Saturday, February 22, 2014

Why The Long Face?

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.