HBO Access Writing Fellowship: Why it Wasn’t a Total Disaster

While working through the deluge of ideas floating around in my head this afternoon, and trying to ignore my overwhelming urge to eat a cookie, I did what any good writer would: I googled things to distract myself and came up with this article —

Diverse Writers Break the Internet: Ask HBO How Many

It’s short. Go ahead and read it if you want. I plan to quote from it if not.

So you understand more fully why an article about the HBO Access Diversity Writing Fellowship is of interest to me, some backstory. On March 4th — the day in question — I logged into Without A Box at 11am central time and then spent the next two hours fighting a crashing website for a sliver of a chance that I might qualify for this fellowship.

After a lot of prayers and bargains and refreshing the (multiple) windows I had open, I finally got a confirmation page that my application had gone through.

When I went to Twitter, riding the high of actually making it under the wire, and searched the hashtag #hboaccess, I noticed something pretty unsurprising, but a little disappointing. There were 1000 applicants accepted, and for every one of them there were ten people flipping off HBO and cursing the entire program because they didn’t make it.

There were a lot of questions about how this could have been avoided. Why this happened. What it meant. But there were also a lot of (understandably) angry writers who felt like they had lost out on a major opportunity.

I am not the most diverse woman. I am white. I am straight. I am middle class. Some might say I should have left this for the more diverse, and those people have a right to that opinion. But that opinion is based on prejudice. Because whether I should get to or not, I qualified.

And I would do it again in a heartbeat, because of statements like this one:

…the limited bandwidth of Without A Box serves as a metaphor for the career trajectory of many diverse writers in America: There is only so much room for people like you here. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say diverse writers are explicitly told this again and again. By fellowships like these, yes, but also by literary magazines and publishing houses and art galleries and academia and so on and so forth. It’s real.

Even white, straight woman like me are discriminated against in the film industry and publishing world. We are taken less seriously or made to feel shitty about our writing. And what’s worse, the window is narrowing, and soon, there may not be enough room for us to fight for the right to Write. The playing field is a swarm of talented people banging on the door until their knuckles are bloody. Banging, and being ignored.

Hollywood continues to finance reboots because they are a sure thing.

Publishers continue to buy shit because it sells.

Original content rarely makes it through the door.

Readers and viewers complain about the crap they are given. Readers and viewers, nevertheless, consume it.

I am diverse because I am still the minority in the Film Industry. I am deserving of a chance to place my name at the top of the stack. I’ve been working a long time to get published. I’ve been writing screenplays since I was a child. I am dedicated and I am sick of the bullshit.

More and more creatives are turning to self-publishing, to YouTube, to indie pub or indie films, to teaching, or to crying into a bowl of ice cream and lamenting the life and death of their dreams.

Fighting back starts with believing you deserve to win.

I believe it for myself, whether I am an abysmal failure or a soaring success. Maybe even more when I look around and realize none of these fuckers is buying what I’m selling. I don’t stop pushing it. I push harder.

What the HBO application process taught me was simple: I want it bad enough to act a fool to get it. I better keep acting a fool.  I better bloody up my knuckles pounding on that door, and then I better go back to the drawing board and up my game because if I don’t someone else will. And then who can I blame but myself?

No Excuses. Just Write.

I just spent a week in Hawaii, and it made me realize something:

I’m angry. Have been for a while. I don’t want to be anymore.

I have been writing in the hope of being traditionally published for four years, this October. I remember the moment with great clarity that I decided to make that my goal. And, in retrospect, that may have been my first mistake.

I was sitting on my stoop in Brooklyn, and I decided to discontinue the blog I’d started when we moved to New York City in favor of creating a writing-centered blog to begin building my author platform. I didn’t even have a finished draft yet, and already I was plotting my future as an author. Already, I was thinking about what kind of brand I wanted to create. Already, I was setting myself up for heartache.

This post will be inspirational. I’ll get to that part in a minute.

I did finish a draft. And then I revised. And revised. And revised. And every time I did, I wanted it to be the last time. I wanted someone to tell me yes, this book is no longer a red hot mess. I got a lot of feedback. That manuscript helped me make a lot of writer friends and industry connections because it was promising, but it was never quite right.

I got tired of revising it and around that time I finished my shiny new idea. I revised. I revised again. I sent it to readers and got fantastic feedback. I did a revise and resubmit with an agent. The resubmit went well, all signs pointed to Yes, and then instead nothing at all happened. The agent fell off the face of the planet. I never heard from her again.

Whether it was right or not, I got angry. Yes, I did the proper thing and acted cool. I told myself this was not my fault. I told myself this was just business. I force fed every line of positive energy bullshit I could down my throat. I faked a positive attitude. I began to query more widely. I got a lot of requests, fast, and there were a couple of weeks there in January where I was flying high.

But the Anger was still there. It had a higher threshold for patience than I did. As the months of waiting dragged on, it festered. It seeped into my heart and mind and creative force. I sat down to write, anything, and Anger distracted me with self-pity. I griped about the Industry, and Anger became more powerful in my disgust. I saw certain books become successful, books I read and didn’t love, didn’t like, didn’t get. I struggled to read at all. Agents requested, agents rejected, agents didn’t get back to me. I decided Agents could go fuck themselves.

I’m a bit of a potty-mouth. Anger made that worse.

I kept having accidents and injuring myself, and Anger managed to make even those about my failure as a writer. Because since I wanted to be published, since I had decided that publishing was my goal, the fact that I wasn’t yet meant my writing was bad. It meant I was clearly on the wrong path, and I needed to realize it. It meant my talent, my love of story, my imagination, was substandard. It wasn’t enough to know what I loved and get to do it — I needed to succeed. I needed to win. I should just give up.

This wasn’t happening without my knowledge. I am not a victim. Anger became my ally. It made me feel validated in my procrastination, or lack of perseverance with the manuscripts I had started, or querying some more, or deciding anything, ever about my career.

The week before I left for Hawaii I started a new project. Well, a reimagining of that first novel. The one I gave up on. The one I wrote because I wanted to get published. As the words poured onto the page, I forgot to be angry. I forgot to feel sorry for myself, or to hate the agents that said no or said nothing, I forgot everything because the words were more important, the voice was all that mattered. It was a small victory against Anger, and it was the first step in breaking that alliance.

On the way to Hawaii I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and saw another writer announce they had landed an agent. And I should have been happy for them — I was happy for them, really, deep down — except Anger reminded me of all the reasons I shouldn’t be. Of all that I deserved and hadn’t received, of all the wrongness. I shut my Twitter feed and felt tears well in my eyes. I was tired of being angry. It was making this hard thing harder, and in order to win, I would need to let it go. And winning would have to become something else. And everything would have to change.

This realization followed me to the Islands, where I looked out over the ocean and asked for clarity.

The real problem was me. And the only person I was hurting, the only successful victim in my alliance with Anger against the publishing industry, was me and my writing. Me and the thing that I love.

The clarity I asked for, I received. The Islands operate on a different wavelength than the rest of the world. They move at a different rhythm. I move dangerously fast. I hate waiting. I see time as a commodity I will never have enough of. I want everything. I want to be everything. I am pulled in a million directions by me and no one else because I am afraid of missing it. I am afraid of not doing all the things I am supposed to do.

Ultimately, I, not Anger, am my own worst enemy. And I don’t know if that will ever really change, but I do know that I have to forgive myself for not meeting that goal yet. I have to forgive publishing, and Agents, for not doing things the way I want them to. I have to forgive my writing for still being a work in progress. I will only have me to blame if I let Anger win instead of Perseverance.

In the end, the only thing we have power over, no matter what we’re trying for, is ourselves and our attitude. So, no excuses. Just write. And then rewrite. And then start again. You are never finished, but you are good enough in your unfinished state.

feet in water