The Real Writing Grind and How I Drive Myself Insane

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Hey there! I'm able to blog today simply because the writing grind I'm about to tell you guys about has given me a break today. It was much needed, because I've been running on fumes while riding on an emotional rollercoaster, and I needed a quiet day before it picks up again tomorrow. 

To bring you up to speed on everything, life on the personal end of things has been topsy turvy, not because of any one thing... but because it's a time of changes, and I am one of those people who simply can't stay in the moment and go, 'first things first,' I have to freak out all over the place and go, "OMG WHAT IF THIS OR THAT HAPPENS IN OCTOBER?!" 

It's only March, Jenn. Calm down. 

As I talked about on this week's podcast, I think it's a coping mechanism I have to not have to prioritize the things I need to do, or give me an out and an excuse for not doing anything. It's kind of a scary thing for me to be fully in control of my life for the first time ever. There are no crises, no one telling me what to do, I literally get to do whatever I feel is best for my life, and it's making me a little nuts. 

Our original plan I've talked about before was for us to have a small home base in Atlanta, and places in the parts of the world where our families are, where we need to work, and continue on the nomadic path that worked so well for us last year. 

Then I spent Christmas with my kids and burned that whole plan to the ground. I have to go back to Chicago. It's not negotiable. Then my ex flipped his shit, and I was like, "Well maybe it's not such a good idea to go all the way back to Chicago..." and I spent a few weeks doing mental gymnastics over what I needed to decide and what I needed to do. There's losses and gains for every decision. We can talk about that later... but first...

"You need to get through pilot season. Focus on that." 

Pilot season is when everyone shops their pilots being made, pitch meetings happen, scripts get picked up... SXSW is poppin', each state has their own industry fair... it's basically a grind that sets up your year. If you want to be a working writer, especially a screenwriter, get your rest in January and February, because March will kill you. 

For a total nobody like me, you're not really on deck to make any huge deals unless you're well connected, very lucky, and the stars align in your 9th house or something. Last year, I optioned two scripts. Which is a yay! moment, but if we're being realistic, most projects don't get out of development, and I have no idea what I'm doing. I'm a nobody blogger who got to do a workshop for HBO and wasn't picked. Not exactly a stellar resume, but I am good at branding and getting eyes on me when I want to be seen. It's why I excel at my day job. I can go into a restaurant, for example, see what they need to do across social media and branding to bring in their target customer, and run a bomb ass campaign. I didn't go to school for this, I absorbed everything Yahoo! taught me in that godforsaken giant purple book, happen to be talented with art and design, know some basic code, and can write a hook. So when I sent my scripts to Amazon, I knew how to grab attention. 

However, writing a hook that gets your work seen doesn't mean jack. An option might seem like a lot of money up front, but when you think about the time that goes into writing a Script Treatment and a Pilot Episode, it can take as long as it would to complete a 50,000 word novel. Then whomever options it to shop it in development gives you a little money to have possession of it for a couple of years... at the end of the day, you put your blood sweat and tears to make minimum wage. Which is why you have to work where you can. 

For me, it was more about getting into the business in a real way so I could get known for being an actual working writer rather than being known as some kind of novelty. The great thing about my little success last summer, was that I did get picked up by that media company who told me to stay in Atlanta and keep working. By focusing on my day job and working these scripts, I was able to come back to them with a more multi-faceted portfolio they could market, and this time they signed me on the spot. It's through their smaller division halfway between Atlanta and Chicago, but maybe someday I'll get to their big market divisions. 

I write great dialogue. Because I write the way I speak, I am very good at looking at a script and hearing the words on the page in my mind, feeling if the words flow smoothly or not. Thus began the side hustle as a script doctor/script analyst/script consultant. If you wonder why I travel so much, it's because I am going to location shoots, production companies, etc. and rewriting parts of a script. I'd love to brag and say I'm responsible for feats of cinema like The Shape of Water, but you can find most of my work on free digital streaming sites. 

I am a B-movie superstar. Hello. I make movies that usually have words like, party, dude, chicks, and wild in the title, starring the hot guy from your favorite 90's soap opera, slightly less awful. My dream in life is for my career to come full circle and get to work on the next Eddie Cibrian vehicle. 

You don't get recognized for it, I won't win any awards, but it builds relationships for when I have a project getting shopped and someone recalls, "Oh that redhead who worked on Party Girls and Gators? I remember her. Good dialogue. She really made that dirty dancing swamp scene believable. I'll take a look."

I also do other writing for acting schools and talent agencies who need reels for their actors to shop for casting. 

It's a grind. I'm not complaining at all, but writers aren't typically gregarious jet-setters. We like to be alone in our cocoons with our demons, and as few people as possible, so living that life is exhausting for me. I'm a creative who has to be in complete homeostasis in order to produce anything, so when my routine and cocoon are jumbled up I tend to go a bit berserk. 

I also still have to manage my day job responsibilities with all of this, so it's kind of like having two for real - for real full time jobs. I am very #blessed to be in the position I am with someone who has my back and allows for a schedule that can handle both. 

That being said, I learned this last week that I am not cut out for the grind long-term, and I had a pretty frank conversation with everyone about it this weekend. I can't live in Chicago raising three kids and be on the road five days a week, nine months a year. I want to raise my kids, run my niche company, and go back to my kitchen table writing combine. Chicago has better opportunities for that because they have such a well established writing community, and it will allow me to continue to be repped in Chattanooga until I graduate to their bigger offices. 

But it's going to take these next six months of hustling to make it work. I am so glad I'm seeing the doctor in two weeks, because the stress will make me slip. I get so overwhelmed and then I get paralyzed. The first stage of our original plan began this weekend with him packing up his place to downsize, and I went bonkers, starting all of the panicking I do, second guessing myself, and winding myself up so much, I end up popping open Chardonnay and having an open casting call for Chicago husbands. 


"Everything is fine. Go record a podcast. One thing at a time. This is the first thing. We have to pack up my place. Then we go to the next thing, and then the next. Stop worrying about things that haven't happened yet, or they will happen." 



So I made sure to spend yesterday and today getting refocused, sipping green drank, and getting things in order one thing at a time. Tomorrow it's back on the road for the rest of the week. I started rereading and reworking "Life's Healing Choices" by John Baker. I've done this a couple of times before when I can feel myself coming up against... well... myself. I'm not a fan at all of rick Warren and Saddleback Church, but I do love the general philosophy of their program Celebrate Recovery and this one. I really get a lot out of programs that demand introspection, taking a personal inventory, and accountability. I've always said everyone should work a 12-Step or similar program at some point in their lives. It's not just for addicts. This program helps to keep me in the moment and calm a bit of that self-fulfilling panic. 


At least my ex-husband has been radio silent for 10 days. I'd probably be Tuesday drinking right now and screaming into pillows if he wasn't. 

I think that's where I'll end for today. I'm not sure where I'll find time to blog the rest of the week, but I will try to make an effort. I don't have anything clever to close with. I hope everyone is having a decent week, and some of the things I've written about tonight had value. 

Jennifer Gulbrandsen