Am I a writer yet?

The waitress who’s an actress. The Uber driver who’s a bodybuilder. The banker who’s a painter. The lawyer who’s a stand-up comedian.
In the past when people asked me what I do, I always conceded to my day job.

“I work in real estate.”

I’ve tried to tell people what I really do (where most of my time/energy goes).

“I’m a writer.”

Truth is, I’m not one hundred percent comfortable with that. It feels immodest. The next question is always, “What do you write? Have you ever had anything published?”

And when I go into the details of my mild successes, it feels contrived. Their faces are a little bit confused like they’re grappling to find a reason to validate me. They’re seeing right through me. I’m a fraud. I’m full of shit. I’m reminded of why I don’t say I’m a writer…

How much success do I need? How much money do I need to make? When will the phrase “I’m a writer” feel authentic?

I spend five to six hours a day working on my writing. That’s twice as much time I spend on the day job. I’m very lucky that I can prioritize my writing over everything and still pay my bills. AND now that I’m in grad school, I’m writing all the time. Saturday and Sunday afternoons are now spent writing. Or at least outlining, thinking, brainstorming, navigating stories or reading scripts and books.

So now, if someone would approach me and ask me what I do?

“I’m a grad student.”

I can show them the homework and feedback I got from my workshop. In two years I can show them the Master’s degree and the debt I’ve accumulated. That’s a result. That’s merchandisable. That’s a “viable product.” I can’t show them the countless unproduced screenplays or the short stories or even this blog. That’s not enough. The grad student fits into a box and makes sense. There’s an end game. No need to grapple with that.

ME: “I’m writing a screenplay. I’m a writer.”

SOME GUY: “Oh, so then what’s next?”

ME: “I have no fucking idea.”

I’ve been produced. I’ve sold a script. My novel is being published. I spend the majority of my weekly hours writing, so what has to happen? What would help me confidently answer this question: What do you do? What are you? What am I?

I don’t think there is a clear answer to my identity crisis. It’s hard to say if it’ll ever change. Maybe when I’m living in LA and making money writing screenplays full time… I long for this day. There is honor in it. A LABEL that I strive for.

I’m reminded that all I can do is write.  And to be a writer means to write.

Always be writing.

 

-REH

Journaling = Perspective

Around this time last year, I began to use a online journal called Penzu. Not working on my screenplays on the weekends, this fulfilled a promise to myself to write everyday. This was to be my first journal.

You all know what a journal is, right?

Your thoughts. Pure prose. Free writing at its finest. I found this process liberating — especially after writing scripts.

Now, I don’t just journal on the weekends, but instead whenever I feel the need to write.

It’s like therapy. I write down what I want to say. These thoughts aren’t always deep confessions. Sometimes they are just observations or pep talks to keep myself working hard.

I keep a notebook near my bed. In my phone there’s a memo pad. A few lines here and there. The notebook is the same. The days are spread about. I’m always sure to date each entry for reference. And then on my computer, there’s a folder titled “Free Write”. This is where most of my journal entries gather. Most are only a few sentences, but all just as meaningful as anything I’ve ever written. They’re personal.

All of these entries, either in my notebook, computer, or phone, are moments, thoughts, and feelings, from a day in my life.

One journal entry even inspired a screenplay that I’m still working on today.

Recently, I went through and read some entries. There are a lot of low moments. Moments of despair and confusion. There are also moments of confidence and ambition. And even looking back, especially at the low moments, I sometimes don’t even remember feeling that way – the way my writing comes across. I was then enlightened to the fact how time can change you. How moments change and just because you feel a certain way now, does not mean you’ll feel that way forever.

That’s perspective.

And all this should give you hope. Things change. Feelings change and sometimes when you feel low, that over time it can get better — and it will.

That’s why dating your entry is important. You can read what you wrote, grab a calendar and go back in time: “This is where I was that day” and “This is where I am now”…”Look how far I’ve come”.

Everyone should be writing. Everyday.

-REH

The day I broke the chain.

2 years, 3 months, and 13 days.

It was a Monday. April 14th.

When I started this blog more than two years ago, I blogged about something called “Don’t Break the Chain”. It was a writing technique practiced by comedian Jerry Seinfeld. It was simply a promise to oneself to write every day. Using a calendar and a red marker, you cross days off that you wrote, creating a chain… Hence DON’T BREAK THE CHAIN.

And on April 14th 2014, I simply forgot to write. And now the chain is broken.

I woke up that morning I realized what I had done.

Before I get into what followed, I should put some context into why I think I broke the chain.

It had been two months since I had worked on a specific project. There were a lot of changes in life and for some reason I was hitting walls with creating anything new — thus I had very little inspiration when it came to writing. Early drafts of scripts sat on my desk, and I couldn’t find any ambition to do rewrites. Perhaps the two years of striving, had worn me down — that’s my excuse anyways.  Without the inspiration of a new fresh project at hand, I began to journal to continue my goal of writing everyday. But then one day, I forgot to. Writing seemly took a backseat — something that didn’t occur for over two years.

I woke up that morning feeling nothing by guilt. I began to over think the reason why…

Perhaps it was sign to give it all up. Stop all struggling and realize I’ll never make it. And that’s how I felt.

“What do I have now?”

There was a blank space on my calendar and I felt broken. The feeling didn’t last for long though. Because I knew, I had to be tough. It was just one day. I had still conquered quite a bit and achieved what I wanted for those two years.

I simply kept writing the following day. I started a new chain on April 15th.

I’m still struggling to get back in the groove of things — and quite honestly don’t know why that is. Some days I’ll work on the rewrites that I have put off for so long. Other days I’ll journal just to cross off the day.

Since breaking the chain that one time, I’ve done it three more times. It doesn’t hurt so much anymore…

And that hurts that it doesn’t hurt so much anymore. When did the writing become so stale and when did the dream of being a successful, working screenwriter become so distant?

It’s hard to say I suppose. But at this point, there is no turning back.

It’s like I’m waiting for that break and that inspiration again. I’m waiting for that moment of rejuvenation and reason to start working hard like before.

I don’t know when that will be, but I’m confident it will come sooner than later.

Or I could just not wait and make it happen myself…

We shall see.

But what I have is two years of major progress in my work. What I have now is another streak to continue, another goal to reach, and another reason to write more and better. I just have to sit down and do it.

Always be writing.

 

-REH

 

Don’t write to live. Live to Write.

It’s not easy to write. Don’t get me wrong…

But it is easy to sit in the chair, sip coffee, and type some dribble into a word document.

I think I’ve been in this desk chair for the majority of the last two years. Sure, my writing has improved and I’ve gotten a lot done…but I’ve also missed out on a lot. And I’m just now realizing this.

Some of the things, I’m glad I missed out on. Choosing writing was the right choice. Other things, I regret missing out on. Finding the balance between writing and life can be difficult. Both need effort.

Recently writing has become hard for me. I have hit more walls than I ever have. My routine has been off and my work has slowed.

BUT I still write everyday. And all those walls have forced me to approach writing a different way…

Now, I write on a whim. With no real schedule. Now it’s true, I haven’t gotten much work done. But the work I am getting done appears to be really good — for my standards anyway.

Let me go back to where I started hitting walls: Now I must state that I don’t believe in writer’s block — mainly because it has never been an issue for me.

I finished a first draft of a script in October. I usually always have another project to move onto next, but this time, I didn’t — that was my first wall. So I began to search out other alternatives for writing. I realized I was bored with writing screenplays, so I was open to anything — perhaps a novel. Or I was going to blog more. Writing short stories or opinion pieces…

None of which I did. Instead I began to journal everyday. And eventually through the journaling a new story started to appear. For the past two months I’ve been working on a new story.  Notes here and there — pages are starting flow and I feel good about it. But my approach is way different than my previous 17 screenplays.

Not only do I think the writing is good. But this is the most personal story I’ve ever written, and I’m enjoying the writing to the fullest extent.

I have changed my tactics for one reason. I was bored.

Now with this new tactic, writing on a whim and writing a story that’s personal and meaningful…I have more time to live. More effort is put into my life outside this desk. I feel alive when I write and before I write.

The work shows that.

Writing less. Writing better. And living to write. Not writing to live.

There was no doubt; my writing was becoming numb writing. It was a job and I treated it like a job. My passion was fading. And my change of tactics couldn’t have come at a better time.

The pressure is limited. The pages are slim. My routine is seemly fucked, but suddenly the passion for writing is back.

Always be writing. Everyday.

-REH

Go back to where it all started.

When a good idea comes, I write it down. Eventually the really good ones are turned into a screenplay.

But all these “good ideas” are placed into a folder on the computer.

Often when I begin my outline, I copy and past the very first notes into another word document where I can continue to build the idea, thus leaving the very first starter note as is.

So one long night….
I went back to the starter ideas that were turned into screenplays…

What I found:

Most of the time the notes don’t even apply to the screenplay anymore. But I did find that they are filled with meaning and substance.

On the good screenplays I’ve written, that meaning and substance stuck.

On the bad screenplays, the meaning and substance was clearly lost. Probably in the shuffle of structure, characters and the basic to-do list of a screenplay.

I was also inspired by a lot of the notes. They actually brought on new ideas, which I quickly wrote down. I realized that these starter notes were crucial. I wrote them down for a reason. It’s what inspired me in the first place. And when I write a new story, I need to remember where it all started — where it all came from.

Go back and review your free flowing thoughts. I think you’ll find something. I know I did.

Always be writing. Everyday.

Have a reason to wake up in the morning.

Sleeping is great.

I need at least 10 hours of solid sack time. And without my alarm I could go all day.

But work doesn’t get done while you’re sleeping. But as of late, the holidays and all, getting work done was awfully tough — goal achieving was slim.

I slept a lot.

In many ways, all that sleep felt great. But I knew I was quickly falling behind. All that drive to get up and strive was fading quickly. My routine was slipping and I felt inadequate. I was having a tough time deciphering why.

And then it hit me…

I had no reason to wake up. Besides writing, my day job hours were slim. My days were filled with nothing. I had nothing to do…and this how time gets wasted. And wasted it, I did.

What I needed was a new project.

I was in between projects. Waiting on coverage for a screenplay. I hadn’t outlined anything new in about two months. SO I had nothing on the slate. This was the issue. I know it was. I don’t remember the last time where I didn’t have something to dive into every morning… It had been at least two years.

Why? I don’t know.

But the point is, we all need something to wake up to. This is the very reason why staying busy is important. We set goals to meet them. We meet them by working everyday. Waking up is the first obstacle in achieving those dreams.

I’m currently still trying to get back into the old routine that I relied on so greatly.

Eventually, things will be back to normal.

Always be writing. Everyday.

-REH

ULTIMATE GOAL: Getting paid to do what you love to do.

I landed a writing job last month, rewriting some script.

Although, it didn’t exactly pay a whole lot, I realized a huge lesson…

I was getting paid to do what I love to do. And as I polished the script, I was enjoying it to the full extent.  I’ve had various other small writing jobs — but until now, I’ve never full understood the lesson.

Sometimes you have to sacrifice your artistic integrity and just push through it. The script may not be exactly what you would write, or perhaps the topic isn’t exactly what you would agree with. But I was getting paid to write.

Writing is something I’ve done everyday for the past two years — very often for free.  SO when I saw that deposit in my checking account, all for sitting at my computer, with my tea, music in the background, typing away, expanding my mind, creating and imagining — I realized,  all that hard work, all that reading and practicing, has paid off. Not in full, but it was a start.

And that should be everyone’s goal. Not just for writers. But for anyone with a passion. Learn how to get paid for what you love to do. And suddenly your problems won’t be so immense. Life will have a purpose.

Let’s face it: we need money to make it. We need money to live. We need money to write. And that’s the issue with most striving artists today — they stop being artists, when they need to pay the bills. But what if your art can pay the bills?

Strive to reach this goal. Whatever it is, master it and get paid to do it for the rest of your life.

That’s my goal.

Always be writing. Everyday.

-REH