…Now give us Romana bickering with River Song.
If you’re a Star Trek fan and you haven’t yet scrolled down to Riker, you’re missing some of the greatest joy possible in life.
The weirdest thing about getting back to writing long form is that the detritus has all piled up. You don’t realize when you first start that your mind is a muscle, and that it will atrophy like any other if you don’t use it. You feel yourself getting tired even fifty words in, not used to pushing through this many sentences all at once. The most you’ve written in the last few months are a few pithy Facebook statuses a day, bon mots that will amuse your friends for the exact amount of time it takes to scroll past them. You haven’t done anything substantive. This is the writing equivalent of walking from the couch to the fridge in order to get a snack. What you’re trying to do now is run a marathon. It’s going to hurt, and it’s not going to come all at once. You have to train. If you can find even fifteen uninterrupted minutes to type out your thoughts and form them into a completed piece, however short, then you’re ahead of the game.
At the end I don’t blame anyone but myself. I always wanted to be a writer. That dream hasn’t changed—excepting a brief flirtation with wanting to play professional baseball—since I was a young boy, and I thought I was still working towards it. But what you do for a living has to be what you actually do for a living, even if no one is paying you. And so I found myself being anything but a writer, working day jobs and going to school and coming home exhausted. The last thing I wanted to do was go to the keyboard or pick up a pen. So I sat on the couch and watched TV or I browsed sites like this one for hours until it was time to drift into a fitful sleep. I wasn’t making any headway. I went for several years after college basically not being a writer, occasionally turning out a screenplay that I wrote in a few fitful sleepless nights that wasn’t worth a damn. I didn’t seem to be interested in doing it for a living. I was more interested in seeing my dreams realized without having to work for them.
Because I saw other people being very lucky, or so I thought. Friends were moving on to do great things and I was watching them feeling very proud, but I wondered why I couldn’t manifest things like that out of thin air. What did they have that I didn’t?
First of all, they didn’t lounge in bed until noon, falling asleep in front of Simpsons DVDs on snowy New York mornings when most everyone else was at work. I tried to live the life of an already-successful artist, and while I got some work and eventually did all right on that end I was never really dedicated to writing every day. I don’t know why I thought it wasn’t worth my time. I guess I never really considered it. My friends worked their asses off while I seemed to live a life of a quiet dilettante. Why did I only have one job in television production? Why did I seem to fail at being a good son, a good friend, a good significant other? Why couldn’t my record label be a bigger deal? You’re looking at a guy who failed because he couldn’t figure out how to work. I look back on a few years there and I wonder how I managed to do anything. I’m surprised I didn’t starve to death, honestly; in a more just system of merit I probably would have. I look back and I see three months of real work per year. Where did the rest go? Resentment. Sadness. Depression. Alcoholism. Some days I would go to the bar when it opened and sit there drinking until dinner. No real work done. Definitely no writing. Just a constant movement towards a fatter, lazier Rabbitte. Because once I found out that you could crawl into a bottle I decided that it was cozier there. It was easy to get out of college weighing 120 pounds with all kinds of future ahead of you and wake up six years later at 200 with no prospects at all.
I drank my chances away because I refused to get help. Meanwhile my friends won awards and make art and built businesses and got massively successful. I took those same years to fuck up.
And through it all I refused to make writing a habit. I believed in sudden inspiration and a certain kind of montage that would help me make all of my dreams come true, a total fallacy that led me to never actually do the work that I would need to do in order to succeed. Looking back now the evidence was right there. A friend of mine worked on a show for seven years before the first incarnation faced paying audiences. I heard that number and I thought “thank god it’s finally produced” rather than “that’s how long you have to work at it.” Forty hours a week for seven years. Fourteen thousand five hundred sixty hours. Suck on that, Malcolm Gladwell.
So now I’m years behind and trying to catch up. Flexing this muscle has been difficult; this morning I managed to write about five hundred words that I’ll never use and perhaps a hundred that will come to this space in some form or another. I don’t know exactly what I’m doing, and I guess that’s where I have to be for right now. I decided to get my MBA, go off and try a new city to live in, make new connections and basically reinvent my life. And in there writing became even more of a sometimes sport, something I do only when I can suddenly muster the strength or when I’m so tired that it’s almost a kind of self-hypnosis that I’m under and I have to get out some thoughts on the page or I’ll shrivel and die. It was no longer my priority, even if the first thing I tended to associate myself with was writing. I was still a writer, even though I had no right to call myself that. It’s like a man built like a stick figure calling himself a body builder because he occasionally thinks about lifting weights: it’s not a true statement, but for some reason it sticks as your identity. You refuse to accept anything else.
I was a writer, and therefore I still had to be. I am now almost ten years from when I was last published, so good luck tracking down any recent criticism from me. It’s been four since I finished a screenplay, so I couldn’t offer you anything even remotely representative of what I want to write now. I not only didn’t write, but I still expected those ancient specimens to represent me given the off chance that I was ever offered a job again. You’re talking to the guy who wrote a screenplay declared “inherently unfilmable” by Universal and was soundly rejected by Troma. What right did I have passing off the work of that era as any indication that I could write?
I have to keep exercising. My brain is a weakened muscle, and more than that it’s an attic that’s been left to the spiders for a decade. There are cobwebs everywhere and nothing moves correctly. It’s so bad that I have to mix my metaphors to even begin to describe it. So now I have to put together a training program. What you’re reading here is the first attempt to actually put together a piece on the new system, giving myself fifteen-minute sprints to create and then stop. If I do not allow myself to get up or think about what I’m doing or doubt myself then maybe something will come of it. The words will appear no matter what, and only a few of them will be any good; I’m following Sturgeon’s Law here about ninety percent of everything in this world being crap. But this is the exercise. This movement is the work I should have put in when I was wondering why I wasn’t where I thought I should be. I should have been sitting down in the morning or any time I got the chance to work my brain out. I needed to sit here and type like my life depends on it.
Because when you think about it, my life really does depend on these exercises. If I want to be good at writing, if I want to make my life and livelihood doing it, then I have to focus and get better at it. I’m not going to let myself think that luck just appears anymore. Luck comes to the persistent, and the more you work the more opportunities you create for yourself. I need to move forward and keep working at this art. I’m going to make myself a writer again by putting in the time.
This is hour one. There are fourteen thousand five hundred and fifty nine hours left to go. I hope I can stick to this regimen. I know that my hands hurt and that I’m running out of things to say, but I want to make this a real thing. I want to get better. My whole life I’ve wanted to be a writer, so now I have to start acting like it. I’m going to keep typing until my fingers fall off or until I’ve finally started getting into a paying routine for writing, whichever comes first. I’m going to make sure that I’m able to write a sentence that’s worth a damn; I know now that I write serpentine clauses that could stand to be cut down by a dozen words or so. I’ll find that voice as I keep writing. First attempts are clumsy, but they’re a beginning.
So consider this exercise day one. I can’t wait to see where it goes.
I said I was going to draw
I said I was going to draw
it didn’t happen
I said I was going to write
I said I was going to write
it didn’t happen
not a novel
I said I was gonna work
I THINK YOU CAN GUESS WHAT HAPPENED
Know what you want to do. Set a timer for fifteen minutes. Sit down at your desk and DO NOT STOP UNTIL THAT TIMER RUNS OUT.
Procrastination feeds on itself. You have to take active steps to stop it. Now cut it out and create.
Looking at something I made in the world was a surreal experience.
I had spent the last year in classrooms, retraining my brain to listen and follow along and do little else. Before that I had been essentially unemployed, the failed small-business owner searching for clients and failing. To see something that I made attract attention and funds in the real world was something I had started to write off as impossible. If you had asked me what it would be about ten years ago, I would have told you without any doubt that a screenplay I had written was bringing them to the theater en masse. If you had asked me five years ago, I would have told you about the album everyone needs to hear. If you had asked me a year back, I would have said nothing even remotely like this was impossible.
And yet here we were. I was in charge of a new marketing campaign, and the billboards were up and showing off my handiwork. This is what happens when the poet goes to business school. This is the merging of art and commerce. It isn’t so bad. What I have here is the start of something that feels almost correct. I know that I don’t want to stay in the corporate world forever; I get antsy sitting behind a desk, and even when I’m writing for pleasure I have to cut down on my hours so that I don’t go completely insane. I’m one of those folks who has to get up and move, who has to outrun demons and depression. So the cubicle life is not for me. I saw where I was when I ground to a halt; I was staring at the same white wall every day and wondering when my life was going to begin. And then I was almost thirty and I was still waiting. A lot of guys die at sixty, so this was essentially my midlife crisis. This was where I had to listen to all the doors slamming shut and realize that one day that was going to be my fate. I would have nothing but closed doors and I would be forced on to one path whether I liked it or not.
I could do that or I could get up and run. There’s something elemental in human motion, something that makes me want to be better. When I’m running, the rest of the world strips away. There’s only the most primal urges of the creative soul and my most deep and personal thoughts. I know what I have to do.
That’s the thing. Everyone in your world is going to tell you what you have to do. Everyone is going to have an opinion. You will be pulled this way and that, through to different possibilities and lives and livelihoods that some think will provide security and reduce risk. But you know what you have to do. You know deep down within yourself what you were made for. Each and every should have a chance to pursue and create in that realm where they are best suited. And you know what that is. You know your great passion and your great talent. Go towards it before that door slams.
I haven’t heard some of these songs in years, and it’s comforting to know that my 16-year-old self was into Crowded House, Le Tigre, De La Soul, and Huey Lewis in equal measure.
Who do I talk to in order to make this a reality? The BBC? The President? Adipose, can you help here at all?
I love the things that make my heart burn. I also hate it. The burning. It’s brought about only by things that remind me that I’m not quite where I want to be yet. Or, rather, a long way off from where I want to be. I feel it a lot less than I used to, that burning ache that was the driving force…
This explains way too much about how I feel. The burn you get when you’re ready to move but you have no idea how. Like the starting blocks are miles away and the gun is about to go off and you have to run like hell if you even want to compete. Like time is running out.
Seeing Em Kay perform up close was like reading Anaïs Mathers for the first time, hearing Lin-Manuel Miranda bust forth with incredible rhymes, seeing the crew at Rocket Jump or 5SF bust out film after film and get better every single damn time: it was electric. It was knowing that I knew giants, and that if there was any justice in this big old world of ours that they would change everything when they were in the spotlight.
They did. They are. They will. And this time I’m not getting left behind. I don’t quench this burning with fear and cowardice. Because as an old friend told me once, I have the heart of a lion. And when you do, you have to roar.
The blocks are too far away. This race isn’t starting without me. Time to sprint.
If they treat you like garbage, put on a garbage bag.
If they treat you like a bandit, black out your eyes.