I refuse to be complacent

runner
The road gets tougher, you run harder

First-round results for two of the biggest, high-profile screenwriting contests have been released within the past week, and the pattern for my western’s performance in both has once again repeated itself.

Total whiff for PAGE, and top 20 percent for the Nicholl. (I’m not doing Austin this year)

I didn’t get notes from the former, and based on the ones I got last year for the latter, am not that curious as to why it placed where it did.

My initial reaction was, naturally, disappointment, but this year is markedly different in what came immediately after.

There’ve been days where the agony, frustration and just plain shittiness of things not working out was so strong I’d seriously contemplate just walking away. After all, that would be one less member of the competition, right?

But that’s simply not an option – for any of us. Our desire to succeed as writers burns too bright.

I may not have done as well as I’d hoped with these contests, so instead of shrugging my shoulders and saying “Oh well. Better luck next year,” I plan on doing whatever I can to increase my chances. With a vengeance.

Gone is the wallowing in a blessedly brief mindset of “poor, poor pitiful me”.

In its place – a reinvigorated drive to buckle down, work even harder and write scripts so fucking amazing those readers won’t know what hit them.

I don’t think I can. I KNOW I CAN.

Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead, chums.

-A new addition and a return appearance on the bulletin board this week:

-Filmmakers Caitlin Stedman and Kayla Ditlefsen have launched a crowdfunding project for their short film Unattainable. They’re around the 60 percent mark, so donate if you can!

-The crowdfunding for filmmaker Steve Davis’s No Glory continues, with about a month to go. Steve’s a talented guy, and this sounds like a fantastic project. Donate if you can!

The guides behind the guide to being truly Epic!

james & ann
Mssrs Moorer (l) and Kimbrough (r)

Writers James Moorer and Ann Kimbrough have teamed up to promote the Be Epic Journal, a guide to helping you set up goals and figure out what steps you need to take to achieve them.

Tell us a little about your writing backgrounds. How’d you get started? Apart from the Be Epic Journal, what else are you currently working on?

James Moorer (JM): I am a multi-optioned screenwriter and published author with several properties in various stages of development. I’ve been hired for numerous writing assignments since 2009 for a number of production companies. I got started writing for the screen while producing music for fitness competitors and bodybuilders under my company Jamesong Music, back in Ohio. I’ve always wanted to be a writer since I first read a Truman Capote story in Esquire magazine. Currently, I have two other novels in development as well as my two shorts I’m producing and a feature film which will be my directorial debut.

Ann Kimbrough (AK): I’m a working screenwriter, with my first paid gig in 2012. I currently have three films in different stages of development and do rewrite assignments on the side. As anyone on the screenwriting path knows, we have little control over the production side. I wanted to take on more control in some aspect of my writing, so between writing assignments I branched into books. First, I turned one of my spec scripts into a romantic suspense novel that was published with Short On Time Books, “Scarlet Revenge” under pen name Ann McGinnis. That gave me the publishing bug and I started to publish my own books. The first journal I did — “The 100 Script Challenge” — was to create a book I wanted but could not find. (It’s about reading 100 scripts, keeping your notes in the journal and having all you learned from reading the scripts handy to review.) Then I made “The Idea Journal for Screenwriters.” It’s another journal I wanted as a screenwriter. I don’t know about you, but I write little notes everywhere with story ideas. The journal keeps me from losing them by having them all in the book. I can then look over my notes, connect them with other little ideas and build them into high concepts. (It’s also full of idea building tips.) From there, I teamed with other creative friends like James Moorer to create fun and useful journals — like “The Be Epic Journal.” Presently, I have eight journals published.

What does it mean to “Be Epic”?

JM: To Be epic, to me, is to step into your TRUE SELF, completely and confidently aware of your God-given ability to become your greatest self, realizing that this is not a happenstance, but how you and you alone were given a specific gift to help move the world toward being a more incredible place, and to inspire others to do the same.

AK: Being Epic is being the best you. It’s cutting out anything that’s holding you back from your dreams and shining! The best part of the whole Be Epic movement that James started is how focusing on our dreams and making our life better eventually leads to making someone else’s life better. But it has to start within you.

What was the inspiration for the Be Epic Journal?

JM: For me, it has always been a way of combating the negativity, fear and doubt in my own life. When I began to realize that I had fallen into a self-fulfilling spiral, I recognized it was my own words and beliefs about myself that lead me there. But it would also take changing my beliefs and speaking to what I wanted to be was how I truly came to discover who I was inside. That lead me to understand this was bigger than one person. This truth was universal.

AK: James is the spark! I have enjoyed his Facebook posts about Being Epic for a long time. They really lifted me up, but then he didn’t post as many. I asked him about it and pretty much told him to get back to posting. (I’m certain I wasn’t the only one.) I also said it would make a great journal! Luckily, James agreed.

How does the Be Epic Journal work? What should a writer who uses it expect?

JM: The Journal works like a PLAYBOOK, helping the writer recognize and engage in daily practices that they can build upon in creating a confident approach not only to their work, but to their life overall. They set a single targeted goal and the steps by which they will accomplish them. The beautiful part is that there are no right or wrongs as everyone is unique, but the daily diligence leads them to greater performance, greater awareness of their own ability and destroying the doubts and fears before they take root. The reason it works is because these are steps that THEY THEMSELVES have created, so these steps have greater meaning to each writer, deeper significance, and opens their thinking to being even more creative.

AK: The Be Epic Journal is a 3-week process, and a writer should expect to pick a goal that can be accomplished in three weeks. So, it’s not about curing cancer. It’s about engaging in a goal you’ve probably had hanging around for awhile. For a writer that could be completing a book or screenplay. The 3-week process helps anyone breakdown their goal into three steps and work on one step each week, plus taking time to evaluate what’s working and what isn’t. It can be done around your normal schedule. It’s full of motivation from James and is very much a workbook to reach a specific goal. It’s set up to do one goal and then move onto another. The journal also includes a free 16-page download code for more instructions and goal setting tips. Soon — we will have a Kindle book that will be a great companion piece to the journal.

Is the Be Epic Journal specifically for writers, or can anybody use it?

JM: We created this journal for everyone. Writers are a community Ann and I are very familiar with, but the same lessons learned here can be applied to any aspect of life, any career, anyone who desires to embrace their most powerful self. The Journal is also meant to be a stepping stone; the first step in anyone’s Epic Journey.

AK: Anyone can use it. We are currently running a test group on Facebook for the journal, and while all of our participants are writers, half of them did not pick writer kind of goals. One person is cutting out sugar — yikes! But she’s doing it! Others are working on completing half-finished writing projects.

How can somebody get their hands on a Be Epic Journal?

JM: Amazon is our friend!!! They can order the journal here. We also have a 16 page pdf to give people an idea of what the program looks like for free.

AK: Thanks for asking! It’s on Amazon and if they’d like to know more about the whole process they can get the free 16-page download now. It also puts them on our email list, but we promise to only send out useful stuff — like when the Kindle is released and motivational infographics. The link to the 16-page download is

Readers of the blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?

JM: Given my choice, I fancy a Peach Cobbler. But as you know, my love for pancakes has me searching for that perfect union of Cobbler and Pancakes. Just never ask me to choose between the two.

AK: My favorite pie is apple. But it has to be the one I make, which is from Trisha Yearwood’s recipe. Google it. You make it in a cast iron frying pan in your oven and it’s worth every calorie! Yum. Dang. Now, I’ve got to go make one.

Things that get in the way

david silverman

Today’s guest post comes courtesy of psychotherapist and script doctor/coach David Silverman.

As a writer-producer in film and tv, David Silverman worked on shows like Mork and Mindy, One Day at a Time, ALF, Newhart, Dilbert, Duckman and South Park. He learned firsthand that “staring into a computer screen day after day could make you feel isolated, frustrated, anxious and even depressed.” Today, he works as a script doctor/coach and as a psychotherapist where he “tries to help writers cope with creative blocks, mountains of rejection, job insecurities, stress, couples problems and the occasional knife in the back.”

A while back, I gave a talk to a group for writers trying to get back into the workforce after a hiatus. It was titled “Things That Get In The Way of Writing”. A quick bit of backstory about this organization: it’s made up of television writers; WGA members who won a class action suit against the studios based on ageism. 

They were able to show that they’d lost income and jobs because they were labeled as “old.” The studios paid out some settlements and included was membership in this group. So there were a lot of older disgruntled writers; some who’d created TV shows, some who’d won Emmys.

They were all so used to getting paid lots of money to write when they were last working, the prospect of writing on speculation didn’t motivate them much. Yet they all wanted to reinvent themselves and restart their writing careers. Some were writing screenplays, others were writing half-hour and hour TV writing samples.

Everything seemed to get in the way of writing for them. So we talked about how writers get motivated to write  – without being paid. They’d done it before, but times were different now.

Having done so much research into the subject of productivity and motivation for screenwriters and TV writers, I didn’t know where to begin. I ended up talking about the methods that make the most sense to me, that I actually use myself, or that I find most interesting.

Most ideas about how people can change themselves involve changing the way they think about things. Psychologists call this “reframing.” Look at things differently. For example, too many writers believe they’ll write one screenplay that will sell and make them rich and famous. Not likely. Sorry.

Instead, it helps to think of this whole selling scripts thing as a long-term process. Tell yourself you’re going to write dozens of spec screenplays over your career. It’s possible that none of them will sell. However, they may get you an agent or a pitch session with a producer.

The producer will hopefully say, “I love the writing in your script! Tell me about some of your other ideas.” They may also say, “Your writing is great and we think you’d be perfect to write this feature idea.” Either way you get paid to write.

So don’t get hung up about having to sell each screenplay you write. Hopefully you will sell one or two. However, writing spec screenplays can have many positive outcomes besides selling. Some writers get locked into this wrong-headed way of thinking. If that first script doesn’t sell, they give up. Or they keep trying to sell that same script for the rest of their lives.

Thinking about the long view also helps you handle rejection better. A rejection (such as when the studio says they’re not going to buy your script) isn’t a soul-crushing experience when you realize there are other positive outcomes that come from writing a spec script.

Another favorite reframe comes from the Woody Allen quote “80% of success is showing up.” It simplifies the writing process. It’s always overwhelming to think of sitting down and immediately writing this great Nicholl-winning script.

Break down the process. The simplest piece is “show up at the keyboard.” A screenplay is not going to pop out fully-formed. Everybody should think about writing as a process. You show up. You have some ideas. You figure it out.

You break the script down into an outline, a treatment, a first draft. Don’t expect perfection in a first draft. In fact, don’t think about writing a perfect script. Write a great script, or a script that will sell.

I remember trying to be a perfectionist about writing a screenplay. I got all detail-oriented, and polished each scene and every piece of dialogue. However, the more I focused on polishing up the little stuff, I seemed to lose track of the big picture. Be careful – the big picture is the one that counts. Tell a great story.

So I brought up these ways to think about writing differently in my talk. Some of the writers thought they could put these ideas to work. I noticed, however, that some of these writers were truly stuck and needed real psychotherapy.

There’s another thing that gets in the way of writing – overthinking. How can you write when your mind is telling you you’re not good enough? Because that’s what your parents told you your whole life? How can you write when you have doubts? Will this sell? Am I wasting my time with this genre?

You have to center yourself and stop dwelling on all these thought while you write. You have to be able to clear your mind. And that’s not easy, because we have all these expectations. Our brains are more than happy to supply us with reasons we’ll never succeed. Learn to let go of those thoughts.

It’s basically Darwinism at play – the survival of the species. A gazillion years ago when sabertooth tigers were lurking around every corner, our brains needed to keep us hyper-vigilant. We doubted all our moves. We lived in a state of “fight, flight or freeze.”

We got civilized, but our brains didn’t catch up. We still overthink everything and have doubts. You can’t write with all those thoughts getting in the way. You have to center. Different writers have done it in different ways. Some hole up in a beach house, or a cabin in the woods. Some go to Starbucks.

Some, like Stephen King, wrote through a haze of beer and cocaine. Phillip K Dick wrote everything – the stories that spawned Minority Report, Blade Runner, and The Man in the High Castle – on amphetamines.

The key is not to let all the noise and overthinking interfere with your writing. Some people have simple rituals that help them center. They make a cup of tea and listen to their favorite music. They go to the same hotel lobby everyday to write.     

Rituals calm us down because of their familiarity. So get that latte at Starbucks, drive to the art gallery where you like to write, open your laptop, plug in your earbuds and listen to U2. Whatever works for you. Then stick to it.

Perseverance pays off.

Remember that bunch of “old” writers? I found out they sold a pilot – no doubt from putting all of my advice to work. But in all seriousness, it was more likely they were doing what I advised them to do – not because I gave that talk, but because that’s why they were successful in the first place.

A lot of writers have learned these lessons, these ways of thinking about their craft and their careers, through experience. Some might have known about them instinctively. Hopefully some of this advice can help you skip years of learning the hard way.

The (much) tougher part

ali hit
99% of the time, you’re George Foreman

In this week’s previous post, I wrote about the necessity of how a writer needs to enjoy the actual writing part of being a writer.

A few colleagues piped in, saying while that part of it holds true, they also find the business aspect (i.e. the marketing of YOU) to be significantly harder and much more challenging. Taking it one step further, lack of progress on that front adds to their frustration.

I can’t argue with any of that. I’ve experienced it firsthand many times.

Friend of the blog Phil Hardy had this to say:

“…this should resonate with most of us that are doing the same thing as you are. However, one of the keys in trying to be a successful writer is spending a fair amount of time crafting query letters, answering ads or attempting to make contact with industry people anyway you can. Many writers fall flat in this area. One should definitely spend as much time as they can trying to promote and sell their work, as well as taking joy in the act of writing it.”

Simply put, marketing and promoting oneself is a necessary evil that a writer has to be willing to undergo and endure as many times as it takes if they want to succeed. Sucks, but it’s the truth.

After working on a couple of scripts and building up my arsenal of materal, I’ve decided to take the plunge again.

I’ve put together what I consider to be a pretty effective new draft of the query letter. Gone through the list of managers, agents and production companies, researching who might a good match for each script.

A few queries have been sent, so the waiting and hoping for a positive response begins yet again. All the while, working on more scripts. It’s all I can do.

My efforts to improve my networking skills have also paid off. Every once in a while, a colleague will send me a listing that seems tailor-made for one of my scripts. Even though none of them have worked out, it’s made me aware of more opportunities than I would have been able to find on my own.

We all know this is not an easy path. It’s extremely tough and really puts your endurance to the test. The question you have to continually ask yourself is “Am I willing to keep working at this until I get the results I want, no matter how long it takes, how frustrated I get, or how impossible it seems?”

I can only speak for myself.

Yep.

-You might find these older posts somewhat relevant and worth a read.

The me businsess – a 24/7 operation

A support staff of one

The reason why

sunset-holden
Only a slight connection here. I just like referencing this movie.

The busy times never stop around Maximum Z HQ. Among the latest tasks being undertaken:

-Rewrite/overhaul of the low-budget comedy

-Sporadic rewrite work on the pulp sci-fi spec, with initial sets of notes being carefully scrutinized

-Crafting together some pretty solid query letters, along with researching the best places to send them

-Jotting down notes for several future projects, including a comedic take on one of my favorite genres

-Providing scriptnotes to patient writer colleagues

You’d think with all of this going on, plus the non-writing normal life, I’d be exhausted.

Actually, I am, but it’s cool.

The way I see it, keeping busy like this helps me be a better writer; continuously working on something helps me be productive and further develop my skills.

Sure, somtimes the amount of actual writing is bare minimum, or maybe even not at all, but that’s okay too. All work and no play and all that.

Most importantly, I’m just getting a real kick out of doing it. If I wasn’t, I’d be a lot less likely to want to keep going.

And there are also days where it all gets so frustrating that I want to just walk away from it all. But I like doing it to much to even consider that.

Some recent interactions I’ve had with other writers have included more than a few of them expressing frustration about their diminishing hopes of making headway with breaking in and getting a writing career going.

I feel for them. I really do. As just about any writer will attest, this is not an easy undertaking. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” right?

Even though all of our chances are somewhat slim, I suggested they keep at it, if only for the sheer joy of writing. Isn’t that what got us all started?

When I asked one writer how their latest project was going, the response was “Really enjoying working on this, even though I know nobody else will ever see it.”

I totally get that. We all have our reasons for deciding whether or not to put our work out there, but the important thing was that they were having a good time with it. And you can tell if they were by what’s there on the page. It it was a chore for you to write, it’ll be that much more of a chore for us to read. Is that really the route you want to take?

So no matter what it is you’re working on right now, I sincerely hope that it’s bringing you as much joy and pleasure as you’re hoping to provide to your reader/audience.