Author Archives: sherimcguinn

Films That Changed My Life

Someone recently asked me what three or four films defined my life – took it new directions, made a lasting impact, that sort of thing. Being a movie junkie, my first thought was that it would be impossible to narrow it down that far. However, in the next moment, three films came to mind. These films changed the course of my life, each in its own way:

AroundTheWorldIn80DaysAround the World in Eighty Days (the 1956 version with David Niven) – This is the first film I remember seeing at the theater – The Grand – and it began my lifelong love of movies. The heavy red velvet curtains framed the enormous screen and up on the walls were traditional theater comedy and tragedy masks. The music swept me away from the opening moment and carried me on down the sidewalk to Tony the Greek’s, where we went for ice cream after the show.

The Grand sent out a calendar each month with which movies would show which days. It was a one-screen theater on the corner of routes 20 and 17 in Westfield, N.Y. Eventually it was torn down, and Tony the Greek’s is long gone as well – but those memories are still strong, as is my love of movies and the movie theater experience.

badThe Bad Seed also came out in 1956, but I can’t imagine anyone took me to see it at the theater – I was a preschooler. I do remember watching it on television, several times. It began a lifelong fascination with how people work when things go off course and a love of well-constructed psychological thrillers.

HighPlainsDrifterHigh Plains Drifter (Clint Eastwood’s second feature film as director, 1973) changed the way I look at films. I’d never heard of Fellini or any other European filmmaker, but I came away babbling about the visual effects and realistic characters – and went back to the theater two more times to watch for details. That awakening led to my repeatedly participating in film appreciation classes at College of Marin – watching and discussing key films. (They showed different ones each semester).

So that’s the three that popped into mind immediately as shaping my life. And then there’s a fourth – which should have been obvious. Working on an early version of the script earned me my first paycheck as a writer and got me started on my current path.

EyeOfTheDolphinEye of the Dolphin ended up being written primarily by Wendell Morris, who had a solid record writing for television whereas I had no screenwriting credits and no major publishing credits. Since most of what I wrote ended up discarded when they got enough funding to change the setting of the film, I got a creative consultant credit rather than one as a writer – but it got me started on IMDb. And I still have a photocopy of that first check on my inspiration board.

What films have had a lasting effect on your life?

Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Work Overload

Whoa – I missed Thursday because I was finishing up a screenplay I’m writing on contract… Sorry about that. Be back next week.

 

Information Overload

Before computers, the difficult part of research was finding materials. As a kid, I had to ride a bus a half hour downtown to the big county library when I needed to do serious research for school.

Thanks to the internet, I can look up anything that pops into my mind immediately, I can search any question. I can not only pull up a map of a place I want my character to go, I can see the satellite view of it and, most places, pull the little guy onto the map and see what my character would see driving down a road, turning to look side to side.

It’s beyond awesome. I love it.

However, the old dilemma of when to stop researching happens more quickly and is compounded by the necessity of sorting through to discard information of questionable value. Libraries used to do that for us.

Now, even when you’ve narrowed it to solid sources, it’s likely you have an overwhelming amount of information to review. Personally, I procrastinate at this point. I let it all sit, hoping it will somehow sift itself into some kind of logical order.

That doesn’t really work, though. I eventually start sorting through everything, shoving it into physical or computer files labeled by categories of information. Then I attack one category at a time.

This is an imperfect process. For example, I have a four-inch stack of notes on my table about marketing right now, and folders within folders and files that overlap folders floating around in the main folder unfiled. There are a lot of resources that fit more than one part of marketing.

My method to deal with this information overload?

I start with the best resource – the best NEW resource if there are several.

For my marketing project, I’m starting by reading Carla King‘s Self-Publishing Bootcamp Guide, 4th edition. I’ll take notes specific to my project and make an outline or timeline. Then I’ll quickly review old books I’ve read before, scanning for anything to add. If I hit a better outline, I’ll combine the two.

With that solid base, those other piles of pages will read quickly, because most of it will be review. I’ll be skimming through, looking for unique information. That makes the prospect less daunting. And the details will be plopped into the right place on the outline as I find them.

Yeah. It’s not so bad. I’m ready to get to it!

Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

 

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Celebrate Your Success!

Last week I talked about the importance of celebrating others’ successes. It’s part of building a supportive community of writers.

That means you have to let people know when you have a success, too.

After years of trying to sell my screenplay to a major company, imagining it produced with major stars and being released in theaters, making me rich and famous, my first sale went directly to television, with some known actors. It did not make me rich or famous. I looked at it as another step closer to paying all the bills through my writing.

“Your movie went to television. You may never meet another writer who can say that.”

Reality check from another screenwriter, who’s produced his own films. It wasn’t as flashy as I’d always imagined, but it was still a success – a pretty big one.

The same holds true when you’ve been targeting the major markets with your stories or essays for years and a university press publishes one of your stories and you’re paid in copies. It’s still recognition, validation of your skill as a writer. It’s success.

Celebrate with your fellow writers.

Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Celebrating Success – Not Yours

I don’t remember exactly why he was at a table talking to the authors pitching their scripts, but I remember what the successful screenwriter said:

I don’t even like writing. It’s just such an easy way to make lots of money.

I may use that line some day as the spark that pushes a desperate writer over the edge into violence. Personally, I refrained from choking the life out of him. I don’t begrudge him his success, but his attitude infuriated me. I love writing. It’s selling it that’s hard.

However, in general, it’s important to celebrate the successes others have, even when they seem to fall into it. Our Gold Country Writers have a member who didn’t really want to write a book, but over a period of decades it evolved. The unique story caught the attention of someone who passed it to a major producer, who decided it would make a great film and optioned it. Sure, there was a twinge of jealousy when I first heard this, but every writer who succeeds is an example that it can happen.

I went to her website. While she made it sound like this all just fell into her lap, the full story showed me something different. The initial contact may have been luck, but, without consciously planning to create anything, she gave the initial contact time out of her busy live over a period of decades. Then when she decided to write a book about it, she planned and executed a great deal of research to provide the full, unique, story. Then she did a good job writing and promoting the book so it’s not surprising it caught the attention of someone in the film industry.

While luck is always part of success, usually there’s a long history of work behind it. So smile and offer genuine congratulations to others when it’s their turn.

Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Give Yourself Credit

Where did you go to school? What did you study? What clubs did you join? Were you an officer or some other kind of leader of any group?

Did you do any volunteer work through your school? through your church? through any other organization? on your own? What did you do? What did that involve? Who was helped? Who else was involved?

List every single thing you’ve ever been paid to do – babysitting, lawn mowing, errand-running? a part time sales job for an event? your first job? your current job? What did you actually do in each of those jobs? Not just the title, the actions you took each day.

What hobbies do you have? What skills do those involve? Do you do them with others?

Now stop and think about the personal relationships you have. How do others see you? What do you do that makes their lives better?

What recognition have you received in any of these areas? Awards, letters, verbal thanks, hugs from happy kids you’ve helped?

What have you created along the way? a school paper? a trim yard? a satisfied customer? a book? a safe place for someone?

When I used to teach people how to build resumes, by the time they answered all these questions, they realized they had a lot more to offer than they’d thought. Give yourself credit for your experience and achievements, especially when you’re selling your work or applying for a job. It’s an essential piece of marketing.

It’s not always easy to blow your own horn – you don’t want to be a braggart. But when you’re trying to sell a piece of your work, people will slow down and take a closer look if you’ve mentioned previous sales or awards in your cover letter. If you’re fortunate enough to have a lot of credits, choose the most applicable to the work you’re pitching and offer a link to your full resume.

This is really good advice – I need to remind myself to follow it regularly!

Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Setting Priorities

My datebook’s a mess. I’ve been tracking what I do every day so I know where I’m spending time. It all goes onto a weekly chart that I’m sharing with a accountability writing buddy. What I’ve found is I slide off into unplanned activities and spend too much time on things that aren’t really that important.

So the tracking has been a good thing. While I’ve accomplished a lot the last three months (see last week’s Quarterly Report), the tracking records show that I could be using my time more effectively.

Enter the new experiment – or is it old? I sat down this morning and made a traditional four-box matrix for my writing activities. In case you have no clue what I’m talking about, this is what it looks like:

Urgent Not Urgent
Primary Importance  1  3
Secondary  2  4

Of course, you can louse this up by putting too many things in the urgent & important box, which leads to feeling overwhelmed to the point nothing gets done.

I’ve used this matrix for each of the next few months. For example, consider developing materials for the workshop I’m teaching in June (Self-Publishing for Educators, at Sierra Community College). This is of Primary Importance, because this is the first workshop I’m teaching in this area and I’ll be judged by it. However, the class is at the end of June. So in April, that will be in the upper right-hand box (3), Primary Importance but Not Urgent. In May, I’ll move it into the upper left-hand box, Primary and Urgent (1). In April, I may work on it, but only after April’s Primary/Urgent matters are addressed.

Secondary tasks may be urgent, like getting the reading done for critique groups, or secondary and non-urgent, like making sure I get some exercise in each day. The things in the secondary/urgent box (2) will be scheduled on a timely basis, but won’t replace taking care of items in (1). The items in secondary/non-urgent (4) will get some attention throughout the week, but they’ll be slipped in between the items in the other three boxes.

This clarification of priorities makes it easy to decide what needs to be done when. On days I have a lot of meetings, I’ll knock off some of the secondary items. When I’m home all day, I’ll focus on something of primary importance that needs to be done urgently.

I’ll still use my datebook as a tracking device, noting what I’m doing during the day, but the only thing getting penciled in ahead of time will be meetings. The weekly chart will still go to my accountability buddy. But hopefully it will reflect more time spent on the most important things.

Sheri2012RGB2inchwww.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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First Quarter Review

Back at the end of December, I set my goals for 2018. Well, March is behind us – the end of the first quarter of the year, when businesses assess how they’re doing.

My primary writing goal for the year is to make at least $10,000 and I’m losing money at this point. So when I looked at the page with three columns of objectives and steps to reach each that I set up at the beginning of the year, I initially felt disheartened. Then I took a closer look and made notes.

To achieve that one writing goal, I have three objectives. I’ve made progress on each.

Goal #1: Maintain and build on promotional activities, center them on the book coming out later this year (Peg’s Story). Progress:

  • I haven’t had any shorts published yet, but I’ve researched markets, organized my submission process, and have seven pending. I know where each will be sent next.
  • I’ve written this blog every week and several posts have been dedicated to how my writing needs to link to the Me Too movement, which ties in with Peg’s Story.
  • I’ve listened to podcasts and started reading the new edition of Self-Publishing Bootcamp. I’ll focus more on developing the release and marketing plan for Peg’s Story in the next three months.

Goal #2: Keep working on new material. Progress:

  • I have several chapters of a romance novel written and re-written with critique group input. I set up rules for myself in previous blog posts – I want strong heroines.
  • I am developing a YA paranormal novel with feedback from two critique groups – one gets the first draft, I revise, then submit it to the second. This pushes me to keep producing at least two chapters a month through polished level.
  • I’m reworking shorts for the specific markets I’ve decided my work fits.

Goal #3: Do workshops. This goal needs to be amended to Do Activities that Generate Income. Progress:

  • I’ll be teaching a summer workshop Self-Publishing for Educators through Community Education at Sierra Community College and have applied to teach that and a Self-Publishing Basics workshop in the fall.
  • I’m shepherding a local artist and writer, Suzanne BlaneyHer website had been shut down and her Amazon author page was incomplete. I’ve started updating her online presence and her domain is pending transfer to GoDaddy, where I’ll be able to rebuild it for her. She’s finishing up a new art book and I’ll be editing that.
  • I’m negotiating a contract to write another screenplay for Nasser Entertainment. They don’t want to pay anything up front, so I’ll be gambling that they actually produce the film, but they probably will.

I also have two non-writing goals: Maintain balance in my life and Improve my financial status. I’ve made some progress on those, too, spending time with family, doing a little subbing. I still need to get back into a regular exercise routine. Blocking that in may actually increase my productive writing time. We’ll see how the next quarter goes.Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

 

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Short Term vs. Long Term

As I write this, I’m in the middle of negotiations to write another screenplay for the company that optioned and produced Running Away. This time I’m having an attorney look at the contract.

She immediately warned me that the company is known for making movies “down and dirty” as cheap as possible, and that while she could read the contract and give me advice, she couldn’t negotiate for me because the only union they deal with is SAG. However, they do produce and sell a lot of movies.

She advised me to think about whether I want to focus on the short or long term before hiring her to analyze the contract.

Well, she didn’t tell me anything I hadn’t figured out already. I know the contract they’ve offered is not reasonable by WGA standards. She’s looking over the contract.

But I did stop to consider her point: Will working for this company work against me in the long run?

Does it mean I’m a hack incapable of writing quality scripts? No. It means I want the validation of being paid for writing, even if it’s not the best pay.

Will other people decide it means I’m a hack incapable of writing quality scripts? Maybe, but if they take a closer look, they’ll see some benefits:

  • It shows I’m not a prima donna – I understand the final product is a collaborative effort and my words are not sacrosanct.
  • It shows I can get rewrites done and back in a timely fashion – or they wouldn’t ask me to do a second script.

I also consider it an opportunity to practice my craft and improve on it:

  • I’ll analyze each script against the movie to learn more about what works – as I already have done here with Running Away.
  • I’ll be practicing writing for a specific audience, which is a good exercise for any writer.

So, while accepting this contract may work against me somewhere along the line, I believe I can sell it as a positive growth experience if I do a few more movies for this company.

Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

Press release:

Sheri McGuinn at Gold Country Writers Six-Author Event! Official release.

Event date: Sunday, March 25, 2018 – 1:00pm to 4:00pm Event address: FACE IN A BOOK, 4359 Town Center Blvd #113, El Dorado Hills, CA 95762

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When You’re Not a Writer – Yet

I believe all writing is good practice for a writer.

While my kids were growing up, I put aside “being a writer” for day jobs. However, many of those day jobs involved writing. For example, I’ve written stacks of court reports. Did that build any skills for my fiction writing? Absolutely.

  • I had to interview people and present their position accurately – to do that I listened carefully and checked for understanding. Even the few villains I encountered had what they believed were good reasons for their actions. So I avoid cardboard characters in my fiction. I know each of my characters from the inside out. Each has a distinct voice.
  • I had to pay attention to details. Small details, buried amidst non-essential information, often clarified an issue or sequence of events. The same holds true in fiction – the details often decide the course of events.
  • I had to take the facts I’d gathered and present them in a logical order that helped the judge make sense of the situation – which was often quite complicated. The same skill is necessary in fiction. If you confuse the reader by putting a conclusion before the facts that lead to it, you will probably lose them altogether.
  • I couldn’t include every single piece of information I collected. I had to decide which facts were necessary and which were superfluous. When writing fiction, I always know more backstory than my readers – they’d be bored if I included all of it. I have to choose what they need to know when. It’s the same skill, repurposed.
  • I also had to decide when to quote an interviewed person directly and when to paraphrase. When writing fiction, I need to decide where to describe interactions and where to use dialogue. The elements that make each effective are remarkably similar whether a court report or a novel.

What about jobs that don’t involve much writing? It’s all experience. Most writers have had a series of jobs before they start making a living (or at least part of one) writing.

If you find a complete job history of an author and then read all of that author’s work, you will probably find characters and settings that use non-writing jobs.

Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

Press release:

Sheri McGuinn at Gold Country Writers Six-Author Event! Official release.

Event date: Sunday, March 25, 2018 – 1:00pm to 4:00pm Event address: FACE IN A BOOK, 4359 Town Center Blvd #113, El Dorado Hills, CA 95762

http://www.getyourfaceinabook.com/event/gold-country-writers-six-author-event

 

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