Jeanne Veillette Bowerman is the Editor of Script Magazine and a screenwriter, having written the narrative adaptation 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.
I’ve been contemplating life’s journeys lately. We chug along, thinking we’re heading toward one destination, and then something gets hurled into our path, forcing us to change direction.
Is there only one way to the Emerald City?
Let’s take Dorothy and her band of merry mates, albeit one, a beast. They each had a goal, hoping the Almighty Wizard would help – a brain, a heart, courage, and a way back to Kansas.
If you think about it, we writers need all of those same things. We need a brain to create our stories, a heart to bring emotion to the page, and the courage to pursue our dreams. Okay, maybe we don’t need Kansas, but we do need family and friends to love and support us.
Flying monkeys, wicked witches, and fields of sleep-inducing poppies sometimes stand between us and our success.
The big question is how do we control the uncontrollable?
Simple. You don’t. Instead, you control what you can.
Eight years ago, I went for a run on my country roads, far, far from La La Land. By the time I returned, I knew I wanted to be a writer. How the hell I was going to get there was beyond me, but I knew I had to start with words on a page.
I sat and wrote five pages of a novel – five utterly horrible pages of vomit. I hadn’t a clue how to construct a story, let alone get it read by anyone who mattered.
I needed a brain.
I read books, articles, and writer interviews, trying to absorb as much as I could. I opened a Twitter account and followed people who knew more than I did.
I learned. I wrote. I learned some more. I rewrote. After eight years, my writer brain was ready.
All work and no play makes Jeanne a dull girl. Enter the heart.
I lived life in ways large and small, learning amazing lessons along the way. My heart muscle expanded, beat with joy and even shattered into a million pieces. But I was alive, soaking in every emotion I could feel, both good and bad.
In order to bring our hearts to the page, we need to step off the yellow-brick road and live. Living, loving and being in touch with our feelings are paramount to writing emotionally moving stories.
I won’t lie, some of those lessons nearly killed me, but all made me stronger. Every joyous and excruciating emotion has ultimately landed on my pages, making my stories relatable and full of emotional impact.
While I dodged my own Wicked Witches and flying monkeys, I wrote, sometimes just outlines or jotting down ideas, but I put them on the page. I’m not suggesting you write about your life, but merely use the emotions your life events bring you, really absorb them, then give them to your characters to play with. I now have a trilogy of books outlined.
Books? Yes, books. Hollywood loves adaptations. Why not write the novels myself and adapt them later? FYI, The Wizard of Oz was an adaptation. Just sayin’.
Having a brain and a heart helps nurture courage, but you can’t wait until it’s time to knock on the Almighty Oz’s door to muster it up. You need to build courage along the way, one brick at a time.
After I wrote my first script, I had to find the courage to put it out there. I dipped my toe in by having friends read it. Dorothy did the same by partnering with the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion. Every one of them helped her courage grow to the point of dousing the Wicked Witch with water and snatching her broom.
Ding dong, the witch is dead! Dorothy was validated, even by the monkeys.
Writers need validation and feedback too, and we also need a champion. If we’re lucky, we’ll find our own Glenda the Good Witch to wave a wand and open doors for us.
Enter family and friends. Many spouses don’t understand or fully support an artist’s choice, but all it takes is one person to believe in your talent and encourage you to keep skipping down the path to Oz.
Thank them. Often. For these are the people who will not only celebrate your successes with genuine appreciation for all your hard work, but they will also hold you while you cry and question your choice to write.
But Auntie Em can’t come to Oz with you, and even if she did, her homemade apple pie isn’t going to get you a career, no matter how many producers take a bite. You need to build relationships with those in the industry.
Reach out to every single person you know. Use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and even college professors and friends. Someone might know someone who knows someone in the film world to help you. Think six degrees of Kevin Bacon.
Courage is much more complicated than being confident in your abilities and having a strong network. Courage sometimes hides deep within us, smothered in our fear and insecurities. We need to peel back the layers and let our bravery shine through.
Your brain, heart and family can help you build courage. But the only person who can reach deep and pull that courage to the surface is you.
Remember when Glenda told Dorothy she had the power all along? All she had to do was click her heels three times… and believe.
Sure, it’s hard as hell to break in, but focus on one small step at a time. Learn to compartmentalize everything, especially rejection. Put things in little boxes, only taking them out when you need to.
Don’t forget to leave a box for you. If you are fulfilled in your life outside of your writing, it’ll be easier to bring a positive energy into a pitch meeting. It’s true in love and it’s true in writing – you need to be comfortable in your own skin and feel whole in your own happiness before you can offer your heart and have your intentions succeed.
Just like Dorothy, you have the power. Click your heels.
So what does the Great Oz have to do with your journey? The only way to know is to go to L.A. and find out. After years of traveling to pitchfests, pitching producer after producer, finally making it into in-house network meetings and A-list actor’s offices, I learned one very valuable lesson: Don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain. He isn’t a god.
The Wizard of Oz is just a person. So are producers, agents, and managers. Every one of them puts their pants on one leg at a time, has personal stresses, makes mistakes and probably has even been fired once or twice in their lives.
Just breathe and be yourself.
Liking you and wanting to work with you is more than half the battle. If Dorothy had been a bitch to Glenda, I’m guessing she would have taken that wand and turned her into a toad instead of helping her.
Here’s another secret: They want to like your idea. They want to be able to go to their boss having found the diamond in the rough.
If you feed your brain, open your heart, and have courage to never give up, you can be that diamond… no ruby slippers required. Just a good, solid set of steel balls.
Even if the road to Oz starts with a tornado and crazy obstacles getting thrown in your way, always remember to enjoy the journey, monkeys and all. Because living life isn’t about reaching a destination, it’s about all the lessons you learn along the way, possibly taking you to a completely different destination than where you thought you wanted to be.
Lions and tigers and bears… bring ‘em on.
Watch ScriptMag Editor Share Her Advice on Facing Your Writing Fears
Jeanne Veillette Bowerman shares her personal story of facing her fears in order to propel her writing and her career. Click on the image below to watch Jeanne's advice. In just eight minutes, you might have a whole new perspective.