All posts by Amy Knepper

15May/11

Celebrating

 Recently I discovered something so key to my personality that I wish I knew it decades ago: I like to celebrate.

Yeah, so does everyone else, I’m sure. But for one of the stodgiest, most serious, quietest, hermit-like people in the world (that would be me), this desire to celebrate came as a revelation.

I gave a screenwriting workshop along with a friend back in March. During the planning, she made sure we planned a party afterward, as part of the workshop. I thought it was silly, to be honest, but I went along with it. Then a strange thing happened. As I planned the workshop, I started looking forward to the party afterward more than the workshop itself. I kept repeating the mantra of my friend: “No matter what happens, we’re still celebrating when this is over.” And we did. The workshop was a grand success, and even though we thought we were too tired afterward to do anything fun, we made ourselves celebrate. We ate good food and drank good wine and partied with good friends, and it was amazing.

Instead of going home alone and reliving every mistake I made during the night, I got to be with people who talked about all the great things we did. I felt like a superstar.

Fast forward to April. I finished a screenplay, a project requiring many hours of grueling hard work (most of it just trying to make myself sit down and write the damn thing). I started in January. I finished on the last day of April. And I fully planned to go home alone and feel ambivalent and depressed about it. I know the writing needs work. I know the story has holes. How can a rough draft be something worth celebrating?

Thanks to my good friend, I didn’t have a choice. She dragged me downtown to a shopping event (okay, I went willingly) and we bought matching cards to commemorate our successes (she wrote a screenplay too. She finished hers first). And just to make sure we did it right, there was actually free champagne at one of the stores. We met friends there. We all toasted to finishing, to meeting goals and destroying them. We celebrated!

What did I learn from all this? I learned that I accomplished something grand and it was worth celebrating. How different that is from feeling ashamed of a mere rough draft and wanting to hide away! I wrote the first draft of a 112-page screenplay and that is a BIG DEAL. Now that I know what it feels like to celebrate, how different it is from sinking into that anti-climactic ambivalence, I will never go back to my old ways.

And guess what? I’m looking forward to the next celebration so much that I’m working harder than ever. I’m even excited to tackle the rough draft of that screenplay and make it something better – something worth a big party, even.

What was the last thing you did that was worth celebrating? How did you celebrate? I hope you’ll take the time to find joy in your next accomplishment – you may find it makes all the difference in the world.

25Feb/11

On Fear

We have to do it“Why is it that the thing we want to do most in the world, the thing we dream about fervently and study religiously, is the same thing we would rather die than attempt?”

I wrote this in an email to a friend last night. She and I have been working on screenplays together, but the majority of our time together (in person and via email) is spent avoiding writing. We lament our lack of creativity and skill, but compose long works on the desolate wastelands of our souls. Neither of us lack skill. We have both won awards for our writing. We study constantly. What we lack is courage. For us, the option is to Write or Die. Most of the time, death seems the better choice.

In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield writes, “The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.” He calls this feeling Resistance. I am familiar with this feeling. I feel it right now. I want to write this blog post. I do. But I’m afraid. This fear tells me that I have to write this post, then I have to click Publish and let it out into the world.

What is your dream? What is the thing that both tantalizes and terrifies you at the same time? What would happen if you sat down *right now* and worked on it? Get out your camera, or those art supplies, or that pen, and be courageous. Then leave me a comment and let me know how you conquered your fear. Thanks for reading!

06May/10

On Competition

For a long time, a film-making friend of mine had an online bio that read, “In 2 years, I will be an absolute failure.” At that time, he was nearing 30. Many of the filmmakers he admired had been in their 20s when they first met with success. He constantly compared himself to Orson Welles, who made Citizen Kane when he was 25 years old. As you can imagine, this friend was also constantly (and clinically) depressed.

The creative life is difficult to navigate. There are always stories of those striking gold in their youth. And there are also the stories of creatives who died penniless, never seeing their work admired by anyone.

I’ve come to realize 2 things over the last week. First, we need competition. And second, creativity is not a competitive sport.

They sound contradictory, but let me explain.

Last week, my son entered his art into a local fair. He was excited but nervous. We had told him that the art would be judged, and perhaps he might win a ribbon. He only wanted to put in his very best art in that case.

When we went to the fair to see if he had won, we noticed that every single piece of art had a ribbon. They had awarded prizes to all of them. The boy was still excited that he had won a ribbon, but the prize lost value in his eyes because everyone won. What did it matter that he put in his best possible work when others put in scribbles and still won?

I think competition is good. It makes us work harder and strive for excellence. Whatever our craft, that desire to be recognized for quality work is in all of us. In that way, I don’t necessarily think competition is bad.

On the other hand, creativity is not a competitive sport. There are no bench-warmers in the creative world. You’re either making art in some form, or you’re not.

There is no limit to the number of creative people in the world. There’s no one out there saying, “We’re sorry, the quota for creatives is filled. You can’t write that novel/paint that painting/take that photograph/sing that song.” The beginning of all art happens inside. Just because someone out there, with an entirely different background and set of circumstances from you, is successful at one form of creativity, it does not exclude you from expressing yourself also.

Yes, there are highly successful artists out there. Some are household names. Don’t compare yourself to them. Compare yourself to you. Are you getting better at your craft? Are you doing quality work? Are you challenging yourself?

Here’s an idea: Is there an online or local contest you’ve seen lately? Submit your work. If you don’t have a piece ready, get out there and create, so you’ll be prepared for the next one. Let me know what you plan to do, so I can cheer you on!

04May/10

On Motivation

StairsI finished Script Frenzy. Yes, indeed. I filled 101 pages with drivel and dreck, but I finished it. Some people who won got highly excited. Sadly, it was easy for me to discount the accomplishment, knowing the quality of the writing involved.

However, in the 4 days since Script Frenzy ended, I have come to realize just how much I did during April.

I wrote. That was the point, right? I wrote at least 6 days a week, sometimes more, and even I can admit that *some* of my writing was quality. Even those few lines and a shaky skeleton of a story is more than I had before the month started.

But how do I keep up that motivation the rest of the time?

When my main creative outlet was Digital Scrapbooking, I used to join challenges and creative teams that gave me deadlines galore. I thrive on them! I realize now that, given a deadline, I can easily organize my time and energy over a period of time to meet it. But for some reason, I can’t seem to follow through on self-inflicted deadlines. I’m not sure why.

Deadlines motivate me, especially if someone else is on the other end keeping track of my progress. So I’ve asked a friend, a fellow writer, to bug me. So far, it’s working. I promised her I’d post on the blog this week, so here I am.

What about you? What motivates you to continue on in your creative endeavors? I’d love to hear any ideas you have about self-imposed deadlines too – because I really flounder without someone on the other end to stare angrily when I let them down.

12Apr/10

Get the Horrible Out

Last night, at a write-in, I offered a piece of advice that made me stop and listen to myself. My fellow writer is 30 pages behind on her script, and really struggling to focus. At one point, in near despair, she cried out, “This is horrible!”

Trying to encourage her, I said, “You can do it. You just have to get the horrible out until the good stuff comes.”

Man, oh man. Is that tough or what? I think in any art, the practice seems so mundane.  It is so easy to lose sight of what is practice and what is refined art. In writing, it is incredibly difficult to write a rough draft and let it be rough. Most of us are also avid readers, inner editors who cringe at the sight of a misplaced modifier.

But that’s not the point. The point, especially in a contest like Script Frenzy, is to get the words written. To meet the page every single day, whether the writing is horrible or brilliant. To push ahead through the horrible until the tiny light of a beautiful story appears, and then to mold that draft – over and over – until it becomes brilliant.

The thing that scares me is that I know I have a lot of horrible in me. I also know there is a lot of good buried in there, under the horrible. Am I willing to put in the work, to get the horrible out in order to find the brilliant?

Do you have something you are shying away from, because you know your first attempts will be horrible? Go do it. Get it out today, and you’ll be that much closer to finding the brilliant.

10Apr/10

On Perfectionism

Everywhere I’ve been on the net lately, I’ve seen something about perfectionism. From my favorite finance blogs to the writing and homeschooling blogs. I think Someone up there is trying to get through to me. Last night, it finally sunk in.

All this fear talk is just another excuse. A way of avoiding the task at hand because I don’t want to fail. I don’t want to write something terrible. I want to write something great!

Hi, my name is Dream Collision, and I’m a Perfectionist. If I can’t do it “right” I can’t do it at all. I’m stuck on my script because I know the break into Act II should hit on page 25. My whole life is based on a complex set of rules designed to ensure that I do not fail. Which explains why my dog is my nemesis: I can’t control him.

Nor can I control that little thing called inspiration. But I can control how often I put in the work. So forget about finished projects and writing stuff people can read. For now, I’m just going to get to the page, every single day. Maybe for an hour. Maybe for 5 hours. But I’m going to be there, writing, no matter what comes out. Soon, I may call myself a reformed perfectionist. I hope that day comes quickly.

22Mar/10

On Discouragement

I felt discouraged today. I read through two weeks worth of blogs in my reader, saw all the lovely words that others had written, and said to myself, “I have nothing to offer.” I even saw a call for writers, but talked myself out of applying. I may talk myself into it later, if I find the courage.

I am easily intimidated by what others are doing. Others have more experience, more followers, more of a community already built around them. I am only beginning, and I’m like the shy kid who stands outside the circle wondering if someone will notice me and invite me in.

(By the way, this blog is more of a creative vent, a place to convince myself to do things I’m afraid to do. This is not my content. If you have happened upon this blog somehow, I admit I’m highly surprised.)

I am happy to say that, despite that discouraged feeling, I still wrote today, and I like what I wrote. I pushed through the fear of being irrelevant and did the task anyway, and just the act of doing was a great encouragement.

20Mar/10

Planting Seeds

Today is the first day of spring. Normally, I wouldn’t notice, but now I have children who get excited about these things. Where I live, there are still two months until last frost, but the kids were insistent that we plant *something* today.

So we made our little recycled newspaper pots, filled them with dirt, and then pushed tiny seeds into each one. For the next few weeks, we will water them and watch them for growth. We will probably cheer when we see the first sprouts poking up, and wonder why others aren’t making any movement at all. In about six weeks, we’ll transplant our strongest plants to the garden outside. A few months after that, if we’re lucky, we’ll get a fruitful harvest of eggplant and pumpkins and corn. Until then, the whole process is just a lot of waiting and hope. And weeding.

Of course, the whole process reminded me of writing. Learning and growing in the craft takes a long time. I might have an idea, and dream that it will come to fruition, but like some of our sprouts, it may grow quickly and then die. If my idea does grow, through proper care, then I will have to let it out into the big wide world before its growth is stunted. There, it may suffer various plights – pests, heat, drought, frost – in the form of critics and naysayers. But I will have to let it go if I want it to grow.

It’s possible that I simply enjoy the process of planting seeds, whether they live or die. However, I cannot dream of having a large harvest without putting both work and faith into the project.

And just because I killed every single transplant to our garden last year does not mean they will all necessarily die this year. I’m getting better at gardening. Can I also improve my writing?

18Mar/10

Finding My Voice

I sometimes fear that I have nothing unique to offer. How many people have been down this road before me, and how many of them are a thousand times more qualified than I am to write about this life? One of my greatest fears is being lost in the crowd. But another of my greatest fears is sticking out from the crowd. I can’t seem to decide from day-to-day which I would prefer.

Still, there is something nagging at me all the time.

“Write,” it says.

“About what?” I say.

“About anything,” it says, “just continue to write.”

So here I am. Writing for the sake of writing. Being creative for the sake of creativity. Hoping to burst in on some other dimension of living that will finally answer all my questions and make my life blindingly vivid. I know, somehow, that creativity is the key to piecing it all together. Of course, there is no left-brained answer to explain how or why. If I really want to find out, only my imagination can take me there. So I’m going.

When I get there, I may find that I am a clone, along with a million others, living the exact same life. It is more likely that I will discover, as I already know, that no one on earth has lived the precise combination of lives I have. Somewhere in here is a unique voice, a way of telling a story that no one else has heard before. I must find it, and let it out, even if it requires spewing out all the garbage piled on top of it first.