In other news, we’re making progress on our house! The second floor joists are all in, the back wall of the ground floor is framed, and I have a window in my bedroom.
There is no bedroom yet, but by golly, there’s a window, and we’re counting that as progress.
We’re so blessed to have plenty of friends and family to come out on work days to help us frame, and we are slowly making our way through an enormous list of projects that must be done before this house is anything like complete. It still feels like a hugely overwhelming task, but little bit by little bit we are chipping away at the Things To Be Done, and hopefully by the end of the year, we will have a house to live in!
Unfortunately, Colorado is not a good place to have any kind of fire, thus the statewide fire bans that come into effect every single year.
It’s very dry here.
Dry grass, dry brush, dry pine needles.
Fires spread fast.
I was the first one to see the smoke, and my dad and I drove down the road to our neighbor’s house to see what was going on. By the time we got there, the fire trucks were on their way, the house was in flames, and so were the trees.We went home to pack.
Thankfully, the wind was almost nonexistent that day—something that’s very unusual for Colorado—and the small breeze we did have was headed toward the fire, pushing it away from us. So we had a little time and some hope that our property would make it through unscathed. Still, I went back to my house from my parents’ and began loading the car. You know, in case we had to make a run for it.
The only problem was, I had no idea what to bring.
See, usually in cases of fire, they say don’t grab anything. Leave it all, just get out. Right?
But that’s a house fire. When you have minutes to escape and risk not getting out at all. This particular fire was half a mile away and moving away from us, and our route out was clear.
And for the life of me, I couldn’t think of what needed to go into my car in case we did need to leave.
My puppy, certainly. And my cat, who’s older than the hills. But I didn’t want to load either of them until right before we drove down the driveway, mostly because my cat hates change and would probably have had a heart attack just to spite me because I made her leave the house. My husband’s safe, of course, with all our legal documents. My computer, with all the scripts and books I’m currently working on. A few flash drives with backups.
It hit me then, how replaceable everything in my home was. And how… unimportant. None of it really felt worth saving. I could buy more books. I could plant another apple tree and buy a new desk chair. Nothing in my home was so valuable or irreplaceable that I cared enough to worry whether or not it made it through the fire.
So I packed an overnight bag and went to sit with my sisters and the rest of my family, to watch the smoke and listen to the news and hope that our property and our trees and everything else that was irreplaceable would be okay.
It was an odd feeling. This property is my home. I plan to live here for the greater part of my life, if not the rest of it. My family was safe, so were my pets. The house and all the things I’ve collected in it, those are all replaceable, but the trees, the land, our farm?
Those are the things I’m attached to. The ones I don’t want to leave behind.
The fire burned 21 acres before the fire department put it out. It never turned back toward us, and, weirdly enough, it wasn’t until it was out and over with that we could finally smell the smoke. But it reminded me how fragile our existence can be, and how easily the things that matter can slip away. I’m still sorting through how that made me feel.
I am a full-time writer. I’ve mentioned that about a million times on this blog, along with noting that I run my own business as a freelancer. But today, I’d like to dive a little deeper into what that looks like on a daily basis.I’ll give you a hint.
I don’t actually spend my entire day writing.
Nor, strangely enough, do I spend my whole day in my pajamas, although I work from home and generally spend the majority of my time with my kitty and my newly acquired puppy. No boss checking that I’m meeting dress code here! Except for me, and I have my own policies about that. But, we’ll get into that. In short, this is what a typically day as a freelance scriptwriter looks like.
5:30 – 7 AM: My alarm goes off stupidly early. My husband sets it for me every night, usually because I’m already buried in my blankets and stick my head out to ask if he will. He’s a good sport. I like to get up before the sunrise to get a start on my day before the rest of the world is awake and jostling for my attention. It gives me some space. Now that we have a puppy in the house, I take her out on her leash to use the bathroom, then walk over to my parents’ house to jump on their rebound mini trampoline.
People always laugh at me for the jumping thing. They can’t seem to figure out why I do it, and it weirds them out. Simply put, this is my time. I stick my headphones in, and I work on my books. Stories don’t just show up, you know. You have to plan them. You have to make space for dreaming and talking with characters and imagination, and this is my space. If I don’t have this time, I don’t have books. Period. You might say this is one of the most important parts of my day as a writer.
7 – 8 AM: When I get home, I clean. Obsessively. I find it very hard to be creative if the dishes aren’t done or the floor isn’t swept, so before my day really gets started, I make sure that all the little chores are well and truly finished. This is also when I get dressed—no pajamas here. I’ve learned through a bit of trial and error that I feel 100% better if I’m dressed for work and have done my hair and makeup. It’s the little things.
8 – 9 AM: I study Spanish with Duolingo. This is one of my weirder habits—it has nothing to do with my career, probably won’t be relevant to my daily life anytime soon, and as much as I enjoy it, I probably will never become a fluent—or even competent—Spanish speaker. But it’s something new and different for my brain to do, and it keeps me sharp.
9 – 12 AM: This is my first big ‘chunk of work’ for the day. I generally have meetings during this time to discuss scripts, casting, story problems, or just provide updates for deadlines and revisions that need to happen. When I’m not in meetings, I’m writing. Depending on the day, I might be throwing together an outline for the team to approve for a script, or drafting a chapter for one of my two books in progress, or writing dialogue for a script. This is all usually accompanied by a cup of tea, trips outside with the puppy, and my kitty attempting to crawl into my lap to get the love and attention she deserves.
12 – 2 PM: Lunch, another trip outside with the puppy, and maybe if I have time, I’ll walk over to my parents house to see actual human people and jump. Another brainstorm session helps get me back in the game for an afternoon of writing.
2 – 4 PM: More writing. Afternoons are hard, y’all. This is when I start falling asleep. Music generally helps, and sprints with my writers’ group over text. When we’re all working, it always encourages me to get more words in. If I’m working on books that particular day, this is also where I will switch projects. 1000 words in the morning for one book, 1000 words in the afternoon for another. We don’t always hit that, but we try.
4 – 6 PM: I’m prepping dinner, listening to crime podcasts or an audio book, and taking the puppy out for a good romp before the husband gets home and we eat together.
6 – 9 PM: This is supposed to be free time. It really, really is. But if I’ve got a tight deadline on a script that I’m trying to meet, or if I happen to be feeling particularly inspired, I’ll curl up on my couch with my computer and get in a few hundred extra words. My cat usually sits on top of me, and my husband plays video games next to me, so it’s all very cozy. Or, if my writers’ group is up for it, we’ll toss out a few prompts through text and free write for a while—which is always good for creativity and opens up dozens of interesting doors.
There you have it! This is what a typical day as a freelance writer looks like—at least in my neck of the woods. This was an enormously long post, but if you’ve ever wondered what a writer actually does in a day, now you know!
Is that crazy or what? I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. Sometimes it amazes me how quickly life can change. All the sudden, my weekends are booked with wedding planning, engagement photo sessions, and attempting to figure out all the things one is supposed to do to prepare for a wedding.
Apparently there are a lot of them.
I need to make a list.
Two lists. I need two lists.
Okay, I need to make a list of all the lists I need to make.
Thankfully, my fiancé’s brother and sister in-law rescued us from wedding planning on Sunday and took us up to a reservoir about an hour away. We took their boat out on the lake, and my fiancé and his brother tried wakeboarding.
They offered to let me try.
I’m happy to watch people get sprayed and dunked and yanked along behind a speeding boat while attempting to stand upright. Not so happy to do it myself.
Thankfully, they didn’t insist.
I’ll try next time. When we have a tube instead of a wakeboard. Tubes need less balance. And strength. And skill.
And basically all the things that I have in short supply.
However, watching is great fun, and so was sitting on the back of the boat when we stopped for lunch and fed the geese.
I got toasted in the sun.
Okay, I got toasted on one side. My arms are unevenly burned now. Red on one side, white on the other. Hopefully that doesn’t last long. I don’t want to add ‘uneven tanning’ to one of my to-do lists.
Any wedding planning tips for me? Tell me about them in the comments!
But it meant that I was out of the office on sick leave. Mostly, I just slept on the couch. And watched Toy Story. And drank way too much water and downed vitamin C’s like candy, because who has time to be sick, anyway?
Thankfully, I seem to be on the tail end of it. For which I’m grateful.
Being sick messed with my writing schedule, both at work and in my personal projects. And lately, my personal projects have been anything but perfect. See, I’m writing the first draft of a story.
And first drafts are hard.
You know why? Because I don’t know what happens in the story. I don’t know who all these characters are. I write ten chapters, then half of it gets deleted because the story took a different turn than I expected and what I wrote doesn’t fit anymore.
Characters do things I don’t expect them to do.
Things pop up in the most unexpected ways.
Settings refuse to let me see them, so I have to feel my way around in the dark and hope for the best.
It’s all very confusing.
You’d think I would be better at first drafts by this time. After all, I’m a writer. A (sort of) professional. I get paid to write stories, and every story begins with a first draft. (Unfortunately.)
So I should have the process licked by this time, right?
Well, not exactly. Because the reality is, first drafts are hard. They don’t make sense. The characters wander in and out and change as you write them, and the setting never looks quite the way you imagined it would. Some parts are wordy and boring and others happen so fast that you forget to put any emphasis on the important bits.
For goodness sakes.
But, first drafts are not supposed to be beautiful. They aren’t supposed to be put together, or comprehensive, or elegant. They are supposed to exist, inconsistent characters, choppy dialogue, major plot holes and all. So I am embracing this new story in all its messy wonder, exploring this world without worrying about the gorgeous chaos I am causing. The characters can change and the setting will grow, and I will snoop my way through all of it until I have made a lovely, glorious mess of colors and lights and words scattered across the page in a completely incomprehensible muddle.
And when the first draft is finished and the last words are written, I can start completely over and make something understandable out of it.
When I get over this cold, anyway.
What kind of things are you allowing to be messy and beautiful in your own life? Tell me about them in the comments!
First of all, I spent all five work days at conference centers, attending—and presenting—at meetings. Which meant a lot of talking and a firehose of information. Stories were planned. Characters were examined. Exciting things happened.
I think I survived. I haven’t checked yet.
Secondly, we had quite a lot of snow, which got so bad that Wednesday night my dad got stuck on his way home and had to be rescued. I elected to stay in town for the night rather than try to make it home through the drifts. I called one of my best friends who also happens to be my godsister, and she graciously invited me to stay the night with her.
So, I slept at her house instead of going home. And fell in love with her gorgeous dog.
It was actually wonderful.
But by the time that Saturday rolled around, I was pretty much spent. Like, blank stare kind of spent. Being a scriptwriter and telling stories for a living is the best, most awesome thing ever, but it is also probably the most draining thing I have ever done. There are no auto-pilot days at the office, and my creativity takes a pretty regular beating.
So, on the weekends, I recover.
Recovery, for me, usually involves quiet moments. Silence. Stories that I don’t have to tell. And really, really good food.
Because who doesn’t love good food?
This week, I spent Saturday housesitting for a friend. I took my little sister with me, and we spent the whole day cooking good food, eating an entire carton of ice-cream between us, and watching TLC’s Say Yes To The Dress.
I fell asleep on the couch.
For several hours.
Basically, we binge-watched shows and slept the weekend away. It was exactly what I needed. Introvert recovery is hard on the best of days, but if you can find a special sister to spend it with and a place to hide away without interruptions, you’re well on your way. And, since I firmly believe that creativity is impossible without recovery in-between, it was the best thing I could have done for my books and the scripts I’m currently writing.
So everyone won!
How do you recover after a particularly draining week? Tell me about it in the comments!
On Thursday, my boss came back from California with two things.
A picture, and the first page of the studio script they had been recording, signed by the actors.
That’s right. My first script has officially been recorded. I have an Adventures in Odyssey episode with my name on it.
How crazy is that?
Now the page from the script is framed on my desk at work, the picture is being shared with all of you, and I am back at work developing my other pitches, scripts, and outlines, because life goes on and the world doesn’t stop for fanfare.
But that script page, for me, is a massive milestone. It’s a cumulation of nearly eight years of hard work and about seven months of the toughest writer’s bootcamp that you can possibly imagine. I had no idea what accepting this job would mean for my skills as a writer, or that I would discover just how much I really didn’t know within the process. I am learning from the very best in the business, and there is no scraping by with something half-done. The last seven months have been a lesson in intensity, but I have grown in leaps and bounds. This script is evidence of that.
Getting this job, despite all the other people applying for it, was a huge milestone in my career.
This first script is the next one.
Milestones are so important to celebrate and remember over the years, especially for the days when life gets discouraging. The script page, signed by the actors who brought it to life, is my celebration of this milestone. Whatever else happens this year, whatever else comes my way, I had a script recorded. One of my ideas worked out. That, for me, is a huge win.
The episode isn’t done yet by any means, but for now, it’s the sound guys’ problem, and I’ll be on to new projects and other things.
That, in itself, is worth celebrating.
What kind of milestones has 2020 brought to you thus far? Tell me about them in the comments!
Last week we started talking about things writers can do to move their careers forward when the next step seems impossibly far off.
Sometimes ‘making it as a writer’ seems like it’s full of huge, gigantic leaps forward: finishing a book, finding an agent, getting published, working full-time as a writer, earning this award, being asked to speak there—the milestones seem impossibly far apart and way too difficult to accomplish.
So, I think it’s time to start talking about the small steps.
The little things we can do every day to deepen our understanding of this craft.
Time to pay attention to the little things, my friends, because believe it or not, those milestones aren’t the building blocks of your career. Sure, they look fancy and they’re fun plaques to have up on the wall. But there is a whole lot of in-between steps before you can reach them.
We’re here to talk about the in-between. The practical.
And today’s practical?
I’m not here to tell you to read War and Peace or 100 books in a year. But as writers, we need story. Not just our own stories, because we all know how we get caught up in the complexities and frustrations of our stories, and, unfortunately, we all have our blind spots.
Writers need story. I write for a radio drama. I spent all Sunday last week binge-watching The Mandalorian. I listen to audiobooks on a regular basis, I’ve watched movies specifically for work to better understand story structure, and I have started to be able to predict what comes next in the movie theater simply because I know where we are in the story.
Writers. Need. Story.
We need to analyze story, we need to pick apart our favorite books and movies and video games and graphic novels and see what makes them tick. We need to be that irritating person in the movie theater who leans over and whispers, “Yep. ‘All is Lost’ moment. Right on cue.”
I am not a fan of dictating exactly how anyone needs to ingest story. Books, movies, TV, video games, radio. It doesn’t matter. But as a writer, you need story. Not to listen to mindlessly, but to analyze, dissect, learn from.
So next time you want to take another step and or do the next right thing, watch a favorite movie. TV show. Pick a story, and grab your notebook. Find the ‘All is Lost’ moment. The quarter mark, where the upside-down world begins. The catalyst. Pick the story to pieces and see how it works, what theme the writer used. Write a pitch for it.
The more you devour story, the better you will understand it.
What are some of your favorite stories? Tell me about them in the comments!
Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s also a Monday.
And I get to stay home.
What a strange feeling.
I am celebrating by watching the birds come to get the birdseed I left on the porch for them. So far, there is one Steller Jay. I guess word hasn’t gotten around yet. I’m hoping for Black-Capped Chickadees and Bluejays. Maybe a Magpie too.
Since it is a Monday, I am writing today, but I am enjoying the novelty of writing in my house in the sunshine. Lately, I have discovered the downside of working full-time in town in the winter, which is that I work from dark to dark. I usually drive into town with my dad in the very, very early mornings, spend an hour or two at my gym, then am in the office by the time the sun rises.
And, you guessed it, it’s already dark by the time I get outside again.
I’ve begun to turn into a creature of the night. Like, I’ve always been fairly pale by nature, but now I’ve reached vampire status. I glow.
It’s a little scary.
I tried to offset the effects of my ‘no-sunlight-ever’ routine yesterday by sunbathing on my porch for a while. But it’s January. Which means there’s plenty of sunshine, but there’s also snow and biting cold and wind.
It lasted maybe two minutes.
I guess I’ll have to wait for summer to come around again to put some color back into my cheeks. Maybe I’ll take a vacation and go visit my sister in Virginia and lie out on the beach for a while. Sure, I may blind a few people passing by, but at least I’ll stop looking like the undead.
But today, I get to write at my desk at home, which means I have sunlight streaming in through my windows and the honey-colored wood in my house is glowing with sunshine and my kitty is there to hang out with me and there are birds eating from our makeshift bird feeder.
So, yes. Today is a very good day.
Maybe I’ll get some vitamin D through the windows?
What are you planning for your long weekend, and to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.? Tell me about it in the comments!
I wrote a post recently about doing the next right thing.
Since that’s my version of a New Year’s Resolution, I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot.
I also went to go see Frozen 2 over the weekend with my younger sisters. In case you were wondering, it was fabulous. I loved it. But it was also about doing the next right thing. And it started me wondering.
What is the next right thing when you’re a professional writer?
Sometimes, that can be a pretty difficult question. Especially because it varies person to person and day to day. Sometimes the next right thing is to write a page, read a new book, or spend an hour or so journaling with your characters. Other times it can be completely different: spending some time away from your computer, going for a walk, or setting up a social media page to connect with other writers and potential readers.
Unfortunately, there is no formula. Everyone is on their own journey, and no one can simply snap their fingers and say, “This is what you need to do today to take a step forward in your journey.”
If only life were that simple.
However, sometimes it really is so, so hard to know what the next right thing is supposed to be—especially when you’re a writer. Getting a book published or finding a job in your industry can seem impossibly hard, and sometimes it feels as though, instead of a long road to walk, there’s a gaping chasm that you have to (somehow) jump over. It becomes a leap of all or nothing, right now, instead of a journey with definable steps.
Writer, I promise that isn’t true.
Since it can be so hard sometimes to know what the next right things are, I’m going to devote a series on this blog to look at some of the next right things that have gotten me where I am today.
Starting with Save The Cat.
Before I started working as a full-time scriptwriter, I hadn’t read very many books on structure or style or anything else. Let’s be honest, there are about a million different books out there, everyone has their opinion on how story works. Some are great and some are not so great.
I could never figure out which was which.
But when I started my job, my manager had some very defined tasks for me to develop my writing skills. One of those tasks was to read Save The Cat, by Blake Snyder.
I still have that book on my desk. As well as the two followup books.
And yes, I still pick them up when I’m stuck and need inspiration, instruction, and a direction for my scattered thoughts.
It is a detailed, understandable guide to structure and story, written by a screenwriter who worked in Hollywood for many years and made more money in this industry than I will ever manage. His writing is clear and concise, and his advice is solid good sense.
So when I’m stuck, and I don’t know what the next right thing could possibly be, I reach for Save The Cat, and give my understanding of structure a boost, because I know that will do nothing but move me forward.
What is one thing you do for your writing when you’re not sure how to move forward? Tell me about it in the comments!