The 5-Question [Screenwriter] Interview: Shane Weisfeld

“The key isn’t necessarily producing fast enough, but being consistent, persistent and self-critical. That, in effect, means I’m striking the balance of producing and creating and then they become one and the same.”  
— Shane Weisfeld

SHANE WEISFELD is the co-writer of the crime-thriller film “FREEZER”, released worldwide, starring Dylan McDermott, Peter Facinelli and Yuliya Snigir. Follow him on Twitter: @ShaneWeisfeld

<1>

Meredith: Do ideas come to you in words or images, sounds or phrases, or something else?

SHANE: Coming from the medium of film, they mostly flow in the form of both words and images. It usually starts with a concept and grows from there, including characters and theme. Also, I come from hip hop, which has influenced everything I do, say and how I see the world, and it has made me what I am today. I owe everything to it. Hip hop has given me a plethora of ideas, because the music and culture is the best at painting images in your mind with words. If there are any sounds or phrases that come to me as ideas, they stem from words and images first.

<2>

Meredith: How do you balance between creating and producing? Have you ever felt that you were not producing fast enough? How do you deal?

SHANE: It’s important that there is no distinction between creating and producing. When I create something, it has to mean I’m producing as well, that once I create something, it’s progressing forward as I go on. However, when it comes to screenwriting, and writing in general—it’s a marathon and not a sprint. The key isn’t necessarily producing fast enough, but being consistent, persistent and self-critical. That, in effect, means I’m striking the balance of producing and creating and thefn they become one and the same.

<3>

Meredith: Do you show your work? When is too soon, or too late? Does it make you anxious? Calm you down?

SHANE: I show my work to myself, that is, the critical component of myself. I step outside of myself when I read my work and dis-attach myself from it in order to be as constructive as possible when it comes to criticism, feedback and notes. Basically, once a first draft is done, it’s time for edits and a rewrite. I don’t bother slaving over a first draft, so once I bang it out, it’s prime time to make changes. Only once I’m convinced it’s the best it can be is when I show it to the masses, and even then, it’s still not good enough until somebody says it is, in this case, the gatekeepers. It certainly makes me anxious when the right person reads my material, but if they come back with proper notes and ways I can make it better, and if I’m in Freezer domesticagreement with these ways, then that’s what calms me down.

<4>

Meredith: The screenwriter, author and therapist, Dennis Palumbo, has a quote at the very end of Writing from the Inside Out, from Shunryu Suzuki: “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind, there are few.” There is this collective sense that experts are better, but perhaps, in a roundabout way, what it suggests is that more power comes to the beginner, because the beginner sees hope and has no expectations. Like, if you’re going to be an expert, be an expert in being a beginner/newcomer. What’s your take?   

SHANE: Speaking from experience, and to quote Damien Karras in The Exorcist: there are no experts. I’m 41-years-old and have spent years making mistakes and getting knocked down, but also jumping right back up and getting the hell out of my comfort zone. Does that make me an expert? Well, maybe I’m an expert at knowing myself and what I’m capable of. However, that all started from humble beginnings and hope. I don’t know when I transitioned from newcomer to expert. I guess I’m an expert at knowing exactly who I am, therefore there’s only one possibility. However, if I were to ever quit (which would never happen), but if I did, then I’d be a beginner at quitting, in which case there really is only one possibility as well, because if you’re a beginner at quitting, you’re also an expert at quitting. So my take is: be an expert at knowing yourself and what fuels your fire. Unfortunately that may take years, and even more unfortunately, most people quit before they find out.

<5>

Meredith: When you’re in love with a particular idea so much, how do you know when enough is enough–for example: words in a verse, input from a particular instrument, or the length of an entire show?

SHANE: Everything, just like stories, and life, has a beginning, middle and end. You need to know when and how to end it. It’s not so much ideas I’m in love with, but more the expression of that idea. However, I don’t look at my material and love it. I don’t see it as a piece of art. It’s a product—that’s all it is. My job is to keep honing and chipping away at that diamond in the rough, and enough is enough only when I feel that I can’t make it any shinier. At some point I do need to let go of an idea and move on to the next, bigger and brighter thing.  

<+5 [=bonus—on rejection]>

SHANE: I love rejection. I actually crave it. It has been a good, blunt, honest friend of mine. Rejection means I’m doing something right. It means I’m throwing myself out there, continuing to develop the thick skin and backbone that’s needed to persevere. It means I’m not afraid. However, I’m never one to say “Oh they said no to my material? Well they don’t know what they’re talking about.” You know what? They do know what they’re talking about many times over. I need to take that and run with it. Learn from it. Improve from it and keep coming back better and stronger the next time. What’s also great about rejection is I can look back on it and say it was worth it, to get to this point I’m at and continue to propel me forward.

Also, on a psychological level, rejection has taught me who I am and what I’m capable of. What I am is not a quitter. What I am is not someone who sulks and questions his talent or ability to make things happen when he faces some rejection. Again, this all stems from hip hop. That’s where it all started for me and continues in my heart. Making something from nothing, taking raw talent and building on that, staying hungry, never biting off more than I can chew, and most importantly, persevering.

Many people ask how I stay motivated after all these years, especially when facing rejection. I don’t really look for things to motivate me. I just do what I do regardless. As long as I’m breathing, I’m writing. As long as I’m an artist, I’m going to face rejection. If I don’t want to hear peoples’ opinion or take or interpretation of my work, then why the hell am I doing this? I guess the motivation could be the outcome, and everything leading to that is the journey (which has currently been over 17 ½ years). It’s pretty simple: if you want and need something bad enough and can’t see yourself not doing it, then that right there is pure motivation and nothing should stand in your way of achieving your goal(s).

Follow Shane on Twitter: @ShaneWeisfeld

[Thanks, Shane!]

The 5-Question [Author] Interview: Paolina Milana

 “It’s taken me a long, long time, but I’ve learned to swim in my own lane.”
—Paolina Milana [on writing]

Paolina Milana is the author of The S Word, a memoir about secrets—those a young girl coming of age in the middle of crazy does her best to keep—secrets about her mamma’s schizophrenia; secrets about her sexual awakening; secrets about her seduction that turns to rape; secrets about being the good Sicilian Catholic girl. There are so many secrets that silence and nearly suffocate her, until she finds the strength to save herself. Paolina won the Psychology Category in the 2015 Indie Excellence Awards for The S Word.

<1>

MEREDITH: Where you find yourself scared and paralyzed, either of something you are writing, of revealing yourself through the work, or for any other reason, how do you start moving again? And by moving I mean forward, not backwards, as in retreating?

hite flag…even putting the manuscript in a drawer and trying to forget about it. Even when the story was going to press and then the publicity started, I wanted to say, “Whoa! Never mind, Fugettaboutit.” And I did. The only problem is that the Universe wouldn’t let me completely walk away. Some person would cross my path that reminded me of why I wanted to tell my story or some scenario would unfold right in front of me that would underscore the need for my story to be told. At the end of the day, even though I struggled with spilling the secrets and exposing myself and my past, I would drag myself to my laptop and just start anew. I got myself through it by telling myself that it didn’t have to go anywhere…it just had to get onto the page. And if I chose to make that the end of the journey, okay, but I could not stop until it was all out.Paolina black and white shirtPAOLINA: In writing The S Word, I found myself scared and paralyzed no less than about a million times in the decade-plus that it took to vomit the story out of me. There were times when I pretty much just decided to wave the

<2>

MEREDITH: Some people refer to their creations as their children. Some view them as entities entirely separate from themselves. Sometimes it feels to me like our creations are more as an extension of our own biology. In other words, our words are who we are, just expressed in an alternate form (kind of like how water freezes to ice and then melts and flows again). How do you view your creations and how did you come to seeing them this way?

PAOLINA: Given that The S Word is my memoir (the first of two books…the next one called The C Word), my creations are, indeed, real. Sometimes I wish they were not. LOL For me, I had to view this all as the exact opposite. I had
to pretend that this all happened to someone else…that the people in my path were just made up…and in dong that, I was able to – I think – treat them more objectively and fairly. While my “creations” started out as wanting to expose and blame and bring to light all the injustices suffered, this frame of reference allowed me to realize that everyone was doing the best he/she could in any given moment, and that forgiveness and redemption allowed each of my very real creations to morph – like your water example – between good, evil, right, wrong, prey, predator, innocent and guilty.

<3>

MEREDITH: When you are in the middle of a project that feels the equivalent of crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub and the only thing you can do is row (put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard), how to you nurture youThe-S-Wordrself/support yourself when there are no signs that offer feedback because it’s too soon for feedback and the only thing you are supposed to do at that moment is to keep rowing?

PAOLINA: Actually, this is the part of the process that I love the most. When you’re just lost in you and your story, and you don’t have those voices of doubt and negativity and judgement screaming at you, it’s for me the purest moments of joy and of transcendence. There have been times in writing some of my other stories when a character will do something, and I literally have to sit back and say….”no way…you did not!” I love when they tell me what they are doing or thinking.

<4>

MEREDITH: How do you keep the faith—or whatever you call it personally—when acceptance doesn’t seem to be coming?

PAOLINA: When I was looking for an agent or publisher, I only sent out a few dozen queries. Believe me, it felt like a ton more than that. But I was researching and finding the right person for me, or who I thought to be the right person for The S Word. Turns out, those people didn’t think they were a match. And so rejection after rejection came. That said, not a single rejection was a form letter; rather, each one was heartfelt and a note of encouragement, simply telling me that they loved my story and wanted to make sure it found a home with the right person who could take it to where they thought it deserved to be. I was told by Jennie Nash, one of my writing mentors, that that is rare, and I should take it as a sign to carry on. Acceptance, I have learned, can only come from within.

And to “keep the faith,” I would find myself taking out pen and paper and documenting the timeline of my life, recalling every incident or memorable moment in my last ten years on this planet. I marked each with a smiley face or a frowning face: death of a parent, wedding day, etc., etc. Doing this exercise reminded me that life is full of ups and downs and that sometimes when you are in a valley, you can’t see the top of the mountain and its view until you climb out and look back at how far you’ve come. Without fail, every single peak in my life proved to be somehow influenced by the valley that came before. Remembering that helped me keep the faith.

<5>

MEREDITH: When you write, do you keep your eyes on your own paper, so to speak? In other words, have you mastered the art of non-comparison (to other writers)? How do you handle that in writing groups or when you share your work?

PAOLINA: For me, I’ve never been one to look on other’s papers or to compare my writing with others. I always love and appreciate a great story, whether I’m writing it or someone else. And maybe it’s because I used to be a reporter or that I’ve made my living writing for decades and throughout, I’ve been critiqued so much that I really don’t take it as anything other than feedback – mine to choose to take or not. Oh, sure, sometimes every one of us thinks, “wow, I really suck at this,” or “OMG, why can’t I write like her?” – but we need to recognize that for what it is…humility, a dash of fear, a sprinkle of reverence for others, and momentary doubt on ourselves. All of those come and go…as long as you don’t allow them to stay. Someone once told me that the quickest way to unhappiness in through comparison. It’s taken me a long, long time, but I’ve learned to swim in my own lane. Only I can do the “Powerlina stroke.”

<<<>>>

Born and raised in Chicago, Paolina currently lives on the edge of the Angeles National Forest in California. She blogs at PaolinaMilana.com [<<awesome blog] and welcomes the opportunity to share her stories with interested audiences.

[Thanks, Paolina!]

The 5-Question [Author] Interview: Susan Shapiro

Susan Shapiro is an award winning writing professor at The New School. She’s written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Salon and Tin House. She’s the New York Times bestselling author of 10 books including  “Five Men Who Broke My Heart,” “Lighting Up,” the coauthored memoir “The Bosnia List” and the new novel “What’s Never Said.” You can follow her on Twitter at @susanshapironet

<1>

MEREDITH: Where you find yourself scared and paralyzed, either of something you are writing, of revealing yourself through the work, or for any other reason, how do you start moving again? And by moving I mean forward, not backwards, as in retreating?

SUSAN: Early on I had trouble writing and publishing  on my own and put certain systems into place to help me have more confidence and be more productive. This included  weekly therapy with a great shrink who was one of my “core pillars.” I’ve written about this in my memoirs Lighting UWNS_NEWCoverp and Only As Good as Your Word.  At this point I have a great spouse who is also a writer,  two very supportive critical weekly writing workshops filled with colleagues I love and admire, and classes I teach two nights a week. That pretty much saves my life and my work.

<2>

TH: Some people refer to their creations as their children. Some view them as entities entirely separate from themselves. Sometimes it feels to me like our creations are more as an extension of our own biology. In other words, our words are who we are, just expressed in an alternate form (kind of like how water freezes to ice and then melts and flows again). How do you view your creations and how did you come to seeing them this way?

SUSAN: I definitely call my books “my babies.” They’ve given me a lot of joy -tinged with worry and angst.  Though I also think of my students in a maternal way too.  A mentor once told me “Every book will break your heart in a different way.” That’s true too.

<3>

MEREDITH: When you are in the middle of a project that feels the equivalent of crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub and the only thing you can do is row (put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard), how to you nurture yourself/support yourself when there are no signs that offer feedback because it’s too soon for feedback and the only thing you are supposed to do at that moment is to keep rowing?

SUSAN: Again, I’m lucky to have  my writing workshops, therapy, a  wonderful spouse and teaching jobs – which  all fuel and feed me. I also sometimes hire ghost editors to help me with book projects. I’ve mostly use former agents and book editors. I can recommend some great ones. They’re almost always right.

<4>

MEREDITH: You’re in the hub of many writerly-literary relationships, and a very generous supporter of many writers. How does cultivating a writerly community fuel your writing? Does it provide a charge? Is there ever negative energy associated with it? An energy drain?

SUSAN: It provides a big charge. I love writing alone all day and then going out to teach big exciting classes  at night. It keeps me young. I also love my two writing workshops. They give me deadlines and  help structure my life.

Yes there’s been negative energy,  before I had good boundaries. I wrote a piece for the Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt called Quitting Guilt which started “I spent the last two years saying no.” And in those two years I got everything I wanted in life.

I had a brilliant addiction specialist  who helped me quit cigarettes, alcohol, dope, gum and bread. He’s the coauthor of my bestselling addiction book “Unhooked.” He helped me get a rigid schedule together that really works for me. I wake up and write seven days a week, usually from 9 to 5 pm. Then I go teach. Then if I have any more energy I go out. I basically quit my social life – and say no to going out to  breakfast, lunch, dinner and many social plans and out of town events. It just started taking too much of my energy and I wasn’t enjoying it. I was doing it for other people, not getting the time I needed for myself, my work and my husband, then I felt resentful. So now I let go of pleasing anyone else. My shrink once told me “You’ll never get anything from an unhappy person. They need all their energy. You’d get more from a stranger who is happy.”

Interestingly  I’m so much happier and more successful now. I actually have way more to give. Though it has to be on my schedule.

<5>

MEREDITH: Taking the stance that creativity, creation, growth and expression are all natural states, why do we get stuck?

SUSAN: One of my mentors was an older,  wildly prolific  bestselling author. When I once told him I had writer’s block, he said “Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block. Don’t be self-indulgent, just get to work every day.” He also told me “a page a day is a book a year” which I found very helpful. I  don’t get stuck that often anymore. Maybe that’s  because I stopped pressuring myself. The writing doesn’t have to be brilliant. It just has to be on the page.  That’s my job, to get it there. I have teachers, critics, agents and editors whose job it is to tell me what’s working and what isn’t.  And that’s what I tell my students.  I’ve published 10 books in the last 11 years. When  people ask me what’s my secret to being prolific, I say “I’m not afraid to suck.”  Someone in my writing workshop once came up to me and said “I can’t believe how bad your first draft was.” And I said, “you know, it’s funny. You didn’t bring in any work today and you have no books out. I brought in something brand new and rough and I’m on book ten. So maybe there’s a correlation.”

Visit Susan at http://www.susanshapiro.net

[Thanks, Susan!]

The 5-Question [Author] Interview: Kate Walter

“I rarely think about rules when I am writing. In my personal life I have been breaking rules since I was young.”
—Kate Walter

KATE WALTER is the author of Looking for a Kiss: A Chronicle of Downtown Heartbreak and Healing (Heliotrope Books, June, 2015). She is a master teacher and award-winning writer who specializes in essays, memoir and creative nonfiction.

<1>

Meredith: Writing—or the dream of calling oneself an author or writer—seems, for many, to have this highly addictive, seductiveness about it. Like: I’d really be someone if I could write. Or be a writer, author, etc. But it’s not writing that imbues itself with these characteristics, it’s the person. Why, do you think, it’s such a seductive slope? 

KATE: As someone who writes personal essays and memoir and opinion pieces, my identity as person and writer has always been intertwined. It is very validating to see an essay with my byline appear in print. Writing personal pieces (and now the memoir) helps me make sense of what has happened in my life in the past and the present. It is a cathartic experience.

<2>

Meredith: How do you keep the faith—or whatever you call it personally—when acceptance doesn’t seem to be coming?

KATE: Good question. I’m a Capricorn so maybe that is why I always kept climbing.  Started my memoir over 10 years ago and wrote three drafts. The first draft was just getting ideas on paper. When I shopped arounLooking4aKiss_Coverd the second draft, the feedback from agents made me realize the structure was not working. I nailed the structure on the third draft but still could not get an agent. That was discouraging because I knew my book was well-written and powerful.

My weekly writing workshop (run by Susan Shapiro) was very supportive and their support helped me keep going. Finally, a member of the group (Royal Young) hyped me to me his publisher (Naomi Rosenblatt @ Heliotrope Books). I met her at his book party two years ago and she encouraged me to send her my manuscript and the rest is history. I owe a lot to my workshop and I’m grateful Naomi realized the potential of my story about breakup and renewal. It has a universal message.

<3>

Meredith: We all seem to have rules we are attached to—whether they actually work for us or not is another story. What is it about rules that make us feel like we are doing something correctly? Why, once we set up rules does it seem we need to break them to set ourselves free?

KATE: I rarely think about rules when I am writing. In my personal life I have been breaking rules since I was young. I was supposed to marry a nice Catholic boy but instead I came out as a lesbian and “married” a nice Jewish girl.

<4>

Meredith: Dennis Palumbo has a quote at the very end of Writing from the Inside Out, from Shunryu Suzuki: “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind, there are few.” There is this collective sense that experts are better, but perhaps, in a roundabout way, what it suggests is that more power comes to the beginner, because the beginner sees hope and has no expectations. Like, if you’re going to be an expert, be an expert in being a beginner/newcomer. What’s your take? 

KATE: Although this is my debut memoir, I have been writing and publishing for decades,  so I don’t think of myself as a beginner but I am always a learner. I am always open to learning new things about myself and the craft of writing. Being a learner is an important trait for a teacher.

<5>

Meredith: As an accomplished writer who also teaches writing and memoir, what did yoKATE 2_14_15 s touched 8x10 (85)u have to unlearn or relearn or remember (about your work, yourself) to find truth as a memoirist? What had to go? 

KATE: What had to go was the fear of what people will think of me—my family, my ex, my friends, my colleagues, etc. I had to push though this fear and find the courage to publish. I am still having crazy dreams related to the book, mostly about my family. I have a piece on my blog about these nightmares. But I wanted this book and knew I had earned it and refused to let fear stop me. I am terrified but I’m going ahead anyway because I believe in my memoir.

Visit Kate at http://www.katewalter.com/

[Thanks, Kate!]

The 5-Question [Author] Interview: Rachel Stuhler

Screenwriter Rachel Stuhler grew up in Rochester, NY, so obsessed with movies and books that she spent as little time as possible in the real world. In her late teens, this obsession led her first to New York as a terrible production assistant and then to Los Angeles, where she spent four years working as a script supervisor (and pining after writing jobs) until one day an actor told her, “If you think you can do it better yourself, just do it.” Within a year, Rachel had sold TV movies to Lifetime and Hallmark and because she doesn’t know when to quit, began dreaming of writing a novel. After forcing countless crew members, family, and friends to read manuscripts, Rachel came to write ABSOLUTELY TRUE LIES. She continues to work on TV movies and plot her next move in world domination, or writing about world domination, which is more fun and a lot less work.

Meredith: When/where you find yourself scared and paralyzed, either of something you are writing, of revealing yourself through the work, or for any other reason, how do you start moving again? And by moving I mean forward, not backwards, as in retreating?

RACHEL: I write by watching a movie in my head over and over again until I like what I see, and then I put it on paper. There are definitely times I get nervous about personal revelation or find myself uncomfortable with the “movie” I’m watching. When it’s more than I can bear, I walk away for a little while and read, or take care of busy work. If it keeps happening, I make myself watch it over and over until it no longer has the same resonance. And by that point, I’ve felt it deeply enough that I can do justice to the emotionality.

♦ 

Meredith: Why might a writer ask for critique then get mad at those who give input? What is really going on?

♦ 

RACHEL: We all want to do better, be better than we are. As writers, we strive to improve with eacATL_Coverh project, and criticism is part of that. But our work isn’t just words on a page, it’s pieces of who we are, and there are times criticism can feel intensely personal. Certainly, the best case scenario in asking for notes is the other person telling you it’s brilliant; alas, that’s not going to happen often. If seeking praise is the only reason someone’s asked for notes, that will inevitably lead to trouble. I think the best way to get through the critique is to take the ego out of it and try to remember it’s for the betterment of your craft.

 ♦

Meredith: Writing—or the dream of calling oneself an author or writer—seems, for many, to have this highly addictive, seductiveness about it. Like: I’d really be someone if I could write. Or be a writer, author, etc. But it’s not writing that imbues itself with these characteristics, it’s the person. Why, do you think, it’s such a seductive slope?

RACHEL: Humans, by our nature, are story-tellers. We relate things to each other every hour of every day. But actually telling that story on a larger scale, well and cohesively, is a much more difficult proposition. We gravitate toward good stories, and to those who’ve managed to pull it all together and voice things that we ourselves couldn’t. I am a writer and I’m still drawn toward people who tell moving and thought-provoking tales. We want those revelations on humanity that we might not be able to access on our own.

Meredith: When you’re in love with a particular idea so much, how do you know when enough is enough—for example, words in a sentence, a line in an essay, chapter in a book?

RACHEL: Having come from screenwriting, I’m of the opinion that things could always be revised. There are a million different ways to tell a story, especially when you get into the nuances. I’m a huge reviser of my own work, but the moment I find myself obsessing over the minutiae, I make myself stop.

The toughest part is when you really do fall in love with the story and you’ve made friends with the fictional characters you’ve invented. But a book isn’t life, it can’t go on forever. There’s nothing wrong with imagining new adventures with your favorite character off the page (hey, J.K. Rowling’s clearly a proponent of this), or continuing on in a series. But don’t fight a natural end for the reader because you can’t let go.

Meredith: You’re an accomplished screenwriter, so tell me this: what is it that many of us misunderstand about telling a story? How did you learn to master your understanding of storytelling in terms of understanding what a story is supposed to do. Please share.

RACHEL: It’s a hard lesson that no one is going to read your story 100% the way you intended. We all filter our reading experience through our own lives, so what may seem breathtaking to you might be off-putting to someone else. There is no story that will appeal to every person, and that’s okay. Art is subjective, and you need to reach your people, not all seven billion people on this planet.

I came into writing from working as a script supervisor for three years (essentially the on-set arm of the editor), so I spent all day, every day working through scripts, usually 6 or 7 TV movies a year. And as I watched it translated through the actors, I began to understand what worked well – and what didn’t. I think those three years were some of my most important learning years as a writer.

RACHEL is really passionate about the voice of woman in media right now. She says: “I love that female actors are spearheading #AskHerMore for red carpet appearances, I love that we’ve reached an age where a female character doesn’t always have to be likable. But we have a lot further to go and I want to be part of that change. We make up fifty percent of the population and men are still saying female country artists should only make up 15% of the radio airplay. People still distinguish ‘female authors’ from ‘authors.’

 

“The truth is, it’s not going to change unless we work to change it. So that is one of my goals each and every time I sit down to write, to create diverse and interesting female characters. And if men don’t always respond to my work as much as women do, that’s fine. As I said earlier, I’m not aiming to appeal to everyone.”

 

[Thanks, Rachel!]

 

 

The difference between writing and writing a story

[A meditation]

Today I dedicate myself to the story. It is not enough to write well. It is not enough to be called a good writer.

Today I dedicate myself to: My writing serves the story. To finding the story. To understanding the difference between writing and writing a story.

Today my writing serves the story.