Category: Writing Life
Welcome to the Writer Blog Hop!
A Blog Hop is basically Tag for writers who blog. Meaning someone came up with the four questions below and answered them on their blog, then tagged three writer blogger friends to answer the questions on their blogs, who then each tagged three more writer bloggers… and so on and so on. Actually, that’s more like spreading a virus, but Tag sounds merrier!
The person who tagged me is Jennifer Skutelsky. She’s an editor, writing coach, ballet teacher, visual artist and author. She also has a soft spot for elephants and rhinos. Check her out at www.jskutelsky.com.
Now it’s my turn to bare my writer’s soul to the interwebs. So without further ado, let the questions begin:
1) What am I working on/writing?
My day job is “freelance screenwriter” which means I get paid to sit at home in my pajamas and string words together to put in actors’ mouths. Currently, I’m writing episodes of a wacky horror-comedy cartoon called CAMP LAKEBOTTOM that airs on Teletoon in Canada, Disney XD in the USA, and a bunch of other channels around the world.
Between drafts of television scripts, I’m writing two YA novels. The first is a dark fantasy entitled DEMONS DON’T DO LOVE about a dead teen who’s banished to Hell for loving the wrong angel and tries to destroy the demons to earn her way back into Heaven, until she learns Heaven isn’t what it claims to be. The second is a mystery thriller called PSYCHO SMART about ambitious teens desperate to get out of their dead-end small town and into college by using smart pills that unfortunately start turning them into murderous psychopaths.
2) How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?
For screenwriting, it doesn’t! My job is to write episodes that fit in with the show, and my story editors wouldn’t be happy with me if I veered from the format.
For novel writing… this is a hard question mainly because it requires a “toot your own horn” kind of answer and I’m really bad at that. But I will say I haven’t found many decent murder mystery thrillers in YA (they’re either not scary and/or the mystery is riddled with plot holes and convenient coincidences), so I’m eager to write some thrilling yet psychologically scary novels that fill this void.
3) Why do I write what I do?
Writing cartoons is fun! But, to be totally honest, it’s also the most booming segment of the television industry in Canada. At least it was when I entered the scene ten years ago. Thankfully, our live-action dramas and comedies are getting more investment and attention now, but there are still significantly more children’s animation shows produced in Canada than anything else. So, frankly, it was the easiest genre to break into. I do enjoy writing kids’ shows, but I always wanted to write for teens, and since the teen TV slate is tiny and limited, I went back to my first love – novels.
I love YA novels. 99% of what I read is YA. I love the pace (faster than adult novels) and exploring that pivotal time in a person’s life where they’re just figuring out who the hell they are. So many things are new to teenagers, and their futures are wide open and full of potential. It’s so exciting! And for a writer, YA novels are liberating because they encompass so many genres. One can literally write anything for YA! This is very different than television, which depends not only on a more confining script format, but also on the whim of a handful of broadcasters who ultimately decide which shows go to air. And on top of all that, writers have to worry about not pissing off the FCC or the Parents Television Council.
And let’s face it – if you want to create and sell a teen TV show or film, you’re better off writing and selling a book first. Most of the teen stories on the air and the silver screens right now are based on books.
So why do I write YA mysteries/thrillers/fantasy? Because these are the books I loved as a teen and still love now. I delight in figuring out mysteries, especially if there is a supernatural or fantastical element. Bonus points if the story also scares me.
4) How does my writing process work?
The process is straightforward in screenwriting because my job is laid out in stages: first I pitch episode ideas, then if the story editors like an idea I write a premise, then once the broadcaster/producers approve the premise, I write the outline, then the 1st draft, 2nd draft, and finally the Polish draft. In between all those drafts I get notes from the story editors, broadcasters and producers that I implement into the next stage. The only part of the process that’s left up to me is how much or how little I procrastinate, and since each stage has a strict deadline, I’ve learned to not delay.
Novel writing is a whole other beast that I’m just starting to tame. Because there’s no set process to writing a novel (some authors are pantsers, some are plotters), I had to figure out my own method. Since I’m a screenwriter, I’m naturally a plotter, and tend to work through a novel the same way I do a script: pitch, premise, beat sheet*, outline, 1st draft, 2nd draft, etc. Except the process doesn’t go as smoothly on my own. The thing about screenwriting is it’s a job – I have bosses who yay or nay the script and give notes at every stage. Sure, I can put in my own two cents, but I can’t spend days or weeks mulling it over. Story decisions need to be made and written before the next deadline. No time for second-guessing.
However, left on my own, I second-guess the crap out of my stories. So my novel process looks more like this: pitch, premise, beat sheet, redo beat sheet, redo it again and again and again, then realize it still sucks and go back to the premise to figure out what’s wrong with the story, rewrite the premise, start a new beat sheet, revise it again and again until I like it enough to start an outline. Finally, an outline! Summarize Act 1’s scenes and realize the story still sucks. Go back to the beat sheet if it sucks just a little bit. Go back to the premise or even pitch if it sucks a whole lot. Rewrite the pitch, premise, beat sheet, outline, and finally start writing prose! Write the first few chapters, doubt the direction, and go back to an earlier stage to figure out where I went wrong. And repeat, repeat, repeat!
Geez, that’s exhausting. Does anyone else’s process look like that?
*Note: The beat sheet isn’t a paid stage in screenwriting, but still used by most all screenwriters. What the heck’s a beat sheet? I explain here.
So there you have it, folks, a screenwriter/novelist’s writing process.
Now I’m tagging three writers who will answer these questions next Monday. They are:
NICOLE WINTERS published her first novel TT: FULL THROTTLE in September 2013. To research this story of a young man’s dream to win the coveted TT motorcycle race, she travelled to the Isle of Man to see the TT for herself, securing a press pass enabling her to speak with privateers, podium champs, marshals, mechanics and pit crew. She’s now writing a sidequel THUNDER ROAD. Learn more at www.nicolewintersauthor.com
ANN-MARIE MEYERS grew up in Trinidad and Tobago in the West Indies. She has a degree in languages and translates legal and technical documents from French and Spanish into English. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, with her husband and daughter. Meyers is an active member of SCBWI and facilitates a children’s writing group twice a month. Her first middle grade novel, Up In The Air, was published by Jolly Fish Press in July 2013. Find her at www.annmarie-meyers.com
MAUREEN MCGOWAN is the bestselling author of the DUST CHRONICLES. Check her out at maureenmcgowan.com/blog
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HEATHER JACKSON is a YA novelist, television screenwriter, and small town fugitive. She escaped her rural roots for the big city by attending Ryerson University’s Radio & Television Arts program and the CFC’s Prime Time Television Writing program, which led to a career penning television scripts. Currently she is writing episodes of the animated horror-comedy CAMP LAKEBOTTOM, as well as writing a YA mystery thriller, PSYCHO SMART, and a YA dark fantasy, DEMONS DON’T DO LOVE. Neither is autobiographical. Mostly. When she’s not writing books or screenplays, Heather blogs about writing craft and the writer’s life at writeonsisters.com.
Category: Writing Life
There’s a well-known line from George R.R. Martin’s book A Dance With Dragons: “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies… The man who never reads lives only one.” Truth! With that in mind, here’s 9 Vicarious Lives I’ve lived thanks to books…
I read constantly. I bet you do too because, since you’re reading this blog, you have access to the Internet where there’s an infinite amount of stuff to read – emails, articles, blogs, tweets, books, essays – all at your nimbly typing fingertips. People read more now than ever, not just for work, school or fun, but also for day-to-day communication. The Information Age has also been dubbed the Age of Distractions, but the problem isn’t exterior forces distracting us from reading, it’s that we have too much reading.
It’s been three weeks since I wrote the Internet a letter about setting boundaries in our relationship. How’s it going? Have I managed to stay out of the Internet’s pants during working hours? Well, mostly, but it hasn’t been easy. The Internet is still pretty clingy, whispering to me constantly as I’m trying to write, seducing me with promises of kitten videos and spring weather forecasts (the last one a cruel trick – spring still has not come to Toronto, no matter how many times I check The Weather Network). But here are 7 tricks I’ve learned that help me resist the Internet’s charms…
We’ve been seeing each other for a long time now. Remember when we met? I was researching something for a high school essay. WWII? Shakespeare? Kittens? I can’t remember, but I asked you for info and you had only five websites on the topic. Back then, you were slow, not very helpful and clingy – if I was hanging out with you, I couldn’t even use the phone! Then you upgraded from dial-up to broadband, and our relationship improved. Not only were you faster and less clingy, you introduced me to Hotmail and Messenger, and suddenly we were having tons of fun, chatting with friends and forwarding funny emails into the wee hours of the night. Those years were the best! You kept me connected to loved ones, expanded my world and helped me become the woman I am now, but in the last several years, things changed…
Category: Writing Life
When I was a kid, my family went to Disney World in Florida. Apparently, the favourite Disney theme park for most kids is The Magic Kingdom, but I loved The EPCOT Center’s World Showcase. Now an adult, I realize this is hardly an adequate representation of the world’s countries, but to a small town girl who’d never been off the continent, I was mesmerized! I had so much fun learning about different cultures and countries that I didn’t want to leave.
At the time, I didn’t know why I was so fascinated by EPCOT, but when I grew up and started traveling on my own, leaving the continent for the first time at age 27 (by cashing in my inaugural writer paycheque), I figured it out – I have an insatiable curiosity about people. I’m the kind of traveler who is most interested in discovering what people do currently and did historically in the places I visit. Beautiful scenery alone doesn’t hold my attention. I want to know what people do/did amidst that breathtaking landscape or in that crumbling ruin, because “people doing things” are stories.
No wonder so many writers have wanderlust.
Category: Writing Life
I had two childhood dreams – be a novelist and be a gymnast. I was a strange juxtaposition of sedentary nerd kid lying on the couch reading for hours, and spastic athletic kid jumping around the backyard practicing cartwheels and roundoffs and walking the wooden fence like it was a beam. In my 30s, I finally pursued my crazy dreams and discovered that though these disciplines seem like opposites, both require certain characteristics that, unfortunately, I didn’t yet possess…
Working in TV again has reminded me that I write well under the pressure of a deadline. Deadlines force me to stop procrastinating. Deadlines make me write faster. Deadlines keep me off the internet!
But what if you have no real deadlines? When story editors, producers and broadcasters are all expecting a script from me on a certain day, I must finish that script or else I’ll let everybody down, screw up the production schedule, and possibly get fired. Yet when writing my novel the only person (so far) expecting anything from me is me, so it’s easy to ignore or miss deadlines when the only real consequence is my own disappointment. To counteract this, I’ve come up with a 4 Deadline Strategies to motivate, scare or trick even the most lax writers into getting stuff done.
Category: Writing Life
Great books inspire great writing. Without further ado, the books that push me to be my creative best…
SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson… This is the first YA book I ever bought. I read it yeeeeeears ago, when I was about 22. Though I can’t remember the details, I do remember the issue and feeling like this was a very real story that could have happened to me. After reading SPEAK, I vowed to make everything I wrote, even fantasy stories, feel this true.
This is a question artists and entrepreneurs of all sorts contemplate. We yearn for more time to work on our creative pursuits, and even if the day job is pretty great, it’s easy to become bitter with it for taking time away from what we really want to be doing with our lives. But the question of whether you should quit your job leads to other questions…
So many questions, and often you won’t know the answers until you take the plunge. However, maybe I can help by sharing what I’ve learned over the last few years – working part-time, full-time, overtime, and not at all.
It’s been so long since I was in school that I can’t even remember if the professors taught us anything about handling feedback. Perhaps they just marked up our scripts in red and waited to see who would cry/quit and who would persevere/rewrite. Luckily, I was in the latter category. And over the last 15 years, I’ve had lots of opportunities to learn how to deal with script notes, whether it’s from friends, teachers, screenwriters, broadcasters, producers or directors. In TV, it often feels like everyone, even the office dog, critiques your script.
So, without further ado, here’s how to handle feedback…
Category: Writing Life
For most people, holidays mean spending time with friends and family, and not going to work. It’s pretty simple if you commute – when you’re not at your place of employment, you’re not working. But for writers, the workplace is anywhere we have a pen and paper or a laptop or a functioning brain. In essence, pretty much everywhere.
So how do writers shut down the office of their minds for the holidays? And is that even possible? Here are some things I’ve tried over the years…
A little backstory on me… I have not worked a regular, paying job this past year. I used my savings to quit everything and just write a novel. I’ve had many friends ask me how I stay motivated without the threat of deadlines or reward of money. This is how I do it…
I’ve been living the life of a starving artist for a decade and a half. I’ve never had a steady salary job. I don’t have a trust fund. My average income is $20,000/year. Basically, I work just enough to get by and spend the rest of my time writing. Which will pay off. It already did once when I used this approach to write spec scripts, go back to school and break into the TV screenwriting biz. This time, I’m writing a novel and breaking into the publishing biz. The question everyone has for me is, “How do you survive in downtown Toronto on such a small amount of money?” Here’s the answer…
Category: Writing Life
Definition: Rogue [as modifier] – an elephant or other large wild animal driven away or living apart from the herd and having savage or destructive tendencies: a rogue elephant.
Going rogue sounds so rebellious, like I’m a wild woman who refused to follow the rules of the herd. Look at me! Out here by my savage self, doing whatever destructive things I want! No one to stop me! In truth, it’s lonely and I miss the herd (aka screenwriters). So why did I leave a moneymaking career writing cartoons to become a starving artist writing a novel?