Taking Up the Pen Once More in a Vicious Cycle

Being a natural storyteller, I have a handful of stories that I think are worth sharing and have told over and over again to anyone who cared to listen. However, sometimes I forget who I’ve told certain stories to, especially since my time for socializing is reduced severely relative to average people. It’s even worse when it comes to blogging, because even though I’m sure I’ve written down some stories before, I feel compelled to write them down again periodically, because it feels like telling the story to a new audience. Knowing that I do this – and will continue to do it – is something approaching insanity. And yet, here I am.

How many times have I written about leaving the site, coming back, and writing just for me? At least twice in 2016, and I didn’t really come back. How many times am I going to do this? It’s like an abusive relationship. As much as I wanted this site to succeed, I just couldn’t make it work after eight years. As such, walking away the first time was supremely difficult, but after I did so successfully, I thought it was a clean, permanent break. Then why am I here, ready to type 2000+ words about experiences I’ve already written about? Did I just need a break from the site? Or do I just need to do this every so often to remind myself why I had to leave? Let’s find out.

Ancient History

I officially walked away from Working Author back in 2015. By that, I mean I stopped working on the site in any meaningful way. Of course, I wasn’t going to scrap the site – I had poured too many years into it, and it was a powerful asset in my work portfolio – so, I decided that I would keep it around to point prospective employers to. And, while I did contribute to Working Author sporadically over the last few years, it was really just to maintain some industry contacts who could still get me into screenings for movies I wanted to see. Otherwise, the site was so far removed from my mind that it wasn’t even a back-burner thought – it wasn’t even on the stove.

Lately, however, I’ve been in the mood to write, which surprises me since it was keeping this site up-to-date that burned me out on writing. Yet, here I am, drawn inexplicably back to the thing that was at once both my freedom and my private torture chamber. It’s fun to explore these thoughts!

Screenwriting and Rejection

Sometime in 2004, I had made up my mind to become a professional Hollywood screenwriter. Screenwriting seemed to be the easiest and fastest way for me to tell a story without having to do all the research to build authority like in other forms of writing. The example I always use is writing about a tank rolling into a scene. If I were writing this scene in a book, then I’d have to write about all of the contextual aspects that describe the tank, like weight, color, sound, make, model, turret speed, tread width, etc. Giving those details to the reader builds trust in you as the writer – you really know what you’re talking about. In screenwriting, I just have to write: “A tank rolls into the scene.”

My thinking was that if I couldn’t be in the entertainment industry, then I could at least cover the entertainment industry.

But, becoming a Hollywood screenwriter is not easy. So, as someone who did not go to film school and who has no connections in Hollywood, I wrote query letters to literary agents. This was during a time when broadband was still a bourgeoning technology, and many companies hadn’t yet embraced the power of the internet. As such, I was snail mailing my query letters and including a self-addressed stamped envelope (that’s SASE for us old timers).

Of course, I got rejected. Most agencies had enough clients, and the bigger agencies didn’t want to work with strangers off the street. They would send my original letter back, unopened and with a legal form letter on company letterhead informing me that my original letter had not been opened and no part of my idea had been shared with them. Those agencies needed to protect themselves against a possible lawsuit if their client happened to create a property that was similar to mine. That made sense.

All business. Zero humanity.

I was charmed and surprised to find that the smaller agencies had their own process for responding, and it was very efficient. They printed out short rejection statements multiple times on one sheet of perforated paper. Every time they received a query letter, they would just tear off a portion from this sheet and mail it back to sender. See? Efficient.

The science of rejection. Note the preforations.

A Backdoor into Hollywood Through Journalism

After exhausting the list of agencies on the Writers Guild website, I had had enough; there had to be another way for someone in my situation to make inroads. I decided to try becoming an entertainment journalist. My thinking was that if I couldn’t be in the entertainment industry, then I could at least cover the entertainment industry.

Craigslist was pay dirt for getting experience since anyone could spin up a website, but not everyone had the money to pay writers. And there were plenty of writers like me who just needed experience and were willing to write for free. Despite there being several “opportunities” on Craigslist that are either scams or simply not worth anyone’s time, I was surprised to find some really good, legitimate opportunities as well. For example, my very first interview for a startup webzine was a combo deal with Tatyana Ali and Sam Sarpong. Later, I’d freelance for a physical publication called Valley Scene Magazine. Sure, they didn’t pay either, but they also got me my first gigs covering the film industry. Now I was visiting studios, attending press conferences, and interviewing the likes of Wes Craven, Rachel McAdams, and Reese Witherspoon.

Blog to Webzine to Buzzine

During this time, writing these celebrity interviews, movie reviews, restaurant reviews, and more, I was building a portfolio. I needed a place to showcase my work. I was already blogging about personal things on a different domain; I wanted to have a site that was dedicated to my writing career. That’s when I created Working Author. It was just supposed to be a blog that documented my journey into Hollywood and/or elsewhere. But once I started to host my portfolio here, I started to get traffic to my portfolio pieces. It just made sense to convert my blog into a webzine.

Previously, I taught myself web development languages like HTML and CSS to build my own WordPress themes. While they were OK, they didn’t have the functionality I was really looking for. That’s when I discovered different webzine templates and began incorporating them into my site, which became a weird hybrid of entertainment journalism, personal blog, and writing portfolio, which included stuff from college! And yet, I’m glad I put the totality of my writings up for perusal, because when a real opportunity came my way, it was my writing that secured it for me.

Where the good goes.

When I replied to an anonymous Craigslist ad for yet another entertainment publication, the person responding turned out to be Richard Elfman. Yes, that Richard Elfman. He was reviving an old publication called Buzzine and converting it from a glossy to an online magazine. When we met for drinks, we toasted to our future of taking over Hollywood by storm. I’m not going to go much further into my time at Buzzine since this story isn’t about that. I just wanted to mention them here because that opportunity made a lot of connections for me.

I was on every studio’s list. I was interviewing A-listers on a weekly basis. I was attending exclusive parties. And since I was actively working on the look and feel of my site to match much bigger publications, like Variety, I was ready to make the big leap and go independent.

The Rise and Fall of the Working Author

Impressively, especially to me, my site grew dramatically. I even had to bring on writers to help with the workload. Instead of the being person answering ads on Craigslist, I had become the person placing the ads looking for writers who would write for experience. And before I move on, I’d just like to point out that my small team was composed of very talented writers, and I consider myself lucky for having found them.

I’ve once again convinced myself that I’m rededicating efforts to this site for some reason.

As the years dragged on, however, I felt the plateauing of my writing career and of my life in general. My goal in all of this was never to become an entertainment journalist; I wanted to become a screenwriter. And the longer I wrote good copy for the projects and celebrities I covered, the less my contacts seemed to be interested in helping me get my scripts read by the right people. Some contacts asked for my screenplays and then never contacted me again.

Then there’s the matter of actually having time to write creatively. Running a website, managing a writing staff, maintaining and building industry contacts, and also creating the majority of the content takes time, and there are only so many hours in the day. Don’t forget that I also had a day job on top of doing all of this. I was sleeping for only four hours a night on average.

To make matters worse, my health was failing. I was deathly ill for six months. I couldn’t keep doing this. So, even though I revamped the site in 2014 and made commitments to keep going, my heart just wasn’t in it anymore. I walked away as a burned-out shell of a writer, and I dedicated myself to my career in marketing, instead.

The New Revolution

So, here we are at the latest turn of this cycle. I’ve once again convinced myself that I’m rededicating efforts to this site for some reason. Maybe it’s because I’m looking for more creative control over my content that I’m just not getting at work. Maybe it has to do with my irrepressible narcissism that demands my opinion be shared with those that didn’t ask for it. Who knows? And who knows if this will stick?

What I do know is that I can’t recommit to the effort I put in before. I can’t make that drive to Los Angeles every day after work. The traffic was killing me. So, movie reviews are going to have to be from online screeners or day-of releases. I also know that opinion writing isn’t as risk-free as it once was. Before, my only consideration was losing my access if I wrote an overly negative review. Nowadays, having the wrong opinion will get you mobbed with death threats or attempts to get you fired. The cycles seem to become more vicious with each turn.

For now, I’m going to indulge this impulse and see where it leads me. Perhaps you’ll come along.