Monday, March 10, 2014

Deadlines: How to turn this enemy into your best friend

Jen Kelley
Guest Post     

     Today's writing advice comes from Jen Kelley,  the co-founder, head writer and co-artistic director for Sketchworks, Atlanta's premier sketch comedy theater. Jen is also a casting director and co-founder of Big Picture Casting, after spending many years as a talent agent and co-authoring the book "The Actor’s Guide for Kids". 
      Despite all of her accomplishments,  I always think of Jen as "teacher."   It was Jen who taught the first sketch-writing class I ever took (... and the second ... and the third... and the...)   It was her example, guidance and encouragement that put me on a path that eventually changed my career and my life.  I still use many of the techniques she taught me then today.   As a writer, she's practical and fearless.  And is one of the few people I know who actually  embraces  the rewrite process, whether it be plays, sketches or films.  Today, she talks about her love/hate relationship with deadlines. 

Advice from writer/casting director Jen Kelley 
Who needs a stinkin' deadline?  I do  

   It’s 11 p.m, Sunday night and I’m just now sitting down to write a piece for Robin’s blog, which is appropriately titled, “Bitch, Procrastinate, Write” – due tomorrow of course.
    I love a deadline. I hate a deadline. I love to hate a deadline. But without deadlines, I might have little to show for myself. One thing I tend to do, without really intending to do it, is to declare a deadline out loud to a group of people, who will now hold me accountable.
    The first full-length play I wrote, I created such a deadline. A couple producers told me they were looking to produce a comedy. I quickly mentioned that I had written a play that might be up their alley. I told them a little about it, and we decided we would have a play reading in two weeks. I would line up the actors, and they would hear the play out loud and then decide if they wanted to produce it.
   Now, it wasn’t a lie. I really had written a play and in my mind, that play was comedy gold. BUT, and there is always a “but,” that play had been written many years ago when I was still writing on a word processor and I was just out of college. I mean, the damn thing was on a floppy disc. My current computer couldn’t even read it. But that was OK, I had a hard copy. I found that hard copy and re-read it.
   While the idea still had merit, I soon realized that I could only salvage about 15 percent of it. Most was sophomoric at best. The rest of it, well, it made the sophomoric crap look like golden sophomoric crap. Needless to say, I had to start re-writing and FAST.
    The table read was already scheduled. I was in deep. As you can imagine, the next two weeks were insane. I wrote every night into the wee hours. When I resurfaced, I had a multimedia, three-act play. I was still rewriting up until the read-through, but the point is this: the deadline got that play written. Without it, the play would never have been produced, let alone sold out every night like it did.
    Another thing I always wanted to try was standup comedy. I kept talking about it, but I never did anything more than talk. Then one day, on a whim I signed up for a standup comedy class. I had eight weeks to write my routine and then perform it at the Punchline.
   While I still have stress dreams about it, I did it. I met the deadline, and it actually went fine. I crossed another item off my bucket list. Never underestimate the power of a class deadline. All you have to do is commit.
    While deadlines can be tremendously stressful, they give you a finish line to race toward. When you declare realistic deadlines out loud to the world, you make yourself accountability. If saving face is your reason to write, so be it. So, here in front of everyone who bitches, procrastinates and eventually writes, I declare that I will complete my screenplay by 3/9/15.
  I’ll be writing right up to midnight the night before. Needless to say, 3/8/15 is going to be one stressful day.

    Jen Kelley is a casting director and co-founder of Big Picture Casting, Inc.  In addition to her casting director career, Jen co-authored  "The Actor’s Guide for Kids, a step-by-step guide for parents of child actors. In 2001, Jen co-founded Sketchworks Theatre, Atlanta’s premier sketch comedy troupe where she has written and produced hundreds of sketches. She currently serves as Co-Artistic Director, head writer, director and producer.  Jen has also written industrials, short films, and plays.

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