Here’s the thing about being a writer. It’s not like being a plumber or a customer service representative. It’s a lot more like being a musician or an actress. What I mean by that is that you don’t actually have to do anything to call yourself a writer, a musician, or an actress. Most musicians, actresses, and writers don’t get paid anything, aren’t known by anyone, and will likely never even see one million dollars. The truth is we can’t all be Aaron Sorkin, Bruce Springsteen, or Julia Roberts. This of course will not stop millions of us from trying.
The truth is I’ve written a lot of short stories, two feature length screenplays, a bunch of short screenplays, hundreds of random thought things like this, probably fifty essays, thousands of letters, and a book that has made me just a little more money than I put into it. That’s right. I’ve been writing stories since third grade and I’ve yet to make any money.
There are those who would say that with a track record like that I should stop calling myself a writer and actually do something with my life. Those people would have a point. On the other hand, there are people in my life who’d literally beat the hell out of me if I stopped writing. They have joined me in my belief that I really am a Writer and not just some guy who types a lot. But the truth is I’d write even if everyone I knew told me to stop. Like Charles Bukowski said once, “I can’t stop writing, it’s a form of insanity.”
And since I can’t stop, the thing to do is become the best writer I can and in that way, writing is like everything else, the more you do it, the better you get (or at least that’s the theory). When I feel like packing it in and quitting, I just remind myself how 90% of Jack Kerouac’s work was already written when he hit it big with On The Road. I think of how Tarantino already had written True Romance and Natural Born Killers when Harvey Keitel walked into the video store he worked in and said they should make Reservoir Dogs. I think how Robert Rodriguez literally let people experiment on him in order to get money to do El Mariachi. All of these stories are inspiring to me.
Someone asked me if I wanted to be the next Quentin Tarantino and I said, “No, I want to be the next Jack Cameron.” All of the people I’ve mentioned got where they are because they were talented, persistent, and more than anything else, original. Originality can’t be taught. We all start out imitating. When asked how he felt about people imitating Aerosmith, Steven Tyler said he didn’t mind because when they started out they were trying to be the Yardbirds. And that’s how it goes. You learn by imitating and then if you’re good, you move on from there. And more than anything else, you don’t stop. You keep beating your head into the wall until one of you falls down because if you’re like me, giving up isn’t an option.
The trick to writing is that you don’t write it for anyone other than yourself and by doing that, you make it universal. I know that doesn’t make any sense but if you’re any good, it works. The stuff I’ve written that really resonates with people is the most intimate personal stuff and though I’m not a musician and my acting isn’t all that great, I’m pretty sure it applies to those fields as well. Hell, for all I know it applies to plumbing too.