Goals Review

It’s a whole new month – the summer is flying by and I’ve hardly blogged at all. I’ve been very busy, interning for a production company, writing my original pilot, looking for paid work and reading and evaluating scripts. Not to mention trying to keep my two lazy teens busy and all the maintenance tasks life requires, as well as helping my husband with his business. Is it any wonder I can’t find time to blog? Nonetheless, it’s important to me and I am re-committing to a regular publication. Ideally I’d do one each day, but will be happy with once or twice a week.

I decided this would be a good time to review my goals. Here is the list I made of New Year’s resolutions for 2012, along with a progress report on each one:

  1. + Continue to work on my screenplays every day, 5 – 7 times per week  — I’d say I’ve done a fairly good job at this. I write steadily, and if I miss a day or two I give myself a stern talking to and remind me what my priorities are, and that the writing comes first.
  2. + Keep a blog – Also a successful endeavor! I may not have blogged as much as I hoped I would, but at least I’ve blogged each month. There’s always room for improvement
  3. – Exercise 3 – 5 times per week – I’ve barely gotten to the gym, and now I know that I really need to in order to keep up with the pace of the life I want. Unfortunately, I’m not twenty anymore
  4. – Get back to Flylady’s housework plan: minimum input for maximum output – the house is a wreck and Flylady’s emails remain largely unopened
  5. – Open the mail and process daily; keep the finances organized and running smoothly – The finances are a mess and the mail piles up by the time I get to it. Thank the universe that most of the bills are paid through online banking!
  6. + Eat healthier; get the kids to eat healthier – I definitely changed our eating habits for the better, and am making healthier choices when I shop
  7. + Get out more instead of isolating at home – I’d still rather stay home, but it’s much easier to get out during the summer. Besides, interning for the production company I don’t really have a choice. I’ve also been better about making plans and meeting friends socially
  8. + Start that writing group and do more networking – I started a writing group, which worked for a while and died off. I’m in Bivouac, which is a professional writers group, and I’m doing quite a bit of networking
  9. – /+ Get a job writing for TV – okay, maybe that wasn’t a realistic goal. But I did enter the fellowship competitions at Disney/ABC, NBC Writers on the Verge and WB. Unlike last year, my applications were awesome, prepared ahead of time and my sample was very strong and tight. Who knows? I could hear from them… stranger things have happened.
  10. + Say yes to all opportunities – Yes, I have been doing that – now if I could only get a financially lucrative opportunity to say yes to!
  11. + Monitor progress weekly and monthly – Okay, maybe not, but I’m doing it now, right?
  12. x This one’s new – Rewrite my Original Pilot until it’s tight and awesome, then do another draft on my White Collar Spec, so I’ll have three strong samples, and start finding people to read them once they are really ready.
  13. x Get a real job with a paycheck and health benefits in the entertainment industry. I’ve been looking, but it’s tough out there
  14. x Start to form a real plan to move to LA

There you have it – the + means I’m making progress, the – need more attention, and the x means new. See you soon… Keep writing!

Fellowship Applications: What Not to Do

Last year, around June 8, I decided to enter the competition for NBC/Universal Writers on the Verge. I didn’t have a completed spec, or even a half-completed spec, but felt that if I worked hard on it, I could get it in time for the June 29th deadline. I decided to write a Vampire Diaries Spec, because I had been watching it with my teenage daughter and I thought it was fun and it fit the specifications of being popular, renewed and in its first three seasons.

Actually, Season two had just wrapped up, and that gave me about forty-four episodes to study, most of which I had seen. The first thing I needed to do was to find some scripts to see how the show was formatted and get a feel for the style of the writing. As it turned out, CW scripts are hard to come by, and I was only able to get my hands on the pilot. What I couldn’t learn from that, I had to make up or glean from the show.

For the next three weeks I worked very hard to get the script together, 8 to 12 hours a day. I hadn’t done a spec script and was still learning how TV story lines intertwined. What I ended up with was a polished first draft, but a first draft nonetheless. Being an egomaniacal newbie writer, I sent off the script, convinced that even in its unfinished state, my natural talent would shine through – Hah! On the day it was due, I slaved away on my computer until the last possible moment, finishing up the essay questions and filling out the application. Of course I never heard from them.

This year I’m doing somewhat better. Having spent the rest of the summer rewriting my spec, I sent it off to a contest in which it placed in the quarterfinals. That alerted me that another draft was needed. I took the time to rework it, cut it down considerably, and through the process of several evaluations over the life of the script, I got it close to the best it could be.

This year, I have already applied to Disney and WB. Thankfully, I learned my lesson and had my essays written, reviewed and rewritten well in advance. The actual preparation of the applications took much longer than I anticipated, so I was very happy to have given myself that extra time. Weeks before the deadline, I asked some friends in the industry for letters of recommendation, which they agreed to do. I ended up with three glowing letters to choose two from, and felt that the application I sent off would be seriously considered. I had done all I could do.

I’d say the most important lesson I’ve learned is that I never want to show anyone work that is sub-par. Second, another set of eyes will always see something I’ve missed, so it makes a lot of sense to have my work evaluated by a trusted advisor. Third, everything takes longer than I think it will, so I have to leave extra time to do it right.

That’s what I’ve learned to date about applying for Fellowships and Workshops. If you have any insight to the process, I’d love to hear about it.


It’s measured in moments. Tiny increments of achievement, over time add up to significant progress. Sometimes you notice them. Once in a while, someone else notices. Most often, they go unrecognized in the daily grind of life, when you struggle at the keyboard to finish a scene, to edit what you wrote yesterday, to elevate the content from the mundane and derivative to something fresh and captivating.

Suddenly, one day, you’ve arrived at a milestone. You didn’t see it or hear it coming, but you felt it gathering. Maybe you weren’t sure what it was, exactly, but you knew things were shifting, you were getting somewhere. In moments of doubt, you wondered if it was your imagination. There’s only one thing to do. Keep writing.

It’s been a few years now, and you are sending out an application, just like the rest of the world of aspiring screenwriters. That most coveted prize of the ABC/Disney Fellowship dangles before you. You know you’re a serious candidate, that you’d be an asset to the staff table, but hardly dare to hope that anyone else will recognize that. There are many gifted people out there. How do you stand out from the crowd?

So, you call on your most trusted teacher/advisor, and ask him to take another look at your spec script, even though he’s already evaluated it several times. And just to be sure, get a fresh pair of eyes to look it over, too. They tell you it’s good, although those words are not usually spoken in the context of the evaluation. Aside from a few suggestions of small edits, they have no notes for me. In fact, they both say they like it better than the show it’s based on. And in that moment you know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that you can really do it. You can achieve your dream and write for TV.

Now you are ready, and you dare to ask for the letters of recommendation you need to include with the application. It seems incredibly audacious, but you ask the friend in the writers’ room who’s too busy to eat if she’ll take a look at your script and write a recommendation. Since she knows how hard you work, and how much you want it, and also because she’s incredibly nice, she says she’ll be honored. You’ve already received another letter from your first teacher, an award-winning filmmaker. You really admire his work, and the praise in the letter is dazzling. He writes as though you are his equal.

You’re calm. Even though you’ve worked years for this recognition, you didn’t expect it. You know you’re ready to move on to the next level. There’s no mania, none of the adrenalin that accompanies forcing the way through things you just have to have. Your brain buzzes with hope and something else. That feeling that you’ve earned your seat and that it’s coming. Maybe you’ll win the fellowship and maybe you won’t, but you deserve it.

That moment is real success. And no achievement will ever feel better.

“Save the Cat” and my new title and logline

One of my favorite pastimes since before I could read was to curl up with a good book. Yup, I was that dorky kid who read at the playground, on the way to and from school, and even looked forward to getting sent to my room because it meant I could read some more. Not surprisingly, I turned out to be a writer. Even then, I knew I’d never regret the time I spent reading.

Okay, maybe I regretted it when I wasn’t picked to play on the team until last. But at least I always had a place to hide.

Today, I find myself reading a lot of screenwriting books. I also read screenplays, and books on organizing (an area of personal difficulty in which I’ve made great strides), and fiction and blogs and websites, and, of course, the trades. And all of it helps me, but none is as satisfying or rewarding as my how-to books on screenwriting.

Once I’d discovered the world of blogging, I noticed that all the websites I liked seemed to reference their favorite authors, as well.  I’d seen the book, “Save the Cat” before, but never paid much attention until it started to show up on everyone’s list. I’ve just finished it for the second time (I always read them twice, then refer back later as needed). I’m so glad I did, because it was incredibly helpful and informative. I especially love the instructions for finding the perfect logline and title.  And the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet is pretty cool, too.

Thank to “Save the Cat” I came up with a new log line and title for my drama spec. I’d love feedback whether you like it, or if you don’t. If you watch the show, that would really help, too.

White Collar: Into Temptation

Neal sees a portrait of his former life when he and Peter go undercover and join a ring of thieves led by a Swedish femme fatale.

The first two seasons of White Collar are available on Netflix to stream.

Perfection is the Enemy

I’m almost done with my first draft of the White Collar Spec, and I’m terrified to finish it. I realized it was because I think it’s supposed to be good. I forgot how important it is to write the first draft, let it be terrible and edit it until it gets better, and keep editing it until it gets good, then really good, then the best it can be.

It’s funny, how I have to learn the same lessons over and over. The first draft doesn’t matter. No matter what I do, it will launch me into the rewrites. It will be a stepping stone to something better. And no matter what expectations I have, that is all it should ever be.

I’m lucky to have an excellent reader to give me notes, and an excellent set of tools to work with. I don’t want to disappoint him, or hear the notes. And even as I say it I know it’s not true. Without those notes, it might never reach the point of excellence I strive for. Considering I’ve only finished one script so far, it most likely won’t reach it anyway. But the only way out is through. I’m in this for the long haul.

No more procrastinating. On Monday, I will have a first draft to turn in, and it will be terrible. I promise. As far as the notes go… bring it on, baby! Until next time, happy writing!

TV Specs and How To Break a Series Down

When discussing TV specs, we are always told how important it is to break the show down, but in my experience, there’s not a lot of guidance about what that means. For the most part, I’ve developed my own procedures, which I am happy to share with you today.

I spend a lot of time breaking down a series before I begin to write the spec. When I was doing the Vampire Diaries last summer, I only gave myself three weeks to break down the show and write the first draft. That basically meant two weeks of breakdown and one week of outlining and drafting. As soon as I finished the first draft, I went back to the breakdown, which continued throughout the writing. I had no way of acquiring Vampire Diaries scripts, except for the pilot. Not having them was a handicap, but I’m so glad I went through the process of writing it anyway. It was the first script I finished, and I learned a lot.

For one thing, VD is serialized, and the episode I wrote picked up where Season Two ended. It was meant to be the beginning of Season Three. In my study of the series, I discovered that each show has three to four story lines. I wrote four.  It’s a bit long for an episode, and I am sure the formatting doesn’t perfectly match the show. That’s where not having scripts was a problem. The other problem was that I put the finishing touches on it at the end of August, and the Season Three premiere was a week or two later. That made it outdated almost immediately.

As an episode, it encompasses much more story than a normal episode would, but it also set up the next few episodes for the season. It was exciting to watch the real episode on TV! I was gratified to find out that several of the things I had written in my script came to pass. Other things were different, of course, but in subsequent episodes my scenes kept popping up. I take that as a sign that I did a good job of getting into the workings of the show. To me, that says I’m hirable as a staff writer.  That’s very good news, since staffed on a TV drama is exactly where I want to be. On the other hand, taking on so much story in one episode would not work in real life. There is several episodes worth of storytelling in that one spec.

Having learned what I learned, I chose an episodic show for my next spec: White Collar. I also made sure I was able to acquire scripts. Ellen Sandler, writer of many TV comedies, suggests you have three. I was able to get my hands on five. I won’t give away my source, but I will say it was a product of a networking opportunity. Using Sandler’s book, the TV Writer’s Workbook, I made a spreadsheet of everything I could think of to count.  That told me a lot about how the show was structured and how the story lines intersect.  Of course I am also studying every show in the series.

After I practically memorize every episode and dissect the scripts I have, I start outlining. If done correctly, this takes quite a bit longer than actually writing the first draft. This is where I get into the protagonist’s goals and relationships, and the other major components. By the time I’ve worked that all out for all the story lines, I have a pretty extensive outline. I also have a list of things that need to be part of the episode, such as traits that show up, or tics a certain character uses, how many jokes are there (even in drama), and what story points are integral to most, if not all, episodes. I have a range of formatting options, as well as non-changing structure, such as number of acts, if there’s a teaser, etc.

Laid out this way, it sounds exhausting, but it’s really fun. It’s doing all things I love! I’m watching TV, reading scripts, writing and defining characters. By the time I start the first draft, it practically writes itself. Then I take a rest while I send it off to a trusted advisor. That’s a lie. I usually start on something else so my good habits aren’t interrupted. It comes from terror that if I let them go I’ll never get them back.

If this article helps anyone, I’d really love to hear about it in a comment below. As a new writer, who has worked very hard to acquire what skills I have, it’s important for me to share what I can and help others. I have gotten a lot of help already and I will continue to need it to get this career off the ground. In a way, I’m paying it forward. Conversely, if you know of any steps for breakdown that I haven’t touched on, I’d love to hear them. In the meantime, happy writing!