Tag Archives: Trai Cartwright

How Exhaustion Helps Writing

By Trai Cartwright

How does exhaustion help writing?

It doesn’t. Of course it doesn’t.

Writing through mental and physical exhaustion has always been a struggle of mine, and it seems in the past year or two, I’ve heard much the same from many of my writer friends. Whether it’s acute over-programming or serious health ailments, managing their lives drains away their precious creative time and energy.

It’s gotten to the degree that they don’t get any writing done.

Does being a writer attract a heightened level of affliction? Is that how we know we’re writers—not because we’re sicker than everyone else but because we feel the terrible intensity of our failings all the more for their negative impact on our art?

Are we as a tribe, too tired to do our jobs? Did the writers who came before us suffer these same maladies to the same extent, and if so, how did they manage to get their work done?

How do we, as an afflicted body of scribes, manage to get it done regardless? Or do we?

I read “Z” not too long ago, a book from Zelda Fitzgerald’s point of view (genius, by the way), and not only was her own mental health eroding, but she had to rely on a husband who’s proximity to drink determined his own daily output.

Scott wrote dozens of short stories because it was all he could manage around his alcoholism.

Stephen King, on the other hand, used his prolific drug habit as a production tool for his writing. Now, I don’t know about you, but I can tell when King’s addiction began impacting his writing negatively—there are a couple dozen books that, well, suck. But his habit never impeded his output.

The tales of mental illness among writers and artists in general is prodigious. Their careers seem to go in two directions: one, they waited for bouts of sanity to work; or two, their affliction seemed to drive them to produce.

Myself, I was a chronic insomniac. The longer a person goes without the required sleep (seven hours uninterrupted), the worse their brain, organ, and nervous system function. A fugue state takes over and soon cognizant thinking becomes impossible, much less creative thinking. There’s a reason why sleep deprivation is a torture technique.

We all have our afflictions, don’t we?

But does the human condition make writing impossible? And what a terrible joke that would be, with so many of us with something to say.

And now that our lives are so overly complex with 24/7 jobs, family schedules that require herculean efforts to maintain, and increasing health issues across all ages, is there any way our artistic pursuits won’t suffer?

How do we compensate?

Or do we give in?

A friend of mine, Amy Kathleen Ryan, had triplets a few years ago. She still wrote two books around their tyrannical infant demands. You might have read them.

Another friend of mine has been diagnosed with MS, making it impossible to type some days. Many days. He still finished his most recent mystery novel.

Another woman I know has worked full time, pursued two advanced degrees, and raised her kid for the past five years, and is inches from finishing an epic fantasy we all know will publish the second she finishes.

Another has taken over the care of both her invalid parents while raising her own family. She’s learned to write in doctor’s offices.

A man who attends most of my library creative writing classes tells me he’s on the road three out of four weeks a month, but he’s taught himself to write on airplanes and in hotels.

A woman in my MFA program walks with two canes and is in constant, chronic pain from a back injury. She still got her degree and recently published her first short story.

There are lots of examples of life becoming what really ought to be written off as unmanageable, crushing our creative selves, making writing laughably impossible. But even these people find ways to write.

They all tell me the same thing: writing is their life’s blood. They’ve learned to stop making attachments to the outcomes and just be glad for the days they get some words on the page.

Is that enough?

As more and more novels are written under the pressures of our modern, debilitating lives, the answer seems to be a resounding yes.

Exhaustion may not help our writing, but it doesn’t have to stop it entirely.

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Trai-Cartwright-HeadshotTrai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.

How Being an Aspiring Writer is Like Looking for A Media Job

by Trai Cartwright

What could being a filmmaker have in common with being a novelist? Lots! I’ve got a foot in both worlds, so I’m always seeing where they cross streams—including some great advice about how to frame your writing as a job.

With all the news about how Colorado Film is growing, it feels almost the inverse of the publishing world. Whenever I get discouraged about the State of the Novel, I jump across the medium-verse. What I learn there invariably informs how I look at working in fiction.

Take, for example, a recent event I attended from the Colorado Film Commission. The Production heads of the most successful media companies in Denver came to speak about their hiring practices.

My first thought was that the things they had to say was exactly the sort of information aspiring writers needed to hear, too.

Here’s the advice these media pros gave:

1. Everyone wants to live in Colorado. The competition for work is only getting stiffer.

Translation for writers: Doesn’t it seem like everyone you know is writing a book, or just published one? Doesn’t it sometimes feel like the competition has tripled in the past ten years? Where will we all fit? Are there enough readers? What if even 10% of those new writers are better than me? What are my chances?

Whenever I hear an agent or editor asked, “What do you look for in a property?” they all say this: “Something awesome.”

So make it your business to be awesome and you will have no competition. How to be awesome? Read on.

2. Plan on coming in as an intern and if you impress them, they will cultivate and promote.

Translation for writers: Getting one book published is just the beginning, and by no means are you on the road to riches and Amazon #1’s. Many writers never get their second book picked up, and while the reasons for that are myriad, it often comes down to not being up to the effort.

Here are some ways to impress and be cultivated:

Seek out every marketing, book touring, vlogging, residency, interview, and guest blog opportunity. The more you hustle, the more three things happen:

1. Your publishing house will appreciate you and will be all the more willing to find ways to work with you in the future. They know a pro when they see one.
2. The more your fans and soon-to-be-fans can find you, bond with you, and promote you to their friends. (Oh, and sell books!)
3. The more you will feel like a writer. Now all this becomes more than just “making copies and getting coffee” – this is your Job, and as you’ll see in #3, your job is your life.

3. If you aren’t passionate (like, 16 hours a day passionate), you are in the wrong business.

Translation for writers: If this isn’t The Dream, The Thing You Wake Up For, then are you sure this is the right road? It’s a damn hard road, and there are thousands of people for whom this is The Dream, and they are all packed on the road with you.

Every successful writer I know or have read about has the same habits:

1. They treat their writing as a top priority. Which means even those with day jobs write every day. Even on holiday. As one writer said, “If I don’t write every day, I feel like I’m stealing oxygen.”
2. They read. A lot.
3. They attend classes or teach them (both are great ways to learn more about writing).
4. They support other writers because they know that when it’s their turn, their community will support them.
5. Oh, and all that marketing stuff in #2.

4. Consider TV news and corporate videos, as that’s the big game in Denver, and it is absolutely storytelling.

Translation for writers: There’s lots and lots of ways to be a writer besides scoring the big contract with Random House. The concept of the hybrid writer has finally broken through: be every writer you want to be. Short stories, non-fiction, blogs, books in seven different genres, fan fic, poetry, all of it. Do whatever speaks to you, because it is absolutely storytelling, and you are a writer.

5. Once you get a job, don’t plan on ever leaving it cuz media work in Denver is hard to find.

Translation for writers: Hey, how much hard work have you already put in? Hasn’t this always been your dream? Then there is no Plan B. You are in this for the long haul, with all the highs and lows. Hunker down, and get back to work.

Speaking of, off I go. My 2,000 words are calling…

Trai’s teaching a FREE writing class at the Poudre River Library in Fort Collins on August 3rd. Register and come play. Click on “Straight Talk About Dialogue” and sign up.

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Trai-Cartwright-HeadshotTrai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.

The Top 5 Best Pieces of Writing Advice I Ever Got … by Trai Cartwright

1.   If you’re holding something back for later, drop it in now.

Last Thursday, a friend and I both had one of those explosive days you live for as a writer: the day when your story just electrifies you, delights you, reveals itself to you. She told me she had just written the scene that told her it was just another 25 pages until the supernatural elements of her book could be introduced. I’d just written a scene that was wholly unexpected: a dude who wasn’t supposed to reveal his true nature for many (many) pages to come suddenly whipped off his mask.

This reveal not only changed my whole book but radically improved it in an instant.

This trick comes from a writing teacher I reviled except for this gem. Don’t hold on to the secrets. Don’t write an entire book knowing that in the last 30 pages, all will be revealed. It drains your writing of life-giving creative energy. By “giving away the store”, I was seemingly left with nowhere to go. In fact, I was forced to imagine greater. My story expanded in the most delicious ways because I didn’t hold back.

So my advice to my friend who’s waiting 25 pages to unleash her tasty goodness: just do it now.

2.   Write something beautiful, something grotesque, and something odd on every page.

This one came from a poet who’d just published her first novel, and it’s what her editor said transfixed her. The poet had always used these tricks in her poetry, and had unconsciously carried it over to her fiction. The effect: pages and pages of surprises in the sentences, creating a unique texture that illuminated her world in unexpected ways.

3.   Don’t let the reader catch you writing.

This is from Elmore Leonard and a habit I had to break in my early years. If you’re overly-enamored with your own scintillating, bombastic, lyrical writing style, chances are your readers know it all too well. My voice often over-took my story, and instead of carrying my readers away on a fantastic journey, I was demanding they stand in awe of my cleverness. The point is this: you’re a storyteller first. The voice has to be in service to the story, not your ego.

4.   Don’t confuse, don’t bore.

This from my MFA director Tod Goldberg. Written in big letters on the board, first day of class. If your readers are busy trying to sort out why someone said such-and-such, how they got from the parking lot to Rockefeller Center, who it is they are talking to, when their mother became reanimated because you could swear she died in the first ten pages, they are being carried way on a fantastic journey. They are confused. Confusion equals disengagement as we readers try to conjure the answers that are not on the page.

And boredom, well that’s easy too. If you’re bored writing your story, your readers will have already put your book down. The fix? See #1.

5.   Stop with the semi-colon. And the em-dashes. And the parenthesis.

This is from my god-like genre teacher, Stephen Graham Jones. We all do this. We all suddenly fall in love with some punctuation device that to our minds displays brilliance, adds essential information, and in the case of parenthesis, delivers a dollop of writerly humor.

Readers get exhausted by these devices. Semi-colons create complex sentences that can feel like a challenge to some. Most of those sentences can live independently of one another, so drop in a period instead.

Em-dashes—which, to our mind, can create urgency, provide delightful intrusion, or give crucial tangential information—work maybe every five or six pages, but more than that, it’s a red flag to readers. We start tracking your over-use of the device rather than read your story. It’s like using a word like “stupendous” on every page—we will notice. And it will annoy us.

And as for parenthesis (those semi-smiles of bardic narrator grandstanding), they often break the fourth wall just so you can impart your own sense of humor rather than the character’s. Or worse, it’s a piece of exposition that the writer couldn’t figure out how to include any other way and shoe-horn it in awkwardly. The answer is simply to not employ them. We probably didn’t need that info to follow the scene anyway. And we certainly didn’t need the distraction of your joke.

So that’s it: my top 5 best pieces of writing advice.

What are yours?

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Trai-Cartwright-HeadshotTrai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.

Current and Upcoming Events with Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers

Special Note: Time is running out.  The Colorado Gold Writing Contest for unpublished novelists will be accepting entries until June 1st. You’ll find all the rules and entry instructions (and the names of the final judges) on the contest page of the RMFW website.

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Upcoming Classes (for more information and registration, click on the class title):

Scenework: Writing the Robust Scene (Online Class)
Presented by Trai Cartwright
Monday, June 2 thru Sunday, June 15

Reading Aloud: Public Speaking for Writers (Free Program)
Presented by Chris Devlin & Aaron Ritchey
June 7, 2:00 P.M. to 4:00 P.M.
Lakewood Arts Council, Lakewood, CO

RMFW Advanced Screenwriting
Presented by Trai Cartwright
June 15 thru August 3
3498 Elmsworth, Lobby Media Room,
Cherry Creek, CO

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Registration is Open for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference
September 5-7, 2014
The Westin, Westminster. Colorado
The schedule of workshops and master classes, the list of visiting agents, editors, and guest speakers, and registration information can be found on the conference page of the RMFW website.

Don’t forget that we’re interviewing as many of the agents, editors, and keynote speakers as we can before mid-August. You can find the a list of links to the published interviews on the Special Guest Interview Page.

Word Nerds – Will Work for Proper Punctuation … by Trai Cartwright

I always suspected I was a little weird about words (strange, odd, peculiar, uncanny—yes, I prefer uncanny). Recently, I taught a seminar for Delve Online which proved I was absolutely correct.

As a kid I was a voracious reader, but I was also a ruthless one. If I caught a typo in a book, it was like a betrayal. How could these professional writers make such a blatant mistake??

To which the sane response would be: egads, go outside and play with some others kids, would you?? My response: pull out a piece of paper and write a letter to the writer to let him know the error of his ways.

Like I said, I’m uncanny. Or maybe just weird. It took many years and an infinite number of typo sightings for me to realize that two things were happening: one, humans were at work and humans make mistakes (lord knows with all the typos I’ve released into the world, even typo fascists aren’t perfect). And two, I had a unique eye.

They just jump out at me, and every time, I have to think about what the correct grammar or punctuation or spelling would be. Have to. So OCD.

At this Delve discussion of editing last weekend, I joined Tiffany Yates Martin, another self-proclaimed Word Nerd and professional editor for a raucous good time discussing typos. Okay, our attendees began slipping out the door one at a time, no doubt in fear of their safety, but Tiffany and I had a blast. You can’t put two Word Nerds together without us gleefully and loudly sharing favorite examples of our obsession.

Hers: “His brothers John and Jim went into town.” Harmless enough, right? But without commas, she doesn’t know if it’s “his brothers, John, and Jim,” ergo a whole gang of folks, like, at least four, or was it just two people? Ergo, John and Jim are the brothers.

My example was the use of the onomatopoeia “klunng” in a fight sequence. When I first read it I stopped cold and thought – why two n’s? The answer seemed obvious: three n’s would make the reading humorous (klunnng), and this was a serious scene. Meanwhile, one n doesn’t provide that ominous resonance to which the writer aspired.

Yes, this was the content of our delightful session. Don’t judge.

I say thank goodness for people like Tiffany and me and Conan the Grammarian.

We obsess so you don’t have to.

Like many with this crazy fixation, I’ve turned it into a service I provide for other writers. Part of my Story Consultant business includes copy editing. This goes beyond just fixing commas; I have the idea that if writers can understand their own grammar tics, they can overcome them and thus improve their writing on a line-by-line basis.

For example, writers have a tendency to start every sentence the same way. Or suddenly we’ll go on a thirty page jag of ellipses…or em-dashes—

Or, we’ll use the same phrase, one that’s cliché, one that’s sure to turn off the readers (they smiled at each other; he gazed at her; he turned away—ugh!).

I love that stuff. Not just because they just sort of leap out at me (again, in other people’s writing; I hire an editor for my own), or that it soothes my OCD. I love it because once a writer starts tuning herself in to those grammar tics, she’s plugging into the heart of writing. No, the story won’t be better for having excised every double space between sentences, but it will be better told for it.

And you won’t risk having some pesky twelve-year-old writing to let you know that on page 28, you mixed tenses, and on page 74, “letters” was plural when it should have been singular…

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Trai-Cartwright-HeadshotTrai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.

Writing for TV – Then and Now … by Trai Cartwright

I love Downton Abbey. I love House of Lies, House of Cards (both UK and USA), Orange is the New Black, Black Orphan, Girls, and I especially love The Walking Dead.

I’m a TV junkie, have seen since I was parked, along with the majority of my Generation X co-horts, in front of a TV rather than sent to after-school programs. My babysitter was Wonder Woman and reruns of One Day at a Time.

To this day, I don’t need bowls of macaroni and cheese or a glass of wine after a hard day – I need a marathon of The X-Files.

When I first moved to Hollywood in the 1990’s, I had a yen for TV writing, but it just felt insurmountable. I’d never even seen a teleplay, much less had any idea of how to write one. But Buffy the Vampire Slayer was on TV and I had dozens of Buffy episodes dancing in my head. I knew I needed to write TV spec scripts, because that’s how writers got started in TV.

But what exactly was a spec script? How did I write one? And what did I do with it when done?

I got lucky. My temp agency sent me to be the writer’s assistant for a legendary TV writer named Jay Tarses. He wrote for The Bob Newhart Show, and that infamous clown funeral episode on The Mary Tyler Moore Show? That’s him.

His first and best writing lesson to me was this: “See that bookshelf packed with TV scripts over there? Start reading.”

So I did. I spent the summer transcribing his notes into teleplays (he still wrote longhand, four hours every morning), answering his phone, making him coffee, and eavesdropping on all the meetings for his new show. And I read. And read and read and read.

Then I started writing. I loved it—just loved it. Something about the way Act Breaks formed the structure and how every episode followed a pattern that pleased rather than bored audiences.

I was hooked. I wrote a dozen spec scripts (turns out, this meant I wrote sample episodes for a range of shows on “speculation” – the speculation being that an agent would see talent and send me out to interview for the writer’s staff of a show. Not the show I loved, see, that’s not how it worked—any show that was willing to talk to a baby writer.)

That summer was blissful, and I thought my future was sealed: I’d be Jay’s assistant on the show I was transcribing scripts for, I’d get to learn TV on the set and in the writer’s room, and eventually, I’d get a chance to write an episode for that show, and boom! zang! I’d be a TV writer.

It didn’t work out that way.

The show was a sitcom about a police vice squad, and as it turns out, no one found sexual assault funny. We didn’t even make it past the pilot.

I shook hands with Jay at the end of the summer and he said, “You got talent, kid, keep at it.” I swooned.

I kept at it, but I never could get those writer’s room interviews. I wrote pilots no one would look at without it being packaged with a prominent show runner. Hacking into TV was damn near impossible back then—assisting a show runner like Jay really was my best shot, and I never got another shot like that again.

Meanwhile, the siren’s call of feature length film was louder than ever, and hacking into films was way easier than TV, so I walked away from my dreams of TV.

Still, every now and again, I’d get an idea for a TV pilot and couldn’t help myself—I’d dash it out with a mad gleam in my eye.

Now that I live and teach screenwriting in Colorado, I’ve had an audience-member’s seat for the radical, unprecedented changes in the TV business model over the last few years. TV is no longer a tiny pipeline you could only squeeze into if someone on the other end was yanking you through.

TV has been democratized, and the old rules (and rulers) are dead. Love live TV!

Now anyone can create a series, and there are dozens of “distribution outlets” awaiting—from Netflix to the internet, from cable to Amazon.com, for goodness sake. The pipeline is so vast that there is a desperation for content I haven’t seen since the indie film revolution of the 1990’s.

You don’t need showrunners, you don’t need season bibles, you don’t need an agent making magical phone calls. What you need is an amazing idea for a TV series.

That, and some teleplay writing skills.

So welcome, TV lovers and dreamers, to RMFW’s first ever Writing for TV class in Denver. 8 weeks to pilot. $225 for RMFW members. Begins May 13.

Teleplays have their own formatting and structural secrets, and the range of approaches are numerous. From sitcoms to network procedurals to mythology series to straight up dramas, we’ll discuss the most current techniques in putting your show to paper. This class will help you to identify and develop the storytelling elements at the core of every episode, every series, and every pilot. Don’t have a pilot in mind but want to start building a spec portfolio? No problem—come with an episode of your favorite show in mind.

See ya on the small screen!

Register here.

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Trai-Cartwright-HeadshotTrai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.

Awesome Events Ahead from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers

Attend a Class

Online Class
Editing and Revision
for Fiction Writers
Presented by Cindi Myers
3 Week Course

Start Date: Monday, February 3
End Date: Sunday, February 23

$35 Members – $40 Non-Member

Register

E.B. White said “The best writing is rewriting.” No matter how much care you put into your first draft, only when you’re done and you’re able to see the book as a whole will you be able to give the work the polish it needs. If you’re a rough draft writer like Cindi Myers, the editing and revision process is where the real magic of creating a book happens. Cindi will share her process and techniques for taking a story from a messy rough draft to a polished gem ready for submission. Exercises and class interaction will help you address your particular editing and revision problems and learn techniques for making the daunting task of editing a complete manuscript more manageable.

In Person Class
RMFW Screenwriting 101 with Trai Cartwright
Tuesdays, 6:00 P.M. – 9:00 P.M.
Start Date: March 4
End Date: April 22
2369 Trenton Way, Suite M
Denver, CO 80231

$225 Members – $250 Non-Member

Register
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Submissions for 2014 Conference Workshop
Submit Workshop Proposal
RMFW is now accepting workshop proposals for Colorado Gold through March 31, 2014.

If you have any questions, email Susan Brooks at conference@rmfw.org.

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RMFW Anthology 2014 Submission Guidelines
Download PDF of Theme and Guidelines
Anthology Theme: Crossing Colfax
Submissions are due by March 14, 2014.

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Attend the 2nd Annual RMFW Writers Retreat

With Special Guest, Agent Kate Schafer Testerman
Organized by Angie Hodapp
March 16-21, 2014
Table Mountain Inn,
Golden, CO
REGISTRATION CLOSES FEBRUARY 15TH

The 2013 writers retreat was a smashing success! It’s back in March of 2014 and will become an annual spring event. How much does it cost to attend the retreat? We are pleased to introduce flexible registration options. Attend for two days (minimum), three days, or all four days, and pay only for the days you attend. How do I register? Go to the RETREAT EVENT PAGE for more information and the link to register.

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New events and other announcements are available on the Home Page of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers website.

The Time is Now

By Trai Cartwright
Post 6 of a 6-part monthly series

Happy New Year’s, writers! Just like everyone else, we’re making our resolutions, dedicating ourselves to special projects. Maybe it’s a book we’ve been trying to finish, or personal essay careers we’ve been longing to launch, or short story publications we promised to pursue, if only we had the time.

The time, of course, is now. The time is always now.

In doing my own soul searching and trying to find just what was going to make 2014 extra special and gratifying as a writer, a very surprising answer came to mind: TV.

That’s right, TV.

While working in Hollywood for 15 years, I’d focused primarily on feature films; despite Buffy and The X-Files and the early years of The Sopranos, TV was never “the place to be.” It was all about film. I’d done my share of work in TV—I’d been the writer’s assistant to legendary 70’s TV writer Jay Tarses, had worked for several months for the “pixie father” of reality TV, Mike Darnell, and had even spent a few glorious weeks on a desk in Chris Carter’s X-Files office (swoon!).

And just like every other writer in town, I’d written my share of “specs:” teleplays that riffed on hit shows in the hopes of getting a staff job, and had even written three or four pilots, even though it was nearly impossible for an outsider to launch a show.

Still, I wasn’t convinced I was a TV writer. I couldn’t nail the voices like so many great TV writers can, and couldn’t fathom being in a tiny room with other writers, jamming out draft after draft for twelve hours a day. Staff writing seemed like its own special hell, and I might never get to have my own voice craft a show.

TV had always been there…and had never been of particular interest.

What a wonderful thing to discover that TV has changed.

Last month, I spoke to an agent taking pitches at an MFA residency, and this is what he had to say:

“There are so many people and production companies looking for TV content right now, there’s actually not enough. I’m disappointed more people didn’t pitch me pilots. Features are tougher than TV right now—you don’t need a show runner, you don’t need a show bible, you don’t need a resume, you just need a great idea.”

A writer friend of mine in LA just told me that 85% of the jobs for screenwriters right now are in TV.

And three things occurred to me:

  1. Without even trying, I came up with three ideas for TV shows I’d love to watch.
  2. I know a lot of people who’ve expressed interested in learning to write for TV.
  3. NOW is a great time to pursue that dream of creating a TV show.

My New Year’s Resolution: write as many pilots as I can (I’m halfway through my first one already—23 pages, so easy!), and add Writing the TV Pilot to the Film Program I’m designing for RMFW.

Not only am I going to teach screenplays in 2014, but I’m also going to teach teleplays, and I can’t wait.

So if you’ve got a pilot (or 6!) rolling around in your head, contact me, and I’ll put you on the list for this exclusive class. Join me in the newest media gold rush—it’s an amazing time to be a TV lover!

Are any of you venturing into a new writing medium?

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Trai Cartwright HeadshotTrai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.

Looking With Better Eyes

By Trai Cartwright
Part 5 of a 6-part monthly series

For the past few years, I decided I wanted to get better at reviewing the medium I watched. It’s a weird goal, but one I realized was essential because every writer gives this edict to would-be writers: read.

I read, you read, we all read. So what?

What those great writers mean is that, read closely. Read smartly. Read with writer’s eyes or we’ll miss one of the best educations out there. Reading with better eyes helps us steal the secrets of a fine piece of storytelling for ourselves.

Here’s how I learned to be a deeper thinker about the stories I watch and read.

1. Reading The Critics

When I was 20, I had a job that involved quite a bit of downtime, and there was a copy of Roger Ebert’s A-Z collection of movie reviews. I read all 2,000 onionskin pages of it (there was a lot of downtime). This immersion into cinema studies taught me more about how to understand movies than film school or all my years in Hollywood ever did. Roger Ebert was a genius, a passionate lover of film, and a beautiful writer.

The best critics verbalize exactly what you were feeling or thinking, but with pithier, more organized language. They deal in abstracts but can cut right to the heart of things—namely, theme things. They tell you what the film’s trying to do, if it did it, and what it all means in the end.

The only downside is, well, sometimes by relying on their hallowed opinions, we look at the film through their eyes and forget to look with our own.

2. The Academic Approach

This is new to me, as I had to learn it to teach Film Studies at a university, but it’s proven invaluable.

The Academy tends to not want to indulge of the banality of the combative, hyperbolic language of mainstream thumbs-up, thumbs-down reviews, so it sticks to “filters” through which a piece of media can be deconstructed. Those filters include Aesthetics, Economics, Technology, and Social History. I include Talent.

These filters can empower our writing because it reminds us that we do not write in a vacuum; there is a whole world with a long comet’s tail of tradition and trends that will influence the reach of our work.

However, the Academic approach makes engaging in media a bloodless event, as it can turn your favorite book or film from a vital living conversation and into an artifact for study.

3. Breaking Down The Craft

The driest, most bloodless approach of all, but so important. My film students are delving into the language of cinematography, weighing the lasting contributions the original Russian editors and the American ones, slowly mastering the art of deconstructing structure. “Why was it good?” I ask them, and the response tends to be something like, “The story hits all its beats, it had classic Eisensteinian montages, and the Dutch angles really informed the mise en scene.”

Yes, those are all reasons why the movie was great. But was it a satisfying answer? Did it address that elusive thing, the soul, the passion, the je ne sais quoi that transforms a film from well-made to a miracle.

Take, for example, the film Gravity.

Audiences can’t seem to separate the thrill ride from the technology extravaganza. Was it great because of the never-before-seen-tech, which was crucial to tell this story, or was it great because Sandy convinced us we were stuck out there with her, rapidly ratcheting through our limited options, knowing that if we didn’t figure it out (or get spectacularly lucky), there was no dues ex machina coming to our rescue. Was the magic in just knowing that, out in this dire void so convincingly wrought, we were hopeless and helpless, without scientific knowledge or even jimmy-rigged pop culture education that would let us reason our own way out of this, thus we had no choice but to let go and give in to the movie?

Dunno. Sometimes these questions have no answer, but pondering them is part of being a writer. Being aware of what’s beyond our ability to deconstruct reminds us of the potential all storytelling has to connect with our soul.

Understanding the craft and technique that went into the making of work is vital—these were choices the writer made, and understanding those choices is the key to being able to make those kinds of choices for yourself.

Like many of you, I’m making my New Year’s Resolution to look with better eyes. And steal every trick I can find.

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Trai Cartwright HeadshotTrai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.

Screenwriting Comes to RMFW!

By Trai Cartwright
Part Four of a Six-Part Monthly Series

Come on, admit it. You’re curious. Something about it speaks to you and that part of you that’s a little rebellious, that loves trying new things. Well, come on, then, give in to the dark side! Or at least just a dark room. All the better to see the screen…

In what must have been a bit of magic (and some cheering on from a few key folks), Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers have agreed to let me head a screenwriting program.

If you’ve ever had a story that you thought was just perfect for the movies or if the scenes in your book come alive in your head, here’s your chance to come play. Writing for film is easier than it looks (and a lot harder!), and it’s going to be my pleasure to guide a handful of intrepid souls into this amazing medium.

The first class we’re offering is an online class, and it’s ideal for any writer: “The Top 10 Things Movies Can Teach Novelists.”

This two-week, do as much or as little as you want class will demonstrate that there’s plenty novelists can steal from how movies tell their stories. Beginning in early December, we’ll discuss all the things that movies do wonderfully and how thinking in film terms can actually help you focus your writing.

All for $25!

And then in the Spring, I’ll be teaching an Introduction to Screenwriting class that will get 12 students rolling on the first half of a screenplay. While we do begin at the beginning with formatting, even those who’ve done a lil’ scriptwriting will find tricks and tips that will advance their movies. This is an in person class complete with vital workshopping and lots of clips from modern classics.

It’s my absolute honor to bring my Hollywood know how to Denver and be the first screenwriting teacher for RMFW! If you’re interested in joining us, drop me a line and I’ll put you on the list to contact when we’re ready to roll.

Meanwhile, I gotta keep this short. I gotta save my words for NaNoWriMo.

Always so much more to learn and to explore—glad I’ve got 50,000 words this month to give me a leg up! See you at the finish line.

To register for Top 10 Things Movies Can Teach Novelists:

http://www.rmfw.org/events/online-classes/#12021513

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Trai Cartwright HeadshotTrai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.