Overcoming Fear

After I published my previous post announcing the date we go into production, a strange thing happened: I stopped sleeping.

No, not all the time. And since my son was born nearly two years ago, my sleep has been, shall we say, consistently inconsistent. I want to be clear that I’m not blaming the boy; he sleeps very well (thanks, Dr. Ferber!). I routinely wake up, and fall back to sleep. We all do, actually.

But now, when I wake up sometime between 2:30 and 4am, it takes me longer to fall back to sleep. My mind races: where did I go wrong? What have I done with my life? I should have gone to grad school. I should have taken the advice from every fortune cookie, rather than callously throwing them away. And after a few nights in a row of 60-90 minutes of blinking up at the ceiling, I figured out the cause:

I’m anxious about making this movie.

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Not pictured in this stock photo: me. I also have a digital alarm clock because, you know, it’s not 1953. But this guy does have nicer hair than me, I’ll give him that.

Now that we’ve set a date, and told you good people about it, there is more pressure. What if it doesn’t happen? When will I be satisfied with the script? Where will we get the money? And why is that bird happily chirping when dawn is still two hours away? Go to sleep, bird!

Fear of failure. That’s what it is. In fact, if I really want to psychoanalyze myself, what I think is fear of failure is actually fear of success. By doing nothing, or by doing something half-assed, I’m already failing. In fact, by not having made this movie yet, even though the blog about making this movie is already three years old, I’m actually successful at failing. I’ve spent three years of my free time writing the script, and most of that time has been taken up with revisions, readings, feedback sessions, and more revisions. All of this is busywork (important gestational work, sure) but too much of it may result in jogging in place, treading water, Moonwalking in circles (I just made that one up, like it?) and is delaying forward progress.

This past weekend my wife, son and I went to a gathering at a child-friendly brewery/bar – to those of you without kids, child-friendly bars exist, and they are wonderful. Sure, most of the time I’m on the move, beer in hand, following my toddler and screaming “that’s not your purse, put it down!” But there are a few moments of zen. At one point, I drank my 329 Lager along with my friend Michael, an actor who has been involved in the development of this script from the beginning, while watching my kid play with an enormous Connect Four board.

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Not pictured in this stock photo: my actual child, or the bar.

“Hey, I read your blog. Congrats on setting a date” Michael said.
“Thanks, I’m getting excited.”
“So where is the money coming from?”
“You know, I’m not completely sure yet. We have someone who’s going to work on it, but…” I trailed off, drinking my beer.
“So nothing concrete?”
“Nope.” I sweated more. It was a hot day in The Valley, right?
“Well don’t you think you should be doing something?”

And that is the crux of it. I should be doing something. The more I do, the harder I work, the better I sleep. All of us know the joy of our head hitting the pillow and instantly falling asleep due to the exhaustion of hard day’s work.

It’s time to work hard. And while making the film is the ultimate end result victory, I need to focus on the day to day grind. I just need to recognize that hard work, in itself, is success. The positive results will come later.

So now that I’ve acknowledged that I’m a success at failure, maybe it’s worth risking being a failure at success.

And if this movie thing doesn’t work out, maybe I can become a freelance fortune cookie writer.

Burying the Lede

“Burying the lede” is a newspaper phrase that has been around as long as there’s been an evening edition. When one buries the lede, they are not discussing what the story is really about right away, but rather dropping it somewhere deeper in the story.  For example: “The pace of the production of Our American Cousin moved along briskly, except when it was slightly delayed by the assassination of President Lincoln. ”

This is a common mistake in writing, be it journalism or screenwriting. Sometimes I’ll finish a script and someone will read it and point out that what was most interesting, what the story should really be about, is not the main focus. Some times those people are right, and I’ll go back and retool the story. And if what they point out is not what should be the most interesting aspect of my story, that’s a sign that I have to go in and make changes to make sure the story I want to tell is clear and exciting.

This happens in life as well. We have goals for ourselves. Projects we want to finish, or start. Ideas we want to bring to fruition. But, as John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Of course, I bring this up because this blog, which I generally update once or twice a week, has been neglected for well over a month now. And this blog has been neglected for the simple reason that there is no progress on the script Closure to report.

I have legitimate excuses: I have other writing jobs. My wife and I recently moved over the hill into the valley…yep, THAT valley. Stuff needs to be unpacked. IKEA furniture needs to be assembled.  Extra screws and bolts need to be thrown away and never discussed.

But the script has been nagging me in the back of my brain. There was one major issue that was haunting me, and this issue affects nearly everything in the script. Every now and then it would pop back into my head, taunting me. I can’t figure out the problem. Therefore: I am a terrible writer. Might as well do something else for the rest of the week.

But then, as I walked around the neighborhood one day (I’m enjoying walking through the ‘hood until the valley turns into one giant frying pan, which it will likely do in a few months) the solution came to me. Clear as day. Eureka! Now the hard part: making the solution work, and making the script work around it. And, of course, making the time to do it.

So I could beat myself up about straying from target. But I won’t. I won’t let it scare me that I am about to become a father for the first time and with that comes a whole new world of responsibility and potential  loss of writing time. Even though our baby boy is due in August, I’ll try not to bury the lede and stay focused on what I am supposed to be doing with my work.

Oops.

Ah, shit.

And even more distractions

Still chugging along on revisions to Closure. And by chugging along, I mean the engine on this jalopy shuddered as I barely pulled it over to the side of the road in time. I got some good editing done,  and started writing an outline for the new second and third acts, when I entered Distraction Land. It’s a beautiful place, Distraction Land. There is much to do and so much time to do it in. It’s like a turducken of locales, as if Las Vegas was stuffed inside New York City, which was then stuffed inside Hawaii. I could live here forever! It would be so much fun to wake up at 70 and say “wow, I didn’t accomplish anything, but I had a lot of fun. A LOT of fun.”

distraction

But that wouldn’t be a good idea.  I have a friend who is living this life. He is in his 40s. He worked for years at a company in which he had an ownership stake. The company was sold. So…he sort of retired. IN HIS 40s! Now he travels, goes to events, and does whatever the hell he wants. Because he can.

But I can’t do that. And not just because I don’t have the money. I have the burning desire to write, and while I’ve ignored it for large chunks of my life, it’s been there almost my entire life. I wrote my first play when I was in third grade:

It’s called August: Osage County.

But seriously, I was pretty proud of my 2-page masterpiece. And I am writing now more than ever, for both jobs that pay and jobs that do not pay (yet).

But there will always be distractions. Some are good and healthy, others are just distractions. I’m not going to beat myself up over it, but by assessing how I am spending my time, I can budget my time better. So why haven’t I been working on Closure in over a week?

* Was hired to revise and punch up a screenplay (good distraction)
* Watched the super bowl with friends (once a year distraction)
* Went to a concert (fun distraction)
* Watched a few of the Oscar nominated documentaries on Netflix (bad distraction…I should prioritize)
* Started a new script collaboration (good distraction, but find the balance)
* Binge watched Family Feud on GSN (BAD distraction, don’t judge me)
* Writing this blog entry (necessary distraction)

Time to leave the cozy confines of Distraction Land. Today I have cleared my calendar. Nothing, not even exciting Olympic coverage, will take me away from doing some solid work on the script. It’s back to work.

Diving back in…

I recently completed a draft of a brand new play. While I am prepping to stage a reading of the first act at The Actors Studio, I now have time to get back into the script Closure. You know, the reason I am writing this blog. So now that the play draft is complete, the dishes are done, the floors vacuumed, the junk mail opened, the DVR emptied…

You get the point. It’s a cliche that a writer’s room is immaculate before we sit down to write, as if we’d rather do anything than write. And part of that is true, the act of sitting down and beginning a new draft is not very different from starting a project from scratch. Especially this project. After the table read and feedback months ago, I had a good idea of how I wanted to proceed. Then I sat down for drinks with a trusted writer friend who offered his thoughts on the script. While generally positive, he felt that I didn’t go far enough with one aspect of the plot. He suggested a shocking plot twist, and this suggestion was a eureka moment. The lead character would certainly act in the way he was describing, it was consistent in that regard. I became excited about the story again, and was salivating at the thought of diving back in and taking this script to a whole new level. There was only problem: this twist happens 30 minutes into the script. Which will then change everything after this point.

So it’s almost like writing a brand new script.

And this is why, in the month since this revelatory meeting, I have avoided work on this script. Radically rewriting the second and third act of the script will take a lot of work. Entire scenes and characters may be cut. I will also need to outline the second and third act, and I usually do not enjoy the outlining process. But it’s exciting, and it will make it a better film. It takes hard work at every step, I guess.

So recently I dove back in, and while I was working I did not find it tedious. In fact, when I stepped away from work for dinner I was still thinking about it, and eager to sit back down again. This is a good sign.

So it may take a while. I’m giving myself a deadline of February 17th, a month from now, to finish the next draft, and that includes the outline. So here we go…

Diving

Making Arbitrary Deadlines Real

Back on August 9th I promised my future self I would have a reading of the new script before the end of September.

It’s now September 21st. I have nine days left to fulfill my promise to my now present self from my past self, or pack it all in and live in a cavern of regret, where shame slowly but regularly drips on my head for eternity.

This is the first image that pops up when you Google image search "Cavern of Regret." Keep rockin', Jordan Knight.

This is the first image that pops up when you Google image search “Cavern of Regret.” Keep rockin’, Jordan Knight.

Okay, that’s a bit dramatic. I’ll get a break from eternity to watch the finale of Breaking Bad.

But why wait? I go on about other projects, and I have a lot on my plate right now, but I can certainly squeeze in a reading. I finally allowed a second set of eyes on the script, a trusted and talented actor and writer who also will have a role in the script. He digested the draft, and then got back to me with some very interesting notes. He likes the story, but agrees that it needs work.
“So I should do another rewrite before I have a reading,” I said.
“Oh no. Put it out there now,” he sternly replied.
And that was a surprise. I keep forgetting that writing is a process and there will be no perfection, so no need to hold out for that perfect moment. I should just go ahead and have the reading.

So that is what I will do. Pick a few people to read it for me. Pick a date. And proceed. Stop talking about doing things. Do things. Let me say that again.

Stop talking about doing things.

Do things.

Here goes…

Getting back into it

So the vacation is over. Time on the east coast well spent visiting family, friends, and old haunts. We returned to Los Angeles on Tuesday and I plunged back into it.

By the weekend I had an antsy, restless feeling, and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Projects are on track, things are moving forward, post travel life was returning to normal. Except for one glaring omission:

I wasn’t writing.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I log my time and keep track of my own efficiency (and keep myself on track). As the week ended and I looked at my hours, it dawned on me that I had not put in a single hour on writing. I spent time working for others. I spent time networking, connecting, setting up meetings, and other productive career-focused events.

But no writing.

At first it was a relief: my unease stemmed from not doing something that I should be doing and that I love doing. Then I was frustrated: why was I not writing? Simply put, my routine changed when I went on vacation and I forgot to get on track. My brain got lazy. I need to be writing. I NEED to be writing. It’s good for my health, and since it’s my vocation, it’s good for my wallet. It’s scary how quickly and easily I fell off the rails. We all do it sometimes: a diet that detours after one bad meal, an exercise plan that halts after a few days of bad weather, a promise to see friends regularly is abandoned and suddenly months have passed. I think most of us default to a sedentary, mind numbing existence. Well, I won’t speak for you…I do. I can get stuck in front of the TV. I can schedule dinner with friends instead of scheduling time to work.

But eventually the hunger kicks in. So I’m back on track. Focusing some of my time deliberately on writing, revising, and editing scripts. Wouldn’t you know, I’m happier doing it, and the more I do, the more I want to do.

The reboot is complete. Now I’m excited to write new stuff, edit other stuff, and very excited to dive back into the script which this blog is supposed to be about.

Take that, lazy brain!

Stay on target…

It has been a busy few months with multiple script deadlines.  The August 1st deadline for It is Done was met, and the August 15th deadline for my next script will be met on time. I should enjoy this temporary oasis. I have a meeting next week to get going on rewrites for It is Done, and a few other meetings on potentially new projects. All this aside, the script I am writing to make myself, the reason for the creation of this blog, sits there, staring at me.

And it should; I’ve neglected it. I keep coming up with excuses to avoid working on it. They are legitimate excuses, as I have other paying projects, family visiting, etc., but at the end of the day they are just that: excuses.

So it’s time for another self-imposed deadline: in September I will hear this script read aloud.

A scary prospect. So far only one person has read it, and there needs to be some major rewrites before I can unleash it on others, but there is no point in waiting. I need to dive back in and damn the consequences, which will likely be extra work on top of my workload.

But being ambitious shouldn’t scare me. I learned a valuable lesson on multitasking during the first semester of my senior year at Skidmore College. That semester I took on a large course load, plus I co-directed a musical in the theater department. Plus I executive produced the National College Comedy Festival, which would take place early in the second semester. Plus I worked a part time job as a campus tour guide. Plus I had my first serious girlfriend. Plus I spent plenty of time partying like the average college senior (take that however you like). Clearly I had a LOT on my plate. But here’s the interesting twist:

That semester was the ONLY semester in college that I made the Dean’s List.

Multitasking isn’t technically correct, as it is not really possible to do two major activities at the same time (I’m not talking walking and chewing gum, folks). Instead, when I had a lot to do, I became hyper-focused. If I only had 30 minutes to study that night, then that 30 minutes was used fully and efficiently. There is no time to waste time.

I’m not advocating overextending myself, but I can certainly push myself harder. Sure I have multiple projects going at the same time, and hopefully even more on the horizon, but that’s no reason to stop working on the reason for this blog.

It’s not like I have to study for any midterms or finals.

Professional Procrastination

As readers of this blog know, I have been bouncing between two projects with impending deadlines. This past weekend I finished an outline for a script I have been hired to write, and I then turned my full attention to revisions of a new play which will get a staged reading in July. I promised my director I would get her the latest draft by early next week so she can get it to actors and start the rehearsal project. It’s coming along nicely, but slowly…if only there were more hours in the day.

IF ONLY THERE WERE MORE HOURS IN THE DAY?!?!?

I have ZERO cause to utter that statement, that cliched but often true fragment of a sentence, “if only there were more hours in the day.” What is my excuse? I work a part-time job to supplement my writing income, so 20 hours a week isn’t enough time to declare that I’m too tired from work. I don’t have any children yet. I’m in a healthy, wonderful relationship so I’m not exerting any energy on finding a partner. I never turn on the TV and channel surf.

So where does the time go?

Procrastination

The answer is easy…this is America, bub. If you’ve got a spare second, we’ve got a way you can waste it. So rather than doing the writing I should be doing (!) I’m going to analyze exactly how I spend my spare time, and what I am going to do about it.

First off, there are some distractions that I will not figure into the equation:

* The aforementioned day job. 20 hours a week. Necessary.

* Sleep. 7 to 8 hours a night does more for my creativity than anything else. Sleep stays.

* Exercise. Sure, I could be fat and out of shape and not be considered an anomaly in the writer community, but I’d rather not.

* Food. I love to eat. Who doesn’t? Food isn’t going anywhere, and like sleep, if I don’t get enough my creativity levels off.

* Theater/movies. I probably see a play, play reading, or movie at least once a week. I have to experience things as they are meant to be experienced (not reading about them, or watching them from my couch). With an audience.

* Dinner with friends. This happens once or twice a week. Social interaction is obviously important, and as a writer, you need to hear people speak, to absorb their cadence. Any writer who is a hermit will write characters that all speak or sound like the voices in the writer’s head. Scary stuff.

* Sex with my wife. This stays. Not negotiable.

Okay, even with all those “distractions” there are still plenty of ways I can waste time. After a lot of very scientific research (or just thinking about it) I came up with my list of biggest distractions, and what I plan to do about it. By the way, this post took days to write because of procrastination.

Facebook: We all know it. Even those six people who are not on Facebook know what it is. My problem isn’t that I am a Facebook Fanatic, as I probably only post a few times a week (including linking this blog). My problem is that it’s too damn easy. First off, I get a lot of news from the book, as people love turning Facebook into their own personal CNN. Secondly, it’s just easy. We all live in a world where we can mask social anxiety or boredom by checking in, be it emails, Facebook, Twitter, or what have you. It’s now second nature to check Facebook for me. Sometimes that lasts a few seconds, but sometimes I get in a wormhole of Facebook nothingness that lasts hours. And it is all not necessary. And it is all unimportant. Sure, there are the occasional important messages. But for now, for me, they are occasional.

Solution: Check in once a day, usually in the morning. Check messages. Send messages. Post pithy and brilliant comments wherever appropriate. Click on all the links to articles that interest me at that time. Close Facebook. Do not open until the next day.

Baseball: If my earlier post didn’t tip my hand, I am a baseball fanatic. Baseball haters say there are too many games, but that’s part of the appeal. From April until October, baseball becomes part of my day to day life, and when my team has an off day (which happens once every two weeks, take that football) I feel a little emptier. However, that also means that from April to October, my productivity decreases. Fortunately my team (the Baltimore Orioles) aren’t quite the TV draw out here in sunny Southern California, so I don’t watch three hours a day, seven days a week. When games are televised here, it is a rare treat and I soak it in. Yesterday, for example, the O’s played the Red Sox on the MLB channel. Fine, watch the game, then sit down and do work after it ends around 7. Well, the game lasted 13 innings. I got some work done during that time, but not a lot.

Even when games are not televised,  I can follow the games online and successfully waste time. Living on the east coast, following games starting at 7pm isn’t a terrible waste, as I’d check scores before and after dinners and shows. But on the west coast, most games start at 4pm. That’s prime work time for me. Even if I keep the browser open in the background of my computer, it’s easy to click and follow. That can break up my productivity.

Solution: Keep the browser closed when working. Resist the urge to turn it on. And if games are televised and I’m working on a deadline, record the game and stay off the internet. After all, a recorded three hour baseball game should only take 90 minutes or so to watch when fast forwarding through commercials and slower moments. Which leads me to my next distraction…

DVR: I rarely watch live TV these days. I NEVER sit in front of the TV and channel surf. Yet I spend a lot of time watching TV, because I DVR anything that is remotely interesting. It’s supposed to be a time saver; watch when you want to watch, fast forward what you don’t want to watch, and live your life more. Right? No. I just record more, and feel like I’m lagging behind if I don’t watch things right away. The world is going to know what happened on last night’s Mad Men before me, and then tell me about it without my consent on Facebook! Also, I feel oddly productive if I increase the capacity of DVR space by watching and deleting a bunch of stuff. See, I’m being productive, right? Right? Umm…

Solution: Stop watching so much TV, idiot. It will still be there, that’s what the technology is for. And if I’m worried about someone spoiling a show on Facebook…stop going on Facebook! Easy.

Those are my big three contributors to my lagging productivity. The solutions are going into effect next week…I have a lot of crap to cram in before then. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Okay, here’s the truth…

So I have been lying to you.

Want to get it out there, right from the beginning of this post. It’s not a huge hypocritical event, like Eliot Spitzer simultaneously prosecuting hookers while spending time with hookers, but it is a lie nonetheless. So here goes:

In the past few weeks I have not done a single revision to the script.

Spitzer

I’ve claimed in previous posts that “I’m going over my script” and “I’m back in. Ready to work. Opening the file.” Lies.

Wait, don’t click off this page! I can explain! Really! Don’t go!

I have the best excuse in the world for not working on this script:

Because I’m working on other scripts. Two, to be precise. It’s time to be open about my writing habit…I’ve been seeing other scripts.

I have found out over the years that I can work on two scripts simultaneously, as long as I separate the time between them. I have often worked on a script in the morning, then after a lengthy break of working out, lunch, meetings (or sitting on the couch watching the new season of Arrested Development) I can sit down on an entirely different project without mixing the broths. Once I figured that out, I was able to make it a good habit: one script in the morning, another in the afternoon and evening. And I have two very good reasons why these two scripts are taking precedence:

1. Money. Yep, that’s right. Someone is paying me to write a script. And as anyone in this business (umm…any business) knows, a money job takes priority over a non-money job. The contract has been signed, days have been spent working on the outline, and script writing begins very soon. There is a timetable, a great story, and momentum. And, lest you already forgot the beginning of this paragraph, money.

2. A deadline. I am a new member of The Actors Studio Playwrights/Directors Unit, and I have received a date for a reading of one of my new plays: July 15th. I have a director. She is assembling a cast. And I have a deadline: by June 15th revisions need to be finished. While I will likely continue to revise up until the reading, at the very least I need to give the director and actors a script that I am confident to present, and I’m almost there.

This post isn’t a complaint about working. It’s not a humblebrag. It’s just me telling the world that I have been lying about working on the reason for this blog’s existence, and I will need a few more weeks off before I can jump in.

I will not be taking a hiatus from this blog. Forward progression continues, as my writing constantly gets better the more I do, so this particular project will improve as well, right? At least, that’s what I believe. So keep coming back here, and I’ll keep updating.

And hopefully, but the third week of June, I’ll be an honest man again.

Until then, consider this a working vacation.

Spitzer 2

I’m Back In

It has been over a month since I finished my script. It’s time to return to the surface.

For SCUBA divers, this means it's time.

For SCUBA divers, it’s time to surface. For basketball players, a technical foul. Or a time out. You know what, let’s stick with the first meaning.

To be more precise, it has been been six weeks and four days since I last typed a word of it, or even read a word of it. In fact, right now it took me a few minutes to find the script on my hard drive since I couldn’t remember the title or the folder it was in. In case you are wondering, the document is called “New Script” and the folder is called “New Film Project.” It’s not like there was a flashing neon sign above the door, or anything.

I have clearly put some distance between writing and rewriting. That’s what I wanted, and I was happy to get some perspective. Worked on some other projects, saw shows and readings by other writers, flew across the country, and even (gasp) wasted time doing nothing.

But now I’m back in. Ready to work. Opening the file. Here goes…