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Crawling into Spring
Finally! Winter is over! Thousands cheer! That months of cold weather, grey skies, forced gaiety, hassled shopping, gratuitous gift giving, guilty over eating, and - frankly - depression has passed, like all tribulations do. Now don't go getting me wrong here. I'm no Scrooge, just a guy that takes stock every year and always gets upset at what I see. Let me explain:
For years, I was the king of making plans, keeping statistics, goal setting and marking milestones throughout the year. I was on a path, a super highway to my dreams, my loins girded, my intentions intact and strong, my resolve unwavering. Then every year, I would find myself on exactly where I was the last year, just older and more tired. Jeez!
Some would say I'm jaded. I am certainly not jaded! Just pissed at myself (again) for not having gotten where I want to go. This year I had a killer flu bug that certainly didn't help my mental outlook, but that's another story. The flu has passed, the depression has passed, winter has passed, and I'm still alive and kicking. That, in and of itself, is encouraging, and thatís why I'm writing this article.
I'm fairly positive that most of us have gotten a case of the "don't give a sh*ts," as my grandmother used to call it, from time to time. We think, "Why the hell do I bother? Nobody's ever going to buy anything I write!" Well, who can blame us? We sit in a darkened room at a solitary typewriter (word processor, pad of paper, whatever) for hours on end conjuring up wonderful stories that run the gamut of the human experience, only to have others either refuse to read them or shoot them down at first reading or first partial reading, which is even worse. We rewrite and rewrite and rewrite, knowing that the latest tweak will make the stories soar, only to told by someone with a 10th grade education (with a grade point average of slightly under C-minus, no less) that what we have "isn't what we're looking for," or "has no story," or "isn't commercial," or "doesn't appeal to our demographic," or the unkindest cut of all - "You're six months too late. We just started a similar project."
So why don't we all just give up, get a good job selling shoes at the local mall? Sounds comfy, huh? Frankly, we can't. Story telling is an aberrant gene acting up. It's genetic! (Don't you hate it when that happens?) We are hard wired to create and tell stories. We can't help it. Even if we didn't write, we'd probably make up stuff in our heads to tell unsuspecting children at bus stops and significant others at dreary dinners. We gotta tell stories. We'd embroider the truth so much we'd be branded compulsive liars, when all we really want to do is make lives more interesting and dramatic. Our friends would shun us. Our employers would fire us. Our loved ones would have us committed.
So our only option is to continue writing and trying to get the world to notice how truly brilliant we are — not an easy task, but there are some tricks we can use to keep the old horse going. If you find yourself with the "don't-give-a-sh**s," think about some of the following ideas.
"Writers are the shaman for the tribe of humanity." Earl Hamner, Jr. said that, and I believe it. We're the miracle workers, the medicine men who force humanity to look squarely at itself, flaws and all, and rejoice in that. We do what no one else can. We report the good news about being human beings.
"If you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right!" Henry Ford knew the power of thoughts and knew that most of us get what we start out expecting. Attitude is everything (Sure, I can say that after being in a funk for a whole month...). Try it. Expect more. It works. Dr. Wayne Dyer also said, "You'll see it when you believe it." Get it?
Remember that if anyone in the world has done what you're trying, then you can do it too. There's a precedent. You"re not breaking any new ground here.
If no one in the world has done what you want to do, you can be the first. Set a precedent. Why the hell not?
"Failures are just people who quit too soon." Thomas Edison tried a thousand ways to produce a light bulb before succeeding. What if he'd only tried nine hundred and ninety-nine ways?
"I learned all I could from failure, and decided I had to learn from success," Jeff Arch said when asked about his career. Maybe we sabotage ourselves. Shoot ourselves in the foot. You think? How open were you to the last set of notes you got? How often have you not made that call to someone who intimidated you? How often have you not written when you thought you should? How often did you refuse to do one more rewrite?
Keep a sense of humor. Remember that this is all a big game. If we never sell anything, will anyone care in a thousand years? A hundred years? Next week? The old earth will go on spinning whether we sell our stuff or not. It'd just be more fun if we did.
Don't be afraid of anything! Dr. Rob Gilbert said, "It's all right to have butterflies in your stomach. Just get them to fly in formation." Most of the time we go into a meeting or pitch scared to death of the outcome. Think a little more cosmically. Will this decision really change the fate of the world or the universe? Probably not. If that's so, it probably won't hurt us either.
Remember to keep going, no matter what. Bertold Brecht said, "Don't fear death so much as an inadequate life." Giving up is easy, keeping going is gallant!
Enjoy what you have. Hey, you're upright and breathing, aren't you? Sure you can want more. If no one did, there'd be no progress. But maybe more is not what it's cracked up to be. David Zucker said, "When you get there, there may be no there there. But there will be a pool."
Rejoice in your self. There is no one else like you in the universe. Stone cold fact! Not negotiable! Don't try to be or write like anyone else. You're you! Period!
The "comfort zone" should be used for your thermostat, not your life. Do something that scares you. Do something scary every day. Take the leap. Make the call. Read out loud to your friends. Call yourself a writer - out loud. I have a friend whose theme for the year 2002 was "f**k fear." She was tired of being afraid to do things, and in the next year she made two films, wrote several published articles and found a boy friend. All because of her new theme for the year. Not too bad, huh?
Live in possibility! No matter what anyone tells you, it's all possible. All of it! Again, not negotiable! "Always listen to experts. They'll tell you what can't be done and why. Then do it." Robert Heinlein said that. He did all right.
One last thought from Goethe: "Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!"
So there's my little litany of wisdom for the coming year. Put it near your computer or desk. You'll find yourself looking back at it over the coming year, I promise.
Or, use it for scratch paper. The old earth will go on spinning anyway.
Doug Miller is a screenwriter, script doctor and teacher of story structure. Check him out at: http://www.alamedawritersgroup.org/memberfiles/meet_dougmiller.html