, beautiful setting, comfortable, and super productive. The biggest accomplishment from the four weeks was that I “finished” a feature screenplay that I’ve been working on for years. It’s now being “packaged” by a big agency with a producer and me attached. I put these words in quotes because nothing is ever really finished and, while I understand how packaging is supposed to work, I have yet to see the process yield anything tangible. Then again, it’s early days.
I also wrote a very rough first draft of another project. And caught up on a bunch of stuff. It was one of the most productive periods in recent memory. All I did was work!
Straight out of the residency, I went to New York City and did a table reading of the feature screenplay. It was both humbling and incredibly gratifying to hear a script that’s been in my head for years read aloud by real actors (as opposed to the voices in my head). They literally breathed life into the words, and I could not have been more grateful.
As expected, when I finally came home, I sank into a state of despondency. It felt as if I had just woken up from a month-long dream… in which my only responsibility was to write, all my meals were prepared for me, my friends were fabulous artists, and all we talked about was art and the creative process and other lofty ideals… only to realize that I had never left my house.
Of course, I knew I had left the house and it wasn’t a dream, but for a while, things did not add up. My head was still in the clouds; my body was back to mowing the lawn and picking up the dog’s poop.
The moment when reality truly hit me was on my third day home when I was standing in the aisles of the local supermarket staring at all the choices of toothpaste (and everything else) wondering how the hell did I used to make such choices and why?
It took a while, but I got over it. Got back into a rhythm.
The hardest aspect of re-entry was dealing with all of life’s distractions again. One of the reasons why we go on residencies is to minimize distractions, and this one was no different. At the residency, I got into the habit of turning my phone off for long stretches and leaving it in the studio when I went to bed. Once I took it with me to dinner (in a separate building) but it slipped out of my pocket on the way. When I realized at dinner my phone was missing, I shrugged and forgot about it until two hours later when I was walking back to the studio and saw it lying in the mud.
That mindset was golden. And unsustainable.
I know a famous writer who still types his work on a typewriter and doesn’t have an email address (people contact him through his assistant). His office doesn’t have internet, and for years he didn’t carry a cell phone. All of this was designed to minimize the distractions and help maintain his focus. Of course, this isn’t feasible for most of us, but damn it sounds great, doesn’t it? (how ironic to live in a fairly quiet small town and still yearn for an even more remote environment.)
Anyway, I’ve figured out a way to make it work, keep up with my deadlines and responsibilities and still churn out pages. When I really want to focus, I do turn my phone off (after warning a few people ahead of time), and that helps.
Apart from distractions, the other excruciating factor is how much waiting is involved. As a writer, it seems like you’re always waiting for something – a meeting, a call, an answer, feedback, movement! Then when you do get that call, or that meeting, or that crucial news, there’s an immediate rush of adrenaline and flurry of activity. Because you’re excited and want things to move already and you’re scared that the people you’ve been waiting for won’t wait for you.
The fear that people will forget about you and your beloved project and (horror of horrors) move on is highly motivating. You end up rushing to do whatever it is you’ve been asked to do and turning it around as fast as you can… only to return to a state of waiting once you deliver! It’s a vicious cycle and, unfortunately, the nature of the beast. And truly maddening.
I deal with it by staying busy and having multiple projects going on at the same time. This way when I’m waiting for something on one, I’m preoccupied with doing something with the other. If writing was like dating it would be the equivalent of not waiting by the phone and pining for that person you really like because you’re out with somebody else and not thinking about them!
Have many eggs in the basket. That’s my advice. And play whatever mind game you need to, to get you through the waiting.
Now, after a long, hot (dry!) summer, it’s pouring rain and starting to feel a little chillier in the mornings and evenings. Hoping to power through this fall and get some big things accomplished. Anything to keep my mind off of the projects that I’m waiting on.
Happy writing, folks. I’ll be back soon (sooner than six months, I swear).