Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Resolution time?

"I love to my resolution is to try hard to make time to read some books this year."

I've seen that resolution on lots of blogs this week. Frankly, it puzzles me. It makes no sense to me that people would have to force themselves to do something that they claim to love. I don't know why those people can't just be honest with themselves and admit that they don't actually "love" to read; they love the idea of being well-read because they desire for people to think they're smart. I can speak from personal experience that for people who really love books, reading is such a great joy that you can't stop us from reading. We'll lose sleep to read, steal time for reading at every possible opportunity, and even sneak books into places we shouldn't. But if you don't feel that way about books, so what? Find your own joy. Maybe it's drawing. Maybe it's music.

Even more puzzling (and saddening) to me is this resolution:

"I really love my resolution is to finally force myself to work on that script/novel I've been meaning to write for years and years."

How can someone purport to "love" writing if they never willingly do it? I suspect that there are a lot of Walter Mittys out there who love to dream about being admired and acclaimed for their writing, and confuse that with a love of writing. You know the type: they spend lots of time imagining their Oscar speech, but no time working on their screenplays. Look, writing is hard, and it's quite often a chore, just like any day-to-day career. But for those who are born to do it, there's a certain thrill and satisfaction in the doing of it, too. If writing doesn't bring you that joy, why on earth would you want to torture yourself? I think there are an awful lot of people out there who are making themselves miserable dreaming their lives away.

Resolutions are something you wish to do because you know it's for your own good, although it goes against your true nature. In a way, resolutions reveal a lot about who you truly are.

S0: who are you, really?

I say: the person you are when you're alone, when you're left to your own devices, is who you truly are.

Now, some people don't like being alone, perhaps because they're not all that interesting and are bored silly by their own company. Or they can't stand being alone because they have no idea who they really are, and they're afraid to find out. Or they simply need other people to give them a sense of purpose and identity, because they only know how to "belong" to a clique -- they've never really learned to think and act as an individual.

But let's say you do spend a fair amount of time alone. What do you do?

Do you actually read the "literature" you claim to admire? Or do you read trashy magazines you claim to disparage?

Do you get out and hike in the "beautiful outdoors" you claim to love? Or do you flop on the couch and play video games weekend after weekend?

Is there a disconnect between the person you pretend to be, and who you really are?

One thing I find very interesting is that most of the frustrated, wannabe* writers I know are also (unhappily) single, and complain about the misery of (not) dating the same way they complain about the misery of (not) writing. I don't think this is a coincidence. When meeting potential romantic partners they tend to have the same disconnect between who they really are, and who they fantasize they are. They'll describe themselves as writers -- even though they never write -- or creative, even though they rarely create anything. They'll describe themselves as energetic and active even though they're usually couch potatoes. They'll claim to be adventurous, active, deep, and literate, and a fan of various "smart" pursuits like foreign films and gourmet food and classical music...yet when left to their own devices they'd rather just glaze over in front of Survivor. With such cognitive dissonance getting in the way, no wonder they can't find a compatible match.

My wish for everyone for the new year is that people accept themselves as they are. While we should all strive to improve our lives, I think we should strive to be "me, only better," rather than "me, only completely different."

So -- to all you aspiring writers fighting the good fight, my New Year's wish for you is that 2010 is the best year ever for your writing career. And to all the "wannabes" out there, give yourselves permission to let go of false dreams and find your true purpose in life.

And to everyone, everywhere: may you have peace, joy, and fulfillment.

*not to be confused with "aspiring" writers, who actually do write but just haven't broken in yet.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

There's no such thing as overnight success....

Sorry for the sparse posts of late. "Real writing" (as in, the kind that kinda-sorta pays the bills) has stolen all my time lately, and forced me to temporarily neglect my bloggy blathering. Actually...this reminds me of something I've been meaning to discuss here -- a big bad four-letter word: TIME.

Whenever a working writer attends a cocktail party, it's pretty much a guarantee that someone will tell him: "I could be a writer too, if only I had the time."

And in a sense, that person is right. In the same sense that I probably could have been an Olympic gymnast, if only I'd "had the time."

If only I'd started at the age of five. If only I'd gotten up at four o' clock in the morning every day, to practice. If only I'd practiced after school every day, late into the night. If only I'd kept practicing every day for the next ten or twelve or fourteen years -- forsaking friendships, dates, hobbies, entertainment, and other activities that most people consider normal. Yep...if only I'd been lucky enough to have that kind of "leisure" time on my hands, I might have been an Olympic gymnast too.

Of course, on top of all that effort, I'd have to possess the natural talent to be better than all the other thousands of hopefuls who'd also spent their entire lives working towards the same dream. And the cruel part is, I wouldn't really know if I had that kind of talent, until after I'd spent all those years practicing.

Guess what -- that's what it means to be a writer, too. You don't do it on the occasional weekend a couple of times a year when you feel "inspired." It isn't something you hope to do eventually, or force yourself to do every once in a while. It's what you ARE. Your whole life is designed around it. You've been doing it practically every day since you were old enough to read. And it's the only thing you could ever imagine doing.

Everyone who earned good grades in high school English and can compose a decent paragraph imagines he has some special writing ability, and all he needs is a bit of free time to crank out a bestselling novel or a blockbuster screenplay -- just as every kid who can do a split or a handspring probably thinks he can be a gymnast. But the level of excellence which distinguishes the elite from the mediocre in any highly competitive field does not come cheap.

It costs much more than most hopefuls are willing to spend.

Because the price is time.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why doesn’t Hollywood make movies for "me?"

I hear this complaint all the time. "Hey! I’m a [baby boomer, senior citizen, intellectual, evangelical, etc.] ... why doesn’t Hollywood make movies for ME?"

Frankly, there’s a certain tragic narrow-mindedness to this viewpoint, as it presupposes that people have nothing to gain from seeing movies about people who are different from themselves. Presumably "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was exclusively for dashing male archaeology professors and "Die Hard" was made for middle-aged New York cops. And I guess only lonely robots found Wall-E’s story compelling.

From my point of view, one of the greatest things about movies is that they offer the opportunity to broaden your experience. To travel places you could never hope to visit. To embody people you could never hope to be.

But, okay. Let's say you really are itching to see movies about people like YOU. Well. Here's a list of 1000+ movies that were released in theaters last year. How many of those did you see, or even hear of? Are you sure not one of them was for you?

Isn't the real question: Why didn’t I know about the movies I would have liked?

The thing is, you don't hear people say "why aren't there paintings being painted for me?" "Why aren't there books being written for me?" In most of the arts, there's an assumption that you have to put some effort into finding those works which suit your taste. The same goes for film. Sure, a handful of would-be "blockbusters" are advertised incessantly, but they only represent a tiny portion of the movies created each year. Really, if you believe mass-consumption tentpole extravaganzas represent all available movies, then you probably believe all restaurants are McDonalds.

Every single year, hundreds of films are released that represent practically any conceivable taste. Offbeat films. Challenging films. Personal films. There just isn’t much mainstream money generating mainstream ads to promote these films, because they don't appeal to broad mainstream tastes. Every year, quality niche films are made, with the optimistic view that discerning audiences will hunt down and celebrate these little gems. If you care that much about finding special movies that are made for "you," track those films down. Go to film festivals. Subscribe to Netflix and take a chance on some indie films. Start a film club with like-minded people, swapping film suggestions. (Hey, maybe even make your own little indie film.)

And you know what? When Hollywood sees that those "niche" movies are making money, they will make more of those movies.