Luck and the Successful Writer

In the early 2000s, writer Doug Aitchison was struggling to get his screenplay Akeelah and the Bee produced. It had already won a prestigious Nichol Fellowship in Screenwriting. Producer Sid Ganis discovered it thanks to that award, but he was having little luck in getting studio interest or funding. After all, this was a story about a spelling bee starring a young African American girl – not what you’d call big budget Hollywood entertainment!

 

Gains did manage to get the script to Lawrence Fishburne through his agent, but he heard nothing back. Fishburne likely had dozens of script piled on his desk, and he had no reason to read one from a writer with no track record.

But then, to paraphrase Frank Sinatra, luck was a lady to Doug Aitchison. One day, he was walking his dog in the Hollywood Hills when he saw a familiar face approaching – Lawrence Fishburne, who was walking his own dogs. Aitchison knew this was his moment.

Writer Julia Cameron writes, “I don’t believe in luck. I do believe in synchronicity.” She goes on, “Luck is passive. We trigger synchronicity. We trigger it through risk.” Aitchison took the risk of approaching a major star he had never met before. He politely introduced himself. Fishburne remembered Akeelah and the Bee, and promised to take a closer look at it. He ended up producing and starring in it.

Every writer has luck or synchronicity. Sometimes risk pays off, many times it doesn’t. You send out 50 query letters and one agent asks for your pages. Partly it’s because you wrote a good letter, but you may have also contacted her on a good day with just the kind of story she liked.

If your hobby is skydiving, the consequences of taking a risk may be bad. But if you’re well trained and prepared, the chances of success are much better. If you’re a writer, there’s seldom a serious downside to stepping out of your comfort zone and taking a risk. Perhaps you’ll be walking your dog and meet the person who makes you career take off. If you’ve prepared, if the manuscript in your hand is damned good, you’ve increased your odds that synchronicity will turn into success. Luck my just be a lady tonight.

Try it. What do you have to lose?

Best wishes,

Kelee

What Does Success Look Like to You?

I recently had a front row seat to hear one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Anna Fermin, perform. She was previewing new songs with her band, Trigger Gospel. It was easy to get a great spot because there were only about 30 other people in the club.

Anna has been performing professionally for almost 20 years. Her voice was once described as “a perfect balance of grace and gusto.” Best of all, she’s a wonderful, evocative songwriter who obviously works very hard at her craft.

But Anna has never achieved the commercial success she deserves. It hasn’t been for lack of hard work or talent.

Listening to Anna made me think about how we define success. Most people see success in terms of outward rewards. Money is the big thing. We’re successful when we write a best seller, buy a house in Malibu, and drive a Tesla. Or we get other kinds of outward rewards: a Pulitzer in literature, an Emmy or Oscar, or maybe just 100 likes for a blog post.

Those rewards are nice, though often fleeting, but what about rewards that we can actually control, rewards we can enjoy for their own sake? What if we, as writers, measured success by our own satisfaction with a book we’ve written, or maybe with just a really good writing day, or even a single sentence that makes us feel happy.

Think about it, and don’t get too hung up on outward rewards. It might just heighten your creativity, and making you a happier person in the long run.

Best wishes,

Kelee

 

Three Things I Learned About Writing from Glenn Fry

I can’t say I was ever a huge Eagles fan. On the other hand, I probably know the lyrics to most of their hits. It’s not hard to get Glenn Fry’s songs stuck in your head. They are so well crafted and filled with hooks that it would take a major blow to the head to stop me from singing along.

But I didn’t know much about Fry’s creative process until after he died. I would love to write a book that stuck with readers as well as one of his three minute songs. But even if I never achieve that, he did a couple of things right (and one thing wrong) that I think are important lessons for writers.

1. Be a Perfectionist. Eagles guitarist Don Felder said this about Fry: “Glenn, I think took three days in the studio on the word ‘city’ at the beginning of ‘Lyin’ Eyes.’ It would either be a little early, or a little late, or the ‘T’ would be too sharp. It literally took a long time to get that word perfect — maybe to an extreme. But every time that word goes by now and I hear it, I can appreciate the time and dedication and perseverance that it took to get it perfect.” Every writer should strive to be that meticulous about his/her writing. It’s time-consuming, but it’s how great novels are written.

 

2. Paint a Picture with Your Writing. I can’t hear “Peaceful Easy Feeling” without feeling relaxed. Sometimes I even imagine myself lying back in the cool grass, watching clouds roll by. I can’t listen to “Take It Easy” without getting a vivid mental picture of that girl “in a flatbed Ford, slowin’ down to take a look at me.” And, as for “Hotel California,” I’ve never quite understood it (Perhaps because I’ve never listened to it stoned.), but the imagery in it will always stick in my mind.

3. Know Where Your Gold Lies. Just before Fry died, there was a wonderful interview on the NPR show Sound Opinions with the music producer and engineer Glyn Johns. He shared his frustration about working with Glenn Fry and the Eagles. Their strength was in writing and performing mellow, melodic pop songs. But they wanted to be rock stars. They didn’t understand where their gold was, and even though they wrote a few memorable rock songs, they never resonated the same as their best hits.

So rest in peace, Glenn. Your music will live on, and will hopefully serve as a powerful reminder of how much can be achieved with the right creative approach.

Best wishes,

Kelee