What I Learned Brunching With a Real Writer
Today I brunched with my dear friend, Rayna, who’s had the storytelling bug since before we sang together in the alto section of a rowdy high school choir. After studying film in college, she moved to L.A., and her career in entertainment and television has been on a steady ascent ever since. Currently, she writes for a show on MTV, and you can find her IMDB page here.
Fortunately, Rayna is in town for Thanksgiving, and we were able to catch up over croissants and overly complicated tea bags. Although she still has mountains to climb and dreams to chase, she has been working in the biz for several years. I find her life fascinating, and I’m sure you won’t mind if I share a few things I learned during our conversation.
What I Learned Brunching With a Real Writer
1. A trustworthy writer friend who is willing to look at your stuff is the most precious thing in the world, second only to the perfect pair of nude pumps. If you follow my blog, you know that I just entered the Writer’s Digest Short Story contest. What you don’t know is that I emailed said short story to Rayna at 9:30 the night before the deadline, asking her to look it over whenever she had time, even if it was after the contest deadline. I kid you not – within minutes, Rayna texted me that she was reading the manuscript and would be available to chat about it later that night.
I mean, what?!
Her notes were wonderful, obviously, and she sounded so excited about the concept. I just floated around for the next 24 hours, blissfully improving the manuscript when I would otherwise have been staring at my screen in a panic.
If someone you know has offered to help you with your writing, and you know that person has a good eye and will be kind while critical, why in the world would you not take advantage? Sometimes your styles don’t jive, but you never know until you try. Just make sure to appreciate what a generous gesture it is for someone to give you a leg up, when they know they’ll get nothing in return.
As for the nude pumps, I am still searching. Why the jaundiced shades? Why add a thin platform underneath the ball of the foot? Do they all have to be patent leather? Is it too late? Are we over nude pumps as a society? Don’t make me start over with navy. I’m not up for that.
2. Sometimes, you just have to throw something out there and see if it sticks. As writers, I think we all have that one “Mama’s Boy” manuscript. You know, the one you’ve coddled for months, even years, and it is still not ready for the “real world”.
Rayna had been nursing an idea for a novel, and after a few years she said the heck with it and wrote a pilot for the TV version. Guess what happened? She actually finished the darn thing! Then, when the opportunity came along for managers to read her stuff, she actually had something to pass along. Now, she’s got the interest of a manager who loves her writing. Maybe she’ll sell this story and maybe she won’t, but she’s certainly made a fabulous connection that never would have been if she hadn’t typed out a complete script.
3. Play by the rules … to a point. We hear time and again that the writers who “fail” are commonly those who turn a deaf ear to advice. I don’t doubt it. As someone new to an enormous industry, shaped by many great writers, editors, and publishers before me, I understand there are a few things to learn. I make sure to format submissions to an agent’s liking, to avoid the common faux pas and pet peeves, and to respect everyone’s time and talent, etc. And I’m sure Rayna would say the same.
At the same time, it doesn’t make sense in the long run to act against your instincts. For example, Rayna confessed that she hated pitching in person, because she feels the writing itself should do the speaking for her. Do producers want to get a hold of a script because the writer is hip and charming, or because the story is gripping and the characters leap off the page? So, Rayna uses other avenues to get her work in the right hands, like working her connections or acquiring representation that will do the pitching for her. She’s not defying the norm, but she also isn’t doing what makes her uncomfortable. I think that’s smart.
4. Be grateful for what you’ve accomplished; it’s more than you had when you started! If ever I started to downplay my efforts or qualify my work, Rayna would cut me off with, “But an entire book? That’s amazing!” Or, “How many words have you cut out? I’m so proud of you!” She wasn’t just being a good friend; she was being a good writer. As I’ve said before, a writer’s worst enemies are the voices in her own head. We have to be so aware of the bleak narratives we are telling ourselves every day – of fruitless efforts and never-ending hurdles, of disapproving friends and wasted youth. But the best defense is the narrative that Rayna chooses to hear, the one where great things have already happened since she started this endeavor, and only greater things await her in the future, no matter how far off.
Thank God for wonderful friends and delicious brunches. I’m sure I’ve embarrassed Rayna to no end, but hey, that’s what blogs are for.