Mentorless: Story Fabricator Nathalie Sejean

nathalie-sejean-photo-by-gizem-evcinWell, kids, for anyone who missed the news — this is the last episode of Coffee With Creatives. At least, it’s the last one for now. I have decided, after much deliberation, to put the show on indefinite hiatus.

But I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect guest to bring to you for this occasion.

Nathalie Sejean is a champion of creative entrepreneurialism. She provides indispensable service to creatives, via her newsletter (Sunday Interestingness) and site (Mentorless.com), and is currently in development on her first feature film (In Five Years).

Check out our talk to hear Nathalie testify to the power of:

  • Turning to books at an early age (and, later, to bookselling) to jumpstart her interest in learning and storytelling
  • The advantages of building a skill set, while avoiding perfectionism, by moving from experiment to experiment
  • Leveraging daily creative challenges to source and iterate ideas over time
  • Showing your work, and why this is a crucial action
  • Keeping yourself accountable and taking continuous action — while staying humble
  • Fostering virtual communities
  • Transforming virtual relationships into real life meetings
  • Repetition, and how it serves not only output but quality and growth
  • An effectively employed and genuinely considered newsletter

I’m glad to be ending this endeavor on a high note by sharing this episode with you. Definitely follow Nathalie on Twitter, and sign up for her email list. You won’t be disappointed.

As for me, I am going quiet for a while. But you’ll hear from me soon. It will be a growl from a mountain.

Thank you for your listenership and readership. If you want to stay in touch, reach out anytime. Or sign up for my email list. I’ll likely keep active there, for now.

You can also listen to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes.


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker 
of hopeful stories for complex people. My first film, The Videoblogs, about mental health in the age of tech, is available on iTunes. I’m currently working on my next film and also a novel. Once per month or so, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this special group here. Thanks for reading.

How To Be Better: Perspective and Self-Compassion

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I continue to think about and reflect upon balance.

It’s a tricky dance, keeping forward progress, while also respecting the creative process — all in the midst of managing daily life. We’re all called upon to do it, though, aren’t we?

Grow and thrive. Be better. Pursue happiness.

But it’s not that simple, most of the time, is it?

If I have learned anything, it has been to do less. To listen more. Still, I know it’s a hard thing to do. I have a lot of respect for everyone trying to understand or pursue something outside the everyday tasks of what we “must” do, everyone intent on personal growth and exploration. It takes courage. It takes extra work and focus.

And I admire those able to simplify. Especially in a city like New York, where stimulus is a fact of life for most hours of the day — if not immediately and temptingly accessible at any hour via subway — it’s a tall order.

Along the way of seeking balance, it has occurred to me (again) that I have been very hard on myself at points. That I have pushed myself too hard, too desperately, for too long. This observation, as regular readers might note, is nothing new.

The self-compassion I have been feeling lately, however, is new.

Caught up in the rush and the madness of life, not to mention the snares of the past, it can become easy to forget that we all deserve the opportunity to grow, thrive and be happy. It is not our fault when the circumstance of life or our social structures fail to live up to or follow up on the promises of these things.

But it does become our responsibility, to ourselves, to shift perspective as best we can, and do what little we can, day by day, to give ourselves and others the chance to…be better. To feel better.

Not for accolades. Not for attention. But for the chance to approach balance and feel serene, the opportunity to throw off regret and to be satisfied with the gift of living. So I grieve for a self less able to see that he deserved gentler modes of conduct, and I try today to provide and seek out new support.

We’re worth the effort — all of us. It’s a big thing to do, to show up and say: “I deserve better”. It’s a less obvious response to realize that we already are enough, and that it’s our perspective, and what we do from that point, that might need to change. That’s the real hard work.

Have a great weekend. If I may — do one small nice thing for yourself this weekend. There will be a quiz.

This is part twenty-three of a thirty day trial, during which I am writing and publishing a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!

Day 01: Struggles and Wonders and Dying in  Chair

Day 02: Fear, Panic, Identity and Anti-Focus

Day 03: Purple Sky of Towering Clouds Over a Far-off City

Day 04: Circle Up and Laugh

Day 05: On The Future of Labor

Day 06: Appreciating Difficulty, Harnessing its Momentum

Day 07: The Word for World is Earth

Day 08: It’s About The Dreaming, Not The Dream

Day 09: Moments of Presence: CWC Interview (Writer Laura Goode)

Day 10: Simmering Little Wrath of The Annoyed Man

Day 11: Tragedy, Remembrance and Wonder

Day 12: A New Light Borrowed or Discovered

Day 13: Productivity Tips for Anyone Prone to Overwhelm (Like Me)

Day 14: Legitimately Va-goo

Day 15: Sex-Bleating and Cat Vomit

Day 16: The Waiting Place

Day 17: 6 Ways to Bring Balance to the (Artistic) Force

Day 18: How to Decide What to Make Next

Day 19: Take Faith for Yourself, Give Them Skepticism

Day 20: All I Need Is My Lamp and My Dog!

Day 21: Why I’m Writing and Publishing, First Thing Every Morning

Day 22: The Routine Dance: Rewards and Perils

Appreciating Difficulty, Harnessing its Momentum (Day 6 of 30)

This is part six of a thirty day trial, during which I am going to write and publish a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!

This script in the process of being razed and re-built upon the holy site of its death.
This script is in the process of being razed and re-built upon the holy site of its own prior destruction.

I’m trying to employ an appreciation for difficulty.

It’s been coming up often, lately, as I go about discovering and pursuing “next steps”, following completion of The Videoblogs.

I’m still gathering energy, still resting, after the insanity of the last few years spent producing the film. I think I mentioned that on Day 1 of this project.

I need to do this. But I can’t burn out. I don’t want to burn out. It will prevent me from doing this.

Such have been my thoughts, in summary.

But I also don’t want to remain static. So, I’ve been working, slowly, on The Next Thing.

The idea behind The Next Thing is big. Unwieldy. Complex. Every time I think I have the core of it figured out — I think again, and realize that I’m just not there yet. The puzzle pieces continue to fall into place.

While they do, life goes on. I remain, overall, still feeling a bit low on creative energy. I find myself having to spend wisely.

The sheer amount of energy it takes to both buttress The Next Thing against feelings of fear of failure and despair — such that it might grow and thrive, away from such poison — and yet also allow the ideas behind it the mobility and mutability they need to develop organically…is great.

Under ideal circumstances, this project would be my only focus right now, other than matters of general living. But not only aren’t circumstances ever ideal (and to be fair, in actuality they could be far more difficult) — I’m not even sure that space is what the idea needs.

And so, we return to the role of difficulty in all this.

I use the term loosely, to be clear. When I say “difficulty” I mostly mean anything that it might be easy to decry as being “in the way” of whatever The Next Thing might be.

Daily responsibilities. Commitments of livelihood. Fears and insecurities, or the historical traumas or inherited circumstances that feel always out of our power (because they are) but also firmly in the way of pursuing or addressing what we know or believe we need to pursue or address.

As I have gotten a little older, however, I’ve grown more able to appreciate these challenges for what they are — steps on the journey. Small victories or failures for re-feeding life what it needs in order to access and process the mysterious part of me, or of us, that engenders creativity or otherworldly exploration.

More than space, for me at least, ideas need time, and life-stuff to chew on.

Yesterday, I focused on presence. On not only practicalities (What Needed to Get Done) but relaxation, and needs of the body and spirit. At one point, an important piece, of the puzzle that is The Next Thing, seemed to fall into place.

Later, I questioned whether that piece was the right fit.

This is common. What excites us as a real breakthrough in a project, creative or otherwise, can sometimes fail us later on in its lifecycle (as soon as a couple of hours or minutes). This can be disappointing, but with practice I have learned that it’s all simply part of the process of ideation and iteration.

Whereas in the past, I would have brooded on such a “failure”, now I am able, usually, to mourn the excitement of the idea and to leave the rest to tomorrow, when perhaps I’ll have the proper perspective to identify the new strand of the idea as neither the one piece of the puzzle that brings it all into focus, or a completely false match.

It’s rarely one or the other, despite what we might want, or how we might have been led to believe it at works, in mine of any other profession.

I have a different measure, now, of progress. When that moment arrived yesterday, I went deep into the idea. I explored it fully. The process lasted minutes, but afterwards I felt changed. I felt tired. As if I had traveled a great distance.

When I later began to question the actual usefulness of the new idea, to the story of The Next Thing — I paused. The judgment felt premature. I forced myself to, once again, let go.

This was difficult. My compulsion was to seize the idea, to poke and prod it, to turn it constantly over in search of an answer, once and for all, as to whether the entire endeavor — of which it was only a part — was worthy and excellent.

It hurt, to know that I couldn’t get such an answer from one mere piece of the whole, and to realize that it was going to take many more such days to arrive at an acceptable answer to this crucial question, that had nothing to do with this small piece of the thing but which nonetheless plagues me daily, co-opting and yet spurring on all progress — is this truly The Next Thing?

But, as I said, I let it go. As best I could.

Later, the small piece of the idea came back to me, of its own accord. When this happened, because I had been patient, had ridden out the difficult feelings…it engendered some clarity.

This particular piece of the puzzle might, in fact, become a permanent, fundamental fixture of this story. But it is too soon to tell.

Still, handling the natural process of creativity in this way did allow the practical side of my brain had the freedom to take over when its turns came up in the rotation.

Let’s try it. See what happens. If it works, great. We’ll be on our way. If it doesn’t, great. We’ll know that this way isn’t the right one, and perhaps we’ll gain more clues as to where to go next.

I don’t know that we can win such clarity, harness such momentum, if we don’t ride out the difficulty. It takes courage and patience, perhaps, but at least as each small journey is ended along the way, we’re left certain that we’ve done what we could — for the right reasons.

Day 1: Struggles and Wonders and Dying in  Chair

Day 2: Fear, Panic, Identity and Anti-Focus

Day 3: Purple Sky of Towering Clouds Over a Far-off City

Day 4: Circle Up and Laugh

Day 5: On The Future of Labor

Convergence and Grit: Screenwriter, Strategist, and Festival Programmer Brad Wilke

Brad Headshot (New)

Brad Wilke freely admits that his life path has been non-linear. After attending West Point and making short films while in the Army, and with stopovers in graduate school (where he earned two Master degrees) and tech — he’s now the Co-Founder of Smarthouse Creative, a PR and marketing strategy firm in Seattle. And that’s just one of his jobs.

Though we’ve yet to meet in person, Brad and I have chatted about filmmaking and screenwriting over the course of many “micro-conversations” on Twitter. It was great to have him on the podcast for a longer form talk about such topics as:

  • His opinion that many problems actually could be solved by money
  • Contrary to this last point — the fundamental importance of happiness and lived experience, as separate metrics that can and do eventually converge to create (sometimes surprising) opportunities
  • Resilience and grit, as virtues necessary for long-term growth
  • How he approaches programming for film festivals, and what problems sink most films (HINT: It’s almost always a story/script issue)
  • The concept of Minimal Viable Product (MVP) and how this start-up term can be applied to creative pursuits

Smart, nice, thoughtful guy. Check out our conversation below, or on iTunes, Stitcher or Google Play. You can find Brad on Twitter and elsewhere on the web.

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.

 

Keep Getting On Stage: Comedian Leah Bonnema

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This episode with Leah Bonnema marks several firsts for Coffee with Creatives. Leah was the first guest to bring eggs to her recording, and the first to decline to leave after the episode was over. She was also the first guest to asks listeners for new appliances and renovations to her apartment, kitchen and shower.

Leah’s funny, but she also works hard. I’m thrilled to share this conversation with you, after last month’s unexpected hiatus (I got busy). Here’s what we covered:

  • How audiences differ, and why it doesn’t completely matter
  • What to do when creativite work becomes a slog (get through it, go home, eat something)
  • The process and difficulty of working at night, and then using your days to get more work (and vice-versa)
  • How to let go when you find yourself obsessing too much about the business side of art-making
  • Making the decision to go full time as a comic
  • Giving everyone your pile of dicks
  • How and why to avoid comparing yourself to your peers
  • Why our society needs more of a certain type of murderer

To get more specificity on that last one, you’ll just have to listen. You can find Leah on Facebook and Twitter. Glad to be back producing the show. Thanks for listening!

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.

 

No Waiting: Filmmaker Christina Raia

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After a bit of a break, Coffee with Creatives is back and ready to inspire you in 2016. The first episode of the new year is with Filmmaker Christina Raia, who I first met on Twitter and then in person when Multiverse screened at Indieworks in NYC.

Christina is a prolific filmmaker with an intense work ethic. In addition to discussing the path that led to her first feature film Summit, we also discuss:

  • The many ways in which an artist can be boxed-in, in career terms, and how to help make sure that doesn’t happen
  • How we as artists change during, after, and across projects
  • Why she doesn’t like waiting before moving on to a new film or series
  • The experience of wondering if her $20,000 feature (Summit) would collapse entirely, during every day of its two-week production period
  • Learning to be vulnerable, and how that can help you (and any team members working with you) to, for instance, stick things out in sub-zero temperatures
  • In regards to her web series, Kelsey, how to achieve distribution success by reaching out to your base, or core audience

Great talk, hard-working, generous filmmaker. Summit is available now. You can find out more about Christina and her work on her site. Happy Creating! More great guests coming soon! If you enjoy our talk, please share it on Twitter or on Facebook.

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and support the podcast on Patreon.

 

Through The Fear: Novelist Amy Koppelman

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Amy Koppelman started writing before she had any idea that she would one day become a novelist. Three books and one film adaptation later, she now has plenty to share with Coffee with Creatives listeners, especially about:

  • The cathartic, early-stage creative exploits that often later lead to our larger creative pursuits
  • Waiting for the tools needed to authentically address what we’re compelled to address
  • Learning to parse comments and criticism
  • The importance of learning — and then breaking — the rules
  • The difficulty of letting go after a thing is done
  • How and why darkness doesn’t necessarily suggest hopelessness
  • Humanizing mental illness
  • The importance of perseverance

AMyKoppelman[1]It was great to meet Amy, and to talk shop about fiction and the challenges of being a novelist. Her unflinching portrayals of characters struggling with depression, trauma, and other tough subjects — they can serve as a good reminder of how hard things can get for people who we might know and love but not always fully understand. Her discussion of the hopefulness that can often come out of that process, as well, is particularly moving.

Hesitation Wounds comes out in hardcover on November 3rd. For more information on her other books, and/or the film adaptation of her novel I Smile Back, check out her site. You can also follow Amy on Twitter.

This episode is also on iTunes.

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Lost in Stories: Writer/Actor Vanessa Shealy

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Today’s Coffee with Creatives interview is with hyphenate Vanessa Shealy, a Writer and Actor (and Producer) fresh off a successful (but still ongoing!) Kickstarter for her co-created indie comic, Couri Vine.

We had a great conversation about:

  • Falling into acting as a release11828619_10153272990012284_7680790401937617824_n
  • Getting lost in stories (in a good way)
  • Dreams as composite maps of experience
  • The usefulness of having something to prove
  • Preparing to enter a new medium
  • Imbuing superpowers with character, just as often as you go about doing the opposite

If you enjoy what Vanessa has to say, and want to grab yourself a copy of Couri Vine, head over to the Kickstarter page for the project. You can also find Vanessa on Twitter.

This episode is also on iTunes.

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Tell That Story: Filmmaker Minhal Baig

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I first “met” Writer/Director Minhal Baig on Twitter, when several people whose work I respect started recommending everyone follow her — a ringing endorsement in today’s tech-enabled climate. We connected shortly thereafter and I invited her to come on the podcast to discuss her new project, Hala.

Our discussion was multi-pronged and, in my opinion, full of a lot of great lessons. Minhal works hard, and has already absorbed several big lessons about life as a creative despite only being a few years out of college.

Topics discussed in this episode include:

  • Entering the post-collegiate market as an artist
  • The hard work before and around the creative stuff
  • Sourcing out a more direct creative path (make your own work)
  • Storytelling as a personal need
  • The difference between trying to sell a script and trying to make a movie
  • The difference in scope between shorts and features
  • The importance of working on material that you love
  • Throwing out the good stuff to get to the great stuff
  • Supporting the movies you want to see
  • Personal vulnerability as a storytelling necessity

Minhal’s a smart and talented filmmaker. We also talked about how she began to hone in on some of the above lessons as one of the inaugural fellows in the Blacklist Screenwriter’s Lab.

This episode is also available on iTunes.

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Not Dead Yet: Ten Years of Filmmaking

CWC_Patreon_01Today marks the ten year anniversary of the beginning of a near-death experience I had when I was a student in college. For a long time, it was hard for me to talk about that period of my life. Since around the time when I wrote this essay, however, I’ve been able to do a better job of discussing both what happened, and how it has affected me.

In the intervening years since writing that post, I’ve gotten to the point wherein I can talk even more openly, in person, about what happened — without becoming re-traumatized. Years of therapy, the natural erosion of pain via time, and the process of carefully opening up about it, more often, in trusted company over the years, has led me to a place where I can (gratefully) say that.

But something else happened ten years ago, too. Immediately after.

At the time, it was perhaps not the healthiest (sole) reaction to the fears I felt after my hospitalization, but, regardless — today I have come to view it as one of the two best things to have ever happened to me.

I started making films.

As soon as I was (somewhat) recovered from the experience, I began stumbling down a winding and staggered artistic path that continues to this day. Today’s bonus episode of the podcast, among other topics, is meant to explore this journey a bit.

The reasons I decided to talk about the relationship between my work and this incident in my life are many.

  • I wanted to take a life-affirming view of the anniversary of my illness, to focus on the ten years of (hard-won) health and happiness experienced since that time, that I can now identify as essential to my growth as an artist and a person — rather than the first five to seven years of prior intense dread.
  • I have come to view what happened to me not with fear, but with gratitude. I feel a discussion of my evolution to this point of view could potentially be helpful to others who might be struggling as I was at that age (early twenties). It wasn’t just the one thing that happened, which kept me somewhat blocked as an artist, and definitely struggling harder than I needed to struggle, for many years. Arguably, all the experience did was force some stuff to the surface sooner.
  • It seemed a good way to close the book on the lingering anxieties I still sometimes feel when I think about how it felt at that time to be so unsure of tomorrow — despite that fact that we NEVER know what tomorrow is going to bring

So, here’s that episode.

And I realize that my mention of how stumbling into my life as a filmmaker was one of the two best things that’s ever happened to me might naturally lead to questions seeking to identify the other.

Well, she is the guest host for this bonus episode of the podcast. I hope you like it and thank you for listening.

This episode is also available on iTunes.

602066_10100681300095942_1773576913_n (2)Like my style? Subscribe to my list for advanced/exclusive (and free!) access to new (creative) content produced by yours truly. I send one email per month.