The first time I knew I wanted to be a writer was in the last semester of my last year of college. Between the end-of-school excitement, the parties, and the dread over what to do AFTER COLLEGE, I’d totally dropped the ball on my reading and homework assignments. Now, it was the last week of class, and the work was piling up. I had five classes, four of which required 20-25 page research papers—and truly, I had not cracked a book all semester.
Now, any sane person would start to panic. And I admit—I was worried. Since it was the end of the year, there was no time to ask for extensions. Plus—lets face it—I really wanted to be done with my studies.
As I sat down to start my first essay (which was due the next day at 9am), I calmed my breathing, cracked open the first book, and started scanning over the words. This was gonna be tough, and maybe even impossible. But as I read further and started to jot down notes, I felt another emotion begin to overwhelm me—EXCITEMENT. The task that lay before me felt almost undoable—four papers in four days—but there was something about the challenge being so great, and so insurmountable, that I began to relish in the total achievement it would be once I pulled this off. That’s right—I began to enjoy it.
For the next four days, I did not sleep. Literally. Vivarin, coffee and cold showers were my marching buddies, and in one incredible binge of reading, typing, and proof-reading, I managed to finish all four research papers, and hand them in on-time. It was a feat in which I still take pride…
Okay, yeah—sure. Everyone’s got their crazy “I didn’t sleep for a week” college story… I know that. But what made mine special to me was that I realized how much I actually LOVE writing. Not the outcome, not being DONE with the writing—but the work itself. For the last four days of my final week in college, I sweated through a shit-storm of last-minute work, and came out the other side a WRITER.
It would be four more years before I’d finished a screenplay, however. In this time, I produced television, developed a video editing reel, directed some short films and even got myself tangled up in a second-rate graduate program. But through it all, I wrote. In my journal, in letters to friends, in short stories, or for homework assignments, I always enjoyed expressing my thoughts on the page, and increasing, became drawn to writing stories and creating fiction. When in the summer of 2003, I finally sat down and began to bang out a feature screenplay, it was all of this OTHER writing that gave me the confidence to push through until it was finished.
And that’s the thing—a writer writes. It’s a common enough saying, but over the years it’s picked up a cynical quality that doesn’t do the phrase justice. Often, people to say “a writer writes” to suggest that if you AREN’T actively writing—if you’re somehow slacking off and not rising at 8am every morning to wedge yourself in front of your laptop—then you’re not a real writer. I reject that in part because some of my biggest writing breakthroughs have come to me as I was staring listlessly at the ceiling, or picking out oranges at Ralphs. Certainly, a writer can’t be writing ALL THE TIME.
But I will say this—whether it’s a few words jotted on a napkin, your musings on the day tucked away in your journal, or the mental energy of pulling apart a favorite poem while stuck in rush hour traffic—all writers are benefited by exercising their craft as often as possible.
We’ve all hit roadblocks while writing scripts, and no one’s ever finished a script (I don’t believe) without going through some rough patches during which EVERYTHING seemed to be sliding off-track. It’s totally okay to take a break from the writing, and to step back. It’s totally NOT okay, however, let this break turn into an extended track of time in which you are NOT WRITING AT ALL.
So, that’s the point of this post—keep writing, whether or not you are working on a script. Write as often as you can, in as many different mediums as you can, and your overall abilities as a writer will continue to improve. Seriously—don’t restrict yourself to screenplays. Give yourselves exercises in which you need to tell a whole story in just one page, or sign up for next year’s NaNoWriMo. Begin a blog, or approach your local newspaper about starting a column. You may put down your script for weeks or even months, but if you spend part of this break doing OTHER FORMS OF WRITING, I promise—you will return to your screenplay a stronger, more capable writer.
If you LOVE writing, then write. Write anything, anywhere. And if you don’t love writing, screenwriting is NOT your ticket to easy riches. Honestly—it is NOT. Find something else that you do love, and put your energies there.
After polishing off four 20+ page papers in that binge writing session during my last week of college, I slept for two days, then awoke with a funny sensation: I wanted to do more writing. Truly. I had never considered making a career out of writing before that experience, but moving forward, I knew it would be a central part of my life.
(and in case you’re wondering, A, A, A-, B+)