Writing is My Business

It’s an interesting thing to be a writer. Its one of those jobs that everyone thinks they can just do. Everyone communicates through writing as it is. It’s easy enough to do it creatively then, right? It’s like that old joke about the writer and the brain surgeon.

A writer and a brain surgeon are at a party and start talking about what each other does for a living. The brain surgeon says to the writer, “You know, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I think I’ll start tomorrow.” The writer replies, “Really? I’ve always wanted to be a brain surgeon. I think I’ll start tomorrow.”

And before I continue, I’ve got to get this little non sequitur out because it’s on my mind: My friend came over tonight and fetched himself a soda from my fridge. Unfortunately, he didn’t close the door all the way and I didn’t discover the oversight until four hours later. Now my fridge has that freon smell and I don’t hear the compressor kicking on anymore. I’m hoping everything will magically fix itself, but we’ll see.

Anyway, it’s easy enough to call yourself a writer simply because you write. For the longest time, I was one of those “writers.” By and large, I still consider myself as one them, only because I’m not the kind of writer I had hoped to be. I wanted to be one of the classically anemic, pale novelists or screenwriters who smoke too much and imagine new and interesting ways to describe a lamppost. Instead, I do what I do and I’m grateful for what I have, but it’s not my passion. On the other hand, because I do what I do, I feel I can separate myself from the chaff that only talks about being a writer, but at the end of the day vegges out in front of the TV.

The other night was a turning point for me. If I am going to become the kind of writer I want to be, then I must behave like that kind of writer and take my career more seriously.

 

As you may or may not know, I am an aspiring screenwriter among all of the other types of writer I’m trying to be. As such, after I completed my screenplay, I sought coverage for it, which is basically a detailed analysis of the work by an industry professional (read: reader) who will then give an opinion as to the screenplay’s feasibility as a produced film. The service I used was ScriptShark. Even though my script was given a PASS, I was still impressed with the coverage and remained on their mailing list. They emailed me recently, inviting me to a “Business of Writing” seminar in Los Angeles. It was free so I decided to check it out. It was last Sunday and actually, it was located in Santa Monica (which is West LA) in what looked like a compound for creative types called Bergamot Station Arts Colony.

 

Since Los Angeles traffic is notoriously treacherous regardless of the day and time, I left way ahead of schedule, but consequently arrived way too early as well. Still, this gave me time to wander the grounds a bit. Apparently, it had rained because the lonely parking lot was slick and water puddled everywhere. Droplets dripped a slow, tinny percussion on the sheet metal roofs of the tiny museums and galleries that made up the Bergamot. I walked around and snapped a photo here and there.

 

Once I ran out of interesting things to look at, I sat down and had a cigarette. Actually, I had a couple of cigarettes. After 20 minutes or so, people started showing up and I followed them to the Writers Boot Camp building. While I’m sketchy on the details, I believe that Writers Boot Camp is a two-year program where people are broken down and reconstructed into writers. How that’s done exactly, I’m not sure and I’m not curious enough to shell out the clams to sign up and find out. According to Variety, however, at least 8,000 writers have graduated from the program, some even penning big name movies like Ocean’s 13. I found all of this out after the seminar, mind you, from reading the little press kit they handed out.

The speaker for the evening was Lee Zahavi Jessup, who is titled as the “Director” of ScriptShark. Lee is a short redheaded woman with long, full hair. Not that you should concern yourself with her looks. I just wanted to give you a visual. After asking the small turnout to sit closer to the stage, Lee launched into her speech without any notes and only her iPhone to keep her on track with time. I have to admit that she is a remarkable speaker, with nary a filler “um” or “uh” to bridge her thoughts. On the other hand, she’s probably given this seminar a thousand times before.

The beginning and the majority of the talk revolved around the hard-hitting “truth” about the film industry and what nonsensical biases a struggling writer would have to face, such as ageism. Older people generally have fuller lives and are less willing to sacrifice the things that comprise that life in order to meet deadlines. Women are less valued as screenwriters as well. A female writer may decide one day that she wants to have kids and her pregnancy is going to affect her productivity. Or, maybe she already has kids. If a mother is faced with deciding to take little Timmy to rehab or turning in pages, which one do you think she’s going to choose? These points and more were brought up and they were both gloomy and nothing I hadn’t already thought of myself, which is why getting experience in the industry is more important than ever for me now since I’m pushing the golden years for a screenwriter: 30+.

The idea of getting my big break by optioning my spec script is apparently an unlikely event. Instead, Lee suggested branding myself as an expert writer in one particular genre. That way I could be sent in to script doctor screenplays in my expertise while my agent shopped my script around. No, it wouldn’t be the glamorous industry writing gig I’ve been dreaming about, but it would be a very big part of my foot in the door. Of course all of this moot until the writers strike ends.

While I think most people found it mundane, what I got most out of the seminar was the idea of truly being a writer as a profession. I should be constantly learning the craft, taking classes, reading books, whatever. I should be honing my talent on a daily basis. I don’t think I’m actively doing that. I think I sit here and simply believe that I’m a writer, like that car salesman who thinks his life story would make a great movie, so he buys Final Draft and knocks out a screenplay. Voila! Writer overnight.

I don’t want to be that guy. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I need to start taking my writing career seriously.

On the other hand, I also want to have a life. 🙁

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