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.
It's not easy to manage time flying by. I was recently in L.A., 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.
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!