Tuesday, November 1, 2011
FINDING EARL... AGAIN
So you want to be a professional writer. Cool. I have just one question: What inspires you?
Only you can answer that question. But I can tell you how it relates to the picture of that scruffy old guy above. First, let me tell you what's been inspiring me lately.
Sadly, that's often the life of a professional writer. Yes, we write because we're fortunate enough to be in a position to do so. But more and more we do it because someone's breathing down our necks, telling us that pages are due or that period-space-military-teen-sex-comedies are selling now so why don't we just "crank one of those puppies out" in order to make a quick buck? Now don't get me wrong. It's wonderful to be busy and to be in position where someone actually thinks you're capable of providing written material that doesn't suck. But like all jobs, even writing things you enjoy can--at times--become a (gasp!) grind. Why? Because of those pesky deadlines. They. Just. Never. Stop.
So what inspires you?
WAIT. I know you think you have the right answer. But let me finish first...
When you--Mr. or Ms. Professional Writer--get stuck in this particular grind and begin to write ONLY towards your deadlines, your creativity will suffer. But hey, you've got bills to pay, right? I know I do. So you push forward to keep your head above water. But soon you realize, amidst all this Hollywood splendor, that you are writing only for the deadlines... and not for yourself. That's when creative types can get into big trouble. It's also why I had been feeling like crap for the last few weeks leading up to Halloween. That changed this morning, thanks to a man named Earl.
Usually when I wake up, I try to get to my writing desk by 9:30am. It's my "routine." This morning I just didn't want to write, because I knew I had--yup, you guessed it--another deadline staring me in the face. So what did I do? I stayed in bed and watched an episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE called "The Hunt." For those of you who haven't seen it, it's a simple tale about an aged farmer who dies while trying to rescue his dog from drowning. [SPOILER ALERT!!!] When he wakes up, he almost ends up in Hell. But with the help of the dog whose life he saved, the farmer eventually finds his way to Heaven. [END OF SPOILAGE.] Sounds a bit cheesy, I'll admit. But it's an absolutely beautiful piece of drama, wonderfully shot and acted, and brilliantly written by future WALTONS creator Earl Hamner.
Well, sitting there watching this episode, it occurred to me that someone--Earl in this case--could have only written something this touching, this heartfelt and emotionally moving, by connecting with his own passions. And by that, I don't mean his passion for the TV medium. I mean his passion for country folks and the world they inhabit, as well as the unique kind of wisdom they possess. (Sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed when I heard Earl himself say as much afterward on the commentary track for the episode). It was Earl's passion for Appalachian milieus and sensibilities--or rather his absolute compassion towards them--that I was responding to. Earl's passion moved me. The result? One tired scribe got inspired again.
Okay. Now you can say what inspires you to write. But don't tell me. Tell it to yourself. That's what matters most.
And that's the point I want to drive home for you, the aspiring writer or budding creative type or grizzled Hollywood veteran feeling burdened by deadlines. When you hit a roadblock of any kind--and don't worry, you will--remember why you wanted to write in the first place. And no matter how successful you become, never forget how important it is to continually rediscover the things you're passionate about. And to write about them. Not only will this make for better TV, movies, comic books, videogames, etc., but you just might help out a fellow writer somewhere down the line. Remember, passionate material creates its own fans. It also helps keep the creative spirit alive... for everyone, not just its creator. That's something professionals have to remember, too. And if we do forget, hopefully there is a brilliant, fifty-year-old TV show out there that will remind us.
So thanks, Earl. Message received.