Is This the Real Thing?

I am almost two months into my year of writing, and I feel like I did back in college. Confused, anxious, and completely unaware of where my future lies.

The whole time I was in film school, I had this sense of unease. It never fit. Never felt like it would work. I envied my friends with more practical or more intellectual majors. I hated going to class and watching movies. It felt like a waste of my father’s money. I was besieged with guilt every minute. How could I be spending so much money on an education that felt so damn worthless?

It never felt right to me. The last four or so years of wannabe screenwriter felt off to me. Don’t get me wrong–I loved the writing part. I still feel lucky as all hell that I got so much time to write. But any hint of idealist in me died a long time ago, and I can’t stand the feel of writing something just because. There should be a purpose, a reason. It should be more than a file on my computer, a sample that will interest no one.

But, still, for eight or so years, I believed I was pursuing screenwriting. From the time I was 17 up until a few months ago. It feels right to exit that chapter of my life, but there is so much of it remaining.

It’s a major shift, isn’t it– to alter the goal I’ve been chasing for my entire adult life? It’s not as if I did a 180–I’m still attempting a writing career–but this is a big fucking deal. I spend so long convincing myself (every two weeks at least) that I should keep screenwriting. That I was finally a good enough writer. That something would happen eventually. It had to. I was doing everything people said–I was writing, I was networking, I was working hard. And I just didn’t understand why success was so elusive. I didn’t have a job in my field. I didn’t have an agent, a manager, whatever.

It didn’t feel possible.

And my pragmatic self (who would never really acknowledge something as silly as feelings) is glad I’ve closed the book on screenwriting. She is proud. I mean, she’s a little miffed it took four years, but she’s still proud. Something that isn’t working isn’t working. And, a lot of the time, it simply isn’t going to work.

I’m confident about my decision, but I still feel like the rug was pulled out from under my feet. My life feels so in flux. In the span of two months I went from believing I’d spend another 2-3 years working as a tutor and attempting  a screenwriting career to embracing this idea that I had one year to make it or break it as a novelist.

And now I am wracked with anxiety. What the hell is going to happen and am I going to make it work? And what the hell am I doing with my life anyway?

When I read over the last year or two of my blog (or my paper diary, or the word doc diaries I’ve kept since high school), I see the same things over and over again. I suppose it makes sense. My questions are pretty normal. It’s not like I can ever definitively answer “what the hell am I doing with my life?” Everytime I ask myself if I should keep writing (and try hard to convince myself not to), I decide to stick with it. It’s not as if the decision is permanent. Hell, the main reason why I decided to go for a year of writing was so that I could stop asking myself this question. It’s the uncertainty that kills you.

I guess I might as well admit my uncertainty. I’m publishing stuff next month, and I’m anxious as all hell. It feels like a year of work is going into this. It’s a lot of pressure. I can’t keep thinking that I’m going to fail, that I am failing, that I’m always going to be failing.

I need to figure out a way to turn off this part of my brain, at least for a little while.



Dear Screenwriting,

I hate how bad things have become between us. It was a simpler time when we fell in love. I was young and idealistic (perhaps naive is a more apt description). You were riding high on the wave of early 2000s film making.

Remember Closer? I was 15, inexperienced and desperate to learn something, anything about love and sex. And, Jesus, were you ready to teach. I still remember sitting in that theater at The Spectrum (back when it was still Edwards) with my dad and my best frenemy forever. They didn’t get it, but I did. Oh, I saw your ways– the delicious sparseness of pages upon pages of dialogue, the beauty with which you could transform a play into such a visual thing. The rawness, the emotion, the guts. I didn’t realize it then, but I fell in love that day.

You had me that year. It was no contest. It wasn’t fair. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Sideways. The creativity, the visuals, the clever but not too clever twists of phrase. How could I resist? How could anyone? My friends, they didn’t get you. They didn’t get us. They wanted to watch Mean Girls and Saw. Commercial shit. Not art. Not what I knew we could have.

It’s not like you worked your charms alone. You had my the unwavering support of my father. I know, you’re the one who convinced him to buy all those silly books on screenwriting. Who encouraged him to take us to that used DVD place in Newport Beach (it’s a BevMo now. My how things change). You brought out the High Fidelity in me, convincing me my taste was more important than any of my other traits as a person. (How I wanted to be Max Fischer so damn badly).

Remember our first time? It was so messy but so damn earnest. I was knee deep in depression (and calf deep in an eating disorder), desperate for any escape from those awful voices in my head. It was some Crash knock off about art and teenage angst instead of racism. It was some 60 or 70 pages, a total train wreck, but beautiful it its own way.

Film school was tough. I hated every minute of it–they weren’t giving me enough of you–but I held out until my senior year, until I finally got to fill my schedule with screenwriting classes. You pushed away all the uneasiness in my gut, that little voice that screamed at me after my friend switched his major from film to computer science. He’s right. I hate production. I hate being on set. I hate everything except being behind a computer. I don’t want a job doing this. I don’t want to be in this industry. But you drowned out that voice with your glorious white space.

It was you and me against the world, baby.

We had a bumpy patch after I graduated. I couldn’t feel my future, my progress. I was patient at first, but a year of internships and shitty jobs later, that dread crept back into my gut. I was still so naive. I grabbed every opportunity my the balls–the bizarre management company, the incompetent producer, the clueless writing group. I tried it all, considered it all, convinced myself I’d be there soon. A couple months maybe. Just a little longer.

Things really clicked when the eHow shit dried up. I spent hours with you every day (what else was I going to do?), and I fell back in love. Hell, I was addicted. I told myself I couldn’t live without you, I couldn’t accept any job that took me away from you. And I did everything I could to stay with you, even sinking to some really awful deeps (really, going on dates with men for money, pretending as if I was single. That is low).

I did it all for you. For us.

But something has changed in the last year. I see what you are. No, where you are. See, it’s not you. You’re great. You’re still perfect. But you don’t have guts the way you used to. Female characters are nothing to you. Creative storytelling is nothing to you. Independent film– it’s all on TV now.

You promised so much. But that was a different time–back when Ebert and Roper was on the air, when Hollywood Video was still in business, when I was too young and stupid to consider making ends meet. Before I realized how much I care about women getting their say. You try, sometimes, but I can tell your heart isn’t it in. You’re more at home with Nolan and Sorkin and Fincher and their dead wives and pretty blonde murder victims.

I’m sorry, but I can’t keep lying to myself. I can’t stand this damn industry. I can’t stand the incompetent people, the demands of work for free, the total lack of respect. I can’t stand this whole starving artist thing. I hate it. I always have. I want to have a job, to work 40 hours a week (instead of either 60 or 0), to feel like a functioning member of society.

Two years ago, we made a deal. I gave you until I was 25 to show me some real progress or get lost.

You’ve tried. The Nicholls placement was nice. And this new media thing. It has potential. But it’s too little, too late.

So, it’s time for us to part. I’m taking my writing elsewhere. To new adult and erotic romance novels. I know what you’re thinking–why them? Why not you? My first book made no traction. Hell, it costs me well over $1000. I could shoot a micro-budget feature. I could do the festival circut. I could try to keep this marriage alive.

But I can’t try anymore. My passion is gone. I know you can do better than these 40 year old tools who only care about MEN and their important male problems (and, God, aren’t women useless). Hell, I bet, deep down, you want to do better. But I can’t be the girl who saves you. I don’t have the patience for it.

I know. Romance is no better. Not really. Characters still need to fit inside narrow boxes. But there’s something there, something more… I have to pursue it, even if I leave it the way I left you.

At least there, I can make a product. I can be a business owner and not an aimless creative wannabe.

You won’t miss me for long. There are so many people who love you, who want you, who are begging to be with you. (And so many of them are 20 something year old tools, ready to grace your pages with shitty scripts about men, important, important men and their important male feelings. Be honest. That has always been your true love).

But, hey, we’ll always have Closer, Chasing Amy, and Sideways.

I’ll always love you, but I can’t bare to live with you for one more day.


Fiona Fire

P.S. You’re kidding yourself if you think I don’t realize all those excellent movies about about men and their important male feelings. You really don’t have room for women, do you?


After making it into Nicholl quaterfinals last week, I got a 4/10 in a review this week.

Now, I can and will go off on how incompetent this reader was. The 4/10 is one thing, but the person wrote a convoluted coverage. It started with a generic “this script needs more development,” and did not get any better.

Trust me. I know bad reviews. I go and read one star reviews of my favorite books on Amazon just to rile up my anger. My favorite was the person who went on a three paragraph tirade about why The Hunger Games was bad for its use of first person, present tense.

(The best person/verb tense IMO. But, even if you don’t like first person, present tense, that’s the STUPIDEST REASON IN THE WORLD for a one star review).

I’m not interested in revising this script, but, if I was, this review would be ABSOLUTELY NO HELP.

I want my $50 back.

I’m in an awful mood. It doesn’t shake my self-confidence really. It’s fine if someone doesn’t like my script. OBVIOUSLY, some people did like it because IT IS IN THE NICHOLL QUARTERFINALS (not to brag or anything… but it is IN THE NICHOLL QUARTERFINALS).

And, quite frankly, I know it’s not a 4. The guy–let’s face it, he was probably a guy what with the convoluted comments he made about female sexuality–gave the dialogue a 4. Plot a 4–sure, whatever. The plot is just okay. But the dialogue is FAN-FUCKING-TASTIC.

A lot of people liked it. I know BECAUSE THEY TOLD ME. And I know they weren’t just saying that, because these people have read other things I wrote, and they did NOT tell me they liked those things.

I’m not upset in a oh no, am I a good writer??? kind of way. I know I’m a good writer and I know my script is good. And, I know, from this coverage, that the reader paid little attention (the location is mentioned in the first five pages and the reader didn’t know what city the script took place in. Even if the script totally sucked, the reader should have paid attention for the first five pages). I wrote coverage for a while, and I had to read other writers’ coverage and, quite frankly, A LOT OF THEM WERE IDIOTS.

It’s just… after getting the quarterfinals email, I was starting to get back on the screenwriting train. I was like Hell Yeah, I’m the shit. Top 2% in the most prestigious screenwriting competition around. Maybe there is some way I’ll become successful. Maybe I should spend some of my writing time on screenplays.

And I started thinking that I actually missed screenwriting. I missed my silly comedy. And I missed using sex as a punchline. And I missed formatting my dialogue in lovely centered blocks without quotation marks.

But, this convoluted coverage and its mediocre score have reminded me that there is little merit to whatever you want to call “breaking in.” It costs me $75 to get one review and one month of hosting. Sure, I can pay another $50 for a review, and I’d be willing to bet I’d get a better score, but why bother if I might get another person who OBVIOUSLY ISN’T PAYING ATTENTION.

What’s the point in writing any more screenplays at all?

I don’t know anymore.

I might pay for another review. Out of curiosity. Honestly, I don’t see how anyone could give the script a four unless he was having a bad day. It has problems (none of which were mentioned in the weakness. It was only painfully generic things like “this character felt two different ways about something. Inconsistent. I do not understand subtlety.”), bit it’s at least a solid six.

But what if I get another four? I’d freak the fuck out to be honest with you.

Love is Over

We’re not in a good place, screenwriting and I. It’s not because I don’t love it anymore. It’s not even the bad odds or the impossibly slow pace with which my current project progresses.

It’s the idiots on the internet.

I don’t know why, but screenwriting is beset by an obsession with rules. There’s a huge cottage industry around screenwriting that doesn’t exist to the same degree around other types of writing. Sure, you can buy a book about how to write a novel, or you can take a class or go to a seminar, but it never has the kind of YOU’LL SELL A SPEC FOR A MILLION DOLLARS IF YOU LISTEN TO ME!!! thing that screenwriting books and gurus do. I suppose films are more glamorous than novels. They are certainly more popular and marketable. But that doesn’t quite explain why so many liars capitalize on the naivety of aspiring screenwriters.

To be fair, I don’t oppose instructional books. Writing a book on three act structure is fine. Selling it for $15 is fine too. What’s unethical is billing yourself as some kind of guru with connections who can turn a hobbyist into a professional.

And screenwriters online are more than happy to jump on the rules bandwagon. You must do X or you must do Y or you can never ever do Z. It’s all they talk about. It leaves no room for compelling characters or exciting storytelling. It is writing for the sake of only rules and structure and what the hell is the point of that? No one has ever walked out of a movie saying “I loved the structure” or “Man, the way they nailed that turning point was sick” or “thank God they gave the protag that save the cat moment or I never would have sympathized with her.”

Now, people watch movies for a lot of different reasons. Some for stars, some for spectacle, some for laughs, some for story, some for romance, some for emotional hits. No one watches movies to see well executed structure.

Now, this wouldn’t be so bad if these people weren’t also stupid assholes. Yeah, I know name calling is bad, but fuck it, I’ll call names.

I don’t know anyone IRL who is so slavishly devoted to rules. We don’t even call them rules. We call them genre expectations. We’re aware of them and we chose to follow them or ignore them, but we spend a lot more time asking if the plot is interesting and easy to follow and if the characters are compelling.

Really, the only two rules are: be interesting and be clear.

I’m sure the novel writing word is beset with the same idiots, but, thankfully, I don’t go to any of those boards. At least, in the novel writing world, people are more aware that the telling of the story is more important than the rules. Novels are not as restrictive as a format. Novels become edited novels, not movies (usually), so they can’t hide behind directing, acting, and cinematography.

And, in the novel writing world, as far as I can tell, people are more aware of genre differences. They won’t approach a thriller and a romance in the same way. Or try to apply the same rules to them.

I’m confident in my abilities, so idiots saying idiotic things don’t offend my self esteem. They do offend my judgement though. Cause they are sucking all the joy out of storytelling. They are missing the fucking point. They are the kind of literal asshole who don’t understand that a story needs to make you FEEL SOMETHING. If it doesn’t, it’s fucking pointless.

And anger at a writer’s suckiness doesn’t count as feeling something.

So, in short, I’m really looking forward to working only on my novel this week. I just might make my July publishing goal.