first quarter at UCLA complete

Ack! It’s been too long since one of these posts.

I’ve successfully been in LA for four months. Which is kind of crazy, because it goes so quickly and in some ways, it feels like I just got here. For the first three months it seemed my body was in LA, and my heart was in NYC. But now, I slowly feel the tide turning. Perhaps it’s because I’m surrounded by like-minded hungry screenwriters who share my goal. When I returned from my holiday break and reunited with my classmates, I felt a connection and a joint sense of purpose.

Granted I’m only one quarter in, but coming to UCLA for my MFA in Screenwriting was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. It was hard at first, primarily socially, but it’s getting better every day. And I can see the opportunities for writers that abound here. It’s elevated my understanding of screenwriting as a career, and already, I see my work is improving.

If you’re thinking about your MFA, I say do it. It’s an amazing opportunity to truly devote yourself to your writing. As one of my classmates told me – at UCLA, you don’t “learn” to write, you learn to “invest” in your writing.

in one week and a half, I’ll be in California

I can’t believe that my move to California is less than 1.5 weeks away. And that it’s taken me so long to post here.  I was avoiding writing primarily because I was worried about my boss or co-workers finding out I was leaving before I was ready to say anything. Because what started as a four month temporary copywriting role turned into a position with serious potential for full-time. And this role also turned into a job I really, really like at an organization whose mission feels compelling and deeply personal somehow. It’s funny how things work like that – finding a job that feels so damn good right as I’m leaving.

But I’m excited to embark on graduate school. I’m excited to be with writers who want this as much as I do. With people who understand what it feels like to live with this goal of being a “working screenwriter” day in and day out, despite being pounded with news that it’s harder than ever, and oh my god, are you delusional? It’s harder to win the lotto than sell a script.

But to them I say, whatever. I’m with those guys over there, yeah, those guys in the corner of Starbucks trying to bang out the last few pages of their script before the deadline for that screenwriting contest they always dream of winning. Those people are my people and I want to be with my people.

I’m trying to have no expectations about what my life will be, the everyday stuff, but of course, it’s so hard to have no expectations! Near impossible. So if you must know, I keep imagining a parallel universe whose main stars are avocados, the UCLA bookstore, my laptop opened to Final Draft 8, the interior of whatever used gem of a car I purchase, hanging out with my very wonderful new writer friends, and swimming.

I shall report back and tell you how reality matches up. Now it’s time to get back to prepping for this move. I leave you with this, a quote from one of my favorite writers ever.

“You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.”
Junot Díaz

heading to Los Angeles

In three months I’m moving to Los Angeles to get my MFA in screenwriting at UCLA. I’m really excited about the school/meeting new people part, but nervous about living in a city that lots of New Yorkers love to hate. I was born here in New York, right on 71st and York, and I’ve never left. Well, I had a brief leave for college in Baltimore. But that was so close to NY that I often came home to see my parents or friends.

I don’t know if I will like Los Angeles. I know I will miss my metrocard swiping, pizza on every block, walking, crowded subways loudly roaring into stations, and Hungry Ghost coffee shop in Brooklyn. I just don’t know how much I will miss these things. If it will be a aching kind of missing, or a warm nostalgic missing.

All I do know is that I have to leave. I need to comparison shop. Before I settle down somewhere, I want to see what else is out there.

And, I’m in!

I’m writing now with some good news. I’ve been accepted to one of my top choice MFA programs. I feel a huge sense of relief and I can finally breathe a bit easier. After being laid off about a month and a half ago, I have been in a heightened state of anxiety – what will I do with my life? Specifically, to make money. I know I want to write and create my own content, but for now, I need a day job.

That worry was  especially consuming when I thought I might not be attending graduate school. I’ve been meeting with potential employers and it’s kind of hard to say you’re looking for a “day job” with “good people.” You have to talk about future plans and career ambitions related to what you’re applying for – i.e. “Oh, I absolutely love marketing and have worked in such and such vertical…”, and on and on. You get the picture.

For now, I feel like I don’t have to lie. I am a screenwriter and playwright. I have about five months until I’m in graduate school. So for the next five months, I want to find some suitable, enjoyable temporary employment. And then I’m off to graduate school.  Take that, being laid off!

Interviewing for your MFA in Playwriting/Screenwriting

I am a complete anxiety ball these days. I’ve been checking my email about every 5 minutes waiting for news to come in, checking grad school message boards like a freak, and obsessively thinking about the many different paths my life may take. Will I be moving to a new state or will I have to do this grad school application process all over again next year? (Which I really hope doesn’t happen, because I feel like I’ve paid my application dues long enough – that’s a note to you MFA Gods.)

So far, I’ve interviewed for two MFA programs, got wait listed at one, and have yet to hear back from the other programs. There’s one program that’s an absolute dream program, in fact, I was shocked that I got an interview offer. I felt like the interview went great, but I hear they have to pick 1 out of every 4 candidate.

This is that time of year for applicants when everything feels up in the air. Every day feels like the day it could happen – that I could hear some news and get excited about what my Fall holds.

I thought I’d share some tips for those of you interviewing for your MFA in playwriting or screenwriting. It’s a little less scary when you have some idea of what to expect.

  • Know what you’ve seen lately that’s blown your mind – be it a film, play, or even some outstanding television series. Have an articulate answer about why you loved it so much ready for your interviewer. If you can someone tie this into how it fits into your own work, even better. 
  • Be ready for the question, “What would you do if you didn’t get into this program?”
  • The DUH question, but WHY an MFA? You don’t need an MFA to write, so why is it so important to you and why NOW?
  • Have samples of your new work ready. I’ve been asked on interviews if I could send “what I’m working on now” to my interviewer. I think this is especially true for those television fellowships, like Nickelodeon Writing Fellowhsip or the ABC Writing Program. Granted, this is not technically an MFA program but because of the educational nature of the program, I’m grouping it here. They will surely ask you if you have another spec script to send their way. So, be forewarned.
  • And lastly, while this has never happened to me, I’ve heard that at the screenwriting programs – you may be asked to pitch a new movie idea. Now, I’m terrified of the idea of pitching – in fact, it is my least favorite aspect to the idea of being a working screenwriter. So, watch some YouTube videos, and record yourself on your laptop pitching. Go in prepared and confident.

If I was a professor of dramatic writing…

I would hope to be as nurturing as Cheryl Strayed, who spoke to this subject on the awesome literary/writer blog, Mourning Goats. I was lucky enough to meet the founder of this blog on a job interview today (the one good thing about this whole process is the people you meet). He speaks to some of today’s top writers and asks them 20 questions. Kind of like what Adam Szymkowicz is doing with his playwright interview blog. 

When asked about her teaching experience, Ms. Strayed replied, in part:

“So I ask my students to pay attention to what’s happening on the page on a very close, technical level. Another thing I do is offer emotional support, which I think is pretty crucial. Most writers need to be told to keep going. It might be the most important thing a teacher can give a student writer. I don’t mean I turn my classes into therapy sessions, but I talk a lot about how important it is to persevere, to keep the faith, to try and fail and keep trying. One must do as Winston Churchill famously implored his countrymen to do: never, never, never give up.”

 

Unemployed but not Unenthused

The company I was working for went through a pretty serious round of layoffs, and so, about a week ago, I lost my job as a Communications Writer. (I’m not sure why I felt the need to capital those last two words, but let an unemployed girl have her punctuation). It was a pretty great gig and I was definitely sad to get the news. But I try to always look on the bright side of things, so I’m hoping this is for the best. 

During the past week, I’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs but what’s really kept me going is remembering that I’m a writer. That is what I do. I am not defined by how I make money. 

My good friend sent me a quote from the playwright Marsha Norman and wow. It resonated deeply with me. Hopefully it will for you too. 

“…in one of my lowest career moments-you know: no jobs, no prospects, no ideas for jobs, no prospect of ideas-i had the startling revelation that this was the life where i got to be a writer, which is what i always wanted to be, that this life was the one i longed for in all the others.” -marsha norman