The Actor's Life by Jenna Fischer and Why It's Relevant to Writers
This book was a revelation and so very relevant to my writing life. I think I ordered it when Jenna was on Episode 27 of the Happier in Hollywood Podcast but only read it a few months ago after a home office clear-out. What a joy she is!
(In case you need this clarified, Jenna Fischer is the utter joy of an actress who starred as Pam in The Office (US) and Blades of Glory and loads of other stuff. If you haven't seen those stop reading this immediately and watch them.)
So Jenna is a hugely successful actress and, apparently, super nice person who wants to share her wisdom about how to BE an actor. The whole thing. Not just the very very tiny portion of an actor's life we the audience see - that final performance on stage or screen, or perhaps a few photos of them on a red carpet. No, she goes deep into detail. She explains what an agent is, how to get one, the whole casting process and then how much work goes in to preparing for roles.
I spent the entire book nodding, light bulbs going off in my head thinking 'ohhh this is the same for books'. For example: actors have agents who take 10% of their money. Because they do 10% of the work. The actor has to do the other 90%! Jenna says don't just sit around waiting for the phone to ring to get acting jobs handed to you on a plate - go out and create your own work! Produce, direct, join a theatre company. For writers - don't want for someone to ask you to write, just start writing. Start a blog, send pitches to magazine editors, once one book is out on submission, write your next one. Also, agents are totally worth their 10% because they do 10% of the work like negotiating your contract, actually chasing people for your payments and much more. Having just signed with a literary agent, I can confirm this is a huge burden off my plate, and gives me at least 10% more headspace to focus on my writing!
Jenna also talks a lot about investing in your craft, investing in yourself as an artist and TAKING CLASSES. I was so shy about taking writing classes. There's a huge snobbery in some corners of the literary world about creative writing classes. But I was trying and failing to write books because I didn't know how. I got over myself, took some classes and - no great surprises here - I learned some tips and techniques and was given ideas that demystify the process of writing. For example, I have worked on picture books as an editor. I had an idea for a picture book. But still I had no idea how to write a picture book. I took a one-evening Picture Book class at the London Writers' Salon and then I wrote my picture book. Don't be too proud to keep learning your craft.
One really interesting point Jenna makes is about the process of auditioning as creating a body of work seen within the industry. Every audition she went on, she was networking with casting directors. So if she wasn't right for that job, she was still getting an opportunity to perform and creating a body of work for her industry peers to refer to. She was acting. And every no takes her closer to a yes! So far in my career, I have had plenty of rejections. But several rejections have led to other opportunities. I've had a no for one specific piece of writing that made an editor think of me for a different project. Every no brought me closer to a yes. Reading how Jenna accepts that a lot of her work will be unseen by an audience, but that that's the point - that her work in auditions is still acting, she still prepares and relishes the performance, but that the point is to show her range to casting directors - it was a huge relief. For me, a lot of my writing has been to show my range to editors which then leads to something completely different!
I crave guidance on how to 'be' a writer. I have a whole shelf of books on how to write books that I am figuring out which bits are practical and useful to my own way of working. Because really all we see is the end product - a published book and maybe a book tour to publicise it. But all the other stuff - the mentality of 'being' an artist and feeling validated in your artistic pursuit not only narrowly defined by audience reception - I haven't found that anywhere yet. Jenna's book on acting brought me one step closer.