It’s All About You

My overload freak-out the other day got me thinking about two great friends, Heidi Wall and Michael Hauge.  Years ago, they put together a coaching seminar for writers and used me as a guinea pig before the launch.  The idea was to treat yourself as a character in a movie: what was your story arc?  How could you live it intentionally?  How could you use it to generate momentum in your career?  It was a brilliant idea, masterfully taught.

Totally not their fault that I floundered.

For someone who likes to think she’s on the ball, I have very little ability to see myself clearly.  I didn’t even realize that, as I struggle with perfectionism, I had nonetheless created a brand around the word “perfect.”  It is so much a part of my internal operating system, it’s like air.  I don’t even notice it any more.

And that, you see, was exactly what they were looking for.  Just as  a character in a screenplay goes through a breaking down of their most-cherished beliefs, so, too, they wanted me to examine the thing about me that I never questioned.  They wanted me to imagine living without that; what would I do?  What new ideas, new vistas would open up?  How could I use challenging myself, and the discomfort and energy and new-ness that brought, to take new actions and get new results in my career?

I flopped then, but I’m determined to try it out now.  And I invite you to do the same.  If, like me, you’re a bit blind to your own operating system, ask a gentle loved one to enlighten you.  Or look to the thing that is keeping you from taking a step forward in your career.  Once you’ve found it, don’t expect change to be easy.  I will argue until I’m blue about why my perfectionism is a good and righteous thing, how it has gotten me so far in both my career and my life…

Yes.  So far, and no farther.

To bring this back around to pitching, a lot of people don’t pitch because they’re scared.  Of looking silly, of wasting someone’s time, of getting a no, of the unknown.  Going up to someone and touting their own work is outside of their operating system.  But in truth, only good can come of a pitch.  Yes, I want you to pitch well, but even a bad pitch reaches out to someone.  It creates a connection where before, there was none.

So challenge your self, try something new, get out and pitch.  Don’t even worry if it’s not perfect.


Apparently, Two Things Stop Me

I was going to follow up my When You’re In, You Win post the other day by telling you why I haven’t given my dearest friend a script that she likes and wants to pass along to a producer (hint: it has to do with perfectionism, and it’s dopey).  But that post is going to have to wait because I have realized there’s yet a more powerful circumstance stopping me from moving forward in all areas of my life:

I have too much on my plate.

Now, I could rail at the gods for a good long time, but let’s face it, I’m the one who heaps too much onto the to-do list.  I do the mom thing, the dutiful daughter, the freelance writer, the homemaker, the consultant.  One of my clients has a crisis?  I leap to the rescue.  Friends coming for dinner?  Must clean, file, shop, cook, and make it all look effortless.  Bonus points if I can set up a craft for the kids at the same time.  I am wearing my Superwoman T-shirt today, in the vain hope of convincing myself I can do it all.

In the play Caligula, there’s a wonderful line about how when everything matters, then nothing really matters at all.  I have a suspicion that perfectionism is at the bottom of my overload, which is crazy-making because the very fact that I don’t know what to drop means a bunch of stuff ends up being done half-assed.  I gladly open up the comments to anyone who has advice on triage.  I know this has to stop.  The centre cannot hold.  I was going to devote today to catching up on my to-do list, but what I really need to catch up on is sleep.

Am I alone in this?  Does anyone else suffer from overload?  Can I blame modern society or is it in fact all my fault?

Damn – as I write this, I am not kidding, the oatmeal is boiling over.  (Whew!  Caught it just in time.)

I’m gonna hit “publish.”  And then I’m going back to bed.


When You’re In, You Win

Just a quick update from NATPE, where I was one of the consultants helping people prep for their pitch sessions.  Three of the people I worked with that day have called or e-mailed to let me know how their pitches went — and they went very well indeed.  For two of the individuals, every production company they pitched to asked to read their script.  Every.  Single.  One.  A third team batted .500 – and they got an open door to pitch other projects to the two companies who passed.

I mentioned before that nearly everyone I saw was a solid B+, so I’m not surprised.  But I am delighted, and I wanted to share because so many writers think that pitching is like winning the lottery.  It’s not.  Getting a TV show or a movie made – that’s winning the lottery.  Getting interest, getting optioned, writing for hire — that’s all about getting in the door.

If you want to be a working writer, you have to pitch.  You will make connections, you will get a better sense of what a specific company looks for, you will make inroads.  You will get read.   There is no downside.

What’s stopping you?  Let me know.  Tomorrow, I’ll dish about what (sometimes!) stops me.

It’s Not Personal!

For a little tough-love, check out this excellent post, “The No-Moping Zone” by Keith Cronin over at Writer Unboxed.  I don’t want to duplicate his efforts (although I’d love to steal his style – he totally makes me want to use the word “poopyhead” in a post), so I’ll focus on one thing he mentions in passing, and which I say to people all the darn time:

It’s not personal.

We use the term “my baby” to talk about our novel or script or story, but it’s not a real baby.  It’s words on a page.  In fact, it’s probably only even a virtual version of actual paper and ink (which is a good reminder to go print a hard copy right now, just in case, then come back and finish reading.  I’ll wait… Back?  Good.)  Your work doesn’t have feelings, can’t be teased, and won’t be devastated by high school.  Rejection isn’t personal.

Rejecting your work doesn’t mean they’re rejecting you.

When you pitch, it’s not about selling.  Really, honestly, it’s never about selling.  It’s about inviting someone into your story to see if it’s a good fit for them.  If it’s not, you are both better off not getting into business together.  Pitching lets you quickly weed out the 75% of people for whom your work is not right. What a time saver! The remaining 25% may be intrigued enough to give your piece a read, but almost all of those will also not ultimately be interested. That’s okay. You only need one, the right one, someone who will not just publish or produce your work, but champion it.  Every “no” up front saves you time, energy, and disappointment down the line.

It’s. Not. Personal.

But it feels personal because we care so much.  So – and this is hard – we need to care less much.  Yes, you need to be passionate about your work.  You need enthusiasm and drive and professionalism.  You also need to detach from the outcome.  That may not be easy, but it’s necessary.  (Don’t believe me?  Check out the wonderful and sorely-missed Ray Bradbury on the “great blizzard of rejection slips.”)

If anyone has any ideas about how to do that – detach emotionally while still remaining enthusiastic – feel free to share.  For me, having lots of projects going at once helps immensely, possibly because I’m too damn tired to take anything personally.  Other thoughts?

Thoughts from the Pitchfest

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of helping out at the NATPE pitchfest, critiquing ten-minute pitches – or rather, having 10 minutes to hear a pitch and give feedback.  Even I thought that was a bit tight and I am the queen of the elevator pitch, but 90% of the time, it worked out fine.

Here are some of the things I learned:

1) Most people are more prepared than they used to be.  My colleagues and I compared notes and, across the board, we gave nearly all the participants a B+ or above.  I think this is great news; I want everyone to succeed.  It also means that the bar has been raised, so keep that in mind when you go to pitch.  The competition has gotten stronger.

2) Those who hadn’t prepared well really hadn’t prepared at all.  There was no grey area.  I talked to people who had never seen a TV show in the genre they were pitching.  That is inexcusable.  You must become an expert in your genre.  It’s not that you should pitch your story in terms of other shows, but if the producer you’re pitching to asks how your show is different from Veronica Mars/The Office/Project Runway and you don’t know, you can’t have a conversation – and you won’t make the sale.

3) Most of the time, the pitch was too long.  Think of a three-minute pitch as a sizzle reel – as opposed to a bad movie trailer.  You know the kind I mean, the ones that tell so much of the story I no longer need to see the movie.  I don’t need to know the plot moves, I need to know the main characters and relationships.  If it’s a reality series, I need to know what makes it special.  Do not tell me the pilot story unless I ask for it.

A three-minute pitch is the most-useful tool you have in your marketing arsenal.  It gives enough information for the buyer (or agent) to decide whether or not the project is right for them, but leaves some time and space for a further conversation.  But I’m going to take my own advice and keep this short.  More on that in a future post…



Speed Dating

NATPE’s big TV pitch conference is this weekend, and tomorrow is the day they offer 10-minute consultations to help people prepare for Friday’s marathon o’ pitching.  I’m delighted to have been one of the pitching experts asked to help participants perfect their loglines… and no less delighted that I won’t be pitching my own stuff this time around.

Pitch conferences are the speed dating of your writing career.  They are fantastic; in one day you can get your work in front of twenty companies.  They are also *emotionally exhausting.*  Seriously, it wears me out just thinking about it.  The problem is that you want each meeting to be with Prince Producer Charming, and alas, that’s as much of a career fairy tale as a romantic one.  So how do you get the most out of the pitch conference ball?

1) Make sure the glass slipper fits.

Do your homework.  Which companies will be there?  What do they produce?  You would be amazed at how many people skip this step.  If they’ve heard of a production company, they will leap at the chance to pitch to them, even if their project is totally wrong for that company.  So let’s say you sign up for Oxygen Media, The Discovery Channel and the CW… Consider the comment section open for ideas of a TV series that would suit all three.  Unless you’re coming in the door with a slate of different projects, pick companies that actually produce the kind of material you write.

2) Know how to dance.

Know what you’re going to say.  Have your logline and three-minute elevator pitch down pat.  If your pitch is longer than five minutes, cut it.  Not to tough-love you too much here, but really, they’ll know in the first minute if they want to hear more.

3) Get their phone number.

If they aren’t interested after the logline and (very) brief elevator pitch, use your time to ask them what they are looking for.  If you have something like that in your portfolio, give them the logline.  If not, ask if you can give them a call if you develop something that fits their mission.

4) Be yourself.

Cinderella cleaned up for the ball; she didn’t wear a disguise, she simply appeared as her best self.  Don’t pretend to be something you are not.  You are a professional writer with a distinct voice and personality.  You are looking for people and companies who get your sensibility, places where you can shine.  Be professional – clean up nice for the party – but don’t worry about fitting their mold.

Anyone else been to a pitchfest and care to share?  What do you wish someone had told you?