I’m listening to a writer’s meditation program. The eery, monotonous voice tells me to visualize myself creating a successful career. I squeeze my eyelids together until colorful little dots explode in front of my eyes. I breathe in and out, following the super-slow rhythm set by the voice. Just when I start to slip off my chair, the tiny dots form an image. This is it! After my long journey and months of hard work, I’m finally going to complete my writer’s vision quest. I see…an arid cliff under a robin’s egg blue sky. I hear…a strange grinding sound. And then…imagine my surprise when Wile E. Coyote speeds past in a makeshift raft. He slides right off the cliff and floats for a moment, gasping air into the fluttering sail. We lock eyes. He waves. Then, he drops out of sight.
I’ve come home from my first L.A. pilgrimage with the Hollywood Holy Grail…a successful project pitch, and I want to nail it like an Olympic vaulter. In an earlier blog, I shared the moment that I spontaneously pitched this pilot to a sharply-dressed management executive. Now, I love TV sitcoms. I watch TV sitcoms. I quote TV sitcoms. I have no clue how to write TV sitcoms. Aye, there’s the rub.
Minutes after that meeting, I sat in my rental car with my sweaty face pressed to the air conditioning vent, contemplating my next move. I blame dehydration for the ensuing misstep that temporarily derailed my career progress for two months. Instead of returning to my hotel for a snack-fueled appraisal of everything earned and learned during my brief visit in Hollywood, I ordered the GPS to transport me to Burbank. Why? When in Rome, Catholics go to the Vatican and when in California, writers go to The Writer’s Store. Lost in a euphoric haze of accomplishment and opportunity, I bought a stack of TV writing books. Staggering to a nearby cafe, I sipped iced coffee in the waning sun and cracked open the first tome. By the time I boarded my plane the next day, I had read two books and sketched a rough outline of my story. My plan was to study and read produced sitcom scripts for the next two weeks. Then, I would draft a treatment and submit it for coverage. Alas, dear reader, you read the results of this poorly developed plan in my most recent blog. Like Wile E. Coyote, I spent precious time building the perfect story device, only to ensnare myself with it. Where had I gone wrong?
Just before I wrote my most successful script, “Master’s Key”, I scribbled a specific goal into my notebook: To write the best character-driven story with a sympathetic and memorable hero who navigates organically entertaining scenes. I credit that phrase with all the script success that followed. In my determination to surpass the expectations of my new contacts, I forgot to set up a specific target for the TV pilot script. I just grabbed my gear and launched…right off the cliff.
In my darkest hour, cheeks stuffed with stale birthday cake, my inner voice cries out for a hero. I had read TV writing books until the words lost all meaning, and I had written outlines until the story lost all passion. This morning, I pull out a new notebook and ask myself, “What do I WANT to write today?” My subconscious tentatively holds up a feature comedy idea. It’s a high-concept family movie and my fingers are already crawling toward the keyboard. There’s more. My subconscious is just warming up and tosses out a stage play concept that is so cool, I have to check with an expert to make sure it’s not over my head. Drunk on power, my subconscious slams down one more idea but few producers would take on a canine musical, so I pretend not to hear that one. I take a few of those meditative breaths and write a goal for each project. Wile screeches to a halt and offers me a brand new pair of rocket boots fresh out of the Acme box. I shake my head and turn back to the notebook.
Determined to catch that elusive sapphire-blue bird this time, I seek out an accomplished writing mentor for each project. Asking a busy, award-winning writer for help is like performing a root canal on myself. I don’t know how I’m going to manage it, but it will be painful and ultimately, a relief. There are so many ways a newbie writer can touch the hem of a legendary scribe’s toga. These magical creatures attend screenwriting events and panels. They like tweeting, inter-Facebooking and Linked-Inning. Whenever I spy a star in my orbit, I approach respectfully, and always offer my humble services. I’ve built a rich network of wonderful, talented, creative people who enjoy reaching back to pull the rest of us forward.
As I start a new chapter in my screenwriting career, I still respect Wile’s naive determination, but I now know it takes more than planning and patience to earn my meal. It takes unyielding confidence in my ability to tell an authentic, purposefully entertaining story.