Time now for a solidly thoughtful and genuinely helpful article about something we all need help with from time to time – how to overcome all the usual articles and not only start writing something you love but keep going all the way to the finish.
Oh, and it’s also solidly and so darn civilly written that alone has made us smile since we first saw it. Our thanks to Betty Flowers, former Director of the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, and to Michelle Gordon, who first brought this to our attention.
by Betty S. Flowers
“What’s the hardest part of writing?” I ask on the first day of class.
“Getting started,” someone offers, groaning.
“No, it’s not getting started,” a voice in the back of the room corrects. “It’s keeping on once you do get started. I can always write a sentence or two-but then I get stuck.”
“Why?” I ask.
“I don’t know. I am writing along, and all of a sudden I realize how awful it is, and I tear it up. Then I start over again, and after two sentences, the same thing happens.”
“Let me suggest something which might help,” I say. Turning to the board, I write four words: “madman,” “architect,” “carpenter,” “judge.”
Then I explain:
“What happens when you get stuck is that two competing energies are locked horn to horn, pushing against each other. One is the energy of what I’ll call your ‘madman.’ He is full of ideas, writes crazily and perhaps rather sloppily, gets carried away by enthusiasm or anger, and if really let loose, could turn out ten pages an hour.
“The second is a kind of critical energy-what I’ll call the ‘judge.’ He’s been educated and knows a sentence fragment when he sees one. He peers over your shoulder and says, ‘That’s trash!’ with such authority that the madman loses his crazy confidence and shrivels up. You know the judge is right-after all, he speaks with the voice of your most imperious English teacher. But for all his sharpness of eye, he can’t create anything.
“So you’re stuck. Every time your madman starts to write, your judge pounces on him….
We love the opening of this piece from Seth Godin’s brilliant blog. And the rest is just about as feelgood as a written work about writing can be. Keep reading and you’ll see what we mean:
Even if it’s not graduation week for you…
by Seth Godin
Even if it’s not graduation week for you…
Not Wall Street.
As we race toward a post-literate world, the surprising shortcut is compelling indeed: Learn to write.
Audiobooks outsell print. AI can turn text into speech. People scan, they don’t read.
Doesn’t matter. Learn to write.
Yes, it would be great if you could become a full-stack developer. If you put in the hard work to be a civil engineer or a mathematician on the cutting edge. But most people were persuaded from an early age that this isn’t the work for them.
Better With You, Predictably, Was Better With All Of You
by Bri Castellini
That’s right, folks- I’ve officially finished another production, which means it’s time for a round-up reflection and thank you post! This production, a Halloween romcom called Better With You, marks many firsts for me: first time hired as a director, first time directing a script I hadn’t written, first on-location shoot, first time working with an all (or mostly) female crew.
I hope none of these firsts, and none of these working relationships, will be my last. This was the absolute best production I’ve ever worked on, meaning no offense to any of the wonderful productions I’ve worked on before, but if you read on, you’ll understand why.
***spoiler alert- it’s because we had more than 2 crew members and locations that weren’t just apartments and parks and also everyone was incredible at their jobs and did them without drama***
First of all, a huge big thank you to the Apple Juice Productions matriarchs Amanda Taylor and Kailee Brown. Thank you for taking my joking “well if you ever need a director…” email seriously all those months ago and bringing me onto this project. I’ve been a fan of you both and your work for such a long time, and getting to create something together has been a privilege and an honor.
Now, more specifically.
Kailee Brown is a kickass DP and an even better production partner. Thank you for always knowing what my sound effects and hand motions meant in terms of shots, for calling me out for my producer brain getting in the way of my director brain, and for being the perfect combination of efficient and innovative at every stage. I’m a worrier, but when you were by my side (or, more often, in front of me), all my nerves were calmed.
Amanda Taylor wrote a funny, heartfelt script, and I was honored just to offer feedback when it was in draft stage, let alone be the one to help bring it to life. I was worried, admittedly, that having Amanda also be the star would mean some awkward director/writer-star moments on set, but from the very beginning we had a similar goal- to make this show amazing. And we did it, because Amanda is a dedicated, funny, hard-working, incredible leader of this production company and this cast, and I can’t wait to tell her to make a snack out of a line instead of a meal again soon.
Colin Hinckley at this point should just be considered my muse, as he’s been in every project I’ve ever directed or created. This should come as no surprise that Colin was professional and fantastic in his role and a director’s dream actor. May we continue working together and contributing minor amounts of boy energy to all our projects.
Sage Nelson was our AD and the first AD I’ve ever worked with as a director to be available the whole shoot, which was an amazing experience because Sage was proactive, always prepared, always patient, and completely calming to what could have been a totally chaotic process.
Tayler Swenson, as Elodie, was warm and funny and the perfect twin sister pairing for Colin/ best friend pairing for Amanda. She’s one of those insanely sharp actors with complete control over her own performance, and was one of the most fun people to watch on and off camera.
Cheryl Holdaway plays Suzanne, a frenemy character of sorts, who was so sweet and funny that she made me root for her in spite of myself and (in many cases) the script. Hashtag Team Suzanne forever.
Tito Livas was only on set one day, as his character Mark was only in one episode, but trust me, it’ll be an episode to remember. His flirtatious physicality and subtle physical comedy are going to make you lose your mind come October.
Rounding out our cast was Cindy Manwill, playing Lucy, who brought this sweet, excitable, totally unique energy to set and to screen. Cindy was always game to try out a new motivation and was consistently good natured, keeping everyone’s spirits up.
Samantha Highsmith was our behind-the-scenes director and photographer, and even helped us out as Endor Princess Leia during a scene where we needed extras. I can’t share most of her photos yet because spoilers, but when you see them, you’ll understand why everyone was excited when the camera was pointed at them.
Cee Ryle Brown, Kailee’s little brother and our dedicated AC, was our only male crew member, but even if he wasn’t, he’d absolutely get the “best dude on set award.” Cee was the most positive influence, was hardworking and kind even at the end of supremely long days, and I can’t wait to see what he gets up to next.
Madison and Cassidy Connell were, respectively, the on-set producer (& grip) and the gaffer on Better With You. They are also sisters, with what seemed to me one of the healthiest sibling/work relationships I’ve ever seen. They kept things moving, were proactive and creative, and I wish I could have stolen them and brought them back to New York with me. There’s still time. (this is not a threat)
Kayen Lee did our sound and in spite of a mixer malfunction on the first day never quit or refused to get into a weird spot to make sure our amazing actors could be heard. She was diligent about room tone (and therefore is the love of my life) and always game to try a new strategy to make sure Kailee and I were getting what we needed.
Mia Hunt was our production designer and is equally as responsible for how amazing this show is going to look as Kailee or me. I never worried that a prop mentioned in the script wouldn’t be in one of her tote bags at the beginning of every day, and even when Kailee and I realized we needed a prop that we didn’t tell her about, she already had it! Is she magic? More tests needed.
Sarra Keddington championed HMU 5 out of the 6 days totally alone, and yet our cast looks like an entire fleet of beauticians got them ready. Sarra sped through hair and makeup to make sure actors were ready for their marks but they always looked amazing and at least as far as we could tell, she never broke a sweat. She kept everyone positive and in stitches and was a great person to have around on the longer days.
Emily Gardner was our PA, the most thankless job on set, and never once complained. On an indie set, that’s basically unheard of. She also donned a bright gold jumpsuit at one point and absolutely killed it, but shhhh. Spoilers.
Annie Tram Phan recreated a particular iconic dress to such intense detail that I still look at the photos from that day to convince myself it was real. I can’t say much more than that, and I can’t show you the photos yet, but I am absolutely delighted and I know you will be too. Thanks to Aura Martinez, wardrobe assistant, for your part in it as well!
I wasn’t a producer on this project, so I didn’t meet a number of other amazing people who helped us bring this to life, but I know Gina Taylor, Hannah Bayles, and a number of local businesses were instrumental in our success. And it was a success- this project is going to be out of this world, and it’s because of everyone in this post. I can’t wait for you to see it, because I genuinely could not be prouder.
Bri Castellini is an indie filmmaker and Community Director at Stareable, our favorite web series hub. Watch the remarkable Ms. Castellini’s award-winning web series, Brains, HERE. See Sam And Pat Are Depressed HERE. This post first appeared on Bri’s wonderfully refreshing blog.
No one wants to write just for the sake of writing. Oh, writers may say they do (ahem) but the cold, hard truth is, we’re not writing for posterity or just for the sake of storing stuff on our hard drive.
When I’ve been rejected and passed over like a week old monkfish, I’ll rant and say I don’t care, as long as I like it, who gives a motherclucker.
But when I calm down, and I always do, I realize it’s just me blowing off steam.
My computer hard drive is slow enough. I don’t need to add more stuff to it that no one will ever read.
We all get anxious, frustrated, antsy, depressed, down in the mouth, about our writing, our progress, or our lack of it. And a writer who says they never have a moment of doubt, isn’t being honest.
I freely admit that I’m my own worst enemy. But I’ve been through the wringer and lived to tell the tale, so that’s something. I’m still standing, warts and all.
Which leads me to my next rant, uh, musings.
Lately on various writer blogs, a hot topic has been when to accept an agent’s or publishing offer. No, I don’t mean you, or you. Just general observations on my part. Unfortunately, some of these posts have the whiff of desperation, and it clings like cheap after shave. And since I’ve been stuck in that valley of low self-esteem, I can sympathize.
But I can’t emphasize enough: a bad agent is worse than no agent. And re publishing, money goes to the writer, it’s not the other way around.
This isn’t rocket science, but it bears repeating every millennium.
If a publisher asks you to pay for publication, RUN.
If a publisher says you need to pay an illustration fee, SKEDADDLE.
If a publisher looks sketchy, their online presence is minimal, they have no track record, their website looks like something a toddler threw together at nap time while their caregivers were busy on their cell phones, SCOOT.
And as for agents…please, I implore you, my fellow writers, don’t sell yourselves short.
Take this from the voice of experience. Don’t accept the first agent offer that comes along out of fear you’ll never get another or some misguided sense of well, this was a huge fluke so I should say yes before they find out I’m a big, fat fake.
And don’t accept onerous terms because you’re a lowly nobody and agent person is a big somebody.
We all have our demons. Mine is being thought “mediocre”, as I was told early on. Even now, as a mature writer, I still have to slap myself upside the head fighting against feeling like I’m a fraud and a failure.
And if you’re a baby writer, it’s just as crucial to take a step back and do your research.
This is your career. Your life. But it’s business, plain and simple. Don’t make it personal—well, it is, but you have to conduct yourself in a professional manner. But you’re not being a nerd or a nudge not to hop on the first streetcar that swings by.
Some writers seem afraid to ask questions, like it’s offensive. It’s just the opposite. Beware the agent, agency or publisher who doesn’t welcome questions and lots of them.
If you were advised that you needed brain surgery, wouldn’t you ask for a second opinion and find out as much as you could about the surgeons, hospital, your condition, etc.? Or would you pounce on the first car mechanic who came around the corner to perform the operation simply because they were handy with tools?
And listen, take it from me, if you get liked at pitch contests, as exciting as it is, you must do your due diligence to avoid disaster.
I’ve turned down publishing offers from pitch contests. It was a new outfit that made a big splash on social media and was liking everything under the Tuscan sun. I was suspicious, and when they offered me contracts on two picture books in a matter of days, it didn’t take me all of two minutes to decline and withdraw. My gut told me that this was fishy as all get out, for many reasons, and I wasn’t surprised to hear a few months later that it all blew up. Whew. I’d dodged a bullet on that one.
Same thing with agents. You think they hold all the cards, the power? In fact, it’s just the opposite. They need YOU. They need your stories, your vision, your voice, your passion. They need fresh meat, I mean, new clients.
I get that it’s scary and overwhelming and sometimes you make mistakes. And that’s okay. Because on this journey it’s going to happen. No one’s perfect, not even me. And you learn from those missteps, and sometimes you cry and take solace in a big bowl of vanilla ice cream.
You fasten your seatbelt and put on your big pants.
The saddest book is the one that is never written.
Don’t let your book be a sad book.
Pj McIlvaine is a prolific writer/author/screenwriter/writer/journalist. She has been published in The New York Times,Newsday, and a host of other places. Her Showtime movie, My Horrible Year (with Mimi Rogers, Karen Allen and Eric Stoltz) was nominated for a Daytime Emmy. Find out more about Ms. McIlvaine HERE. This article first appeared in her most magical blog.