Happy Endings

Those of us enchanted with words and language and reading and writing, imagination and storytelling, publication and the business of sharing our enchantment, see all these woven together as the fabric of our days. We’re a fierce tribe, but we forget.

We forget how small we are.

We forget that there are huge chunks of the United States that don’t even register on maps marked off with percentages of the population who read—they read nothing. We forget the studies that tell us 90% of those surveyed after leaving college say they don’t ever want to read a book again in their lives, and don’t. We forget that the average number of books read per person is one, perhaps two, books a year. Average. The size of the population divided by the number of books sold.

We forget the statistic that 10% of the books sold are not read to the end.

We’re so passionate about what we do and read, we can imagine just about anything, except a life not filled with books and the full-body buzz of reading.

Movies and TV and gaming and picnics and dating and hanging out with our crew tower over us on the list of Things To Do With Spare Time, if there is any of it in this hectic new world.

When these things are factored in, we’re not small; we’re tiny. We seek others like us. We’ve got stuff to share. We’ve got curiosity about the minds that make up the stories that we prefer over movies and TV and gaming and picnics and dating and hanging out with our crew.

We are Super Readers! We buy and read mass quantities of books written by other Super Readers! who buy and read massive quantities of books, and we forget.

Forget how tiny we are and how inevitable it is that we’ll bump into one another somewhere, somehow as we chase down everything we want to know about those who are like us.

We love what we do, but we bleed (we’re a bit melodramatic at times, too). We know how damned hard it is to write a book and put it out there. We’re hesitant to leave bad reviews for anyone with the courage to splash their insides to the outside and market it. We don’t review books we think are stinkers, but we might contact the author in private. Maybe talk a bit with them, offer suggestions, or we simply keep our mouths shut and let it be. We don’t want to hurt feelings.

The result? Amazon is now taking down writer’s reviews of other writers work, saying we know that person and, therefore, our reviews are not valid.

Amazon has forgotten what a tightly woven community we are; they see only the numbers.

True, there are ratings gangs that give false reviews.

True, there are too many books that are stinkers with a large number of positive reviews that piss off the average reader when the book is disappointing. Their time is precious.

If we are small, those with no integrity are microscopic, like bacteria that can infect and spread and cause great damage.

Thank you, Amazon, for the opportunities you have given us. Thank you, Amazon, for throwing open the gates and giving fresh air to reading, increasing the numbers of those who think it’s fashionable and fun, and thank you for giving us a platform to start a revolution.

And thanks for your attempt, although clumsy, for doing the only thing you could brainstorm into letters of review rejections to ensure that independent authors get the respect and careers they deserve.

But if we edit our mistakes, so should you.

Yes, please, toss out the reviews that give five stars and say: “It’s downloading now and I just know I’m going to love it!” or “I hate these kinds of books and didn’t get past page four on this one, so I’m giving it one star.” But as it is, those reviews are staying while the reviews of others who may have passed the writer in a hallway at a conference are not allowed. That’s not right.

Here’s where I get blunt.

None of us know what we’re doing, even Amazon. None of us have a universal business model we know will work and can share (quite a few have come very close), and we’re all of us fumbling our way, making mistakes, learning, stabilizing our business, trying new things and saying “Whoopsie. That boo-boo is going to cost me some big bucks.”

The difference is that when Amazon pulls a Whoopsie! it costs big bucks to those who deserve it the least. They’re not allowing those of us consumed by books and reading and writing the freedom to review other writers they may have met in passing. OhmyGod! They may even be lifelong besties who care deeply about each other and exchanged extensive and ruthless help on the writer’s way to publication. OhGoodGod! They may even be leaders who guided thousands in completing the journey beyond the gate you opened. HolyToot! they might know the author and be sucking up. Uh-huh, that works.

Often the good reviews come after many scathing private critiques. Did ya think of that, Amazon? You should. There’s still time.

I’m confident this will get straightened out. Amazon is a smart company and will wise up to the absurdity of this first effort at what I believe is quality control. There’s a better way, and as much of a dip as we may take while Amazon brainstorms something better, they’ve proven the unimaginable can be brought to life and surprise us all. At least I hope so.

There’s an arc to the story of independent authorship, and this one, like most good stories, will have a happy ending.

Until the next plot twist comes along.

They always do.

***************************************

Speaking of happy endings, this blog as it is and has been, is coming to a happy ending. It’s been one hell of a year for me, but one of the best, culminating in two full months of illness during the spring (my mindset is programed for the academic year, not the ticking over of the traditional New Year).

All year long I’ve been on edge as something sleeping inside struggled  to awaken. When I got sick, the most I could drag out of myself after a few hours of writing was sprawling on a lounger in my backyard, looking up at the sweet gum trees with a mind so numb I became a thinker without a thought, a writer without words. (I’d post a photo of that lounger and the towering trees, but the appearance and disappearance of photos is just one of the many problems I’ve had with this host. It’s not a bad host, just one that’s not right for me.) The minor sinus congestion I’d ignored earlier in the season, roared like a flame on the right side of my face, stealing most of my vision and all of my energy. One day I tried to yawn but couldn’t open my mouth. Not good. Time to pay attention, see a doctor. He said I was lucky. If I’d let it go just a few more days, the infection would have further invaded the soft bone behind my ear and headed straight for my brain. I had to ask him to repeat that several times, please, because my hearing wasn’t so good, either.

Luck follows me wherever I go, probably because I put a choke collar on it and drag it along if it doesn’t willfully trot along with me. In this instance, as I came back to health I finally realized how long I’ve been adrift while being busy to the point of exhaustion. That thing inside me awoke and saw the entire matrix of my messes and the solutions to the riddles of my passage through them. So many people stroll through life without the good luck of a minor illness to knock them down and let their mind sort itself out as the body heals.

Make your own luck. I would never advise idiot illnesses that can be avoided, but I’ve become an advocate of slowing down for extended periods of time, doing nothing and letting what floods in from outside take shape in silence. Think about changing the scenery inside and letting yourself drift away while staying in place.Drift for days or weeks. It’s been the most valuable tool I’ve found for clarity. I may even become a writer who is mildly pleased with what she writes.

I’ve never lost my core driving life forces of being self-sufficient and a nurturing daughter, mother, wife, friend, and helping hand to strangers. But I’m older now and, surprisingly, have been for quite some time. Really. It can be hard kick in the Zeitgeist nuts the first time you get a solicitation for the elderly, and realize they mean you (the jackasses), especially when you look so young and pretty in your teeny-tiny Avatar.

I’m so old mature now that I’m surrounded by people who are either standing strong and self-sufficient themselves, or the memories of those I’ve done my best to help leave this world with grace and dignity. Hell yes, it’s my turn. It’s always been my turn to take the wheel of my own bus, but there simply aren’t many maps for this next part of the journey, and we do fit well on forgotten shelves with the doors shut.

There are plenty of sage gurus thinkers out there making form out of the chaos of change, but if you’re in my age group, there’s something about what they’re saying that sounds oddly familiar yet off in a most uncomfortable way…not to mention the overwhelming urge to lick your fingers and smooth their hair into place. Like Amazon and the world of self-publishing, we’re making it up as we go along. There’s a new voice to this stage of life, and I want to build a megaphone for that voice.

I have experiences those dominating the internet have only read about in books. I’ve been to emotional landscapes younger generations can not yet imagine, and I’m anxiously anticipating others leading me to new landscapes I can’t visit without their help. I’ve witnessed history and even slipped into the timelessness Joseph Campbell, Jung and physicists talked about. (It’s scary! I could only tolerate it for 30 seconds.) I see patterns where others see only bright and shiny new things, like global connection via the internet (it’s nothing new, just a recovery of something lost long ago). With this realization of my vantage point, I’ve found the most powerful source of creation in the universe: the question. Not the why or the what or the how, just an endless stream of questions, and acceptance of my own ignorance and anticipation of how much there is yet to be discovered.

It’s time to gather all my scattered blogs under the newly defined life force found in my silence. I’m as solid as ever on what I like to write and read (that’s a no-brainer: everything), but now I’ve got enough maturity to know how much I do not know and how past wisdom was a necessary illusion for that stage of life. It’s weird being an elder at the feet of elders I recognize by the tunnels in their eyes, not the number of their years. Some of them even flip their hair with their fingers and say things like, “Well, like, you know. What-ev-ah,” and others can’t hold their gas when they get excited (not always a function of age). Some vigorously plow through triple digits.

Life becomes intense the more it contracts; paradoxically filled with more options as what the elderly (definitely going to do something about that word) see as new horizons for GenX reveal themselves as not an option for us. It’s crazy. It’s a hootenanny.

This domain will remain somewhere in cyberspace for keeping in touch with old friends and my own blunders for review when I get too big for my britches (in no way am I a narcissist, but I can be a bit of an exhibitionist). Whether I blog a book of just write the damned thing and create a landing page, this is where I’ll come to shout about it and share a few things now and again that are too exciting to keep to myself. There’s so much to explore, and so much I don’t know at this point, except:

There is no way this story I’ve started here will not have a surprising but inevitable happy ending. I may stumble and stutter and stall now and again, but I don’t quit.

–30–

Looking Backwards And Forwards

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????This is a new one for me, looking back at a worn out year behind me and forward to the one ahead at this time of year. I’ve always been so involved with the changes that happen with each school year that late August has always been when I take stock of my cupboards and draw up my list of what is missing and how to go about filling it up again. There have always hopes and dreams for myself in those plans, but they come second to the struggles of being a daughter, mother, wife and chief breadwinner. I’m ordinary in that herd of women who are family-centric.

This year is different. This year I’ve gone through big changes in my driving life forces that have brought me out of someone else’s time frame and into my own. This is my time, and busting through to claim my time as my own has not been easy. Like most women with children and needy parents, cutting loose can be very much like being a puppet with cut strings.

© Liette Parent | Dreamstime Stock Photos

One limb at a time, you fall to the floor, then you stay there developing muscle to stand back up on your own, on the stage you’ve been building in your mind for a very long time. There can be long periods of time when the effort seems too much. But you either lay on the stage of your making as a lifeless carving, or you do the work and stand.

I stood.

Once on my feet with head centered between the shoulders, I looked around and saw chaos. Instead of picking up where I left off as the writer I once was, I found myself in a house of mirrors inside a carnival in a nightmare Stephen King might have. Indie publishing was at war with legacy publishing, and within the indie world there were battles being fought over how it’s done (gurus, gurus, gurus everywhere), and the impenetrable world of screenwriting had more rules and regs than a military boot camp. WTF?

I thought writing was about telling stories we pulled from Thoreau’s oversoul or Jung’s collective unconscious. We were hard-wired for storytelling and had a priori knowledge of how to tell them in some ethereal part of our minds, whatever a mind is and wherever it resides. I’d been taught, years ago, that to be a writer meant first serving an apprenticeship of writing a million words, burning them, then moving on to the next phase of reading in equal parts of writing to refine sensibilities and craft and stop that stink from coming off one’s work.

That wasn’t what I found. Not even close. Everybody and their uncle’s monkey had a copy of the latest how-to book in their back pocket and a paper crown of gold they’d gotten from Burger King, with the word “Author” tacked to the back of their names. Without hyperbole, I read nearly a thousand books and felt the majority take a bite out of me and chew it to dust. This was the new landscape of lit-ra-chure? This was what I was to write if I was going to be a writer? This wasn’t the literature I’d left behind.

To be fair, all those how-to books were needed and a blessing. For the first time, those who had harbored a secret desire to write now had the chance, but not the clues. The rise of social media and those whose focus was watching and taming it were overwhelmingly decent people with a strong desire to help others achieve their dreams. But let’s be honest. We’re all children at heart who want what we want when we want it, and when that marshmallow is set in front of us, we take it. The new world of writing and the playground it was pounded on was a mess of marshmallow fluff, and all the good teachers and coaches cried in private, the distant sound of buttons clicking and publishing half-baked books tapping the back of their heads like marshmallows shot from a sling.

Add to this mess the change in contemporary reading habits and tastes, and I was in the mass of those without a clue.

Man, that was messed up. My inner drive had no map.

© Simba3003 | Dreamstime.com - Dangerous Beauty Woman Driving A Car, Close Up Portrait Photo

This is a good place for me to say I don’t believe in goals. If setting goals were the key to getting where I wanted to go, there’d be one book on how to do it with some loosey-goosey guidelines on how to organize the goals, and that would be the end of the story. That’s not the case. But…but…but goals have worked so well for so many, how can I say such a thing? Easy. I have always known that we run on driving life forces, and any success with goals happens when those goals, accidentally or consciously, dovetail with the life forces that drive us. The majority of us have no clue what our driving life forces; they’re big and scary and they hide in sooty dark places. They’re hard to feed because they have teeth that bite and make life uncomfortable. We’ve been taught to keep away from drilling down inside ourselves to find them because it is not safe. You might even find your own darkness down there and be forever damaged. Stick with goals. They float on rafts filled with people who have failed over and over again. You’ll always know where you belong and never be alone if you keep setting goals and fail.

A driving life force is something that you set and forget. The unthinking mind takes over and organizes the path towards the end goal. It’s like walking into an enormous disaster in the kitchen after a holiday meal. When I was very young, I’d walk in and think, “I can’t do it. This is the mess I can’t clean up.” With time I learned to just attack it without thought and let the “executive” part of my brain (right behind the forehead) do its job. I thought of everything and anything but the mess at hand, and without fail, everything was cleaned up, leftovers organized, the refrigerator and cupboards straightened and nothing left behind but the satisfaction of a job well done with speed. Had I not learned to stop thinking, I’d still be in that same kitchen I had 30 years ago and crying over where to start cleaning the mess that could not be cleaned.

The year behind me, without any conscious goals, brought the end of the road of two major driving forces in my life. Successfully. Each time I opened my mouth or made a decision, something other than my thinking mind guided my words and actions. (Insert fist pump here.) There is nothing more satisfying than watching your own efforts build your dreams and keep them afloat. Nothing.

If only I’d been smart enough to stop thinking so damned much, I could have picked up on my writing sooner than I did. Didn’t happen. I got stupid and started thinking, thinking, thinking and letting nasty remarks from people I didn’t even respect push me deeper into thinking, thinking, thinking.

Buckling with mental fatigue, early in 2014 I was ready to quit. I’d had some success, published a bit, but was bitterly disappointed that it wasn’t the grunting, sweating hard work endured for years that seemed to be leading the way. A common description of the literary landscape at the time was “A tsunami of crap.” I’d spent a lot of years successfully ending the journeys of my primary driving life forces, while holding back on my person Big One for so long, and I was ready to rock ‘n roll my own road…but not on the messy road it had become. My mind was on the holiday feast of easy money and book sales I’d been reading about and not my own driving force to be the writer I wanted to be, whether that lead to fame and riches or obscurity and food stamps.

As 2014 starting winding down, there was a grumbling in the land. October, to be specific. Authors, authors, authors everywhere watched their sales plummet for reasons they couldn’t understand. Kindle Unlimited launched and income fell even more for most. There was much beating of breasts, gnashing of teeth, and the ding-dong of the dooms day bells ringing. But why?

Go ahead, take a guess. Have fun with that game because your guess is as good as anybody else, and it vents frustration volleying those guesses around on the ground that was once the playground of books.

I’ll confess I was playing that game and having a good time in hopes of winning something from the marshmallow mess, until I heard some magical words. Over and over I played a portion of a Creative Penn podcast where the word “apprenticeship” was spoken, along with the words “career” and “hard work.” My pesky thinking mind shut down; the driving life force took over.

And then came Kristine Rusch’s blog post. Big ouchie to be found there if you’d been riding the gravy train and found you were now stained with bruised from the ride.

And then Russell Blake.

And…

And…

And…

Blog posts and articles all over the place proclaiming 2015 the year when the bar is raised and quality will strut its stuff.

The targets of each portion of this driving life’s journey will be mapped out by the GPS of my driving life force. I ain’t sweatin’ a thing because:

This is it, kids. The game’s for real. There will still be plenty of us writing foot-off-the-cliff serialized books that do well on Kindle Unlimited, and very naughty shorts of fifteen pages or less for naughty readers (that covers just about everyone, doesn’t it?) cycle through on subscription plans, but even within those ranks the competition will be tough. You’ll have to write better to keep an audience. And the door will always be open for those who write from the heart and publish with the purpose of touching other hearts, helping them rise out of a mucked-up mess. We can all be grateful for those writers and the impossible high bar they’ve set of courage and compassion.

Whatever path we take or niche we fill, there’s just no way around it: All of us have to write gooderer.

Are you in?

I hope so.

Whether you’re in as a professional career writer, a hobbyist, a helping hand with your words, or making a quiet exit for another creative endeavor, the wish remains the same:

A HAPPY NEW YEAR

Upcoming Posts:

What To Do When A Novel Begs To Be A Screenplay Or TV Pilot

The New Landscape Of Book Cover Photography, featuring Katrina Brown

The Game Is Real, What Does That Mean For Book Cover Design?

Blog Flip Flop

As always, a great big Thank You! to Dreamstime Photos

Photo Credits:

Hand Holding Weight: © Liette Parent | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Calculator And Papers:  © Diamant24 | Dreamstime.com – Target, Calculator, Pen, Notebook,
Glasses – Setting Goals Photo

Woman Driving Behind Wheel: © Simba3003 | Dreamstime.com – Dangerous Beauty Woman Driving A Car, Close Up Portrait

I’ve Stepped In It Now

2013-10-28 08.04.15 (2)

That’s my boy Toby. He and I share many traits, like taking off after something without giving much thought to it and ending up muddied and wondering what happened. In this photo, a catfish jumped, which he thought was pretty cool and off he went into a bog. You can see the muddy result.

I’ve done much the same thing. It came time for renewal of this domain name and WordPress hosting, and I got the wild idea that the next book I publish will be under this name, so I hit the button to renew everything for another year. Then I changed my mind. But it doesn’t matter because nothing happens in any area of our lives without some unconscious rumblings that it’s the thing to be done. Well, almost. There was that guy in college. Twice. No excuse for the second time.

Probably an excuse for another go around with this blog. I plan to publish the novelization of my screenplay “A Violet For Christmas” the second week of November. The name on the plaque that says I wrote it and I won the award bears this name, so I guess that means the novel needs to have the same name attached. But really, what good does it do to blog about it? I feel it takes precious time away from writing the damned the beloved book, but I’ve paid my money and I don’t intend to waste it.

And maybe there’s something I can share about the process that will be of value to others. I’m going to pretend I believe that for the moment and jump right in with some observations and tips, even though I know there are so many good blogs with so much good advice out there already that another isn’t needed, at least not by a grunt like me. Onward.

Five Things I’ve Learned About Taking A Script To Prose (may the gods help me; I’m making this up as I go):

  1.  It’s best to torture oneself with scripting a story before venturing into prose. Good God but it feels good rutting around in language after the constraints of scriptwriting. I feel like a beautiful young girl with flaxen hair, romping in fields of lavender on a sunlit day with fluffy clouds for amusement. I feel barefoot and slender. The structure’s nailed in place, and I am free to run.
  2. Structure in scriptwriting is an illusion. Well, isn’t that just spiffy after I’ve waxed poetic about the freedom of having the structure nailed via scriptwriting. In the past year I’ve had a staged readers theater production of the script, turning over my little pretty to the director and giving him total freedom to have his way with it. As hard as I worked getting the beats and act breaks just right in that script, and after it had been judged as being up to snuff, the director had the audacity to put an intermission break at a point he swore was the obvious act break, which was absolutely insane. It was five pages further into the script! We argued the point to death with me finally giving in because I’d said he could do as he pleased. Dammit. The worst part was that the audience thoroughly enjoyed the evening’s entertainment without a single soul standing up and yelling, “This is a crime! The director has obviously assumed the act break was in the wrong place! Author! Author!”
  3. “And then what happens?” is the only thing that matters. As writers we can get caught up in the rules and regs like fish in a net and forget about our audience. The thing that pulls them forward in their seats with thrills! chills! and excitement! is wondering what happens next and how the mess the characters are in will be resolved. There’s a video of two TV writers of a very successful show talking about the epiphany they had in their second successful season when they got stuck. They finally figured out that this happens, and because this happens, then this happens…and on and on and on. Cause and effect. Without it, the story takes on a pattern I used to call and-then-and-then-and-then-and-then. Boring. Very.
  4. The only thing that makes an audience wonder what happens next is caring about the characters. The best stories have some sympathy for the devil; he’s the guy who saves a cat early in the story, or something equally endearing. In the best stories, the villain is the hero of his own story, causing conflict within the audience and the story. I hope it goes without saying that we need to write central characters we care about deeply, and lots of luck with that because it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Nobody loves Pollyanna any longer.
  5. Scriptwriting is terrific training for showing with very little telling. You’ve got to make a weary script reader see and feel and get sucked inside your story within five pages with a minimum of words, and all of them better be strong, visual words.If he dialogue isn’t 85% sub-text and none of it “on the nose” narrative storytelling, your script gets fed to the shredder, maybe even halfway through the first page. Intense mood, voice, evoking the visual, dialogue that’s sub-text all become habits that carry over into the novel, even if you feel like a young girl with flaxen hair romping through a field of lavender.

I never intended to be a screenwriter, which is another post for another day. I’ve continued with screenwriting, and will keep writing screenplays, but it’s all a habit. For now I’ll just say I got lucky. I stepped into it with scriptwriting.

It was the best mess of mud I could have fallen into.

(The verdict on this blog still awaits. Big time apologies for the tiny font size. Something got messed up.)

Rules Are Meant To Be Brokem

Rules

That’s pretty much my credo in this life.  Rules?  Lemme at ’em.  Toothpicks come in handy, and broken rules leave enough splinters to do the job.

I dislike rules intensely.

I challenge each and every rule that’s thrown at me.

I bow to rules proven true.

Yeah, that’s the unfortunate truth, and to all those rebels out there without a cause, guess you’ll want me to hand over my membership card.

It’s been months and months since I’ve made a post here, and there’s a bunch to catch up on. I’ll get to those things eventually, if and when they flow naturally.  Right now, I’m itching to get at the thing that needs scratching the most.

As I’ve traveled down the rabbit hole of screenwriting, I’ve gotten snagged on more thorny rules than I ever imagined existed. Holy geez, but there’s one heck of a donnybrook happening out there and gurus galore.

GAH!!

I’ve been choking on rules.

I won’t share any rules but the ones I’ve taken for a spin and have found hold the road, which is what I’m about to do. But first let me say that the way I drive is not your way of driving, and what holds the road for me, won’t hold the road for you.  I get a bit enthusiastic at times, but don’t mistake anything I say as the dictates of a fool, and fool I am.

It’s hard arguing with success, and when talking success, Pixar’s pretty much got it nailed.  Their 22 Rules Of Storytelling are floating around the web like feathers at a poultry farm, but you can find them at the L.A. Screenwriter blog, which is one I’m particularly fond of.  Take a good look at them, keeping in mind whether we’re novelist, poets, scriptwriters, or gossip over lunch, we are storytellers.  Writing isn’t the objective, it’s the means of delivery.

STORYTELLING IS EVERYTHING

What I want to share right now is my own experience with Pixar’s Rule #3.

A small group of screenwriters got together and undertook the insane task of writing 10 pages of scrip for 10 days straight.  If you haven’t attempted scriptwriting, I’ll tell you that 10 pages of script a day = crazy.  You’ve got a lot of deep storytelling to do with a minimum of words, and every word damned well better count.  Very little typing is involved but a maximum amount of storytelling muscle ends up begging for Ben Gay.

When the limits are so tight, there’s no time to edit, no time to think, no time to kill any cats, and no time to pin the little index cards in pretty little rows on the corkboard.

You tell a story.  Fast.

And you’re held accountable because you’re in a group so insane they post a PDF of the day’s work.

We did it. In less than two weeks, all of us wrote a complete screenplay, and all of them were exceptionally good.

Honest.  I’m not lying.  They were entertaining and worth the time spent reading, and better than most of the spectacle that passes for movies these days.  We amazed ourselves and each other.  And I don’t think any of us could see the theme or the why or the what or the purpose of the story we were trying to tell until it was done.

What I got out of this insane challenge was a trust of the innate storytelling that’s in all of us. It’s there for the taking if we just get out of the way.  Remember when you were a little kid and got caught doing something you weren’t supposed to do, and how fast you came up with a story to cover your butt?  Take a minute and remember back to one of those times.  Remember as many of those times as possible.  If you’ve got enough memory storage and can go back far enough, I bet you’ll see a pattern of more convincing and stronger storytelling skills as you regress in age.

It’s there. Set it loose. It might not be pretty, but get it out.

I’ve discovered that this “writing” business is backwards.  We write to tell stories.  Storytelling is a process of discovering the hidden trail of our imagination. My imagination is deeply connected to your imagination, and my job as a storyteller is going deep enough to find that chord of resonance.  That chord snaps with the weight of rules.

So this is the most important thing I’ve learned during the entire time I’ve been away from this blog:

STORY COMES FIRST, RULES COME SECOND

Find the story you’ve got rumbling around inside and set it free, then tame it with the rules.  Better yet, forget the rules and start thinking in terms of tools, as Scott Meyers does on the fabulous GITS blog/website. 

Another precious thing that came out of this experience was friendship and trust.   When you’ve committed to a daily goal with others, and part of that commitment is exposing your raw story to others, it makes going to church naked sound like a sane idea.

I’ve also learned if at any point in our journey as storytellers we think we’ve got it all figured out and it starts coming easy, we’re failing ourselves.  We aspire, we reach, we fail, we claw our way back to square one, then we finally reach our destination.  That’s a plateau, a point of accomplishment that feels righteous to the bone, but not for long.  Once up to that higher point, we have a clear view of yet another level that’s shinier and prettier and more compelling than the one we currently stand on. We want it, and the struggle starts all over again with a different game plan. It helps to be limber.

Whatever it takes to find the story.  That’s the only thing that matters.

I will be taking many more tools for breakneck test drives along the path, but the bond formed in that little group of crazy writers will last forever, and that is one story I’ll never forget.

I love you guys.

And That’s A Wrap

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rent-a-moose/3596678856/        “Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.” ~ Hermann Hesse

In thinking about this blog post, I came up with a grocery shopping list of why I’m leaving behind the game of writing prose and moving on to something else. The more I thought about it, the more I realized every reason was a story I told myself in hopes of making sense of a preference.

Just a preference. Nothing more.

As I waited for the new direction to take shape, I dawdled around with an online class about Human Irrational Thinking, thinking it would be something like one of the tens of books written for the general public. Not even close. The class was intense, academic, an overload of dense reading, and very Duke University. Not what I expected but still fun, and one of the first lectures validated my thoughts. We’re irrational by nature, and everything we think we know about what we do are stories we tell ourselves in hopes of making sense of our irrational nature. This seems to be particularly true in interpreting scientific data. Bummer, huh.

So off I go to the world of scriptwriting, leaving behind prose, and doing so just because.

This blog will stay and be the same, only different (a standard line in Hollywood).

As much as I’ve struggled with every single blog post I’ve made here and elsewhere, and as much as I’ve dreaded the thought of digging up something to blog about, I can’t wait to let her rip about what I see in films and TV. The depth of character, the insights into humanity, the power of storytelling, and magic of collaboration have started a fire in my head I’m anxious to share. But I’ll be doing that sharing in the form of questions rather than dictates. In the screenwriting workshops I’ve been busy taking, rather than blogging, the thing that’s struck me most is how projects are workshopped through questioning rather than pedantry. I like that style and I’ll stick with it.

Having said there’s nothing rational about this change, or human thinking, there are some inescapable facts. In making this change I’ve briefly considered the facts, as best I can understand them, and they are:

  • There is one, and only one, requirement for writing an accepted script: It has to achieve the impossible.
  • The probability of busting into the business are slim to none.
  • Once you’re in, you remain in only as long as you continue achieving the impossible.
  • Scriptwriters work longer and harder than any other writers.
  • You can’t blog, promote, bullshit, or hustle a script into production. There’s too much at stake. (I like this one the most. Film is America’s second largest export and the most powerful source of influence on the planet. The biggest animals in the film food chain have very few twitter followers yet control billions of dollars. When something like $12,000,000 is spent on just the pilot of a TV show, nobody cares how many fans and followers you have, that script and franchise damned well better float high above the water.)
  • Hollywood is the smallest town in America and a place where you can have the greatest reach and influence with only a handful of people knowing your name. Celebrities are the front men and women of the illusion.

Every job is like a penny in that it has two sides. One side is shiny, the other is a mess. My counsel to the hundreds of my husband’s students dealing with the uncertainties of senior year and the transition into whatever is waiting for them is to take a hard look at the ugly side of their choices and decide which kind of ugly they can handle. What are the pitfalls of failure that come with every choice, and which of those failures bother them least?

It’s my turn in taking my own counsel. The downside of failing in this new world of prose writing and publishing would be devastating. I can’t explain why it would be devastating, especially since the rewards are so slender in comparison to other professions. I don’t feel the same about scriptwriting. If I try and try and try and fail, I’ll still feel great about having given it a shot. Talk about irrational. I don’t know, I could be dealing with burn out from all the happy posters about never giving up writers pass around. I don’t care. I’m willing to take the risk.

Now I’ve got to explain how this blog will remain the same only different.

I believe for writers to stay competitive, they’ll (we’ll?) need to come up to the bar set by visual storytelling. We’ll have to take big risks and reach for the impossible. Most of what I can currently see in visual storytelling (I’m banking on my perceptual abilities improving with increased exposure) will apply to all forms of storytelling. In short, I’ll continue to yammer on.

What will change is maintaining a second blog where I can dump strictly prose storytelling, triggered by explicating a film, TV episode, or principle of visual storytelling. I’ve got a grandfather in my lineage who hopped the boat for America from Ireland, and if the Human Genome Project is correct and every move of every ancestor is encoded in our DNA, I’m screwed by the gift of gab. I will always like telling stories without visual aids as a hobby. I have no intention of backing down on becoming a better at telling those stories. I don’t want to make a living out of it, nor do I need an audience. It is, once again, a preference, and I want to do it the best I can. That’s how this blog will remain the same only different (there are multiple levels of meaning in that sentence – take whichever one appeals to you).

I’m also moving this over to self-hosting, and that could take some time.  After six months, my new smart phone bests me every single time.  I was born in the wrong century.

And that, as they say, is that.  I’m done with digging for the heart of prose and passing along whatever I find. We have a lot of writers right now who love blogging about the writing process, and it shows in their blogging and the books they write. Dig for the ones who trip your trigger.

But for this blog about writing and blogging, it’s a wrap.

For those in love with visual storytelling and digging it against their better judgment, I’ll see you when I get back from hiatus in Houston. I going to a festival there for six days of hanging with indie filmmakers.

Until I return with photos and a clue on the new blog….

Moving-On-Quotes-05

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photo credit: rent-a-moose via photopin cc

Irrational Childhood Fantasies

http://www.flickr.com/photos/savolskertson/57355538/Did you have a childhood dream?  A fantasy of who you’d be when you grew up?  I did.

Was there a moment when you knew that fantasy was the stuff of unformed childish thinking, unaware of the world as it is?  Did you let go of that fantasy for the sake of something more realistic, more mature to match your great big kid self in his or her high single digits years and serious about becoming a grown-up?  I did.

As adults we’re taught to never let go of our dreams, to chase them if they’re slipping through our grasp  We’re told in cheerful posters with uplifting messages that our dreams, our passions, are the stuff of a great good life.  We’ll never regret anything as much as letting go of our dreams.

I think most of those adventures and destinations we hold as our deepest dreams are the second dreams we adopt.  Maybe the third or fourth as we mature into the double digit years and become ever more aware of limits imposed on us by reality.  There is no stronger drive in the human animal than autonomy and creating something of ourselves, by ourselves, and for the naked pleasure of knowing we are our own creation. We do whatever it takes to reach that end.

You might think this is balderdash, but go back to when you were tiny, see yourself alone and acting out who you were going to be.  Were you wearing a magic cape or have your mother’s dining room centerpiece on your head because it looked like the crown of a princess?

Did you have the finial of your four poster bed in your hand as you belted out every song Shirley Temple ever sang?  Did you dance every dance she ever danced with your hair a frizzy mess because you demanded your grandmother set your hair with bobby pins in hopes of waking up with ringlets?  I did.  I was gonna be Shirley Temple, re-make every movie she ever made and star in them all.  It was Shirley Temple or bust.

There was no heartbreak the day I stop mid-song, took a good long look at my second-grade self in the mirror, and knew the dream was over.  No longer was I a cute little pre-schooler, and get a clue kid, I never had dimples, save for that annoying one on my chin that blew the entire illusion.   Goodbye, Shirley, it was nice knowing you. Time to move along like a good kid.

Putting away childhood fantasies is easy. It’s part of growing up we all accept. Oprah Winfrey put hers away.  She grew up an abused child who found comfort in reading.  Books were her companions and her comfort.  She read obsessively, and she “got” the bigger stories in the small books.  You’d think someone with that kind of early addiction to books would dream of being a writer.  Not Oprah.  She wanted to be Barbara Walters.  She chased that dream into broadcast journalism, eventually settling for becoming the richest, most powerful woman of the 20th Century.  Poor girl.  Poor little quitter.  

But wait a minute.  Who was it that landed the interview of the 21st Century with Lance Armstrong?  Oprah Winfrey.  For three hours, longer than any interview Barbara Walters ever achieved, Oprah grilled him directly and without mercy, just as Barbara Walters would have done, if she’d been able to land the interview, and if she’d had the stamina to prepare then endure such bold questioning.  Poor little girl Oprah.  Poor little quitter.  When Armstrong was ready to come clean with himself and the public, he picked on Oprah as the one to whom he’d bear his shame and deceit (to the best of his ability). 

I wondered how many others watched that interview focused on Oprah and the realization of her childhood dream as I did.  How many were left saying, “What?  Did Armstrong say something?  Was it important?” as I did because they were cheering and crying through the realization of an unreachable childhood dream.  A dream that slept through all those years of fame and fortune.  

That was hot stuff, but probably something I saw because I wanted to see it.  Nobody else seemed to be talking about it.  Armstrong was the center of attention.  

But then I had an experience a few weeks ago that whipped me back to Oprah’s interview and the importance of irrational, unrealizable childhood dreams.  I was working with a development professional in my field and listening to her summarize my project in terms I’d never realized before. The more she talked about the strong parts of my work (after ripping apart the portions that weren’t working), a fog dropped over me, muffling her voice and obscuring all signs of direction.  It was the surreal fog of awakening inside a dream set loose from a long buried treasure chest.

I had written a story exactly like a Shirley Temple movie.  I thought I’d written about the love of a father and the healing power of paternal love, but I was wrong.  At no time during the writing process was I ever aware I’d written what the coach was telling me I’d written.  That project is doing fairly well at the moment, as did another project very much like it I’d written years earlier.  That other story was about a little boy and his father, but as I sat in my fog listened to the distorted sounds of my thoughts in the mist, I realized it was just another Shirley Temple story done in drag.  

Do we ever let go of irrational childhood fantasies?  How much do they drive our work as creatives?  Picasso once said at the age of eight he could draw like Raphael, but it took him a lifetime to see as a child.  In our modern culture we spend big bucks digging for our authentic selves and uncovering our purpose and passions.  The Romans, ever practical, made it easy.  Their belief was our purpose was to be found in what we liked.  Our likes as children were the voice of our daemon, that ethereal being sent by the gods to shape our destiny and stay with us until we die.  

Could it be that simple?  What we like as children is our destiny?  Could it be that easy?  Do we block our ability to resonate with others because we’ve blocked the resonance of our own irrational, uninformed, ill-conceived mysteries of childhood?  We do speak of our inner child, but only in terms of how damaged they are and in need of healing.  What about the perfect little child inside of us that dreams without boundaries? 

Look around at the explosion within indie publishing.  What dominates the explosion?  Romance (ah, Prince Charming!), YA paranormal (I’m a magical princess with dragons asleep at my feet), SiFi creations (look at me! I can fly!), horror stories (tell me that scary story again!).  Did you clean out kitchen cabinets of pots and pans and make mud pies all day long (bet you write a food and craft blog now), or play soldier (bet you’re in a corporate job these days)?

In real life I cuss like a sailor and walk like a honkey-tonk woman.  I write with a clenched fist and eyes focused to the daggered tip of an editor’s red pencil.  Every.  Word.  Is.  Calculated.  Every sentence is censored by craft.  I’m never satisfied with what I’ve written. I’ve been to university, dontcha know, and learned all the tools of my trade, but I always seem to drop them.  This past year I’ve written nearly a million words, but none of them caught fire until that sneaky little girl caught up with me, whispering the lyrics of Good Ship Lollipop in my dream-deaf ear.

Maybe we could all benefit from going back to the shapeless days of our childhoods and observing the perfect creations we once were.  Watch the games we played before knowledge of games with rules took over.  What games did you play when there was nobody to play with and you were the boss of you?  What childish fantasies did you have of magic and pies made out of mud, or saving the world from the bad guys?  Watch you in the rear view mirror and remember.  Can you feel that little twerp tugging at your now?

You’ve got nothing to lose.  You’re a grown-up.  You know the patterns and problems of communication.  You can bring that perfect wild child that is the soul of you back to the present.

You can sit together and tell each other silly stories, and your laughter will blast every roadblock in your path.  That child can barely form letters of the alphabet with her un-trained hand, but that’s what grown-ups are for.

We craft our perfect selves and tell stories of our silliest dreams with form, style, purpose, value, and a voice as irresistible as a child’s tickled belly laugh, sailing the seas of imagination on the Good Ship Lollipop.

Photo courtesy of Photopin.com and salvoskertson