I’m Still Here

Funny, my opinion on this whole writing & art & business thing has changed dramatically in the last year or so. All the parts of me that are supposed to be important for artistic integrity have been chipped away bit by bit. I could see it as a tragedy, but I feel more like a phoenix, rising as something closer to a sell out than my 15 year old self would be comfortable with.

Yep, I’m a sell out, more or less. I am, in fact, writing a billionaire BDSM romance serial. How drab and unoriginal, I know. I am the picture of lame. It’s funny how I look at reactions to my stuff differently now. I’m at the beta process for another series, a new adult rock star series (less sell out and more fun for me than the billionaires, though that is growing on me too). Before, I was in a tizzy because dammit this is art, and why aren’t people willing to think about it more!?!?! But art isn’t commercial. Period, end of sentence. There’s a certain value in art and there’s another value in something written to sell.

Nothing wrong with either or right with either.

Maybe I’m phoning it in. Maybe I finally see things for what they are. I don’t know. I have all the aspirations of a sell out but I’m yet to really sell. I’m yet to publish or even finish any of the stuff I consider fit for the masses.

The truth is, I like trying to write more commercial. There’s a great challenge to trying to fit within the norms and whims of a genre. You embrace certain things you’d find utterly absurd outside it. You embrace the formula. You write ridiculous lines and wonder how the hell you ever thought of them. It’s strange. I’m working harder than I ever have before. My daily word count pushes my brain to its absolute limit. I’m sure I’ll be devastated if this stuff doesn’t hit the mark, but right now I feel pretty damn good.

The unfortunate side effect of all this (and my semi-recent decision to mostly abandon film and TV) is that I no longer relate to any of my friends. Funny thing about making all your friends at mixers and acting classes. They’re all about TV all the time. A few, I still connect with about writing. On a certain level, writing is writing. Bitching about having a lot of writing to do is a pretty serious requirement for being a writer. (I wonder. Are there any other fields where procrastination is so normalized?)

The rest, well, we were never great friends. It’s still a bummer. I feel as if I have no one to call. And I’m not up for meeting new people when all the introductory questions are so loaded. “What do you do?” is enough to send me into cold sweats. Well, I’m a writer, but I don’t actually make a living doing that. I’m living off savings right now. And off my husband-to-be. Yeah, a real great representative of female independence. My dad pays for my car insurance if you were wondering. Very impressive of me, I know. Did I mention I’m self-conscious about all this?

Talk about TMI. I suppose I could step aside from the conversation with a quick “I don’t like to talk about work,” but in L.A. everyone wants to talk about their damn projects. I don’t care about your web series or your screenplay or your monologue. I really, really don’t. It’s not that I’m a self-centered jerk. It’s just a subject that no longer interests me. It would be great to not spend an afternoon talking about movies or TV. It would be great to do anything else.

I know, there are all sorts of other ways to meet people. If you missed the casual drop in my earlier paragraph, I’m getting married next month (wooh!). There’s still a lot to do on that front. Way too much in my opinion. I hate that there is so much that doesn’t feel like it should matter–the dress, the hair, the shoes, the jewelry, the menu, the dinner the night before.

(I totally still wish we had eloped/were eloping).

But there is good about having too much on my plate. It means I’m less willing to put up with bullshit. Friend who is late all the time? Stop calling her. Weekly meeting I only sorta like? Stop going. Work routine that I don’t enjoy? Screw it, do something I like instead. It’s nice not having a lot of BS in the way, but without the BS, there’s not much in my life. I write. I hang out with BF. I talk to my parents on occasion. I watch way too much TV. I read way too little (so much research to do).

Basically, writing is another job. An awesome job. A hard job. A very, very demanding job. Unpredictable too. If you don’t treat it like a job, you’re screwed already. If you do treat it like a job, you have bad odds of meeting a lot of likeminded people. Sad to say.

It’s Not

Lately, I lose entire days to stress. I check my sales dashboard, find it lacking, and fall into a black hole of despair. I thought I was doing everything right, more or less, but I most certainly was not.

I’m not sure that I can continue on like this, feeling like my heart has been torn out of my chest every couple of weeks. There’s a lot of shit swirling around in my life. I’m trying to write a new, actually commercial, series, but I’m haunted by what I consider a failure. I’m contemplating–okay, I’m just going to say it–cutting ties with my mother. I’m getting married. I never mentioned that, but BF and I are getting married this year. That’s quite the bit of stress.

I tend to deny that anything besides writing is giving me grief, even when I’m wrecked with mom or friend or BF related stress. But I really do feel like it’s this oh so fun mix of why is my writing career so fucked and WTF else am I going to do with my life–WTF am I doing with my life. Period. I try to talk it over with friends or boyfriend, but they never get it. I feel so melodramatic explaining how much the thought of giving up on a writing career hurts. It feels like a black hole opened and sucked me inside. And that’s so ridiculous and overblown, but that’s how it feels–like that black hole opened inside of me and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.

That is how I feel right now. There’s a weight on my chest and it’s so damn heavy. I’m not sure that I’m cut out for this publishing thing. I need something else in my life I can latch onto. Writing has been my reason to get up in the morning for as long as I can remember having a reason to get up in the morning (the bed really is so damn comfy).

I’ve been ignoring my blog, because I feel like I say the same damn things over and over again. My problems feel so petty and entitled. I have a nice life overall. I’m not in dire financial straights. Hell, BF claims he’s happy to support me if I want to be a writer/housewife indefinitely. But that isn’t why this hurts. It’s not the practical bits. It’s all the things inside me, this big gaping hole where being a damn adult should be. I am not a real adult. I am not responsible. I cannot take care of myself. And that is all I want–to be able to take care of myself, on my fucking terms, with my fucking money.

I need to be able to do that, and I feel like I’m banging my head against a wall with this writing and publishing thing. Maybe it’s a nut I can’t crack. Maybe it’s hopeless. Maybe it’s just not going to happen for me. Two years ago, if you told me I wouldn’t be a romance novelist, I wouldn’t have given a damn. It was never something I wanted to do. I don’t think I’d ever read any books in any romance sub-categories (besides YA). It was never something I wanted, but now it feels so awful that I’m failing at it.

I never wanted to write to market, to write bland, paint by the numbers shit. If that is my only choice, is it really worth it? Or do I just finish up my year, finish up my next series my way, and throw it out into the world (with a solid marketing plan) to sink or swim? I’d have to be okay with the possibility of it sinking, of my writing career tanking like the mother fucking titanic.

This isn’t what I signed up for, so why does it hurt so much that I suck at it?

Maybe it’s easier if I stop throwing good money and good time after bad, if I learn to program and spend the other 128 hours of my week doing whatever I want, losing none of them to the sinking feeling that I’m a hopeless fuck up?

Divorce

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.

Always,

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?

Horny Yet Awkward

I had a revelation yesterday. A revelation that was simultaneously obvious and obscured. That is both dramatic and irrelevant.

See, I finally figured out why I care about project A, why I had to force myself to write project B, and why project C, an amazing idea that almost everyone responds to, holds so little appeal.

And the revelation occurred in the form of a ridiculous anime sex comedy.

You see, this show was so ridiculous it has some poorly translated slang name, and I would have almost no hope of finding it on Google if it weren’t for the power of Netflix remembering what I’ve watched. I will spare you the trouble. It is called (I dare you to remember this in five minutes, much less an hour) B Gata H Kei and it is about a teenage girl who wants to have sex with a 100 men, well, teenage boys. Only she is totally clueless about all things sex.

It is everything I ever wanted out of screenwriting (even if it engages in all sorts of shameless fanservice).

See, when I finally got good coverage (*cough* no thanks to the first blcklst reader *cough*) on project A… I guess we can call it High School RomCom (although that really does it a disservice), I was delighted. The score, a six, was not amazing. Fair enough. But the reader called it a unique take on teenage sexuality (I’d like to thank the academy…) and praised my protagonist as awkward yet horny.

And, holy shit, did this weird anime encapsulate awkward yet horny, turned up to 11. If you watch anime, you know good anime turns everything up to 11 or 12. Everything is ridiculously, wonderfully over the top, making great use of its conventions, even as it breaks them. I’m thinking mostly of my perennial fav, Death Note, but also of my lesser fav, Ouran High School Host Club.

It’s not that I didn’t realize I love writing about awkward sexuality. I did. But I didn’t realize how much it appealed to me. I still love High School RomCom, despite not having touched it in over a year. And I’m still lukewarm on Projects B and C, despite knowing they are better written.

I just don’t care. I don’t care about the characters or their problems. Objectively, the scripts are better. The dialogue is better, the story is tighter, the concepts less convoluted. But I don’t care.

Even though they deal with sexuality. B is all about sex, even more so than A, but it doesn’t have that glee, that youthful exuberance. It’s so pragmatic. It’s real, and it makes a good point, but God does it lecture.

Now, it’s possible that distance makes the heart grow fonder. That HS RomCom was a beast to write. I was still in the phase where I had no idea what I was doing, and made a million lateral changes, and rewrote everything to death. By the time I declared myself done with it, I never wanted to see it again.

But I miss its je ne sais quoi. My current projects are lacking whatever it had, and that’s draining my motivation. I’ve got no real desire to be funny anymore, though I don’t know if it’s burn out, depression, or something else entirely.

I don’t know if– gasp–part of the problem is actually that my sex life is unfucked or that I’m sick of writing about sex period, what with writing smutty books for 20 hours a week.

And I don’t really care.

Except, that I have this weird feeling I used to recognize as inspiration. I think. And I actually WANT to write something for the sake of it, as opposed to because my schedule says I must write it.

I’m sure, that this slutty new idea is a tease, that once I tangle with it, I’ll realize it’s just as difficult as anything else I’ve ever written. And I’m not really planning to devote much, if any, time or energy to it.

After all, I don’t see much utility for another teenage romantic (sex) comedy script, even if I write this one knowing what it is, instead of figuring that out after a bajillion drafts. I already have the one. It’s not great, but it’s pretty good.

It’s not likely this will actually help my career. Or that I’ll ever have a screenwriting career.

Still, I might entertain it for a little while…

The truth is, I’ve been pushing this aside, shoving it where it can’t hurt me. I’ve told myself I don’t care what I write, as long as it’s in the ballpark of what I like to write. And that’s true, to some extent, but it hurts to think about not writing the awkward female sexuality stuff.

It’s literally painful.

I really do enjoy writing my angsty romances, even knowing I’ll have to write a little more to market, but I like them for different reasons. I still need that outlet, that opportunity to get into the weird and funny of sex, and especially of burgeoning sexuality.

But I can do both.

Sure, I won’t be able to devote a ton of time and energy to the latter, especially not if I go through with my plan of devoting myself to self pushing romance novels for 2 years in the hopes of making it into a career.

I’m 25 and I’m on track to make less than 20k this year. I want to have a career.

I guess, what I’m saying, is that there will be a screenplay D after screenplay C, and it will be another take on awkward teenage sexuality.

Or maybe I’ll write a YA novel instead.

Or maybe this is a random assortment of thoughts that lead to nowhere.

I’ve figured out what’s missing in my life (my writing life at least). That’s a solid first step.

Even if I’ve got no plans for a second.

Cheating on My Wife

I feel strange lately. I’m finally confident in my screenwriting abilities. I finished my latest feature and it kicks ass. I know I can write shit that rocks. I know I’ve finally started to figure it out.

And I am losing interest in the whole thing.

Now, this wouldn’t be the first time I lost interest in something as soon as I had a handle on it, but I don’t think it’s anything like that. I still love the act of screenwriting (and we are only talking about screenwriting here, not prose writing), but something about it has turned me off completely. Is it all the dumb people on the internet? The feeling of impossibility? The desire to change my life and get out of Los Angeles? The utter difficulty of a real job in the real world–working in a restaurant is fucking exhausting–making me flee to something easier? Is it all the stress about my mom/family problem? I don’t know… the best explanation I have is that I am tired, stressed out, and over-stimulated. The thought of getting off my ass and producing something is utterly exhausting.

What’s the point?

Am I too mercenary? At this point, I feel I am a good enough writer that I deserve compensation for my work. I don’t want to write things just for fun. I want to write things that will lead to me making a living. Because, now that I work 20-30 hours a week, and I have to give up work days to scurry my mom to appointments, I don’t have any time. And I want to use my time to build a career.

Will screenwriting ever be a career?

I don’t know. I do feel like there is a different part of myself who does screenwriting. The girl who writes comedy is different than the girl who writes drama. But they’re both me. If I gave up either, I would feel weird and unbalanced. And, to be perfectly honest, I’ve been drowning in drama world lately. It’s a little much, spending so much time in the head of a character with distorted thought processes…

I love my silly, weird, girl-focused scripts. I wouldn’t trade them, or working on them, for anything. Even if I’m usually miserable while I’m writing them because something is just not working. But that’s writing in a nutshell. When it’s working, it’s awesome. When it’s not working, it’s utter annihilation.

Maybe I am getting ahead of myself. Again. Just because I can no longer stomach even an episode of Scriptnotes or a few minutes on a screenwriting forum doesn’t mean I’m over screenwriting. It means I’m tired of hearing the same retreads of three-act structure and likable characters. And, though John and Craig seem like really nice guys, they are clearly out of touch with what it’s like to be broke and tired and trying to carve a career out of nothing… and, for my money, they take far too lenient of a stance on sexism/sexist tropes in movies.

Or maybe, after listening to 50 something episodes, I’m just tired of listening to them.

I don’t know. I’m going to publish my novel in about four weeks. I have a release date. A cover. It’s proofread. I still need to format it and do more press and do more marketing, but it’s quite the accomplishment. And I’ve never accomplished ANYTHING like this with screenwriting. Ever.

Now, being the mercenary girl that I am, I am more than willing to pull back on my publishing plan to take paying screenwriting gigs. Say, if my script was a finalist in Nicholl and I got a bunch of attention… I’m publishing all this stuff myself. I can put out a book a year and still do tons of screenwriting. But two books is another thing entirely.

Am I just sick of the entertainment industry? Unfortunate for me, cause my protagonist is a TV actress, and this book is only the first in a TRILOGY. Lord help me.

Am I just sick of Los Angeles?

Am I just tired? I feel tired.

I have to remember. I’m not even 25. I have plenty of time to build a career or build a second career. But, still, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m cheating on my wife. We don’t have the same spark we used to have, and I’ve turned to some new thing to wake me up.

Or maybe I am overly dramatic.

Letting Go

For the last few months, I’ve been taking an acting class. It’s incredibly helpful for writing and incredibly addictive. Seriously. It’s totally out of my budget, but I keep signing up for month after month.

There is no writing equivalent of an acting class–a few hours in which you simply hone your skill with no expectations of outcome. Sure, you can take writing classes, but they are mostly instruction, and your final is inevitably a project you hope to finish. There is no sense of writing for writing’s sake, of finding the joy in the words, of letting go of the final outcome.

Actors have little say over the final result of a film. An editor will chop up a performance and splice it back together. The movie might never get released. The movie might tank. The movie might suck. Actors really can’t do anything about it.

They have to let go of the results. The work is the result. The acting is the result.

Okay, sometimes the paycheck is the result too.

As writers, we tend to hold on to the results. I need to sell this script. I need to get an agent. I need to get this movie made. I need to publish this. And these are all good goals, but they can suck the joy out of writing.

But we lose sight of the means. We stop finding the joy in our work.

Now, I am the first person to profess how much writing sucks. It’s exhausting and awful and all-consuming. You can’t shut off your brain. You can’t focus on other things. You can’t hold down a regular job because you need your writing time.

But, if you’re a writer, you have to write. You can’t stop.

I don’t want my work to be a bunch of files on my computer. But I have to accept it might be nothing more than a bunch of files on my computer. I have little control over the outcome. I could sell a script that never gets paid. I could publish a book that no one reads. I could shoot a movie and lose all the data because of a corrupt hard drive.

I can’t put my happiness in someone else’s hands. I can’t decide that when I produce a film or get an agent or make a living as a writer, I will finally be worthwhile.

Writing, while incredibly fulfilling, will not make you whole. It will not make you worthwhile.

I have to decide for myself that, whatever the outcome of my work, I am worthwhile.

It’s tough, but I’m working on it.

Faster. Better. Smarter.

I talk myself into and out of quitting writing every two weeks or so. Sometimes it’s oh my god, this is impossible, I’m never going to be successful, but usually it’s OH MY GOD, I suck. I am awful. I need to quit now, learn to code, and never, ever write a freaking paragraph again.

The hardest thing about writing isn’t how few benjamins I make. It’s how much I care. Yes, I care about finding professional success, but I also care so, so much about being fucking great. I need this thing I’m writing to be great yesterday. I need to write the greatest fucking screenplay this town has ever seen. I need to write the greatest novel to ever see e-ink. I need to be better. I need to work harder. I need to type until my hands are numb.

Last night, I had one of my mini-freak outs. Oh my god, that scene I wrote today is actually shit. Or is it? Is it shit? Am I shit? So I rushed to my computer at the ripe hour of midnight, and poured over my pages until I had a good feeling they weren’t total shit. Only partial shit.

The most seductive thing about a career is not the money or the stability or the place to wear cute dresses. The most seductive thing about a career is how it might rescue me from myself and my insecurities and my obsession with making my writing great. After all, if I am a teacher or a lawyer or a programmer, do I really need to write an amazing screenplay? If I am a teacher or a lawyer or a programmer, I am a hobbyist writer, not a professional. And a hobbyist writes for fun, not for excellence.

And, let’s be honest, chasing excellence isn’t fun. It’s fulfilling, sometimes, but it isn’t fun.