Saturday, June 26, 2010


I began a screenplay in April as part of Script Frenzy, an online writing motivator that challenges participants to crank out a one-hundred page script in a month. As part of my writing, I booked a weekend in Mount Vernon, Washington, the setting for my comedy. But midway through that excursion, doubts crept in. Inspiration ran dry. I tried to tell myself it was merely a consequence of sleep deprivation. (When I booked on the Internet, there had been no mention of my hotel being beside the railroad tracks and the heavy train traffic that chugged by all night long.)

Back home, the project remained stalled. I still liked my characters and the story’s premise, but there was a mismatch. The characters weren’t right for the story. Page forty-eight in, I knew I had to start over. I abandoned the script and pulled out of the virtual writing club. If I’d attempt an overhaul then and there, I would have been unsuccessful. Too much frustration, too disheartened. Instead, I shifted gears and focused on two other projects. With two months’ space from the original aborted mission, I am ready to FADE IN once more, with two new main characters thrust in the predicament that is worth keeping.

Without an artificial deadline, I’ve frontloaded the planning this time. I’ve created detailed character profiles, helping solidify my understanding of their backgrounds and motivations. I’ve also written a detailed outline, offering a breakdown of every scene. No more letting the characters guide me to an unknown destination, as I’ve been so fond of doing with previous writing endeavours. In the past, I rationalized that too much pre-writing would generate a stagnant script. Hogwash. As with any form of writing, the outline is open to revision. The screenplay can take a different turn, perhaps even change course altogether. Still, I have more confidence that the advance prep will lead to a finished script, with the first draft hammered out faster than usual. Thus, with renewed energy and excitement, I begin. Again.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Just returned from my regular Sunday swim. As I’ve been having shoulder problems, I decided to cool down in the hot tub...if that makes any sense. During that time, I chatted with a lifeguard and another pool regular.

“How far do you swim?” the lifeguard asked.

“5K on Sundays. 3K whenever I get myself to the pool on weekdays.” Somehow the conversation shifted to me talking about my writing. Midway through an explanation, the other swimmer interrupted.

“Wow. You’re so disciplined.”

Who me?

I grew up feeling like one of the least disciplined people on the planet. I was always misplacing library books and failing to return them before the due date. My room had shelves and a cupboard, a chest of drawers and a closet, but I preferred a clutter sprawl extending across my desk, spilling onto the floor and oozing under the bed. Efforts to organize my mess were always sidetracked by a fascinating piece of paper or toy that surfaced as I sifted through the first hodgepodge pile. (And, really, any piece of paper magically became fascinating when faced with the daunting task of a major cleanup.)

In high school, I was the one stuck reading Watership Down or Jane Eyre on the final weekend despite having three or four weeks to ”enjoy” the assigned novel. Projects were completed at the last minute. I told myself that I thrived under pressure.

Same experience in university, only the cram sessions became all-nighters as the neglected readings and assignments were exponentially greater. (My pages to read before midterms always exceeded a thousand. For some reason, I wasn’t sensible enough to stop registering for history classes. All that pressure,...a good thing.)

As I started teaching, it seemed to take me twice as long to prepare lessens, five times as long to mark papers. If only I were more organized, more disciplined.

Something clicked while I was working on my master’s. Despite having lived my life as a procrastinator extraordinaire, I started signing up to be first with class presentations, frontloading the work for my courses. I did my readings so far in advance that I’d have to thoroughly review them again before class, which I realized was a great way to solidify my understanding rather than an exercise in redundancy. I performed as well, if not better, and I enjoyed my studies instead of experiencing a radical shift from lackadaisical to frantic each semester. My fingernails survived key deadlines, my facial complexion cleared up and my caffeine intake...well, some things really can’t be changed.

Apparently I’m not an “old dog” just yet. Human beings can evolve and, remarkably, I have grown into being a disciplined individual. This year of writing could have been a loosey-goosey joke. I could have developed an online addiction with Pac-Man and juggled Scrabble games via email with people around the world. I could have reconnected with Oprah and tried to figure out the reason for the existence of “The View”. And I could have made a dent in the shelves of reading material I keep meaning to get to...some day.

I’d agree with the lady at the pool. I am disciplined. Thankfully, I am as fully accountable for my time writing as for my workouts. I’ve logged my writing on a calendar and documented my time spent writing each day. If I let the dogs out or answer the phone, the clock stops. It may seem obvious that breaks are not actual writing time, but without my newfound discipline, I could have easily deceived myself. Rationalization comes easily. I set writing priorities at the beginning of each week and hold myself to six days of writing. Whenever I come up short on a particular day, I fit in more writing on other days to recover the missed writing time.

I’d always thought being disciplined led to being stuffy and rule-oriented. Artists, after all, are supposed to be free and spontaneous, exploring their craft when the mood is right. Yet I’ve become more driven as a writer as a result of my discipline. If anything, there is more flow to my creativity. Yes, being disciplined as a writer can indeed be an asset. Go figure.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Scary to think it is June. My year of writing began eleven months ago and, with an end in sight, I’m feeling on edge. Sure, I need to remind myself that it’s more of a baker’s year: thirteen months (plus a week or two), not the standard twelve. But that still doesn’t leave a lot of time.

I’ve enjoyed the freedom that comes with writing full-time six days a week. I’ve worked on screenplays, teleplays, picture book manuscripts, a short shorts collection, juvenile novels, a young adult novel and two novels for adults. Several items are finished, but I continue to struggle in finding the right people to read them. (My scripts have all been returned unopened.) Many projects have first drafts completed and a few are in various stages of revision, but now I have to prioritize which ones I should strive to fully polish and submit before I head back to my regular job. It’s a tough call. Naturally, some of the projects I am most excited about are farthest from the finish line.

For the past month, I have spent the bulk of my time completing, revising and polishing a juvenile novel manuscript, entitled The Lawn Patrol. The process has been satisfying, but I must admit that the last two weeks, focused on deleting ten percent to bring down the word count, hasn’t been the most creatively stimulating. I intend to complete some finishing touches today and submit the work this week.

It is tempting to celebrate finishing Lawn Patrol by going on a mini vacation—Whistler, maybe Victoria. But that gets complicated. What about the dogs? What about the fact a trip, however small, is not in the budget? After all, I am traveling to L.A. at the end of July for a children’s writers’ conference. Can’t I postpone the extrinsic reward? How about an ice cream cone—double scoop—for the time being?

Yeah, not the same.

The urge is to dive into one of my newer endeavors instead of revising another completed first draft. That’s the artist in me, needing to reignite the spark. The practical, business side, however, nags me to work on the next project that is closest to submission quality. I will probably juggle the two, a suitable compromise.

It would be best if I could block out the fact that I will be starting a new job soon with new staff, new students, new parents, new district personnel, new regulations, new…My stomach goes into knots just typing that. It doesn’t help that I was at the new school one day last week and I have a full day there this week. Makes it harder to protect my writing time as thoughts of the future creep in.

This year has been a luxury. I saved up the money and made it happen. Most people cannot do that. My biggest motivators are the passion and joy that come with writing. A full-time career as a writer remains the dream. I am fortunate—despite that irksome inner voice sometimes saying I am foolish—to still pursue it.