J E A N N E V B O W E R M A N
What do you do?
I’ve never liked being confined by labels. They often keep people trapped in boxes society has declared we have to fit into. On my business cards, it doesn’t say “screenwriter,” but rather “writer of things.” That’s who I am. I write blog posts, novels, screenplays, editorial for marketing, etc. Even tweets are a form of expression.
Beyond writing, my passion is helping others pursue their dreams. I purposely say “pursue” because I believe success isn’t a finish line; it’s the choice to go after what you want in life. Anyone who is doing that, in my mind, has succeeded. As a screenwriter therapist (http://jeannevb.com/consultations ) of sorts, I help my fellow artists find what’s blocking them from taking a proactive step in their own journey and give them tips for getting to the place they want to be, not only their careers but also in their lives.
Being the Editor of Script Magazine (http://www.scriptmag.com), I have the honor of having a platform to support our readers by bringing them content from close to 60 contributors, helping us all learn more about the behind-the-scenes of Hollywood. My Balls of Steel column (http://www.scriptmag.com/author/jeannevb ) is where I strip off the veneer and tell writers what they need to hear, not necessarily what they want to hear, about navigating this crazy industry.
Another community I’m blessed to be a part of is Scriptchat (http://www.scriptchat.com/ ), Twitter’s weekly screenwriting chat I co-founded with Zac Sanford, Jamie Livingston and Kim Garland. Our taglines say it all: “It’s not a competition; it’s a community” and “Bring your tequila and leave your ego behind.” The people who join us each week to talk about screenwriting and support each other’s efforts have changed my life. I can’t thank all of them enough for coming back week after week for the past four years.
My day job is far more important to me than just putting food on the table. I absolutely love writing columns and having writers find me, either online or in person at events, and share with me that my sometimes blunt advice has helped inspire them or keep them from quitting… and non-writers even relate to the struggles we have in pursuing our passions.
As for writing screenplays and novels, I do it because if I didn’t, I’d die. I love moving people with my words. When someone tells me they laughed or cried, reading one of my stories, it validates the power of prose. Breaking story and writing emotionally impactful things is more than just the oxygen of my existence; it’s possibly a bit like a drug… addictive. Simply put, I can’t imagine not writing.
I always craved being a writer but didn’t seriously pursue the craft until I was in my 40s. After running a motel and restaurant for 15 years, I dabbled in medical transcriptioning… and got fired because I kept challenging this one pompous doctor, pointing out that he was asking me to put words in a report that didn’t exist in the English language. He called me “nothing but a glorified secretary” and that was the end of that. I figured if I was going to be treated like shit, I might as well be a writer.
How do I get as good as you?
Hustle. Work tirelessly. Give. Give. Give… and never expect anything in return. But above all, be kind. Be a person others want to work with. I don’t care how creative you are, if you’re a jerk, no one is going to have your back. And this business is so cut throat, that when you do find someone who really does have your back, protect and respect that relationship. They are few and far between.
As for screenwriting advice, one of my favorite Balls of Steel articles is Dear New Screenwriter (http://www.scriptmag.com/features/balls-of-steel-dear-new-screenwriter ) where I write a letter to my younger self with the advice I wish a seasoned writer had given me. I still read it every now and then to remind myself how far I’ve come.
The best work can often come about as a collaborative process – how do you define the importance of community in creative writing?
I’m a feedback junkie. A lot of writers hate getting notes and deciding which to take and which to toss, but for me, notes are my favorite part. Sure, I’ve gotten some that demoralize me, but after I digest them, there has always… and I mean ALWAYS… been a nugget of gold buried even within a crappy note. One thing I challenge writers to do is to try implementing a note they may not necessarily 100% agree with. Just try it. See what it feels like. I’ve done that many times, and even if I didn’t keep the new scene, there’s always a piece of it that remains in the script somewhere… and elevates the story.
I’ve been working on the narrative adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Slavery by Another Name (http://jeannevb.com/projects/slavery-by-another-name-pulitzer-adaptation ), for four years now. Believe me when I tell you this script has had feedback from more people than I can count. It has truly taken a village to write it. A project like this is where a strong community of writers makes all the difference in the world. I urge every artist to find that kind of community, if only to keep them sane in this industry.
But sometimes collaboration can mean compromising your vision and the story. That’s when you need to step back and ask yourself if you’re collaborating with the right people. If not, walk away. Even if you think this is THE big break. Walk. For me, collaboration is not about ego, it’s about serving the story. If those around you can’t do that, then you need to move on.
What are the apparent differences you see between the work of writers who embrace critique and suggestion, and those who are precious and over-protective of their ideas?
If writers are going to get defensive when taking notes, they might as well kiss their careers goodbye. Even if it’s a precious story you’ve worked years on, I guarantee you someone will suggest a change you never would have thought of, and with that change, it can elevate your story to an entirely new level. But critique is also about so much more than story. I’ve had producers offer me feedback just to see how I would handle it emotionally. Simply put, it was a test of my ego, my ability to be flexible and my perspective of my work. Sometimes your baby is ugly, and you need to hear that. And if you can’t handle hearing that, try medical transcriptioning.
Many thanks to Jeanne for her time and insight. Follow her on Twitter @jeannevb.