Trai Cartwright, MFA, is a 25-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. She teaches, produces, and writes screenplays and novels, and can be found at www.craftwrite.com. While in Los Angeles, she was a screenwriter, independent film producer, and story consultant and development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, Universal Studios, New Lines Cinema, and 20th Century Fox. Trai currently teaches creative writing, screenwriting, and producing for the Colorado Film School and two online master’s programs, writers groups, conferences and cons, and one-on-one as a development and story editor. She is the screenwriter for Secret Ellington, and producer of docu-series Hidden Tigers.
Moments of epiphany in writing:
Letters Form Words:
A.N.T. equals “ant.” What?? Five-year-old mind blown. As soon as I accumulated enough words, I started writing stories. About ants. And cats. And dogs. And Jane. And John. They ran. A lot. This was the beginning of my way of making sense of the world.
Writing Staves off Boredom:
In the 4th grade my teacher and I didn’t see eye-to-eye. I was bored. I asked for more work. She told me to sit at my desk and wait until everyone was done with the assignment. I glared bloody eight-year-old doom at her. For weeks. She and my parents corrected me. That’s when I started writing books at my desk. Now I finished my school work even faster, so that I could get back to writing.
Writing Saves Lives:
Growing up wasn’t the safest endeavor for me. Poor parenting and all that. I stayed in my room and wrote to avoid detection by my violent family. I completed seven books by age thirteen.
Writing Out Loud (Almost) Wins Prizes:
My eighth grade teacher noticed I was smart but very, very quiet. She invited me to stay after school (and avoid the lousy parents) and write a speech and practice performing it. Turns out I had something to say. I won the school contest. Then the city. Then the region. I did not win State, despite a standing ovation. I’m pretty sure that’s because the girl who won did so because she was a foot taller, much thinner, blonder, a cheerleader who wasn’t awkward in her skirt. But the audience knew who really won. They let me know after, in the hallway. I felt bad for the cheerleader, because she overheard.
And it bit hard. I discovered screenwriting, my forever-medium, in college. When you find your natural habitat, the lure sinks in deep and you swim for the rest of your life with it lodged in your cheek. I’ve got three spiritual homes in this world: Oakland, California; Galway, Ireland; and screenwriting.
College Stories, When Revision Is Applied, Get Attention:
For years, I worked and re-worked the first screenplay I ever wrote. An Oscar-winning producer optioned it when I was 25. A big agency repped it. Despite rewriting Little Man Travels many times and having held jobs at the studio level by this point, I wasn’t ready to be a Big Time Screenwriter. It’s better it didn’t sell. But it gave me a taste. I understood the work that was going to be involved, and I understood that I wasn’t mature enough to take on a massive career such as was proposed. Back to the salt mines.
Sometimes Other People’s Stories Are Yours:
I didn’t mean to be a producer. It happened because another writer’s screenplay wouldn’t leave my head. So I gave notes, many times, and many times, the writer came back with a better and better script. And then one day it was ready to be a movie. And I was suddenly a producer. So I produced a few movies, mostly because I loved the writers so much.
More Options, Please:
Five of my screenplays have been optioned. I have always had representation. This was what keeps a writer going in Los Angeles. People constantly told me they loved my writing; what else did I have? So I wrote more scripts. I got really good. But never quite hit the script that sold.
When LA Burns, Write Fiction:
Los Angeles had an epic fail. A cascade of events unraveled our economy (most predominantly, a protracted writer’s strike). It destroyed the spec script industry, which was how, back then, writers broke in. The epic fail begat the golden age of TV. And would eventually shift the business from Hollywood to places like China and Silicon Valley. I knew it would take years for the business to regenerate. I didn’t have the energy to wait. So I quit. And did what lots of other folks did: I went back to school.
MFA’s Are Dangerous:
Beware programs that don’t let you write what you write. Or don’t teach you about the business. I quit my first program within six weeks.
MFA’s Are AWESOME:
At UC Riverside, I reduced the learning curve to acquire fiction skills to just three years. Much faster than my screenwriting evolution. I loved my program. I have written three books. One day I’ll finish the one that everyone says will sell.
Colorado Has No Use for My Freakish Skillset:
When I got back to my home state, I was greeted by crickets. No one knew what to do with a filmmaker. So I created a wee empire on my own. I found the screenwriters, the filmmakers, and taught them everything I knew. When I had my MFA and some confidence speaking in front of people, I taught Fiction and Nonfiction and Memoir and Teleplays and Web Series at universities. I became an infinitely better writer. Shhhhh. Don’t tell anyone, or every writer will rush classrooms, having heard that teaching shows you what writing really is and how it’s really done.
Sometimes I Get Hired to Write:
I’ve got a couple projects out there in the marketplace. But mostly I get hired to teach and to edit manuscripts, and I love it unreasonably. Working with writers is my heart. Writing stories is my nervous system. Together I am almost a human, and the world sometimes makes sense.
I'm generally pulled in a million different directions and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Here's a glimpse of my life - hope you enjoy it! And if there's a big lapse between posts, well, that's the way life goes in Amy's world.
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