Bella Vendramini is an actress and author of the best selling book Biting The Big Apple, and Naked In Public (Hachette Australia and New Zealand) both memoirs chronicling her life on and off the stage in New York, Australia and Europe. She was nominated for the Fun and Fearless Woman of the Year Award by Cosmopolitan Magazine in 2008 and 2011 and is now working on the third installment.
Describe yourself in 3 words: Optimistic, green eyed and freckled.
What is your life motto? I believe that you can have everything you want to in life (the default being so long as you don’t intentionally hurt anybody.) I know for myself, it’s often my own issues that hold me back, rather than the world.
When did you start pursuing your career and how long did it take to become successful? Even though I’ve been writing since I was a kid (‘I went to school today. It was good. Bye. Love Bella.’ great heights of literary merit were achieved) I actually started out as an actress before becoming a writer.
A few years ago I did an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald about my acting work and it mentioned that I’d been accepted into the Strasberg Institute in New York to study acting. A publisher at Hachette Australia read the article and thought I sounded like a bit of a live wire so contacted my agent and asked me to write a memoir about my experiences over there. It was an extraordinary opportunity – and I said ‘yes’ immediately – although what I think I actually said was ‘Oh my god you’re kidding, Yes I’ll do it, oh my god, yes, yes, oh my god, yes!’ and the fact that I’m not the slightest bit religious didn’t worry me at all.
Also, I doubt very much I would have had the guts to submit a manuscript of my own accord. So really, for me it was the happenstance of a stranger putting their faith into me.
How many hours did you dedicate to pursuing your dream? I think when you love doing something; it doesn’t feel like work, so tallying hours doesn’t come into it too much. It’s a life long thing perhaps. Though I know when I have a deadline and I’m not in the mood, every hour seems like hell on earth.
Describe how difficult the business really is? I think like most things, it can be both tough and fair. The writing world is not as cutthroat as the acting world though. But like with any creative endeavour you have to have a tough skin to survive. Rejection doesn’t seem to bite so cleanly though with other careers because in the arts, you are putting yourself on the line. Who you are as a person, not just your skill set. Remembering that you can only do your best is helpful in those times.
What is the mistake that taught you an extremely valuable lesson? I had an editor once who instead of editing my book, kind of re-wrote it. I was pretty inexperienced at the time so figured that I aught to accept her changes. But as the book began to grow into another sort of animal, I felt like I was losing it, my voice I mean. In the end I decided to hand it over and perhaps ask for my name to be taken off, as it didn’t in all fairness seem like my own anymore. But my publisher counselled against it. She said they’d just hire another editor who was better suited to the book. I learnt that it is vital to have faith in your own voice and in what you want to say.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given to date? Trust yourself. Trust yourself even when you doubt yourself. Especially when you doubt yourself. Be open to advice but learn to listen to your own voice when making decisions. You may make mistakes along the way – but that’s a good thing – because how else are you going to learn, really learn?
Another really helpful piece of advice I was given is ‘life’s a journey’ and I took that to mean, don’t sweat the small stuff and remember that the good and bads are all part of the journey. It takes the pressure off.
In your mind, is formal training essential? To be a writer? Not at all. But I guess I’m saying that only because I haven’t had any myself. So I’m kind of bias. But there is truth to it. It’s helpful to get advice from other people, to read books on writing to get the basics, but you have to be your own guide in writing. That’s when the good stuff comes. Thinking about it, I think being self-taught is actually quite a good thing – as you learn by mistakes and you learn specifically to what it is you’re interested in.
Do you think having a mentor is important? How would you go about getting one for this industry? My mother, Rosie Scott is an amazing author/mentor so I was lucky enough to have her invaluable advice on hand. She says it’s often about affirming what somebody already knows. You can get mentorships for writing from a number of literary bodies like the Australian Society of Authors. Another way is to meet up with other writers to discuss your ideas and solutions for your problems.
What are some steps emerging talent can take to start/further their career? It’s like what Nike says ‘Just do it’ – Write and read. Write like the devil is after you and read everything you can get your hands on. I wish there was a simpler way – but I think that’s the key. Read and write as much as you can, because you learn on the way. You can even learn a huge amount from reading really crappy books.
What kept you going when you felt like giving up? Sometimes when I read back my work, I want to screw it up into a big ball and hurl it dramatically out the window. I’ll think that it is utterly crap, that I was a hideous writer and that I should hang my head in shame and start working in insurance…Or something equally as dramatic.
I think in those moments, the only thing you can do, again, is to try and trust yourself. Often very hard to do, but inevitably the right move I think. Self doubt can be the real monster. Doubt from other people you can deal with (by putting a hex on them or something) but it’s your own fears that are your worst enemy.
I also remind myself that if I fail at writing I can always buy into a chocolate stall and spend the rest of my days happily scoffing pralines. A back up plan is always a good thing.
Do you believe that ‘making it’ is about luck and being in the right place at the right time? To a certain extent, yes. Like the opportunity I had with Hachette. I think luck does have a role to play, but I also believe you make your own luck, too. That may sound a bit trite, but I do believe it.
They say luck is preparation meeting opportunity and I think that’s about right.
Take for example a musician, he/she can dream of the big time and hope that a record producer will randomly knock on their door and offer them a ten record deal. While the musician is waiting for that opportunity he/she can be out being drunk and having fun or he/she can be playing and writing music and perfecting their craft. So when the opportunity comes knocking – you are ready.