have courage

Synopsis update: My mom has decided to help me out. She shocked me with a one-paragraph effort that is not terrible. So. It seems I finally have a place to begin.

 

Most of us know that it takes courage to start something. To take that first step, to be the first (or one of the first) to speak up.

Why is it so scary, though? Because those actions bring change. Change makes me anxious. Of course, change can be a great thing. Sometimes change is a necessary thing. Sometimes comfort isn’t what’s best for us. Sometimes.

Shortly before I finished film school, I had ideas regarding the future. A move to LA, the hunt for a job, the quest for a career in TV or film–writing, either way. Sadly, I didn’t take the necessary steps to develop those ideas into a plan. So when graduation finally came around and it was time to leave, I decided instead to return home to Chicago, relax, do a victory lap (celebrating my graduation), work some, save some, and move to LA soon after.

That was three years ago.

To be fair, I planned on taking about a year, so I’m really only two years behind schedule. 🙂 But as a friend recently pointed out to me, it doesn’t appear that I’m going to be ready anytime soon. I haven’t saved enough. I haven’t really saved anything. Not that I’m a spender, just that my job doesn’t pay enough to cover my bills, pay for food, and leave me money to save. And psychologically… I think I’ve regressed, just a little. I feel less independent than how I felt at film school. It was an exciting, scary time. Life today really isn’t that exciting.

When I was little, I thought a lot about what I’d do as an adult. I had different career aspirations then. A doctor or musician or President. I was on a good track to become a musician… just not the kind of musician I actually wanted to be.

I ended up taking a lot of unexpected detours after my dad died. I’m not trying to lay blame, except on myself. Out of all my reactions, the one I think that I never paid attention was fear. I became afraid. Of life, maybe. Oh, I’m not a wuss. There are a lot of things I should be afraid of that don’t concern me. But there are a lot of things that I shouldn’t care about that, on some level, terrify me to my soul. Failure, rejection, risk… they scare me. Not in all things, which is why I can securely say I’m not a wuss. 🙂 I think, though, it’s failure at life. Rejection at life. Risk at life–not the physical kind–but the other kind.

It’s a tragic irony that I’ve set my sights on an industry that’s loaded with all of those possibilities.

My friend asked me last night how ready I would be to go with him to LA next spring. I spent a long time trying to determine my answer. The best, most honest response I could finally come up with was I don’t know. Fear makes it hard to think, difficult to analyze. Fear takes the truth and stretches it out of proportion. Fear can lie. Fear can blind.

Courage is the natural answer, of course. But courage requires will and strength. If you’re unaware of your strength, of where you may find it, or if you even have it, courage is a difficult thing to possess. Another friend of mine says that when all else fails, just fake it. Yeah, I’ve faked it before, but I’m not sure I ever realized at the time that I was faking it. My mom says a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Yeah. There’s truth in that. We all tend to do what we have to do.

It’s come back again to know what I want to do, what I need to do with my life. That hasn’t changed, thankfully, or perhaps not thankfully. It might… might be easier if I turned my thoughts to something more mundane like a 9-to-5 job, settling down in the Chicago burbs, and didn’t think about writing ever again. But I can’t do that. Writers know they can’t do anything else except write.

Is there courage in knowing that? I hope so. I could use a little courage right now.

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no brains allowed

This is kind of a film review… but not really. I don’t go into the particulars of the narrative. So no spoilers, either!

 

Popcorn, check. X-tra large Coke, check. Contraband M&Ms, check. Logical, critically-thinking brain–whoa. Check that at the door.

A disappointing number of blockbuster films this year have done their best to convince us that they are, in fact, good films. Transformers 4, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, even Guardians of the Galaxy. (And I really wanted to love that last one.) The most I can say for any of these movies is that they aim to be fun–but senseless. Plot holes are meant to be ignored. Narrative dead ends are unimportant. Just sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

I can enjoy spectacle. Why, just last month I loved the Fourth of July fireworks. But I can’t forgive this new wave of cinema that insists we not pay attention to the nonsensical story. Should I have expected more from Transformers 4 or TMNT? Of course not. They’re the film equivalent of cotton candy. They’re gum: sweet and diverting to chew, but utterly indigestible. I did–and rightly so–expect more from Guardians of the Galaxy, though, which is currently coasting through good reviews and word-of-mouth on a tide of nerd-love, Star Wars-ian nostalgia, Rocket Raccoon worship, bitchin’ music, and a lot of Marvel kool-aid.

None of these scripts would’ve passed muster in film school–except maybe for the obvious market appeal. Setting aside the fact that these are all franchise cogs, I am hard-pressed to think of better examples of lazy storytelling. Since the aforementioned Michael Bay efforts never had a chance of approaching a coherent narrative, I’m going to focus squarely on Guardians.

Let me be clear. I’m a Marvel fan. I’m a DC fan. I’m a comics, sci-fi, fantastical storytelling fan in general. I loved Marvel’s Phase One. I enjoy Arrow, and I even nerdgasmed over the Dark Knight trilogy. The current adoration over Guardians, however, leaves me nearly apoplectic. As a writer and as a would-be filmmaker, I’m appalled by the shortcuts James Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman took. Entire character biographies were dropped in spurts of dialogue like oversized nukes. Songs from the 70s provide the emotional atmosphere, obfuscating any genuine experience we have with the story. Ironically, it’s the surprisingly entertaining character of Groot that serves as a metaphor for the entire process. For a character reduced to only using the same three words as his entire vocabulary, he conveys an impossible amount of information and intent each time he says them. In his case, it works–as a humorous conceit. In the case of the film, I find the conceit too big to swallow.

I saw the movie on opening night with a buddy of mine. I took care to notice the other people in the theater with us. Geeks, mostly, a lot like us, but with a few families and small children. Undoubtedly, the mood of an audience affects the moviegoer and vice-versa. Could it have been my bad luck, then, that those around me weren’t terribly moved by anything they saw or heard? The only time I noticed any significant emotional reaction was when a new song started. After we left, the chatter was subdued and mostly about other topics not involving the movie we’d all just seen. I turned to my buddy and noticed a small frown on his face. “I didn’t really like it,” I said. His frown deepened. “Yeah… me either,” he replied. It was like being told Santa was a lie.

I was so looking forward to Guardians. I’m no hater. And there’s a lot I liked about the film. Chris Pratt was great. Bradley Cooper was entertaining. Dave Bautista was surprisingly good, too. (I had mixed feelings about Michael Rooker, who I normally love to death.) I geeked out over the Thanos moments, brief as they were, and even Lee Pace was great to watch, although Ronan the Accuser is one of the weakest, most one-dimensional villains I’ve ever seen in any film. But the story never captured me, not from the first scene.

Obviously, it’s all subjective. One man’s masterpiece is another man’s total waste of time. 🙂

All I know is, if Avengers 2 doesn’t blow me away, I may need to take an extended break from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

a little this, a little that

It’s been a week of some setbacks. Maybe the last couple weeks. The war against my synopsis has not gone well, and I felt that until I produced a finished version of it, I will not say much about how to write one. 🙂 Though a chat with a friend re-energized me somewhat. I’m a little more hopeful there.

But it’s been an unpleasant couple of weeks aside from that. The depression has hit hard, and I’ve been floundering without really trying to grab onto anything solid. Not smart, I know.

Stupid synopsis.

On the plus side, I have sent out a handful of new query letters. I feel good about that–when I actually remember I did that. Each query letter is a big deal, like an application to college but even more stressful.

In other news… I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy. I’m… I didn’t enjoy the movie. It had its funny moments. It had its pretty awesome moments. But I didn’t like the movie. I just haven’t been a fan of Marvel’s Phase 2 in general, with the exception of Captain America 2.

I also watched the first episode of Outlander. Now, I haven’t read the books, in fact, hadn’t heard of them until a few weeks ago. So I came into the show cold. God. The first 30-something minutes was so unbelievably boring. I didn’t get the hype at all. Afterward, I wiki’d the series. Wasn’t impressed. The first book itself seemed alright. I read some reviews of the show. Most seemed to love it. That’s fine, but I didn’t even though I realize and appreciate why it played out the way it did. Yeah, I’ll tune in for the next episode.

That’s it, really. Oh, and my teeth hurt from my most recent trip to the dentist. I wish I had something… encouraging to write about. I wish I had some wisdom to share, a lesson I learned, a piece of great and empowering news. I guess it can’t always be that way. My buddy and co-worker would tell me that “perception determines reality,” and I can agree with that to some extent. And I can also say that sometimes things happen outside your control, and it’s perfectly natural to feel crappy about some of it. I suppose the point, though, is what to do next. Get back up? Or quit?

Of course, I’m not quitting anything. How could I? I have a book to get published. 🙂

where are you going?

So I know this week I’m supposed to keep talking about writing a synopsis, but something else has come up that demanded my immediate focus. (Also, I have temporarily misplaced my notes on synopses, so I need to find those before I can go on with that.)

I’ve met a lot of writers. In writer’s groups, in film school, in creative writing elective courses. A lot of them were really terrible. Most were average, not too bad, not too great. Some were very  good, and a few were truly excellent. Aside from film school, however, almost all of them considered writing a hobby, a secondary interest. And that’s their choice. Writing is typically a personal affair, even if you’re writing for an audience. Writing most often comes from the heart–or maybe the deepest recesses of the psyche. Whichever way you look at it, few people write content that’s truly impersonal.

So, of course it’s the writer’s business what he or she does with their work. Although I consider it a terrible loss if you’re a fantastic writer and you decide that being a “writer” really isn’t for you. And yeah, I know that may offend. Sorry.

Do you know why you’re writing? Do you want to be a writer? Or is this a hobby? I’m not going to comment on the validity of either. I have been in both places. (Though I think, subconsciously, I have always wanted to be a professional writer.) In film school, we all knew we were chasing careers in the industry. (Nobody dished out that much money just because they thought it would be cool.) In writer’s groups, critique groups, and even conferences, it’s a little less certain. The soccer mom juggling work with home might really plan to be the next J.K. Rowling, and the college student might just want to explore a new avenue of self-expression. It’s impossible to tell what anyone’s plans are.

I was part of a fantastic online group of writers. We had so much fun creating content together, helping each other here and there with this and that. A time came, though, when I decided that writing was the only thing I ever wanted to do. No other kind of job would ever be acceptable, so I started pulling away from the group. I just didn’t have the time to write for fun anymore. Some of my buddies understood this. Some didn’t. I lost my best friend because we couldn’t see eye to eye on priorities, and I still consider it a great tragedy that she chose to continue writing strictly “for fun” when we both knew she wanted to turn writing into a career.

I’m fortunate to be in a great writer’s group now. And I’m even more fortunate to realize that most, if not all, of those writers want to be published. We write for fun, yes, but that is not the endgame. So when it comes to things like query letters, synopses, and shopping for agents, we’re all still speaking the same language. At the same time, these topics have become a true litmus test for determining how serious other writers are–or even how serious they take the entire concept of being a professional writer.

It is not easy, making the transition from hobby to career goal. In anything, not just writing. I understand. But I think it’s important to know where you’re going as a writer. Making that decision has informed everything I’ve done since then. I’m sweating away at my synopsis, one of the most detestable tasks I’ve ever undertaken as a writer. My brain is screaming at me to work on another story, a new manuscript, an old screenplay that’s been lying around, polish the current manuscript, anything except the synopsis. But I won’t allow it. I can’t. I wrote this story with a purpose: to get it published. It wasn’t just for fun, though it was fun–and horrible. It wasn’t to prove something to myself, it wasn’t to reach some sort of catharsis. No, I wrote this great behemoth to get it published. I cast aside months, years of socializing with friends and family, I left behind relationships, I spent money all toward achieving that one goal.

So why do you write? How has that knowledge affected your journey? Are you happy? I’d like to know.