BALLS OF STEEL: How to Manage Time Flying

Jeanne Veillette Bowerman is the Editor of Script magazine and a screenwriter, having written the narrative feature adaptation as well as the limited series of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Slavery by Another Name, which was honored in the Top 25 Tracking Board Launch Pad Features Competition. Follow Jeanne on Twitter @jeannevb.

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It’s not easy to manage time flying by. This past week, I attended Screenwriters World Conference, where I enjoyed a multitude of meetings with friends, executives and filmmakers. Time flew too quickly, and now I’m literally flying, 30,000 feet in the air, returning to New York.

Seated next to me is a guy I’ll call Cool Dude. He has tattooed fingers, a warm smile, and a generous energy pouring from him. Near us is Chatty Cathy, talking the ear off of every person in a three-row radius. But as the plane settled into its proper altitude, she passed out faster than a newborn feeding off her mother’s breast. Her fear of flying was what brought on the nervous chatter.

Fear. It makes us act in odd and usually unattractive ways. We waste far too much time frozen in fear.

Cool Dude noticed I blessed myself as we took off and pointed out I handled my fear differently than Chatty Cathy. I responded, “I’m not afraid of dying. I was thanking God for a great life.” I mean that. I am truly not afraid of dying… as long as I believe the life I have lived is fulfilling.

photo courtesy of junussyndicate on deviantART

Every single day I make a choice as to how I spend my time. Time I will never get back. Each day that passes is one less I have on this earth. Did I use it wisely? Did I let the people I love know they have my heart? Did I live that day being the best I could be?

That applies to my writing career as well. Sure, I want to be a successful screenwriter. I want to see my scripts produced and have the world enjoy my stories on the silver screen. But what if that never happens? What if my scripts die unproduced and unenjoyed? Unless there’s a script zombieland, those stories will only have played in my own mind.

Will it be the end of the world? Will all my efforts have been for naught? No. Life will go on, as it should.

Time management starts with prioritizing, making tough choices and standing by them.

I make a choice every day to pursue a writing career regardless of whether or not I get my scripts produced or my novels published. As my Chung Do Kwan master says, “It’s the journey that matters.” And what a journey the life of a writer is.

We are thrust into extreme highs and lows. One day a producer requests a read, filling us with hope. Weeks go by, and we finally get a “thanks for submitting, but it’s a pass.” Our dreams crash and burn. Failure… again.

Or is it failure? I have scripts I will never share with anyone, happily collecting dust in a drawer. It wasn’t a waste of time to write them because each page made me a better writer. Think of it as training for a marathon. Do those miles you run prior to the 26-mile race mean nothing? Of course not. You would never survive the marathon had you not trained. You need to train to write too.

If we live our lives like hamsters on a wheel, forever chasing the dream, we aren’t enjoying the journey. Slow down. Look around you. Breathe in your accomplishments. Even without ever being produced, you still have created stories no one else could have written. Celebrate that. Celebrate you. Then ask yourself what you could do better.

Writing is living – at least it is for me. The rhythm of the keys tapping is the heartbeat of my art. It is my blood. If I didn’t write, I would die. I mean that with all sincerity. I. Would. Die.

I believe, as artists, we need to make a choice as to what writing means to us. Is it about crossing the finish line to production and/or publication, or is it about pouring our emotions onto the page, joyous to have moved someone with our words, even if it was only ourselves?

Once I realized writing was my life, I made a choice on how to use my time. That choice freed me from the pressures of needing to find “success” and allowed me to write with raw emotion, not caring who was reading it or what they thought of my words. I write with the vulnerability of standing naked in a room full of people, exposed. I don’t want anyone tossing a blanket over me. I want to feel every word against my skin and in my heart. I want to cry, laugh, and be full of anxiety, praying my protagonist accomplishes her goals yet enjoying taunting her with roadblocks and obstacles. If it ain’t easy for me, it can’t be easy for her.

I don’t want to just write a story; I want to be so entrenched in my words that I become the story. That is what gives me goosebumps.

Guess what happens when you choose to spend your time writing with that kind of passion? You discover your voice. Suddenly, people notice. Producers notice. Executives notice.

In making that choice to write without boundaries, I also examined how I spend my career-strategy time. While having coffee “meetings” with people is fun, we also need to build our portfolio of projects, learn the business side of the film industry, and find creative ways to get our art funded. We can’t wait for someone to do that for us. We need to take control of our careers.

One of my coffeehouse meetings in L.A. was with friend and entertainment attorney Peter Kaufman. We talked a lot about time management, the dream of being a produced feature writer, and the power writers can have if they focus on being proactive. One must not only write in a variety of ways, but also find a way to finance their films if they want to make it easier for people to say “yes” instead of “no.”

Peter suggested for the next month I write down how I spend every hour of every day. After 30 days, examine how I live, how many hours I write, and if I’m spending any time advancing my projects to the next level. He promises I’ll be surprised by what I learn. I hope you join me in this exercise. (One caveat: “living” your life counts as writing time in my eyes. Every life experience ends up in my words, even if only in emotion.)

Think about what your writing goals are. There might be more than one way to achieve them. If you’re writing scripts, consider turning one into a novel (you can even self publish). If you’re writing short films, use one to raise grant money to turn it into a feature you can produce independently. If you have a low budget feature, raise the money yourself to make it. Don’t just consider crowdfunding, but go after the big bucks by finding investors from any corner of the world who believe in your script. Even if you only get a $25,000 commitment, that will be enough to attach talent and the attention of bigger investors.

Above all, use your time wisely. For today might be your last day. I admit I feel like I’m tempting fate by writing those words at 30,000 feet with turbulence hard enough to knock a Hell’s Angel on his ass, but I am always mindful of the clock ticking.

As my plane violently shakes, Chatty Cathy is back at annoying the masses. Cool Dude smiles at me before continuing his doodle on the Delta napkin, and I’m peeking out the airplane window grateful for each breath I am fortunate enough to take. We soar high above the clouds. The sky is pure blue with a powder-puff of white beneath us creating an illusion of a soft mattress to land.

I’m a writer who just spent a week in L.A., connecting with screenwriters, having meetings, improving my craft, and even sneaking in moments to write. Time flew, and I used it well. Now I’m enjoying Cloud Nine.

Death be damned. Being a writer is the only way to live.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you push through the struggles and take charge of your career. Comment below and let’s get the conversation started!

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15 thoughts on “BALLS OF STEEL: How to Manage Time Flying

  1. Julio Torres

    As a teacher of 8th grade English (Language Arts), I make the time to self publish novellas, write specs, write for the blog on social issues and surfing, and I still find time to juggle teaching, writing, surfing. As a born writer, there’s no other choice but to write.

    The best part about my teaching job is that I get paid to teach Macbeth and Lord of the Flies — it’s like getting paid to learn from the masters, over and over again.

  2. Pawel

    Lovely column, Jeanne. It becomes too easy to focus on end results and get discouraged rather than celebrating the sheer beauty of our talents and work. Thank you!

  3. Ken White

    I followed your advice before I read it. My partner and I turned one of our screenplays into a novel. It debuted today.

    Here are some links with more information. We’re the first title listed.

    The publisher is also running an on-line festival this month.

    We are the featured story today on All Hallow’s Eve and the day the World Champion Giants parade through downtown San Francisco.

    Cooperstown has asked for a signed copy.

    Persistence and imagination can be a lethal combo.

    Thanks for the articles. Always enjoyable.

  4. ShirleyN

    I’ve always found it interesting when people write about how they want to come to L.A. and become a screenwriter. It’s funny because living here you get a different perspective of Hollywood. I suppose I should feel lucky but mostly I take it for granted. Shame on me! Really, you don’t have to live here to write. I’ve had people from other countries in my screenwriting class lamenting that if they can’t find a job they will have to go back to their respective countries. Other classmates chimed in that there are many ways one can write and communicate from across the globe. Some successful screenwriters I’ve read about, oddly enough, would rather NOT live too close to L.A. (so they won’t have to take meetings). What I have been taught is to write the best (and I mean your best), organic, and compelling story and maybe, just maybe, they will come. Just my two cents…

  5. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

    Ian, Rick, Patty – thanks so much. Writers are labeled “crazy” for a reason. I don’t deny my name tag 🙂

    Becky, BRAVA for attending your first pitching event! That’s a huge step in believing in yourself … and believing in yourself is the most important step. You’ll never succeed if you stay in your living room. I promise you, now that you’ve taken that leap, there’s no turning back. Your life (and career) will be forever changed. I also deeply appreciate your kinds words regarding my column. I simply try to share things with writers I wish someone had told me when I started out. This industry is no easy path. We all deserve the support and encouragement of our comrades in arms.

    Scott, I love your analogy of Script’s character arc regarding the date stamp over my last name! I am the editor of this site, so the buck stops here. Trust me, I’ve tried to change it. I’m no wuss when it comes to the hard work of getting the details right. I’m obsessed with details. However, this is a WordPress issue I have yet to figure out how to resolve. Apparently my name is considered “too long”… someone should tell my 86-yr-old dad that. Warning: His cane strikes hard! So, if we have any WordPress pros out there reading these comments, shoot me an email and tell me how to fix it

  6. kate parobec

    Thanks for the great column! I returned to my love of writing 2 years ago after letting life get in the way for twenty years. Though I haven’t sold anything, each time I write it is not only a learning experience, but an absolute rush.
    I am very fortunate to be surrounded by friends who are also artists…whether they paint, sculpt or do photography and we all agree that we do it first and foremost for the love of it. Should any of us actually make money at it, then that would be the icing on the already delicious cake!
    When I was writing as a teenager, I would read my work to my mom. I’ll always remember her say how in awe she was that these stories came out of my creative mind and that in itself was something to be very proud of. Not everyone can do this. Those words are what inspire me to keep writing.
    Artists…all artists are amazingly unique! Keep doing what you love everyone!

  7. Scott Wallace

    Great column, Jeanne Veillette [illegible].
    Now let’s talk about another kind of writing: writing computer programs.
    Why is the date (in gray) superimposed on your last name (in black), making both unreadable? Sloppy. Why is it even possible for this to happen?
    This are questions for Script Magazine and its computer programming department.
    Here’s another: what are you going to do about it?
    The answer will be not words, but action — or inaction.
    Will Script Magazine strive towards perfection? Or will it say “Close enough for jazz”?
    The answer will reveal the character of Script Magazine! Does Script Magazine have a character arc?

  8. Becky

    I, too, was at the Screenwriters World Conference, and it was my first time attending something like that. I am fairly new at screenwriting, and I registered as sort of a baptism by fire kind of thing. For the type of person I am (a bit shy around people I don’t know), I surprised myself. I met some awesome people (including you, Jeanne, although I don’t expect you to remember…there were a lot of faces!). It was amazing to be around so many screenwriters who all shared a similar goal. We all know how difficult a writer’s road can be, and an event like this conference had the potential to be very discouraging for people who have a long way to go. But I really felt like I was myself at the conference, maybe for the first time, approaching strangers (crazy, I know) and finally feeling like a professional, although I haven’t technically gotten paid for this yet (minor detail). I know now more than ever that this is what I want to do, but I also learned that if I never get paid a dime for a single word I write, I would still do it, because a real writer will write no matter what. While I learned a lot about the industry (the good, the bad and the cutthroat), I also learned about myself, and I believe that’s really what this is all about….Thank you, Jeanne, for your inspirational column and your entertaining and thought-provoking words at the conference. I am a true fan!

  9. Patti Meyers

    I always enjoy your articles. They give me something to think about. I write first for my own enjoyment, selfish, I know. I live the lives of my characters without leaving my apartment and oh, the lives I live! And if my writing never gets produced or published, I will still have had the time of my life!

  10. Rick McCormick

    Fantastic as always. What a writer you are. “Perseverance is what makes it in this trade.” – UCLA’s Richard Walter. As writers, we just have to keep believing in ourselves.

  11. patrick

    I’m 24 years old and moving to LA. I know it isn’t needed as a screnwriter. But I believe it will help. More importantly I’m not doing it alone. My friend and partner in writing is moving with me.

    We both know the road ahead of us is long, with no real ending. We promised eachother to not give up, and to remind ourselves why we emptied our bank accounts and left family behind.

    One page at a time, knowing there will be highs and lows to overcome. Like the protagonist in a story we will overcome obstacles, by trusting in ourselves, and pushing through. Forward, together forward.

  12. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman

    You’re very welcome, Gio. I seemed to have a related conversation with several people this past week in L.A…. the “why do we do this when it’s so damn hard?” conversation. I wanted to answer more than the “why” with a bit of “how”… or at least how I do it. I’d love to hear how others push through too.