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ChiTownScreenwriting with Kat O'Brien - Issue #14 | Art, Authenticity, Acceptance

ChiTownScreenwriting
Welcome back to ChiTown Screenwriting with Kat O'Brien!
In this week’s issue: Art, Authenticity, Acceptance
  • Conversation with Sujewa Ekanayake: Making Micro-Budget Movies
  • Writers’ Wisdom: Don’t Get Sucked Into The Comparison Game
  • What I’m Loving: Generational Perspectives
  • Conversation with Julie Reece Deaver: Resilience in Publishing

Editor's Letter | Art, Authenticity, Acceptance
This newsletter is an opportunity for me to share my resources and the wisdom from throughout my global network of friends and colleagues. I’m so grateful to our contributors - all of them artists generously sharing what they’ve learned from their lives’ work in the worlds of producing and publishing stories for many different platforms. I started this journey with a hashtag and an intention to build an inclusive community for creative collaboration and belonging, and months later here we are with a global readership and doing interviews with folks I’ve never met in real life. I love it! I’ve also noticed themes emerging in the writing of this newsletter, unpacking these Big Ideas of Art, Authenticity, Acceptance.
ICYMI, this summer ChiTown Screenwriting shifted from a weekly to a monthly publication as my professional obligations have shifted, and so too shifts my need to balance those anew with my volunteerism, and with being present for friends and family. It feels obvious to say that grief changes us, and the past two years have brought about so many losses for so many of us. In my life and work, the unexpected passing of my creative partner, Tamika Spaulding, this summer has ignited a fiercer urgency to produce and publish more of my own work, especially those projects that she championed.
The previous two issues of ChiTown Screenwriting dig deeply into how the writer/filmmaker/artist/creative can enhance creative productivity by doing nothing, and then strategize getting their work out there on their own.
  • Issue #12 | The Art of Doing Nothing as a form of creative recharging and self-care. ICYMI, get caught up here.
Welcome to AUGUST Issue #14! This month, we explore Art, Authenticity, Appreciation through Conversations with NYC filmmaker Sujewa Ekanyake on Making Micro-Budget Movies and author Julie Reece Deaver on Resilience in Publishing. We also feature Writers Wisdom in a retweeted thread from David H. Steinberg on avoiding the comparison trap, and and What I’m Loving: Generational Perspectives via the rad interview with Hacks showrunner Jen Statsky by Sadie K. Dean in the latest Script Magazine.
As ChiTown Screenwriting continues, I hope to use this platform to more intentionally connect collaborators to each other. If you’re looking for an audience for your art, seeking authentic creative partnership, or acceptance from a community of creatives where you feel you can inclusively belong, drop me a line and hopefully I can do some matchmaking virtually until we’re ready to launch in-person meet ups.
Specifically, for the next issue, I’m looking to uplift features, pilots, short stories, plays, or novels in need of producers who may want to acquire the rights, or help develop projects further.
Scroll to the end for our updated call for submissions and to find out all the ways we’re trying to optimize this newsletter to build community and create opportunity for creatives, and their collaborators, to connect here in Chicago, and all over the world. Thanks for engaging!
Conversation with Sujewa Ekanayake
Making Micro-Budget Movies
Now, we’re going deeper into indie filmmaking and distribution to discuss Making Micro-Budget Movies in my Conversation with Sujewa Ekanayake, a Brooklyn, NY based indie filmmaker currently working on his feature, The Secret Society For Slow Romance (2021). Ekanayake was born in Sri Lanka, and moved to the US in his early teens. He briefly attended Columbia College Chicago to study film, and started making films in 1992 in the DC area. He moved to NYC in 2009. Ekanayake has screened his films in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Seattle, New York City, Chicago’s Facets Cinematheque, and at the Atlanta Film Festival. He has written and published the blog DIY Filmmaker since 2006, recognized as one of the top blogs for filmmaking news (and was once one of the IndieWIRE blogs). DIY Filmmaker has promoted multi-ethnic filmmaking, new talent, and self-sufficiency as a useful practice for indie filmmakers. Ekanayake promotes his film work using the label NYC FANTASTIC Sujewa Film Art.
Photo of self (at Atlantic Ave subway station). Courtesy Sujewa Ekanayake.
Photo of self (at Atlantic Ave subway station). Courtesy Sujewa Ekanayake.
K.O. So, I’d love to dive into the world of micro-budget movies with you! As you’ve said, there’s a lot out there about how to make it and get things done, but let’s start with your journey to this place. How did you find your way to making your first movie? 
S.E. In the last years of high school I decided that making movies would be an interesting challenge. Influenced by the story of Spike Lee, also the Rick Schmidt book, Feature Filmmaking At Used-Car Prices. I went to film school briefly at Columbia College Chicago - made a short 15 min film there - and several years later, in 1999, I completed my first feature, Wild Diner, which was screened in the DC area, including a one week run at a movie theater.
K.O. Anything special or remarkable about this experience that, looking back, set you on this path to making micro-budget films? 
S.E. The independently doable aspect of “no budget”/ultra-low budget/micro-budget filmmaking was very appealing to me from the start. I discovered the DC punk rock scene in the early 90s - they did DIY music, tours, supported by day jobs, put out their own records - that became a good model for how I try to make and release movies.
K.O. I love the DC punk inspo. Can you elaborate more on how that inspired your micro-budget filmmaking?
S.E. The DC indie/punk musicians made and released their own music. And some filmmakers have done that also in the past - Jon Moritsugu is an example, also Rick Schmidt - so I decided that was the best way for me to go with my film/art work.
K.O. So, what’s key for you in DIY filmmaking? 
S.E. Like on any film project, the key thing is to get a good movie made. Something that works for you as an artist and works for an audience also.
K.O. How do you connect with your audience? 
S.E. Generally speaking, filmmakers can connect to audiences using film festivals, other screenings, advertising, press coverage, social media. I have used all of those avenues.
K.O. Let’s unpack financing. How do you find funding and what have you evolved to understand about doing this consistently? 
S.E. My current project, The Secret Society For Slow Romance, is a self-financed micro-budget movie - distantly inspired by My Dinner with Andre, and Before Sunset.
Movies take 1-3 years or more to make. So, you can spread the expenses out over time. Money can come in through donations, grants, project partners who put in money, your own money from work and other projects.
Image copyright 2021 Sujewa Ekanayake
Image copyright 2021 Sujewa Ekanayake
K.O. So it’s really more about putting together a budget over time for not just one film, but for the indie filmmaking lifestyle? You know that films will cost X per film, so like anything else – taking a vacation, socializing with friends, splurging on fashion – you just have to be savvy about if, when, and how to spend your income and recognize that unlike some of those other “luxury” expenses we may have in our budgets, the artist’s expenses can be funded through these other means.
S.E. Yes, like any kind of a long term arts org, you have to plan months and years ahead, fundraise, save money, or find new sources of money for film projects, as needed.
You can make and release a DIY indie feature for under $20K. Making and releasing the movie may take 3 years. If you spread the cost of that movie over 3 years that’s about $20 a day. So you can plan accordingly. Breaking down costs over time makes DIY film projects possible. You can raise that $20K over 3 years or cover the cost of $20/day using various means - grants, donations, money from other work, money from project partners, merch sales, VOD and Blu-ray pre-sales to fans, etc.
K.O. Looking at investing in your own filmmaking, taking the perspective that you would if you were running an arts org is great advice. So smart. What are some of the most reliable or consistent methods of funding that you’ve been able to generate beyond your own investments? 
S.E. Money from project partners, donations work well for my DIY micro-budget film projects. But those being micro-budget projects, money over a long period of time – 1 - 3 years or more – is not a big obstacle. And I need to apply to film grants. I make art, and film/arts grants are there to support such work.
K.O. With your projects, are you in a chicken-egg situation between funding and cast/crew? Or do you work with the same folks every time and it’s just about finding the money to get the party started? How do you find and build your dream team?
S.E. My recent movie, Slow Romance, had to be shot with a minimal crew due to COVID. We filmed in fall 2020, before they had a vaccine. So I directed, operated the camera, and recorded sound - a crew of 1 - also while acting in the movie. For most of the movie (except one shooting day that had an assistant camera person) it was a cast and crew of 2 people.
I live in NYC, and lived in the DC area prior to that– both are areas that have a lot of cast and crew talent – it is relatively easy to find cast and crew through ads, etc.
K.O. Do you tend to work with the same people from project to project, or not necessarily? What’s most challenging for you about the talent/crew process at the micro-level? Is there a level of trust or passion for the project that comes in to play for folks working in the micro-space because they have to be doing it for something more fulfilling than a paycheck? 
S.E. Most people who work in indie film are doing it because they love it, and also to gain more experience, or to practice the art of making movies. I have been very lucky with finding good cast and crew members. Yes, you should carefully interview people and see if you can work with them and/or if they are the best for the project. And replace people if need be. The goal is to work with good people and create a good final work of art/movie/product for the audience.
Filmmaker Sujewa Ekanyake with lead actor from Secret Society for Slow Romance, Alia Lorae. Copyright 2021 Sujewa Ekanayake.
Filmmaker Sujewa Ekanyake with lead actor from Secret Society for Slow Romance, Alia Lorae. Copyright 2021 Sujewa Ekanayake.
K.O. Distribution and finding audiences can be challenging. How do you navigate distribution? 
S.E. Typically, I self distribute. In the past I’ve mostly focused on screenings - including theatrical runs. My previous movie, Werewolf Ninja Philosopher, was selected for a 1-week run at Facets in Chicago. I’ve shown my movies many times at theatrical or other screenings over the years. Also, some are available to rent through Vimeo.  For the new movie, I plan on playing a lot of film festivals, followed by theatrical runs in several cities, and then various home video options - including Blu-ray, VOD - Vimeo, Amazon - and whatever other options that may be available in 2022.
K.O. So, is the distribution and release about getting the investment back, or more about getting the film out there and appreciated, or hopefully both? What’s a realistic expectation for filmmakers to manage with a micro feature?
S.E. Most indie films do not make a profit. And it is possible that most Hollywood films do not either. So, as an artist/indie filmmaker, the distribution goal is to show the movie well - at festivals, at art house theaters, through VOD - find the right audience for a given project, and see if money can be made back over time. Also, it depends on the project and the filmmaker. Different distribution goals are realistic for different filmmakers and projects. A David Lynch movie is a different kind of a product than an art film from an unknown filmmaker - so you have to see which methods work best for a given film. Distribution is a vast area of knowledge and activity. Filmmakers should get deeply into it - figure out what works best for each one of their projects. I’ll have more on how things worked out for my new movie at end of 2022 or end of 2023. Also, while you are making the movie, filmmakers should pay themselves (and all others working on the project - even if it takes a long time to fully do so) from the money raised for the project. I think that’s a good way to go.
K.O. What advice do you have for filmmakers trying to get their work out there and appreciated by their intended audience? 
S.E. Indie film is art. Become an interesting artist. It will take time. Be open to collaborating with others for distribution. Maintaining a web presence, building a mailing list, keeping in touch with your fans, other filmmakers would be good ways to go. We live in a great time period with a lot of useful web content on how to develop yourself as a filmmaker - constantly study, try things out, see what combination works for you.
K.O. Feels like we’re at a moment in time when we have the power to redesign how our industry operates and expands post-pandemic. What changes would you like to see in the film industry?
S.E. As a filmmaker/artist who operates on a very small scale, using small crews and casts has been a very good experience for me. There is no one way to make or distribute a film. Pandemic or not, individual filmmakers should try things out and see what works best for them. In the larger industry more diversity would be good - as, due to various historical factors, minority and female filmmakers have been largely left out of the film industry for decades.
Overall, the goal as an artist should be to live life well and make art. DIY micro-budget filmmaking and self-distribution is one of the ways that goal can be accomplished - using essentially video art that looks like movies, plays like movies/cinema - often using the language of cinema. But, thanks to new tech, it is also a lot like making a YouTube video - very accessible now - which is a very good thing. Happiness is not guaranteed to come from Hollywood success. But it can come from being able to make art - in this case, films - in a comfortable way. Really, happiness should be sought on its own. But having an accessible thing like indie filmmaking/video art making in your life can help a lot. And for anyone interested in DIY indie/micro-budget filmmaking there are a lot of sources to explore. Indie filmmakers have been doing this forever. Going back to Warhol and earlier, also Jonas Mekas, and many, many others - mostly in NYC. Also recently in Chicago - Joe Swanberg. Anyway, read up on it, get deeply into it, it is a fun, exciting, accessible way to make work/movies.
You can read more about NYC Filmmaker Sujewa Ekanayake and follow his work at his official website, https://www.sujewa.com/,https://www.slowromancemovie.com/, the website for his new movie The Secret Society For Slow Romance, and the DIY Filmmaker blog: http://diyfilmmaker.blogspot.com/.
Additionally, here’s another great resource to learn about micro-budget filmmaking:
No Budget Filmmaking with Mark Stolaroff - Filmtrepreneur®
Writers' Wisdom
Don’t Get Sucked Into Comparing Yourself To Others
I love this thread. So many helpful reminders for anyone thinking about what’s next for that spec, the pilot or short story they’re writing, the feature or novel they’re outlining… don’t get sucked into comparing yourself to others. Easier said than done, though.
David H. Steinberg
It’s very Hollywood to feel like everyone but you is selling, staffing, and succeeding, but this is a function of the availability bias. It just seems like everyone else is doing well because they only announce deals, not passes. Trust me, it’s mostly failure at every level. 🦨
David H. Steinberg
This really struck a nerve and I can understand why so many people are feeling down on themselves. If you want a longer discussion of what I think happens to writers getting caught up in the hype of others’ success, here are my thoughts…
David H. Steinberg
This industry is subjective, it’s not a math test, and you can’t say a script that sold for $125,000 is 25% better than one that got $100,000. Talent for sure plays a huge role, obviously, but so does luck!
David H. Steinberg
People who get far in this business who think it’s all based on talent fall very hard emotionally when their career takes a dip.
David H. Steinberg
You might sell a project because you walk into a room right after the boss said find more talking animal movies and guess what, that’s what you’re pitching! And you might finish a script only to find someone else sold something similar the very next day. The luck goes both ways.
David H. Steinberg
Even writers at the top of their game sell only a fraction of their projects. And only a fraction of those get made! What’s ironic about this is that we’re literally in the business of make believe but for some reason we take publicity at face value!
David H. Steinberg
Growing up I loved reading the questions in Parade Magazine. There was no internet so people would ask, “Settle a bet, Vic Tayback is my favorite actor but I say he’s from Syria and my husband says he’s from Iran. Who’s right? There’s a steak dinner riding on this!”
David H. Steinberg
Parade would answer (Syrian but born in Brooklyn) and then throw in, “And good news, Vic is starring in his own one-man show starting next week!” People only seem to ask questions about actors who had something going on. And it was almost always something coming up really soon!
David H. Steinberg
But that’s how it works! Daily Variety didn’t have a crack team of investigative reporters staking out Paramount asking, “What’s the word on the street?” Script sales, series orders, casting decisions… it all comes from the studio or network or agent or publicist.
David H. Steinberg
I’ve literally written articles for THR announcing a sale and had my agent send it over. They don’t even edit it. They just print it.
David H. Steinberg
The moral of that story is everyone is hustling. There is nothing wrong with promotion, even self-promotion, and there’s nothing wrong with taking a victory lap when something good happens. Just be aware of what it is.
David H. Steinberg
But back to luck. I think we blame ourselves when good things happen to other people and bad things (or nothing) happens to us because luck offends our sense of justice. Well, not just that. It’s because success in entertainment is a mysterious combination of luck and talent.
David H. Steinberg
If it was all (or mostly) talent, like sports, you might be jealous, but you can’t really complain about some allstar making 9-figures. And oddly, if it was all luck, like the Powerball, you might also be jealous but you can’t really *complain* about someone winning the lottery!
David H. Steinberg
But for us, it’s some talent and some luck. So when you succeed, you overestimate how much talent was involved and when you fail you think it’s bad luck. (This is a cognitive bias that is difficult to overcome.)
David H. Steinberg
Conversely, other people’s success is luck and other people’s failure—oh, wait, that doesn’t exist because that data is never reported.
David H. Steinberg
So if you think you’re talented—and by the way, you are! If you have any doubts about that, ask yourself if someone who hasn’t made it as far as you would kill to be in your shoes!
David H. Steinberg
Even a struggling writer looking for a big break is so far ahead of the dreamers who haven’t taken any steps at all!—you see reports of everyone making deals, selling shows, making their dreams come true while you keep getting passes. You think, I’m just as talented as them!
David H. Steinberg
Aha! That’s the crux of the problem right there! Maybe you *are* just as talented. So they’re getting luckier than you and that’s not fair because luck is supposed to be evenly distributed in the universe or else that’s a cosmic injustice!
David H. Steinberg
(Of course, if you think the successful person *is* more talented, then that should theoretically inspire you do try harder because you can always get better at what you do.)
David H. Steinberg
But I think the key to overcoming this feeling of getting down on yourself is to acknowledge that luck *is* fairly distributed in the universe and that you’re just not seeing all the data.
David H. Steinberg
You can only control what you can control but the good news is there are some things you can do to make more of that luck go your way.
David H. Steinberg
First, write better. Talent is not irrelevant and better scripts, better pitching skills, better inter-personal skills in a room will all help your “batting average.” Read more scripts, read pitch documents, hell, take a Coursera on how to make friends and influence people.
David H. Steinberg
These are all skills everyone at every level can work on and improve!
David H. Steinberg
Two, write more. We’re in a low% business so more at bats means more success. I get that not everyone can write 12 hours a day but ABC, Always Be Creating. Write one thing, think about another. Have a dozen ideas ready to pitch because only one of them will sell! If you’re lucky!
David H. Steinberg
Three, be kind to others. If I need to explain why you may be a psychopath. (Psychopaths, being kind to others can help you down the road—you never know who might be hiring you for your next job!)
David H. Steinberg
And four, be kind to yourself. So much of this business is out of your control that the kindest thing you can do is to not blame yourself when things don’t go your way.
David H. Steinberg
Vent for sure, build a support group of trusted people, but at the end of the day, you have to believe that good luck graces everyone equally and your turn will come.🦄
David H. Steinberg
Oh, and if you do succeed, pay it forward. Hire underrepresented groups, fight for justice, speak out for positive change. #blacklivesmatter
A healthy reminder or stating the obvious … The only journey you’re on is your own, and no one else is uniquely dealing with the various challenges you have in your life with the specific strengths and vulnerabilities that you have. Only you can set your own priorities, and determine what you’re willing to sacrifice, how much [of anything, really] you can afford to make your creative life what you want it to be.
But that’s really hard to internalize for a lot of us. So, how do we tackle this and not only find this confidence to stop comparing ourselves to others, but also practice and stick to it?
First, I think it’s really helpful to explore what worked for others as long as we recognize that just because it happened for That Person that way, doesn’t mean it’ll happen that same way for you. Still, I think it’s worth learning about the journeys of others because the lessons learned and shared might yield strategies that do work for you (as well? … and, differently…), about the types of unique experiences others have, and we start to find patterns in the shared experiences, and move towards some universal perceptions of what works / what doesn’t work.
Second, with that shared wisdom in mind, it’s just as important IMO to be radically honest with yourself about what actually brings you joy and fulfillment. Do you love the idea of something, but once you’re there, you don’t love actually doing it, and then it’s like you already invested so much (time-energy-resources)… that you might as well just stick with it? Maybe you resent the notion of quitting, or giving up, or you’re a fixer, or…? Look, nothing’s fun all the time (although damned if I don’t try to make it so), and every experience worth having requires work and resources that most do not disclose. That’s a huge reason why I’m motivated to write this newsletter, and am radically honest in my teaching and sharing with my students.
Once you get to the place where you’re truly in tune with what brings you joy, fulfillment, and makes you happy on your terms – it doesn’t matter how prestigious it is, whether what you’re doing is the envy of others, or any of that crap. All that matters is you being your authentic self, making art, and finding the self-acceptance that this is true for you. The beauty part is, getting to that place is usually the key to finding your audience and the acceptance of others – which only matters in the sense that you’re finding your people, the appreciators of your art, and with that, I hope, a personal sense of inclusion and belonging.
What I'm Loving: Generational Perspectives
Writing Generational Perspectives with 'Hacks' Creator and Showrunner Jen Statsky - Script Magazine
Conversation with Julie Reece Deaver
Resilience in Publishing Fiction
“Julie Reece Deaver’s classic novel of loss and gradual acceptance has touched the hearts of readers for more than twenty years.”
–Harper Teen Books
Watching Hacks was especially interesting to me because of the many intergenerational relationships I have with fellow writers (older and younger) who have been mentors and mentees to me, colleagues and collaborators, and friends. As a professor and teaching artist, my students have ranged in age from pre-school to grandparents, and my colleagues span multiple generations, too. I love it when a work of fiction - TV, movies, novels, short stories - can reveal surprising and fascinating truths through intergenerational storytelling.
The new Netflix show The Chair also explores some interesting themes across generations, and one of those is the notion that writing is a career that you don’t ever really age out of… and one that many argue just gets better as we grow as artists and continue to master our crafts while gaining life experience, wisdom, and new perspectives.
Julie Reece Deaver’s book, Say Goodnight Gracie, is a timeless classic and one of the books that made me want to open hearts and become a writer myself when I first read it as a kid. After I graduated film school, I had the incredible pleasure of connecting with Julie as a fan, and then as a producer, as we explored ways to work together as storytellers. I am so grateful that she was excited to share our conversation about resilience in publishing fiction with ChiTown Screenwriting.
Author Julie Reece Deaver
Author Julie Reece Deaver
Meet Julie: I was born and raised in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer and I’ve written all my life. I grew up in a very creative family. My mother was a homemaker and artist, and my father was an advertising writer. My brother Jeffery Deaver is also an author and writes the popular Lincoln Rhyme series of novels, as well as other thrillers. 
As a young adult, I studied at Chicago’s Second City. I learned so much about creating characters and writing dialogue there. I didn’t know it at the time, but the training I got as Second City was actually teaching me things that would help me tremendously later on when I started writing novels.
My love of comedy took me to Hollywood in the 70s. I wanted to write for The Mary Tyler Moore Show (so did every other TV writer). I wrote a spec script for the show and called the story editor (she was in the phone book) and she agreed to meet with me! It really was just like in the movies. Treva Silverman, the story editor of MTM, liked the script. The Moore show was booked with writers, but my spec script led to my being hired for another sitcom, Adam’s Rib, a show based on the old Tracy-Hepburn movie of the same name. The show was canceled halfway through the first season, so my episode never aired. It was my first harsh lesson about Hollywood. It’s such a tough business and I wasn’t very successful at it. I was really better suited for writing novels, where I could take my time and develop my own original characters. The young adult genre was new, and I became fascinated with it. 
Because of my training at Second City, and my work in TV, my books, even though they’re technically dramatic, are crammed with a lot of comedic dialogue. I always write in the first person, which is a bit like being an actor in a play.
It took a while to get my first novel published, and to make a living, I worked as a teacher’s aide in Special Education and also worked as a freelance artist for The New Yorker Magazine as well as other periodicals.
My first novel, Say Goodnight, Gracie, is used in grief counseling for teens. As a writer, my only goal is to entertain, but it’s wonderful to hear that the book has helped young readers cope with loss in their lives. These days, I’m on my second generation of readers. One of the young teens who read Say Goodnight, Gracie when it was first published sent me a picture of her daughter reading it. That is pretty cool, isn’t it?
Jacket art for Say Goodnight, Gracie by Michael J Deas via JulieReeceDeaver.com
Jacket art for Say Goodnight, Gracie by Michael J Deas via JulieReeceDeaver.com
K.O. So cool! Say Goodnight, Gracie was your first published project, and your first young adult novel. How did you get it out there? 
J.R.D. The book was originally a short story that Seventeen Magazine rejected (this was back in ancient times when almost every magazine published fiction.) Seventeen came close to accepting the story, but ended up rejecting it. At the time, I had been working as a freelance artist, so on a whim, I sent my short story along with my art portfolio to publisher Harper & Row. An editor read the story and sent me a letter, encouraging me to expand the story into a novel, which I did. Harper & Row (now HarperCollins) bought Say Goodnight, Gracie and it recently celebrated its thirtieth year in print. I often think of what a short life the original story would have had if Seventeen had accepted it for publication. It’s a good example, I think, of how an initial rejection can eventually turn into something wonderful.
K.O. I love the story of how Say Goodnight, Gracie got published. How did you continue to write and publish novels? What do you think has been most key to sustaining your writing as a successful career?
J.R.D. I really learned a lot from my brother Jeff. (He’s the author of more than 40 best selling novels and he’s published in 150 countries). He looks at writing as he would any other job. He shows up and goes to work every day, whether he is inspired to do so or not. I’ve tried to adopt that work ethic. I also treating writing as I would any other job. I show up every day. I don’t wait for inspiration. Inspiration (if it comes at all) comes after hours of writing, but not before. Most of the time I succeed, but not always! Writing is a lot of work, but it’s also great fun.
K.O. I think the creative process of writing is fascinating, and it’s so helpful to demystify for other writers honestly how we get it done. I once read that Hemingway only wrote for 4-5 hours a day and that changed my life– Until that point, I thought I had to write till I dropped, every day. What are your writing hours? Have you learned anything about how much time in a day is your creative limit? 
J.R.D. I try to work about eight hours a day, but a lot of those hours are spent rewriting what I’ve already written. Rather than try to measure up to another writer’s schedule, I’d just suggest writers try to get something down on paper every day, even if they only have time to write a paragraph or two. It’s hard to write when you’ve got an outside job and family responsibilities, yet this is how most writers start their careers. If you’re just fed up with writing for the day, there’s no point in trying to force yourself to stay at the keyboard. If you get really, really stuck, put your book or screenplay aside for a few days, then come back to it. You’ll have a whole new perspective on it.
K.O. What do you do when you get stuck? How do you get unstuck? 
J.R.D. Arrrgh–I HATE getting stuck. This always happens to me when I reach the middle of the story. Jumping ahead and working on another part of the book usually helps. I often write the ending of the book around the same time that I write the beginning. It gives me a target to aim for. Although I basically know where the story is going, there are a lot of surprises for me along the way. Sometimes I think my characters have minds of their own and are going to do what they want to do.
K.O. Do you have any tips for reaching out to editors, or navigating publisher websites? Let’s start with the cautionary tales.
J.R.D. There are some unscrupulous agents/editors out there. Be wary of someone who asks for money or wants you to invest in the publication of your own book. It should never cost a writer anything to have a book published.
K.O. Right. Legit publishers, large or small presses, cover those costs. Although, there are vanity presses or publishers you can use for personal projects to just pay to create physical copies of something. And then self-publishing requires the author to assume the costs from start to finish, editing through distro and marketing. Have you ever explored self-publishing?
J.R.D. I don’t recommend self-publishing. It’s difficult for a reader to know a book exists unless there’s a lot of advertising for it. I did ignore my own advice once when my novel Chicago Blues was orphaned after my editors left. Because the book was well-reviewed and had a movie option, I self-published it when the rights reverted to me. Last month, I received a royalty of 83 cents from Japan! Yay, me!
K.O. Yeah, it’s a lot of additional work for writers to be savvy to marketing, and I know many hire book publicists for this reason… it’s just really tough for a book to find its audience without marketing, whether from the publisher or an author-hired entity. So, how do you get the right person’s attention at the right time, especially if you’re just starting out?
J.R.D. When I was starting out, I’d always check the acknowledgments of my favorite authors’ books because a lot of time, the authors would mention their editors or agents. By doing a little research, I was able to find out whether or not the editors were still at the publishing houses. It’s always better if you can send a query letter to a specific name.
The Literary Marketplace is a reference book and website with a lot of good information on editors and agents. When you find the name of someone you think might be a good match for your book, write a query letter, briefly describing your novel and asking if you can send in a few chapters. There are always rejections, but eventually, there’s a “Yes, we’d like to read your chapters.” You just really have to be persistent. 
You can also check out which publishers are publishing books similar to yours, then get to work doing a bit of research. Publishers’ websites usually have information on how to submit work to them. Most publishers will ask for a few sample chapters and a short query e-mail, describing the book. Don’t be discouraged if your work is rejected. All writers–even published ones–have work rejected all the time. A manuscript I recently finished was (I thought) one of my strongest novels. Some editors liked it, but not enough to publish it. I’ll resubmit it after some time has passed. Fiction is like fashion and what wasn’t popular last year may be hot next year!
Read more about Julie Reece Deaver at her website: https://www.juliereecedeaver.com/.
About ChiTown Screenwriting
Hey, everyone! Thanks for reading!
ChiTown Screenwriting began as a weekly newsletter inspired by spontaneously starting the #chitownscreenwriting hashtag. Since April 2021, we’ve grown to embrace a global readership, and I’m eager to continue exploring ways that I can use this platform as a means of building community, and connecting creatives to collaborative opportunities.
Frankly, I find some of the access to opportunity and lack thereof exhausting, and it’s a key question that arises in all of the business of screenwriting, comedy, producing etc classes that I teach – so I’m eagerly exploring and sharing wisdom from throughout my network to support writers and creatives finding new and additional ways to get out there, get published, and produced.
While I will be publishing the newsletter spontaneously instead of weekly now, ChiTown Screenwriting remains the same humble platform to foster a sense of community through candidly shared wisdom and experience, amplifying artists and projects, and curating a culturally relevant discourse around removing barriers to access for a democratization of the wealth of resources and opportunities for creatives to connect and collaborate.
Call For Submissions
As ChiTown Screenwriting continues, I hope to use this platform to more intentionally connect collaborators to each other. If you’re looking for an audience for your art, seeking authentic creative partnership, or acceptance from a community of creatives where you feel you can inclusively belong, drop me a line and hopefully I can do some matchmaking virtually until we’re ready to launch in-person meet ups.
Specifically, I’m looking to uplift features, pilots, short stories, plays, or novels in need of producers who may want to acquire the rights, or help develop projects further.
Broadly, if you’re interested in doing a Conversation with me, spotlighting an upcoming project, writing a guest essay, or a creative piece inspired by the themes of art, authenticity, and appreciation, let me know!
Reply to this newsletter or DM me @uknowkatobrien on twitter.
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Kat O'Brien
Kat O'Brien @uknowKatOBrien

ChiTown Screenwriting is a movement, a mindset, and a publication that I write and edit. We're building community by connecting creative collaborators to opportunities.

Each issue features advice on writing and creating, tips & tricks, wit & wisdom, workshops & events, and spotlights on artists you should know. Within those formats, we're sharing and unpacking strategies to navigate the business, as well as writing prompts and lessons in the art and craft of screenwriting to navigate professional development in the creative process.

As a screenwriter, producer, and changemaker with over 20 years experience in the film industry based in Los Angeles, and connected around the world, I'm here to share my own experiences as well as curated content in the form of wisdom and resources through conversations with my creative partners and collaborators, as well as special guest contributors from the ChiTown Screenwriting Community, and other inspirations throughout the twitterverse. I'm also a professor, wife, and mom and am always discovering new ways to find balance and sustain my creative goals and am excited to share that with you! 

Whether you're in Chicago or just love the ChiTown collaborator mindset (good peeps, generous support!), join us to connect to a community of creatives seizing opportunities to sustain their dreams, and support their professional/personal work/life goals. 

ChiTown Screenwriting is a local community that will welcome you when you visit to work or play in the City of Big Shoulders, with international reach, breadth, and depth of perspective. 

Join us to support fellow writers and creatives at all stages of their professional career, and to cultivate a critical discourse around the cultural relevance and future of independent storytelling.

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