The first thing I ever wrote was a sequel to Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the film version with Jim Carrey. It was 10 pages long and had intricate crayon illustrations. It was a gift for my mother and featured the protagonists from the first film saving the holiday from the Grinch’s evil brother Drinch. I thought it was a clever spin on the formula of the first one.
That’s a good way to open, right? A flashback to my origin story, way too old to have been writing Grinch stories?
I don’t know if I could really call myself a professional writer. No one really has ever paid me to say things, I just realized no one was paying me to shut up either. I have spent a lot of the past five seasons of this weird sitcom called life writing short stories, film scripts and plays, but only recently did I get the chance to see one of my pieces, And Above All, come alive.
The experience was daunting, but I had finally created something. A lot is owed to the creative team behind the What’s Next? Festival who helped guide me into my re-writes, edits and eventually the final script. Pardon the pride and the warm feeling I got, but it looked so awesome and definitely made at least me cry.
This whole ordeal has taught me a lot about life, the nurturing of ideas and the intense physical workout required to reach “performed by a university theatre company” status. Here are some of the lessons I learned along the way.
Tell your friends, annoy them if you have to.
This article could have just been an apology letter to everybody I’ve ever talked to: my landlord, my dentist, my cashier at Sobeys and of course, miscellaneous loved ones. In conversation, it’s rare for me not to compulsively pitch you a three part mini-series about the wacky misadventures we’d have based on this sole interaction, but you’ll never read it.
It’s a shame, really. I had you pegged as a grizzled old detective reading the newspaper, while I danced to show tunes (my brain set us in 1920s New York, you have a moustache). The truth is while every great story starts with an idea, a lot of ideas need to be said out loud. Repeatedly. Again and again. Louder and louder.
A lot of them are going to be bad or just blurted out at the least opportune times. But when you find and idea that sticks in your brain, hold onto it and test it on your peers.
A lot of people say writing is a solitary endeavor. I think it’s a conversation. One thing causes a response, you have characters with personalities interacting with each other and their world. Where else are you going to get inspiration for that than from how you scream just a little too loud in James Dunn Hall?
“Just do it.” – Shia & Nike
You might have spent your last week pestering the entire dorm about your idea for a teen fantasy series that is DEFINITELY NOT HARRY POTTER, but an idea as totally original as that is good for no one sitting in your noggin’ like stale bread. You need to take that stale bread, cut it up and make sandwiches. That’s your first draft. Course then there’s reading the first draft and that is always a bit discouraging. But you have got to just do it, bite down, ignore the barista and write your gosh darn screenplay.
Do you not have friends to share ideas with or even ideas to share? Nope? Nothing to get you started? Just write “something does something, somewhere and something also does something” onto a blank page. Now you’ve got no excuse.
You did some typing you can do some more. You’ll edit it later. Shame yourself. Shame yourself when you don’t write and take way to much credit when you actually accomplish something. That’s basic discipline. You can spend your whole life with ideas in your head and who’s gonna care or even know? If you, the maker, can’t will it into existence, who will?
Let your baby go. Send it a brother.
But even if you can Dukes of Hazzard your way over all those obstacles, manage to get your work noticed and then find someone to produce it, there’s still the crushing realization someone else gets to have a say over your work.
In my case, it was brilliant stage director, Samuel Crowell (somewhere he awaits your applause) who had ripped my precious child from my tender love and care.
Disclaimer: Sam was actually a fantastic director, welcomed me to all rehearsals and had a vision that exceeded even mine. We talked loudly in JDH a lot.
It was nerve racking to go from writer to an audience member who knows all the characters blood types but what could you do besides say “I want it to be colourful.” What if people didn’t like it? What if the actors hated reading it every day? Or if the director doesn’t understand how the Nuclear Guide works? She’s living propaganda, it’s not hard. Look, apple pies!
The apple pies were actually Samuel and Naomi’s idea. And that’s why you gotta let it go. People will surprise you. They know how to express your work in a way you never could. Besides you’re working on the sequel — or something else.