ChiTownScreenwriting with Kat O'Brien - Issue #4 | Try Something New For You



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Welcome back to ChiTown Screenwriting with Kat O'Brien!
In this week’s issue,
  • Writing Advice: Explore New Mediums
  • Tips and Tricks: Putting Your Heart on the Page
  • Wisdom: The “Creative Cauldron”
  • Workshops: Subverting Stereotypes, Learning Haiku
  • Can’t Miss Poetry Reading & Poets You Should Know

A Letter From Kat
As many of you may know, April was National Poetry Month, and May is Asian/Pacific Heritage Month. Personally, I’m a fan of celebrating diverse arts and cultures year round, not just during their designated months– but I’m also a fan of the effort to broaden visibility and inclusiveness for marginalized and underrepresented artists and cultures.
This week’s newsletter dives more deeply into that mindful celebration. I hope this helps you reflect on how we– as content creators and content consumers– can expand our attentive bandwidth to intentionally seeking out and elevating perspectives within and beyond our own artist communities and identities, and the cultures that thrive at that intersection of art+identity.
On Writing and Creating: Explore New Mediums
Whenever I get stuck screenwriting, I find myself thinking about if and how my idea(s) might be better suited for another creative medium. I’m also not someone who can really just sit down and focus on one project at a time. I like having a few things to toggle between, based on my mood, energy, and how much time I have to write in a given moment.
In my ideation process, I’m always brainstorming ideas for whatever – and then I just start categorizing them by medium, format, and distribution platform. Sometimes I just start writing one – which helps me feel productive and more capable of refocusing on the project at hand. Sometimes, it takes the pressure off of whatever I’m writing and unleashes my creativity in another direction that might be more immediately gratifying or ultimately fulfilling. And sometimes, it reveals to me that the story I’ve been trying to tell, or the feeling/mood/idea I’m exploring is really better suited for something else and that ah-ha moment also feels like a big win.
Over the years, especially in my consulting work, and in coaching MFA producers to develop their slates, I’ve found myself exploring how I would define the right concept - character journey - mood/vibe/idea - for the right format or medium. On screen, it’s pretty straightforward. Stories that cannot be contained to a single arc, that go deeper into worlds and characters tend to better suited for serial content. A narrative short film successfully explores a character’s realization; a narrative feature successfully explores more of a transformation. A pilot, or an episode of television might not see a character change – we expect to see that transformation or shift take place over the course of a season, or the series. Unless you’re Seinfeld. Experimental, documentary, and docu-fiction formats are great for working out those more abstract ideas. And I love imagining ways to shake things up when it comes to form and content, fiction and non-fiction and the gray area in between.
But early in the creative process, when you’re not yet sure what shape your idea is going to take, I find it really helpful to be open to exploring multiple mediums, and formats within those mediums, for writing and producing or publishing work. For just – getting stuff out there.
More broadly, as freelance writers, I feel like we need to be agile in pivoting to adapt to different types of writing and editing. Many of us write and do something else… edit, produce, direct, perform. Over the course of my writing career, I’ve written lifestyle and art+culture blogs, academic study guides, and articles as a form of advocacy and activism. I’ve edited books in other languages. And while I haven’t had any of my poetry or creative fiction published yet, publishing in other mediums is something I’m currently exploring, learning more about, and trying to figure out how to make happen – challenging myself to grow and evolve as a writer.
When it comes to putting ourselves out there, we also need to be flexible in pursuing different platforms to publish and produce our work. In addition to exploring different types of writing, exploring different digital platforms to fast-pub and experimenting with different methods of production (podcasts, video) can be a creatively exhilarating way to execute our vision, engage our audience, and evolve our voice as artists.
What I think can be really daunting for up-and-comers and more established professionals alike is navigating a new space– this fear of the unknown I think is more concretely defined by fearing that we don’t know what we don’t know… and so then it becomes really easy to not even try.
I’ve had so many clients and colleagues (and students!) say that they “only write for TV” so aren’t sure how to even structure a feature, or they only write features so they don’t know how to structure a TV script. One of the most brilliant gifts my diverse colleagues have offered me in collaborating between three different film schools is an insight into how much I actually do know about other mediums, and that gave me the courage to lean in to just trying something new. They’ve inspired me to take workshops, go to events, read different writers– to continue to explore new disciplines by connecting to my friends in other creative fields.
This is how we expand and embrace a more sustainable creative community, #chitownscreenwriting.
In this issue, I’ve curated some tips, tricks, recommended workshops and events to get you excited about hopefully trying something new for you.
On My Feed: Tips & Tricks
So, all of these tips hold true for any storytelling medium, not just screenwriting. Recognizing how our skillset applies to other mediums is my trick to feeling confident enough and courageous enough to try my hand at writing poetry, a book on ideation (coming soon!), and my first novel. Check out this weekly roundup of tips for putting your heart on the page.
Kat O'Brien
#screenwriters, #writers, remember the best/worst note you ever got? Tackling notes can be daunting. Esp when we're getting contradictory feedback from different collaborators. Here's how I navigate it. Qs? AMA #TuesdayTip
Kat O'Brien
#Screenwriters, my #1 hit or miss element of a script? Dialogue. Real people saying real things the way we really say them resonates on the page. Relying on phonetic spelling & cliches? Hard pass. What's your secret to great dialogue?

#Wednesday #writers #Wisdom
Writers' Wisdom: What I've Been Loving
Where do other writers find their inspiration? How do they dig into writing what they know? And then how do they apply it to their craft?
I’m loving hearing about this in Steppenwolf’s Half Hour podcast, recommended by my friend @ArianMoayed who appeared in Rajiv Joseph’s Guards at the Taj at the Steppenwolf. Rajiv Joseph is an acclaimed playwright and screenwriter. More fun connections unpacked in the podcast. Give it a listen! So inspiring.
Steppenwolf Theatre
It's that time again and we're here with another episode of our podcast, Half Hour!

Caroline Neff talks to Rajiv Joseph about joining the peace corps, working with Robin Williams on his Broadway play and more! 🎧 >
S1 Ep3 - Rajiv Joseph: "Creative Cauldron" - Podcast Episode Links - Plink
On My Calendar: Writing Workshops
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 and collaborators. Thanks to my creative partner Tamika J. Spaulding @tjmadeafunny and my friend Toyoda Sensei of the Japanese Culture Center for the curated recs (respectively) below!
Writers Guild Foundation
Thursday, 5/6 @ 4pm-5:30pm PT
The JCC is pleased to host an Online Haiku Workshop taught by Sensei Seiyo, Buddhist lay minister and resident Haiku Master.
The upcoming haiku class will focus on bringing your “snapshots” alive - those moments that happen every day that go unnoticed due to the demands of life. Join us on this Path to awaken and return to the beginner’s mind where everything is fresh, new, and possible.
Japanese Culture Center Chicago
Sunday 5/9 @ 11am - 12:30pm CT
On My Calendar: Poetry Reading
Join the Cornell College Center for the Literary Arts for a reading featuring Los Angeles-based artist and writer Kate Durbin and Puerto Rican poet and translator Raquel Salas Rivera.
Advance Registration required: go here.
The event is hosted by Dr. Becca Klaver, poet and Director of the Center for the Literary Arts at Cornell College. Cornell has just launched a low residency MFA program.
Writers' Spotlight: Someone You Should Know
KATE DURBIN is a Los Angeles-based artist and writer. Her books include Hoarders (Wave Books, forthcoming 2021, was just reviewed in The Atlantic), E! Entertainment, The Ravenous Audience, and ABRA. ABRA is also a free, interactive iOS app that is “a living text,” which won the 2017 international Turn On Literature Prize for electronic literature. The project was partly funded by an NEA grant from the Center for Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College Chicago. Her novella Kim’s Fairytale Wedding was translated to Spanish and published in Mexico/Spain. In 2015, and again in 2020, she was the Arts Queensland Poet-in-Residence in Brisbane, Australia.
Kate makes films, new media work, and does performance art in public spaces and online. She shows her work nationally and internationally. Her work includes Hello Selfie, which she performed for the Pulse Art Fair in Miami with Transfer Gallery, in Union Square with Transfer Gallery, in Los Angeles with Perform Chinatown, and with Arts Queensland in Australia. Other recent work includes Unfriend Me Now!, about Facebook and the 2016 US Presidential election, screened with Peer to Space in Berlin and shown at the Spring Break Art Fair and Femmebit Art Festival in Los Angeles; and The Supreme Gentleman, about Isla Vista shooter Elliot Rodger, featured on Art 21’s website and performed for the Yes All Women Art Benefit and Auction in Los Angeles.
RAQUEL SALAS RIVERA (Mayagüez, 1985) Poeta, traductor y editor. Sus reconocimientos incluyen el nombramiento como Poeta Laureado de la ciudad de Filadelfia y el Premio Nuevas Voces del Festival de la Palabra de Puerto Rico. Cuenta con la publicación de cinco poemarios. Su tercer libro, lo terciario/the tertiary, ganó el Premio Literario Lambda a una obra de poesía transgénero y también fue semifinalista para el Premio Nacional del Libro del 2018 (EEUU). Su cuarto poemario, while they sleep (under the bed is another country), fue semifinalista para el Pen America Open Book Award del 2020 y finalista para el CLMP Firecracker Award del 2020. Su quinto poemario, x/ex/exis, ganó el Premio Ambroggio. antes que isla es volcán/before island is volcano, su sexto libro, es una apuesta imaginativa por un futuro decolonial para Puerto Rico y será publicado por Beacon Press en el 2022. Coeditó dos antologías. Puerto Rico en mi corazón es una antología basada en una colección de volantes de poetas puertorriqueños contemporáneos. La piel del arrecife es la primera antología de poesía trans puertorriqueña. En el 2021, gracias a una beca de traducción del NEA, estará traduciendo la poesía de su abuelo, Sotero Rivera Avilés. Obtuvo un Doctorado en Literatura Comparada y Teoría Literaria de la Universidad de Pensilvania y escribe y enseña en Puerto Rico.
RAQUEL SALAS RIVERA (Mayagüez, 1985) is a Puerto Rican poet, translator, and editor. His honors include being named the 2018-19 Poet Laureate of Philadelphia and receiving the New Voices Award from Puerto Rico’s Festival de la Palabra. He is the author of five full-length poetry books. His third book, lo terciario/ the tertiary won the Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Poetry and was longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award. His fourth book, while they sleep (under the bed is another country), was longlisted for the 2020 Pen America Open Book Award and was a finalist for CLMP’s 2020 Firecracker Award. His fifth book, x/ex/exis won the inaugural Ambroggio Prize. antes que isla es volcán/before island is volcano, his sixth book, is an imaginative leap into Puerto Rico’s decolonial future and is forthcoming from Beacon Press in 2022. He has co-edited two anthologies. Puerto Rico en mi corazón is a bilingual anthology based on a special collection of handmade letterpress broadsides by contemporary Puerto Rican poets. La piel del arrecife is the first anthology of Puerto Rican trans poetry. Thanks to a 2021 NEA Translation Fellowship, he will be translating the poetry of his grandfather, Sotero Rivera Avilés. He holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the University of Pennsylvania and writes and teaches in Puerto Rico. Photo Credit: Tamara Maz
BECCA KLAVER  is the author of three books of poetry—LA Liminal (Kore Press, 2010), Empire Wasted (Bloof Books, 2016), and Ready for the World(Black Lawrence Press, 2020)—as well as several chapbooks. Her poems, which explore place, gender, American culture, and virtual and physical realities, have appeared in The American Poetry ReviewFencejubilat, Gramma Weekly, The &NOW Awards 3: The Best Innovative Writingand on Verse Daily and the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day series.
Born and raised in Milwaukee, WI, Becca attended the University of Southern California (BA), Columbia College Chicago (MFA), and Rutgers University (PhD). Her dissertation, “Include Everything: Contemporary American Poetry and the Feminist Everyday,” investigates how women poets across post-1945 U.S. avant-garde movements—Diane di Prima, Sonia Sanchez, Lyn Hejinian, Bernadette Mayer, and Alice Notley—invented new forms and processes that responded to the gendered conditions of everyday life.
As an editor, she cofounded the feminist poetry press Switchback Bookswith Hanna Andrews and Brandi Homan; created the viral blog Women Poets Wearing Sweatpants; and is currently coediting, with Arielle Greenberg, the digital poetry anthology Electric Gurlesque (forthcoming from Saturnalia Books). An occasional salonnière, she is also cohost, with Lauren Besser, of the podcast The Real Housewives of Bohemia.
Becca is available for poetry consultations (individual poems, chapbooks, and full-length manuscripts). You can find more information here
Connect with #chitownscreenwriting
Who’s someone that I should know, ChiTown Screenwriting creators? Ping me @uknowkatobrien.
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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