riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


Leave a comment

Knowing Yourself as a Writer

Last week was interesting. On Tuesday, I received notes from my managers on a television pilot that I’ve been writing for several months. At the end of the meeting, they asked me if I could turn the script around by Friday. “Next Friday?” I asked. “No, this Friday.” I said Yes, even though Friday was only three days later, and I was supposed to drive to NYC on Wednesday and return on Friday. I wasn’t 100% sure I could do it, but I was pretty sure… if I stayed calm and approached the next three days with focus and discipline.

To be fair, the notes weren’t extensive. Some were just tweaks, but a couple were definitely more than that. They would require research, new scenes, and new dialogue. And the whole script would need to be tweaked to accommodate these new scenes.

I started that afternoon after the meeting by going outside with my dog and just thinking about things. I wrote nothing for the rest of the day except some ideas on a yellow pad.

Wednesday morning, I transcribed the notes from the day before (I record these meetings on my phone, so I can listen to them later). I organized the notes into “easy fixes” and “not so easy fixes,” and for the rest of the day, made as many of the easy fixes as possible, checking them off as I went. In the afternoon I drove to NYC, using those three hours to again think about how to approach the rest of the notes. That night, I didn’t write. I ate dinner, watched TV with my family and fell asleep.

Thursday morning, I got up early, made my coffee (I’d actually brought my beans and french press to guarantee there would be no hiccups), and did research for the two new scenes I had to write. By mid-day I was ready to start writing for real.

Now, I don’t know how other writers work, but before I get into my draft with any structural or character changes, I first make those changes in the outline and character breakdown. I need to see the changes from a birds eye view. Only when I’m comfortable with how the changes look, feel and flow in these two documents do I open the screenplay.

So, I spent a couple of hours working on the outline and character breakdown, then another couple of hours working on the actual draft. Before taking a break to run errands and eat dinner, I printed out the script and put it aside. After dinner, I read the new draft, made notes, then spent a couple of hours that night revising.

Friday morning, I tweaked everything again, several times. I debated sending it before leaving, partly to get it off my shoulders and out of my mind, partly just in case something happened to me on the drive home – at least the draft would be delivered! But my instinct (and several wise Twitter followers) told me to wait until the EOD. Why rush?

Friday afternoon, I drove back home, arriving around 5pm ET. I still had 3 hours before EOD in Los Angeles.

Before unpacking, I printed the script AGAIN, read it, tweaked and tweaked (it was a good thing I waited). I emailed it to my managers at 7:00 pm EST.

And that was that!

I’m not sharing all this because it’s a big deal. It’s really not. But last week showed me that I am getting better at knowing for example: how long it takes me to do things, how best to approach the task at hand, how to stay organized, how to not panic, and so on.

Will the managers like the new draft? Who knows. It’s all part of the process. I’m just happy I did what I said what I would do. And happy that I’m getting better at knowing myself as a writer.

Have a great week, everyone!


8 Comments

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.

Screen Shot 2020-07-28 at 11.44.07 AM

 

 

 


Leave a comment

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.

Screen Shot 2020-07-20 at 3.47.59 PM

 

 


8 Comments

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.