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.