Andrew Wallace

Some of Andrew Wallace's thoughts are better left unsaid…too late.

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Always a Struggle

Updating a personal / professional blog is always a struggle.  It’s a whole lot of content to service when you’re already trying to manage the content output during the work day.  By the time I’m done with work, updating this blog is pretty low on my priority list — I’d rather be outside playing with my cars!

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Put Technology To Work For You

I’ve said it before: Organization is a crucial foundation for ultimate success in almost any business.  Just as salespeople need to keep track of leads, writers need to keep track of ideas, producers need to follow-up and track deliverables, and actors need to capitalize on opportunity.  Directors are the only ones who sometimes catch a break.  Established directors DON’T need to be organized, they have a whole mess of folks at their disposal who need to be organized, but they, themselves, only need to focus on the creative process.  That’s not to say most directors aren’t supremely organized, but rather that they don’t have to be.

Getting organized is one thing, but staying organized is an entirely different endeavor, particularly once the flood of emails and information begins when you start physical production.  For months I’ll get 20-30 work-related emails a day, but once production begins that number easily quadruples, and unlike the rest of the time, most of those 100 or so emails don’t have easy answers.  How, when the flood of information begins to overtake you do you keep your head above water?  How do make sure to follow up, get answers, and respond without dropping something?  Put technology to work for you.

Automate as much as you can.  Use Gmail’s filters to automatically pull out and file important, regularly distributed documents so they’re always quickly accessible but don’t clutter your inbox every time you get them.  (I automatically file Call Sheets, Script Supervisor’s reports, Crew Lists, and photos from the wardrobe department).  Set reminders on your calendar, set tasks to pop up when you get to a certain location, or better yet, integrate pestering into your trusted system.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: you need a trusted system that works for you, whatever that is.  Here are the four apps that comprise my trusted system:

  1. Mailbox for iPhone is the cornerstone of my system.  It keeps my inbox uncluttered and allows me to focus only on what I can solve and deal with now.  Everything else gets snoozed until it’ll be relevant and archived when it’s either solved or no longer important.
  2. Dropbox is the perfect companion for Mailbox.  It allows me to link to files way too big to be emailing over and over from my phone, it’s integrated into the app, and rather than having to go back to the trailer to get my laptop, it keeps frequently emailed documents easily at hand even when I’m out in the middle of nowhere.  Plus you can share folders and collaborate with others.
  3. SugarSync is similar to Dropbox but allows you to selectively synchronize multiple folders across computers (Dropbox only syncs things inside the Dropbox folder).  If you have a laptop and a desktop, keeping important folders in sync is crucial.  That being said, sometimes you only want to make sure things are backed up to the cloud and don’t need to synchronize everything.  That’s where SugarSync gives you more control.  I pay for SugarSync, whereas I only use the free version of Dropbox.
  4. OmniFocus is the backbone of everything as my task management app; it’s like Reminders on steroids.  Once something is no longer an email, once it’s blossomed beyond a single task, this is where it lives and is managed to completion.

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Setups and Payoffs

Steven Pressfield has a great blog post today in his Writing Wednesdays section on Setups and Payoffs.

One mistake that beginning writers often make is to forget about setups and payoffs. Sometimes they’ll have great setups but no payoffs. Other times they’ll invent a fantastic payoff, but fail utterly to set it up.

Read more at Steven Pressfield Online.

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Create Success Every Day

Failure is lurking around the corner.  The road to Hollywood is lined with the pages of half-finished and half-assed screenplays.  “We don’t think it’s for us.”  They wanted a fresh face.  They needed someone with more experience.  

Even successful people are regularly hit with a barrage of negativity.  And yet, they keep on truckin’.  How?  They feed their souls by creating success every day.

There is nothing more satisfying than achieving a goal, overcoming obstacles, and creating a win.  On those days when nothing is going right, when it seems everyone is against you, take the time to manufacture success.  The size of the win is not important, in fact, smaller successes can be more restorative because you can tick off more than one in a day.

Here are some examples of small wins:

  • You wiped off the kitchen counters
  • You got your oil changed
  • You had your teeth cleaned
  • You wrote that “Thank You” letter you’d been putting off

Some of these are arguably terrible chores, but by ticking them off your list, you’re done with them (at least for a while).

One writer I know builds mini-successes into his daily routine.  He gets up at 5AM (it’s early, but by just getting out of bed, he’s already had one success).  He puts on his writing clothes (check!)  He does a small routine of flexibility exercises (double-check!)  He sits down at his computer (a big win), and then he writes until he’s hit his goal of five pages (the biggest win of all).  After having started the day with all these mini-successes, all before the rest of the town is even thinking about getting out of bed, the rest of the day is a piece of cake, even if it’s filled with back-to-back notes sessions.

Let’s face it: staying positive is difficult.  Remind yourself constantly that success is not only possible, but well within reach.

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Get to Work: Becoming a Working Artist

A man told me recently that he was going to take a sabbatical to finish his screenplay.  While many of us don’t have that luxury anyway, particularly in this economy, focusing narrowly on achieving your creative goal may very well be the perfect recipe for failure.

Granted, drive is one of the four pillars of success, and committing to focusing on honing your craft is crucial, however leaving paid work entirely or cutting down your hours significantly is not an optimal solution for two reasons:

  1. By forgoing income, you are putting yourself at an immediate disadvantage.  While money can’t buy happiness, it can certainly reduce sadness and frustration.  It is difficult, to say the least, to do your best work when you’re worried about whether you’re going to be able to pay your rent this month.
  2. Success takes time.  Like a fad diet, over-committing to a goal and leading a monk-like existence is not sustainable.  Finding the heart of a story, honing your message, and perfecting your script all take time…longer than many folks can stand to be without work.

None of this is meant to say that you shouldn’t carve out time to work on your material every day.  On the contrary, you should write and create every chance you get.  But you need to keep the lights on while you do it.  How can you do this when every waking hour is consumed by your day-job?  One word: Balance.

  1. Keep a trusted notebook (whether physical or electronic) with you at all times.  When something funny, sad, poignant, etc. crosses through your mind/desk/shift, write it down!  And then get back to work.
  2. Learn how to delegate.  Should you, yourself, be doing everything you’re doing on a regular basis?  Or is there something you could pass off to a colleague.  Work smarter, share the load, and use that extra time for yourself.
  3. Carve out time every day.  Yes.  EVERY day, including weekends, you should take some time to focus on your craft.  Give yourself an hour, perhaps early in the morning, to write, and then get up from your desk and do whatever else it is that you do.  What are you going to write about if you don’t experience the wonders of living your life?

So get to work!  In the end, an artist who is working keeps the motor warm for the day when he becomes a working artist.

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Confidence: Fake it Til You Make It?

Personally, I believe my biggest weakness is a lack of confidence, which is why I’ve saved this pillar of success for last.  I don’t often think I’m right, that my way is superior, or that the direction I’ve chosen is the correct path, but every successful person I’ve met has had, at least in their professional life, a kind of uncanny confidence in their abilities.  They believe they can tell a story better, create impactful content more quickly, and generally believe that they are, quite simply, better than the rest of us.  And they are.  But being better and knowing you’re better are two very different things.

Confidence, it seems, is essential to withstanding the torture of repeated rejection endemic to the creative industries.  Otherwise you’ll start to believe the over-educated assistants who are rejecting your work, that they know your story better than you do, and that you aren’t as good as you think you are.  If you’re truly talented, confidence goes hand-in-hand with drive and organization to turn you into an unstoppable force.

But if you don’t have it, how do you get it?  As I’ve said, I may be the last person to counsel folks on this, but because I know I lack confidence at times, I can watch for times when it might be important and defend against a negative internal dialogue.  That may be the first step: identifying a lack of confidence as a development area.  The book Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life suggests that your internal dialogue, the way you talk to yourself about events in your life, drastically affects both your mood and your success.  The good news, which you may have guessed from the title, is that you can teach yourself to be optimistic, to defeat learned helplessness, and to change your internal dialogue and predispose yourself for success.

The primary take-away, as I see it, from Learned Optimism is that optimists see negative events as temporary, specific, and non-personal.  Pessimists see negative events as permanent, pervasive, and personal.  In reacting to a rejection, a pessimist might say to himself, “People don’t like me, they never have.  No matter what I do, they always pick someone else over me.”  An optimist would approach the situation differently in his or her internal monologue by saying, “Those guys didn’t understand my story.  They probably thought it was too similar to MEGA SUPER PROJECT which fizzled miserably last year.  I should remember to specifically address how vastly different they are in my next meeting.”  Contrast those two statements with one another.  The first statement is personal (it’s me they don’t like), it’s broad (it’s not the material, or the time of day or any specific factor), and it’s permanent (it’s always going to be this way, I can’t do anything to change it).  The optimistic dialogue, on the other hand, presents the situation as non-personal (it’s the project), it’s specific (they probably thought it was too similar to something their bosses see as a failure), and it’s temporary (other groups will be more receptive, particularly if I do a better job of explaining how much better this project is than MEGA SUPER PROJECT).

Further reading:

http://www.pickthebrain.com/blog/10-ways-to-instantly-build-self-confidence/

http://www.positivityblog.com/index.php/2009/02/20/how-to-build-self-confidence/

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Drive: Hopelessly Devoted

In order to build a sustainable career in the industry, you have to be willing to work longer, harder, and faster than everyone else.  To say it another way, you have to stay hungry.  Established writers lose their drive all the time, and the moment they do, the thousands of other people waiting in the wings swoop in and take their place.    The writer who loses her drive may never work again; without drive, it’s impossible to compete with younger, fresher, more devoted writers.

To put things in perspective, consider the case of a production assistant I met a few months ago.  He’d always wanted to write for television, but coming from North Carolina, he was starting from scratch.  With no social network, no mentor, and limited course offerings at his college, he nevertheless became determined to teach himself television structure and pacing.  To do so, he chose a recent television show that had been picked up for a second season, caught up on the episodes, and then began to write what he thought should be the following week’s episode in advance of the next episode’s air date.  Every week, he’d watch the new episode, compare it to what he’d written, and then write a script for the next episode.  As luck would have it, the show stayed on the air for years, and ever the driven writer, he kept writing his episodes.  By the time he’d graduated college, he’d single-handedly written five full seasons of television on a television writing schedule.

Without that kind of drive, how can you hope to compete?

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Organization – De-clutter Your Desk and Your Life

As I’ve said before, physical and mental clutter both create low-level stress, but in practical terms, clutter can literally prevent you from being able to work efficiently.  Take a look at your desk.  Is it clean and tidy?  Or is it littered with paper, coffee mugs, candy wrappers, un-capped pens, and remnants from last night’s dinner?  If you had a brilliant idea now, how long would it take you to clear a space on your desk to write it down?  Can you find your keyboard under that mess?

Mental clutter can be just as bad, or worse, than physical clutter.  It’s difficult to focus on writing when you can’t stop thinking about your task list, who you need to call, who you need to email, whose birthday is coming up, etc.  That kind of stuff shouldn’t even be in your brain; it should be on paper, in your phone, or on your computer.

It’s impossible to do your best work day-after-day if you’re disorganized; effectively, you want to minimize the amount of effort you need to expend away from your primary task.  Every additional second you spend looking for a pen that has ink in it?  That’s another second of writing time lost.   Every minute you spend looking for the latest draft of your screenplay in your Documents folder?  That’s another minute of time spent away from your family.  

Understandably, for many people, staying organized doesn’t come naturally, but if you take the time to organize yourself, it’ll pay dividends when the going gets tough.

Personal Productivity

  1. Find a task-management system that works for you and run EVERYTHING through that.  For some it’s a physical inbox and filing cabinets, for others it’s Microsoft Outlook, for me it’s OmniFocus on my iPhone and MacBook.
  2. Make a decision the moment a task comes across your plate: Do it now (if it’ll take less than 5 minutes), Do it Later, Dump it (I, for one, do not do this often enough), or Delegate it.
  3. Schedule important tasks (like writing!) on your calendar.  If you don’t make time, chances are, you won’t give a task the attention it deserves.
  4. Carve out five minutes of sacrosanct organizing time every day to maintain your system.
  5. Log your calls and emails like a professional: Know who called, when they called, why they called, and who owes whom.

Organization

  1. Everything needs a home, a place where it lives when it’s cleaned up and put away.  Put everything away every time you’re done using it.  That way you always know where it is, and it’ll be there the next time you need it.
  2. Create a sacred and separate work zone, one that belongs only to you, and which you only use for work.  As a side benefit, that can help make it tax-deductible.
  3. If you find yourself storing things in places they aren’t meant to be, e.g., you store your mail in the oven, gardening tools in the bathroom, and books in the garage, it’s time to call in a professional.

Getting organized and staying that way can be a herculean task.  If you can’t do it yourself, outsource it.  Why do you think so many creative folks in Hollywood have personal assistants?

Further reading: Getting Things Done by David Allen, Getting started with “Getting Things Done”, Use the First 30 Minutes of Your Workday.

Resources: Los Angeles-based A Clear Path is ready to tackle your mess.

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Talent: Honing Your Message

Each week, my friend Steven Pressfield posts a new article to his website on the topic of writing in a series aptly named Writing Wednesdays.  The message in one of his earliest posts has stuck with me to this day.  It’s nuanced and there’s more to it than this, but the basic message is, “no one wants to read your [excrement].”

You can (and should) read the full article here.

But in case you don’t have time, here’s the executive summary version.

The Problem

  • People are busy; they don’t have time to read your material.
  • You may think your script is great, but you’re biased.
  • If your stuff isn’t objectively, independently great, you’re wasting your reader’s time.

The Solution

  • Refine your message until it can’t get any clearer or easier to understand.
  • Make reading your material worth it; it better be entertaining, i.e. don’t ask me to read something about genocide
  • Stay vigilant.  Don’t allow yourself to fall in love with your writing just because you wrote it.

For more great tips on honing your craft, check out the Writing Wednesdays section at StevenPressfield.com

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Talent — Innate But Practiced

Talent is a pre-requisite for long-term success in the entertainment industry, and because the other three traits (organization, confidence, and drive) assume talent as given, it is, perhaps, the most important of the Four Pillars of Success.

Quite simply, if you aren’t talented— if you don’t have a natural skill for writing, producing, directing, singing, dancing, or acting— trying to break into the industry will be a painful, frustrating waste of time and money.  The hard fact is that there are many more insanely excellent people looking for work than there are jobs.  Extremely talented folks in the business are underemployed, and since they’re competing for the same jobs as you are, without skill, you don’t stand much of a chance.

But talent isn’t just something you’re born with; it’s something that needs to be cultivated, practiced, and refined repeatedly.  I believe it was Malcolm Gladwell who said in Outliers that practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.  For many of us, talent is lurking beneath the surface waiting to be uncovered, and while there may be many people with more innate skill, it is quite possible that someone with a middling level of talent who relentlessly refines his talent will enjoy more success because he is bringing every bit of his skill to the table.

The novelist Reynolds Price once told me that he couldn’t compel an “A+” inspiration but that he could train himself to consistently deliver a “B,” which meant that he was ready when an “A” came along.  The struggling entertainer should take two thoughts away from this pearl of wisdom.

  1. If you’re talented but don’t practice, you may struggle to use your skill effectively.
  2. If you don’t have the aptitude, you’ll be middling at best, even with the most stringent training routine.