The dreaded rewrite

There is one thing I really dislike in theory. Cutting up my words and making things shorter than I had originally intended them to be. It gives me anxiety. And this is especially true with playwriting for me. However, when I sit in an auditorium and hear my words reflected back at me – I can hear and feel what needs to be changed immediately. I can sense the repetitiveness, and catch those words that are struggling to come out of an actors’ lips. They are unnatural when they stutter. Actors have a wonderful way of showing you through their actions a lot of the things you want to convey with “SAYING” or the written word, except the “DO IT” with their bodies. And sometimes, that subtle subtext is all you need. Thus, the dreaded rewrite has turned into something exquisitely gratifying for me. Especially when I get the chance to hear actors repeat my own words to me.

Here’s the thing folks, rewrites are essential. It is the reason why novels are published, movies are made, and open mics exist. Test your material, go to a live audience, read the story to a friend, and pick the sh*t out of it. Don’t hold onto things that will keep you down. What are the unnecessary items? Figure it out and cut-cut-cut them darlings. In the end, your voice will still be in there. Your message will pop. Maybe not in the originally way you intended it to…but it will be there.

So if you’re out there struggling with cutting down your work, just remember this: no two people write the same way. Even if you’re asked to change things up or “condensed” the work — it will still be you. Trust the process, listen to your writing out loud, and let it go. Because once it’s shared, and once it’s out there for the world to see — be it on a stage, on a movie screen, or even on a blog … once it’s out there, it’s no longer yours. It belongs to the collective ‘we the people.’ And you’ll have no control over what others may think of your writing, or you, for that matter. You can just hope that the message comes through.

So here’s an exercise for you:

  1. write something precious
  2. edit it to your liking
  3. give it to 3 people to read
  4. consider their opinions and notes
  5. cut cut cut to clarify and clean
  6. read it out loud to one more person
  7. cut cut cut again
  8. submit!

Here’s a cool place you can submit to: KPCC is looking for stories –

http://www.scpr.org/network/questions/YourStory

 

Tootles!

Little to know, much to now

The more I encounter and speak with published, or even successful television writers. The more I realize that it’s just a jungle out there. It’s a world where there are so many voices, so many individuals pulling and pushing each other to get their material read. I mean, it’s a frenzy out there. To say that being a writer is “competitive” is an understatement. Also, it’s not a word I would really use.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been speaking with scholars, doctors, television writers, screenwriters, playwrights … and I’ve noticed something in most of them. They are less concerned with fame. Which is a huge thing in our society. I mean, truly — we are bombarded with the idea of FAME. Back in my days, it might have been a back up dancer for Mariah Carey…now being the lead singer of a band, or a movie star…or…just someone everyone wants to know. I was not immune to this mentality. I grew up with a desire for fame as well, but I didn’t really understand it. I didn’t really know where this urgency came from. And most of the time, I think the idea of fame became more important than the work.

Now – that’s dangerous grounds, my friends.

Because most of the people I speak with LOVE to do what they do. They just can’t stop doing it. It’s in their DNA. I have to write, I have to tell this story, I have to collaborate, I have something to tell you. I have a piece of truth that you should know…I hope you read this, I hope it gets multimedia and danced or spoken on stage. I hope it changes someones mind about something (fill in the blank).

Most of my writing gets used in dance performance, or short films, or my novel which has been in the works for years now. Lately, I’ve been dabbling with playwriting. And it occurred to me, in the process of writing, and casting, and getting people to read your writing out loud — and seeing it come to life in various forms with different voices — that the most important thing about ART (in my point of view) …is connection.

I sat through a Screenwriting conversation at the LA Film School a few weeks ago and noticed something. In the eyes of most (if not all) of the writers who talked about their journey to an Oscar nomination was the knowing that this was not the end or the beginning of their journey. They were gracious about the nomination, but they were also excited to share their stories about being writers. But at some point in their lives all of them had seen despair, a moment when they wanted to quit, an obstacle that told them – NO. NO MORE. YOU HAVE TO STOP RIGHT HERE.

And they pushed through it. These writers had pushed on and on until the story that was meant to be told as clean or precise as they could get it was out of them. And then, the story belongs to the audience, the listener, the viewer.

I am learning, Blog Land, that even though it would be nice to get published and maybe even famous…it shouldn’t be the thriving source of creation. That will get you nowhere. The most important thing, in my eyes right now, is that you write it down. It’s that you tell it to as many people as you can. Because maybe, just maybe, the right person will hear it and you and your writing have the power to change or validate a life.

I am growing, and I’m changing the way I see myself as an artist. I thought about now writing, and it just doesn’t work. I end up doodling words onto a take-out box, or singing a silly song to a friend. It follows me. It makes me think and challenge my thought process. Writing, keeps me healthy. And sharing the writing – through dance, theater, or film…that’s just the best thing ever. And it’s because I am sharing and connecting with others…

I’m sure it’s happened to you. You pour your heart out into a poem, you might share it at an Open Mic and someone comes up to you and says … “me too, thank you.” Man, I sometimes wonder if an award would ever surpass that feeling of connection. So Blog Land – be present, be real, be you.

 

Deadlines

I am trying to be better about deadlines. Tomorrow night, the pre-final draft of my play is due. I think I may also submit a couple of more pieces just to throw it in the mix. Writing original comedy is a scary new thing for me. Earlier in the summer I did an episode of “Bob’s Burgers” for a fellowship application which fell through. But I am going to try at it again. Hopefully all the various writing classes and stage productions will aid my technique and strengthen my style/voice.

Once I have a collection of work under my belt, I have to find someone to support me – a manage or agent, I dunno. I wonder if I should also try ghost writing? Though, I’ve heard horror stories about that.

Coffee won’t let me sleep for another 2 hours. I suppose the best I can do now is get to it. Time to polish.

To be or not to be

Well, writing has been intense these past few weeks. People are reading my work, new ideas are being developed, and most importantly I’ve been hearing the writing via actors which has been substantially helpful and great. Sometimes I sit alone in my little office, or at a cafe and I stop and think…how long can I go on believing that I am going to be a writer? It’s a tough position to be in. Writing and hoping that some one out there will recognize you for the weirdo that you are and give you a platform to express yourself in. And then there’s this other part of me that is already proud of the platforms I have been able to be part of with my writing and dancing and acting. It’s a struggle, you know? – To accept and sink my teeth into what it means to be an artist and specially a writer. I hope that this work will lead me to something meaningful and life changing. I have visions of opening little libraries in poor parts of my home country. I wonder if I’ll ever get there. I wonder if people (by then) will lose touch with the feel of paper between the fingers. I hope not. I will continue to write and share, and hopefully get myself in a big enough platform to cause some ruckus and change some minds. Until then…a venting I will go.

 

 

The More

I am starting to realize that in writing simple is best. I am working towards diminishing the “floreado” (as we called it back in Lima, circa 1980s-1990s) in my work. But it’s hard, you know? In a young writers mind, we want everything to sound pretty sometimes…or at least eloquent. Well, first let me explain what it means to “florear.” In a simple explanation – to “florear” means to add flowers to your writing, or your message, or your declaration of love to a 15 year-old girlfriend outside of a wooden garage door when you know absolutely well (Jose Luis) it might be best to say WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY ALREADY!  But such is life, that we get lost in the flowers.

In other words, for most writers I know, we think that making things sound nice will hide the fact that maybe (a) we don’t know what we’re talking about and/or (b) we’re still trying to get our life together. Hehe. Just kidding fellow writers! The truth is, writing is freaking scary. And I’ve realized that what has helped me not go crazy when I am putting things down on a page is to keep it simple.

To illustrate this further, let me give you two examples: 

Example 1:

  1. Complicated: George’s eyes swell with the watery memories of his past – regrets, loss, and unspoken truths. He reaches for Lisa’s hand and manages to whimper out his feelings “I can’t stand to be with you another day.” Having wasted the better days of her twenties with a coward, Lisa closes her eyes in agony.
  2. Simple: George tells Lisa the truth, he doesn’t love her anymore. She releases his hands, smiles, and walks away never looking back again.

In the complicated version we see a cowering George and a pretty pathetic Lisa. But in the simple version – Lisa has a bit more of redemption near the end. It’s cleaner and just as revealing. In fact, it seems to have more of an impact. It can also be shortened.

Example 2:

  1. Complicated: Laura spills her Chai Tea Latte on her new Macintosh Apple computer (the new silver kind that’s flat and hipster cool). She sees her reflection on the sugary brown surface and finds it comical. A sensation bubbles within her core and she releases a flutter of positive vibes out of her mouth. The cafe is filled with echoes of pleasure. The barista turns around quick, as he wipes down a glass. The laugh is intoxicating and he just has to join in.
  2. Simple: Laura spills her coffee on her laptop. She laughs hysterically, and the barista joins her with a chuckle.

Ugh! Keep it simple. Unless you’re writing a farce – in which case THE MORE ridiculous you can be – THE BETTER.

Writing it down raw

It’s strange, but the more writing classes I take…the more confused I get about the act and structure of writing. It seems that the science has taken over my style…and voice. How do I get my rawness back after grinding the laws into my head? I feel like before – I knew how to naturally make something exciting — or at least I wasn’t too afraid to try it. Where as now… I find myself doubting everything and asking questions about Act 1, 2…and Climax and Resolution and blah blah blah. And it distracts me from the original story. The raw feeling of just writing is dimming and I need to get it back. Any tips out there? Any exercises to help?

I think I have to go back to the drawing board and remember what a mentor told me once. He said, “Write it down first and think about the science later.” The formulation of style and all that jazz can come later. Get the story down on paper first! Get it on the page. He always reminds me that research can come later. It’s difficult because I want to make sense all the time. But sometimes, nonsense is the way to go.

Sigh.

Laws. Sometimes, they get in the way n’est pas?

I am not interested in your patriarchy

This year has been a very strange year of discovering what I like about writing, and what I do not like about writing. For example, I absolutely love to write in noisy spaces. Noisy spaces are where people gossip. It’s like watching fireworks in a San Fernando Valley back alley – spectacularly familiar and unpredictable.

I am finding it more difficult to write about things that I don’t relate to: like an A-typical family where the man is the head of the home, the mother is at stay at home mom, and the children fall into the 2.5 ratio. I mean, that just wasn’t my reality. I think it is no longer a lot of people’s realities. It doesn’t make me happy to write this, unless it’s to prove a point.

Lately, I have noticed that when I sit down to write – the stories that pour out of me are mostly about women struggles. Specifically women of color, and women with an immigrant background. This is because it reflects my reality and my personal journey. When I write about this, it comes out like a soft song. Sometimes it’s coherent, sometimes it’s just fragments – but I know that’s what it is. It’s me trying to grab onto my voice, my style, my inner power.

I feel as though a lot of women have been silenced and trapped into a corner of the house because of religious and traditional roles. These roles are still valued in our Latin@ communities. It’s history and realities engulf me when I am in family gatherings. I am constantly defending why I have yet to get married or have children. Being in a woman in your thirties, in a predominantly Latino family, is a task.

Once, my mother laughed at me when my boyfriend said I did “not cook enough” for him at home. He was trying to be funny, but he wasn’t trying to be funny. He and I were not jiving that day, and I believe his comment stemmed out of our earlier arguments. It was his jab to me that night. I may be wrong, but that’s what it felt like.

It was an awkward situation. My mother gets told to cook all the time by my younger brother and stepfather. She has felt those pressures and the judgement from other women in her family too. Her laughing at me, was both uncomfortable and sad. I was sad for the both of us because in that moment patriarchy took over our conversation and we didn’t challenge it, we bowed to it by succumbing to what it meant to cook for a man. Let’s talk about it: love, devotion, and etc. etc. etc.

Why should that have to be a factor? And why that task not placed upon the male figure as well? Is my value as a partner only as good as my cooking routine? And what of my mother? She escapes every now and then to go to school, to do some odd jobs. She does it to give herself a little bit of freedom from my stepfather’s paychecks. I know she also longs to detach herself from the stay at home mom role and value system, so why laugh at me? Why not say: “Well maybe it’s because you haven’t cooked for her in a while. When is the last time you showed how devoted you are to my daughter?” Was she laughing at herself too? Or maybe she was laughing at all Latinas as if saying: “Hey guess what? You’re in your thirties now. Pop them babies and put on that apron. Either way you look at it, that’s how your success is valued from here on out.” But women do this, we shoot ourselves down all the time.

I don’t like this. I don’t want to do this. I refuse this.

The more I focus on what women do in order to succeed in LIFE, the more I notice that these inequalities affect the way women relate to each other. In the process of comparing our sizes, what we cook for our man, how well we dress at events, when we should get married, and blah blah blah – I don’t think I’ve ever been taught to stop, look, and listen to other women. Why are we taught to mistrust each other?

This morning I spoke with a religious family member of male gender. In his eyes, I was not being Christian enough. In his point of view, my value as a woman of faith seems lost and therefore, I may not be able to contribute towards x, y, z. I will confess, that I may seem lost at times, but that’s besides the point. My relationship with my faith is none of his business. In fact, I was appalled by his need to break things down to me, as if I had not hear a sermon before. Being raised in a Christian church, I can tell you I remember the laws of the book. I may not be able to recite verbatim, but I know what Love is.

I realized, that Latinas like me, who are in their early thirties, who have chosen to not have a family, who are focusing on their education and careers – can be seen as failures or selfish. I will not blanket the entire American population (and when I say American I mean North and South, because guess what the South is also AMERICA). I know for a fact that progress is bettering the realities for a lot of people all over the world. This morning, however, I felt slightly mistreated. It felt like yet again, I was being confronted with patriarchy. Not the word of God, but Patriarchy.

I wonder how all these years the Christianity and similar faiths like it, have been used to give power to the son, the male, the one to inherit the land. It felt like, for a moment, I was being told that I am not enough for God. Again, I don’t know how that’s any of your business. My puzzling gaze towards his comments ended the conversation. I had no words. I just nodded, and felt as if once again I wasn’t doing enough to challenge this Patriarchy.

I grew up believing the following: (1) Man is made in the image of God, (2) women would not be here were it not for man giving us a rib, (3) women bit the apple, so it’s our fault there is suffering, (4) the pain of childbirth and our moon cycles are punishments for this betrayal. Is it for this reason, the man believes he can speak down to a woman? That men are raised to believe their word is final? I call BS. Whatever it is you think God is, God may not be that for me. I may be wrong about it all, but you also may be wrong about it all. Either way, I don’t believe that super power over the feminine figure (body, mind and spirit) was in Jesus’ mind when he died for us.

My voice and writing is becoming clearer. I am not interested in your patriarchy.

Note: I am discussing something that is more of a personal experience and relatable to me as a Latina Immigrant myself. I focus on a heterosexual relationship when writing about family roles. 

Honesty

I joined this writing workshop recently and was like – okay, this hasn’t happened since 2011. Like a real writer’s workshop with a circle of people reading your stuff out loud and giving you feedback. It’s been interesting. So last Tuesday I shared a piece I had revamped but written before. I prefaced everyone with it’s a dialogue practice and what not because I was really nervous. So anyway, the whole thing went fine and people laughed at the parts they are supposed to laugh. And that was fun and all but then something really awesome happened.

Our facilitator decided it was REAL TALK time and gave us a group exercise that went something like this.

Answer the following questions:

1. Write about your best writing experiences
2. Write about a time when writing made you feel like an Insider? Outsider?
3. What advice practice would you share with someone else?

Then after we all wrote down our answers, he made us go into groups of two and share these truths about ourselves.

Blog Land, I kid you not – we all were laughing, and getting emotional over stories from high school, elementary school, childhood. Someone talked about how her single dad couldn’t handle talking to her about her school dramas, so he made her write down her feelings on paper and promised her he would read the paper in a time when he could. He would read it and then go to her room and talk to her about it. It was the most amazing thing! We all had really wonderful stories like that to share. The person I spoke to is a first time writer, but she’s incredible hilarious and only found out she loved writing through a theater group. So okay, I hope you get how great it was to share our honest true stories about why we do what we do – EXPRESS OURSELVES ON PAPER.

Then we talked about these thing with the larger group. Our facilitator informed us that this exercise was so that we could find out more about ourselves, share knowledge, and write down these stories that are incredibly valuable for anyone who writes.

He said that we as writers need to know what we love about writing, and what we fear about it. It’s invaluable.

I just wanted to share this exercise with you. Maybe you could do it with a group of your writing friends, or at a workshop. I learned so much about why I may lack focus or drag my feet at times. We have small little traumas attached to these stories. It’s good to dig a little deep to get some real results.

And with that, I say BUENAS NOCHES!

Rebellion, long overdue

Maybe I will become her someday. Maybe in 2027/8 I will enter my teenage child’s room and think — What the hell? I will read her diary!   Then I will shamelessly sit on their bed and read the passages of their most private thoughts for my entertainment. Maybe, just maybe I’ll be able to understand my mother that day. I will be in my forties and feel justified because i had birthed this creature, and their writing would somehow reveal things about myself. Maybe…

…OR MAYBE NOT!

Blog Land, earlier this week my little brother (who just turned sixteen) sent me a picture of a journal I purchased in Ireland in 2011. It was a journal to keep me on track with my novel, to write down my feelings about my weirdo roommates, to go into my deepest corners of my brain and ponder – logic vs. art and possibly even sex. And all those things that happen to a young woman when she is an older student stuck with a bunch of people who have just graduated from their nine-teens.

My journal, which I wrote in religiously when I was studying abroad was now in the hands of the most frustrating teenager in my life right now. Today while visiting my mother, I sat on the couch happy as a clam as I had forgotten the entire incident (thank you forgetful brain). My brother leaned over me and whispered in my ear, “So Lis, just to let you know. Mom found the journal. I caught her reading it out loud in the living room one morning. I tried to get it back. Then sat there and proceeded to read it for the next thirty minutes.”

Blog Land, my skin crawled from head to toe. I was in complete disgust with both my brother and mother, but (also) slightly impressed that my brain had somehow pushed the fact that my brother was in possession of the journal out, to make room for the huge plate of spaghetti I had just downed moments before.

Okay – so one thing you should know about me is that for most of my life, I was raised by my father. My mother and I have hardly had a real mother-daughter during my teenage years. Meaning, I was never rebellious with her, really. I was a pretty good kid because, well, I rarely saw her.

So there I was, trying to watch the Peru vs. Venezuela Copa America match and my brother tells me this. I face him and ask, “Where is it?” He doesn’t know. She took it away and accused him of being creepy — then in turn become creepy herself by reading my work.

Mom had just stepped out to the garage to say bye to family, I went out to meet her.

Me: You read my Ireland journal?

Mom: What? He’s making it up! I didn’t!! (In a Peruvian accent)

Me: Oh, really?

Mom: I couldn’t get through most of it anyway, you write like a three year old!

Me: A-HA! You did read it! You read it!! This is why I DON’T LIVE WITH YOU!!!!

I stormed back into the house like a rattled child and realized I was having a rebellious outburst. The pseudo-therapist living in my brain spoke to me: Your delayed rebellion is a direct outcome to the fact that your mother was absent during your teenage years. 

This thought interrupted my walking back to the living room. I shook it off. I had a goal and no pretend psychobabble was going to get in my way.

This means war.

I continued to the living room and walked into my brothers room. He was quickly behind me.

Me: Where is it?

Him: I don’t know, she took it from me!

I grabbed two of his favorite video games and disconnected a chord.

Me: Where IS IT? (I began to look through his drawers.)

Him: Why are you doing this?! (He blurted out nervously eyeing his discs.)

Me: This is what it feels like to invade someone’s privacy, but at least I have the decency to do it right in front of YOU!

After being able to get more information out of him, I returned his games one at a time as means to get out of his room — for he had eventually held me hostage due to his babies being in my grasps.

I tried to look for this journal in nooks and crannies to no avail. I go to my mother’s room, but no luck. My boyfriend yells from the living room, “Perú made a goal, you missed it!”

My blood boils.

My brother walks into the room, “Do you have my chord?”

Yes, I did. I had it stuffed in my pocket in case I had more questions. He called me sneaky and said it wasn’t fair that I was punishing him for mom’s creepiness.

Me: Listen to me right now, I have this to get information from you.

Him: It’s not fair.

Me: Lesson one: this is called ransom. (I held the chord up high.)

Him: Not fair…

Me: Like I said, it’s called ransom. I need you to deliver a message to Mother.

Him: Will I get my chord back?

Me: Yes.

Him: Okay, then…

Me: You tell her, that I am vowing not to speak to her until I get my Ireland journal back. She needs to present it to me at the Father’s Day Breakfast this Sunday. If she doesn’t have it with her, I will NOT talk to her the entire time. And I capable of this, she knows I am because she did part-raise me as a child. I know crazy.

Him: Oh man! Mom’s going to hate me …

Me: Not my problem. Will you deliver the message?

Him: Yes…

I handed him the chord.

Him (Continued): You’re so sneaky.

I walk out and watch the rest of the game. My brother goes to his room and continues to play his video games again. He always underestimates how incredibly bored I am, but I work from home – I have time to scheme!

I waited for him to be out of ear shot and started laughing. My boyfriend sat there and just stared at me. You want another teenager mom? You got one.

More on this journal story on Sunday.   Let’s see if she has the guts to deny me my literature. This rebellion, is long overdue.

#mysoapoperalife

Get off my lawn!

So now I have my own little office here in this home my boyfriend and I have. Pure luck. Don’t ask. I no longer have an excuse to not do something. I met one of our neighbors today, his name I cannot repeat online because frankly, I cannot remember. He was walking his dog, and when I asked what breed it was he named about seven different genres…that’s what you say, right? Genres? I really don’t know right now. My brain is fried.

Well now that I no longer live in an apartment building, but in an actual (neighbor)hood – I will be supplied with endless stories about the weirdos all around me. I count myself in that total. Already one of the people next door was walking on my lawn like a skinny Big Foot sighting, I saw him in the corner of my eye and followed his gaze like a cheetah waiting to pounce. I walked to my front door, opened the door, the gate, and followed him with my eyes until he disappeared down the street to the very convenient restaurant bar a few blocks up.

I held the urge to scream out, “GET OFF MY LAWN!” Though part of me really wanted to do it. I cannot really blame the man. The house had been empty for a month, so our lawn had been serving as a short cut for most locals. We are letting the grass brown, because you know – California. And the final reason why I cannot get angry with the man is because…well, the house looks slightly abandoned on the outside.

But hey! Fixer-uppers are my kind of thing nowadays. I’ve done it with relationships and now with a home. Time to get to work. Plus, with this little office I can literally shut the world out and escape in my own world and not worry about…well, much of anything.

The trick is, pretending I don’t have wifi. I’m obviously failing at this rule right now.

Tootles writers of the world. May the keypad be by your side…always.

PS – I think the next door neighbors own a peacock. Is that legal? :/