My Work-In Progress: Lessons 1 Thru 5 By Martina Castro
It's common to hear about creative people getting stuck on their first big work. So much so, that to say you have a novel or a screenplay in the works is really somewhat clichéd, especially here in LA. Well, I have my own great masterpiece stashed away in the closet: my first radio piece. I'm officially a year and a half into working on it, and what's worse, there doesn't seem to be a finish line in sight.
Not too long ago, I would've been embarrassed to admit this to anyone. But it was thanks to friends at NPR being open with me about this long process and about their own fears that I decided to conquer my own and come out with it. Besides, these first steps take a long time for a reason! All of this is new, disorienting, and scary, and from what I've learned, this is the case for newbies as well as old-timers. What I think separates those people who finish from those who don't, is accepting that the fear and anxiety DON'T go away, and forcing themselves to move forward anyway. This is my lesson #1.
I'll tell you, once I decided to stop being embarrassed and to accept the anxiety as part of the process, it started getting a whole lot easier to focus. I decided to turn to someone who could help. Here I am, at NPR, surrounded by the pros that do this stuff day in and day out, surely there was someone here who could coach me to finish the work.
I turned to Mandalit del Barco, a brilliant NPR reporter based here in L.A. She has seen it all and reported on most of it. She's known for her well-crafted, sound rich storytelling, and well, she's also really nice. Even then, I took my script to her in almost absolute agony over it.
Looking back now, I don't really understand what was going through my brain...what was the worst that could've happened? Well, it could've sucked. So what? The point is to make it better. The more I accepted the fact that I am a beginner, the easier it got. That's lesson #2.
The process of editing my story with Mandalit was of course much less painful than I had imagined. Overall, she had constructive and even positive things to say about the piece and about my writing. She showed me where I needed to shorten and clarify, what parts of my interviews I should keep, and what I should lose, and most helpful, was the confidence she gave me in the potential of my piece. YAY! So, I was farther along than I had anticipated. I began to think, "This piece CAN get finished."
It was crazy that a year and a half after I had first thought of the story idea, it took only days to leap dramatically forward. All thanks to sticking to it, and finding the right person to help me. I'm a collaborator, and I knew I needed a coach, so I went and got one. When you know you work best under certain conditions, make those conditions happen! My lesson #3.
I am now in the second draft, and it still seems like I'm only halfway there. But hey, I'm halfway there! I've learned to congratulate myself on each baby step forward, or when times are hard, congratulate myself for at least not taking any steps backward. Can we say lesson #4?
Ultimately, I think what got me out of my "I'm never going to finish" rut was first a little humility, and only then finding the drive to keep going. Many people think it's just the "drive" that is necessary, but it's also important to accept the embarrassing stumbles along the way. From the people I've talked with who are either just starting out like me, or have been doing it for years, I've learned that it is definitely NOT about losing the fear or the anxiety. This may be bold of me to say, but so-called "natural" confidence is overrated. The more I observe my colleagues, the more it seems like that confidence comes only with time and experience. Sometimes, it never comes at all, but that never stops us from producing good work. I'll call that lesson #5.
Ok, I'll stop now and pick this up next time. I better get back to that next draft…
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Martina Castro is a 2004 graduate of Amherst College in Amherst Massachusetts and now a Production Assistant for NPR's newsmagazine "Day to Day" in Culver City, CA.