Laura understands how important it is to taste life as a writer. Growing up in a small town she realized that she needed to see the world in order to truly grow as a writer. Since then her talent has evolved by leaps and bounds. Now she is a literary force to be reckoned with. None of which would have happened had Laura lacked the courage it takes to force ourselves beyond our comfort zones. Which is why I am excited to introduce you to her. This is Laura Jacques…
I grew up in Charleston, SC, and my early years were incredibly rooted. I attended the same school for twelve years and never moved until I left for college. I was a reading addict from early on and knew at a very young age that I wanted to be a writer. I remember thinking with awe that it must be the most amazing thing to write a book. And, I immediately put my dream on hold by telling myself that I didn’t have anything to say and would have to wait until I was older.
So I waited, and waited…. and while I was waiting I had some great experiences. I did foreign study in Japan and had an internship at The Kennedy Center. Needing a job, I fell into teaching because, as the daughter of a teacher, it felt natural and familiar. I taught Spanish and English and theater and snuck in some more travel to Spain.
And then… it wasn’t so much that I suddenly believed that I had enough to say, it was more FOMO that pushed me into writing. I had the great fortune to teach some outstanding students while I lived in Atlanta, and every year I’d watch them graduate and go off towards their bright shiny futures and big adventures, while I stayed behind doing a job I had never really wanted. And I finally realized I needed to bite the bullet and pursue my own bright, shiny future, or I was going to be facing down decades of resentment. And so, (after a bit more resisting), I did.
Q: How did you stumble upon screenwriting?
For me it wasn’t really a stumble but a direct pursuit. After leaving teaching, I enrolled in graduate school to get an MFA in Creative Writing. Pursuing academic degrees falls within my comfort level and convinces my parents that there is at least a modicum of respectability to my choice. Plus, it gave me time to develop my craft, as well as the super cool experience of living in a graduate dorm and having a meal plan. WOOT!
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After compiling a collection of short stories and a draft of a novel, however, I learned enough about my writing style to recognize that screenwriting was going to be a better fit. I LOVE reading well written novels, and I ooh and ahh over insightful, fresh similes and descriptions. But I do not like writing them myself. I’m wired differently. I want to get to the point and focus on the meat of the story and the heart of the matter (no fresh metaphors there!). I’m all business in my writing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about character and deeply committed to emotional reality and moving conflicts, but I love the challenge of conveying all that within such a tight structure. Screenwriting is like poetry in that sense. Each word counts, there’s no room for fluff or meandering. As an extremely analytical person who loves both words and puzzles, I had finally found my forte.
Q: Who/what inspired you into taking this path?
I’d say it was coming to know myself and my writing strengths that inspired me to shift from general fiction writing into screenwriting.
Q: Who was the first person who believed in you?
Ah. Hmmm… I wish I could regale you with a fun tale of the fourth-grade teacher who recognized my creative light and encouraged me to pursue it, but… You know, there’s a reason I had to do The Artist Way, by Julia Cameron. For those unfamiliar with the book, it’s touted as a program for “recovering creatives”. It’s a bit like a twelve-step program. There are 12 chapters, each addressing different blocks, old wounds, etc… and you’re to spend a week on each chapter. There are readings, and assignments, and a daily writing task called Morning Pages.
It’s not for the faint of heart, but I was at a point in my life where I was deeply unhappy. Pretty much everything needed to change. I’m sure I could have used a good therapist, but I was living in a tiny town in north Louisiana that was coffee-shop/bookstore/therapist free, so the universe threw me a bone and put The Artist Way in front of me. And to this day I will say that this book saved my life. Working through the book gave me the determination I needed to forge my path and finally pursue writing
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a screenwriter?
I can’t say for sure. I will say that, after doing The Artist Way, the first thing I wrote was a screenplay. I was just drawn to the form somehow. Probably I convinced myself that I was “supposed” to do more classical writing and thus I spent several years cranking out short stories and the novel, but looking back, I think my newly-opened self was onto something and knew instinctively what form to pursue. I think that original pull, combined with my later, clearer understanding of my style, together made me consciously realize I wanted to be a screenwriter.
Q: How do you define success for yourself?
You know, I’d love to say I feel successful because I’ve worked hard to learn the craft and now know I can do it well, and I am proud of that, but really I’m longing for that outside affirmation. I want to have a script produced and distributed. And yes, once I accomplish that, I have bigger goals I’d like to accomplish, but I will feel successful once a script becomes a movie.
In the meantime, there are smaller successes: getting out of bed in the morning, completing a draft of a script, revising the script, starting another…. These all definitely count as successes.
Q: What is your typical day like?
I’m a bit of a night owl. I get up between 8 and 9 am.
I go directly to the Keurig and make a cup of coffee. (Fun fact: I LOVE coffee. And after my first cup, it doesn’t have to be caffeinated. I’ll happily drink decaf all day long.) Then I have to do my “mommy” duties and take care of my cat. My cat has allergies and health issues, and her holistic vet insists that it’s very important to give her a lot of playtime.
I’ll either have a couple of scrambled eggs or a pack of Belvita for breakfast, feed the cat (want to hear about the numerous supplements I have to add to her food?) and then it’s upstairs to my office to work. My work will be interrupted by my frequent trips up and down the stairs to let the cat in and out.
A few days a week I’ll hit the gym early to midafternoon. Occasionally I have some volunteer obligation, or for a change I’ll go write at Starbucks, but many days I have minimal interaction with the outside world. Fortunately, I like my own company, and I’m a skilled self-conversationalist, so I don’t get bored…
Q: What’s been the most important skill you’ve developed?
Learning to recognize my perfectionist tendencies and move past them. Nothing gets done if I’m being fearful and blocking myself with ridiculous requirements. (More on this later.)
Other than that, I’d say the most important skills I’ve learned are techniques that I learned in the ScreenwritingU.com master class. Even though I came to screenwriting armed with a decent ability to write, what I learned in the SU master class about putting together a well-structured, marketable script was invaluable.
Q: What’s the greatest challenge to your writing?
Doubt and perfectionism. After serious exploration of the issues, I can honestly say, no exaggerating, that I suffered from perfectionism. But, once I became aware of my perfectionism, it was almost a relief, because suddenly my being stuck on a novel for two years didn’t feel so much like a personal failure. And happily, now that I can identify and recognize when I’m having perfectionist flare-ups, it’s easier for me to apply strategies to counter it and I can move forward in my writing.
Q: What’s been your greatest reward in screenwriting?
Happiness. Feeling like I’m honoring my calling and my skills. Truly enjoying how I spend my time. And a hoped-for reward, if my scripts get produced, is to feel like I’ve made a positive impact on the world. This could be by bringing joy and laughter to an audience, and/or making people feel like they’ve been seen and heard, and/or helping people to see important issues from new perspectives. Like most people, I hope that what I do matters.
Q: What do I want to learn from a community of peers?
Ack, so much! I’d like to learn everything I don’t already know, especially about the business of screenwriting. Being new to the field, most things on the business-end are still “firsts” for me.