I found out about a book on writing that Carl Sandburg once called “the greatest book on writing ever written”. It’s Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write. Turns out, Brenda, who passed away in 1995, was my fairy godmother and angelic predecessor! The book is a MUST read for writers, it truly is.
But let me rewind the tape a little. When I came to Hollywood, right around the turn of the century, things were radically different than they are today. More movies were being made, more scripts were being bought and sold and nobody sent anybody a PDF of a script, much less an email query, god forbid. In the Before Times, before the writer’s strike, before this Great Duhpression, before online video on demand, exhibition and distribution, there were still video stores. In the Before Times, the movie business was in healthier condition. In the Before Times, people spent more of their income on entertainment than they do now.
I like to think of these economic times as times of great opportunity, not times of privation and less stuff for fewer people. New insights and ideas are popping up all around us. Just yesterday, I saw one man inspiration Bernhoft perform. From Oslo, Jarle Bernhoft needed a band of about eight members but couldn’t afford it. So he figured out a way to record and replay his own tracks in the moment to create a lush, layered sound, a bit similar to Enya or Imogen Heap. Out of necessity, he stumbled upon something spectacular and he’s gone from Youtube semi-phenom to a national tour. Watch the video; you’ll find yourself grinning.
(I saw him perform live yesterday when I was a member of the studio audience of the Ellen show. During which all audience members got a year of free Tide detergent! I was inordinately excited about that.)
Where was I? Oh yes, I was reveling in the changes that are happening all around us. Here in Hollywood, in the US, all over the world – things are changing and new opportunities are sprouting up all around us – if we look for them. Don’t bemoan these seismic shifts in the economy, look for the opportunities in this time!
At the same time, don’t hide your head in the sand when it comes to the realities of script sales in Hollywood. I feel like someone warning writers about something crazy and they don’t believe me, but don’t take it from me; if screenwriting was EVER a great opportunity for writers (maybe during the time of H.L. Mencken?) it is much, much less so now. That party is over. While tinsel town may seem very magical and glamorous (and in many ways, it is) do not forget, it is a business – a huge business – and it has been impacted by the economy in a significant way. Which means less revenue. Which means less buying of material. Which means less jobs. This is real, dear reader.
I have been blogging about entertainment, writing and life for six years now and in some ways, it seems like forever and others, as if it’s been a quick dream. The readership on Just Effing, according to little charts, graphs and numbers, is quite sizable. If I think about it too much, I’ll suddenly become shy, so I shan’t. Suffice to say I am not the only one interested in entertainment, in creation and in nurturing gratitude and joie d’ vivre.
Sometimes I marvel at how much has changed in Hollywood, in life and in my life in the past decade. It’s unbelievable. Hollywood used to be the Number One Most Lucrative/Glamorous Destination for writers and there were and are hundreds of books, seminars and dvds you can buy that still tell you that this is the truth. But the thing is, it’s no longer true, and if there’s one thing I cannot stomach, it’s pointing writers toward the most narrow opening possible for writing – screenwriting – and telling them falsely but cheerfully that they can squeeze through that tiny opening.
It’s not that a screenwriting career can’t happen, but there are some growing and changing realities about the screenwriting business that aren’t quite talked about because then you won’t buy the book or go to the conference about how awesome screenwriting is.
Screenwriting is ONE opportunity for your writing but of all the outlets for writing, it remains the most difficult in terms of barriers to entry. I really came of age here in Hollywood; I cut my teeth here in the town of “NO”. I have been here for almost ten years now and I have seen it all; the high and dashed hopes, the dreams come true, the frustration, the professionalism, the hardcore focus and the feeling of powerful creativity – and futility. Living and working in Hollywood makes you emotionally muscular.
Many have accused those who teach, mentor and give notes as I do, that we sell dreams that probably won’t come true and that we aren’t being 100% honest when we encourage you to rewrite your script three times, buy our book and come to our class and then you might – you just might – achieve success. And I’ll be honest, I think there is that element among screenwriting teachers. It’s not false hope or encouragement – but it’s not exactly full disclosure, either. I know I am breaking the screenwriting consultant code a little bit in saying this, but it hasn’t sat well with me for a long time, to encourage writers toward a mirage that is at this time, shrinking mightily.
At risk of sounding like a broken record (remember those?) I want to get on the roof and shout out to the entire world of writers (and you are legion) that SCREENWRITING IS ONLY ONE form of writing and one possible writing career. But listen, guys, it is the most sought after, because it seems so glamorous. So what do you think that translates to? Ask any actor living and working in LA how many actors show up to auditions. Does that mean you give up? No, but writers write. We write and we write – poems, letters, prose, essays, scripts, plays – anything and everything. You have been sold a bunch of baloney if you think screenwriting is fast, easy, lucrative and easy to achieve as long as you buy THIS BOOK and go to THAT CLASS. You have been sold a bill of goods if you’ve been told, while purchasing yet another screenwriting dvd, that screenwriting is achievable for anyone who tries hard enough for long enough. Screenwriting is not for everybody. It is a very particular kind of writing, for a very particular kind of writer. You may or may not be that particular kind of writer. And even if you are, branch out for goodness sake – use all your writing muscles!
You don’t have to hear NO time after time, and you don’t have to be told you live in the wrong place or that you are too old or too young. There are other venues to express yourself in writing. And they are growing up SPROING like weeds right now, thanks to the success of ebooks and self-publish books.
The stream toward Hollywood has narrowed, but like water flowing around rocks in a stream, other opportunities have arisen. I mean, look at me, I have an ebook out about the death of my dear brother Pete and it is selling. People are reading it all over the world. Just like that. Now – did I write it just like that? No, it took a great number of months and tears to write. It took a lot of courage to write with that kind of truthfulness and candor. But I compiled the essays I’d written – really, for you, dear blog reader – into a slim ebook because it struck me that others might benefit and it was very easy for me to do.
I hope that I am an example of courage for you, dear readers. Of overcoming challenges and hardship and continuing to show up and believe in life, in art and in the sanctity of creation just for the sake of it.
I love reading scripts. I have a stack on my desk right now. But I’m also reading several manuscripts and coaching writers in every aspect of writing, which I love. I will soon be changing some of my mentor/reading services to include manuscripts since there has been such a high demand, which thrills me. So keep your eye on the “services” part of this blog in upcoming weeks and don’t hesitate to email me if you have questions about your writing, full stop.
Many of you know by now that in just a few short months, I will be living in my beloved adopted country of Israel, in Tel Aviv, near the sea. ON the sea, I should say. You won’t really notice a difference here on the blog; many of you Just Effers log in from very far away already! I will continue being the same Julie Gray you have come to know; I’ll be writing from the same part of myself that I always have, I’ll just be in a different time zone. And I will continue to be here for you, as an inspiration, a cautionary tale, a laugh and hopefully, some inspiration.
I am no Brenda Ueland, but in having just read her book, I feel I do carry on her message that you can do it – you can write, you can express, and that doing it every day is somewhere between sacred and the most awesome fun you’ll ever have. I do encourage you to check out her book; along with two of my other favorite books on writing, it deserves a place on your bookshelf:
That’s all for today. Make me happy, do some writing today.