To Write Right
I thought I'd mix things up a little and share a bit about the non-acting side of my creative life: my writing.
Time for honesty. Writing is hard. Let me amend that statement. Writing something good is hard. (Writing crap is pretty easy, I've found.) Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying, writing crap and not realizing it, or a true creative genius to whom everything comes effortlessly. If the latter actually exists, then good for them and terrible for the rest of us who have to suffer through the process.
I arrogantly believed in film school that to graduate without a ready-to-produce feature film was failure. Well, I failed. And I continued to fail for the past five years, as I started working on scripts and then bailed on them for various (generally valid) reasons. The thing about having strong opinions on how life should go is that it becomes pretty easy to beat up on yourself when you don't meet those expectations. If I haven't finished a good feature script, then maybe I'm not cut out to be a writer. Maybe I can't write. Maybe I'm not talented. Maybe I'll never succeed. Because I'm too lazy. Because I don't want it badly enough. Because I'm not good enough. Because I have nothing to say.
I've worked really hard to overcome these feelings of inadequacy. And I'm still not over them. (Are we ever?) The best advice I can give to anyone who suffers from their inner critic telling them that they should be farther along than they really are is to let go of expecting any sort of result and instead to focus on the process.
I've done a lot of work over the past two years to set up healthy processes. I know that I can't write from home. (I go to cafes.) I work better when I get up earlier in the morning and exercise first. (I don't do as many late night improv shows.) I need to set goals. I need to schedule writing sessions out in my calendar. I need accountability. And sometimes, I need other people.
Process. Accountability. Humility. Trust. Those would be the words of my inspirational poster, with a background image of a rainbow above a waterfall... and maybe a kitten thrown in there for good measure.
For the past year or two, I've been sending my work every Friday to my incredible producer, Tessa. There have been some rough patches in there, but more or less, we've stuck to this system of accountability. It took some trust early on to allow someone else to see the things that were utterly incomplete and made sense only to me – the gibberish notes, the outlines with major sections missing, the scenes that were dramatically overwritten. I had to stop apologizing or explaining and trust that she understood the process. More important, I had to trust that having someone holding me accountable was more important than maintaining any sort of false illusion that I only wrote fully-realized, brilliant, and polished pages. It's amazing that she stuck with me through some of the really awful work that I've sent her way, but thankfully, she did.
I would be remiss to share my writing experiences without going into how my writing partner has helped. Even though I don't work on every project with Corinne, the processes and habits we've developed in our collaborations have informed all of my work.
It's funny... when I think about writing with Corinne, I keep thinking about how grateful I am that she, too, never bailed. It's hard finding a partnership that really works. It's especially hard when schedules are difficult and you each have other things going on. But when you find someone who is willing to commit and who shares your vision, nothing is better. The work Corinne and I have done has had as many stops and starts as anything I've done on my own. We have a folder full of abandoned scripts and half-baked ideas. But again, we focused on process and kept going. Now, I'm happy to say that we've found ourselves on a path that feels really right, and it's gotten a lot easier. It's fascinating to me to see how she and I have developed this collective voice that's pretty different from our individual writing styles. And we've found that voice by sticking to routines that work, by not bailing on writing sessions, and by hanging in there even when it was really, really hard.
Similar to the trust I had to build in sending my unfinished work to Tessa, Corinne and I have had to create a safe space where no idea is too dumb to say out loud. I can't even count the number of times when one of us has had a "this is so stupid that I can't believe I'm saying it" idea that has actually turned out to be the source of something really funny and great.
I realize this is long and rambling, so let me try to start wrapping it up. Here's where things stand today...
Corinne and I have written a draft of a comedic web series that I'm really excited about. Our goal is to churn out a half hour pilot version of it in the next month before we start fundraising for the web series. It's an ambitious goal, but I think we've laid the foundation that will enable us to pull it off.
As for me and my feature film failures? Well today, I just completed an outline of a new script. It feels in a strange way like this project is a culmination of a lot of the ideas I was working though in my previous writing efforts. It's almost like all of that abandoned work was the warm-up round for what I'm doing now. The outline still needs to have some of the details fine-tuned, but I'm more excited and feel further along than ever before. I told myself that this time, I would take as long as I needed to figure it out in the outline before ever writing a page of the actual script. I need to understand the story from beginning to end. It's hard. Agonizing, really. But I'm proud of the work. And I think maybe, just maybe, I'm figuring it out.
My success is my own. I can't compare my progress to anyone else's or any expectations about where I thought I would be. Instead, I can focus on what I'm doing and focus on the work, however hard it may be. Because the funny thing is that the hard work gets easier the more I do it. Creativity begets creativity. The suffering pays off. I can find people I trust, people who keep me going. And I can accept where I am in the process. The more I accept myself and allow myself to not be a creative genius, but instead to just be someone who is working through it all as best as she can, the more I find I can accomplish.
It's all a journey, right?