I’ve been working on the same story for nearly a year now. This is exceedingly out of character for me. I’ve always prided myself on being a prolific writer, giving my plays and screenplays “two drafts and a polish,” a tidbit I have been clinging to ever since I read it in Stephen King’s nonfiction book On Writing. And yet with this story, I have written it in screenplay form three times, got nearly 80,000 words into the story in novel form, and then reverted to screenplay form for a fourth “page one” rewrite. And why? At first glance, the piece seems little more than a genre piece. And it isn’t that I don’t have other ideas that I’m excited about – quite the contrary, I have several potential projects that I could be working on. What is it about this piece that keeps me still working on it?
This has been a notable year for me, for personal reasons. I turned 40 in October 2013, which is the age my father Tom was when he died of cancer. I have flirted with many of the same self-destructive habits that he had my whole life. I held them as a badge of honor in my teens and 20s, and in my 30s juggled back and forth between viewing them either as an inevitability or as a problem to be attended to “tomorrow.” But this year, if for reasons none other than numerological, I have felt compelled to address them. At the moment, my health is good, as is my family life, as is my career. I wish to keep them this way.
There is nothing in the piece that I am working on that directly mirrors the issues I deal with in my personal life. “Andy,” the character I have been writing all year, has little in common circumstantially with me. So why is it that I am still so glued to his story? The glib answer would be: “I guess I’ll have to find out.” But I am not feeling particularly glib. I feel the real answer is that I am finally capable of giving something else the attention it deserves, not the attention I am willing to part with. This may be an easy lesson for some people to learn – maybe they never even had to learn it – but for me it has taken a while. And I am grateful for that lesson.