by Joanna D'Angelo

I'm not a fan of making New Year's Resolutions although I can understand the compulsion to do so. It's the dawn of a new year - you feel compelled to start off with good intentions.  Quit smoking! Eat healthy! Work out! Save money! Find a better job! Yadda, yadda, yadda. But how long do those good intentions really last before you fall off the wagon? Oh, about mid-way through January according to a 2007 poll. The New York Times article I linked here talks about making specific goals rather than general ones because specific goals are easier to achieve and maintain. So rather than resolving to eat healthy  - when you go out to a restaurant resolve to share your entree.  Madon'! I can just see my Nonna shaking her head. Common sense people. It's a wonderful thing. A far more interesting article in the Wall Street Journal suggests that New Year's resolutions are the wrong way to change behaviour and instead we should "respect the feebleness of our self-control, and spread our resolutions out over the entire year".  Well, I'm all for balance.

I don't want to sound preachy - I'm the last person in the world who should preach to anyone about anything but I believe that change - any kind of true change doesn't just happen because you make a resolution on Jan. 1st.  Nor will the bland platitudes that self-help mangia cakes trot out every year have any profound impact on your life. Well, if that's what gets you through the day then knock yourself out.  But real change is a struggle. It takes time. It's fraught with emotional muckiness. This, I know from experience.

Five years ago after my mom passed away I made a decision.  To have faith in my own abilities as a writer and pursue my own ideas instead of only working on other people's projects (hey, I have to make a living right?) This was very difficult for me. A shift in my way of thinking. A huge leap because I had always lacked confidence in my writing.  I knew I was a good writer but  I had focused primarily on the development side. I could write kick-butt funding applications and proposals  but could I undertake a documentary? Could I actually make a living being creative?  Could I direct? Yikes. Still not sure about that one.  Although, I do think that my greatest strength comes in post production in the edit suite.

Documentaries.  I bow to the beauty of documentaries. I love documentaries. I am in awe of documentary filmmakers.  I grew up watching National Film Board (NFB) documentaries in school.  Something every Canadian kid experiences. In university I took several documentary courses - one was an overview that included incredible films made by British filmmakers to the brilliant American director Frederick Wiseman to Canadian documentarians like the late great Alan King and many NFB gems.  We saw some great docs - including a short little film about bicycles that was just gorgeous.  Another film was called La Lutte - about pro wrestlers in Montreal. It was directed by four Quebec filmmakers including Michel Brault and Claude Jutra (both would become princes of Quebec filmmaking).  When we had the NFB library in Ottawa I'd go there at least once a week, grab a screening booth and just watch films.

While my mom was still alive I started researching a documentary about romance writers - from a feminist perspective.  It didn't quite end up the way I had first envisioned (alas, you always have to balance what you want with what the broadcaster wants) and when you work on something for so long you're aware of every tiny little error -things that nobody else notices - but that you wish you could have changed. But, overall I was pleased.  And people who've seen it really seem to like it.

There was overlap with other projects as well. I was lucky in that I was busy right out of the starting gate.  But I knew it wouldn't last.  This business is nothing if not fickle.  But, that is the true challenge of making a resolution. When it stops being easy is when the resolve part kicks in.  It's the part when my aunt phoned me and told me to go to teacher's college. Not to mention my father. Well, I was a lost cause to him a long time ago when I decided to study journalism instead of business. He came around eventually. In fact, when my documentary premiered on TV ( a very cool experience by the way ;) my dad liked it. I had been a wee bit concerned.  It has a few somewhat risqué elements in it.  And he's my dad after all. Yikes! But he told me he thought it was very well done.  And not in a Dad way either.  My dad is a tough critic. He rarely (if ever) pays anyone a compliment. About anything. So needless to say - that was like an Oscar moment for me.

So getting back to my resolve - with the rat race of pitching. The true challenge begins when things get difficult. Especially when you meet face to face with a broadcaster and they tell you that they love your idea and would like to develop it.   Then a couple of weeks later they send you a rejection later in the mail.  A follow up phone call reveals that their reasons for rejecting you were the exact same reasons why they told you they liked the project in the first place.  A fickle bunch indeed. 

Then there was the time I pitched a  docu-soap series idea to a successful American producer who told me I needed to get rid of my subjects (a group of clever, attractive,  interesting women writers)  and find some train wrecks. ARGH!

One more example happened last summer.  I blogged about it here. I was working on a really interesting show idea about a fashion designer who was making a come-back. My producer and I really liked the designer. We connected on a personal level - I had had several conversations with her and we were all very excited about the project.  Between my conversations with her and the research and writing - it took me several weeks to write the proposal.  It was a difficult one to write because I had to tread carefully - there were aspects of her life that she didn't want to include and I was careful not to allude to them.  So after I finished writing the proposal I sent it off to my producer. A few days later she called me to say that the designer sent her an e-mail out of the blue and decided to pull out of our project. Instead she was going to work with another producer.  As an aside we had originally approached her about the idea. Until that point, it hadn't even occurred to her to think about doing a show about her life.

Numerous attempts to contact her failed. My producer felt terrible about it as did I.  This one hit me harder than the rest because we'd trusted her and I knew the broadcasters would have gone for the idea.  So close. As a consolation my producer told me it was the best proposal she'd ever read.  So I had a great pitch document but no star.  Another lesson learned. Luckily, I still got paid for writing it.

There have been many other rejections along the way.  It really is the nature of being a writer.  You will always suffer rejection. I know writers who took 10 years to get published.  Imagine if those writers made a resolution to write a book in January then gave up before the month ended.  That's what I mean by true resolve.  A true resolution involves a fundamental shift in your way of thinking - in how you choose to live your life and what you choose to do with it.

So why do I continue to pursue this TV dream of mine?  Well, it's because I love telling stories. And I love television.  I love film as well - but in Canada - the process of financing a movie is like getting several root canals over many, many years.  I continue to stick to my resolution even though I've had many moments of darkness and doubt.  I continue to move forward because that is the only direction I can go.  When I get rejected again (and I will) I'll have to shrug it off, give myself a day or so to gather my energy and then move on.  But I have faith in my abilities and my ideas.  I have faith that I made the right decision. I finally have faith in myself.

I hope you all have faith in yourselves as well. If you choose to make New Year's resolutions think about what you're resolving to do and why. Very easy to make a mental list.  Very hard to make a shift in your mentality.

Happy New Year!


  1. squozed- I enjoyed your article very much. I applaud you for deciding to follow your life's ambition and passion. Not many can say they have been able to do that. Goals, rather than resolutions are usually what works - striving for the prize rather than making a statement about something being absolute makes sense. We don't live in a black and white world - there are far more grey hues to decode.

    I for one will be cheering very loudly for you to get to the next level - you have lots of talent and the world needs to see what I've seen in you too!

    Cheers and all the best for 2010. ;)

  2. I agree with you about goals - setting a goal and achieving it is a wonderful feeling.

    Thank you so much for your kind words. It means a lot. From your lips to God's ears. ;) So, I'm just going to keep doing my thing.

    I wish you all the best in 2010 as well.


  3. What a wonderful piece Jojo!! And so from the heart!

    I really love your style of writing, it goes to a completely different level than what I typically read anywhere. You have a talent for expressing yourself as if the reader is sitting next to you and hearing you talk. Make any sense?! Hope you get what I mean.

    Of course, resolutions are all about the immediacy of the end of one year and the beginning of the next. Resolve is a completely different principle and one we as Americans/Canadians/World Citizens should really concentrate on becoming better at... We are a society of ADD affected people, some more, some less, so we think nothing of starting something tomorrow and forgetting about it the next day. But thank you for sharing your life's struggles and I second the comment posted above. The world has just begun to see what you are capable of. Looking forward to your successes ahead!

    Happy 2010, and love always!

    p.s. The NY Times never makes any sense to me! Up with The Wall Street Journal, down with the NYT! And I live in NYC?!

  4. Loved this, Jo. Resolutions always seemed a waste of time to me. Goals make much more sense! Unless it's a resolution like my birthday compadre old Abe referred to: "Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing."
    Keep aiming high, and you'll get there, my friend!

  5. I think my writing style can be attributed to my days in radio - I have a tendency to write in a conversational style. ;)

    I agree with you about resolve. A principle to live by.

    Love you Nina! Thanks so much for your lovely comment.

    Here's to good things for all of us in 2010! ;)

  6. Dear Cate - thank you so much! Yes, I agree - I'm much more goal oriented than resolution oriented. ;)

    Thank you so much for your kind words! And I wish the same for you.

    Cheers and Happy New Year!

  7. Great post, Joanna! I have to agree. I like goals better than resolutions because they can be long term or short term but at least they are there and long standing as milestones to help you reach each level. That said, I hope you reach all of your 2010 goals and more! :-D

  8. Joanna - as someone with a film degree who is scanning documents for a living, I hear you - 'in Canada, the process of financing a movie is like getting several root canals over many, many years.' (laughing through my tears)

    I've taken up novel writing because it doesn't require a budget of hundreds of thousands of dollars, it doesn't matter what the weather's doing outside and I no longer have to worry about what to feed the crew.

    My only problem? Making the internal style shift from script writing to prose writing. Do you know how many times a critique partner has told me, 'But I don't know what she's feeling.' Because in a script you're not allowed to say what she's feeling - that's for the actor to decide.

    So six years later I'm still learning to be a writer!

    Happy New Year, Jojo - and here's to resolve, and to its unglamorous but essential cousin, stubborness!

  9. Happy New Year Rae! Hooray for hitting our goals and making 2010 a good year for all of us. ;)

  10. Happy New Year Julia!

    Really our film making in Eng. Canada sucks. ;)

    As for working on your novel - I completely understand - my greatest strength is writing dialogue - I have to push myself for the rest - because I find it actually quite boring to write. I always write dialogue first. ;)

    Oh, and here's an idea - write a book that gets optioned into a movie. And you can write the screenplay. Woohoo. Problema solved. ;)

  11. Do you know how freakin' happy that would make me?!?

  12. Joanna,

    This profession is all about having faith. You have to rely on it constantly to deal with the setbacks, disappointments, and criticisms - yet, faith is also there to fuel the motivation to fulfill that creative vision. Perseverance is the other crucial ingredient, and you obviously have that in spades. I wish you the best of luck (one needs a bit of that, too)! You did a great job on the romance doc.

  13. Ahhh, New Year's resolutions ... what fun would a brand new January be, without a whole list of personal promises to f*** up, one at a time? ;-D

  14. Hi Pam - I agree with you - and a tough skin! Because you get slashed to bits. Nothing personal though. ;) And thank you! Glad you like the doc.

  15. Nikki - no f*** ups - we're all in this together. ;) Thanks for stopping by.


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