"My Dad...taught me that talent is a bonus but persistence is what wins out." - Zosia Mamet
Have you ever noticed the similarities between acting and fiction writing ?
I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately. It seems that acting, at it's very core, is about an artist's ability to tell a story by putting on a character's personality (and the baggage that comes with it) the way we'd put on a heavy coat in wintertime.
The actor becomes so in-tune with the character they're portraying that their physical traits morph to fit that of the character. In this respect, the actor's physical representation of the way the character thinks and feels is so convincing that it pulls the audience into the story. We fiction writers similarly work to tell a story by putting readers into the very heart of a story's main character, thus allowing readers to see and feel what the main character sees and feels. So while I'm sitting at my laptop, typing away at a story, I kind of feel like I'm acting!
I've been thinking about how acting and writing are both beautiful crafts that require artists to dig into emotions that most people choose to ignore, and yet the actor/writer's hard (and sometimes painful) work is likely to go unnoticed unless the artist adapts two important qualities: tenacity and persistence.
“Often it is tenacity, not talent, that rules the day.” - Julia Cameron, Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance
“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”-Abraham Lincoln
Of course, I now realize that I probably should have, like, finished writing the books before putting all of my focus into making the films that go with them! But, oh well, I'll save that epiphany for another blog post : )
Anyway, while I was filming a few videos for the SLH series I had the pleasure of working with a group of talented young actors who taught me a lot about persistence and tenacity.
Here are just three things that I learned from this incredible group of actors:
1. Showing Up is Half of The Battle, Like Really. JUST SHOW UP and you're already winning.
There were some actors who agreed to participate in a couple of the videos and then didn't show. So, of course their parts went to the artists who were there. I totally understand that the SLH videos aren't award-winning cinematic works of art : ) but they're still a good experience for actors. So, those who took the time to show up and see what it's like to work with a newbie filmmaker/writer will have that experience under their belt. Now, how does this apply to writing? Well, I realized that I need to show up at my desk, in front of my latest manuscript EVERY DAY. Showing up is half of the battle. Sure, there's the possibility that I might spend several hours writing a load of crap that will eventually be tossed. But, even if that happens the experience is under my belt and while I was writing I most likely learned something new about my main character and the story that they have to tell.
2. Recognize That Sometimes"No" Means "Yes, but you'll have to..."
There was one actress who'd agreed to participate in the SLH videos but was doing so well at landing parts in feature films that she was having difficulty making time for the SLH videos. She's super talented and I really hoped things would work out but it seemed that her schedule simply wouldn't mesh with mine. Because of this, I decided that it would be best for me to go ahead and replace her.
So, I made the call and nervously told her that I was sorry, but I'd have to replace her annnnnd she absolutely would not hear of it. She wasn't pushy or rude. She was very polite as she asked, "Oh...I see. Well, how about we do this...?"
I listened to her suggestion and negated it. She thought for a moment, "Oh, well what if I arrange my schedule so that we can do this..." Again, I told her no. Later that evening, she texted me with yet several more logical suggestions and then reiterated how much she enjoyed working on the project.
Not only was this flattering to me (because the other projects that she had going on were probably much better paying than mine) but it made me realize that when you're an artist, and someone tells you "No", there are times when you have to hold your ground and pretend that their, "No" was a, "Yes, we can work together if you can find a way to change this one thing..."
Eventually, because of her persistence and tenacity, I told her, "Yes" and I'm really glad that I did because she was fantastic in the films! I feel like this applies to writing in that when we're rejected by agents we can't take it personally. We have to look at our work, see what needs to be changed (or in some cases look at our means of contacting an agent) and then change it. Do this over and over again until their, "No" becomes a, "Yes."
For artists, tenacity is a very good thing.
3. Flexibility Is Key
While we were on set, scripts were constantly being changed, motivations revisited, and ...well, it was pretty much chaos. How did the actors handle it? They smiled, laughed off my ever-changing perspective and just went with the flow. This impressed me, probably, more than anything. How does this apply to writing? Sometimes I'll get so locked into a specific plot-line that when I start to see cracks in it, I ignore what I'm seeing because I want to stick with my original idea. Well, that's not good. Go with the flow, change it and let the story grow into something beautiful. Growth means change.
So, acting is tough, but those who put their heart into their work and persist are going to make it and I think the same can be said of writing. Eventually, I'd like to interview a few of the actors who worked on SLH and talk to them about this very subject- "Why Do You Persist and What Helps You To Keep Going?" So, I'll probably post that interview here sometime in the near future.
Speaking of acting, I think my two favorite actors (at the moment) are Anthony Hopkins and Charlize Theron. No matter what role they have, they put their whole heart into the project and their honesty is simply beautiful.
What about you? Do you have a favorite actor (or a few favorite actors)?
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