Last week, I bought a 1950’s style gray wool skirt and a white cardigan sweater with small rhinestone buttons. I know…Kelly, who cares what clothes you’re wearing? Obviously you have never gotten a DM from “SirBumsAlot”, but that guy seems obsessed with what I am or am not wearing. The rest of you should care because I feel great, and I want you to feel great, too. Not all of you need to look like a librarian from Back to the Future to get there. But you need to get to Your Happy Place because being a writer can feel like a root canal with intermittent Novocaine.
When I first started writing, I sat at the keyboard with a grin on my face and a scene on my mind. It was pure joy to type away for hours, losing myself in a story that I’d been dying to tell. I can remember how satisfying it felt to read the day’s pages before going to bed. I was a writer. I understood and appreciated what a privilege it was to be able to take that time for myself and actually create something.
But when I decided to Be a Screenwriter, that all changed. A friend, a pro in the industry, read my first script and said, “You should get on the internet. People will love your sense of humor and it will get you work.” I knew nothing of tweets or likes or filtering my Insta game, but it seemed easy enough. I naively set up accounts and dropped into the online flow. It was fun for a while. There were writers’ groups and resources. People put scripts out there for those of us still too far from a WGA. (Then they quickly took them down, as most were bootlegged.) But what a time to be alive as a writer on the internets! It was a playground, full of creative people with…apparently…tons of time on their hands to chat about story. A group of us would gather for Twitter After Dark, which was super tame compared to today’s threads of most elementary school students, but it was FUN. It also made me a more spontaneous and concise writer. I learned to talk to strangers, which has since become an obsession that worries my family. (I like to text them a pic of me and my “Stranger of the Day.” It is not my family’s favorite thing. Probably not the stranger’s either.)
Years past, and my time online brought me allies in the industry. People were recommending me for writing jobs. I can now text with not one, but two Oscar-nominated writers. Yay, me.
But also, SO WHAT?!
Now, those of you who have gone from say, Drama Club president to Governor of New York City, can understand how fast a favorite activity turns into a J-O-B. But that’s the goal, yes? To find something you love and then find a way to get paid for doing it. It’s the Hollywood dream, and the only life hack that truly matters. Or so says every success podcast ever made.
But using your passion to make money has side effects. Suddenly, I noticed all the people around me who were typing faster and oh my god, does that writer have a color-coded mind map of her plot on Insta? I gotta get one of those. My feeds quickly clogged up with other writers’ announcements of options, contest wins, and agency dates. Everywhere I looked, it seemed as though the whole world was writing stories, all of them better than mine.
Writing became painful. I got anxious before I opened my laptop. No matter how many goals I achieved, how many jobs I got, how many contest success I earned, it was never enough. I berated myself constantly. I lost my focus and worse, I squandered my passion for writing.
Something had to change. Spoiler alert: it was me. And maybe it’s you, too.
The plan was simple but very effective. I took a break. I stopped checking my social media regularly. I didn’t blog for a long while. I left all my current projects in a stack on my desk. I read about 20 books. I traveled to new places.
I read stories about space, cowgirls, ghosts, and an insane amount of British mysteries. I visited with friends IN PERSON. It was weird and awkward at first. But then it was awesome. I got a puppy and named him Albus. (If you don’t get the name reference, please go figure it out and don’t come back until you do.) I wrote a funny memoir about how I became agoraphobic in my thirties. And finally, I bought a wool skirt and a sweater that make me feel like a kajillion dollars. That’s an actual number, right? Whatever. I didn’t read any math books during my writer sabbatical.
When I returned to my laptop, a few things were different.
1) There are puppy photos all over it.
2) I’m having fun again.
3) I move faster and with greater confidence in my work.
4) I’m pitching my book to publishers.
5) I became part of an incredible project with a bunch of amazing women.
6) I got a writing gig I loved.
7) I pitched a legendary woman to pen a biopic of her life…and she said yes.
Would all of that have happened if I hadn’t taken a break? Definitely not.
I needed to remember why I was doing all of this insane work in the first place…because writing stories is how I process what happens in the world. I don’t know about you all, but I find the world a lot more stressful lately.
Listen, what you’re writing matters. What you’re feeling matters. So, grab your keyboards and get back to pages OR go order yourself a snazzy wool skirt or one of those Snuggie thingys. Whatever it takes to spend some time in your Happy Place, where there are no rules for your writing except to tell a great story and have fun doing it. Also cookies. There should always be cookies in your life.
Have you got a cool Happy Place? Meet me on the Twitter and tell me about it.