By Felicia Pride
I celebrated my thirty-ninth birthday in my first writers room. And it was one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had, and not just because my wonderful colleagues got me delicious mini pies.
Let me back up. About four years ago, I was living in a basement apartment in Washington, DC and not writing. I wasn’t even calling myself a writer anymore. I was running a marketing consultancy that was running me into the ground. I was burned out, broke, and creatively empty. I hadn’t written anything substantial for myself in nearly eight years, this after seeing some success as an author of six books. But when the publishing deals dried up, I made a fatal mistake: I blamed writing and out of misdirected spite, I stopped writing. I packed my creative self in a locked trunk and put it in my mind’s basement behind a stack of boxes filled with doubt, fear, and other crap.
I poured myself into helping others with their projects, taking on gig after gig to distract and divert myself from what I really wanted to do — to write again. What I needed to do. My calling.
Then I had one of those now or never moments that you see in the movies where the lead is at a life-defining crossroads. Mine was this: I landed a major contract from a nonprofit client to organize events for one of their campaigns. Not at all my wheelhouse, but at that time, focus was not important to me. Because focus would mean I’d have to reckon with my locked trunk. Nope. I kept moving in several directions to avoid facing that. This contract was also a huge check, which validated me.
After only a couple of months of work, the client sat me down to tell me that they were shutting down the campaign. What? Are you kidding me? I was over it. It being running a business that I tolerated. Chasing checks for work I tolerated. Being someone I wasn’t. Denying who I really was. I was really fucking over it.
My consultancy was supposed to be a short term solution to become “stable” that turned into eight years of my life! Do you know what I could have done in eight years? How many scripts I could have written? How I could be running a television show by now? I digress.
I could not believe how unfulfilled I was. I was starving actually. I lost my voice. I lost my confidence. I lost that passion that I used to have for the page. And because of that, I was lost.
Also around that time, I had just written and produced a short film that breathed creative life into me. The experience reminded me of what it felt like to create. I poured so much energy and money into that project and loved every minute of it. But it was also a tease because I became fixated on the fact that I didn’t know how to connect the dots between that feeling and a career. So I scripted a bunch of bad stories in my head: I’m not really a writer. That was a fluke. I can’t do this as a career. Blah, blah, blah.
It was the day before Thanksgiving in 2014 when I met with my mentor. I told her how I just lost the biggest contract I’ve ever had and how I was over my consultancy. She asked me pointedly: What do you want to do? No one had really asked me that question. I was forced to tell the truth. I want to write for film and television. Whoa.
She suggested that I move to the biggest market, Los Angeles. I had been to LA numerous times before, including for client work. I always had a good time, but I could never picture myself there. LA was weird and so far from my family, it seemed very lofty.
But in that moment, I knew it was now or never. If I didn’t move, I would end up getting a good government job in Washington, DC and probably never reclaiming my writer self and that scared the shit out of me. So I made the very overwhelming leap.
I moved to Los Angeles, four years ago. For those doing the math, I was thirty-five. For those who know Hollywood math, this is too old to try to break into the business. In fact, I shouldn’t even be putting said age in print. Or so they say. And they say a lot.
Maybe it was because of my age that I became tired of listening to them, internalizing their projected insecurities. I was ready to write my own story and screen it over and over again in my mind.
My move to LA was just the jolt I needed. Don’t worry, this isn’t a commercial for the city of angels. This is a testimony to reclaiming one’s power by hook or crook. And I’m one of those who needs to be pushed into a corner so I can come out swinging. The move was a very tangible way for me to basically start over.
Let me not downplay how huge it was though. Did I mention that I wasn’t a spring chicken? I did not go to film school. I had not worked my way up in the industry. I didn’t have a rolodex of peers. I had my ten-year old Toyota Solara, some savvy (because of my ahem, life experience), and an east coast hustle. Most importantly, I had a deep, deep desire to reclaim my creative self. That drive pretty much trumped everything else.
In hindsight, I’ve realized that everything I had done up to that point — even the stuff that seemed like it didn’t fit neatly in my career trajectory — prepared me for the move. The slumming in several East Coast cities, the constant need to be scrappy and resourceful, the ability to just jump right in, helped me to navigate the job that fell through right when I moved, the forthcoming layoff, the apartment break-in. What kept me going was my purpose. I had a very specific reason for being in LA — to reclaim my creative self and capture my creative dreams — and it would take some serious shit to disrupt that purpose.
From a practical standpoint, I do have less time than my younger counterparts. But you know how it is when you have less time, you’re more focused. You find ways to get things done quicker. Hello forced productivity.
What I do have is a stronger understanding of who I am and what I’m capable of. I hit a personal rock bottom before moving out here so I know that most stuff really isn’t that deep. I know that I can bounce back, rebuild, and come out on the other side stronger.
I’m also okay saying no. When an executive suggested I become an agent assistant a couple of years back, but added that it would be soul-crushing, I had no problem accepting that such a position was not my path. My life’s too short to have my soul crushed to gain contacts. I’ll find another way. And I did.
By focusing on what was most important: rekindling my relationship with writing. I had to court it again. Prioritize it. Care for it. Trust in it. Prove my devotion. And in doing so, I reconnected with myself. I dug deep to unearth and uproot the fear and doubt that was holding me back. I went to the basement, cleared out those boxes, and unlocked the trunk.
I started to see all the connections between our inner selves and our craft. Doing the inner work, which for me includes strengthening my faith and rewiring my thoughts, is as important as doing the creative work because the creative work is fed by the inner self. As a result, I’m much more comfortable with vulnerability. I’m letting go, unpacking, detaching from outcomes, all of which helps to bring new layers of depth to my work and help me navigate this nutty town.
The truth is, the work is the only thing that really matters. The accolades are cool. But those can fade. They can take your credit, pay you less, all types of foolishness, but they can’t take the work from us. The work is pure. The work doesn’t lie. The work carries no ego.
In the four years I’ve been in LA, I sold a film, sold a television pilot, and was staffed. Folk wonder how I moved so fast. It is partly due to having some life wisdom and experience and using them as an advantage versus a handicap. Spending my thirty-ninth birthday in a writers room was the best gift I could have given to myself.
These days, I’m in the best creative place I’ve ever been in my life. I write damn near every day. I look forward to the page. Ideas are flowing. I’m in a fucking creative zone. And I’m focused on my ultimate goal: to be undeniable. You don’t have to like me. You don’t have to be into what I write or create. But, you cannot deny my talent.
Who do I think I am?!
A writer, damn it.
Ready to forge your own comeback? Check out The Creative Comeback, an online course where I outline how I went from creative rut to creative zone.