In Part 1, we looked back at the Past, what we had accomplished as writers in 2012.
In Part 2, we considered the Present, assessing where we are now.
Today we direct our self-reflection toward the Future. Not 2014, but beyond. Five years from now. Ten years. Twenty. We consider the question: Where do you want to go as a writer?
Of course, we can’t know the answer. Indeed we can’t even assume we’ll make any money in the creative arts. As I wrote in this TBOS column is: “Movies don’t owe anybody a living.” Swap out any kind of writing for ‘movies,’ it’s the same thing.
But while we must keep our feet firmly planted on the ground, understanding the odds against financial success, there is no good reason why we can’t put our head in the clouds, indeed poke above them to catch a glimpse of our possible bright future. In fact, it’s important to envision what a successful career in the entertainment field would look like because when you break into the business, one of the earliest conversations you will have with your agents and/or manager is around this question: What do you want to do?
During this part of your reflection process, if your mind wanders off into images of a home in the Hollywood Hills, a new sports car, walking the red carpet at a movie premiere, Spielberg on the phone to ask you to salvage a troubled script, your Academy Award acceptance speech, I have no problem with that. We all deserve and need fantasies such as those to kick-start our motivation from time to time.
But the focus here is specific: You and your writing. Where do you want to be with it in a decade or longer? What would be the most fulfilling use of your creativity as a writer?
Again if you haven’t joined in with our collective ruminations in this series of posts yet, now is a perfect opportunity. First off, there’s zero negativity involved in this mental exercise today, rather it’s all about a positive sense of your future (i.e., fun stuff). Second whether you subscribe to the theory of creative visualization or not, having a specific image of yourself as a writer in the future at least provides you with a point of focus for your efforts in the present.
Today: Where Do You Want To Go As A Writer
Here are some questions you may ask yourself:
* Do you want just to write movies?
* Do you want just to write TV?
* Do you want to write both?
* Do you want to write and direct?
* Do you want to write and produce?
* Do you want to bounce between writing big commercial movies and character-driven indie films?
* Do you want to write screenplays and novels?
* Do you want to carve out a niche writing specific types of movies or write across multiple genres?
I’m sure you have other questions to add to the list. Whatever you ask yourself, the important thing is to project into the future and imagine where you want your writing to take you.
As part of this series, I promised to share my own process. In reflecting on 2013 and the years leading up to it, I realized something: I have never fit in. I have always had to carve out some peculiar and personally meaningful path, and call it my own.
Perhaps it’s because I grew up a military brat. Moving around as much as we did, I came to see myself as an outsider. That’s one reason I became something of an expert in donning my social mask, using my sense of humor and the ability to listen to people talk about themselves to make quick friends. Yet no matter where we were stationed, I felt like I only had one foot on the ground, always knowing we would be getting transferred in a year or two.
When I went to UVA and Yale, I was intent on becoming an academic, doing research and teaching at the university level. Yet in college and graduate school, I played music on the side, both solo and with various bands. It was the siren call of music that led me to take a year off after getting my masters degree. It would be decades before I wound my way back to anything resembling an academic environment, but even there I don’t quite fit in as I not only teach screenwriting theory, but also a heavy dose of the practical experience of living and working in Hollywood. No elbow-patch, pipe-smoking professor here. Rather more like your crazy hippie uncle. I could give a hoot about grades. I just want my students to learn something about the nature and power of Story.
When I played music professionally, people would tell me how funny I was on stage, my between song banter with the audience. So off I went, a two-year stint doing comedy for a living. But that act defied description, part stand-up, part comedy songs, part characters, interactive routines with taped bits. Again going my own way.
Then I discovered screenwriting and for once I felt like – creatively at least – this was it. Yet although over time, I met hundreds of writers, agents, producers, executives, actors, directors and the like when I lived in L.A., I never really felt like I fit in there either. Loved the city and my friends, but I was not a party guy, nor did I enjoy all the bull shit and hype that goes along with trafficking in the entertainment business. The day-to-day practice of writing? I felt like an insider doing that. Schmoozing? Not so much.
Fate intervened and I took a gig for eight years with a television production company, moving my family 3,000 miles east to Chapel Hill. But I found myself missing movies so much, I started Go Into The Story. Plus I had gotten into teaching screenwriting online.
And my writing? I had grown weary of churning out mainstream comedies, so I embarked on drafting a series of small indie dramas and drama comedies, none produced, although one was literally a few weeks away from commencement of production when the funding unexpectedly fell through.
Now here I am. And as I look at where I stand today, it is a truly bizarre situation. I live in an unbelievably wonderful place, so great for myself and my family (Chapel Hill is an absolute delight), and yet despite being some 3000 miles away from the epicenter of the entertainment industry, I have never been as dialed in and connected to Hollywood as I am now. How did this happen? I survey what it is I do and scratch my head…
I am not a screenwriting guru, I resist that title furiously. A guru is presumed to have some deep special insight or wisdom, suggesting there is a secret to things. There are no secrets to screenwriting. No golden formulas. Each writer has to figure out their own way. But teacher? I am quite comfortable with that designation. Sometimes it is really helpful to have a teacher who knows their stuff. And while I do not believe there is one way to approach the craft, I am passionate about what I teach: character based screenwriting, a combination of Aristotle, Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, a lifetime of watching and studying movies, and decades of working in the industry. The approach I teach is a whole other way of looking at the craft, part practice, part academic, unique unto itself.
I am a writer, but after I finish this rewrite of an indie drama script, I feel myself being pulled toward a strong high concept comedy spec script.
And I am a blogger. What can I say about Go Into The Story? At one level, it makes absolutely zero sense for me to be doing this. I have never made one dime off this blog. Not a single cent. Yet I’ve spent literally thousands of hours hosting this site. 2,043 consecutive days I’ve posted here to be exact.
On the other hand, there’s a part of me that knows this is something I must do. This blog responds to one of the deepest feelings I have: My abiding passion for movies. Moreover I love screenwriting and I am zealous in my desire to promote screenwriters, especially in an industry where our work is so undervalued and seldom recognized.
So here I am at the end of 2013. And I’m more or less in the same existential spot I’ve been throughout my adult life: Not fitting in.
Or rather, maybe what I have done and am doing is creating my own place. No one else may be able to make heads or tails out of it… but somehow it make sense to me.
Thus as I consider 2014, I am trying to embrace an unusual idea, at least for me: Not looking to fit in, but rather accept the fact this is who I am, this is what I do. What it is, I’m not exactly sure. Teacher. Writer. Blogger. Whatever.
Accept the fact that I don’t fit in, I never will fit in.
I just know this: When I am talking about Story… as a teacher… a writer… a blogger… or simply a movie fan…
I feel at home.
How about you? Do you have a clear sense of what you want to be doing in five or ten years? Or is your vision of the future an amorphous one? Stop by Comments, won’t you, and share your thoughts.
Tomorrow we focus on practical matters. Remember what we’re trying to do here is be S.M.A.R.T. about our choices when it comes to Writing Goals: 2014.
S = Smart
M = Measurable
A = Achievable
R = Realistic
T = Timely
After spending time with our head in the clouds, tomorrow we focus on keeping our feet on the ground.
See you in Comments!