Life Lessons from Hollywood, With Love

jlm-stars-hollywood-signPeople say book publishing is a hard game. Heck (haha, heck!), I’ve said it myself, right here on this very site. And I won’t deny it. But think publishing is hard? You should try Hollywood. That, there, is a true pit of despair.

Because in LaLaLand, you can do everything right and still fail big time. And in fact, chances are 99.99 percent that you will. Case in point? This girl right here!

Long ago and, well, not so far away really, I was a young, ambitious, naive kid with big screen dreams and a day job. Luckily, the day job, with its endless hours and limited opportunities, fueled me to chase that pie in the sky dream. I even decided to spend a lot of money on, of all things, a screenwriting degree. (Because my dad always told me higher education was important. Although I think he was hoping I’d chase medicine, or at least law.) Anyway, I was collaborating with my sister, and every night, bone-tired, we’d sit down at 10 and write for several hours.

We were also, as I mentioned, young and naive. So we ignored protocol, and once we were done with a script or two, picked up the phone and called agencies and production companies and asked them if they wanted to read it. Maybe it was the allure of sister-writers, or cute girls who were good talkers, or the shiny magazine and TV backgrounds our day jobs yielded. Maybe it was actually the fun, high concept script we had tucked in our pockets. Or, most likely, maybe it was the success of Monsoon Wedding. But we got in the room for meetings — and in LA, that’s truly the hardest part. And people wanted to work with us.

The script landed us an agent. And attention. We were elated. Beyond. And so we buckled down, and under the tutelage of a very patient and smart development exec, whipped that sucker into shape — once, twice, three times — over the course of a full year.

And at the end of that year, it was shiny and spit-polished, ready to go up the food chain. And then it happened. Another movie starring a brown girl. One that TANKED. And with it? Our Hollywood dreams.

But that’s not quite when we fell into the pit of despair. No, not yet. We dusted ourselves off, found a manager, wrote a few more projects. Then he wanted us to write TV stuff. So we wrote a pilot. Then he wanted us to take out a pivotal scene. So we did. Then he disappeared. Yup, fun times.

That, my friends, was the first time I truly felt helpless. The thing about LA is you really can’t control a thing. You do the work and do some more and just keep putting yourself out there. You and a gazillion other hopefuls.

For a while, I didn’t write anything new. I couldn’t. But here’s the thing about the writing life: other writers get it. They see you down there in your pit, and they give you a hand to pull yourself out. And being married to a fellow writer, well, I couldn’t not write. He wouldn’t let me. And that story, the one that I’d been working on by then for five years and counting? It still wanted to be told. So Navdeep suggested — despite all my protestations that I didn’t have a book in me — that I give fiction a try. And I did.

To ground myself in craft (and get all the screenwriting ticks out of my system), I went back to school, this time for an illustrious MFA. (I know, my dad was like WTF too!) And it was there, I like to say, that I pulled myself out of my writerly funk. It wasn’t instant. Not by a long shot. But I went in knowing what I wanted: time and the space to write. To read and critique and pore over pages. To build up stamina and word count. To prove to myself that yes, I did have a book in me. Maybe more.

Happily, along with my pushy writer husband, I’ve managed to find a few other hands willing to pull me up when I’m down, or stalk me when I’m deadline to make sure I’m not watching Vampire Diaries or cuddling with little ones when I’ve got pages due. (Yes, I mean Dhonielle — and the lovely ladies of the Deb Ball, who are great motivators!) Which means, when I inevitably slip (as I will with the WIP, which has been taunting me now for ten years and counting), I know this: it happens, it’s temporary, and I can do this, with a little help from my friends.

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An entertainment and lifestyle journalist published by The New York Times, People, ABC News, MSN, Cosmopolitan and other major national media, SONA CHARAIPOTRA currently curates a kickass column on YA books and teen culture for Parade.com. A collector of presumably useless degrees, she double-majored in journalism and American Studies at Rutgers before getting her masters in screenwriting from New York University (where her thesis project was developed for the screen by MTV Films) and her MFA from the New School. When she's not hanging out with her writer husband and two chatter-boxy kids, she can be found poking plot holes in teen shows like Twisted and Vampire Diaries. But call it research: Sona is the co-founder of CAKE Literary, a boutique book development company with a decidedly diverse bent. Her debut, the YA dance drama Tiny Pretty Things (co-written with Dhonielle Clayton), is due May 26 from HarperTeen. Find her on the web at SonaCharaipotra.com or CAKELiterary.com.

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This article has 3 Comments

  1. There is a part of me that craves the urgency and insanity of a writer’s room. Then there’s the part of me that loves sleep. That part ALWAYS wins. And a shout out to The Pit! Everyone has one.

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