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…You Might Be a Project Manager (With Apologies to Jeff Foxworthy)

  • If you think someone asking, “When can you have this done by?” requires a Microsoft Project Schedule and a consultation with your online calendar before you can even begin to respond, you might be a project manager.
  • If your child asks you for extra help with their homework, and your answer is, “I’m sorry, but Mommy doesn’t have enough resources to cover scope creep,” you might be a project manager.
  • If the only way you can outline your next novel or screenplay is by creating a Microsoft Visio diagram, you might be a project manager. (That would be me.)
  • If your next family get-together requires a meeting invitation with a PowerPoint presentation attached, you might be a project manager.
  • If you handle finding out which movie your friends want to go see Friday night by sending out Microsoft Outlook voting emails with the choices Approve or Reject and a firm deadline for responding, you might be a project manager.
  • If you know more about how to manage scope, schedule, budget and resources than the contractor renovating your house, you might be a project manager.
  • If you can successfully implement a five million dollar project, but find the prospect of balancing your meager checkbook intimidating, you might be a project manager.

But here’s the most important one, and all kidding aside:

  • If you have ever had to do something that required even a two-step plan to accomplish, you ARE a project manager.

No, really, I’m not joking with that. Trust me, I’ve been a so-called “professional Project Manager” for over eight years now, and even have a Masters Degree of Project Management. No, really, I do! Colorado Technical University’s where it’s from. It means I get to put the letters MPM behind my name if I want to try and make myself seem more important than I really am.

Hence why you never see those letters behind my name. So why’d I get the degree? I don’t know. It seemed like a good idea at the time (back in 2004/05).

I found it highly amusing last night when I was speaking with my publisher about the timeline for my next two novels (which will be “TAKERS II” and “TAKERS III”) and my next two feature-length screenplays, that I was automatically planning out the timeline in my head, including estimating how long tasks would take to complete, analyzing dependencies and constraints (my writing time vs. my two editors’ availability, desired release dates, etc.), determining whether any up-front costs would be required and the implementation plan for each of those deliverables.

There, I just used a whole bunch of project management buzz words. Now, let’s talk to each other like normal human beings.

At its simplest, project management is nothing more than trying to figure out how to do something with the best possible chance for success. I am probably pissing off a whole community of project managers because they tend to take themselves way too seriously as a whole, but I’m a no-nonsense sort of person, and here’s what my no-nonsense wants to tell you: it’s not rocket science.

I can prove it. Know how? I never cracked a textbook open during my Masters degree program, yet aced it, top o’ the heap. Why? Well, mostly because the principles of project management are intuitive for me, much like writing is. Do I know how to break apart a single sentence and identify precisely what word is which technical grammar term? Oh, dear Lord, no, nor do I ever care to, thanks much. Can I tell you what a noun is? Yeah, that I can do. Can I tell you the first thing about the origins of the word onomatopoeia or what that even means? Sure, if I look it up on Google.

What I can do well, is slap a whole bunch of words on a page that actually do stick together and sound fairly decent, most of the time. This reminds me of a quote from Hawaii Five-0 that makes me howl because it’s just priceless. I love the writers of that show. They crack me up. One of these days I have got to interview them.

This is from the Season 1, Episode 7 entitled “Ho’apono.” Starring Alex O’Loughlin as McGarrett and Scott Caan as Danno, for those who don’t know.

Danny “Danno” Williams: Okay… Let’s say I am you, and you are the bad guy here. I would know that all the ways onto the ship are visible somehow. So, how would you outsmart yourself and get yourself onto that ship without yourself seeing yourself?
Steve McGarrett: Okay, was that an actual question, or were you just throwing words together and hoping they made sense?

I’m with Steve on this one. As much as groups of people like to get together and try to make what they do for a living sound ever-so-important and ever-so-difficult and this-is-why-you-should-pay-me-the-big-bucks-because-I’m-smarter-than-you-are-with-my-jargon…well, that’s not me. I don’t throw words together just hoping they make sense (unlike Danny, apparently).

So when I say to you that you are probably just as much a project manager as I am, let me ask you some questions that will also serve as examples of how and why I think that’s the case.

  • Have you ever had to get a 2-year old up in the morning, and get Her Royal Highness bathed, fed, dressed and safely to day care all before the time you have to be at work?
    • I will bet you a McDonald’s large coffee that fathers and mothers familiar with the ‘joy’ that this process can bring are nodding vigorously over the difficulties inherent in such a daunting undertaking. And they do it daily.
  • Have you ever had to take a trip somewhere by car, boat/ship, airplane, helicopter or any other means?
    • Where are you going? What’s the best method of transportation? How do you secure that transportation? Do you have to borrow or rent a car? Buy an airline ticket? Book passage on freighter? Wait, you have to book passage on a freighter? Call me next time, that sounds like fun.
    • Do you need to pack clothes? Toiletries? Food? Something to drink? Is anyone coming with you? What do they need to have brought with them? Do you need a book or two? Your Kindle? A magazine? Your laptop? Your iPad? iPhone? Blackberry? Android? (No, not Lt. Commander Data, ST:TNG fans.)
  • Have you ever written a story, book, script, screenplay, poem?
    • What’s your subject matter? What genre are you writing in? Who are your characters? What are their personalities? What is your story about? What do you want to happen? Where is it set? If it’s a poem, is it going to rhyme?
    • Indie filmmakers are kick-ass project managers, by the way. Especially if it’s a movie they wrote, they are producing, they are directing and, sometimes, they are even starring in. I cannot imagine what it takes to pull something like that off, and yet so many people do!

Let’s get back to something no quite so entertainment industry-related.

  • Have you got more than one child, and they all have to be at different fields on Saturday at the same time for different sports games/practices?
    • In this case, I would seriously consider looking into getting you and your family vehicle cloned.
  • Do you have two essays to complete, a mid-term to study for, five chapters in a textbook to get through and a documentary you have to watch all by Monday morning…and it’s Friday night?
    • Students everywhere, don’t despair…college isn’t nearly as hard as real life. Enjoy the pretend stress as much as you can before you get to the real stuff!

I could go on forever with examples, but I won’t because you’re probably already bored. Suffice it to say that while I will tell folks yes, I am a project manager, and yes, I have been a project manager for several years and have those silly letters that I can stick after my name to boot, the fact is that we are all project managers.

Just like we are all writers.

These days the term ‘writing’ is used much more loosely in that we’re technically ‘typing’ more often than we are actually sitting down with pen or pencil and writing. I get a cramp in my hand penning a single sentence fifteen times, so no, longhand and notebooks and I don’t get along too well.

But just like we can all manage projects on some level, so, too, can we all write on some level. Ever written a note in a Christmas card? Ever typed an email to a friend? Ever posted something to LiveJournal or Facebook? Ever left a comment on someone’s blog? (hint, hint)

Then you’re a writer.

Are you a novelist? Well, I don’t know, have you ever written a novel?

Are you a screenwriter? Not unless you’ve actually sat down and written a screenplay of some sort, whether good or bad.

Are you a poet? (Roses are red, violets are blue, this doesn’t count, but it’s writing, too.)

My point is that while I’ll happily sit here and give myself all sorts of names and titles like project manager, journalist, screenwriter and novelist, the fact is that I’m stuffing myself into predefined definitions because it’s the only way I can get taken seriously in any of those professions.

I’m not a snob because I’ve got a book published. I’m still just me. I will never become pretentious or unavailable to listen to what people who spend their precious time paying attention to anything I say or do want to tell me, good or bad. I may be busy as hell sometimes, and so it might take me a while to respond.

But no matter how busy I get, I will never forget that I’m just a normal Jane/Joe like the majority of the rest of the world’s human beings, and that I am a one-time cubicle dweller myself who’s had to work for Corporate America (and Corporate Canada, while we’re at it), too.

(Why do you think I want to make writing my full-time job??? Hello.)

I’ll leave you with one final thought:

If you think that because your job gives you the ability to:

  • tell other people where to go;
  • how to get there;
  • what to do when they get there, and
  • crack the whip when they don’t do what you told them to, then

you might be a project manager.

But consider this: while the fact is that the job description I just gave is definitely for a project manager, it’s also exactly the same for a mother, father or a BDSM dominatrix.

If you’re wondering how many risks I might be taking treating such serious subject matters with this much irreverence, then you’re either a project manager or you’ve been in the business too long, my friend.

Writing: The Cure for Dealing With Things That Hurt

I’m one of those disgustingly upbeat people. You know, the kind you want to just haul off and sock in the jaw for coming across as almost stupidly optimistic all the time. The kind you sit back and think to yourself must have had the most awesome, charmed life ever led.

Yeah, not so much, as those close to me know.

I’m disgustingly upbeat 99.9% of the time, because with lots of hard work on the ever-popular Inner Me and working to look back at my life and why certain things have happened, I’ve been able to stop and say, “Okay, I understand, now, most of the reasons why Life went down Path B when I wanted it to go down Path A…or why Thing C that I thought was the answer to all my prayers didn’t happen, or last very long,” or whatever the case may be.

And on days like today I can truly say I’m not only optimistic but happy, because I’m currently working hard at turning my real love into my full-time career. I know I’m not exactly where I want to be, but hell, half the fun is the journey getting there, as far as I’m concerned!

But there’s also the side of me that’s just as real and human as anyone else on the planet, and that includes not being so joyous all the time. It’s the side of me that knows and understands that as a writer, the thing that makes me write well is being able to not only acknowledge, but tap into and release personal pains that I may have forgotten I even had. Things that may have happened so long ago my conscious self had forgotten, or more recent occurrences that I thought I’d gotten past.

Let me tell you something: just because you understand why something did or did not happen in your life doesn’t mean you aren’t still hurting from it. And lots of people don’t understand why things happen to them or around them, which only makes things worse as they try to deal with the hurt that goes along with it.

But I’m learning something here, and I think maybe Captain Kirk said it best in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier:

“You know that pain and guilt can’t be taken away with a wave of a magic wand. They’re the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!”

Yeah, I do need my pain. For all that I want to encourage others to see around, through and over the obstacles in their way – because it’s so worth it if you can – I also need to make sure I don’t act like I don’t have pain anymore.

Although, if what I’m going through with my current project is any indication, I’ll be very glad when this particular pain is released. And I wouldn’t even have known this was something that needed dealing with if it wasn’t for this very challenging screenplay I dared myself to write.

Writing, cathartic? Who knew? (I’m being facetious, of course.)

Being a writer isn’t just about being a storyteller. Even if you’re writing really weird and ‘out-there’ sci-fi or fantasy, you still need to make the subject matter relatable to human emotions. Horror and suspense prey on fear. Adventure is fun and exciting. Comedy makes us forget our own problems…or maybe laugh because of them…and a reality-based drama like I’m writing now? Well, you’ve got angst! You’ve got worry! You’ve got pain by the truckload! You’ve got moments of “OMG, what even?”

When you allow yourself to tap into the hidden recesses of your mind and emotions, you’ve got the crux of good writing at your disposal. And you know what? You’ve also got the ingredients for some damn fine drama. When you’re writing, you don’t have to (and shouldn’t!) hide from your audience. What comes out needs to be real enough that they can feel it along with the characters they’re watching (or reading about). The only way to make it that real, is to feel it myself, I’m learning.

Ouch.

But I think that’s what makes it all work. Experience. Lots of people can tell great stories. We can even make them up as kids on the playground. But only the people who’ve actually lived – through not just happy times, but also painful ones – can tell human stories that grab other people by the throat and make them relate.

I’m holding out the hope that putting myself through the wringer on this will do that, because as much as people like to try and hide what and who they truly are…what lies beneath the façade we’re always presenting to one another…we all have this stuff roiling under the surface. People believe nobody else can possibly be thinking about or feeling what they are, and that’s just not true.

Am I still a ridiculously upbeat person? Yes. How? Why? Simple: writing.

If I can make a living off it, all the better, but I have to say that writing is probably the best, cheapest therapy that exists for people who are able to use it that way. I dealt with an awful lot of my childhood-related issues when I wrote a novel back in 2005 that, God willing, will never see the light of day. (Yeah, it’s that bad. Yikes. Someone light a bonfire, quick.)

Now, I’m tackling something that’s forcing me to draw on my own very personal experiences…experiences that I honestly didn’t think I  had any remaining crap left over from. I’m finding out, with each and every piece of dialogue and text that’s being ripped out of me, just how wrong I was.

Why am I even bothering to tell you about this? Because above all else, the one thing I wish every single human being on the planet could get is: you are not alone. Whatever it is you’re dealing with or going through. Whatever desires, kinks or fantasies you have. Whatever tears, pain and problems you have. Whatever it is inside you, that you’re convinced no one else could possibly even fathom? You’re wrong.

And you know, even if you “can’t write” (or don’t think you can), you’d be surprised how much it helps getting your angst out of you and onto paper (or into a computer). That’s why people keep diaries, of course, and why so many people take to sites like LiveJournal, I would guess. What you write doesn’t ever have to be read by anyone else, though…it’s the process of getting through it and getting it out of you that counts.

For me, the process of taking on this particular screenplay is dredging up shit I stopped thinking about years ago. It’s pissing me off that this sludge is still there, truth be told. But you know what? I think it being there for me to use is what just might make this screenplay so moving and so real it’ll actually succeed.

Only time will tell.

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    The book series "Takers," the screenplays contained on the "Screenplays" page and the screenplays discussed and contained on this website are copyright Chris Davis. Novels are published by Plotfish Press, and screenplays are registered with the Writers Guild of America (WGA) West.
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