I Did It

At the beginning of 2016, I had one main goal: to write every single day this year.

I did it.

Almost.

I wrote 363 out of 366 days this year. I missed getting my writing done on three days: My sister’s wedding (I was the maid of honor and was up for something like 18 hours, going nonstop), a day in early December when I was working as a PA on a reality TV show, and another day about a week later when I was very ill.

But only missing three days out of a whole leap year is pretty darn good. I’m proud of myself for sticking to it.

At the start, I was confident in myself, but with my busy schedule, I wasn’t sure if I would make it. I thought I would miss a day long before July 30. Looking back at how often I had made excuses to not write in the year plus since film school, I wondered how I would push back against all the excuses I managed to come up with time and again.

The plan was simple. I created a document on my computer and called it my writing log, then typed in the date and the project that I worked on each day. The execution was just as simple. Find some time, open up a project, and write. Or revise.

So 2016 started and I started writing. And I didn’t stop. Yes, I missed three days, but after I missed a day, I kept on going.

I revised a feature screenplay that I started in film school, strengthening the story. I revised a short film and went on to direct it in March. I finished a feature that I started in 2014. I wrote the first draft of another feature. I started yet another feature. I revised a short film with my friend Max. I wrote numerous comedy sketches. I worked on some fiction, blog posts, and articles. The vast majority of the days found me screenwriting.

Some days I wrote pages. Some days I wrote sentences. Occasionally, on very busy days, I wrote or revised a few words.

No matter how much I wrote each day, I made so much progress on so many projects over the course of this year. That is why writing every day matters. And to think, I used to hear about people writing every day and scoff at the idea, wondering how anyone found the time. How silly I was.

Going into 2017, I’m not sure if I will write every single day again. I know I want to. I have forged a strong habit to make time for writing. I absolutely intend to keep that going and to continue to keep a log. The only leeway I plan to give myself is on holidays or vacations or times when I’m with family. Those days, if I have down time, I’ll write, but if not, I won’t stress over it. Either way, I’m gonna keep moving forward.

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Writing Every Day

Normally, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, or at least I don’t strictly hold myself to resolutions I make at parties or around the dinner table on New Year’s Eve. At the very least, I usually resolve to write more often. Often, that doesn’t happen.

For the first eight months of 2014, I was still in film school and got a lot of writing done—feature screenplays, a TV spec, short scripts—because it was assigned and therefore had built-in deadlines.

At the end of that year, I moved back to Wisconsin. When 2015 hit, I got two jobs and poured most of my energy into balancing them. Yes, I still made time to network and work on a handful of film projects, and yes, I wrote from time to time.

Ultimately, though, as I looked back on the year in December, I realized that I had spent a lot of time not writing. Instead, I wasted time and made excuses.

I worked both jobs today.

My friends want to hang out.

I’m going to a film festival.

It’s ten p.m. and I just got off work.

I’d rather spend time on facebook before work.

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

It’s easy to make excuses. I looked at all the time I spent on social media, or complaining about how I never had time to write, or doing anything instead of sitting down for 30 minutes before I left for work or after I got home and writing a few sentences, and I realized that I had plenty of time to write. And despite my busy work schedule, I had that time every day.

So as 2015 drew to a close, I quietly resolved to write every day.

Over five months later, I haven’t missed a single day.

I don’t hold myself to a certain word or page limit each day. With my current schedule, that would be very hard to achieve some days. But I write something every day. Some days, it is one sentence. Some days, it’s a little revising work. Some days, it’s several pages. Most days, it’s something in between.

I hold myself accountable by keeping a writing log on my computer. All I keep track of is what project(s) I worked on each day. I still have days where I feel tired, or work a lot, or get distracted by social media for hours. I still make myself write on those days.

I have wondered if something will happen that will trip me up, or if a day will come when I find an excuse to skip writing. For example, in March, I directed a short film that shot for two days. I wondered if I should allow myself to skip writing because I was directing a film that I had written. Does doing something creative that is not writing allow me to take a break from writing? Not this year. In the future, it may. The truth is, on the days that I was on set for 12 hours, I still felt compelled to write something after I got home. So I did.

I didn’t write this blog post to brag, but to simply say that if you want to do something creative, you can work toward it every day if you put your mind to it, and, most importantly, if you hold yourself accountable.

Last year, I would tell people that I was “working on” several projects. What I meant was that I had several projects that I had started but not finished. I hadn’t touched most of those projects in months.

This year, I am literally working on several projects. I have some features in the works, as well as short films and a web series. I’m collaborating on a project with another screenwriter. I revised a feature film that I started in film school and sent it to the PAGE Awards screenwriting competition. I have written countless pages.

Most importantly, despite getting distracted from time to time, I don’t want to stop writing.

What am I Doing with my Life?

I graduated from film school six months ago. So what have I been doing since then? Not much blogging, obviously.

I spent the first three months wandering around Vancouver, applying for jobs here and there, and writing when the mood struck me. This sounds boring, but it was actually pretty fun, considering I could see movies or hang out with my friends whenever I wanted to. We even had a couple of writing workshops, which was fun in addition to being useful.

After failing to secure a work permit (which is nearly impossible for Americans who graduate from VFS) I moved back home to good old Wisconsin at the end of November. The worst part was going from Vancouver’s tropical-seeming 30-degree fall to Wisconsin’s freezing dead of winter. But the weather wasn’t that hard to get used to since I’m a native and because it’s colder here, so we have better methods of staying warm: wool, fires, down-filled comforters.

I spent the first few weeks home reading and going to yoga classes. I also started making some film connections here, thanks in part to my cousin, Tony. I even made these nifty business cards!

Here's my card

Here’s my card

I’ve been reconnecting with old friends, which has been really nice. It’s so interesting to see someone after a number of years and notice how both of us have changed, yet we still have things in common.

I have also been writing, of course, though not as much as I’d like to. I’m working on a number of scripts at the moment, and in January I started writing articles for my friend Mike’s website, Geek Happy Network.

I got a part-time job selling tea a couple of weeks ago, and so far that’s been going really well. And in March, I’m going to start teaching yoga at a new studio in Prairie du Sac. I’m so excited!

Other than that, I’ve been seeing a lot of movies (gotta keep up on what’s out there) and getting ready to promote my short film “Smile, Baby.” A Madison production company, Frozen Stage Films, is going to host a screening of the film on March 15 at 2pm at the High Noon Saloon. After that, my lovely producer Amanda and I will be sending “Smile, Baby” out to film festivals. I’ll share more details as soon as I have them!

I’m also working on another short film that I’m going to make this year. I have a full script that I’ve rewritten several times, and I also have an actor who’s interested in being a part of it. So the next step is getting crew on board. I’ll share more details soon on that front as well.

So in conclusion, despite the cold and the snow, I’m doing things. And it feels good.

2014

Ah, the obligatory “looking back on the past year” post. On December 31, of all days.

In all seriousness, 2014 was an amazing year.

I spent most of the year at VFS, writing all kinds of projects. I saw my writing produced on two occasions–two episodes of a web series that I co-wrote with Dan Christensen came to life through the Film Production program, and I directed my short script “Smile, Baby.” And, in case you missed it in the last sentence, I directed for the first time! I also learned to produce through a new part of the VFS writing program, and with my team–Connor, Sarah-Jane, Michael, and Sasha–brought Sarah-Jane’s script Infect Me Not to life.

2014 was the year I got an IMDb profile.

I solidified a number of great friendships with my classmates in 2014. I met and worked with some very talented people.

This year, I wrote more than I’ve ever written before. I made my first film, and I helped to make several others. I submitted my feature screenplay and had at least one producer read it. He decided not to option it, but said it was “well-crafted.” I’ll take that!

2014 was the year I graduated from film school.

I gained confidence through these experiences. I know I can write a feature screenplay and finish it in a timely manner. I know all the work that goes into making a short film. I know that I can network and be smooth when I need to be. I have faith that my ideas are good. I know that I will write and make films wherever I go.

Happy New Year!

Serial Killers and Writer’s Block

I am currently enjoying a short break from school because I have just finished Term 5. Woooo! It’s exciting, of course, but also scary, since it means that I have two months to figure out what I’m doing next with my life. More on that later.

Term 5 was quite busy. My two main projects were writing the first draft of my second feature, which is a serial killer thriller, and developing a rewrite plan for my first feature, which unfortunately had me hitting the wall of writer’s block a number of times. Fortunately, there was a lot of good with the bad, as I found my thriller to be very exciting, which helped the pages flow smoothly. I love the story and the characters, and although I recognize the script still has some major flaws, I think it’s a strong first draft. Is it because I’ve improved as a writer? I like to think so, seeing as I’ve spent the last ten months writing page after page after page. But another big part of it was that I LOVED the story. I’ve often said that my main genre is drama–because it is–but recently I’m really getting into thrillers. They naturally have a fair amount of drama in them, and there’s something about the danger of it all that I find very exciting to write. Anyway, just thinking about this screenplay is getting me all hot and inspired.

As for the writer’s block: it’s the reality of a writer’s life from time to time. There are ways of working through writer’s block, of course–mainly, keep writing. The reason I’ve been so blocked with trying to re-structure the story of my first feature is because I wrote it as a romantic comedy, which we’ve already established isn’t really my thing, and so it ended up being light on the romance and light on the comedy. Another big problem from the first draft was that the second act meandered and not a lot happened. I had a couple of weak subplots, but it needs more. So, after a number of beat sheets and discussions in workshop, I have finally figured out what to do with the story, and I feel good about it. Part of my block was due to the fact that I had too many people, instructors and classmates, giving me notes and advice. They were all helpful in some ways, but a lot of them contradicted one another, and so I got lost in trying to figure out how to work in everyone’s suggestions. I finally realized that instead of doing that, I have to decide what I want to do with the story, because that’s most important. So I’m going to make the story dramatic, drop the romance, and give the protagonist an emotional trauma that she’s trying to run away from. I’m finally excited about the story again, and I think that will help the rewrite go smoothly once I get into pages next term.

Write Write Write

I am deep into Term 3 at VFS, and the reason I haven’t written a post until now is because I’ve been busy writing a number of other projects for school. The first of these projects is my feature screenplay, which I just finished. In two weeks, I will take it to workshop where I will get feedback from an instructor and three classmates. The next big project is a TV Spec, which is an episode of a TV Show that is currently on the air. I am writing a spec for “Elementary.” I enjoy the show, and I like my spec story, but keeping up with the detective/crime part of it is proving more difficult than I imagined. Fortunately, I still have about two weeks until the full draft of my spec is due. In addition to these two projects, I have also been writing sketch comedies, which are basically short skits (the most famous example being Saturday Night Live). Next term, there will be a live production showcasing my class’s sketches. I’m looking forward to seeing it!

As if all of that writing wasn’t enough, I also have a comedy genre class, where we read and analyze well-known comedy screenplays, and a film theory class, which is all about looking at classic and modern films and film movements. Both classes are fun in their own ways.

Last term I was a part of a film collaboration class, and this term the scripts I co-wrote went into pre-production, so my co-writer Dan and I have been attending production meetings, re-writing, and meeting with the directors and producers to make sure everyone is happy with where the scripts are as they head into production. This was a fulfilling process, though it was not always easy for Dan and I, since we sometimes had to stand our ground when the directors wanted to make drastic changes to the story that we thought were unnecessary. But once we talked to the directors, they clarified what they wanted visually, and we somehow managed to make compromises. I feel good about the final shooting scripts, which is good, because production on the pilot episode starts tomorrow!

As if all of that schoolwork wasn’t enough, I have also been developing the script for a short film that I am getting produced in the coming months. Some of my classmates are also working on short films of their own, and I am helping out in small ways. Gotta build that resume somehow!

After writing all of this out, I find it hard to believe that I have found time to eat and sleep in the last five weeks. But somehow I managed, and I’m not complaining about all of the work. It feels good to be spending so much time doing something that I love so much, and I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.

Film Collaboration

This term, I am excited to be a part of a Film Collaboration class. The only way to get into this class is to be invited by the instructors (based on your work and class contribution first term), and I feel lucky to be one of the few students who was invited.

In this class, six writers and about 30 Film Production students get together to create the beginnings of three different Web Series. The first week, we broke up into eight groups and each group thought of an idea for a web series. Then each group pitched their idea, and everyone voted on the ideas. Once the top three were decided, the three instructors split us all up into smaller groups for development.

My development team includes about ten film productions students, my classmate Dan, and writing instructor Brian. Last week, we talked about world building, i.e. what rules the episodes will follow, what parts of the world are constant, and defining traits of the characters.

This week, the film production students will bring treatments (episode ideas) and discuss them and then hand them over to Dan and I. The two of us will then have to decide which treatments we want to write, and then write the first draft of the first episode for next week.

The rest of the term will consist of rewrites, and we will continue to meet with our group and discuss ideas for the episodes, much like a TV writing team. By the end of the term, we will have polished drafts of two eight minute episodes. Next term, the film production students will shoot and produce the episodes, and even though most of our work will be done, we as writers will be able to attend at least one day of shooting to observe the process.

I am really excited about this opportunity, and I’m looking forward to collaborating with Dan, seeing the production process, and gaining produced writing credits.