FEARLESS WRITING WITH JULIE GRAY: THE INTERVIEW

JULIE GRAY is not called the “Writing Coach” or the “Script Doctor” for nothing. In fact, I’d call her the “Writing Whisperer” or “The Writer’s Mentor”. She is able to nurture and mentor not just the writing, but also the writer. To me, this is the most vital attribute of a Writing Coach or Writing Consultant. Personally, she has done wonders for me and my writing. I feel very priviledged to be on this writing journey with her as my Mentor/Coach.

Julie Gray

Julie Gray

It should come as no surprise that Julie Gray was voted Cream of the Crop in the 2010 Creative Screenwriting Consultant Survey. With over ten years of experience, Julie directs the popular Just Effing Entertain Me Screenwriting Competition and has read at production companies including: Walden Media (“Narnia”, “Holes”, “Journey to the Center of the Earth”), Red Wagon (Sony: “Memoirs of a Geisha”), Cinergi (“Swim Fan”, “The Terminator”), Bedford Falls (“Blood Diamond”, “The Last Samurai”) and Seed Productions (Hugh Jackman and John Palermo).

Julie teaches screenwriting classes at Warner Bros., The Great American Pitchfest, The Writer’s JunctionThe Writer’s Store, The Creative Screenwriting Expo, the Willamette Writer’s Conference and the London Screenwriting Festival. Julie consults privately with a variety of writers all over the world and has taught at the Oxford Student Union at Oxford University, Cal Arts in Los Angeles, The West England University in Bristol and San Francisco University in Quito, Ecuador.

A regular contributor to the Huffington Post and The Times of Israel, Julie Gray is also a volunteer at the Afghan Women’s Writing Project.

A resident of Tel Aviv, Israel, Julie’s ebook, Just Effing Entertain Me will be available in spring, 2013. Her ebook I am Not Myself: A Year Grieving Suicide is currently available on Amazon.

ON UP-ROOTING FROM LOS ANGELES TO ISRAEL

Well, I had lived in LA for about ten years and been really immersed in the screenwriting/creative scene there. I met tons of great people and made life long friends and certainly very good professional connections but over time I began to feel an unrest. The creativity in Los Angeles is incredible; it is the epicenter of the entertainment world, but there is also a certain bell jar effect. Not much fresh, creative air gets in. Very few new voices and unique ideas are encouraged there, because of the massive corporate/studio stranglehold on entertainment. The competitive, insular, back-biting culture of entertainment. It is really ugly. I don’t miss that a bit although I am sure it made me stronger. So, that was slowly getting me down and then something terrible happened which is that my brother Peter died. That sent me into a deep tailspin of grief and it made me want to really embrace life and have an adventure. I had visited Israel many times before, and was always struck by the country, the people, the culture, weather, and food. It seemed, on the heels of such awful grief, a place where I could go, be welcomed, and start a whole new chapter of my life. So in March, 2012, I moved here.

ON HOW LIVING IN ISRAEL HAS INFLUENCED HER PERSPECTIVE ON LIFE

Oh boy, I could write a book about that. Wait – I am writing a book about that. A memoir entitled Eat Pray Kvetch. Well, Israel is not as dangerous and frightening as people think it is, but that said, it is definitely a hot spot and definitely life here is living on the razor’s edge. Life is just much ,much more difficult here than in the States and particularly, than in Los Angeles. Israel has a very Mediterranean culture which is to say that there is tremendous focus on family, food, wine and spending time together. Life here is much slower than life in LA. You have to hang your laundry outside, in the sun. I have no car now, I take the bus. Everything takes much longer. There is a very strong, tight knit sense of community here. Los Angeles can be such a lonely city. My life has slowed down significantly. Which I think is important. I really led a fast paced life in Los Angeles – always in the car, on the freeway, running from meeting to meeting, texting all the time, everything was so convenient that you pack in more and really are much less present, I think. Life here has made me really appreciate the quotidian aspects of life. The political situation, being right up in it, unable to ignore it – I was here during Operation Pillar of Defense, I heard the air raid sirens, I ran to the shelter, I heard the missiles hit – I mean, that kind of experience makes you VERY grateful for your life. It is oddly life affirming living in a place where your safety is not guaranteed. And the situation here, which is quite complex, definitely leaves me with a lot to chew on. I am an optimist. I believe in peace, I believe in humanity, I believe that we will find a way. It is sometimes a lonely belief – a lot of trauma has occurred in this region. Everybody has suffered. But I do believe we can find a way. And I am here and I can write about it – which is about the only thing I can bring to the situation is understanding and empathy and light, as far as I can spread it through my writing, particularly on “The Huffington Post”, which has a huge readership.
The Author

The Author

ON WHAT A WRITING COACH DOES
A writing coach is like a personal trainer. You work with a writer to identify what he or she wants and how to get there most effectively. Every client is different. Some clients need validation, support and encouragement, while others want more discipline and accountability. Some want and need to really focus on particular aspects of writing and to get private tutoring, in essence, on those aspects. Usually it’s a combination. Some writers are closer to professional success than others. Some are already published and “successful” but want and need someone to help them organize their efforts on a new people of work. Bottom line, my job is to find the strengths of writers and help direct those strengths effectively and to find the weaknesses and shore them up.

If you are feeling lost or frustrated, if forward movement is eluding you and you aren’t sure why, if you fear you might be making the same mistakes over and over but don’t even know what those mistakes might be, it’s good to work with someone like me to figure out what is not working.

I have taken writers from newer screenwriters to award winning, produced writers, I have had writers publish their books or book series, I have helped writers present great manuscripts and obtain literary representation. Screenwriters, non-fiction writers and novelists alike. My website has a partial list of successes.

ON WORKING WITH HER “CLIENTS”

I ask first, what they think they need, what they think is not working and then I look at their writing and I see how close they are to identifying what the problem really is. Usually, there is at least some disparity between their perception and the reality. Most often, writers are not clear on just where their writing skills are needing improvement and very often writers (newer writers especially) misidentify what type of writing SELLS. It is a common mistake to forget that you are writing for consumption. So, you have to write from your heart and write about truth but also to look at the marketplace, and be familiar with what readers (or viewers) want.

Writers can labor for years under this misapprehension and never get anywhere. And writers really need to embrace their personal strengths, their unique voice. I help them figure out what that is. My work is a combination of finding out what each writer really does have to offer and making that stronger and more confident, finding out what is not working and teach them how to do better and teaching them how to place themselves and their writing within the context of the marketplace. If you want to write only for yourself, that’s great. But if you want to be published, or to have a higher readership (on say a blog), or to get the attention of those who work in the entertainment business, then you have to develop a sense of what the people want. Mostly, I like to teach writers to gain a clearer view of themselves, their passion and their goals. A screenwriter might really turn out to be a novelist. A novelist might be great at plot but not focusing enough on character. A memoir writer might be writing in a way that is too distancing. That’s why I love my job – every single writer is different. I love the feeling of bringing out the best in each writer! And when writers feel more clear and sure about what they are writing and why, they can really blossom.

ON HER PHILOSOPHY OF WRITING

I have a personal philosophy that letting go of outcomes and focusing instead on the gift and the beauty of writing will put you in better alignment for success- however you define that. If for you simply finishing a book is a huge step – then that is success! If for you getting that book published is success, then great! But a single minded focus on defining success as a best seller or a huge box office movie, hampers the creative process itself because you are putting too much pressure on yourself and in essence, putting the cart before the horse. First write very, very well, then find avenues for that writing. In my work, over the years, I have seen clients literally transform with the confidence and good feeling of simply embracing their writing and doing it. I have seen clients win competitions and get movies produced and books published. I have a client right now who is a housewife in the Midwest and she is blossoming so radiantly because she is working with me and finding a new identity for herself as a writer. In some ways, clients like that make me even happier than ones who get published because for this woman, it is a personal transformation!

Writing is a lot of things. It is cathartic, it is a talent and often an obsession, it is definitely a gift and it is an opportunity to express yourself. If you come at it with a joyful heart, with a pure love of it, then your possibilities open up down the line. But really loving the writing itself is key. To me, getting published or sold is the gravy. Writing and writing well is the main course. Because so many other things can flow from that: personal satisfaction, expression and joy. And that is what I mean about letting go of outcomes. When you are aligned with joy, then all KINDS of outcomes become possible.

ON HER BIGGEST LIFE LESSON TO DATE

Wow that is quite a question. We’re continually evolving, aren’t we? If I had to say one thing it’s probably not to take life so seriously. We are here to enjoy life and to enjoy each other and the laughter and this glorious experience of being on planet earth. Oh and this too shall pass 🙂

JULIE’S PERSONAL MESSAGE TO ISRAEL (and the WORLD)

That we can – all of us – Palestinians, Jews, Christians alike – write a new narrative together. That we all share this beautiful land and this extraordinary place in the world and that we are all one.

If you would like to get in touch with Julie to start your writing journey, or to improve your “written voice”, please click here.

 

Being Afraid Is Human, But Staying Afraid Is A Choice.

2 Comments
  • aditebanerjie
    May 5, 2013

    Hi Shirley. I am a huge fan of Julie Gray and follow her articles on Huffington Post and her advice to screenwriters on Just Effing… It would be great if you could share some details of how you have benefited from having her as your coach/mentor. Thanks for sharing this inspiring interview.

    • SHIRLEY MAYA TAN
      May 5, 2013

      Hi Adite, thanks for your comments. I will definitely be sharing my own writing journey with Julie Gray. It shall be on another blog post though. This was purely on Julie herself 🙂