ChiTown Screenwriting with Kat O'Brien - Issue #2 | Finding Focus, Battling Burnout



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Welcome back to ChiTown Screenwriting with Kat O'Brien!
In this week’s issue:
  • Writing Advice for Finding The Time (Part 1)
  • Tips and Tricks: Contests, Fests & Pitch Meetings
  • Workshops & Wisdom: What I’m Loving
  • Writer Spotlights: Someone You Should Know

A Letter From Kat
Yes! I’m so glad you’re here, fellow creatives and changemakers!
Right now, as the world reopens, we have a unique opportunity to make our post-pandemic communities and networks more inclusive than ever. We’ve found that location matters less, culture matters more, and there are ways to make both more vibrant. That’s what #chitownscreenwriting is all about: creators coming together to share wisdom, resources, and opportunities to build pathways to platforms for underrepresented voices to connect and collaborate together.
Whether you’re just breaking in or have 20+ years in the game, I hope this newsletter is insightful, and inspires you to sustain that elusive creative/work/life balance. Each week will feature original and curated content. In addition to writing advice, tips and tricks, prompts and lessons, I’m curating a list of wisdom, workshops, and writer spotlights from throughout my network. Everything in this newsletter is geared towards uplifting, engaging, and connecting collaborators to opportunities to continue their professional development.
I love being a lifelong student and hope to share that wonder with you here!
On Writing and Creating: Finding the Time (Pt 1)
Making time for creative work is a luxury; finding the time to get it done is where most of us land. Between regular jobs, paid gigs, freelance assignments, caregiving and supporting family, friends, while staying active - physically and politically! - and ensuring we still sleep and eat, most (all?) of us are constantly juggling the creative/work/life balance. It’s always going to be a balancing act though, you know? No matter what, something will come up. So to get anything done, we have to prioritize.
Writing - like all creative work - requires deep focus to engage in a project from start to finish and successfully produce or publish it. We all make sacrifices of time and opportunity to get there. With so much *personally* at stake, it can sometimes feel paralyzing to try and prioritize our projects.
How do we know which project to focus on creatively at any given time?
I’m all about the why now and how approach to prioritizing what we pitch, draft, and refine. Next week, we’ll unpack Finding the Time (Pt 2), and get into my time management tips and work/life balance tricks to getting it done while still having fun.
Pitching: Keep Those Irons in the Fire
Why Now? You never know what’s going to get hot – so much of this business is about luck and timing. Being in the right place when the right opportunity becomes available, and being prepared enough to seize upon it. When you pitch regularly – your ideas, yourself as a collaborator – you keep enough opportunity out there for a steady flow of work.
How? Not everything has to be ready to show when you first pitch it. A fully baked idea, strong pitch materials that demonstrate a clear vision and POV, accompanied by a relevant writing sample can be enough to get a project off the ground. Think about your pitchable projects as opportunities for key players to join your team and make the project better or make it happen. Remember, you’re likely going to be pitching at all stages of the development process, and potentially even throughout pre-prod, production, and post.
Drafting: Which Project Do I Write?
Why Now? Time to get real honest on your cost-benefit analysis. Passing along the best advice from my managers and producing partners. They’ve all said this to me in different ways, but at the end of the day, it’s about how you are getting paid. You’re going to put the time in no matter what, so what are you getting out of it? And is it fulfilling? The thing is, not all opportunities pay (up front, well, at all) and so you may also have to explore the potential that this project you’re investing your time in now gets you something else that you may need down the road: credit, recognition, mentorship, collaboration, an education, a promotion, a travel adventure.
How? Realistically assess if you have the bandwidth to take on the challenge of what it will take to complete this project right now. A lot of folks talk about the need to develop a writing routine: morning pages, or hitting a certain page count or word count per day. That’s honestly never worked for me because my schedule is always in flux. I do write *something* every day, but my deep-focus drafting writing windows change frequently, and it’s hard to find a routine that I can commit to keeping consistent. What I can do is make a quarterly, monthly, weekly, daily writing schedule that is project-based and designed for completion.
I found it so liberating when I read that many famous writers throughout history (I think Hemingway was one) scheduled limited writing days to maximize their effectiveness, while enjoying and fulfilling other desires and obligations throughout the day. I write in 3-6 hour shifts, and can’t always make that happen every day, and I tell myself: that’s okay. Do what’s do-able. I cherish my collaborators and creative partners that feel this same way. We carry each other across the finish line.
Refining: Knowing When It’s Ready To Show
Why Now? Writing is rewriting and our projects are never really done. But to continue to grow and gain opportunities as a writer and creative, at some point– we need to greenlight and go. You know it’s time to refine when we need to pursue an opportunity we weren’t quite prepared to seize. Or, when you don’t have the bandwidth to draft something new, refine or restart something that’s inspiring you, or could be connected to an opportunity you want to pursue.
How? So how do you know when it’s ready for the world? I hit send when I feel confident that my vision’s on the page and I’ve executed a trusted set of notes– from my manager, producing partners, fellow writers, friends, collaborators– that gives me the confidence that my intent is landing with an audience. However, it’s too easy to revise indefinitely and doing so can take valuable time from pitching and drafting something new. Developing a metric or deadline for yourself to hit send and move on (for now) is key.
Ultimately, the thinking that if we could only… then we will magically make more time in our day… is just that: magical thinking. Even when we get paid full-time to work on projects in the role we want, or on our own original ideas – I’ve found that there’s always something else on the horizon that we can looking forward to making - building - doing.
To bring your creative visions into prioritized focus with everything else you’re juggling at work and in your life, find a few minutes to dream about what’s possible, schedule a few hours to make it probable, and then just take it moment to moment. Being fully present in those moments is one of the greatest creative gifts we can give ourselves. More on this next week!
On My Feed: Tips and Tricks
Kat O'Brien
#screenwriters It's fest/contest season: what're your maj concerns as you hit submit on those scripts? I have 20 years of experience as a studio reader/story analyst & juror for fests, contests, labs. Let's talk through the stress! BYOB 🍻AMA 💖
#chitownscreenwriting #TuesdayTips
#Wednesday #Writers #Wisdom
#Wednesday #Writers #Wisdom
On My Calendar: Workshops & Events
ICYMI #HotTips from Kat’s Friends for Profesh Dev
We are in a unique time for unprecedented virtual access to amazing workshops and opportunities to continue to learn and engage as a community of content creators. Thanks to my rad creative partner, comedian, filmmaker, and fellow changemaker Tamika J. Spaulding @tjmadeafunny for these recommendations below!
Manhattan Edit Workshop
Wednesday, 4/21 @ 2pm-3pm PT
Roadmap Writers
Sunday, 4/25@ 4 pm PT
This weekend, Columbia College Chicago, Development & Alumni Relations hosts the Spring Screenwriter Splash - FREE and open to the public!
Friday April 23 | A celebration of the 18th Written Image Awards and first-ever Script Launch Initiative. Hot tip: Producers and directors: this is a great way to find up and coming local / Chicago scripts.
Saturday April 24 | Two industry panels on creating equity and diversity in Cinema and Television, and an Alumni career-journeys panel. Check out the 411 below.
Writers' Wisdom: What I've Been Loving
Whenever I get gloomy about the state of the world, I don’t think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport – I get a sneaky feeling that comedy actually is all around.
To combat burnout and find the funny, I’ve been binging Party Down cuz I missed it the first time around, and am starting Ted Lasso.
Also: nature. Some of my friends shared their #selfcare strategies on insta. I realized: be intentional about making lists of your go-to #selfcare strategies. Burnout is real. We’re still surviving a global pandemic. Take care of yourself and give yourself a quick reference for the tools you have to do so. It’s empowering.
Kat O'Brien
I'm trying to deep dive into #SelfCare #sundayvibes to give myself creative fuel for the #amwriting week ahead. Cherry blossoms @chicagobotanic were 🤙😍 #WritersCommunity, #pipelinewriters, how do you recharge to prep for work/life/creative balance for the week ahead?
Writers' Spotlight: Someone You Should Know
In response to school closures due to COVID-19, We Still Teach put teachers on television to bridge the digital divide and provide students and their families a social and emotional connection to their education. The fiercely funny women of Sidebar Sketch were among the many Chicago-based artists in our community who contributed content to the show. To connect kids and elderly residents instantly cut-off from their social lives during the stay-at-home order, Comedy on Call offered funny Face Times and gave instantly unemployed artists in the comedy community a temporary source of income.
The comedy writers exec producing, producing, and starring within We Still Teach and building out Comedy on Call include the fierce and funny, award-winning and festival-slaying:
Tamika J. Spaulding @tjmadeafunny, Helene Griffin @hlnsburneracct, Lesley Hennen @LesleyHennen, Kana Felix @kanoodle7, Alyse McGuigan @alysemcg, Chloe Caudillo @CocoLoca13, Sara Fox @SaraFox7 and Carly Glenn @cgonthegogo
If you don’t know them, you should. Talented, funny, driven, and sometimes, they sing and dance. I can’t with these brilliant women who are not only hilarious writers, but they also stepped up at a critical time to help support our city during this unprecedented pandemic. Good people, doing good. Follow them and get to know their work.
If you enjoyed this, or have writing/creative life questions I can unpack and answer, or are looking for support to promote your work and projects, reach out and let me know? And please share widely! #grassroots #letsgo
Thanks for reading, and see you next week #chitownscreenwriting!
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Kat O'Brien
Kat O'Brien @uknowKatOBrien

ChiTown Screenwriting is a publication that I write and edit, for writers and creators to find community on their journey to getting published and produced.

More ambitiously, ChiTown Screenwriting is a movement, and a mindset. Global and local, we're a community connected by creative collaboration, and we're all about connecting collaborators to creative opportunities!

Each issue shares the wisdom and advice from storytellers and changemakers, with the goal of demystifying some of the more elusive processes and strategies for navigating the business, art and craft of getting our stories to our audiences.

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