Author B. Jeffrey Madoff: “You can make it happen”

The recurring theme, no matter what the person’s career is, is perseverance. Life is not easy. Making a living with your ideas is even harder, but if you persevere through the frustrations, the criticism, and navigate over, under, around or through the obstacles, you can make it happen. There are no shortcuts. You have to […]

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The recurring theme, no matter what the person’s career is, is perseverance. Life is not easy. Making a living with your ideas is even harder, but if you persevere through the frustrations, the criticism, and navigate over, under, around or through the obstacles, you can make it happen. There are no shortcuts. You have to do the work.

As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing B. Jeffrey Madoff.

B. Jeffrey Madoff has produced and directed award-winning videos around the world.

He is an adjunct professor at Parsons and teaches a course he developed called “Creative Careers: Making a Living with Your Ideas”. He is also a playwright and producer. His play “Personality: The Lloyd Price Musical” is premiering at People’s Light Theater in May ’21.

Madoff graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin with degrees in philosophy and psychology, and he was on the wrestling team, which prepared him for a life in business.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

My career didn’t have a path. Having a path presupposes a direction. I had none. My grandfather died when I was 7, but his memory is so vivid to me because he always told me stories. We bond through story. I’m seduced by stories and the ideas that spring from them. Things happened that interested me and I dove in, figuring out some way to do it and make a living. I’ve always loved books, be they novels or comic books. I drew comics and wrote stories when I was a kid that would get passed around school. Whether I was designing clothes, making films or teaching, I was always aware of the power of story — and it all started with my grandfather. He didn’t have a path either.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

I was working on a project with William S. Burroughs, Dennis Hopper and Terry Southern. They had a suite at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City and were working on a script for a movie based on Burroughs’s book, “Junkie”. Hopper was going to star in and direct it. He wanted me to act in it and work with them. Hopper had just finished shooting “Apocalypse Now”, with Marlon Brando, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. He would get a check from Zoetrope, Coppola’s company, endorse it and give it to Burroughs’s assistant, who would go out and buy whiskey and drugs. They would get high, Southern and Hopper would inevitably get into a fight about who actually wrote “Easy Rider” — they both claimed to. Burroughs would turn off his hearing aid so he didn’t have to listen to them argue. What I thought was going to be a cool project, working with these pop culture icons, turned out to be chaos, with work never getting done and the movie I was going to be in, never got made. So much for stardom.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

The biggest challenge is deciding what story I want to tell, then sitting down and writing it. I know I’m putting things off when I start sorting my socks or looking up movie trivia on the web or some other mindless avoidance. I do think procrastination has a purpose. I know my work habits enough to know that, for me, ideas percolate then come to the surface. I also know I can waste inordinate amounts of time before I finally get to actually writing. The key is, minimizing the amount of time I waste, like spending lots of time reworking sentences instead of moving forward. For the most part, I don’t do that anymore because I know how counterproductive it is. I feel better getting stuff done rather than worrying about whether it’s perfect. The editing part comes later. Editing, is essential for all good art, not just writing — but you have to turn out the work in order to edit it. Letting the idea percolate, then focusing on actually writing, then editing, is the way I do it. Allow yourself to find what works best for you, then do it.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I had been struggling with how to solve a problem with a script I was writing. I woke up at 3:00am, excited by an idea that would perfectly frame the piece I was writing. I solved the problem in my sleep! The next morning I couldn’t remember anything, except that I had a great idea that I couldn’t remember. Since then, I keep a pen and tablet by my bed. Now when I wake up with what I think is a breakthrough idea, I immediately write it down, and hope it still seems like a good idea to me in the morning.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I have written and am producing a play about Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Legend, Lloyd Price. His life was amazing, it took place during the birth of rock and roll, the youth and civil rights movement. He is an unsung hero whose story is important to tell. Collaborating with the director Sheldon Epps and the rest of the creative team and actors is a joy. It’s another dimension of writing, where the words are brought to life by the vision of the director and actors. We are opening in May of ’21. I hope the world has healed from this virus and is ready to reengage socially.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

A wonderful aspect of the book is there is not a most interesting story, there are many interesting stories. I interviewed fifty amazing people about their life journeys in business, from artists and journalists to entrepreneurs and neuroscientists. They were all very open and candid about how they got to where they are and the obstacles along the way. What’s most interesting is how they tell their stories and how that formed who they are and what they did.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

The recurring theme, no matter what the person’s career is, is perseverance. Life is not easy. Making a living with your ideas is even harder, but if you persevere through the frustrations, the criticism, and navigate over, under, around or through the obstacles, you can make it happen. There are no shortcuts. You have to do the work.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.

I don’t know that I am qualified to give advice on becoming a great author, but I can tell you what I did.

Decide what story you want to tell

That sounds easier than it is. It’s important to define what story you are telling. I knew I wanted to tell the stories that came from the interviews I had done.

Why do you want to tell it?

Writing takes a lot of work. If you have a good reason for doing what you are doing, you will do it. Staying motivated and believing what you are doing is worthwhile is essential. Ask yourself why you want to write whatever you are writing.

I wanted to share the collected wisdom and insights of the people I’ve been fortunate enough to interview in hopes of inspiring the readers to have faith in themselves, try what they were maybe afraid to try, and lead a more fulfilling, happier life. When I get emails and letters from my students, thanking me for the impact the class had on them, it makes me feel very good. I wanted to write a book to share these stories with a wider audience. I’m hoping that makes me feel good too.

Be curious. Always.

Ask questions. Read. Talk to people. Watch movies. Go to plays. Discover new things.

I do a lot of research about every person I interview and try to learn enough about their field that I can converse and ask good questions. If I’m interviewing a writer, I read their book. If I’m interviewing a neuroscientist, I’ll investigate their particular area of expertise. Keep learning. Always.

Write. Write. Write.

You can’t be an author without writing. Sounds simple, but it’s a lot of work. You need to find your rhythm; do you write best at night? In the morning? After exercise? Whatever, whenever, you need to create a habit so writing becomes something you do. Often.

Edit. Write. Edit. Write. Edit.

Writing is rewriting aka editing. Editing sets the rhythm. It clarifies. It creates velocity or, a pause. It shapes the writing into the form that best tells your story. It goes from general, taking out chapters or pages or paragraphs; to surgical, individual sentences or words. It’s the forge where your message is hammered into shape.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

I don’t consider myself to be a great writer, but thanks, I’ll take the compliment graciously. Perseverance, which is more of a personality trait, than a habit. It’s hard to write a book or a play. It’s a marathon, not a sprint and it takes perseverance to keep working at it. If you hope to make a living from it, or get published, you also have to persevere. The work isn’t done once the piece is written. It takes perseverance to get your work seen.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

I’m inspired by a wide range of work. I’ve read everything Raymond Chandler published because I enjoyed his writing so much. I was influenced by the cadence of his writing and the humor. Michael Lewis is an incredible writer of non-fiction. He has the unique ability to distill complex ideas and make them understandable, without dumbing them down. James Ellroy writes with an incredible intensity and velocity. I re-read a lot of Charles Dickens because his writing is so evocative. There are so many others, but what unites them is that they all know how to tell a story that totally engages, be it fact or fiction.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Getting people involved with storytelling. Stories not only can bring people together, they can foster understanding and reduce hatred.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

For Creative Careers, the website is on Instagram, @acreativecareer, LinkedIn is B. Jeffrey Madoff. The website for my production business is,

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!

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