I wrote a movie, and it didn’t sell. Then I wrote a TV pilot, and it didn’t sell. Then I wrote a spec script for a show I liked, and I couldn’t get the show runner to read it. Rejection by rejection, the message was coming into focus:
My career is not doing well.
At first, it felt odd to me. My career had always done well before, sometimes, very well. Studios paid me, networks were happy having me pitch them ideas, I’d made money, I’d won prizes, I was, you know, if not “up there”, ranked prominently in the category just below “up there.” Objectively speaking, that’s pretty “up there.”
And then it stopped. I wasn’t close to “up there” anymore. Suddenly, I was down there.
That “ouch” isn’t from a couple of years ago. That’s from right now, thinking about what happened a couple of years ago. It’s been some time now, but it’s still “ouch.”
I’m not complaining, and if I am, I’m aware that I shouldn’t be. I’m one of the lucky ones. Paying work is no longer a financial necessity. I’ve done well along the way, and it looks like money issues will not be a major concern.
Old joke: “I have enough money to last the rest of my life. But I have to die Tuesday.”
(That joke always makes me laugh. And it totally depends on “Tuesday.” “I have enough money to last the rest of my life, but I have to die Monday?” – nothing. It has to be “Tuesday.” I have no idea why.)
Being unwanted was disorienting to me. It’s like my employers were saying, “You know that thing we thought you did wonderfully? Well, we don’t think that anymore, so go home.” I didn’t understand it. I had what I had. It was wonderful before. Why wasn’t it wonderful now?
I realize this part’s depressing, but I promise, there’s a turn, and everything’s going to be all right. Just stay with me. One last depressing section, and it’s “happy” all the way to the end.
I tried writing other things. A book of humorous essays, a book about cowboy movies, a book of cultural commentaries. I even tried writing a novel. Among my posts is a series called, “Why I Can’t Be A…” comedian, a movie critic, a screenwriter, a lawyer. I’m just a fountain of negativity. You won’t be seeing a post, called “Why I Can’t Write A Novel.” It would be too short, basically, “I tried and I can’t.”
I had decided to write a novel about summer camp. I wrote six pages the first day. The next day, I read them over, and I rewrote every word. The third day, I read what I’d written the second day, and rewrote every word again. On the fourth day, I gave up.
I don’t know how you write a novel when, every time you read it, it feels like every word you put down could easily be something else. In scriptwriting, I was pretty successful finding the right words. Novels are a trickier proposition. The right words remain frustratingly elusive, dancing behind the words you thought were the right words yesterday. It’s a mystery. I don’t know how people do it.
Movies, pilots, spec scripts, books – none of them were happening for me. I wrote an occasional newspaper commentary, but it had to be about television. An editor named Fritz at a magazine called Television Quarterly generously assigned me books to review. But as the name “Quarterly” suggests, the magazine doesn’t come out that often.
Bottom line: I didn’t have a lot to do.
To keep my mind from turning to baby food, I began taking piano lessons and extension classes at UCLA on subjects that interested me. However, for the first time in a number of decades,
I stopped writing.
For over a year.
I promised a turn, I’m delivering a turn…
I started this blog.
It was a New Year’s resolution. (A more successful one than “I’m cutting down on bread.”) Writing for money is great, but nobody was calling. Not writing felt wasteful – I have a gift and I was wasting it by refusing to work. Dr. M had suggested a blog a year earlier, and I’d snapped at her.
I'm a professional writer. I don't give it away.
Why did I finally decide to do it? It was time to get back to work.
Ken Levine, an acerbic angel, set my blog up for me. I call it “Just Thinking”, because that’s what I was eager to share – my thinking. Not just about sitcom writing, but about all the ideas that were rattling around my brain, the ideas that make me yell at my television.
I published my first two posts, and then went to a spa for a week. When, I got back, a commenter had left me this message: “So, is this going to be, like, a semi-annual thing?”
Since then, I’ve been posting five days a week.
(I’m easily swayed. Keep it to yourself.)
Writing this blog has been a joy for me from the outset. I like writing funny stuff. It feels good when someone writes, “I needed a laugh and you gave it to me.” I mean, you gotta feel good about that. Using your gift for good?
I also like talking about the Old Days. I hope, among other enjoyments, those “story of a writer” remembrances send struggling writers out there the message that success – to the degree that I’ve had it – is hardly a matter of just talent, and that by taking that in, you’ll be kinder to yourselves. A lot of what happens is not your fault. (And if you’re successful, a lot of it’s not your doing.)
I also like to promulgate my opinions. And I’m delighted at the opportunity to use the word “promulgate.” I hope to go on promulgating for a long time to come. You don’t have to agree with my promulgations. If you persuade me I’m wrong, I’ll happily change my mind. Of course, if I persuade you – vice versa. It’s only fair.
Everyone has a medium that best fits their communicating style. One person’s a talker. Another person’s a painter. Another person’s a dancer. And another person’s a writer.
Writing itself takes many forms, writers favoring the form whose defining rhythm best complements their nature. There are book writers, scriptwriters, pamphlet writers, letter writers, e-mailers, “post-it"-note writers, witty texters. Somebody’s dream medium is skywriting.
“I want to use a gigantic canvas and write about sunscreen.”
My communicating medium of choice is talking. Talking triggers my spontaneity. There was this line I heard once, I think in a play, where a character says, “How do I know what I think till I hear what I say?” That’s me, when I’m talking. Something pops out of my mouth and it’s like, “Wow! I think that? Really?” Talking surprises me with my thoughts and even more so with my way of communicating them. That’s why talking’s my favorite.
Blogging, however, comes really close. There’s this liberating spontaneity to blogging. Scriptwriting is akin to working a crossword puzzle. Your spontaneity’s hampered by the rigorous requirements of the structure. There’s no structure in a blog. You just say stuff. Not that I don’t edit and rewrite and shape and move things around. But compared to other forms of communication, the freedom here is exhilarating.
Talking allows more tools to come into play. There’s gesture, there’s facial expressions, there’s tone of voice, there’s timing. As liberating as they are, blogs are still sentences and paragraphs, and I’m still experimenting with way of immediacizing the moment. I also enjoy the opportunity for, hopefully illuminating, digressions. It’s a work in progress, but I’m excited by the possibilities.
Generally speaking – is what I’m saying – this form really suits me.
This is my hundredth post. I hope there’ll be more. Thank you for your time. Thank you for your encouragement. And thank you for your wisdom.
Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, but his invention was meaningless until someone invented the second telephone, so that Bell could have somebody to call. For me, you guys the second telephone.
I really appreciate your taking my call.