I’ve been telling stories since I was in third grade. I’ve never had any doubts that I would always write. There were times I thought I’d be a best-selling novelist or a fabulously wealthy screenwriter. I may yet be. But what I noticed was that as soon as I stopped pursuing dreams and started pursuing goals, I finally started to get somewhere.
One of the most important things you can learn about writing is that you must finish. It doesn’t really matter how good the story is. If it’s unfinished, no one really cares. So it’s an important thing to know. Remember, an unfinished masterpiece isn’t better than a finished piece of shit.
Another important thing to know is when to abandon a story. Have you ever seen a movie where you thought how on earth with all the money and people involved, did no one stand up and say, “Hey, this is a shitty, shitty movie!”? (If not, go see Pitch Black.) This is why I think it’s important to know when a story should be abandoned. It’s difficult. And sometimes it’s better to just finish it to get it out of the way. I have a screenplay like that. It’s about two pedophiles and a female Hispanic cop. One of the pedophiles is the ‘hero’ of the piece. It is not filmable. And I know that. I knew that as soon as I realized one of the pedophiles was a ‘good’ guy. But I wrote it to get it out of my head and now it’s gone. Well, except now you know about it.
Let’s get back to dreams vs. goals. When I was younger, I dreamed of being a successful writer. When I was a kid, I read a book by comic book writer, Chris Claremont and in the beginning he wrote “Special Thanks to the Jamaica Bay Yacht Club for letting me use their fax machine.” That was the first time I remember actually thinking it’d be nice to be a writer for my job.
What sort of writer? Well, that’s where it gets difficult. I didn’t really want to be a journalist. Journalists had to cover stories. They couldn’t just write whatever they felt like and they had rules and editors and bosses. As a young man, the concept of a boss bothered me and the concept of a boss of my writing sounded to me a lot like someone telling me how to have sex. I wanted to write what I wanted to write and that was it. I would write my incredible truths and people would just have to accept that and worship me. That was it.
I found that I was good at emulating people. If I spent a few hours reading a particular writer, I could write something that sounded like them. Eventually I got to the point where I’d read multiple writers directly before sitting down to write and the result would be this Kerouac, Hunter Thompson, Mark Twain mash up that was barely coherent.
I took creative writing classes and they were always talking about ‘finding your voice’. And I did and I do. It’s something that constantly changes. The one thing that seems to stay the same is I write fast. There are rarely extra sentences or extra words. I found that a story that another writer might write in 7,000 words I’d write in 2,500. This is mainly because I never really cared what color the wall was, I cared about what. Would. Happen. Next. So I didn’t have time to describe to you the blue flower print dress she got from Aunt Mable when she was sixteen. I’d just say, ‘She took off her dress.’ At first this might seem like a good thing, but in some ways it’s not.
Ruin Your Life is 43,000 words or so. That’s short for a book, but inside it talks about fights, drugs, sex, marriage, kids, lying, cops, teenage sex, and a bunch of other stuff. It’s a very dense read. It’s fun. And it’s not difficult or anything, but a lot happens in 240 pages and it took me a long time to come up with enough stuff to make it a full book. I’m glad I did. I’m proud of it. But my writing style made it hard for me to complete it.
And again, I’ve strayed away from the whole dreams/goals thing. Let’s try one more time. I suppose what it comes down to is that dreams are often not specific whereas a goal usually is. I’d like to be a successful writer. That’s a dream. I’d like to write a novel in the next year. That’s a goal. That’s something that’s measurable and real. Being a successful writer depends on the definition of each of those terms. I know a guy who writes for a newspaper. He makes his living writing, but he writes what his editor tells him to write and I swear to God he has no imagination whatsoever. I wouldn’t call him a successful writer because what he does isn’t real writing. I know another guy who has written some of the best short stories I’ve ever read, but he’s only shown them to a few close friends because he’s afraid of people stealing his work. He’s a far better writer than my other friend, but since he can count his readers on one hand, I’d have to say he’s not successful. A lot of people might say having written and published a book, I am a successful writer and maybe that’s true. I don’t know. I haven’t cracked open the bottle of wine I bought years ago for when I ‘make it’.
So yes, in the next year I will write a novel. That’s the goal for this year. Last year was Ruin Your Life and I still intend to promote the hell out of that, but I’m also going to work on the novel. Wish me luck.