Thursday, December 8, 2016

New Classes!

After five years recovering from brain surgery, I am finally able to stand and teach again! Whoot! It has been a long process, but I've learned so much about the journey we all are on as writers. I hope that,if you live in the Denver Metro Area, you'll consider looking into taking a class with me in the coming months. Right now I am offering a class starting January 28th, on Saturday mornings, 10 am - noon through Boulder Valley School District's Life Long Learning Program.

Introduction to Screenwriting

There will be a Poetry Workshop in the Spring, and then over the summer I hope to do a 10-week Intermediate Screenwriting Class.

Currently, I'm working on two projects myself, and so I am in the thick of writing. I would so love it if you'd join me! (Misery loves company, but so does Joy!)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Dancing Wind

How many writers are out there? Millions, I figure, and for all different kinds of reasons. I used to write only to hopefully make money. I called it being a professional writer. Even my most creative work, my speculative screenplays, my short stories, and my poems were to be validated with a prosperous prize.  The money was to be proof that I had a valuable “voice” and this caused me to find a way to produce a valuable piece of writing every time I picked up a pen, or opened a new document on my computer, and sometimes that worked out. I studied hard, and I was paid, but I didn’t feel like it was what I dreamt of as a little girl. I was looking for something more rooted.

A lot of the time my education didn’t work that well, too, and I became distressed that my voice was not being heard through writing. I felt that if a few part-time readers, working freelance for a producer, or publisher could decide my fate, then it was a crazy thing to even attempt. I wanted to quit.

However, I missed something important about writing when I wrote for any kind of attention at all. I became inflexible in an attempt to create that sought after “voice”. That something unique carried out in words somehow didn’t come out of the formulas I’d studied so very hard. I came to realize that the assumption that any idea is ever complete and finished, is arrogant, to say the least. I realized there is always a new way to write about anything. Always.

Once, far away, and long ago, there was a girl who danced with the wind. Twisting around giant rocks, skating over wild rivers and leaping over whole forests, she danced wherever the wind blew her. She made up her moves right on the spot where she found herself, sometimes echoing the voice of the wind and sometimes playing against the wind, but never for long. Improvising allowed her to create just the right dance, and she never repeated a dance she’d already danced in a new place. A new dance for each moment of her journey was her way. She didn’t worry if the dance was long or short. She didn’t worry if there was no one to see her dance except the wind.

It pleased folks to see the child dance and she found herself supported along the way. She didn’t plan for tomorrow. Yesterday’s dancing was forgotten. The wind was her angel and the storms were her friends.

One day the air was still. No breeze. No trembling leaves. It was hot. And, she didn’t feel so much like dancing. She sat beside a pond and looked at the mirror to a cloudless sky. It was so still that she could not imagine that the water was any more than a surface to reflect upon. While sitting there day in and day out, in a state of deep fatigue, it occurred to her that her insides felt different. In this state of immobility she noticed smaller things, too. She saw life was very busy even without wind to blow it along. Getting nearer to the pond, she began to see life beneath the surface when sitting in the shadows of tall motionless trees. It began to astound her that she’d missed so many opportunities to see the world while she was dancing with the wind. She didn’t notice she was alone.

Then the wind kicked up again, but this time instead of dancing, she found resistance bubbling up inside. She stood against the wind and felt the struggle of life. Feeling determined, she grit her teeth, and began to bury her feet in the earth. She was not going to be pushed into dancing with the wind anymore. She forgot she loved to dance. She let the rain pound against her face. Her existence became one of struggle to be herself so that she could watch the world living and contemplate on it and be a part of it.

Years went by and by and she didn’t dance, and her body grew sturdy. She saw the seasons come and go as she reflected on the waters, the cycle of life surrounded her, and she was awestruck. When the breeze stirred and she hunkered down to wonder what her purpose was and where she belonged. She found fewer and fewer answers the more she asked. Watching life move along with or without the wind didn’t make any sense to her, but being still didn't either. The bugs and butterflies seemed to adapt to whatever the weather brought. Sometimes they danced on their own, even, and when she realized this, she realized she had lost her way. She wished she could remember the dances she once had danced, but they were firmly in yesterday. She wasn't even sure where her feet were anymore.

One still day, she decided she’d had enough resistance. She wanted to move like the life around her moved, and she decided if she couldn’t remember how to dance with the wind, she would dance in the stillness. Since her feet were planted firmly into the soil so far away, closing her eyes, she stood and waved her arms. She waved them a little bit at first, but then she imagined they were dancing and they began to sway gently up and down, back and forth, and the trees around her noticed and waved back gently.

Soon her body swayed with a new found rhythm and she felt a soft breeze upon her cheeks. Her body bent and stretched as it hadn’t for so very long. She felt her hips swirl this way and that way. Rolling her head around and around, her long hair ruffled like leaves on a willow tree, dipping into the pond and stirring the mirror. Soon her knees bent and straightened and her toes beneath the dark soil began to move, and she could feel her own feet had grown deep into the earth.

When she felt the raindrops hit her cheeks, her eyes opened, and there, all around her, she felt the embrace of the wind welcoming her back. Though she no longer felt the need to leap over the forest, skate the wild river, twist past the rocks around her, she knew that she would never forget how to dance again. She had become the dancing wind herself.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Writing to Stay Awake

A writing practice sounds so lofty, but to me it is often mundane and every day. It is something that needs to be done more than something that wants to be done. Some days I write profoundly in my writing practice, but more often my virtual trash bin is full to overflowing. What I am learning over time is to remove the notion that I have to make progress with the outcome on this day or that day, and instead use my practice to sink into saying what I want to say through the written word. I use writing practice to train my brain to keep working even when it is frustrating.

First, I have to admit that being paid did not make me the writer I wanted to be after all. Some of my writing was to meet the needs of my clients, and was skewed with keyword rich statements and incomplete thoughts that were word cliffs to hang upon. The writing that came out for pay was an expression of my job to please the client, and my job often distracted me from the process of writing very well. I often referred to myself as a "hack" because I could drop words into any project I was called on to write, but this did not make me into what I consider an honest writer, developing and using the skills of wordsmithing to communicate well. It was frankly bull shit.

I'm not embarrassed about this truth. I did what I had to do, to pay for food and shelter for my family. I didn't view this paid work as an opportunity to become a better writer because I assumed that I wrote well enough to be paid already. I didn't view this work as part of my writing practice. Of course, that is exactly what was wrong with my writing, but I didn't know it at the time.

Here's what happened to me: I lost my ability for written words slowly but surely until I hated writing and prayed I would think of something else to do. Really. I didn't know it, but I had a brain tumor near my left temporal lobe. Eventually, at my husband's office party, I had a partial aphasic seizure, and was unable to speak. I had images and even non-worded thoughts floating in my mind, and no way to connect them to my tongue, to words I knew so well. I said ridiculous things, and was truly panicked. It was not babble-icious. I ended up in the ER thinking I'd had a stroke. That was in October of 2011, when I was diagnosed with a benign meningioma.

I stopped writing much at all after brain surgery. My prayers had been answered in a strange way. I recorded events a little bit in a journal and a blog, but mostly I spent time drawing with oil pastels, and eventually digital painting. I let my mind wander away, but I found that I still wanted to write as stories bubbled up without my control. What happened next was a shock to me. I really didn't realize that I'd not been writing for so long until I tried to sit down and write out some of the ideas that had surfaced. Now, when I sat down to write, I fell asleep within a few sentences. Fell asleep.

It took me a year to realize that my left temporal lobe was actually damaged by brain surgery, even though I could walk and talk, and knew who the President of the United States was, I was still reaching for words, for my own voice. It wasn't the voice of "knowing" that I'd projected before. It seemed terrifying to me. I decided then that it was like recovering from any surgery. What I needed was practice. I began writing again nearly everyday with no purpose other than to be able to stay awake while writing. It has only been in the last few months that I could make writing last more than an hour.

I'm telling you all of this because I have no doubt now that writing is a lot like a sport. When I first began as a writer I experienced an accidental winning streak, called talent. However, eventually I discovered that to keep it going my mind needs to practice with no goal except to practice. This builds not only skill, but confidence in my writing. Practice builds a stronger mind that is able to awaken and respond to the words that I want to write. Literally, I mean to say a writing practice is the same as doing cardiovascular and core strength work everyday. It exercises my mind in ways that specifically lead to better writing. I believe that I'm becoming a better writer than I was before my seizures, but I still have miles to go. I still have to practice every day. When I don't, then I'm sore. My writing pays.

As with any exercise program, of course, I began too hard on myself and then reeled in mental anguish about it for months afterwards! Frustrated that I could not penetrate the veil between what I wanted to write and what was going onto the page, there are times I've wanted to give up the ghost. Every word seemed an arms length away from my heart. With reluctance, I learned the hard way to begin gently.

I can only recommend writing for ten minutes a day for several weeks with no purpose other than to write. I can't tell anyone what to write about. I write what I'm obsessed with, to be honest. Usually, relationships long past or events I'm not clear about, but sometimes I write about writing, about my dogs or about art. Stretching beyond ten minutes can happen later.

I realize that, for me, it is hard to focus on a topic even for ten minutes, and maybe this is true for more writers than I know. I try to stay on subject in a simple blog post like this, for instance, and find myself wandering. I am prone to catching on a tangent going someplace else, but I'm getting better at seeing that now,  Knowing when I have more to say on a subject, then, I can put it into a new piece of writing. A surgical rewrite, if you will, separating what might even be symbiotic so that each piece can stand on its own, rather than one piece collapsing on itself. This is a new skill for me, from practicing over the past months. Though, rarely am I satisfied with my finished product still as a writer, I now see my frustration is because I've not given myself the time to try other options. This is okay. Learning that I can write regarding the same topic in a myriad of ways has proven to me that flexibility is a craft I want to hone as a writer. I'll show you what I mean.

This is the first post on writing practice.  It is about getting stronger in my brain for the sake of my brain and communicating what my brain intends to communicate. I've placed a hint about the next topic. I'm continuing this theme of writing practice for both our sakes, in the hopes that there will be something that helps you feel writing is a worthwhile process in and of itself.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Speculation


My grandfather always told me, "Never bet on anything you aren't prepared to win." This seemed to me, for a good chunk of my life, like a warning never to gamble on anything. I've treated much of my creative work to this philosophy, and held back on many a gamble. It was too much of a gamble for me because I was uncertain if I could perform in a way that I thought was winnable. The uncertainty kept me starting a new project every other day out of the pure discomfort I felt with each and every creation - that it might not be good enough to win.

However, I knew that my grandfather was not shy of making wages on many sports that he was good at but couldn't have possibly known he was going to win. So what gave? I've matured and have come to understand that "prepared" is the word to emphasize, not guaranteed winning. That preparation is more important than winning seems obvious to me as a parent of two teenagers, but for myself? Shouldn't I be winning by now?

Well, I am at least a pillar of experience, and I forget that sometimes, especially after brain surgery. While I may not have all the answers, I do have plenty of experience to draw upon after being a self-sustaining writer for many years, after working within publishing and gaming, for studios, with independent producers and and for a literary agency. By now I have a treasure trove of experiences to draw upon. I do know what "they" are looking for in a talent, besides talent.


All of this is, indeed, part of my preparation as a coach and instructor of writers. However, is it what a writer needs to prepare herself to succeed? Maybe, but there is something specific that makes a writer into a demanded commodity for the market. There is no lack of "content" out there, and obviously enough of it is terrible that any writer can't help but think, "I could do this better." However, I have slowly come to understand that this initial speculation must be followed by the work of preparation to be a successful writer.

Jeez. That's heady. Like what kind of things does a writer need be be ready to do besides write? Nothing. Ha, ha! Working in so many industries of words, guess what I witnessed writers having the most trouble doing? Writing. Yep. I spent more of my time walking writers through the articles I needed them to turn in last week, cajoling screenwriters to finish the polish they promised a month before, and talking writers into the confidence their work deserved to turn it over to other eyes, than I spent time reading what they wrote. Yet somehow, I missed the point of all of this until recently.

What does a writer need, to be prepared, to do in order to succeed? A writer needs to be prepared to write. 


But how can a writer prepare herself to write anything, anytime? Practicing is applicable to any business, sport or art form, and will make being "original," rather than derivative, that much more accessible. Writing practice is all about removing the struggle to get to the essence. Not every practice run produces a winning work of writing and that is perfectly acceptable. I am no longer struggling with an irksome "can I or can't I?" question. I can write. I write everyday. To be a true speculative writer means practice begins today and everyday so that I am prepared to write whatever I envision, whenever I envision it, Practicing may not make perfect, but practicing makes prepared.

The hopeful part of being a speculative writer is in practice that develops self-knowledge, flexibility and preparedness for all opportunities. Come work with me for a few hours or a few years. It will take the time it takes for you to find yourself prepared to write successfully.





Friday, July 18, 2014

Working with Writers

It's been nearly a year since I checked in here because I finally realized last December, 2013 that I had to give some time to my brain for healing fully and stop making any other goals move up the list of priorities above that. It takes a long time for a brain to heal, or for a person to come to terms with what is what after brain surgery or trauma. Though hard to grasp that in the midst of impatience, I've made some progress in accepting that there are things that are not going to change quick enough for my satisfaction, and I've taken up an attitude of doing what I can reasonably and sustainably. This influences everything from mundane chores to my most creative endeavors. I am coming to terms with my right to live for my own sake.

As writers, we have to adjust constantly in order to get it done. If I could write quickly for years, and thought that was great, but didn't succeed as well as I'd hoped, writing slowly now is chalk full of challenges I'm discovering. I am in a constant state of developing beyond where I once was comfortable. Sometimes it floors me that I would still want to write when it is so difficult! But, I do and so day by day I'm creating a new practice that I can live with and feel good about with a different endgame in mind. 



Did I say endgame? Yes, I did. For many years I believed the endgame was to create "successful screenplays" that could be produced in Hollywood, for a price I could retire on, and create a returning audience that I could produce a dozen experiences for over a decade. My endgame was all about working as a professional writer, and I spent years studying the craft, and trying to make my ideas fit into the expectations of a professional screenwriter. This turns out to be only the BEGINNING.

Everything is in constant process of change, and I don't mean just my brain. The entire business that was my endgame is on the verge of transmutation in terms of the way things are done. The movie industry is in metamorphosis, and yet they keep making money with fewer, and many affirm less wonderful movie products. How many box theaters have closed in your neck of the woods, and yet some theater distributors have just had record number producing years? If you need proof that the industry isn't relying on old formulas, look at the stocks of giants like SonyViacom and Time-Warner. The only game in town isn't Disney and they're pretty well planned out for some seven years with enormous investments in the tried and true franchises like Marvel and Star Wars. Kickstarter and other crowd-funding sources have become the second-full-time job of any producer or director to find the finances to create a film. Stalwart film distributors like AMC Theaters have been in overdrive trying to create new experiences for the theater-goers to get them out of their home theater set ups. Meanwhile Apple, Google, Amazon and Samsung continue to promise private home entertainment that far surpasses the interactive experience an audience can have publicly, even if the privacy of that experience is questionable. Isn't this just what I was writing about several years ago? Yet it is still unfolding...

What is a writer to do when the rules fly out the door? Well, remember this one thing...just because the way the industry as we know it has been dying, doesn't mean it is gone, and certainly doesn't mean the audience is dying. The audience still wants great, moving entertainment and dare I say it? Art. The popular term today, "content," is the fruit that everyone still loves. The audience needs it to be fantastically nourishing in today's world. Because, no one can actually know for sure which way the new industry of on-demand, on-line, niche theaters, and free/advertiser supported entertainment is headed, now your choices are your own as a writer and creator. It is a terrific time for writers because the answer is simple. 

Write what you want to see. Write how you want to be entertained. Write in a way that moves you to laughter and tears. Write stories of life lived through these tumultuous times. Write stories to break our hearts. Write stories to lift us up. Write stories in your own best length, and with or without all of the special effects available. Write stories to become interactive. Write stories that take the time to dive deeply into research. Write stories that take time to develop well. Write stories with characters who have something important, and more than what we expect, to say and let their voices be heard through all of the devices available.

It takes courage. This is true. Can you expect "overnight" success in a world where successful directors are teaming up overseas, or taking on crowd-funding sites just to finance their projects? Uhm. No. Overnight success will be surprising and probably faddish for the next decade. Money will be wasted. Time will slip by, guaranteed, but if you can see that this is a ten year development process ahead, and that there will be fits, starts and flops, then there is hope for you. Isn't that what you kind of expected anyway? Isn't that a writer's life?

I have favorite screenwriting masters who I revere for their respect/disrespect of structure and their original ideas, and I do not claim to be one of them, yet. You can find them on Youtube, or visit a number of great on-line web classes. I am a great teacher though for getting a writer going, and maintaining commitment through a project even when it becomes hard and unpleasant. Did I just say that writing can become hard and unpleasant? Yup. If you're still excited about this endeavor, and you'd like to work with a coach who knows old-school screenwriting structure front and back, but is excited to push beyond that, to push towards a future that envisions more depth and the ability to draw the audience back again and again for a new experience, then check out my rates (they haven't changed in 2 years!) and send me a message (kosmicegg777@gmail.com). I am the one who can keep nudging you through until you have a piece of work that you feel great about, that has respectable structure so that it doesn't fall down in faddishness, but also breaks through the unnecessary and opens a story for today's and tomorrow's audience. 

Ayn Rand had some things right. We have to create for our own lives. We write with the understanding that there is immediate reaction and long-term judgment, but we can't care one iota about it. We have the right to ask for our own terms and to stand by them. I'm not sure I would recommend tearing things down in quite such a legally tricky manner as Mr. Roark did in The Fountainhead, but certainly walk away from those who would tear down your work and add artifice to make it fit some ideal that no longer exists. This is not the time to look backwards, Writers!




I want to add a little testimonial that I received this week from one of my current students, whom I've been working with for over a year now, though I am blushing. Just so you know that I'm the real deal, and I'm not going to rush you through this process:

I was thinking on my way to work ….what does our relationship,  coaching sessions and journey remind me of...?

And then it hit me.   I feel like you are my Anne Sullivan and I am Helen Keller! - Gina Higgins

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Rare Event

Sometimes I feel so excited about the inevitable changes in the entertainment industry that I feel I have to get it down in words. Such a moment is happening as I watch CBS give the finger to the cable industry. It was more than two decades ago that we watched the upstart cable channels learning to walk in the world of programming. Network TV was at the top of its game, and frankly, resting on its laurels half asleep to the potential that cable networks posed to them. They, the HBOs et al, were thought of along the lines of "B-Movies," second rate in every way, something that would be watched only by insomniacs, a place to send failed movies and untried television writers.

Then cable grew. It grew in every genre. It grew and it grew, and not just in shows, but in the ability to deliver a clear channel, via broadband, and satellite. Now network television, the crown jewel of home entertainment had to grovel to be a part. All of the tried and true methods of first-run to second-run re-runs disintegrated. Not to mention the awful inventions of home video recordings, then DVDs, then the freakish TiVo to undo advertising dollars. Truly it looked like the end of network TV even two or three years ago.

You may ask yourself what happened, as I did. What is giving CBS the shit to stand up and say, "NO!" to Time-Warner contracts? Is it merely the fact that it is the top network in programming? Of course, as a writer this is my true wish and certainly it helps the case for the ending of torture by cable bundling. The fact that CBS has left all of the other classic networks in the DUST with shows like NCIS, Elementary, The Big Bang Theory and Mike and Molly is surely helpful. There is no doubt about this, but it isn't the reason that CBS can say, "Buh-bye" to cable.

Along came Netflix, Hulu and any number of on-line streaming upstarts. Who needs cable, when you can watch entire seasons of reruns, and now get new programming on-demand? Honestly, this is a tale of Hollywood lore unfolding. Netflix, the company that revolutionized home entertainment by mailing out DVDs, looked like it was going under in a big way just a year or two ago has seen its stock rise to near its former zenith this past quarter because it has made the leap from the atomic age to the electronic one. It is now the leader in on-line streaming content, and it will never go back. Just the notion that CBS is looking at this and thinking, "hmmm," has my tits standing to attention. Now there's an idea. No more fucking bundles.

As the film industry was sure television would never catch on, and as the television industry was sure the cable industry would never catch on, so is the cable industry shrugging over "PewdiePie" on YouTube as if it is a fad (please note the number of views and the ad that paid them). Just as HBO is hitting the prime of its programming genius an upstart is stealing our attention, and no longer hiding behind the curtain. You know, it suddenly makes sense to have 40,000 film school graduates, if only they would change the NAME OF THE SCHOOLS. If it were me, I'd  be much more interested in studying "Transmedia Content" and get on with my life.



Here's my prediction: HBO and Showtime could be scrambling like network TV in less than five years to get your attention. CBS will rise above its own narrow field and become a new leader in content providing. Netflix will surpass its zenith stock prices of yesteryear's DVD land. PewdiePie and his progeny will make you laugh your pants off. Going to the movies will become a past-time for elitists who are sentimental about the smell of popcorn and willing to pay $100 for the chance to relive it.

Over and out from the Speculative Screenwriter

Thursday, February 21, 2013

It's A New Day



This an interesting moment for me. It's been a year since surgery. I've been making art and sinking myself into visuals. I think screenwriting for me may be going into my storage unit, a nostalgic collection of what I've learned about telling stories. Who knows what will feed into my new life?  I value the graceful structure of a great screenplay more than I can say, and think about how it could feed a series of paintings, of poems and even my memoirs

Just being done with screenwriting has made watching movies SO MUCH MORE ENJOYABLE to me. I've really felt better about movies as an audience member than I have as a writer for years. To that end, please go see great movies in the theater. Even the personal dramas like "The Silver Lining Playbook," deserve the silver screen as much as "Life of Pi," or "Cloud Atlas," or the great epic dramas like, "Lincoln." We've just been blessed this year by some fabulous choices. They are not re-runs. The Oscars are this weekend and as usual I'm looking forward to watching them. Maybe this year I won't be jealous. Grin. Maybe.

I've entered one of my art pieces in a contest to start the long road of gaining credibility as an artist. Just as I've urged my screenwriting students to do. This is the painting, and if you click on it, please vote in the month of February, 2013. It is in the "Monthly Voting Gallery," on Page 2.  If I am a winner for the Monthly Gallery then I will be in the final round of this contest and have a chance to be seen by many people in the art world, and to win a "full studio" Super Shawn Taboret, a nifty piece of furniture that will allow me to leap to professional development in my small quarters. 

C.G. Jung Laughs, Oil Pastels on Black Archival Paper, 19" x 25", 2012 (c) Amanda Morris Johnson
Thank you so very much for your interest and support in the past few years. Please consider following me on Facebook, or on my other URLs Kosmic Egg -- http://kosmiceggprojects.blogspot.com, http://kosmicegg.blogspot.com, http://kosmicegg.tumblr.com and http://kosmiceggtarot.wordpress.com. As you will see, writing is still very much part of my world, and I speculate that all that I know will feed it in an entertaining and interesting way...