Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.


Writing on (Self-Imposed) Deadline

Last year I had an epiphany about a spec script that I’ve been writing for a while. I decided to change half of the story’s setting and delve deeper with the main character’s arc. This meant a complete rewrite and restructuring. Which I knew would take a while. So, I applied to a bunch of writer residencies for this year.

I explained in the applications that my goal was to come out of the residency with a draft that was ready to *go* (i.e. be sent to talent, shopped around for funding). I further explained that between the time of applying and the time of the potential residency (a six month period), I would be doing at least two full rewrites, the intention of completing the last rewrite at the residency (as much as scripts are ever really complete).

I went ahead with this plan without knowing if I would be accepted anywhere.

The first rewrite was difficult, to say the least.

I had to basically take the script apart, add a bunch of scenes, and then put it back together – all while keeping it the same length, which meant other scenes had to go. It was a grueling process. I went hunting for scenes from previous drafts, I wrote new scenes, I took out the voice-over narration, I put it back in, I took it out again. For a minute, I actually thought I would turn the screenplay into a television series! It was MESSY.

As the holidays approached, I finally (thankfully) gained some clarity and put together a decent enough draft that I could submit to my writers group for feedback by the time it was my turn in early January.

The writers group loved it and said “it’s ready to go!” Of course, they still had some notes.

After that, I was busy with production for about six weeks, so I couldn’t address their notes right away. This ended up being a good thing because it 1) gave me time away from the script (important), and 2) gave me time to think about their notes.

Also, in mid-January, I learned that I was accepted to one of the residencies! My starting date would be March 30, so I had roughly three months to do the next draft and get another round of notes before leaving.

The ticking clock got louder.

This time, because of all that was going on with this other project, I knew that I would only have a two-week window to address the writers group notes. My goal was to share it with my screenwriting friend in Los Angeles and get her feedback before leaving for residency on the 30th.

I reached out to my friend to confirm that she could do this, because who knows what her own writing schedule was like. If she were working on deadline, there was no way she would be able to read my work and get back to me within a week or two. Luckily, she was available.

So, a few weeks ago, I started in again… slowly at first, tweaking here and there. Then last week I got more into it. I had given myself a deadline of March 15 at the latest, but really wanted to finish by Sunday March 13.

And folks, that’s what I did.

On Sunday evening, I emailed my friend the new draft. Mother Nature helped by dumping a big snowstorm on us over the weekend, which was very conducive to writing (see below pic of our walk in the storm). Will my friend like the script? Will she tell me to throw this out and start again? Who knows. The point is that I accomplished what I set out to do, and I did it on deadline, albeit self-imposed.

All this to say, that I’m proud of myself for planning things ahead of time and taking my writing so seriously. I juggled a lot to prioritize this project and stuck to my self-imposed schedule.

Most of all, I’m proud that I prepared for this residency without knowing if I’d be accepted. I forged ahead as if I would be accepted. And now, I’m exactly where I said I would be.

I’m trying to adopt this “as if” approach more often. Act as if whatever it is you’re going for is going to happen. BELIEVE it will happen. PLAN for it. WORK towards it.

If it doesn’t happen, you’ll be that much further along with whatever it is you’re doing.

And if it does happen, you’ll be 100% ready.

Taking a break from writing to play in the storm.


Get Ready to Rumble (day 1/30)

Greetings, people. Can you believe it’s November already? I can’t.

I have been sorely remiss here on the blog lately, but no more. In fact, the blog is about to go from feast to famine – rather, from famine to feast, as I am joining the NaNoWriMo bandwagon train and committing to writing every day for the next 30 days.

As of today, November 1, the train has left the station.

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is a month-long writing extravaganza whereby writers all over the world attempt to write a 50,000 novel in the 30 days of November. This means an average of 1666 words per day, which is a lot when you count the million and one distractions called LIFE.

Like most things that sound impossible, it CAN be done. It can even lead to published work. Here’s a list of novels that started off during NaNoWriMo. Here’s another list. And here’s a list of novels that are around 50,000 words (Fahrenheit 451 among them!).

All that to say… (surprise!) I will not be writing a novel. But I am committing to writing every single day for the next 30 days.

I will write on the blog. I will write creatively. But I will write. Where I am in 30 days is still TBD. I want to finish my memoir, but I’m not setting that as the only goal. Most importantly, I’m going to write EVERY DAY.

If it sounds weird that I keep repeating that, it’s because I am fairly certain that writing every day will be extremely difficult.

As you can see from the month+ since my last post, I am an inconsistent blogger. “Write a blog post” is always at the top of my To Do list. Yet it’s the first thing that I ignore when I get busy with work and life. This past month I was hustling for work, renovating my apartment, updating my website (check it out!), traveling to the city… blah blah blah. This coming month I’ll be doing more of the same, PLUS dealing with a little holiday called Thanksgiving where (like many Americans) I’ll be driving many hours to eat an enormous sleep-inducing meal with family.

I know I don’t have to blog. But honestly, when I don’t blog for a long period of time, I really feel it. Which is to say, when I don’t write for a long period of time, I don’t feel like myself (writing for work doesn’t count).

So, I’m doing this crazy thing called NaNoWriMo… and these are my personal goals:

  1. Write every day. This is the greatest challenge for me.
  2. Write faster. I’m a terribly slow writer, which hurts me financially and professionally. If I can learn how to write a story in fewer hours, I will make more money per hour and be able to write more stories. My brother is a professional journalist and writes up to three stories a day!
  3. Write more freely. Part of the reason why I’m a slow writer is my tendency to second guess and edit as I go.
  4. Finish a writing project. Another huge challenge.

And that’s it. (haha)

I’m feeling nervous, excited, determined and proud. I CAN do this. I WILL DO THIS.

To all my fellow writers on this crazy train, WE CAN DO THIS!!

Hoorah! Hoorah! Hoorah!

Incidentally, this is how Ruby feels about NaNoWriMo (and most things).

Ruby asleep


Notes on a Memoir

Last I posted about my book-in-progress, I had sent the latest draft to four readers to get their reactions: two female published memoir authors and university professors, and two male film and television writers/directors, one of whom is also my mentor. All four are accomplished writers and avid readers themselves. Their feedback, both encouraging and constructive, confirmed that I am definitely on the right track. I have a compelling story and engaging writing style. I also still have a lot of work to do. I’m sharing some of their constructive notes here because I think other writers will relate. Even if you’re not a writer, it might be interesting to see what we writers have to figure out.

1. Too much context vs. not enough context

While all the characters come across clearly, there is apparently too much background information on some, and not enough on others. Two readers didn’t feel as moved by the main characters as they wanted to be. There were sections where the narration was “too distant,” while in other places it was so present they felt right there in the moment. (This is one of the reasons why having people read the work is so important, to identify what feels like ‘too much’ or ‘not enough,’ what is resonating and what isn’t.)

2. Confusion regarding timeline of events

I tell the story using a variety of sources: first person narration, journal entries, letters, emails, etc., and jump between now and then at the chapter breaks, like an A-B-A-B-A-B structure. There are a few dates (but no years), and almost everything is in the present tense. Three of the readers found this confusing and suggested I find a way to delineate now and then more clearly, either by using “tense shifts to create meaning and structure,” or simply putting everything in the past tense. I haven’t decided yet, but clearly I have to do something. The last thing I want is for readers to be flipping back a few pages to figure out what’s going on, or worse, putting the book down because it’s too complicated.

3. The beginning isn’t a big enough “hook”

Each reader had a different opinion on where the story should start, but they all agreed that the beginning didn’t grab them enough. One suggested I read the first chapter of other popular memoirs: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, Searching for Mercy Street by Linda Gray Sexton, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. For fun, I also read the first chapter of Love Story, the 1970 romance novel by Erich Segal. Reading these masterful first chapters gave me a good sense of what is meant by “hook.” It’s a combination of where and how the story starts, riding that fine balance between giving the reader enough information to let her know what the story is about, and withholding enough information to leave her not only wanting more, but also wondering, “How in the world will this story end?”

4. The end doesn’t feel like the end

Everyone had this note too. One reader said, “It feels like it ends about ten miles away from where it should.” In other words, close, but not quite there. Another reader wondered if “there’s a process you’re still involved in… maybe love and grieving are still standing in your way.” This is probably true, and I imagine not uncommon for anyone writing a “grief memoir.” The challenge is how to end an otherwise sad (albeit compelling) story on an uplifting and/or meaningful note without sounding melodramatic, corny or unrealistic.

“It was the most challenging experience of my life… but now I’m fine! Line up the shots, boys, I’m back on the market!” OR “It was the most challenging experience of my life… but it taught me how to love, how to be me, how to write, how to cry, the meaning of life… yadda yadda yadda.” OR “It was the most challenging experience of my life… but ever since I found religion, started meditating, doing yoga, knitting, volunteering with animals and homeless people, I realize everything happens for a reason and makes sense now.” NOT.

5. Too many scenes, too much summation, too many “I-feels”

Ironic that I should be struggling with scene construction and exposition when my background is screenwriting. Alas, this is my own private riddle, one which only I can solve.

6. Not sure how to make it compelling to a wider audience

This note has nothing to do with what happens in the story, and everything to do with how the story is told. As one reader said, “Basically you are telling a love story and it is an old one. Most stories are old ones. What matters about your version has to lie in the quality of the scenes.” “And the relatability to the reader,” added another.

So, there you have it. It’s back to the drawing board… this time with the help of a writer friend who has agreed to serve as a sounding board/quasi editor. The first step is putting everything in chronological order. The second step is deciding what stays and what goes. Then there’s about 100 more steps. But I’ve already traveled thousands of miles since the first draft, so what’s a few hundred more steps? Or miles, for that matter.

I keep thinking of it in musical terms. I have all the right notes, but they don’t quite add up to a symphony yet. They need to be re-ordered. Some of the tempos, harmonies and accents have to be adjusted. More importantly, the melody of the entire piece has to be clearer. The only way to accomplish that is for me to know what it sounds like, so clearly that I can hum it to myself. The tune is literally on the tip of my tongue.


Hello… Is Anybody Out There?

Hello fellow bloggers and random readers! Apologies for dropping off for a week. Did anyone notice? Is anyone listening?? Forgive me, I’m feeling a bit loopy right now. I’ve been writing pretty intensely on the book for the past seven days, the goal being to send it to my mentor today. I just sent it! Woo hoo! Now, the waiting game begins. The last time I gave him the draft, a year and a half ago, he got back to me within two weeks. He also didn’t finish it (he read the beginning and the end). That draft was REALLY rough, so I didn’t take it personally. Honestly, I’m honored that he agreed to read it again. My mentor is a successful writer/director and the son of a famous author, so he knows his &#%$.

Anyway, I’ll be back to blogging after the weekend. Hope everyone is well. Looking forward to catching up on your blogs too. Have a great weekend!


What Makes a Reader Care?

Have you ever read a book that made you cry? If so, what was it about the story that moved you? I would bet that, on some level, you fell in love with the characters and those characters were put in a difficult, perhaps impossible, situation. How did the author make you fall in love with the characters? How did she weave the story to make you feel like you were IN the story? How did she make you care?

This is my challenge at the moment as a writer. After the recent Frankenstein edit to my memoir, I gave it back to the reader who initially told me the draft didn’t hold her interest past the mid-point. Last night she gave me notes based on the new edit. The good news is this draft held her interest through to the end, and there were parts that made her laugh out loud. The bad news is the draft didn’t make her cry. Considering the story is about a couple who falls in love, then one gets sick and dies, and the other mourns him, this is very bad news indeed. Crushing, actually. It means she wasn’t emotionally invested in the characters. It also means the conflict wasn’t clear or compelling enough.

Herein lies the difference between real life and the written word.

In real life, the conflict was really clear and super F’ing compelling to the people involved. Kaz, an otherwise healthy young man in the prime of his life, the man I loved, was dying of a terminal disease, and there was nothing either one of us could do about it. I once told my therapist that being his caregiver felt at times like being on a ship that keeps getting hit by torpedoes. “I’m running around frantically trying to plug the holes, but as soon as I plug one another two show up, and the ship is slowly sinking.” 

The flip side of that nightmare was that we bonded as a couple at the same time we were being ripped apart by his illness.  In pictures taken shortly after his death, I am beaming, not because I’m happy but because I had never felt more in love or empowered. On the one hand, I felt full. On the other, I felt as if a part of me had just died, because it did. I set out to write about us because I wanted to capture the incredible journey we had taken, and the way in which that journey changed us and especially me, the survivor.

Translating all of that to the page is no small task. I’m a screenwriter by nature, not an author. I use language to describe action, setting, dialogue and transitions, not necessarily how the air smelled, the color of the sheets, or how the sun glinting off the car hood reminded me of a childhood scene. My reader picked up on this. “This would make an awesome movie,” she said. “We would be seeing and feeling the nuances without your having to describe them.” But it’s not a movie yet. It’s a book – a novel really (even if it’s true) – which is arguably the most difficult type of writing to master.

I recently posted about losing steam and not finishing projects. Here is a prime example of a “losing steam” kind of moment. I’m tired of writing this book, both mentally and emotionally. But I’ve come too far to stop now. I must push through my fatigue and do another pass. I must return to the sinking ship and remember what it felt like, what it sounded like, what it looked like… then try to describe it so the reader will hear, see, feel and taste the details. I must go back and remember who Kaz and I were, the beautiful moments, the snapshots of love… then shape those memories into characters that the reader will love, and moments the reader will want to experience. My goal is not to make the reader cry. My goal is to make the reader care.

To answer the opening question, the last book that made me cry was The Disappearance by Genevieve Jurgensen, a memoir about her losing both of her young daughters to a drunk driver in one afternoon, and her subjequent recovery from that loss. It’s quite sad but also inspiring. I highly recommend it.