Turn the Page

I’d like to thank Julie Gray for driving a TON of new traffic to this blog over the last week via her twitter shout-out. Julie, who I called Julian maybe five times in an email exchange last December before realizing I have brain damage, has a lot of rad stuff going on over at her blog Just Effing Entertain Me, which I’ve linked to in the past. I would have entered her Silver Screenwriting Competition this year but for the fact that I won Jim Cirile’s Writers on the Storm last year which I’m told puts me in some sort of energy cage that prevents the writer from hopping around from contest to contest like a gyrating monkey whore. In any event, the W.O.T.S. win has brought some fascinating insights to the process of screenwriting which I’m saving for a super post when the time is right.

On that note, I’ve been stretching myself thin these days in trying to live and grow in two completely separate worlds. One of screenwriting, rewrites, outlines, networking, and special projects with friends, and the other of business meetings, process flows, mergers, networking, and cross-functional synergy. Both present long-term challenges with huge potential opportunities, but whose duration runs on the same stretch of time. In fact, I just got back from a business trip in Phoenix this week. See, here’s me on a mechanical bull…

I made three predictions at the beginning of last year: 1) I would get nasty audited by the IRS, 2) I would single-handedly stop a major terrorist attack and be awarded the Congressional Medal of Peace, and 3) There would come a day when something would happen in both my writing and my then-boring corporate job and I would need to make a painful choice between the two. I never did stop Osama Bin Laden, but the other two came to fruition. And when the time came to make that choice, I decided I would try to pull off both at the same time.

While many writers have a “tsk tsk” attitude toward entering the corporate world, it has taught me a LOT that I can apply to writing. There’s something to be said about being given a major project with tight deadlines and strict reprimands for failure. It teaches you not only how to structure your time, but also how to sell your ideas and build cooperation with people who are already overstretched with their own projects, both of which are extremely valuable tools to know. It teaches you how to set realistic goals and how to readjust your focus when there are setbacks. It toughens your skin so that the next time you’re on the phone with Joe Swingin’ Dick, Director of Finance, and he gets really nasty, you can pause, remove your own personal emotions, and lead the conversation to a place where he’ll forget he’s angry with you.

All of that being said, those are thought processes that can become deadly to the creative spirit. They’re emotionless and mechanical. Emotion is what makes us flawed as people, and “flaw” is the essence of the idea. Creativity comes from randomness, not from rigid logistics. It’s difficult to spend 10-16 hours working on an Excel spreadsheet and then try to cross over from thinking about production volumes and multi-platform integrations to thinking about how your character would react to a robot attack. It’s difficult to quit swimming in your anxiety over the possibility of losing your job because of a staffing issue that really wasn’t your fault but because the economic upswing has had such a large impact on our operation we really weren’t prepared for the volume increase at the same time that we decided to move positions out of our department because we wanted to save their jobs but then Barbara– is that her name? Barbara got sick and she was the only one that knew all about the requirements for such-and-such… wait, where did my character hide the gun? And would he have hidden it there? Maybe he should leave it at Barbara’s house… then again, she’s out sick…

My question is, how do you switch between the two? I know there are a lot of business professionals trying to break in as screenwriters, and I refuse to believe that in order to succeed I need to quit my day job and serve tables. There’s an opportunity cost to every decision we make as citizens of the job market, and a fool never hedges his bets.  I just turned 30 and I can’t afford to take any chances. But what’s the best way to maneuver between the two? Business and writing? Corporate and casual? There are two sides, one is light, one is dark…

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2 thoughts on “Turn the Page

  1. Compartmentalize.

    I own a small business. Problems, issues and situations all day long. The kinds of things that’ll keep you awake all night if you let them.

    Finding the time and more importantly the proper attitude to write can be difficult. I have to shut off the rest of the world to be able to fling even the roughest ideas at Final Draft.

    I make a little ceremony of it. Cell phone off. Adult beverage of my choice. Suitable music and I even light the “writing candle”. I realize that none of these things have any real importance but the activity itself closes the door to reality and lets me concentrate on the work at hand.

    I don’t know if it’ll help you but it does wonders for me.

  2. I can’t remember who it was – one of those screenwriters who both blogs and makes money (John August?) – who said that you quit your day job when you absolutely, positively cannot keep it any more while still meeting your Hollywood obligations. Like, his former personal assistant didn’t quit until the day he had to go start directing DODGEBALL.

    I’ve lately had good luck designating places I go to for the sole purpose of writing. Like Starbucks – I wouldn’t hang out at that place unless it was helping me a) get laid, b) get paid, or c) write something that will get me paid. And laid.

    So it works pretty well.

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