J. Alex Cook is a lowly, and content, production assistant on the hit television show The Fourth Estate when he gets pulled out from behind the scenes and dumped in front of the camera because the extras cast agency didn’t send over a needed type. When a line directed at him hits a nerve he retorts inappropriately, but instead of getting fired, Fourth‘s showrunner finds himself fascinated.
A year later, Alex is a star.
The plot of Starling is set in motion by the classic discovered-in-a-diner trope. But Alex is no Lana Turner. To be frank, Lana Turner wasn’t even Lana Turner, because that discovered in a diner story was largely manufactured as part of the studio marketing of her, her brand, and her films.
It’s been strange, writing a novel about being chosen when it’s not something Erin or I really believe in. Yes, we love stories like Harry Potter and Star Wars and the The Hunger Games. The narrative of being chosen is nearly always compelling, frequently incredibly sexy, and generally cheering, even if most of us will never be struck by that type of lightning.
In many ways, our hero Alex isn’t either. He doesn’t want to be a star. In fact, he’s working his mighty fine ass off to achieve his behind-the-scenes dreams when he’s plucked from obscurity. Having already escaped his toxic small town in Indiana, Alex is struggling his way to happiness and success with his best friend Gemma in Los Angeles when everything goes weird.
So in away, Alex gets chosen because he is already doing everything he can to live the life he wants. He also gets chosen because luck is strange — it’s not all good or bad — and a lot of what Starling is about is how the fairytale can be challenging, miserable, and hard.
To that end, we’re starting up a weekly feature on this blog called Do the thing!
Every Monday, we’ll throw up a post with that title and a few words about our own motivation, self-doubt, and getting it done anyway. But the important part is that you comment. Tell us what you want to do, and we’ll tell you to go for it and give you advice where we can.
Why do our opinions matter?
Well, they don’t really, but sometimes you just need someone to do a little cheerleading and tell you yes. We think people should go after what they want — and get the encouragement to do it — more often.
Ideally, everyone who visits this blog will chime in with their encouragement and advice too, so we can start what is traditionally the worst day of the week with a lot of positive energy towards making our dreams come true.
We’ll make sure anonymous commenting is on (please play nice, and please be patient, we will need to approve replies from first-time and anonymous commentors), so everyone can be as public or private as they want about finding the help, push, or advice they need.
I’ve been doing this on Tumblr for the last week, and it’s been amazing. I suspect it might be more amazing with threaded commenting (sorry Tumblr, you know I love you, and it’s how Alex and Gemma met, but sometimes you just don’t work right!)
So on that note! Do the thing!
What are you trying to achieve? And what do you need to do the thing?
in may i have an open studio tour coming up — two weekends in a row. i need sales!! send beams that the right people show up and actually buy art instead of just looking and telling me how much they love it without the cash money to back it up 😉
Word and it! I know when I was in Toronto Patty and I bought something at an open studio tour and the poor artist seemed a little shocked. I wish more people would see art, love art, pay for art! (Also, folks, I’ve known Roth for like two decades. Her stuff is great, and you should go check out her site!)
We own at least two paintings Mike bought off the wall of a local diner that hangs local artists. It is kind of fun to go to dinner and accidentally come home with an art.
Anton, you and Roth are in the same city. You’ve met, ne?
yep, coupla times.
I’m looking to get back to songwriting and build my musical skills back up. To do this, I found a teacher whose skill set matched my goals. (Voice, guitar, music theory, songwriting.)
Now I just need to DO THE THING!
Awesome! I can’t believe how many years I knew you before I knew you could play and play well.
The loneliness of it all gets to me. Recently I dumped everything I’d written in the past couple years. Gone, because I was tired of looking at and not finding ways past the holes or flaws. I’m trying to start over now, because it seems cruel to only let these stories live in my head. But I am my own worst taskmaster because I so often fail at keeping myself to goals or schedules. I worry the fact that I need something external to myself to help motivate me means I’ve already failed and I shouldn’t even be on this field.
Oh my god, we all need external validation, that’s why this whole thing is here! And you have a story to tell, so you are already on the field whether you like it or not. You’re the first person I ever played with words with as an adult, so like, dude, you’re here. Deal with it. 😉
500 words a day is two novels a year if you take 65 days off. If half the words you write are crap, it’s still one novel in a year.
Let’s find you a small target to take aim at in one of the universes you are building, and make it happen. God knows, you read enough of my words that did and didn’t go anywhere over the years.
I hear there are space vampires?
I spend a lot of time thinking about that young James Spader lookalike and his velvet blazer in space. Also the logistics of smuggling items into orbit. So 500 a day. That will be a thing I will try to do.
Writing is hell in isolation. Full stop.
I work best and, sometimes, only, with external motivation. It’s what makes the cowriter situation so excellent — there’s always somebody invested in what I’m doing, and to whom I’m accountable for actually doing it. (Some days, for me, Doing the Thing is a panic-sea of “oh god don’t let my cowriter down.”) I think way more creatives are like that, than are able to sit alone in a room for hours a day and produce reams of really good work without any outside motivation. Like, nobody can do that. (If you can, comment and tell us your secret?)
It doesn’t matter what you use to make yourself do the thing, as long as you do the thing! Writing is hard enough without giving yourself grief over the nature of your motivation. Words are good. How you got them? Doesn’t so much matter. You have words!
A few points of advice that I’d offer. YMMV, but this is stuff that I do that’s worked reasonably well for me to get my balls rolling:
1) Find some good external ones deadlines. Contests, submission calls, anthology calls — there are a million such things out there, and with some Googling it’s relatively easy to find submission calls that fit the ideas you already have. Submission deadlines are *awesome* motivation!
2) Get a buddy. Doesn’t have to be a cowriter, but just a friend to nag you and remind you and generally irritate the hell out of you until you Do the Things. Also, having a friendly ear to bitch to when The Thing is Hard goes a long way to softening that isolation and that loneliness.
3) Make sure the deadlines you set yourself are reasonable/achieveable. I gave myself no end of grief in college by setting myself completely unrealistic deadlines. I could never meet them, I always felt like a complete failure when I didn’t, and then would spiral into a sea of disappointment and slef-doubt that was completely counterproductive. So like, don’t do that.
4) Figure out the goal type that works for you. Some days, “I’ll write 500 words!” is a useful goal for me. Sometimes, worrying about word counts completely freezes me up and I can only do anything if I’m like “I will finish this scene!” or “I will write one single sentence even if it kills me!” Even if it’s only 100 or even 20 words, the momentum I pick up from that carries me into longer things. Sometimes even that doesn’t happen, which is totally fine. I still did a thing!
5) This may not be your specific issue, but if you can get yourself to sit in front of a computer but then get distracted by Teh Internetz, writer tools like writeordie.com can be lifesavers. (I don’t use Write or Die myself, but my husband swears by it — it works like a videogame, or at least so he claims, and the goal/reward system they have in place is super useful for the way his brain works.) There are also lots of browser extensions that will temporarily block access to any website you want. Super useful if you, like me, have a tendency to wander off to Tumblr when you’d rather be writing.
So yeah. Writing is hard. Writing alone is really hard. It is a rare creature who never needs outside input or motivation to Make The Thing happen, and needing that is no reflection on your fitness for the field. So just find the kind that works for you, and Do the Thing!
I have been studying halfheartedly for the SATs because I know I need to do the thing and get good scores if I want to get into a good school and start working towards a degree as a therapist’s assistant. The problem is that this is not the thing I want to do.
I want to either make art, be it writing, making music, or both, and/or continue working at my barn, try to do instructor training, with the end goal of starting a riding program for queer teens and/or teens who are struggling with mental or physical illnesses. Both of these things are so important to me and have saved my life and I love them. If I had to pick between these things, it would be fine, but I keep going ahead with my plan to be a therapist’s assistant, which, while it’s not a horrible job, is going to require a lot of time, energy, and money towards doing a job that I don’t want to do long-term. It would lead to a comfortable and safe life and a life my parents would be happy with, but I can’t see myself being happy in that job long-term because it is a energy-sapping job that leaves little time for pastimes, hobbies, and other projects (as I’ve seen happen to my mom, who’s in the same field), especially if you’re paying off school debts.
The other life would make my parents really upset, and even though I don’t care if I have to work hard to do something I love and I don’t really care if I have to take crappy second jobs at wherever and I can’t imagine a life without horses and music and writing being a large part I feel like it’s stupid and wasteful to be throwing away financial security and the privileges I’ve been given to have the life I want.
Basically tl;dr I don’t know which thing to do!
Well, first off, just study for the SATs. I know, gross and boring. But just because odds are your parents are paying for you to take that test right now, and it’ll allow you to have more choices. I know it totally sucks, but believe me, you’d rather do it now than later especially if someone else is paying for it.
You sound like you’re into a lot of really cool stuff, some of which could combine in some really neat ways.
The sad reality is that for lots of us who just want to make music or art, we spend a long time having other jobs — some of which aren’t related to those things at all — to get the bills paid. This often feels like the worst thing in the world, but the funding to be safe and fed enough to have time to be a creative person or a person who volunteers in the community or helps other people is not the worst thing in the world.
What I want to hear more about is this therapists assistant thing. Why did you choose that? And if you’re just taking the SAT now, you have a lot of choice still open to you about what you want to pursue as a day job if that’s a route you have to take. For example, I wanted to be a writer and performer, so I studied journalism, which increased my skills and efficiency, taught me how to market myself, and exposed me to lots of different types of people.
So I would say, can being a therapists assistant assist you with your other goals? Is there a course of study that seems secure to you and your family that would help your other goals better? Can you apply to colleges that will give you access to a minor in music or that has a farm program of some sort?
Basically, you should not do a thing that makes you miserable because it is safe. But safety is useful, so see if you can find something not terrible to pursue that helps your other goals. And don’t feel like you have to have everything planned out before you even take your SAT!
Those of us with early plans often change them. Those of us without plans eventually find our way. Ultimately, you have to please yourself, but sometimes the boring stuff you don’t want to do and that involves other people’s agendas for you, can help that happen, even if it’s weird and messy.
(Erin, come talk about grad school?)
Hey yeah so grad school. I graduated December 2012 with an MA in International Affairs. In November 2013 Racheline and I sold our first book (my first book ever). Talk about a gear change!
My grad program was a great program. I liked the field, I had some phenomenal professors, and for the most part I enjoyed the work. If I ended up working in that field, I would absolutely not be miserable. But along the way things shifted, and instead of finding a job in the field I decided to keep the same he day job I had while I was in school, so I can put my other energies towards writing.
Things change, constantly. Some ridiculously small percentage of college graduates keep the same major all four years or graduate with the same major they thought they’d have as a freshman. If you’re just at the SAT stage, like Racheline said, you have every direction you can go in, and college will provide a host of new opportunities and avenues for you to pursue. It’s super likely you’ll find something that catches your interest, that can provide safety, and that will allow you to pursue your art or your work with horses at the same time (For instance, if you want to start a riding program, have you considered business?)
But your degree doesn’t determine your day job doesn’t determine your art. So, take the SAT, and see where your interests take you!
As already said – focus on your SATs, they can only open doors at this point. Consider physical therapy or physical education as another route to the horse program. School is supposed to be about exploring options unavailable at the high school level, so take oddball courses that meet your general ed requirements and studio art or music classes with spare credits or for a minor. For example, my tuition covered 17 credits, but 15 was a full load, so for one credit each, I fit in classes in harp, Spanish dance, Chinese calligraphy. Also, look for volunteer opportunities. Chances are there is an equine therapy program of some sort within an hour of you that would be happy to have you one day a month, or more if you can manage it, that will let you understand what is involved in making that a success in the ways that matter to you.
I love this. I want to write. I want to fix up the things that are written and bring them somewhere nice for dinner and proudly watch them behave. I just went through a (rather common) life-changing experience though, which resulted in almost a full twelve months of having nothing to write at all. I think I went from something to say because I knew stuff about stuff to realising in the midst of it all I knew nothing and my writing brain just shut down.
And for now, i just need patience. Because I’m not going to get 30 minutes a day to myself or anything like it. And I need more sleep. Maybe I just need to start keeping a notepad of ideas until she’s in school and I have time off? Or at least sleeps for more than 3 hours at a time? I want so much to read Starling!
I might need Ritalin.
I also want to actually finish something worth reading. And it’s not just for me any more, as cheesy as that sounds/is.
Also, on the subject of Lana Turner, wasn’t the myth that she was discovered in a chemists? My last monologue assignment referenced her discovery myth.
And, oh GOD I need to change my WordPress account to something else.
Hi hi hi!
Starting from the bottom. It was a chemists, but a chemist in that era here probably had a soda fountain or lunch counter? Which I think is why I always say diner? I mean, I love alliteration.
I think it’s awesome how much stuff you want to do when the only thing I would do is nap. Can you get 30 minutes all to yourself when your partner is home? I mean, I might just stare at the wall if I had those thirty minutes with the baby chaos, but I think staring at the wall is pretty awesome!
I love the idea of taking the words out to eat. Remember if you drop down to 250 words 300 days a year, you still have a novel in 1 year. That’s pretty impressive with a baby on hand.
I’m trying to date for the first time in my life which means trying to figure out my sexuality. I’ve never been intimate with anyone and I’m not in my twenties anymore which is when it seemed like everyone had blanket acceptance to be confused and I’m terrified of the entire process. Any advice?
Hey anon! I’ll try to come up with something on this tonight, but I’m going to move this comment up to this week’s Do the Thing! post so other people can see it and chime in too, cool?
Hey there — you’ve got some answers here: https://avian30.com/2014/04/28/do-the-thing-moving-edition/comment-page-1