The Endless Maintenance of Life

Hi all,

When I first started blogging, it was really important to me, and I spent a lot of time making sure I wasn’t putting anything up there that would embarrass me later. In fact, there were times I spent so much time on it, that I stopped working on my screenplays for a while. Inevitably I remembered my priorities, stopped blogging and started screenwriting.

Well, that’s great, but I’ve come to the conclusion that a little balance would make a big difference. I am in the midst of a crunch, working with a writing partner to finish a script by the end of the month, I’m also doing script coverage and meeting with a monthly writers group, and not meeting deadlines on some online articles I promised.

The most positive thing about my screenwriting being at the center of my life, is that my mission and goals are always right before me, ensuring that most of my time is spent working towards them. How awesome is that? The only problem is that I am not just a screenwriter. I’m a wife and mother, a housekeeper (albeit a terrible one), a bill payer, a once-in-a-while administrator for my husbands business, a sister, friend and aunt. Not to mention, I’m a person with a body that needs care after hunching over a computer for six hours a day. Add in sleep, hygiene and meals, along with approximately three hours per day spent watching TV I’m not about to give up, an hour reading and studying, and time for my kids, and two hours for a trip to the gym, plus travel, and it’s no wonder I have no time to do the laundry, or energy to meet a friend.

So how do people find balance, without losing sight of what the real priorities are? If I’m honest, undone tasks get as much in the way of my personal fulfillment as not writing would. Maybe not as much, but close enough. I think the secret is to give a little bit of time to each area habitually, so things don’t smolder into fires that need putting out. 10 minutes of picking up 3 times per day keeps the house reasonably livable, and assuages my conscience enough to delegate some tasks to the kids. My reasoning goes, if I’m not doing it, how can I expect them to? Faulty perhaps, but there it is.

As far as the blogging goes, maybe I don’t have to be so careful. Maybe I’ll put my foot in my mouth and it will come back to haunt me. Maybe it’s not that important and it’s okay to just check in. I’m gonna give that a try.

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Napoleon Hills Key #5: Go the Extra Mile

Hill is a great proponent of the theory that you earn what you believe you are worth. If you aren’t happy with what you make, he suggests you do more than you are paid for and that will lead to more pay. However, he also goes on to say that part of going the extra mile is to know when you are in a situation that won’t meet your needs. At that point there is nothing you can do but change the situation.

The first time I heard the concept “you make what you think you’re worth,” I was 24. It was told to me by a boyfriend I met in acting class in New York. Between his accent and his piercing green eyes, his worldliness and sense of adventure, he was the most exciting person I had ever met.  He was here from England on a work visa, earning what to me seemed a staggering amount at the time–$40 per hour. I was waitressing for paltry compensation. I’m sure that by now he is fabulously wealthy, while I’m still struggling with the concept he introduced, and that Napoleon Hill’s book reinforces.

Lately I’ve had a great opportunity to go the extra mile—giving script evaluations.

When approaching a script, I remind myself this is a very important job. Even if it’s a first draft, the script in front of me represents weeks, months and sometimes years of work. It’s an honor to be trusted by the writer to give feedback to help them strengthen the script and realize their vision. I take the responsibility very seriously and I do my best to get the feedback as helpful as I possibly can. I consider it my job to complement the writer on the accomplishment, to be honest about what the work needs, and to encourage the writer to leave the conference feeling inspired and hopeful, motivated to get back to work.

Of course that won’t always happen. Some people may feel criticized, others defensive. Some won’t gel with my communication style. I was lucky enough to have a teacher who modeled the right blend of giving it to me straight without ever making me feel bad or stupid. He also was a great model for going the extra mile, as he would always go above and beyond his responsibilities to go over my work. Now it’s my turn, and I hope to empower other writers by going that extra mile. That means reading the script carefully, at least twice. Then I go through the process of evaluation, and give the writer specific guidance on what steps they can take to strengthen the work going forward. As I’ve been trained, I begin every conference with what works well in the script, and end with congratulations on their accomplishment.

At this writing, I’m a beginner, having only gone through the process five or six times. Each time it gets easier.  Every time I evaluate a script, be it a feature or TV spec or an original pilot, first draft or twenty-fifth, I learn a lot. No matter how rough the draft is, in each script there is something that works; and no matter how good it is, there is always a way to improve on it. But it’s in the process of articulating my interpretations and recommendations that the inner workings of screenplays are revealed. I recognize myself and my own process on the page. There is no question that breaking down scripts makes me a better writer.

For years I have read about successful screenwriters who started as readers and that it played a large part in helping them work out their own process. I feel like I’m already a better writer, and I’ve only done a few!  Imagine how much I’ll have learned when I’ve done a few hundred.  Of course it won’t do any good unless I regularly go that extra mile in my own writing. And as much as I sometimes wish I could ignore  the other important aspects of my life, I can’t: family, home, exercise, social life, spiritual practice, nutrition. Everything I do well makes me a better writer and everything I neglect puts more obstacles in my path. It’s difficult to find balance, but too important not to keep trying. I’ll probably be working on time management until the day I die.

The question becomes, how much is all this hard work worth? How much am I worth? And the answer is… A lot. A whole lot. As long as I’m willing to go the extra mile.

THE HUNGER GAMES Movie Review – SPOILER ALERT!!!

I don’t normally like to review movies, because the act of tearing the work apart is about a million times easier than writing a great script, let alone developing it into a film.  On the other hand, as a student of the screenwriting craft, it is very helpful to examine what works and what doesn’t.  In that spirit, I offer my humble opinions, in the full knowledge that I am in no way qualified to pass judgment.

THE HUNGER GAMES left me a little sad and unsatisfied. I was never bored, or even aware of the passage of time, and for the most part enjoyed the overall experience.  Having read the book by Suzanne Collins and loved it, I think that feeling a little let down by the movie is par for the course.  Would I recommend it? I think so.

Although her performance was fine, I didn’t like the casting of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. The way she was written in the novel, she was much thinner, more vulnerable, and therefore appeared to be an underdog. The half-starved, underprivileged girl in the book made a better contrast to the overfed world of the shiny Capitol. Jennifer Lawrence looks like a champion. She’s tall and athletic, strong and well-fed. Saoirse Ronan, on the other hand, would have been fabulous in the role.

Other than that, I liked the casting. Peeta was played by Josh Hutcherson, and although he’s a little small to be believable as a baker’s son and the wielder of great physical strength, he did a great job of convincing me that he was utterly in love with Katniss. I loved Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, the drunken mentor, and would have liked to see more of him. The same holds true for Elizabeth Banks, who was wonderful as the flighty Effie. It took me a few minutes to realize it was her, which was fun.

One thing that worked well for the movie was taking the POV away from Katniss and showing us behind the scenes of the production. It was also interesting to see the Districts. The book was written in first person narrative.  When I was reading, I wondered how I would handle the exposition in those scenes where the explanations happened inside the character’s head. There is so much time that Katniss spends alone that I predicted voiceover narration, which would have been difficult to carry off gracefully. Instead, on TV, the host, Claudius Templesmith, announces in hushed tones that the “Tracker Jackers” are genetically-altered killer wasps. I thought the exposition was brilliantly executed.  I personally would have handled it by giving Katniss more time with her allies. I would have put Rue in the tree with her to explain the wasps. I think the movie’s technique was better.

Another thing they did in the movie that worked was to give Katniss a tangible enemy in the form of President Snow, played by Donald Sutherland and his agent, Seneca Crane, whose job was to keep the games entertaining for their TV audience.  With little or no personal interaction, they managed to throw many obstacles at Katniss and made a very worthy team of opponents. As my friend Shawn pointed out, the scene where Snow is trimming his roses of thorns and telling Seneca of his distaste for “underdogs” like Katniss, is a clear example of the rich and careless extravagance of the Capitol, in contrast to the impoverished persecution and cruelty in the districts.

Something that didn’t work so well for me was that Katniss seemed to get off too easily. When she killed someone, it was self-defense or in defense of a friend, or out of mercy. We never got to see her struggle with a decision of whether to shoot an arrow, or feel remorse for the deaths that she caused.  In the movie, things necessarily moved quickly, but the audience didn’t get to experience her struggle enough to suffer along with her. The PG-13 rating makes perfect sense considering the YA novel it was adapted from, but necessitated a lot less blood and gore than was depicted in the book. It felt like the writers were backing off when the going got tough, rather than letting their characters suffer. As a result, the stakes are lowered, making the victories less triumphant.

Another thing they could have done better was the Main Character Arc. Since the story is about exposing the brutality of making 24 kids fight to the death every year, Katniss’ character arc would have been more effective if she had mirrored that journey in some way. I’ve been told that in an Action Movie, the hero doesn’t necessarily need to grow and change, but I disagree.

In my own fantasy script, Katniss resigns to play by the Capitol’s rules as she embarks on the journey by train.  She squelches her own rebellion to gain sponsors and support to win. Once in the games, she faces the dilemma; whether to kill or be killed. She chooses to survive, but experiences the pain of the deaths she causes, and knows that even if she wins the tournament, the faces of the children will haunt her. She curses the Capitol, and gradually, she fights back. The opponent, Seneca, undermines her, refusing to let her win. Haymitch, in his own arc, pulls himself together and fights for the gifts and help she needs. The low point for Katniss is when Peeta is dying, and she blames herself and surrenders the fight. And Peeta, out of love and respect for Katniss, reminds her of all the people in the districts who are depending on her, and helps her get back on track for the final battle at the Cornucopia. But it’s not over. Seneca changes the rules, in a last-ditch attempt to force her to kill Peeta. Outraged, Katniss, on live TV, says goodbye to her mom and sister, and condemns the Capitol. She urges the districts to fight back.  She and Peeta exchange tearful, moving goodbyes and raise the poison berries to their lips. At the last instant, President Snow comes over the loudspeaker and stops them. Seneca has been fired and for the first time ever, they have two winners. The districts cheer as Seneca is dragged off, struggling against the guards. Katniss is victorious.

Napoleon Hill’s 4th Key: Use Applied Faith

Some people believe in the God they learned about in their families of origin, others in a Higher Power of their own understanding. According to Napoleon Hill (and millions of twelve-steppers), it doesn’t matter what you believe in, as long as you are willing to put your faith in a Higher Power and act on it. As it says in “The Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous, “faith without works is dead.” According to Hill, faith is a state of mind that can be developed through daily practice. He refers to his own higher power as “Infinite Intelligence.”

Hill goes on to describe the various ways faith in “Infinite Intelligence” can be found. He discusses the patterns and order to be found in nature, and compares them to the workings of a wristwatch, in that it could never have been created randomly. Then he goes on to the inner workings of the mind, the still, small voice inside that guides us, the creative energy of the Mastermind Alliance, or the union of multiple minds to a single purpose, and the conscience which teaches us right from wrong.

Like Hill, I am a firm believer in a daily spiritual practice, which I have accomplished with varying degrees of success for the past twenty years or so. It began with “The Artist’s Way,” by Julia Cameron, and her wonderful suggestion of morning pages. Through those pages I found my voice as a writer, but first I found myself.  The days I didn’t write them, I felt disconnected from me. I was less able to make decisions, take positive actions, or even identify how I was feeling. My morning pages kept me in touch with what was most important to me.

From there I began to do some meditation, to write a gratitude list, and, yes, to pray. I came to believe in a Higher Power that had a plan for me. H.P. gave me talents and a dream and it became clear that it was my responsibility to use those talents. Since little else had worked for me in the career department, I threw myself into the dream of screenwriting.

I believe that’s what Hill means by “applied faith.” When those negative voices creep in to say I’m too old, not talented enough, or wasting my time, I only have to remind myself that I’ve got a job to do and my H.P. wants me to do it. And that no obstacle is too large for the Universe to conquer, but that it’s my job to do the footwork. So I do it, each day.

According to Hill, when you have a problem and ask your Higher Power for help:

You will recognize the solution by the soundness of the plan that occurs to you and by the feeling of enthusiasm which accompanies its recognition. As soon as you do recognize the plan, act on it at once! Do not hesitate, argue, challenge, worry, or fret about it. Act on it!

Hill goes on to talk about the various ways that we trip ourselves up with fear, and the power of naming those fears and accepting their existence. Then we can begin to overcome them by proceeding with our Major Purpose. He also speaks about the power of visualization and a Positive Mental Attitude.

For me, visualization is sometimes too powerful, in the sense that we can manifest something we aren’t ready for, or that we only think we want. I believe the power of positive thinking is overrated. I refuse to be an automaton who doesn’t let a little negativity creep in once in a while. Sometimes I even indulge in it. On the other hand, I am certain that obsessing on my fears of inadequacy and all the things wrong with the world and the industry will keep me from ever reaching my goals. So I plan to err on the side of positive thinking, at least most of the time.

I hope you are all pursuing your dreams. Until next time, happy writing!

“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!

A Draft per Month for Twelve Months

A year ago in March, I came to the realization that unless I put my writing first, it was never going to get done. My life needed to revolve around my screenwriting, instead of the other way around. That was when I started getting up at 5 and writing for two hours before my kids got up and the day kicked in. It wasn’t perfect, since some of the time was inevitably claimed by dogs, coffee, and a bite to eat, not to mention regular old daydreaming. For the most part, though, it was quite productive. As they say, an ounce of morning is worth a pound of afternoon.

Every once in a while (or more often), I get a notion that if I’d take that morning time to get other things out of the way, I’d have even more time to write during the day. Inevitably, I try it. Sometimes for a week, or two, or even longer. And every single time, I discover that it doesn’t work. When I get up and write first, I may or may not get back to it during the day, but at least I know I got some writing in and the most important thing was taken care of. When I use the time for other things, like this blog, I sometimes get the writing in later and sometimes I don’t. Inevitably, my project stalls, I lose interest, then have to work myself up into a frenzy of motivation, and get back to my morning writing.

The main reason I am sharing this is to come clean and admit that even though I continue to work hard and improve regularly, I am far from perfect. It’s also good for me to have a written account of the struggle to refer back to the next time I start thinking the mornings could be used more constructively. Maybe I’ll save myself the trouble next time.

Another reason I wanted to reiterate the importance of daily, scheduled, uninterrupted writing time, is that I am seriously thinking about setting myself a new goal of a draft per month for twelve months. In that way, I’ll be building up a body of work samples, flexing my screenwriting muscles and getting closer to those 10,000 hours it takes to master a craft, according to Malcolm Gladwell. I know it’s a very lofty and difficult goal, but the outcome can only be positive. What have I got to lose, after all?

I’ve been writing screenplays for a few years now. I took classes and have a great set of tools to take me from inception through final draft. I have a working support alliance, and I’m evaluating scripts for students at my old school. It’s time to sh*t or get off the pot, as my dear departed Mom would have said. I’d like to think she’d be proud of me. Is there anyone out there who would care to join me in a draft per month for twelve months? Happy writing!

TV’s Top Ten Hottest Couples of All Time

I wrote this up a while ago, but was recently reminded of it when I read a blog by “Bamboo Killers.” Just for fun, here’s my take:

10.       I Love Lucy – No matter how much trouble she got into, Ricky loved Lucy passionately and unconditionally. No Hottest TV Couples list would be complete without them.

9.         Starsky & Hutch – Paul Michael Glazer and David Soul both got plenty of action with the opposite sex, but the chemistry really sizzled during those intense male bonding sessions! Remember the one where Hutch was kidnapped by the bad guys who turned him into a junkie? Luckily Starsky was there to detox Hutch, hold him while he cried and hold his hair back while he puked!

8.         Beverly Hills 90210 – Sorry, Kelly, the real electricity crackled between Brenda and Dylan. I don’t care if she was hell to work with.

7.         Oz – Chris Keller and Tobias Beecher really rocked my world. So what if Keller was a deranged psycho who broke Beecher’s arms and legs? I forgive him.

6.         The O.C. – Ryan and Marissa? Yeah, they were cute, but the real action happened when Marrissa’s dark side collided with the surf-nazi, Kevin Volchok, played by the delicious Cam Gigandet – what can I say, I’m a romantic fool.

5.         Skins – Effie and Cook – Parentless children adrift on a sea of sex, drugs and painful reality, they find each other. Don’t even bother with the cancelled MTV version–it doesn’t begin to approach the mastery of the original BBC version.

4.         Moonlighting – David and Maddie – unfortunately, those incredible sparks never quite ignited once they got together, but before that they sure were hot together.

3.         Cheers – Frasier and Lilith – tricked you again. But weren’t they incredible together?

2.         ER – Dr. Doug and Nurse Carol – When it comes to those two, there’s no such thing as enough.

1.         Queer as Folk – Brian and Justin – they are both incredibly charismatic on their own, but put them on screen together, and this is one hetero soccer mom who can’t take her eyes off the screen!

Napoleon Hill’s 3rd Key: Assemble an Attractive Personality

Napoleon Hill’s 3rd Key to Success: “Assemble an Attractive Personality”

This key is quite daunting to me, I have to admit. I used to think of my personality as being something I was born with, not something that I had control over, let alone responsibility for. Of course it makes perfect sense to cultivate mannerisms and attitudes that are appealing to others. I just would prefer to think of it as out of my control. Which, it turns out, is a completely self-defeating stance to take.

According to Hill, there are twenty-five aspects of our personalities that can be worked on, although many of them are inter-related. It all starts with a Positive Mental Attitude, or PMA:

PMA is the most important aspect of any attractive personality; indeed, it is crucial to many of the Seventeen Principles of Success. PMA influences your tone of voice, your posture, your facial expressions. It modifies every word you say and every emotion you feel. It affects every thought you have and the results your thoughts bring you.

Over and over, I’ve read that in order to get a job in the writer’s room, the show-runner has to like you enough to want to spend ten hours per day in the same room with you. No one wants to spend ten minutes in the company of a negative, whiny writer who doesn’t enjoy the work, the company, or support other’s ideas. It makes sense to me! Unless you have a positive attitude, chances are good that you’ll never get the interview, let alone the job–even if you are a great writer.

Some people are great at hiding the way they really feel. Others wear their hearts on their sleeves. For me, the worst thing someone can be is phony.  Give me an honest and angry companion over a smiling, sneaky one any day of the week. I’d rather know what I’m dealing with.

One thing I notice a lot, in women particularly, but not exclusively, is a neurotic tendency to think everything is about them. They examine every interaction for the seed of an insult, and then nurture it until it grows into resentment within them. It’s exhausting just to think about. Everyone walks on eggshells around them to avoid saying anything that can be misinterpreted.

I prefer to believe that nothing anyone else does is really about me; not even direct insults. If I’ve done something wrong, I try to apologize and take responsibility. Otherwise, if you have a problem with me, I’m certain it has more to do with what’s going on in your life. Or perhaps you recognize some character flaw in me that you dislike in yourself. In either case, it’s none of my business. I keep my eyes on my own work, I don’t gossip and I try to accept others for who they are. It’s true that I love to give advice, but a better strategy is to share my experience if someone has a problem. That way they know I understand and I’m not judging them.  If I really don’t understand what they are going through, I’ll say so, hopefully with compassion.

One of the great things about being in my forties is the perspective it gives me. When I was a kid, I thought if everyone knew where I was coming from, they would understand me. Today I know it’s much simpler than that. No one ever will know where we are coming from, because no one else has walked in our shoes. And we haven’t walked in theirs. We bring a lifetime of experience to every moment of every day.

There’s way too much in this chapter of great importance for me to cover in one blog, so perhaps I’ll come back to this key again. Hill covers so many important topics, such as tact and courtesy, tolerance, and promptness of decision.  It really is life-changing. I’ll leave with this:

The world has the habit of making room for the man whose actions show that he knows where he is going. Napoleon Hill

Do you believe that an attractive personality is an important key to success? Have you worked at cultivating PMA? Send me an email @ karenlovestv.verizon.net —I’d love to hear about it.

Until next time, happy writing!