when things don’t quite work out

So where did we leave off? Ahh yes. On a high note!

Well. Summer came and it’s slowly on the way out. Shot, edited, and promoted the company’s first short film, That’s my D*ck! And in retrospect, I feel as though I should’ve included a disclaimer. It’s not a porno, it doesn’t have nudity, it doesn’t even have swearing (I think). It’s not offensive in the slightest. It’s just a play on words. But I didn’t say any of that, so more than a few times I got the troll lash for pushing what people thought was a porno. Lesson learned!

Not so long ago, I had a particular vision for my film company. That vision, alas, has become muddled in the last several days. I’m looking at starting from scratch (with the exception that I now have a short film under my belt and some hard-earned experience). I’m no stranger to failure, few of us are. Trying and failing is easy. It’s the getting back up to try again that’s hard.

It’s coming up on ten years soon, since I decided to steer myself toward a future in filmmaking. I’ve made a few strides, I’ve second-guessed myself a million times, I’ve screwed up even more than that. But I can only do what I think is best. I’ll miss some of the relationships that have been lost, definitely the friendships. But I can’t let the setbacks get in my way anymore. I’ve spent too much of my life nursing old wounds and sulking over past failures. Not this time.

Ever since I started writing seriously, I’ve been hyper-critical of my own work. If I don’t think it’s the best I could do, then I don’t feel especially accomplished even though I finished it. This was a problem in film school. I never owned the work that I wasn’t proud of. Maybe the hardest lesson I can learn from all of this is that I need to stand by my work. Even if it’s bad. And as I read in another blog, especially if it’s bad. I have permission to make… not-good stuff. But I can’t step away from it or pretend that it doesn’t exist.

I produced That’s my D*ck! It was a hell of a ride planning for it and shooting it. It was a slog editing it. And I don’t know what to say about the end product except that I’m proud of it. I didn’t show that before. I didn’t know how to. But I am proud of it. And I’m very proud of all the people who helped make it possible, and there were many.

Own your work, good or bad.

Get back up.

And move forward with confidence.

Are you listening, self?

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same as last time

Writing is an art.

“Duh,” you say. “Shah,” I reply, to quote my favorite high school English teacher. Here’s my point. Writing is not a science. It lacks quantifiable rules and hard absolutes. We like to believe that distinguishing good writing from bad writing is obvious and universal. Hemingway and Thoreau good. Meyer and Paolini bad. You won’t find me in disagreement about those examples, but this notion of determining the quality of writing stands on shaky ground. It’s completely subjective. True, there is a craft to writing well. One needs look no further than Campbell’s monomyth, but we’re describing cross-cultural truths and themes, not laws.

I love, love the works of R. Scott Bakker and Steven Erikson. I think they’re exceptional writers, true masters of the craft. I aspire to shape my storytelling like theirs: non-traditional, epic in scope, rich in philosophical nuance. But a lot of people would disagree with me. Patrick Rothfuss and Christie Golden have legions of fans defending their every word, and I’ve spent a lot of time reading them too. I’m convinced they’re glorified hacks.

Damn. I’m starting to sound a little resentful, aren’t I? This isn’t the direction I want to go, so allow me to get back on track.

Writing is subjective. There.

Ultimately, only you can decide if you’re a good writer or not. (Or if your preferred author is good or not, but I’m going to focus on “you the writer,” not “you the reader.”) Only you have the power to say if your story works or not. No one has the power to tell you that your stuff is weak sauce and be right. Because writing is, pardon my language, fucking art. It’s not some geometry proof where you missed a step and messed it all up.

So… why, then, does it hit us so hard when the feedback we get isn’t the feedback we were hoping for? It’s not that we wonder if our writing sucks. Okay, it’s not only that we wonder that. It’s that we want our work to be understood. At least that’s how it is with me. In a way, yes, I’m referring to the old adage that our writing is personal and comes from our own experience. I don’t care if people think/say/write that my writing sucks. I’m confident and comfortable enough to know that it doesn’t. And I really don’t care if my writing is appreciated, because I write for me. I don’t write for validation, kudos, or Kit-Kat bars. Because in my heart, I firmly believe that writing is about communicating. And I think everyone wants to be understood.

The editor who has been working on my manuscript is very good. Excellent, even. I can clearly see in her notes that she’s intelligent, intuitive, and a skilled communicator. The work she’s put into my manuscript has been exceptional, and I would eagerly refer other writers to her. Still. I’m not sure she really understands what I’m trying to do. Or maybe she does, and my manuscript really needs a lot of work. It’s something she and I will have to discuss.

As I said in my last post, I have not been the best at identifying weaknesses in my own storytelling efforts until long after the fact. I guess it’s not so unusual to say that we writers have some blindspots when it comes to our work. But that’s not the case with my manuscript. I went into it knowing that it would lack certain elements traditionally considered essential or, at least, desirable. Telling stories in medias res requires some adjustments. The reader needs to exercise some patience and have faith that, by the end of the story, their initial questions will be satisfied in one way or another. It’s a common technique, in literature and film, but mainstream films tend to rely heavily on flashback sequences to fill in the blanks. I wasn’t going to do that, at least not in the same way I’d seen it done. My manuscript would ask more of the reader, and I’ve succeeded for the most part. Maybe too much. My editor may think so, and so maybe my blindspots persist.

I’m also hyper-critical. Of myself and others. I’m very good (or bad, depending on how you look at it) at identifying weak points in others’ stories. Camera angles look that look askew. Lighting that distracts. Acting that doesn’t convince. Dialogue that falls flat. Plot choices that strain credulity. (Yeah, all cinematic stuff. I’m a little gentler with literature.) And with my own work… well, I’m extremely nit-picky about my choices. (Not so much here in the blog, though. I work hard to stay relaxed.) I agonize over every character choice, every twist in plot. It all has great meaning. And I want to be understood.

merry… i mean, happy holidays

There’s a rumor going around that we can’t say Merry Christmas. I suppose the most obvious thing to do would be to confirm whether that’s true or not. And what if it isn’t? Will that stop me? Not really. Of course, I don’t plan on saying that anyway. 🙂 I just don’t like to say it. Yes, call me a humbug if you must. (Now that’s a word I like to say.)

So this past weekend, we decorated the house for the holidays for the first time in… well… let’s say double digits. I can’t remember the last time the house smelled like pine (authentic tree!) or had lights, or mistletoe, or wreaths, or a Nativity! But we do now. I’m even staring at my Santa hat as I write this. Everything’s come out of storage this season. And it feels strangely good. (Strange, if you know me at all. Not so strange for regular people.)

I’ve been sidelined most of the week with a bad back. (Yes, I know I should see the doctor.) It’s improved the last few days, thanks to Icy/Hot, Aleve, and a big pillow. But before that, sitting and walking and standing were uncomfortable. I didn’t think much about writing. But I am writing. Which… leads to my big problem.

I know the wisdom as well as anyone. The more you poke at your story, the more it’ll unravel like a knitted sweater. And yes, a story is never “done.” I’ve heard it all. Hell, I believe it. And yet… I’m poking at my story. I’m examining what many have called flaws in the past, and I’m taking the time to consider agreeing with them. What would my story look like if I accepted that what they’ve said is true? It would look… different. So. That’s what I’ve been doing the last couple weeks. Taking that path less traveled, that what-if road. It’s okay. But I wonder if it’s really for the best. I still look back on what I “finished” and I still believe in it. Am I wasting my time? I’m not sure, because I’m super curious about what this new result will be. I’ve done the hard part–I’ve outlined the changes. It seems to work well. But it’ll take a little time.

I hope it’s not just some sort of subconscious effort to delay.

one little mistake

So I know maybe I got a bit personal. Some things you just need to get off your chest. As a writer, I work things out best when I write them down. Stories. Problems. Whatever. I didn’t work anything out yet, but I feel a lot better.

I meant to put something up yesterday. I was even thinking about it as I was shopping yesterday evening. Then I got home, and I was thinking about it some more. And then I forgot. I kept forgetting today, and when I did remember, I thought about ignoring it. Give up the blog. For me, it’s still more of an exercise than anything else. But I’m in the process of changing my habits. I don’t know about anyone else, but I need to exercise the new habit for a while before it feels natural.

I started some sort of 30 day cleanse last Friday. It’s pretty intense, considering the kind of things I’m used to eating. No more flour, at all. No more sugars. Nothing fried. No egg yolk. No more red meat. Well, maybe once a week or every two weeks. Cut down on the dairy to once a week or so. And that’s pretty much my entire old diet. Sandwiches, pizza, cheeseburgers, fries, juice, spaghetti, curry, hot dogs, eggs, bacon, tacos, cookies. Ugh. The list goes on, and I’m getting hungrier as I think about it. Now I eat vegetables, mostly raw, fruit, chicken, fish, turkey. I take my coffee black. (I actually haven’t tried coffee black yet. I’m scared.) It’s… not terrible. I seem to enjoy fruit and raw veggies a lot more than I thought. I miss the other food a lot less than I thought. The hardest thing, though, is eating more frequently. I need to eat at least four times a day, and I never ate more than twice. It’s annoying. And I’m exercising everyday. Just aerobics, though, no weight training. (I hate aerobics.) For somebody with ZERO willpower, I’m doing pretty good. But I’ll be honest. I’ve slipped up already, and I feel pretty bad, too. Not just mentally, but physically. Why? I guess because I’ve actually lost a bit of weight. That’s got me more excited than anything.

We need to have goals. I know what my goals are for the cleanse. Confidence. Without that goal, without repeating that to myself almost every hour of the day, I would’ve given up by day three.

We need to have goals. Especially as serious writers. I don’t know how the casual writer does things, but for those of us with a writing profession in mind, we set a goal for ourselves. Finish that book. Write that screenplay. Query the hell out of it. Meet new writers. Go to that networking event. Tell somebody about that story you’re working on (or have finished). Convince a friend to beta-read it. Goals goals goals.

My goal? Finish editing my book. Of course, I’m definitely going to look for an editor to work on it as well, but I want to give it my own pass before that happens. I’m still ironing out some kinks in the narrative I missed during the first few drafts. I’m taking a closer look at my character arcs. I’m even examining the effects of my POV fetish. But after that, my goal becomes to query my book. I will find an agent, and that agent will help me find a publisher and a market. That’s what it comes down to. Without those things constantly on my mind, I would’ve given up on the effort months ago. Because it’s hard. Damn. It’s so annoying, taking a magnifying glass to every word on the page. (My book is 500ish pages.) I’m actually about to work on the last chapter, as far as narrative wrinkles and wordsmithing go. I’m still back in the first third when it comes to my word trim and light proofread. But I’m getting there, and I’m growing more confident about it.

I’ve even set another goal, closely tied to the first one about losing weight and gaining confidence. I’m planning a week-long trip to LA. I’m hoping to go end of September, beginning of October. There are a few people out there I want to see, and there are a few things I want to do, maybe even a few meetings to set up. (Come on, confidence!) So I’m saving some money for that. And I’m getting in shape. And I’m working on my social skills a bit. With friends, with co-workers especially. I’m talking to more of them more than I have since I started. It’s hard, but it’s getting a little easier with time and practice.

Writing the blog… now that may take more time to settle into. I guess it’s mostly because I never know what’s worth sharing. I am always thinking about things, but most of it makes very little sense, even to me. Why do you care to hear about any of it? That’s the biggest mystery to me. I don’t know why anyone reads this, but I’m glad someone does. But even if no one did, I would still work at this. Because the goal isn’t to gain a ton of followers (that’s always nice, though). It’s to make this a part of my daily ritual, a regular event that I do because I need to do it, not because I have to. (Does that make any sense? I hope it does.)

One of the most important lessons I still remember from film school is to write. Duh, you’re thinking. But I mean write a lot. Write always. Write everything and anything, even if it’s not something you intended to write before. Don’t stop yourself, don’t discourage yourself. Push yourself, not just in writing but in all things.

Push yourself. And while you’re at it, maybe push me a little?

i’m not procrastinating, i’m sick

That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.

But seriously, I am sick. And I’m also a procrastinator. When the two come together, it pretty much means I stop doing anything except eat, breathe, and sleep. All essential, sure, but soul-crushing for creativity. Of course, add depression to the mix, and I guess the deck is fully stacked against me. Sometimes I take that as an excuse to temporarily give up. I think we’ve all been there. We run dry on inspiration. Real life kicks us in the crotch. Financial worries flare into financial crises. Or we get sick, like me. (It started as a cold but has transmorphed into a sinus infection.)

Or regular, everyday concerns intrude. We need to spend time with the family, the spouse, the kids, friends, raid team (shout out to WoW!) etc. We have to work. We need to run errands, shop for groceries, pay bills, go for a jog. Again, these are all real, important things. I don’t mean to demean any of them. I do all of them myself–except spend time with family or friends. (Yeah, I’m kind of a hermit.) I’ve been given these reasons by other talented writers before right before they tell me they don’t really have time to work on their book/script/whatever. Sadly, I missed out on working with a brilliant writing partner because she just didn’t have the time she thought she had. I’m not judging, and I’m definitely not saying it was the wrong decision for her to put writing on the backburner for the foreseeable future.

But I think there is always going to be something that threatens to get in the way of taking the time to sit down and write. That’s life. Isn’t it? My personal favorite–the reason I most often use–is that I need to clear out the clutter on my DVR. Which is… pretty full of this and that. I won’t provide a list of what… maybe for another blog. And it’s true, watching TV and movies can fill the brain with ideas, with motivation, definitely a lot of interesting imagery. Great tools for creativity, especially when you’re running on empty. Oh yeah, and I’ve recently gotten hooked on Assassin’s Creed. (It’s a video game.) I like the story, the artwork, the characters (sort of). I’m definitely making it harder for myself, and now my desktop is headed into the shop for about a month to get fixed. I have some serious adjusting to do to keep active writing.

My point is, if you’re a serious writer, I mean a SERIOUS NEED-TO-BE-PUBLISHED writer, then you will absolutely make writing a part of your schedule, as fixed and unbreakable as dinner or taking a shower. Sometimes it takes a while to write something–as I’m discovering in this blog post–so sometimes you may need to allocate more time or longer sessions, whichever way works best. Sometimes you might reach your writing goals faster than expected. As I’ve been told by other writers (who’ve made it their full time job) that when you reach your goal, call it a day instead of going on.

My goal is, and has been for a while, to finish my book. I “finished” it last year, but in the process of editing I discovered it needed some serious work here and there. So that remains my primary goal. But I have a writing partner currently in New York who’s also counting on me to carry my weight in the TV pilot we’re developing. Then there are a couple of other script projects that are very important to me: a web series and a full rewrite of A Shallow Grave. But the book comes first, because I need to send out more query letters as soon as I finish my major edits. I don’t have specific daily goals, but I have a pretty good idea of when I’ve done enough for the day, and I’ve reached a level of honesty with myself that I can admit if I’ve fallen short. The thing is, editing is hard work and so unlike writing. I’m still figuring out how it goes.

Speaking of, I have some more editing to get done before I call it a night.