Tonight I graduate! Wow, I haven’t said that in well over ten years, but it’s true! I am headed to the certificate ceremony for a screenwriting program I have been in for the past year at UCLA.
This past year I participated in UCLA’s TFT Professional Program for TV Screenwriting, one-hour drama being my chosen track. And besides learning how to write a script, the art of screenwriting has taught me some very universal life lessons that I wanted to share with you…
Me. The past few years have been challenging for me. Lots of personal stuff to juggle and I had been feeling a bit stuck, stalled and uninspired in many ways. This program has truly brought me back in tune with my creativity, my daydreams and my drive to live life to it’s fullest and challenge myself whenever possible. There were a few times I wanted to quit. Many times I felt like I had no clue what the heck I was doing and hated feeling like I was an outsider in this brand new community. But I pushed through and met some amazing people and feel very proud of myself in many ways. So yeah, to put it simply… feeling good right now feels really good. I’ll sunbathe in this warmth for as long as I can.
First off, when I tell people about the program they always ask “Why did you do this???”
My why is pretty simple…
1) I am a writer. And wanted to explore a new form of my craft.
2) I missed fiction!! The past twelve years I have been writing non-fiction. Essays and blogposts, recipes and cookbooks. In school, creative writing (shoutout to Mr.Foltz) was always my favorite class. I missed creating characters, telling stories. Using all that life has brought to me and twirling it up into a story just waiting to be shared.
And 3) I just always wanted to write a script! Costumes, lighting, cameras, actors, makeup, writers, directors – I have always fan-girled over the magic of storytelling on screen. And I have had so many story ideas over the years, I just never knew how to turn them into a script.
But I’m a realist and I know how crazy competitive this industry is. So really, in the end just getting through the program with three one-hour TV scripts in hand would be a huge accomplishment. And I found that I ended with that —- and so much more…
8 Life Lessons That Screenwriting Has Taught Me
1. Don’t Write Passive Characters – Don’t Be a Passive Character in Your Own Life.
This is probably the greatest gift that this craft has taught me. Number one rule for creating characters – your protagonist needs to be active, not passive. Your protagonist should be making decisions, going after what they want, not letting challenges push them around or dictate their story. Passive characters don’t do much, they just let the story move them along and they just have things handed to them. Opportunities pop up and other characters help them – not what you want. Active characters are driving their story. They get crafty, scrappy, take risks, ask for things, demand things and have passion for their goals and wants.
Every character – every person wants something. Figure out what it is and go after it.
We are all the protagonists in our own stories. You, me, everyone. And if you want to achieve your goals you will need to be that active character. (And goals can be anything… I’m not just talking fame and fortune. Happiness, balance, peace, wellness…)
Passivity happens to all of us at times, but at some point we will be given a choice, do we back down and settle? Or do we go after something with energy – even when that is most definitely the more challenging, scary, patience-needed life path. Are your wants that important to you? How much will you push to achieve your goals?
This is your story. This is your one life. You are the main character in your own story. You are the protagonist. Go for it. Be true to yourself and to your dreams and goals in life. And when you have those decisions staring you in the face and fear is getting the better of you, ask yourself what your main character would do?
You can only be brave when you are facing scary things. And the best protagonists are brave. Be brave. Be active. Don’t let others dictate your story. I’m scared too. But let’s be brave together.
2. Hard Work is at the Core of Everything.
I’m not afraid of a little hard work. That has always been a strength of mine. And when it comes to screenwriting, you can talk about your story for days and days. Think about it. Research it. But at the end of the day it really does take a big chunk of time over days and weeks – and months – and maybe even years – of just sitting in front of your screen typing on your keyboard. In your own head. Using the tools inside your body, mind and spirit. Only you can do it.
When I am writing a first draft of a script, I have days where eight hours will literally just fly by as I type all the scenes and dialogue in my head out onto the page. I like to call it ‘being in the zone’ the same way a marathon runner might feel for the first ten miles of a race – I’m guessing at some point those miles just fly by because you are doing what you love.
So sit down. Do the work. And take the rewards.
Get off your phone. Shut out the world, and do that thing that is important to you.
And finally, I learned that in creative writing, writing is re-writing.
3. Fail Once. Twice. Again! Then Get Back Up!
Those failures actually made my successes so much sweeter! When I did something good or GREAT, I felt that much more amazing. Failing sucks. Leaving class and bursting into tears in your car because you disappointed yourself sucks. Not being perfect is hard (for people like me who grew up feeling that need.) And waving your hands in the air saying “You got me! I’m human!!!” (Not really, but symbolically….) is so humbling.
You will fail when you challenge yourself. In your career, in life, relationships, cooking, everything! But you’ll come out on the other side.
Failure also shows you what you love. If you fail and say “Well that sucked, I’m kinda done.” Then great! But when you fail and say, “Geez, I sucked at that, but I want to be GREAT, SO BADLY!!!!” Try again! That…. is where your true passions will pop up.
4. People Matter.
When enrolling in this program I had the option to do an in-person class or online. I chose in-person because part of what I was craving from this journey was people. Relationships. Eye contact. Warmth from feeling like you are part of a team, a community. While I don’t do well in super large groups, I was really happy to see that the individual workshops were limited to ten people. Small groups are my jam.
I’m naturally introverted. But I really tried. I held my shit together, most of the time and showed up and connected with the other students. I appreciated them so much in the program and they were all so freaking talented. It always shocked me when any of them confessed about feeling insecure, because they are all amazing! It just goes to show we are indeed our own worse critics.
Since I was brand new to this craft, I started out quiet, unsure of my opinions when giving feedback and unsure if the others could tell that I had no clue what the heck I was doing. But as I gained more confidence, I spoke up more and formed a thicker skin for receiving feedback too. I mean, blogging for twelve years definitely helps me have a thick skin.
You guys know how screen-heavy our personal interactions are these days. I mean, you’re reading this on a screen. But I hope we all have opportunities to connect with real live people. And not just co-workers or family and friends. A diverse group of people who you might not otherwise hang out with. People outside your bubble. Easier said than done, but once you find the courage inside yourself (I’m talking to you fellow creative introverts!) you know the end rewards will help you long term and those interactions will stay with you.
And let’s be honest, sometimes interactions with others can be challenging. We don’t ‘click’ with everyone. And that’s ok. Being respectful and kind is number one, guys. And don’t let anyone make you feel bad or shake your emotions – practice makes perfect with this.
5. Creativity + Art + Expression is Always Valuable.
The number of hours I spent writing this past year have been kinda insane. Hours and hours. Saturdays and Sundays. Sometimes, when I was feeling negative, I wondered if this was all a waste of time.
Well, spoiler alert, it wasn’t and it’s not.
Creativity, art and expressions of yourself are never a waste of time. Not only are they good for your parasympathetic nervous system, but they help develop parts of your brain that you might be ignoring in your day to day life.
And when I say creative activities, I really mean just about any new hobby you might try. Yoga, cooking, photography, pottery, gardening…. Activities, done just for the sake of joy and learning and expression are so healing in my opinion.
So if you are a recovering perfectionist like me and think that every activity needs to support your career goals or bring some measurable value into your life, stop! Just do the joyful things. The creative things. I promise, you are absolutely being productive in nurturing the joy and depth of your life.
6. Tell The Stories That Need to Be Told. Tell Your Stories. Someone is Listening.
From this program, I now have a much richer appreciation for the art of storytelling.
I always wanted to be a better storyteller. You know those people at parties that just have the BEST stories? And they open their mouthes and people just flock to them? I could never do that. And maybe I’m still not the best at it in social situations, but in my writing, I finally feel like I know how to make a story interesting, impactful, honest and important.
I have always loved creative writing. And now I finally know how to turn those pictures in my head into full blown stories.
One thing our head teacher Neil Landau always says is this: “Why this story? Why you? Why now?”
And to me that brings everything I have done with my blog into screenwriting. Here on HHL, I have told many many of my own stories. Some dramatic, some exciting, some funny, some sad. And screenwriting, though it’s fiction, absolutely puts you as the writer on the page. We all have so many stories inside us just waiting to be told. TELL THEM.
- To a friend.
- Your family.
- On a blog.
- In an Instagram caption.
- Tell them on YouTube.
- In a script.
Stories can change the world. And they can change the way people see your world. (Wait, didn’t Tyrion Lannister say that?….)
7. When You Don’t Have Confidence…. Remember This.
There were many times when I wanted to quit this program – the first quarter, really. I felt I didn’t belonged. I thought everyone wondered why a cookbook writer was here. That of course, was all in my head. Self-loathing and self-sabotage. And as much as my husband reminded me how talented I was and that I was brave for even doing this, the one thing that always perked me up and gave me confidence was this..
POV. There is one person on the planet, in the history of the universe that has your perspective, your point of view. That is unique. That is important. You are important. Never downplay who you are, or be afraid of your weaknesses. Everyone is a work in progress. But the one thing that you will always have in your back pocket is your life experience. And that matters. I don’t care who you are or what your story is – your point of view is so important. Now show yourself some self compassion. Then go out there and use your voice. Not everyone will like what you have to say – and that’s ok!
8. When All Else Fails: SMILE. (For you, no one else…)
By the end of the program, I could feel the fatigue setting in. Not of the writing – I could do that all day long. But of the social aspects. Being told that you have to network like crazy, talk to other writers, join a writer’s group! All that stuff socially exhausts me at times. And I could see other students growing fatigued in other ways. But in the end, I think we all just trekked on. And when you feel a twinge of wanting to scream into a pillow, seriously, just try it…. Smile!
And important: I don’t mean “smile” to please anyone else. Smile for YOU. Only you. Smile about the fact that you are doing something. Experiencing something. Growing.
Smile when things are hard because in the end, you will learn something from living your life to it’s fullest.
And I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes for writer’s and non-writer’s too!
“Never regret. When it’s GOOD: it’s Great. When it’s BAD: It’s experience.”
And for a writer, that could mean…. “Go out there and experience LIFE. When it’s GOOD: it’s Great. When it’s BAD: It’s valuable material for your writing!”
So yes, I will keep writing and screenwriting. I am actually working on a fun side project with one of my vegan blogger friends and I submitted to all the screenwriting fellowships. It’s something I want to continue doing and continue learning from and using as a tool to share MY stories.
If you are a screenwriter, I would absolutely LOVE to connect with you! Leave a comment of DM me on social.
Also check out my screenwriting page on KathyPatalsky.com
And if you have any questions about the UCLA Professional Program in Screenwriting, I’m happy to share more of my experience.