Valerie has the heart of a writer. She has been dedicated to the literarty arts since she was a child. Slowly over time she improved and perfected her craft while keeping her writing private. Writer’s know how difficult it is to share our work since it is so personal to us. Every piece of our writing has a part of us in it. Once she released her writing to the world, she began winning contests. That is the reward for her courage. Valerie possesses the talents, patience, and bravery it takes to be successful. Which is why I am excited to introduce you to this screenwriter. This is Valerie Schwartfigure…
I was born and raised in Ohio. My younger brother and I were artsy people, and the spawn of teachers. I carried a very severe office supply addiction into adulthood. We also had one of those grandmas who could hold you mesmerized with a tale of literally anything like milking a goat for instance! Why do I care about milking a goat? I don’t know! I want to tell stories like that. Not specifically about goats, but you know what I mean.
I went to college for Creative Writing at Otterbein. I graduated in ’08 when the economy tanked. I had to substitute teach for a couple years (which I do not recommend). So, I went back to school. Honestly, I would go to school forever if I could afford. Seven years, two babies, and several challenges later, I became a counselor and writer. My girls are five and six. They are really neat and are my world.
I believe my work as a counselor informs my writing and vice versa. People’s personal stories can be rewritten, to an extent. So I like to empower them to do that, and put the pen in their hands to write themselves a different future.
Q: How did you stumble upon screenwriting?
I guess you could call playwriting my gateway drug. As much as I love the live energy of theatre, there are some things you can’t really show on stage the same way you envision them: dreams, flashbacks, close ups, intimate moments, the subtleties of a face that is lying.
To learn the stylistic differences between stage plays and screenplays I did my own research. I checked books out from the library and looked at screenplays online.
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Q: Who/what inspired you into taking this path?
My parents always praised and encouraged my creativity, which is great because I originally wanted to be an Olympic figure skater, but heartbreakingly, they don’t accept people who have only practiced on carpet. Also, my husband, Jake, has been a huge encouragement for the past ten years! Fun fact: one of the many reasons I married him is because he said he would read anything I ever wrote.
There was also a creative writing competition in 7th and 8th grade called Power of the Pen, which I fell in love with. That was the first time I won anything. I placed both years, qualifying for state as an 8th grader. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a writer.
Q: Who was the first person who believed in you?
Ann Gerber, my 8th grade English teacher was the first person I remember believing in my writing ability. She made me believe I was good at writing and she made it seem so exciting, like having a special ability. The world is made up of stories, and to be able to write those stories is powerful: full of endless possibilities.
Dr. Margaret Koehler at Otterbein, in 2007- 2008. She made me feel like I wasn’t just another college kid, but a writer worth pouring into. I’m sure she did that for all her students who cared to receive it, but it really helped me. She was the one who read my senior writing project: “The Best Kind of Stew,” which was a comedy play set in Tudor England. I wrote it as a “half-step to Shakespeare,” with the bawdy flavor and witty style of Shakespeare, and even some iambic pentameter, but with easier to follow language for a more modern audience.
Q: When was the moment you knew you wanted to be a screenwriter?
I took a story that I wrote as a novel (which really sucked), and made it into a feature length screenplay (which was actually pretty good), and I knew then. Every moment of that process was a confirmation for me. I thought, “Why haven’t I been doing this all along?” Writing in any other format was like driving around the neighborhood, knowing I’m close to where I belong, and screenwriting was like pulling into my driveway, finally home.
Q: How do you define success for yourself?
Oh, this is so hard. I’m a goal-oriented person. So the minute I reach a goal, I have a backup goal ready. I’m constantly moving toward a finish line, but it’s almost like the finish line is moving too. I know that I would feel successful if I were to sit in a movie theatre and look up at the big screen one day and be able to say, “I wrote this!” But there are a lot of smaller things that could make me feel successful too. Maybe getting a manager and an agent.
Q: Give us a typical day in your life:
Are you an Early Bird or a Night Owl? On weekdays I have alarms set every 15 minutes from 5-6:30. I used to “spring up like toast” as my dad would say. He’s a big believer in only one alarm. But at some point I found I prefer to keep snoozing when I can. I would still consider myself an early bird, though.
Do you have a morning routine or ritual? I get showered, get my girls (Zoey, 6, and Aria, 5) up and get them ready for school, and we all eat breakfast. I’m on an English muffin with peanut butter kick these days.
What do you do during the day? During the day, I spend as much time as I can writing, organizing, researching ideas, and planning how I want to spend my time on the things I’m working toward. Sometimes I do this at home, sometimes at a restaurant or café. And occasionally at the counseling office if I have a break between clients.
What do you do at night? I don’t usually feel very creative later in the day, I feel wiped out. I try to just relax and pour back into myself, with some snuggles from my daughters and maybe a board game or a show or movie with Jake. I usually hit the hay by around 11.
How do you define a successful day? I would say a successful day is when you think at least some of what you spent your day on was meaningful, some of it brought you joy, and you could be thankful for it, maybe even do it again some time.
Q: What’s been the most important skill you've developed on your path to screenwriting?
Being willing to rewrite something even if I liked it the way it was. Sometimes it turns out better. Editing, polishing, and trimming the fat. I thought I wrote a really great 12 page short recently, and I set it aside for two weeks, looked at it again, and cut a third of it. It was so much better at 8 pages!
Q: What’s been the greatest challenge in your writing so far?
Occasionally, I struggle with my internal critic who can be pretty tough. For example if my script doesn’t get chosen as an official selection then I can be pretty self-critical. Thought’s like, “Maybe I actually suck at this. Should I just quit?” can creep in. But I move past them and strengthen my resolve. Also I’ve discovered I thrive on deadlines.
Q: What’s been the greatest reward in the choices you've made?
Well, I spent many years writing just for fun. I didn’t show my work to very many people. Sure, I liked the idea of being published or produced, but I was too afraid. My friend and writing group leader, Carma, pushed me to enter a contest at the Imaginarium Convention, and I won best feature screenplay. I was so shocked, because I knew there were writers in the list of finalists who had been published. So it felt hugely rewarding to win, because I was terrified to put myself out there.
Q: What do you want to learn from a community of your peers?
Everything. I want to learn everything! I tend to lean toward writing comedy, but I’ve tried some darker things lately and had a lot of fun with it. So maybe I’d like to try my hand at some other genres. Really, I’m open to learning and growing however possible.