A fellow Sarah Lawrence Alum, Jacquetta and I were in a producing class together and her biting wit got me. She is the epitome of hustler and I’ve always admired her grind.
When you begin a story, what comes first to you (dialogue, imagery, etc)?
Usually what prompts me to begin a story, a screenplay or even a joke is a strong comic visual of the main character undertaking some seriously wild action. For example, it could be a woman punching a car in the grill or diving off a stage or snatching the nail clipper out of the clutches of someone doing a little A-train mani-pedi action. Then Iconsider what kind of heroine would have the balls to do that action and I craft the story around that.
What is the process like getting something from your head to the page?
Tortuous. Like a relationship, at the beginning it’s all fun and games and everything is fantastic. I’m writing page after page, scene after scene… Then another idea catches my fancy and finishing up the first piece becomes and act of sheer will. But once it’s over the editing sword comes out and it’s fun again.
What is the biggest difficulty in achieving that goal of having something on the page?
Distractions. I get distracted by physical objects in my writing space, by events in the news—basically anything. And then the ideas start flowing for a million projects at once. It’s a mania. The only time I have been able to get pages flowing continually and with quality output was the week I spent at an ashram. There was nothing to do but write, practice yoga and chant. And there is only so much of the latter I can do.
After you’ve started, when do you edit?
I edit as I go along and then I edit again once I have a first draft. I try to show the piece to others and cajole them into helping me edit.
If you right fictional things, do you do research? If so, what kind and how hard to rely on facts?
I use the Internet for light research if I am writing about things that include pop culture since in general I ignore it. Most of my themes are areas that I have enough knowledge in to write about them without doing research. Occasionally I consult with people I know. For example, if I write about criminal matters I consult my husband, a criminal lawyer.
Explain your editing process.
I taught writing with a heavy emphasis on editing for about 10 years and I am merciless when it comes to editing. Unless there is a strong reason for the words or scenes, everything must go. Once I have pruned I go back and add as many jokes as I can.
Do you expose your “in progress” writing to other people? Why or why not?
For screenwriting I always bring my work to whatever workshop I am in. For jokes I take them to an open mic. For comedy you have to know if something works and the only way to find out is to see if the material gets laughs. I need as many test audiences as possible Secretly (not so secret if you know me) I am always pitching and trying out bits from my act and from my screenplays. It saves the time I would spend wondering if something works or not.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever got?
My don from Sarah Lawrence once told me in regards to a paper I was struggling with “Just finish it, already” It’s simple. You can’t beat that. If I can just finish it, then I have something to work with.
What’s the worst piece of writing advice you ever got?
The ubiquitous- “Write what you know.” What the hell does that mean? Thanks for narrowing that down for me. I think that produces all these boring modern books/films about twee 30 something people slumming it with too much time, an MA and a vintage typewriter. Yawn. I would rather write what I can imagine –that may be of interest. Plus, I don’t know that much.
What kind of mediums do you use to get your writing out there the public?
Blunt force. Luck. I have a one-woman show in which I “act out” and do the story telling thing about my life. It’s my stories on the stage. Turns out people would rather see and hear them then read them. And I do some stand up. It’s my writing in joke form.
How often do you edit a piece once it’s “done”?
It’s never really done. I can always keep editing.
What do you think is the biggest misconception of writing or being a writer?
The idea that you have to get paid to call yourself a writer or feel like a “real” writer. I have gotten paid for my work and it didn’t make me feel like any more of a writer than I had the day before when I was writing for free. I thought it would.
How do you feel about offering other writers feedback on their writing if asked?
I enjoy doing it if the work is good and I hope they will return the favor.
How has your writing evolved from the beginning? 10 years ago? Last year?
I hope it has been informed by the experiences that I have had as I have matured. I still work with the same themes but with more developed characters and the humor is less broad but (sometimes disturbingly) darker. I’m happy about that. I care a lot less about what others think and so that frees me to write whatever I want. I started doing screenplays a few years ago and that was something completely new. Now, it’s all I want to do. I see a screenplay everywhere I look. That has re-invigorated writing for me.
Jacquetta Szathmari is a New York based writer and comedian. A native of extremely rural Maryland, she escaped to a Delaware boarding school where in the face of crew races and bold Laura Ashley floral prints, she developed a unique comic style. Her act is a witty, acerbic and candid commentary on race/class relations and the failures of modern society. She has hosted and performed in comedy clubs all over NYC and has appeared in the Boston Women’s Comedy Festival and in a Comedy Central pilot (that went nowhere).
Her one woman show “That’s funny. You didn’t sound black on the phone.” was a 2010 Hollywood Fringe Festival “Best Comedy” nominee, was featured in the 2011 Hollywood Fringe, and will be in the 2011 United Solo Festival. She has sold a screenplay for independent production and has served as a script consultant on various independent projects. She also is the co-host of weekly comedy podcast Hey You Know It, which is available on iTunes. In addition, she is a rabid feminist, rabid Libertarian, and equally rabid Bjork fan. Her latest effort is to get ballsoutcomedy.com off the ground and out of wordpress.
In her left hand she holds a degree in Medieval Studies and Theatre from Sarah Lawrence, in her right a MSTESOL from City College. She taught ESL for a decade in Budapest, Washington D.C., and New York for various capacities including stints at The New School, Columbia University, and in school in the South Bronx. She has worked on Wall St. with Jim Kramer writing about finance, in fashion as a copywriter, and was EIC of a health and wellness site. She will write anything. Of course, she is on twitter and facebook and occasionally blogs.Tweet
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