Balls of Steel: Train to Write

This past weekend marked the three-year anniversary of the day I flew to Atlanta to meet Douglas A. Blackmon, author of Slavery by Another Name (SBAN). I remember it like it was yesterday. As scared as I was, I knew if I got this adaptation gig, it would change my life forever.

Three years seems like a long time to be working on one project, but in this industry, it’s a blink of an eye.

After all, it took 10 years from concept to completion for Christopher Nolan to make Inception. Do you think Nolan did nothing else in that time period except whine that his film hadn’t been made yet? I think not. He kept working on other projects, always with the dream of Inception dancing in his mind and heart.

I am doing the same with SBAN.

I admit, some days the “hurry up and wait” attitude kicks me in the gut. But I look at it the same way I do my karate training. Patience and hard work will keep me standing at the end of the fight.

By now, some of you know I’m a black belt. It is by far the most valuable life skill I’ve used for my writing career. I draw on all I have learned in my dojo to survive this industry.

If I can’t win a fight one way, I cut an angle and use a different technique to surprise my opponent and knock his ass out before he knows what’s coming. That takes training. In fact, it took me eight years to get my first-degree belt.

But I don’t always win a fight. Sometimes I get my toes or nose broken, my ACL torn, and bruises galore. It’s in the fights lost I learned the most.

Everything worthwhile takes time.

The lesson for a writer is to have a variety of projects, be quick on your feet in a meeting, and be ready to go down an unexpected path in order to survive. You can’t do that unless you spend years writing. Every word you put on paper is exercising your writing skills.

While adapting SBAN, I kept working on other things – a novel, a family comedy, TV show ideas, and freelance articles. Beyond those, I have at least a dozen files with outlines for future projects. I write while drafts of SBAN simmer, waiting for their rewrites.

I write every single day.

One reason I don’t only focus on SBAN is because I know when I get in a room to pitch, I’m stepping into a fighting ring of sorts. To be ready, I need to train.

In pitch meetings, questions come flying at me, and I take the hits, act fast, pulls ideas out of thin air, and try to stay one step ahead of the producer. But I also listen and watch my “opponent.” What they say, I need to hear in order to know how to react. And I always know the one question that will eventually come …

What else have you got?”

That is my moment to shine and deliver the knockout punch of a list of great projects to prove this scribe isn’t a one-hit wonder.

Being a writer is exhausting. The fight seems endless some days, and even a ballsy chick like me sheds a tear or two. But then I stumble upon a link and watch other writers share their advice. Their words of wisdom are like a salve on my wounds.

This week I watched two great clips about the writer’s process, one from Austin Daze, interviewing screenwriters David Peoples, Shane Black, and Alvaro Rodriguez, and another of Charlie Kaufman at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Suddenly I didn’t feel alone. Writing is hard as hell; even the big boys think so.

It’s going to take a producer with courage to make SBAN, but I will do all I can to attract that producer, including rewrite this sucker as many times as need be. But even if SBAN never sells, I still am building an arsenal of products to secure my career and have a pile of writing samples.

It takes more than one great punch to be a champion.

I started doing Chung Do Kwan after September 11th because I wanted my family to know, had I been on one of those planes, I wasn’t sitting in my seat crying; I was kicking some ass on my way down.

I feel the same way about my writing career.

Please share your own advice in the comments about your process and how you keep your mojo going on the days the fight seems endless.

8 thoughts on “Balls of Steel: Train to Write

  1. Laura

    Hello,

    Reading this now and feeling completely good. I mean, you are some kind of inspiration, Jeanne.

    All I want to do is to be a film writer but lately I’ve been feeling like I can’t give enough. Like I’m not good at it at all.
    And sI give up very easily.

    After reading this I think I will do better somehow.
    Thank you very much.

  2. Jenna

    Jeanne,

    Writing sure feels like parenting sometimes. Parenting a talented but hugely stubborn child with serious focus issues. Ai.

    It’s come to a point where Not Obeying the call of the pen / keyboard actually manifests as an ill feeling somewhere in my body! I’m learning to appease before this feeling arises, strengthening the muscles of my supersonic hearing again. Requires superhero concentration. It’s exhausting but rejuvenating on the whole.

    This post is uber encouraging. It’s simultaneously a salve (yummy writing=healing) and strict parenting (write–or else no dinner tonight). I think that the next time I feel like ducking out on my daily writing duties, I’m going to howl for a moment, and then get on with it, already. Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

  3. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

    Annie, treating my writing as a business was one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned over the years. I often wonder if I had known how hard this was going to be when I started, if I would still have done it. But, it’s a lot like parenting…. being ignorant of the workload of raising kids is probably best or there would be no humans left – haha.

  4. Annie Sisk

    Well said, Jeanne. I look at daily writing practice as training, too. I think it’s an awesome thing — like pianists practicing scales (which, believe me, they DO). I also get a kick out of treating it like a business – not just the biz side but the writing side, too, so I get a thrill from your comments about having files and outlines for future projects! Being creative IS my biz.

  5. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

    Ian, I’m thrilled my experiences have helped you with your focus. It is a tough road, and there are days I question my sanity, but I also can’t imagine doing anything else. Regarding your short, try to get on someone’s set who is filming one, or pick the brains of people who have written, directed, or produced shorts. Roberta Munroe has a great book “How NOT to Make a Short Film”. I’m reading it now as I’m writing a short myself. I try to learn as much as I can from other people’s experiences. Glad mine are of use to you!

    Lee, I’m fairly certain every single writer has doubted themselves. If they haven’t, they probably have too big of an ego to make it in this industry. Just sayin’. Yes, many times I shake my head at what gets sold, but all I can do is focus on being the best writer I can be. If I spent a lot of time thinking about all the crap that’s been bought, I’d go crazy. I can’t control the decisions of those executives, but I CAN control the quality of my own work. That’s the plan anyway.

  6. Lee

    Hmm, I wrote to Jeanne when I was strugling really bad! It was good to know it was normal for writer to feel that they feel there work may never get put on screen.

    Other than that, I remind myself that someone got paid to write Vamppire Sucks and that sometimes you don’t even need to be a good writer!

  7. Ian

    Hi Jeanne,

    I just want to say thanks for sharing your experiences as a writer.I’ve been reading all of your articles on here. It’s really helpful and knowledgeable.

    I’ve been writing on and off for years but now I realize this is a strong passion of mine that I want to take more seriously.

    I’ve currently been writing a short screenplay and I’ve been forcing myself to work on it every day. Even if I only have time to write a couple of pages, that’s still better than nothing in my opinion.

    I guess what keeps my mojo going is that deep down, this is something I really want to do and I really believe in my work.

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