Nelsie Spencer – Writing Coach, Teacher & Script Doctor

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How watching the Oscars can make you a better writer

Before I tell you “how watching the Oscars can make you a better writer,” I want to share with you “My Oscar Journey.”

 

You might read the line above and think, “I didn’t know Nelsie won an Oscar.” Or you’re thinking, “Maybe she just went to the Oscar’s this year.” Or, “I’ve got it! She must’ve dated a guy named Oscar?”

Well, none of the above. “My Oscar Journey” is both cyclical and endless. It began when I used to watch them as a child and Bob Hope (Google him) was the host.  In another millennium a long, long time ago.

The cyclical part of my journey is yearly, and begins each December with the announcement of the Golden Globe nominations and ends with the always too long, usually disappointing Oscar ceremony itself. (I hate to say it, but last night was no exception.)

Every year, by the fourth and – thank God – final hour, a curious mix of emotions begins to wrestle in me: unbridled inspiration and immense pride that I’m part of this amazing business of show, fighting with rampant self-hate and overwhelming grief.

So, if you’re like me, someone who has long pursued (or maybe only fantasized about) a career in the “business of show”, and last night has left you a little, well – less than inspired…

WORRY NOT! I have the answer! YOU have the answer! Your ARE the answer!

Take all the envy, self pity, and bitterness that was generated by Kloe Kardasian, (because, why is she even famous?) and Eddie Murphy (because he seems sort of annoyed by his fame) and Patricia Arquette (because you’re SO HAPPY she won, and love the fact that it looks like she did her hair while driving in a convertible, but you’re pretty sure you and she will never be friends) and redirect all those churning feelings.

Where?

Go IMMEDIATELY to your word docs!

Do NOT stop to play “Words with Friends” or check your face book page or go to YouTube to see Melanie Griffin and Dakota Johnson on the red carpet (but you should do it later because it was kind of fascinating and upsetting).

No!  Go to your word docs and find your favorite screenplay, novel, memoir, play or pilot script that you’ve been talking about getting back to, and —

WRITE!

Yep! It’s as simple as that! Turn OFF YOU PHONE! (No, don’t just put it on vibrate! Who’s calling you!? Unless you’re a surgeon or have family traveling in Syria, TURN IT OFF!)

Now, set a time for 45 minutes MINIMUM! –and WRITE!

(There is no maximum, unless you need to eat, (I highly recommend eating) have small children or pets that need your attention, or have to go to a job that is paying your mortgage.)

When the timer goes off…

CALL A FRIEND, and say, “Guess what? I just wrote for 45 minutes!

Now… the MOST IMPORTATNT WAY that watching the Oscars can make you a better writer….

Do it again TOMORROW

…and the next day…

…and EVERYDAY!

Keep that vision of that golden statuette in your head, and keep working on that witty/heartfelt acceptance speech and WRITE!

Aim for writing daily and you’ll probably end up writing 4-5 times a week and that’s a good schedule. (I write for 1.5 hours daily on “my” writing, M-F and I just rewrote my rom/com A Girl’s Best Friend in 7 weeks!)

If you’re thinking, “You don’t understand! I don’t have any time! I’m a single mom, the president, a dictator of a small county, or a Kardashian, etc., etc.”

My answer is, single mothers are allowed to write for only 20 minutes (as a jumping off point) a day.  The rest of you carve out that time HOWEVER YOU CAN, because, the Oscars are comin’ around again in only 364 days.

And next year? I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna be sitting pretty smug at my Oscar Party because I’ll have just finished, or just started ANOTHER amazing screenplay, memoir, novel, play or pilot. And I’ll be waiting to hear back from Emma Stone or my agent or Netflix….

Who knows, maybe instead of finally throwing an Oscar party I’ll actually BE THERE!  And maybe I’ll even be seeing you there too!

P.S. If you don’t have a trusted friend or family member that you can call daily who will say, “Good for you! That is so amazing!”

Sign up

HERE

And I’ll send you an email about how to check in w/ me daily via email.

 

 

It may seem stupid, crazy and incredibly ironic (not to mention arrogant and self-absorbed) that I have decided to write a self-help book/ inspirational memoir when I find myself suicidal on a regular basis but – well… what the fuck do I have to lose?

 

It’s crazy, (there’s that word again) but – as a chronically under-employed writer I am always trying to figure out how to parlay my personal historical pain into some ‘dough ray me’! (Forgive the completely dated reference, but I’m old – oh yeah! I’m fuckin’ 55 – 56 is about a minute away. I grew up with WWII parents, the type that actually had old Benny Goodman albums and served in the war.  My dad was in the air force and my mom was a Candy striper in a local hospital who gave back rubs to GIs recently returned from the war. Really! Before there was anything craigslist or Sandusky creepy about back rubs. Back when a back rub was just plain patriotic, damn it!

 

Back to money from my pain: Let’s face it, memoirs sell like hotcakes, the darker, more shocking and disturbing the better.  And I’ve got my share (some might say more than my share) of dark, shocking and disturbing.  If that’s gonna bother you, stop right here and pick up your People magazine and find out how Kanye and Kim are doing.  But, if you’ve got the balls (or ovaries) for some not-so-fun shit, keep reading.  Don’t forget that my dark, shocking and disturbing stuff comes with a boatload of laughs.  As my brother always says, “If you can’t laugh about incest what can you laugh about?”

 

Why now?

 

Why being in the midst of my worst personal crisis is the perfect time for me to write my own version of “Tuesdays with Maury’? (Never read it, btw, but I’m incredibly bitter and angry towards the author who made a shitload of money off of such a thin book when my sexy, comic novel – The Playgroup – didn’t sell. I have 400 copies in my closet – even though The NY Post called it “Momsational!” And I’m not making that up.)

 

Reason #1

 

While I’m writing this shocking, raw, insightful and bitter, yet inspirational book I’ll somehow climb my way out of this, or God will pull me out, (ha ha!) or my husband will get a job, (ho ho!) and the book will chronicle every inspiring, gut-wrenching, heart-warming and hysterical moment; becoming an instant best-seller. Oprah will go back on network TV just to talk about how my book is a beacon of hope, grit and tenacity for all those suffering from the effects of an abusive childhood, a shitty economy, unrelenting unemployment, midlife crisis, and killer hot flashes.

 

Reason # 2

 

I will chronicle my crisis and neither God, my husband, Oprah nor the economy will save me and I kill myself. The book will be published posthumously as a cautionary tale of how God, society, social services, and talk show hosts failed me.  The book, of course, will be made into a movie; Holly Hunter will play me, (She’s way overdue for an Oscar and I’m petit and a bit of a ‘spitfire’ when I’m not on my kitchen floor sobbing in the fetal position.)  The book and the movie will bring awareness to the far-reaching affects of incest, menopause and a shitty economy. Because of the unprecedented success of the book my kids will get their own reality show (called something like ‘Surviving Suicide’, it’ll be VH1’s attempt to bring something with some substance to their otherwise disgusting programming) and my death and suffering will not have been in vain.

 

So, it’s a win-win either way as I’ve so graphically illustrated.

 

Here’s the plan….

 

Everyday, for the next 100 days I’m going to…

 

  • Go to one of the many 12 step programs to which I belong
  • Meditate
  • Walk my dog
  • Work out
  • Write about the whole mess.

 

All of the above actions are things that I hope will get me out of my current position of hopelessness and pennilessness and keep thoughts of suicide at bay.

 

Of course I’ll also be taking about a million actions to make some motherfucking (spell check recognizes ‘motherfucking’ as one word — who knew?) dough ray me.

 

October 8, 2012 – Day 1

Our poor, exhausted 1998 VW Golf finally died yesterday, forcing my limping, wounded life to come to a screeching halt. We got the VW over 3 years ago, right after our Passat was repossessed.  (Yes, it’s a long, depressing tale.)

 

The good news is our old, sweet, faithful V-dub died at home surrounded by her loved ones just as we pulled into our humble soon-to-be foreclosed upon ranch house in the quiet beach town of Pine Beach, NJ.  And, if I weren’t so angry and bitter, I’d think that God had been watching over us.  That God is the reason we didn’t get killed or injured in a horrible accident as we travelled the back roads of New Jersey driving my son Malcolm to and from soccer practices and games with absolutely no breaks.  (I meant brakes.  But, really, both apply.)

 

You see, her brakes were shot.  I mean shahhhhot! Doug (my husband of 25 years) and I have been in competition as to which one of us is the better down-shifter.  I, of course, think I won. I had perfected a technique that involved simply turning off the engine and then slowly easing out the clutch which enabled me to come to a complete stop at a red light without ever even touching the brakes. Brilliant!

 

Yes, I’m an asshole, an idiot! If child welfare services knew and had any dignity they’d come and snatch Malcolm (16, and uh – dorable!) from me for putting his welfare in danger every time I put him in the car.  (But, what I’ve learned about social services while trying to get food stamps – No can do – and health insurance – Rayna and Mac finally got approved, but not Doug and I. We’re both only a bad flu bug away from being a drain on the system – my dream!). Suffice to say I’m not worried that anyone will take Malcolm from us because all of those social service agencies SUCK!! (not that I’m bitter) .

But, through the grace of God, or through our nonexistent brake pads all our lives have been spared.

 

(For awhile there we actually had two cars!  Not long after Doug got a job in 2010 (Yay!) we got a 1997 Mercedes – pretty fucking spanky! The Mercedes died a few months ago after 2 years of neglect – his job lasted only 6 months because his boss was indicted for fraud – Damn the luck!  By the time the Mercedes was towed away she had been chugging along on 5 cylinders, without windshield wipers, a radio or A.C.)

 

 Oct. 9 – Day 2

 

Full disclosure…

 

On day 1 I did Meditate and write about all this shit.  I did not walk the dog (poor Rudy, in my defense it was raining non-stop), or workout.

 

October 10 – Day 3

 

Full disclosure…

 

On day 2 all I did was go to a meeting.  I did not meditate, walk the dog, workout or write about this shit.  And, truth be told, I was on a meeting – a phone meeting.  I didn’t actually even leave the house but I did remember to brush me teeth – I think…

 

Today, thanks to a secured loan I made from the most wonderful woman in the world (Rebecca Edmonston) Doug and I went in a lovely Saturn SUV (borrowed from Kim Swink, the 2nd most wonderful woman in the world) to Upper Darby (west of Philly) to look at a ‘new’ car.

 

After exhaustive searching on the internet my resourceful husband found a 1997 Oldsmobile Cutlass SL (I don’t know what the fuck the SL stands for, but Doug seemed pretty darned excited about it).  And the price? get ready….

 

$1200!  An entire car for $1200!! Okay? My friend Lois no doubt has handbags that cost more. And get this… It’s got windshield wipers that work, brakes and REVERSE!!! I forgot to mention that the reverse had stopped working on the VW about 10 months ago.

 

As Doug and I drove – no, let me say ‘floated’ through the back roads of NJ towards Upper Darby in our borrowed Saturn we felt — lucky. Dare I say ‘blessed’?  It’s amazing how driving in a car with windshield wipers (it was still raining) A.C., cruise control and GPS can feel like a Caribbean vacation when you’ve spent the last few months in a car without a muffler, reverse, brakes and with manual windows.  That’s right!  Can you even remember the last time you had roll-up a window?

 

Oh, I felt downright cocky as I pulled into a spot at Dunkin Donuts, knowing when I had to leave I could simply put the car in reverse and then speed away.  No, today I didn’t have to search for a pull-through spot, or find some cleaver way to park that didn’t involve backing up.  Ahh, I was really living.

 

So today all thoughts of suicide, self-pity anger and resentment had disappeared like the little VW on the tow truck disappeared this morning.  I had hope again.  For no reason, really.  I mean, the relief is an illusion. As I type this various 800 numbers call me looking for payments on numerous bills that I have no way of paying.

 

Recent time-line of my thoughts/relationship with God, Goddess, Higher Power, etc.

 

Day 1 – There is no God, or a cruel, mean-spirited God.  The type of God that would act like he really liked you, then say, “Hey, do you want to go steady?” and when you say “Sure!” all wide-eyed and fluttery, He would smirk and say, “Well, I don’t.” then walk away and high-five his friends who were all laughing at how stupid you were to have hope.

 

Day 2 – Maybe there is a God.  But the type of God that likes to watch you cry and shake your fist at the world only to send the cavalry in at the last minute.  And you’re glad the cavalry arrived in the shape of a loan from a friend and a 1997 Oldsmobile, you are!  But you were kind of hoping that the cavalry would be your screenplay getting made (it was optioned last January – more on that later) so you could send your kids to the dentist, buy them some clothes and pay off Time Warner – Not to mention pay back all your amazing friends and family that have loaned you money over the last few years!

 

October 11 – Day 4

Jury is still out on if there’s a God and what type of God he is.

 

(I hate that I’m so angry and ungrateful.  I hate that I’m not just happy everyday, every minute that I’m a white woman living in America.  I know I won the Karma lottery when I plopped down in this country and in this body.  But the fact that I ended up in this family – not current family, but childhood family – was… well, I guess I’m still climbing out of that abyss.  And, really, am I climbing out of this abyss because of my childhood?  Because of the economy? Bad luck? Because I chose to be an ‘artist’? Or a combination of all of the above? I have absolutely no clue!)

 

Back-story…

 

Once upon a time my husband had a big, fat job running his own insurance company. He made a lot of money; we had a lovely life; a 3 bedroom apt on the Upper Westside, a leased Passat and one great tropical vacation a year.  We developed and ran our own travel soccer club for our kids, went out to eat pretty much whenever we wanted, went to the movies and spent hundreds of dollars on gifts for our kids come birthdays and Christmas.

 

The Health care debacle killed Doug’s industry and pretty much most of my hope.  We’ve been struggling pretty hard ever since.

 

I’m an actor, turned playwright, turned stand-up comic, turned mom, turned novelist, turned radio talk show host.  The talk show host was heaven.  Best job ever! Hard – long hours – good money.  But the company that was started by Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda – Greenstone Media; “Radio by women, for women” – failed.  (I had tea with Gloria in her funky townhouse on the eastside and hung out with Jane at the launch party for the company.  They are both awesome! Jane is tiny with perfect skin.)

In the last couple of years I have started a freelance writing business that has kept food on the table, some presents under the tree and gas in the car.  We have not paid rent on our NY apt or the mortgage on our NJ house in 2 years.

 

Why do you have 2 houses?! You are screaming in your head as you read this.  To keep my daughter in private school in NYC (she got financial aid the last 2 years) and so my son could go to a good public school in NJ.

 

Please, please don’t even begin to list the number of things we’ve done wrong.  I know it! Well-meaning mistakes all of them.  Things to try and ‘protect’ our kids – most of them.

 

God! This has become incredibly boring.

 

Okay, let’s give this some more context:

 

Back, back story…

 

I grew up in the bucolic (I love that word and have been waiting YEARS to be able to use it!) Los Angeles’s suburb of Rolling Hills, California.  Rolling hills sits on the Palos Verdes Peninsula that juts out into the Pacific Ocean and Catalina floats obediently off its shores.  I like to say that I had a very dysfunctional childhood in a very beautiful setting.  Peacocks roam Rolling Hills, Eucalyptus trees abound, their sharp smell blowing on the off-shore breezes, their iridescent leaves sparkling in the ever-present California sun. The beaches are beautiful and remote. Many of them only accessible by long, treacherous and winding paths down steep cliffs.  In Rolling Hills everyone has at least and acre of land, most have swimming pools and it is one of the biggest horse communities in the country.  Bottom line, from a distance, without even squinting, my childhood looked great! The type of childhood others envied; lazy summer days at the private beach club, horses-riding and tennis lessons, swimming pools, shopping at Bullocks and trips to the Caribbean.

In the 60’s and 70’s all the parents, it seemed, smoked Parliaments and Tarrytons, drank martinis and drove station wagons.  All the kids, with a sprinkle of freckles across our noses and the smell of Sea & Ski filling the air, played in the sprinklers and on slip ‘n’ slides in the summer, rode horses and played color-tag.  As I write this I am weeping.  I weep at the unbearable paradoxes of my childhood; the heart-breaking simplicity and beauty of how and where I grew up and the unspeakable things that happened in that setting.

 

My dad didn’t drive a big, American sedan, he drove a citron; I little peek into how my dad was different.  He sang along to Ella Fitzgerald, jingled the change in his suit pockets and did a dance he made up called the Goose.  He knew all the words to ‘Trouble with a Capital T’ from the Music Man and told us dirty limericks when we were much too young.

 

My mom was tall (an inch taller than my dad, in fact) had a pageboy, dressed like the east coast Madeira and Smith graduate that she was and had the sleepy, sexy eyes of Lauren Bacall. She played tennis and baseball better than most men, listened to Mozart, Bach and Beethoven but also bought and sang along to 45’s like ‘Blame it on the Bosa Nova’ and ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’.

 

I was the baby with two big brothers – Carty (Carsten, a family name) and Dicky (Richard Seldon Spencer III, after my dad).

 

There’s a family portrait taken when I was 3, Carty 5 and Dicky 7.  It was taken by a professional photographer and that day is clear to me.  I remember sitting on the front steps polishing my saddle shoes, and fighting with my mom about not wanting to wear the suspenders that went with my little plaid, pleated skirt because they made me look like a baby.  I was 3. I remember fighting with my dad, but I don’t remember about what. In the photo I look sad, Carty looks hopeful, with Dicky’s arm wrapped tightly around his neck in a possessive manner.  Dick, of course, looks tough; a challenging expression on his face.  My mom looks breezy and a little detached with my dad next to her, a carefree smile on his face and his fingertips just brushing my shoulder as I stand in front of him pouting – nd wearing the suspenders. We are all gathered around an olive tree that grew in the front yard of 5 rocking Horse Road.  The photographer had my dad stand on a rock.  So, there he is, captured forever in this photo in the tweed jacket with leather patches on the lebows, for once taller than my mom, looking every inch like a traditional head of the household.

 

That family portrait hung on our living room wall until we moved out of # 5 Rocking Horse 10 years later, shortly after everything had fallen apart.

 

One fall day in NYC I decided to go see The Ice Storm as a way to treat myself; go to a matinee by myself on a weekday.  I had no idea what I was in for.  Had no idea that I was going to be forced to watch the neglect of my adolescence in Technicolor.  Was clueless that I had just paid $11 to witness the tragedy of the endlessly self-centeredness of my parents’ generation while I ate popcorn.  As I clung to the hand rail while I rode the escalator back up to street level after the movie I couldn’t stop weeping. I made my way to a pay phone, called Carty and said, “I just saw our childhood on the big screen.

 

Back, back, back story…

 

“I slept with my mother till I was 13,” my dad announced to me and my brothers when we were all quite young. “My dad was never there and she made me her surrogate spouse,” he explained further. As if that piece of information completely explained the situation   He made both those statements as if he was telling us that his mother had loved opera, or baked bread on Sundays.  At least that’s how I took it; as an interesting fact of our father’s childhood.  He and his mother shared a bed.  A son and a mother shared a bed. Weird, I thought.  But I don’t remember thinking much beyond that. At the time my dad was in group therapy.  When I was in 5th grade my parents had decided to go to group. It had turned out to be the beginning of the end of their marriage. I’m fairly confident that the revelation about him and his mother was a result of some tear-stained self examination he’d experienced in group with his all-knowing shrink Dr. Daniels. This foray into group therapy would prove to be a pivotal moment in my dad’s life and … well, more on that later.

Over the years, the age that my father had left his mother’s bed varied – sometimes 15, sometimes older.  Odd, I always thought. I didn’t wonder where his dad was because we had also learned from my dad, quite early, that his father was always drinking ‘at the club’ and that our dad was often in charge of finding him and bringing him home.

 

Somehow, in spite of that my dad managed to get into Yale. Leave Yale and join the Air Force and become a pilot.  Serve his country and become a war hero (82 missions flown over Germany and he shot down 2 German planes) Married my mom, A tall, cool debutante who grew up in Grosse Pointe, Mi. playing hide and seek as a child in the Ford mansion with her two equally beautiful and poised sisters.

 

So, my father ‘slept with’ his mother till he was 13, or 15 or 18, and, in turn, molested me, my brother and at least a dozen of our male and female friends in high school.

 

Oh, and suddenly the fun, irreverent memoir gets pretty dark and icky (I warned you.  There’s still time to pick up the People Magazine or turn on the TV.  I think there’s probably a marathon of Long Island Medium or Iron Chef on at any given time.  I should know.)

 

October 16th – Day 9

Okay, I’m freaking out!  When I initially looked for this document I only found an old version that was 4 pages, not 10.  I thought I’d lost about 6 pages of writing… but I didn’t.  Phew!

Okaaayyy, and breathe….

And what would that have meant, if I’d lost the pages? Would it have been absolute evidence that I’m a big, fucking loser, nothing ever works out and that I should just kill myself? No.  It wouldn’t have meant that, but it probably would’ve felt like that…

 

Okaayyy, and breathe….

Back to what’s up. Let’s check in on the plan… The plan was….

 

Everyday, for the next 100 days I’m going to…

  • Go to one of the many 12 step program meetings
  • Meditate
  • Walk my dog
  • Work out
  • Write about the whole mess.

So far I haven’t actually been batting 1000. Over the last 10 says I’ve

Gone to a 12-step meeting 7 out of 10 days

Meditated 3 out of 10

Walked Rudy 4 out of 10 (To be fair, Rudy hurt his paw and was on couch-rest for 3 days)

Worked out 0 out of 10

And written 3 out of 10

 

Because I’ve been married to an insurance guy (and a Yankees fan) for over 25 years I’m gonna do the math here and figure out my actual ‘batting average’ on this whole ‘trying not to kill myself, and while I’m doing it create a masterpiece memoir/self-help book’ thing.

 

Okay!  I’m a fucking Major League Slugger!  My batting average is 340, okay!? I think that’s better than Derek Jeter hit this year.

Some highlights this week!

Okay, this is pretty big…

I was on TV for 5 days in a row.  Yep! Wait, check it out.

Back in 1979, just weeks before I moved to NYC to go to The Neighborhood Playhouse to study acting I was on Password Plus, the slightly updated version of the classic game show hosted by Alan Ludden. And I won….

Twenty-eight thousand and three hundred motherfuckin’ dollars!!

Yep! At age 22 I played Password Plus with Bill Cullen, Patty Duke, Joyce Bulifant and Dick Goutier.  I was the 2nd biggest undefeated winner in Password Plus history!!

 

And those 5 shows were just on TV.  Below is the email from my cousin Andy who is the unofficial archivist of the Tiedeman Family (my mom’s side of the family, where the car money came from, once upon a time)

 

Dear Tiedemans,

It’s finally here! Nelsie’s five day run on “Password Plus” starts either Friday the 5th or Monday the 8th- the show is one day “off” from it’s usual Monday thru Friday, new guest stars every Monday schedule. Here in the east, “Password Plus” is on at 9 am on Time Warner cable channel 117, the Game Show network (GSN). Allen Ludden is the quizmaster/ host, married to Betty White, who’s having a nice career bounce recently- the poor man DIES within about a month of taping these!

 

I received this email with mixed emotions.  On the one had I was kind of excited to have Doug, Malcolm and Rayna see their wife/mom shine on national television.  On the other hand, since lately the glass has looked – not half-empty – but completely empty, covered with baked-on food from our broken dishwasher and also cracked – I was worried about seeing myself on TV.  After all, I’ve been staving off the “I just wanna die” voice in my head on and off for a few years now and I was fairly convinced that seeing myself at age 22 (with nothing but hope in front of me) would fill me with embarrassment and self-hate and I’d find myself – after my kids and husband had gone to sleep – on the kitchen floor weeping in the fetal position. But…

No!! It was great!  I was great!  I love me!  I completely LOVED my 22 year-old, zaftig self with really ugly 1970’s style glasses (it looked like Allen Ludden and I had gone to Pearl Vision together with a 2 for 1 coupon) and slightly ill-fitting but sort of cute clothes and – Oh my God – beautiful, flawless skin! I was wonderful.

 

Here’s the thing… I liked her!  I liked that 22 year old Nelsie SO MUCH! She was sweet and smart and friendly and happy and comfortable in her own skin!!! Who knew??

 

October 17 – Day 10

To be honest I suck at the list thing.

  • Go to one of the many 12 step programs to which I belong
  • Meditate
  • Walk my dog
  • Work out
  • Write about the whole mess.

 

I can’t seem to meditate or work out.  Probably b/c those are strictly self-care acts.

But I did go on a meeting today, I’m writing 2 DAYS IN A ROW! And I’m about to walk the dog at sunset.  Walking my dog at sunset is one of the ways I keep the “I just wanna die” voice at bay.

 

10 Ways to Keep from Killing Yourself

(I know what you’re thinking, “Who am I to be writing such a list?” I know, only a mere 18 pages ago I was suicidal and now I’m writing a list of how to keep from killing yourself.  Welcome to my mood swings.  I’ve always had them – though from 15 to about 27 I don’t remember that many upswings. Anyway, remember the self-help part of the book? Well, this is it.)

  1. Get a dog.  Dogs are basically fur-covered anti-depressants.  How can you be down when you have this smiling, vibrating-with-joy, tail-wagging animal madly ecstatic at your mere presence? Nobody loves you like your dog.  Nobody! When I come home my dog, Rudy, greets me at the door beside himself with joy.  He moans and whimpers and barks.  If he could talk he’d be saying, “Where were you? I missed you so much! I thought I’d never see you again. YOU’RE HOME!  YOU’RE HOME!  THANK GOD YOU’RE HOME!!!” And he has done this EVERY TIME I’ve come home since the first day we got him.  No husband, boyfriend, girlfriend or cat does that.  (I have a friend that swears here dear departed cat did do that – and I believe her.)  Not even your kids love you like a dog.  Oh sure… at first they’re all like, “Oh mommy feed me, nurse me, change my diaper! Wah wah wah! I missed you so much!” But then at about 8, 9 they turn on you in an instant and begin to treat you like some embarrassing aunt with dirty hair and spittle on her polyester blouse that no one wants around. Yeah, it’ll happen, believe me.
  2. Dance! Turn on your radio or ipod in your car, kitchen, living room – wherever, crank it and dance!  I dance so animatedly when I’m driving that I’m pretty sure I’m a hazard on the road.  Forget texting while driving, I’m doing the Skeeter Rabbit (a funk dance that I learned from Carty in 1972) while I’m trying to make a left turn in traffic.  But if die in a fiery ball as I’m groovin’ to the Black Eyed Peas – I’m at least gonna be smiling!  I can dance like a maniac to anything from Aretha to The Allman Bros, from Rhianna to Steely Dan, from Maroon Five to The Doors.  Really! Do it!
  3. Watch Sit-Coms. New ones, reruns, it doesn’t matter what year they were made as long as they’re Good! Please! A bad sit-com can take me from a fine mood to suicidal in a heartbeat.  I become filled with self pity and angry and resentful that the actor, writer, whoever has or had a big, fat career and they’re talent-free and I’m sitting at home trying not to kill myself.  All I have to show for my life are ungrateful kids and a dog as my best friend. But… Friends, The Mary Tyler Moore Show (I met Mary once, more on that later), 30 Rock — I’m happy for them – all of them! Happy for their success. I love Tina Fey, Mary, Jennifer Anniston.  I hope this new fiance’s a good guy.  We all just want Rachel to be happy, don’t we? Shows like that – they inspire me.
  4. Sing!  My favorite is to sing into my best friend’s voice mail.  When the phone is ringing and I’m realizing she’s not going to pick up I start to get a little sad.  But when I get the machine, instead of filling up those 3 minutes whining about my fucked up life, I sing a song about my life.  Songs like “I’m in the Kitchen Eatin’ Chicken” (A boogie woogie), “Carrots in the Snow” (a ballad with a Sara Vaughn vibe to it), or “Hola my Amiga, Como Esta?” (an uptempo)  All classics! And – when I hang up – I’m happy!
  5. Laugh! Okay, I know this is an obvious one. And, if you’re lucky, numbers 1 through 4 will result in some laughter.  The point is, even though when God was handing out the ‘business savvy’ I had gotten in line for the second time for ‘sense of humor’. So, even though I’m freaking out that I CAN’T SEEM TO MAKE A LIVING at the age of 55 – even though I’m A PRODUCED PLAYWRIGHT, PUBLISHED NOVELIST AND FORMER RADIO TALK SHOW HOST!!! (not that I’m angry) – I can laugh about it!  In fact, some of my best lyrics involve suicide. See how I’m combining 4 & 5?  (To the tune of “If I Were A Rich Man) When you’re suicidal — Yidel, didel, didel, didel, didel, didel, didel diiiieeeee! If you sing this little bitty song, you won’t be suicidal for long!

 

October 19, 2012 – Day 12

So, I’m writing a lot!  More than I’ve written in years and – I’m feeling better!  I am!  Though nothing’s really changed…

Wait, let me think about what has changed since I began this….

  1. Got the ‘new’ car (more on that later, involving the discovery of a need for a rebuilt transmission to the tune of $1850. Remember, the whole car cost $1050. And some extensive cleaning of the upholstery leading me to have grave concerns about who the previous owner was and exactly what lead to all these dark brown stains.) The ‘new’ car is not small thing.  Yes, it’s an ancient Oldsmobile – there is absolutely nothing sexy or kitchy or vintagy about it.  It was a lame car the first day it drove off the lot and now – well,… What am I saying?  It works!  Unlike the VW, in her final days, I don’t get into it with my heart in my throat.  I can put it in reverse and back out of the driveway knowing that I can use the brakes once at the bottom of the driveway.  I don’t have to park half a mile from Target because I need a pull-through spot. It has ELECTIRC WINDOWS!!  It is a totally boss car!
  2. Got an email from a friend/writing partner that one of our movie projects (Valley Inn, a fish-out-of-water, coming-of-age comedy set in Arkansas) is back on track and set to shoot in the spring. Now, I’ve been to this rodeo before (I’m speaking metaphorically about this, even though there is a rodeo in the movie)
  3. My son Malcolm FINALLY got a prescription for his just recently diagnosed ADD that our insurance (I mean his insurance, Medicaid doesn’t like me and Doug) will pay for. (His previous meds were $180 for 30 pills)

 

Okay, Now I’m just sounding annoying and petulant.  Is this good?  Am I climbing out of my morass?  Have I been annoying and petulant all along but I was just too self-centered to notice?  These are not rhetorical questions.  Please email me at nelsiespencer@yahoo.com and let me know just what percentage of this book I’m unbearable.

 

It looked like perhaps there had been some sort of a terrible accident in the… On all the floors and here and there on the seats dark brown stains were – ‘splattered’ is the only word I can come up with.  Yes! Dark brown stains were splattered all over the interior of my soon-to-be new car.  Okay!!  Now I get it!  Now the unreasonably inexpensive Cutlass was beginning to make sense. I began to wonder exactly how long had this car been in hiding – I mean in storage? Which suddenly begged the question, Was Mike selling a car or ditching the evidence?  I remembered that Mike’s last name was Marino, or Mateo or something decidedly Italian.

 

 December 8, 2012

Okay, to say I dropped the ball on this whole blog/book thing is such an understatement I’m going to have to come up with another expression.  (I’m always joking with my cousin that our moms didn’t really “drop the ball” with the whole mothering thing. That would imply there ever was a ball. There was no ball, no interest in any ball and thus no dropping of a ball) It’s been over 50 days since my last entry.  But, the good news is it’s sort of because I’ve been feeling better.  Yep! I’m only here writing all this minutia when I’m staring longingly at the George Washington Bridge.

  • Go to one of the many 12 step programs to which I belong
  • Meditate
  • Walk my dog
  • Work out
  • Write about the whole mess.

So, I have been pretty spotty with meetings, I have meditating much more often, have not been walking the dog lately b/c I’ve been traveling Dahling!  “Fancy!” as Rayna would say. yes, last week I got to go to Sarasota with Malcolm for a soccer college showcase.  it was amazing!  Doug got me an amazing deal with Priceline.com!  check this out: 4 nights at a beachfront hotel on the Gulf of mexico (the sand was only yards from my hotel room) and round trip air far for … wait for it… $418!!?? Kooky, huh? So, while doug’s home with the dog and cats (we couldn’t afford 2 tickets, etc.) and Malcolm’s staying with his teammates at some Holiday Inn Express without an ounce of charm I’m at The Sirata Beach Hotel and Convention Center with the beach, a hot tub, a lovely little breakfast place, an open=air restaurant, a pool and I’m taking walks on the beach looking at pelicans!! How did this happen???

And I don’t know how/if I’ll ever work out again, though Ireally want to and can see (and feel) how my body’s turning to shit.

Despite the fab time in Fla I have this horrible shoulder thing that really hurts and makes putting on my coat or taking a sweater off over my head an excruciating experience.

 

Me, age 2

 

First of all, if you’re writing a memoir my guess is that you have some pretty bad stuff to share with us.  I have yet to see the memoir titled Rainbows and Unicorns; My Perfect, Happy Childhood. (Though I am considering using that title for mine, just to create mystery and surprise.)

 

 

And if someone did write it, I wouldn’t read it. No! I want to read about people that have persevered and survived.   People that have overcome clueless parents or bad choices, or bad  haircuts (Just kidding. Although, a bad haircut is nothing to sneeze at).  I’m interested in stories about people who have grown and learned from their adversity. That’s why we love Running with Scissors, Wild and The Glass Castle. 

 

 

 

Writing memoir is not easy.  It asks us to be very vulnerable, to put our pain and struggles on the page in order to make some money. That sounds a little crass, but the point I’m making is…

 

(Good) Memoirs sell!

 

The darker, more shocking and disturbing the better.  And I’ve got my share (some might say more than my share) of dark, shocking and disturbing.  (But, I’m skipping ahead.)

 

 

Back to money for pain: Why do they sell? Because if we put our pain on the page we create art, entertainment, inspiration, and  hopefully we’ll even teach the reader some of the lessons that we’ve learned on our journey.

 

I’ve been working with memoir writers as a ghostwriter, editor and Writing Coach now for almost 10 years.  And I’ve seen that they make the same mistakes over and over again. That’s why I’ve put together…

5 Top Tips for Memoir Writers:

Tip #1 – Put yourself in the story

Writers leave themselves out of their own story! This sounds like it’s not possible when one is writing memoir, but it happens again and again. You are the star of your memoir, so the reader needs to know how you feel, what you’re thinking, wearing, hoping for, etc.  We have to root for you. And we can’t do that if you don’t let us in.

Tip #2 – Take your time

Don’t skip over the top of the story, like a stone skipping over surface of a lake. I need you to put on your waders and walk out into the middle of the lake.

Clients often tell me what happened, but they leave out the part that makes it personal and visceral; what it felt like, what they were thinking.  Instead of…

My dad yelled at me and I got mad.

Something like…

My dad banged open the door to my room and began screaming. I felt a hot anger grow in my chest and I had this clear image of kicking him in right in the balls, pushing him over and smashing his face with my fist.

You get my point.

Tip #3 – Give me the details

The tendency is desire to tell you story in broad strokes often seems to be attached to the author’s fear of being boring or seeming self-centered.  If you’re going to write a memoir, you’ve GOT to let go of that. The only way into the story is through the details, through the feelings. I always say, “You have to take the reader by the hand and walk him through your story.”

Tip #4 – Give me YOU! In all your you-ness!

Again, this might seem obvious, but, don’t lose your personality when you write. Often when I work one-on-one with a memoir writer and a scene is flat, I make them tell me the story. Instantly their personality – that has been absent from their writing – comes back; the humor, the sarcasm, the inner dialogue, the anger, outrage, fear – suddenly it’s all back! And the scene begins to fly!

Tip #5 – Don’t sugar-coat it

Be an asshole, self-centered, stupid, fall for the wrong guy, be shitty to you best friend. All those things might not make you likeable, but they make you relatable. Look at any good book; memoir or fiction, and that protagonist is usually highly flawed.  (Except that damn Laura Ingalls Wilder, and who liked her, anyway!) Ironically,  these foibles – instead of making us not like you/her/him – it often makes us love you/her/him.

Bonus – Tip #6 – Be funny!

In my mind – if it’s funny – you’ve got me!  If you haven’t read Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. You must!

I talk about Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess) when I work with my clients again and again. Her voice is crystal clear, she breaks all the ‘rules’ of writing (run-on sentences, endless parentheticals and asides) but it doesn’t matter because she is HYSTERICAL!

Don’t try to bring funny to a not funny moment. And don’t try to be funny if you’re not. But…if you can be funny — bring it on! Funny = money! (Ooh, I like that one) Yep! Look at Tina Fey, Nora Ephron.  And funny from pain? Like Augusten Burroughs — Priceless! If you can make me laugh AND cry (!?) I want to be your best friend, meet you for coffee, invite you over to play charades, French braid you hair!

So, now that you’re all fired up to begin (or finish, or rewrite) THAT MEMOIR…

SIGN UP HERE

FOR MY 90-DAY WRITING CHALLENGE!!

And, because I love you… (and, of course, think I’m fascinating!) I’m excerpting a bit of a memoir-esque blog post that I wrote during a particularly dark time. (A blog I called Happy and Peppy and Bursting with Love) Hopefully I employed all of my tips.

I grew up in Rolling Hills, California, a bucolic (I love that word and have been waiting YEARS to be able to use it!) suburb of L.A.  Rolling Hills sits on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, which juts out into the Pacific Ocean and Catalina floats obediently off its shores.

I like to say that I had a very dysfunctional childhood in a very beautiful setting.  Peacocks roamed free, Eucalyptus trees were everywhere, their sharp smell blowing on the off-shore breezes, their iridescent leaves sparkling in the ever-present California sun.

 

In Rolling Hills everyone’s Spanish-style ranch house sat on at least an acre of land, most of my friends had swimming pools AND a horse in their backyard. Bottom line, from a distance, without even squinting, my childhood looked great! The type of childhood others envied; lazy summer days at the private beach club, horseback-riding and tennis lessons, swimming pools, shopping at Bullocks and trips to the Caribbean.

In the 60’s and 70’s all the parents, it seemed, smoked Parliaments or Tarrytons, drank martinis and drove station wagons with wood paneling on the sides.  All the kids, with a sprinkle of freckles across our noses and smelling of Sea & Ski, played in the sprinklers, and on slip ‘n’ slides, rode horses and played color-tag year-round.   

As I write this I am weeping.  I weep at the unbearable paradoxes of my childhood; the heart-breaking simplicity and beauty of how and where I grew up and the unspeakable things that happened in that setting.

My dad didn’t drive a big, American sedan. No, he drove a cool, black French Citron.

My dad was different.

He sang along to Ella Fitzgerald records, jingled the change in his suit pockets and did a dance he made up called ‘The Goose’.  He knew all the words to ‘Trouble with a Capital T’ from the Broadway musical The Music Man and told us dirty limericks when we were much too young.

There once was a plumber named Dee, Who was plumbing his girl by the sea…

My mom was tall (an inch taller than my dad) had a pageboy, dressed like the Madeira and Smith grad that she was and had the sleepy, sexy eyes of Lauren Bacall. She played tennis and baseball better than most men, listened to Mozart, Bach and Beethoven, but also sang along to 45’s like ‘Blame it on the Bosa Nova’ and ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’.

I was the baby with two big brothers – Carty (Carsten, a family name) and Dicky (Richard Seldon Spencer III, after my dad).

There’s a family portrait taken by a professional photographer when I was 3, Carty 5 and Dicky 7.  That day is clear to me.  I remember sitting on the front steps polishing my saddle shoes, and fighting with my mom about not wanting to wear the suspenders that went with my little plaid, pleated skirt.

“They make me look like a baby,” I wailed.

I was 3.

I also remember fighting with my dad, but I don’t remember what about.

In the photo I look sad, Carty looks hopeful, with Dicky’s arm wrapped possessively around his neck.  Dick, as he does in every picture from our childhood, looks tough; a challenging expression on his face.  My mom looks breezy and a little detached with my dad next to her; a carefree smile on his face, and his fingertips just brushing my shoulder. I stand in front of him pouting – yes, and wearing the suspenders.

We are all gathered around an olive tree that grew in the front yard of 5 Rocking Horse Road.  (Now, don’t tell me that doesn’t sound idyllic.) The photographer had my dad stand on a rock.  So, there my father is, captured forever in this photo in the tweed jacket with the leather patches on the elbows, for once taller than my mom, looking every inch like a traditional head of the household.

That family portrait hung on our living room wall until we moved out of # 5 Rocking Horse 10 years later, shortly after everything had fallen apart.

Please leave a comment about your favorite tip. Or give me one of your own! And share!

Also, any questions about ANYTHING – especially the 90-Day challenge — nelsiespencer@yahoo.com

 

MEMOIR BLOG

Writing memoir is not easy.  It asks us to be very vulnerable.  We’re trying to put our pain and our struggles on the page in order to make some money. That sounds a little crass, but the point I’m making is that good memoirs sell.  And why do they sell? Because we put our pain on the page. And, if it’s done well, we create art, entertainment inspiration even teach the reader some of the lessons that the writer learned on her/his journey.  And – for my money – if it’s funny – Boom! You got me!  If you haven’t read Can We Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. You must!

I talk about Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess) when I work with my clients again and again. Her voice is crystal clear, she breaks all the ‘rules’ of writing (run-on sentences, endless parentheticals and asides) but it doesn’t matter because she is HYSTERICAL!

I’ve been working with memoir writers as an editor and Writing Coach now for almost 10 years.  And, not surprisingly, they make the same mistakes over and over again.

5 Top Tips for Memoir Writers:

Tip #1 – Put You in the story.
Writers leave themselves out of their own story! This sounds like it’s not possible when one is writing memoir, but it happens again and again. You are the star of your memoir, so the reader needs to know how you feel, what you’re thinking, wearing, hoping for, etc.  We have to root for you. And we can’t do that if you don’t let us in.

Tip #2 – Take your time.

Don’t skip over the top of the story, like a stone skipping over surface of a lake. I need you to put on your waders and walk out into the middle of the lake.  Don’t just give me the surface of the story. Clients often tell me what happened but they don’t tell me what it felt like, what you were thinking.

Not: My dad yelled at me and I was mad.

But: My dad banged open the door to my room. I was listening to Kanye, (or led Zeplin, or Joni Mitchell, etc.). My dad leaned into me, his face red and began screaming. I felt a hot anger grow in my chest and I had this clear image of kicking him in right in the balls pushing him over smashing his face with my fist…

You get my point.

Tip #3 – Give me the details.

This desire to only give the story in broad strokes seems often to be attached to the fear of being boring or seeming self-centered.  One has to let go of that. One has to realize that the only way into the story is through the details, through the feelings. I always say, “You have to take the reader by the hand and walk him through your story.”

Give me the details. The more specific you are the more universal the story becomes. If I tell you my dad was a hippie that’s one thing. If I say, “My dad went from wearing herringbone sports jacket with leather patches on the elbows to wearing Nerhu jackets, platforms, bellbottoms and smoking pot,” it’s a different image. Those specifics bring you into the story create the intimacy. And that specificity allows you to say oh boy my dad he wasn’t a hippie at all.  He was a military man. Or, “Wow my dad was a hippie too, but he was always a hippie.  “He was a carpenter and he went to Woodstock.” Do you see my point? We identify with the specifics more passionately, and that brings us into the story. We read memoir to experience the human condition, to feel our kinship, regardless of how different we are.

Tip #4 – Give me YOU!

Again, this might seem obvious, but, don’t lose your personality when you write. Often when I work one-on-one with a memoir client I make them tell me the story. Instantly their personality – that has been absent from their writing – comes back. The humor, the sarcasm, the inner dialogue, the anger, outrage and the fear – suddenly it’s all back!

Tip #5 – Don’t sugar-coat it.

It’s okay to be an asshole, self-centered, stupid, fall for the wrong guy, be shitty to your best friend. All those things make you loveable, relatable. Look at any good book; memoir or fiction, and that protagonist is highly flawed.  And, instead of making us not like them = it does the opposite. It makes us love them.

They try to sound like writers.
What makes great writers great? A variety of things but one of the biggest things is there voice. What’s your voice? How do you tell the story you’re telling? Is it funny is it Mystical is it sexy? Maybe it’s funny sexy and mystical. Most importantly make sure not only that you are in the story but that your personality is in the story. If you read running with scissors Agustin Burroughs who he is, is in every word is on every page when you read Bossypants Tina Fey’s personality is why we keep reading. Because often times the stories that she’s telling are interesting, yes. But the way that she tells them with her humor and her self-deprecating and her quirky point of you that keeps us laughing and turning the page.
so if I tell you. When I work with the client I try to slow them down. I often say it’s like you’re skipping that stone across the river and when I need you to do is put on your thigh high boots and walk into the river and take your time I want you to soak in that river and take your time. Writers will often say. “My dad did this, and I felt that way and then I went and got high.”  Versus,  “My father walked in the room. I could tell by the look on his face I was in trouble; his bright blue eyes bared down on me. I didn’t know whether to be scared or angry. After all, he was the one…” Got it?

 

 

 

 

 

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