Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Manage Expectations or Edit Your Work: You Choose

Pretty much sums up my adulthood.

Several months ago I got an email telling me what an amazing job I had done reviewing a particularly weird (but educational!) book I had been asked to review for Celebstoner. You can read the review here. The editor at the website has used me exactly twice to review books by women writers of books that somehow embrace, mention or heavily smoke – marijuana because I wrote a book that embraced, mentioned and heavily smoked – marijuana. The book review that the email sender professed to love included something about smoking pot out of private bodily orifices, so that might have served as some kind of warning. It didn’t.

He blew so much proverbial sunshine- or pot smoke- up my ass (I had to go there) telling me how much he loved my review that I was the first person he thought of to review his new book that embraced, mentioned and might have once even been marijuana. How could I say no? I couldn’t. I am very susceptible to things blown up my ass. (Sorry. I’m done. It wasn’t really even funny the first time.)

A few weeks later the book arrived. It was really lovely. Colorful, well titled, legible. It took me a few weeks, but he nudged me with another pleasantly motivational email and I decided to make it my afternoon subway read. The next two things that happened were particularly vexing: 1) The book was a mess and 2) I had nothing else to read on the subway.

Point 1 had me kind of worried. I didn’t know if the story was smart or thoughtful or fun, all I knew is that the grammar was, well, bad and the layout was far from polished. If the guy had sent a note explaining that this was a galley proof, an unedited version of the manuscript, I would have read straight through and reviewed the thing for content, not grammer. But he didn’t. So, it would seem, this was the final edit, bad though it was. Point 2 just had me pissed.

Now let me just say, I am not an important writer. I’m not a big wig in any world much less the pot world. I don’t even smoke pot, I just enjoy people who smoke it. But somehow I knew I couldn’t review this guy’s book. I mean, I couldn’t even give it a bad review because that would imply that it was even in a state that was ready to be reviewed – even badly! But there he was, really really excited for me to review it. Which made me feel guilty, especially when I thought back on how much he really seemed to love me. Even if the love was for one little book review on one website in a universe of big reviews on many bigger websites, I would take it, because I am very good at receiving love – probably because I spent most of 7th grade feeling sort of sweaty and unloveable.

Reading The Stoned Family Robinson to a mature audience.

So I did the only thing I could think of doing. I overcompensated. I wrote the guy a very very long email telling him exactly what he should do to fix up his manuscript. I wrote about finding a good editor, building a target audience, finding an agent, reaching out to publishers, fixing the weird intro at the beginning of the story that is not only poorly written but tonally opposed to everything else I had read. Then I reread what I wrote and sent it off. And I waited. And waited. No reply. No, “Thank you so much Joselin! You are still my favorite all time book reviewer of books-by-women-writers-which-include-pot-themes! Great advice by the way! You are very very smart about writing, too!”

I don’t know what it was that I expected. I mean, I do because I just wrote it all out in the preceding paragraph. But I mean, this guy had printed lord-knows-how-many fancy books that looked very like a real book by a real publisher (because frankly, we are about to no longer need publishers…) and here was this person writing him a long email even though she wasn’t The Times, about why even she wasn’t going to review his book. And she wanted a reply. She wanted one bad. And then she got one (I will take it out of 3rd person now):

I read his barely one line reply. “Thanks,” he wrote. “I’ll look into it.”

What more could he say? I mean, really, what else was there?

I truly hope he did look into it, because I think people who want to write should always be writing. But I also stand by my 40,000 word email suggesting that if you want to do something and get paid to do it, do it right. A friend of mine recently embarked on writing a play. The problem was, she didn’t really know much about play writing. So instead of reading plays, taking a class or even looking up how-to tips on the internet, she just started writing dialogue. That would have been fine, but then she started sharing that dialogue with others in a professional setting so that it was being judged.

Damn hippies.

I think it’s important to stop here and say that it’s hard to write and sometimes it’s just a matter of getting it out. That’s 100% okay. I think writing should be shared and read and reread and not judged. But it’s also a little bit about expectation. If you hand something in to a potential editor, agent or even reviewer, polish it as well as you can, disclaim it by mentioning it still needs a professional vetting, or otherwise manage expectation, and then share it. If you are showing it to a spouse or a buddy, you can let them know you plan to eventually look up “how to write a play” but for now you just want to hear their thoughts on what you’ve got on paper.

But the person reading the work is only going to respect it as much as you did during your editing process. Which means, if you didn’t edit at all, that’s probably how much they’re going to respect it.

In conclusion, write all the time because it’s good for you, and also, just say no drugs. And also, read about people doing drugs.


Burning Bridges or Bad Manuscripts

The kid in the middle dies for no reason in this movie which feels wrong.

Last night Aaron and I watched one of those movies where every few scenes someone in the audience (us, because it was a DVD) looks at the other person and goes, “They have got to be kidding.” And by “They” we mean the literally hundreds of people who take part in the making and approval of the making of a movie. Like seriously, someone had to have an idea, then that person had to spend hours and hours writing down that idea (in the case of this movie, I’m going with minutes and minutes). Then someone has to read or hear about that idea and go, “That’s a really great idea! Let me tell my dad who has a lot of money!” Then that dad has to be all, “I’ll front three million but you’ll have to find investors for the rest of the fifteen million your great idea requires.” Then another fifteen rich guys have to get suckered out of a million dollars a piece. Then you have to cast the thing…

So you see where I’m going with this. It takes a village. And sometimes, because that village maybe got too big – or maybe the idea was sort of craparific from the start because it was about a group of teenage boys getting a super power (flying) and then not really having anything happen – but anyhow, that movie just got away from you.

Working in a creative field I am often shocked by the mediocrity so many people let slip past. In a world where time is money, most people don’t have time to care (I hope you read that in the voice of Don Lefontaine). I have been hired for several projects with such impossible deadlines as “in three days.” Not for articles but for complete manuscripts. The reasoning I am usually given is that we need to strike while the iron is hot.

I have written the majority of my books in a matter of weeks. It’s my fault. I agreed to the projects under the guise that I wanted to write, that I would write anything so that I could get my name out there, so that I could say “I wrote that!” no matter how steaming the pile of crap…

Someone who wouldn’t sell out and someone who looks like him.

Then last month I was hired to write “50 Shades of Sex.” I was given approximately 35 seconds to write it. The reasoning, it was explained, was that we had to strike while the iron was hot (and pressed in an erotic way against the pretty-young skin of a 22 year-old, if we want to stay within the theme of that 50 Shades of Gray book- we don’t.) The book was to be some kind of sex guide for Midwestern housewives who wanted to experiment with a little light sadomasochism in the bedroom. My qualifications were this: I could write fast and I would do so for very little money.

You might read into that last sentence that I went into the whole project already bitter. I figured that in all the times I had speed written and then put my name on projects I wasn’t entirely sure reflected my real ability (imagined or not) to craft a masterwork – or even, as was more often the case, sucked – at least I was writing. However, this publisher had already landed me in a position where I was being asked to take my name off of projects because a few of their earlier projects to which I had (willingly, I know) attached myself, had done so poorly.

So I went in feeling a little bit owed, like if I pulled off this book in 30 seconds someone needed to say a really big thank you and throw me a parade.

Instead I got into a really big fight with the editor on day two. (I was exaggerating when I said 30 seconds. I meant 5 days, but who’s counting?)

I believe that both of us were fighting a lot of other people during that fight. I imagine as a woman working for a publisher that demands projects with deadlines that include 5 day deadlines must run into a lot of pissed off writers. As writer who has agreed to work on a series of projects with said 5 day deadlines, I don’t think I’m being coy about coming into this thing pissed off.

This funny-looking fish could probably write some of my books better if given more than a week.

So we fight and I say a lot of things including, “Seriously? You think it’s okay to kill trees for this?” And she says, “We really need to strike while the iron’s hot.” And I say, “Won’t the iron still at least be lukewarm if we give it say, a week?” And she says, “Maybe you’re not the writer for this job.” (See qualifications for “writer for the job” at the end of paragraph 5, above.)

After I quit/got fired (tough to say which since I started the fight with the line, “I’m not sure I’m the writer for this job” and she ended the fight with the very same line…) I sat for a minute, sort of flushed, a little bit surprised. Not that I should have been. The job wasn’t about me. I wasn’t hired because I have any skills beyond a willingness to lower (bottom out) my expectations. And yet, I was already three chapters in. I’d gone from getting a few dollars for them to no dollars.

That’s what made me the angriest, at least initially. Then I was mostly mad at myself. I was frustrated that I had burned the bridge. I was mad that I had done all these jobs so that I would have this contact, get hired every now and then to write a book, crappy or not, and be that girl who could write fast, no matter how poorly…

Then it hit me…I don’t actually want to write poorly. I don’t want to write the movie about the kids with the cool super power who don’t do anything with it. I want to write the movie about the kids with the cool super power who do something amazing and memorable and totally worth the time of the hundreds of people who helped you make the movie. (That’s a metaphor. I don’t -necessarily- want to write a movie.)

So maybe I had to burn that bridge with that publisher so that I wouldn’t be distracted. Maybe this was the start of something more important. Or maybe I just totally destroyed my career. Whatever. At least I got a blog out of it. That’s something, right?


Break Ups: When Life Changes Against Your Will

I’m smiling, but I mostly felt greasy when I was a producer.

The other day I ran into someone who once fired me. This is the biggest problem with living in a city whose population travels mostly by foot. You run into all kinds of people. Brooklyn is like an enormous college campus with thirty and forty something’s on skate boards. That’s how my ex-boss was traveling when I saw him swish by.

Now, to be clear, normally I am a grudge holder which is why I tend not to stay friends with exes. There is literally one exception to this rule, but it only works because he lives in another country so the term “friends” can be applied loosely. But when I saw my ex-boss I called out to him. And then we chatted…amicably. I cooed over pictures of his beautiful daughter. I introduced him to my unruly mutts. We hugged and then he rode on.

As I walked away I had one prevailing thought: That guy changed my life.

I thought back to the day he called me into the back meeting room of our new production offices, sat me down and said simply, “We’re going to let you go.”

There are very few words more humiliating than those, but for the record they include, “get out of bed and get dressed,” “no more ice cream for you,” and “I’m cheating on you with your hotter, much younger sibling.” But “We’re going to let you go,” is right up there. And it sucks.

It wasn’t the first time I had heard it. And I am not so stoic as to not cry when I hear it. So I did. I just started crying. Then something miraculous happened. Instead of telling me to get my stuff and take myself to the movies, (horrible-boss-who-fired-me, 2005), he said, “Let’s go to lunch.”

I have only ever had one really good break up. My friends love this story and often ask me to retell it. I had been seeing this terrific guy for all of three weeks. But I had cyberstalked the poor kid to the point of obsession. He was a writer and had an impressive web presence. I am not suave enough to act breezy when I feel obsessive-y (think, crazy-eyed), so fairly quickly, my phone stopped ringing. After spending a good week planting myself within a three block radius of his house wearing lipstick, he finally asked me if I would go for a walk with him.

From my “illustrious” career as a writer.

Now you could suggest this break up might have turned down a darker path if we had actually dated for any real significant amount of time. But all I can say is that by the end of our walk, he had “let me go,” AND I had agreed to purchase real estate with him — Both things. One walk.

It was magical. I remember walking away from him, a huge hug and kiss good-bye, perma-grin extending violently across my face when it dawned on me in Hollywood slow motion, I had just been dumped. I started laughing. I had been dumped and I felt amazing! Somehow as we’d walked, he had me believing in every break up cliche in the book: I DID deserve better than what he could offer. I WAS amazing and he WAS so lucky to have gotten to spend this time with me. It WAS him and not me. And if the house he rented went on sale, of course I would go in on the down payment!

When I was fired by my skate boarding boss, our lunch had gone similarly. “You should go be a writer,” he’d told me. I had just gotten my first book deal. “Do you know how many people wish they had an opportunity like that?” He also pointed out that I didn’t really love my job. I wasn’t a filmmaker. I didn’t want to be. So, in short, I DID deserved better than what he could offer,  I WAS amazing and he WAS lucky to have gotten to spend this time with me. It WAS him and not me. But I would, I had to admit, still buy property with him.

The key to these break ups was the fact that these guys left me hopeful. They left me with a vision for what my life could be without them in it. And in that vision I was amazing. So what if they had (basically) sold me a bridge? I bought it because they sold it well.

And what’s even more important is that they both changed my life because I believed them. I walked toward the future that was better without them. And, looking at my husband, my career and the property I do not own, I’d say they were right.

Now, just let me know if you need me to kick in on your next big purchase…