We had the good fortune of connecting with Helena Derett and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Helena, what habits do you feel helped you succeed?
I have to credit success on so many things but there are a couple of major habits I can point to and say: yes, without that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere! The first is I never gave up on learning. I became a perpetual student of screenwriting. I’ve read most major books on the subject, and I attend seminars and classes. I have a mentor who is full of information and has a very positive philosophy, which enhances my own. I constantly revisit old lessons too; sometimes to find new ways of applying a technique I already know, or to discover something I missed the first time around. And the best part is I really enjoy this. I get super excited when I find something new I want to learn. It’s like a new toy. So, get in the habit of learning and relearning and make it fun. Then trust your intuition. Your own natural talent along with your intuition will point you to the material that will add value to your craft and how to adapt it to serve you best. The second habit is meditation. This one is not just about writing. Although, meditation has been scientifically proven to enhance creativity. This is a habit that improves all areas of life. I’ve been meditating for a few years now and I feel the difference in my performance when I fall off the meditation wagon or when I stay consistent with my practice. Once you train your mind with meditation you can use it for everything. I use it to get lost in the world of my stories. My best writing comes when I do that. I don’t look at the screen or even the keyboard. I’m completely inside my mind. There’s nothing worse for creativity than the proverbial “blinking cursor on a blank page”. I like to joke and say the computer is not really powered by electricity, but the screen is actually sucking your life force. It’s kind of like wearing Sauron’s ring. Meditation practices help achieve that mental state called inspiration when I want it or need it, not just when inspiration feels like visiting me. That’s not to say that I don’t have bad writing days, I do. But when a bad creative day rears its ugly head, meditation can also be the biggest tool to turn to and reboot your mind. Another thing I’d like to credit, and this is not necessarily a habit but it’s vital – I’m very thankful for the people in my life. I trust them and I cherish them. Whether it’s family and/or friends, don’t isolate yourself. If you don’t have that support system, find it. Find the people who are like you, who understand you, laugh with you, and care about you, and take care of them in return. And ultimately have fun. Life can’t be all work and no play. Make sure whatever you’re doing, you’re having fun along the way.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Let me start with an anecdote. I struggled through most of my writing classes in college. Not because I lack talent but because I couldn’t conform. Most of those classes were literary fiction and I hated it. No matter how hard I tried my stories always evolved with such ease into “genre fiction.” A term not used with any endearment. Once I had to beg a professor for a C so I could pass the class. During the last semester of my senior year, I had a professor finally tell me “you write like a screenwriter.” I already knew that’s what I wanted to be. I felt a glow inside and smiled. It wasn’t meant as the complement I took it to be, but there it was – my mission in life. Recognized and spoken out loud by someone who wasn’t even happy with my writing. Now, here is the difference I experienced between my grades and “my audience.” My classmates always loved reading my stories. They were mesmerized by the worlds they were transported to, by the mystery, and excitement. For them, it was… wait for it… entertainment. That was my reward. I want to thrill people. I love writing action-adventure, sci-fi, and thrillers. I love a good mystery, heart-pumping intrigue, and murderous suspense. There’s nothing better than unraveling secrets or digging for treasure alongside characters that inspire you. I want to always engage people’s imaginations and take them to meet characters and worlds beyond what we can find in real life. And I don’t necessarily mean alien planets, but with my stories, you can always expect the unexpected. And then a twist. A great story should be as effective for your heart as cardio.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
If they’re arriving from their flight and are hungry, we’d start at The Morrison in Atwater Village for the best burgers known to humankind — burgers, truffle fries, and a pint of craft beer. If they’re new to LA, you can’t miss doing the classics, of course: Hollywood Blvd, Santa Monica Pier, and Venice Beach. Then a day and night in DTLA. Exploring the Grand Central Market, getting some great shots from Angels flight, and walking the streets to see the Bradbury building and the Disney Concert Hall until your feet give out. Then dinner at Honda-Ya for excellent Japanese food and some bar hopping across the different breweries. If they’re into craft beer there’s a bar in Melrose which carries a pre-prohibition lager. It’s called 1903. Very interesting. The place is called The Village Idiot. The Getty is one of the most beautiful museums anywhere, and it’s a must, as is the Griffith Observatory. I also love to show them around the things that are part of my every day. Where the supermarket I go to is, Costco, the Baja Fresh where I love to get chips and salsa. Sounds mundane but then they’ll know when we talk about things. My best friend loves visiting the supermarket and finding things that are unique to the area. I would then take them out of LA – up the coast to Santa Barbara for some wine tasting. Monterey is an absolutely charming town to visit. Eating some seafood on the pier to watch the seals at sunset is spectacular. Then the redwoods near Santa Cruz. I can’t take credit for designing this particular trip up the coast. That was thanks to my brother who was adamant about seeing the redwoods. And what a fun trip! I still have tons of things to discover about LA. It’s such a magnificent city. I have a friend here who is my explorer buddy and we have some great trips in mind for the future.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
A big shoutout to my parents, my two brothers, and my friends who have never wavered in their support and their love, and who have made me who I am. I love you all. Also, a shoutout the biggest guru of screenwriting Hal Croasmun because the knowledge he has imparted has no comparison.