writing

Behind the laptop

Sometimes you walk into a coffee shop and there are so many laptops it looks like a computer store. Have you ever wondered what all these people are working on? I always think, “Maybe my new favorite book is being written in this room right now!”

For the last few weeks, I’ve been going up to strangers in coffee shops and asking them what they are working on. It was pretty intimidating at first. I didn’t want to interrupt their work, I’m not used to starting conversations with strangers, and strangers don’t look very inviting when they’re staring at their computers. But it was a great experience. I learned that people really like talking about their work and that they are aching for a connection with other creative people.

Meet Tricia Alexandro

Below are her answers to the three questions I’ve been asking writers in coffee shops.

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Tricia Alexandra writing at The Queens Kickshaw.

Me: What are you working on?

Tricia: “A short film about a couple taking a trip to Paris. It’s one of those trips you take thinking it’s going to solidify your relationship but instead it reveals all the cracks.”

M: What’s your next stage and what do you need to get there?

T: “I want to be paid for my work. I want more exposure and a writing community. I find that kind of support is imperative for getting to the next level because those kinds of people inspire you and also hold you accountable. When you see the consistency of other people, and the fact that they’re making a go at it on a daily basis, that encourages me. And you also share resources when you have a community.”

M: What does a writer need?

T: “I think self-compassion is probably the best thing to have as a writer because most of your first drafts and even fifth drafts are going to be shitty. Also curiosity about what’s going on around you. Be gentle on yourself and persevere.”

This conversation was such a great affirmation of what I’m doing with my organization, Writers Work. I’m proud to be creating a supportive community to help writers develop their craft, career, and community. I’m hosting my FIFTH conference on Saturday, April 9 and it’s going to be a great place to find a community as well as get inspired and informed. I hope you can come and spread the word.

*** As a side note, I’m still working on the film. We’re in the audition process for cinematographers and actors. I will be writing about it soon, but in the meantime you can get more updates by liking the Lily and Mara facebook page.***

How to Make A Movie: Write

As I mentioned in the past posts, I’m making a movie with my friend Caroline! So far I’ve talked about how important it is to be committed and have the right attitude. The next step was all about the work.

Once Caroline and I decided on the story, an idea she had about what we do for the people we love, we sat down with index cards. Each card represented a concept that we wanted to address in our film. We brainstormed each of these concepts, filling the index cards with notes. For homework, we decided to each write a version of the story and send it to each other.

From there, we came up with a script we liked. We then asked some of our actor friends to do a reading for us to hear how it sounded. It was amazing to hear our words read with so much emotion. The actors, who are trained to understand character, were so helpful in pointing out inconsistencies and weak spots. A huge thanks to Laura Hankin, Katrina Medoff and Ashley Harrell for their time and expertise. Sorry about the blurry pictures below:

After that reading, we decided that we wanted to try a different approach to the story because a lot of it took place in a car and we thought that would be too difficult to film/boring to watch. We tried out thirteen different versions without a car. We decided on a version we liked, and then the next day we decided we didn’t like it. At that point, it was starting to get overwhelming. It was looking like we’d never agree on a final script

Over a fantastic dinner of pizza and wine, Caroline and I realized that every version we wrote was really good and that we both had high standards for the project. The truth was, we could go out and film any of the scripts we wrote and make a  beautiful film. This realization was a huge relief. It meant that we weren’t stuck, we were still climbing.

We both agreed that this was the only stage where we could play around with the movie as much as we wanted to. Fortunately, Caroline and I are both great with letting go of our writing for the sake of trying something new. This approach can be scary, deleting pages that you love, but it leads to fresh ideas.

After that dinner, we tried out six very different ideas. We settled on one that incorporated a lot of the different ideas we had while remaining simple. Then we sent that version back and forth, fine-tuning it.

Finally, we sent it out to people we trust to get their feedback. The response was incredible. While we got some minor notes to make things clearer, overall everyone loved it!

Now that we are busy finding the cast and crew, we still tweak the script every few days. All in all, for a ten-minute film, we probably wrote close to 200 pages of script. What we have no is excellent and I’m excited to turn it into a film!

If you are working on your first movie, remember that the writing is the cheapest stage. This is the time to experiment and make the leanest, strongest, most compelling story. During filming, if something isn’t working right with the story, you waste hours with the actors and crew. That’s thousands of dollars in equipment and hourly wages. Spending an hour or even a day to fix something while it’s on your computer will save thousands of dollars.

Next up, more on the challenges of making a film, how to come up with the money, and location scouting!

Life lessons from hosting a writer’s retreat

I know that not everyone has the desire to host a writer’s retreat, but if you have any desire to take a big risk, the skills and lessons are the same. As I mentioned in my earlier post, I’m making an effort to go into more details about what I’m doing and still keep it relatable.

In mid-January, I hosted my second writer’s retreat in the Catskills. This is one of my favorite parts of the year. I love being around other writers 24/7, sharing ideas, supporting each other, and getting motivated by the clicking of their keyboards. As enjoyable as these retreats are, the preparation for them can be a stressful practice in patience and faith.

If you are planning to take on a new challenge, here are some lessons I’ve learned from organizing this retreat:

  1. Commit Commit Commit
    This is the most important rule for any risk you take. If you try to do something new and out of your comfort zone, there are going to be challenges. There will come a time when quitting seems like the most obvious and sane choice. The only way to succeed is to decide that there is no quitting: you will do whatever it takes. Surprisingly, everything gets easier once you take the option of quitting off the table.
    Once I found the venue I liked for my retreat, I had to pay the dreaded deposit. This is super scary to do when you have no one signed up, but you can’t get people to sign up if there’s no venue. Once I sent out the deposit, I decided that I wouldn’t back down no matter what.
  2. Strike while the iron is hot
    For some reason, I thought it made sense to book my writer’s retreat one month after my writer’s conference. The conference takes about 200 hours to plan and market. It’s thoroughly exhausting. A week before the conference, I realized that I had no one signed up for the retreat, and the final payment was due in two weeks. I was in jeopardy of losing my deposit.
    My husband suggested I give a promotional discount for the retreat during the conference and let everyone know that it would expire by the end of the day. This seemed beyond ridiculous to me. My guests were already shelling out their hard-earned money for my conference. It felt greedy to ask for more money.
    That’s when I was forced to confront a harmful belief I had. I was thinking my guests were doing me a huge favor, rather than recognizing that I was giving them an incredible gift: my conferences and retreats are inspiring, informative and an incredible value. Once I accepted that fact, it was easy to announce the promotional offer and capitalize on the excitement and motivation I had already worked so hard to create at the conference.
    And guess what? Five people signed up that day!
    This is all to say, figure out when you can maximize your efforts and don’t let any doubts get in your way.
  3. Relax and enjoy the ride
    At a certain point you have to believe that all your planning will pay off and that it’s okay to enjoy yourself. I believe one of the reasons why my events are so powerful is because I am a writer and I give other writers exactly what I would want. If I can’t enjoy my own events, why the heck am I doing it? Passion projects are going to wipe you out. They will use up every last reserve of energy and will. If you can’t stop and enjoy the moment, I promise you won’t be able to sustain the passion.

Is there anything else you would add to the list? Was this helpful? Leave a comment ’cause I’d love to hear from you. Also, if you’re interested in joining the next retreat, send an email to Tracy [at] writerswork [dot] org, or apply here. I am starting to plan a week-long retreat for this summer in Long Island, and it would be a huge boost to know that people are interested in it.

*** Pictures provided by Josh Conrad. Josh has a blog where he’s tackling 25 interesting dares this year. You should definitely check out his blog and see what he had to say about the retreat! ***

From West Virginia to Santa Fe (Part 1)

This Summer I had the great opportunity to taking my laptop on the road.

I love living in NYC, but Mike and I really wanted to switch it up this summer and get as far away from the city. We really needed concentrated quiet time to focus on our writing projects.

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On our way to Durbin, West Virginia!

We used AirBnB to rent this gigantic house in Durbin, West Virginia for two weeks. I couldn’t believe how nice the house was for the price we paid ($50 a day!). If you have no clue what AirBnB is, it’s a way of renting a room or a house from individuals and it’s typically much cheaper and much more unique than staying at a hotel or BnB. If you want to try it out, let me know and I’ll send you a $25 off coupon 🙂

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Our beautiful home for two weeks!

The house came complete with a banjo, which we played on the porch every night. The porch was also home to the feistiest hummingbirds I’ve ever seen. Throughout the two weeks, friends and family came to stay the night, and we got to see more of West Virginia, including a hike to Seneca Rocks, a ride on the historic steam train, and a rafting trip down the New River Gorge. All in all, if I had to choose one word to describe West Virginia, it would be “green.”

But most importantly, I got to write!

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My writing home for the two weeks.

Every morning I wrote for four blessed hours, and then, after lunch, I wrote for another four blessed hours! Since we were right by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, there were no cell phone towers, so I didn’t have any distractions. Well… except for this:

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The hungry stray cat we adopted for two weeks. We named him Squeaks.

I got to finish the second draft of my screenplay while I was there!

Now I’m putting my screenplay aside for three weeks so I gain some objectivity, and moving on to work with my friend on her screenplay. Which brings me to Santa Fe.

But not so fast. You’ll have to wait until my next post for the some of the most beautiful sunrise pictures.

You are the solution

Two years ago I was browsing the internet trying to find a solution. I had hit a wall with my writing. I needed to meet other writers who knew what I was going through. I needed to meet agents and editors who could help advance my career. I needed to get inspired and motivated. A writers conference was exactly what I needed.

After researching several writer’s conferences, I realized a loan was actually what I needed. Most of them were upwards of $500. Plus, when I read the reviews people complained that the conferences were too crowded and the guests left feeling overwhelmed and even more anonymous.

That’s when it hit me.

I already had a lot of connections with the publishing world and I already knew lots of writers. What was to stop me from creating the exact conference I wanted to attend? Nothing!

So often we look for solutions outside of ourselves, ignoring our own resources and abilities. We forget that everything out there, everything that is well established and perhaps intimidating, started out as some person’s crazy idea. The only difference between a crazy idea and an established event is action and time.

Cut to the present moment. I am now gearing up for my third conference for writers. It’s small-scale (under 50 people), affordable ( $115-$160), and, most importantly, inspiring. I created exactly what I needed and I’m helping other writers in the process.

I’m not going to lie it’s been extremely difficult. I spend hours contacting potential speakers, putting together the perfect schedule, researching venues, promoting the event, preparing all the materials, and hosting. I spend countless hours on each conference and I’m still not breaking even. BUT it’s worth it when I get messages like this from former guests:

IMG_3217“This was the BEST writing workshop ever! It learned so much!”
“A fabulous, relaxing, well-organized event for inspiring, connecting and educating aspiring authors.”
“A meeting of writers and aspiring writers with meaningful speakers and opportunities to mingle and network. I felt invigorated and inspired by the day.”

Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is give what you need to others. Never underestimate the tools you already have!

***If you are a writer in the NYC area, I’d love to see you at my next conference on Saturday, June 27. Use this link for 10% off! Please share this with any writers you know. For more info, check out my website.***

Why did I start this blog?

recommitment-monthI have a confession to make. I haven’t been writing much lately. Actually I haven’t worked on my novel since March when I received disheartening news from the agent I thought I would be working with. After four months of correspondence, my hopes were dashed with this brief email:

I’m sorry to say that I’m going to have to step aside, despite my admiration for your work.  The past few weeks have been extraordinarily busy, and I have not been able to get back to your manuscript.  In any event, I cannot imagine you’ll have any trouble finding an agent to handle this—what I’ve read is quite wonderful.

OK, I know that this is overall positive, but that doesn’t make it any easier to face the fact that I have to start the long submission process all over again. But more over the writer inside me was broken and depressed by the rejection – writers have very sensitive egos. I couldn’t even look at my story.

But today, cooler heads prevailed, and I decided to open the document and read through parts of it. And guess what?!? It’s f’ing amazing! I needed a little break from it to realize what a great story I wrote. So now, before you all, I newly recommit to getting my novel published.

I am also making a promise to you virtual friends that I will write the second draft of my screenplay and enter it into a film contest by August 30. By the way, this is the feedbackI received after I entered my first draft into a film festival contest:

Your script made it through to some of the last rounds and saw many extra readings. The overall level of craft was remarkable, and made for some stiff competition.This screenplay’s concept is tremendous. And this script brought a dense and complex story alive. In the end, however–we had to pass. We found this to be a very promising screenplay. Thanks again for the honor of reading your work! And please keep writing.

I started this blog to hold myself accountable. I realized that once I state something publically I much more likely to do. So please send me lots of good vibes and encouragement. This summer it’s ON!

Mini Memoir Monday: Matilda

Reading didn’t make sense to me. I stared at the words on the page struggling to sound out each letter and guessing what the combinations of sounds could possible mean. My eight year old peers flipped through the pages of their books while I tried to remember what sound H made when it followed the letter T. The word that gave me the most trouble was “of.” No one could explain to me why the F sounded like a V – it all seemed to arbitrary. I could remember that the F was supposed to sound like a different letter but I couldn’t remember which one. Sometimes I’d think it was a T or a P so I’d pronounce “of” like Aught or Up. I remember sounding out the title Anne up Green Gables to my class only to be met by ferocious giggles.

Since it took me a few minutes to make sense of a sentence, I often gave up and refused to read. However, that didn’t stop me from taking out books at our weekly class trip to the library. In third grade it was considered cool to like books, so I made sure to always have a book in my hand even if its contents were like a foreign language to me.

MatildaOne day I noticed a pretty shade of yellow on the library’s shelf. I pulled out the book and was immediately enamored with the drawing on the cover. The girl was sitting with a book in her lap, seeming to have difficulty reading.

I checked out the library’s copy of Roald Dahl’s Matilda and immediately took it outside to sit on the park bench and pretend to read it. The illustrations drew me in. I quickly learned from the drawings that the girl actually loved reading. There were strange scenes with a hefty woman who always seemed angry, objects floating in the air, and a sweet looking woman who drank tea with Matilda. The drawings intrigued me so much, that I forced myself to decipher the words.

After an hour on the bench I was five pages into the book and captivated. On the school bus home I read another page. I was noticing that some of the words were used a lot and it was getting easier to recognize them. By that evening, as I read through the next chapter, I could skip the whole sounding out process for words like “the”, “on”, and “and.”

During class the next day I kept my copy of Matilda open on my lap under the desk. I stole glimpses of the words while my teacher taught the multiplication table. I needed to know what happened after Matilda put super glue in her father’s hat and I needed to know how Matilda caused the television to explode. I worked my way through another chapter during lunch. When I placed my bookmark to save my page I stared in disbelief. I was half an inch into a book. Half an inch of pages filled with words that I had successfully decoded. And I didn’t even have a headache!

That night, I made myself a cup of hot chocolate because that’s what Matilda did when she read. I read about the mean Miss Trunchbull, throwing kids like baseballs. I read about the FBI agents investigating Matilda’s father for his shady used car business. I read about Miss Honey’s sad past. What intrigued me the most was that Matilda had telekinetic powers. Her brain was so developed that she could move things just by thinking hard enough!

By page one hundred I was convinced that if I could become an avid reader like Matilda, I, too, could have magical powers.

As soon as I finished Matilda I went to the library and took out every book by Roald Dahl. I poured over James and The Giant Peach (to this day I think of this book whenever I take a bath), The WitchesCharlie and The Chocolate Factory and The BFG. I couldn’t believe that I was able to see the scenes in these books with greater detail and vividness than any movie or t.v. show. I thought about the characters for days after I finished the book, wondering what they were doing now that their stories were done. Each book became easier to read. In the span of a month I went from not being able to read to winning an award from my teacher for being a “super reader.”

Matilda changed me forever. It taught me that hard work paid off. It taught me that I could take as much time as I needed – the words would still be there for me when I was ready to make sense of them. It taught that I wasn’t stupid, I just needed to get over a hurdle before I could run.

Since that day in the library when I picked out Matilda for its pretty yellow cover, I’ve never been without a book in hand. I’ve come a long way from not being able to read the word “of.” In the back of my mind, a part of me thinks that my telekinetic powers will form some day if I keep reading, but the truth is reading is already magical. I don’t need to be able to move spoons with my mind when I can create worlds instead.

Growing some Wings

wings

This is one of my favorite quotes, and it’s a belief that motivates me whenever thinking of what to do next. It’s a quote I had to repeat as I wrote the check to reserve the venue for my first-ever writers’ retreat. (Actually I’ve set up two impromptu retreats with my writers’ groups and I know that the concentrated time and companionship can make the difference between thinking about a novel and finishing a novel. However, these retreats were at my parents house so there was no financial risk for me. This retreat is on a larger scale, with more money and time at stake.)

It would have been easy to say no to the idea of this retreat. Financially speaking, I should say no to this retreat. But at the end of the day I know I can do an amazing job organizing it, and I know that it will be worth it. There are only seven openings and I need at least five people to sign up in order to break even. I jumped off a cliff and now I’m waiting for those wings to pop out! If you know someone who would benefit from this retreat, please share the info! Here are some of the details, but visit the website for the daily schedule and more details.

  • 3pm Friday, Feb. 20 through 3pm Monday, Feb. 24
  • We will all be staying in a quiet house in the Catskills and our meals will be brought to us. All you need are your usual writing implements, clothing, and a toothbrush.
  • All activities are optional. They are designed to inspire creativity and enhance the craft, but your time and schedule is priority.
  • Mornings start with yoga or mediation and the evenings end with a group critique of the day’s writing.
  • On the last day, Chloe Caldwell, author of Woman, Legs Get Led Astray and The New Age Camp, will be joining us to talk about her experience as a writer, and offer feedback on our writing.
  • Prices range from $540-$800 depending on the room situation you pick, and if you send a deposit by 12/15 for the early bird special. Price includes housing, meals (except for one meal at a restaurant), activities and supplies.

I hope you will join me for this retreat and I hope there will be many more in the future.