Advice to a young writer just starting out

My poor younger friend Mike, also a writer, innocently messaged me a question.

M: Cathy, what do you tell aspiring writers?

C: In what regard?

M: When someone says they want to make a career out of it?
C: Driving, will brb.

Danger, Will Robinson, this gives me time to actually think about it.

C: Okay, first YAY!

M: Yay?

C: 2. LEARN YOUR CRAFT AND FORM! (Currently struggling with screenwriting 28 years after tying for a playwright award with someone who went on to write for a major soap opera for 20+ years!)
3. Go all in or forget it. You have to not just “want to be a writer,” you have to do the work, finish the projects.

4. Find a love who respects and is supportive of your work. GENUINELY SUPPORTIVE. This will show up in a myriad of ways when you’re with someone who isn’t: time, solitude, need to discuss, bounce ideas, sometimes financial, because your projects won’t pay consistently like a day job.

Yay for creativity!

Find someone who can handle writer weirdness. Need for long periods uninterrupted, drifting mind during conversations, because writing in head at same time, etc. because WE ARE ALWAYS WRITING!

5. Find a job that works with writing, so if you want to write comedy, nudge yourself into a production assistant at a show or movie, be in the industry. Or at least live close to it. (I hate my Virginia suburb for this. Loved Boston for it. See 4. financial, your projects won’t pay until they reach the right hands.)

6. LOVE IT HARD!! Enjoy it!! Get out of your own way! Finished is better than perfect.

7. EDIT, say more with less, be clear.

M: Damn. Alright. Alright.
My response was: FLEE! FLEE FOR YOUR LIFE!

C: Oh good, because my short answer was go big or go home.

And don’t have kids! Lol!

Not really on the kids, but if you want them and you want to write, understand that your life will take a tectonic shift in focus, especially if you’re the primary or default parent.

I once read about John Updike’s writing habits of at least 6 hours a day out in the shack out back, “or he didn’t feel like a writer.” What he failed to mention was where his wife and kids were during his long uninterrupted daily time in his writing haven. Did his wife have a career? Did she write? I KNOW NOTHING OF HER!

Virginia Woolf had an excellent point about A Room of One’s Own for women, that we are either biologically built for (seriously, there are quantitative brain function differences that serve community focus vs individual focus between men and women. Google it, I’m not a scientist, just a curious geek) or trained societally over generations, or both to be at everyone else’s beck and call. I find it becomes very difficult to transition focus back to writing when you always have someone in your family vying for attention, either by necessity, fun, or logististical reasons.

The long alone silences (or with music or whatever works for you, I often half-listen to podcasts, it reminds me of sitting in cafes and writing while overhearing conversations) are necessary not just imaginatively, but for problem solving when you know something isn’t quite right about what you have written so far.

So, to my friend Michael Wagner, my apologies for the flood response in text, but thank you for the inspiration to blog about writing life again!

I haven’t dropped off earth, just writing

I spent much of the summer balancing family needs and working on adapting Felix the Comet into a screenplay, not the easiest endeavor. I always envisioned this story as both a book and a movie. There is so much more editing to be done, but a few other avenues are presenting themselves, too… Time to wait and see how this may pan out.

Since school started back up last week, with one back to college, and two in school here, I have a bit more freedom for my own thoughts to collect and do something productive. I am currently working on the text for an animal characters picure book with a great artist. We discussed for years working on a book together, but my attention was involved in other projects, unable to devote time to a sweet little story. However, she and I have spent those years emailing back and forth developing the project on the side. We both know what we want the story to be, have a decent arc, I just need to actually write it, in one place.

It’s a real shift from pretty straightforward fiction to screenplay or picture book writing. The shift from screenplay adaptation to creating a picture book plot and dialogue isn’t nearly as far. I have conditioned myself over the summer by deleting a great deal of the descriptive elements from fiction, This task as prepared me to approach this smaller project more mindfully, not fill a lot of unnecessary detail that will show in Cathy J’s illustrations.

May this project move swiftly now from the working title “two cathys project” collection of notes into a viable draft by the end of this week, maybe beginning of next. Wish me luck and uninterrupted time, please! The other Cathy’s swift sketches are adorably inspiring!

That Thing

That Thing

See, this is how it works:
You have something brewing in the back of your mind.
Maybe it was a dream, or that thing
caught between waking and dream,
where the whole world unmakes sense and reorders
to make perfect sense.
All you have to do is capture it.
But then the morning starts in earnest,
While that thing fades, slips back into the water of sleep.
The high school kid has not gotten out of bed in the dark.
He forgot again to set his alarm, so
you avoid tripping over swirling dueling cats.
Your spouse groans that you’ve woken him again.
Your feet and balance aren’t quite working yet, but you manage
to stay upright, righting the boat with your hand trailing along the hall’s wall.
You open his door into more darkness, cannot even see his bed from here,
through bleary eyes, just the red glow of the numbers on his clock.
You call, “get up, you forgot to set your alarm again.”
He stirs and groans. “Time to hustle.”
You turn, make your way back down the hall, past the youngest’s room,
hoping you haven’t disturbed her dreams, and that she hasn’t peed the bed again,
other hand to the wall, and get back into bed, try to recapture.
Dip a fishing net deep back in,
but it comes up only with the weight of water, then nothing.
The bathroom light and fan blare on, the door slams.

So much for that thing.
Then the day really begins.
Spouse has grumbled way to shower,
You are getting up to auto brewed coffee, you hope.
Waking the little one, who does not want you to dress her,
She wants Grandma, abandons you, and you think,
as you choose clothes to toss to Grandma,
that just maybe, with some coffee,
that thing will resurface.

You descend the stairs, and the air cools,
still need to dual zone the house.
Upstairs is a sauna, someone turned off the ceiling fan in the living room.
No wonder you were suffocating last night.
The cats, are noisily down the stairs underfoot, little rhythms of fur
like waves on the shore disturbing the sand around your feet.

Coffee, there is the coffee, yes it brewed.
Relief, but first the cats are wanting food, and the waffle for the little one
needs to find its way to the toaster.
Then I sit briefly with my coffee,
between the college tuition that is due
before the eldest freaks out again,
and the day in front of me,
because just maybe if a miracle doesn’t happen,
if the financial pieces don’t puzzle themselves into place in the next three days,
he will not be able to register for his classes.
Sure enough, a few hours later the frantic texting starts again.
But for now, I have my coffee.
The high schooler has boarded his bus.
The little is coming downstairs with Daddy.
Grandma is stirring for her day.
The laundry needs to be done, and after brushing the little’s tangles out,
there I am, thinking of laundry, of money, of making miracles happen,
as I ascend the stairs to shower.

Sometimes that thing comes back in the shower, but I am still thinking of tuition,
of what pants I can wear, how long will I have to myself
before grandma comes back from her morning exercises.
I try to quiet my mind,
dive back into the deep of my mind,
the wonder, the blue, the night’s long lost thing.
But it does not resurface with the water running over my face,
rinsing shampoo out of my hair.
Then the house is all quiet, just me and my noisy brain.
I try again, to find the quiet in myself, but it’s never long enough to find that thing.

And I can still feel it, know it’s just out of view.
A mermaid, whose hair teasingly swirls
just out of the deepest blue, below the surface.
I try again to find that thing.