Method to Madness

For those of you who may not know this already… I’ve spent the past few years writing fulltime in a yurt.

For complete clarity (and because some people just don’t know) Merriam-Webster defines a yurt as a circular domed tent of skins or felt stretched over a collapsible lattice framework and used by pastoral peoples of inner Asia.

Now, why in the hell would any respectable writer want to spend her days inside of a yurt? And, what’s it like inside?

Well, I’ll tell you… Here’s a peek inside the yurt and the method to my madness.

The Battle Worth Fighting

FUNNY FARM, Chevy Chase, 1988

I have flashes of this movie that I saw when I was little. In it Chevy Chase plays a writer who moves to a small town for the tranquil environment in which to work. I mean, that’s what writers do – right?

I think I’ve kept that image in my head ever since, that that is how it is meant to be, and I KNOW other people have the same image. You know the one, where writing is this peaceful endeavor in a serene environment and fingers just magically move across the keyboard as easily as they would when writing an email. Come on, how hard is it to write an email? Everyone writes. It’s easy. And, my personal favorite, “Just go type it up.” (Yeah, that’s a whole other blog for another day).

I have come to realize, after many years of struggling to create the perfect environment (yes, the yurt is pretty cool) and waiting for the peaceful magic to float across my hands as I type with pure joy emanating from my heart and a smile on my face, that writing is NOT like that. In fact, it’s more like dressing in camouflage and going to war… every day.

Think about it, ever hear the term “bleed onto the page?” There’s a lot of truth in that phrase. It can be painful as fuck. Yanking the words out of the depth of your soul, in a just-so order that will somehow, by the grace of God, elicit emotion in the reader. We let each character invade us in order to make their feelings and experiences authentic, allowing their pain and turmoil to become our own. AND we all know putting your character through every kind of hell you can possibly imagine is storytelling gold – right? We make them suffer, and suffer ourselves in return.

Seriously, some days I crawl out of the yurt broken and in tears. Literally. These battles can be tough – on the mind, body, and soul. Think about it, you know those movies that are kind of painful to watch… but are still done amazingly well and you’ll never be the same because of that two-hour experience, yet seeing it once was enough because you don’t EVER want to live through that again. Yup. Now, imagine what it was like to live it daily, for months, maybe even years, as it was in development. But, it’s not just those movies either. Comedy is heightened drama! That’s what makes it so fucking funny. It’s so crazy awful and so real that we have to laugh. Seriously, that can be a whole other kind of battlefield – and you better make sure it’s funny – which adds another layer that I won’t even get into here.

So, why do we do it? Other than because we’re out of our fucking minds?

Stories are exciting! When a concept moves from the seed of an idea, to fully realized characters and they’re interacting with one another… OMG! When you don’t even have to close your eyes to watch the scenes play out in your head. And you’re fully immersed in the world and you love every second of it. It totally rocks and can make your whole body vibrate with excitement. It can be better than sex. Until…

You sit down in front of the computer and suddenly – swear to God – the most important thing on the planet becomes figuring out the perfect playlist to match the emotions of the story. Seriously, you can’t even think about typing the first sentence until THAT is SORTED. This is important stuff.

And suddenly… just like that, you’ve become the antagonist. You, yourself, are the challenge that must be overcome for your protagonist to achieve his/her goals. It is here that you step into one of the hardest battles in the war. Lose this one, and it’s time to look for another career. Everything is on the line. That force of evil is going to give you every reason in the world to avoid the page. I mean… it has been too long since you cleaned the fridge after all.

This is the moment when it’s time to see what you’re made of, soldier. The future of your characters’ lives is at stake. Their very existence requires your willingness to get in front of your computer, pull up your sleeves, take out your knife, and bleed onto every page. And then, the next day, do it again, and again, and again until you’ve given it everything you have.

It’s a war, fought one battle at a time, every day, page by page.

And it’s worth every moment. Every. Single. Moment.

There is nothing in the world quite like holding that final printed version of the story that once burned inside of you. Giving birth to the lives and journeys. Helping your characters find their way and finally grow into who you always believed they could become.

That’s where the magic is. It’s just that, more often than not, you have to fight for it.

I mean, sure… there are times when the muse shows up with lightning up her ass and your fingers can’t type fast enough. We’ve all had those moments when we bang out a script in ten days (my friend, Aza, banged an award-winning one out in three… 3… days! Hate him). But most of the time, for a significantly large percentage of the stories we tell, grab your gear, cuz you’re going to war. And you’re gonna love it.

Two Things Worth Sharing

There are a couple of things that I think are truly worth sharing. Both have had an amazing effect on me and my work, personally, and were on my mind today to put out there… so, no time like the present!

First and foremost, I want to tell you about The Writer’s Room 5050…

The Writer’s Room 5050 is something all TV writers need to know about. Started by Evette Vargas and Kate Rees Davies this past year, TWR 5050 has been exploding with success.

Evette brings her experience and expertise to the group as she gives television writers the opportunity to develop their projects in a writer’s room setting. I participated in her class several months ago – it’s a lot of work for sure, but worth every second.

The most phenomenal thing about the class was at the end when everyone’s scripts were read aloud by professional actors. EVERY SINGLE SCRIPT WAS WONDERFUL!

I have literally never had that experience before. Normally, in a writer’s group situation, you’ll get a bunch of mediocre scripts (or let’s be honest, truly awful ones) and only one or two that stand out from the crowd. This was the first time in my life when I participated in a class where every fucking script was a joy to hear read at the end. Blew me away. Seriously.

AND the pitching class… wow. Writer’s write. That’s our thing. Pitching is a whole other skillset and, to me, it’s been a necessary evil involved in the process. However, all of my feelings toward pitching have completely changed.

Evette has created a system that actually works. I can’t begin to tell you how many different methods and systems of pitching I have learned through the years. None felt natural or intuitive. Everything felt forced and rehearsed. Yuck! It’s been awful.

However, going through the six weeks with Evette changed everything (well four really, and I’ll tell you why in a minute). Focusing on what matters most in the pitch and bringing yourself to the table makes such a difference. In four weeks, we broke our stories, wrote out and memorized our twenty-minute pitches, practiced on the group and received feedback, and then… the last two weeks of the six-week class were spent pitching to executives. It was awesome. Every writer in that room stepped up and delivered a phenomenal pitch.

I never once felt the pains of sitting through so many pitches (as I have experienced far too often in the past). I was riveted – the whole time. The executives gave awesome feedback and the decks were beautiful.

At the end of it all, I have never felt more solid in myself and my ability to develop a show and pitch it. Got several new ones in the works now, in fact, and the whole process is so much easier.

Thanks, Evette (and Kate) you two rock!

The second thing I wanted to mention…

Freedom.

Every writer I know loves being a writer, yet it can be a serious challenge to actually discipline yourself enough to get ‘er done. Especially now, when the world is a mouse click away, we have to find a way to tune it all out.

I have a yurt. It is my place, my escape from the day to day world where I focus on nothing but words on a page. However, admittedly, sometimes those words are someone else’s… their article, or post, or email, or or or… Where there is internet or cell service, there are distractions.

When I have important deadlines, I program Freedom to lock me out of everything for specific hours of the day. I usually leave a lunch break open, so I can at least check my email, etc. But I have to say, while a wee bit challenging at first – as habits die hard – it is truly awesome.

There are lots of internet blockers. If you write, I highly suggest finding the one that makes sense for you. Funny that sometimes adding some restrictions to our lives can actually make us feel the freest.

That is all.

(No, I wasn’t paid for any of this. I just felt like these were worth sharing).