After a series of delays, I recently started writing a new spec. Oddly enough, I’m really enjoying myself. I don’t know why this surprises me so much. I actually like writing. Well, I don’t like every aspect of writing, but I do like this part. All the tough stuff like notes and rejections are (happily) far, far in the distance. Today, I only have to please myself and luckily I am very easy to please! For now, I’m on the yellow brick road, whistling a happy tune and there’s no business like show business! Given all this creative euphoria, it makes me wonder why I put it off for so long.
Procrastination is, of course, a part of writing. It’s the period during which (as my hero William Goldman puts it) writers convince themselves they can actually do it. My periods of procrastination last anywhere from two weeks to two years depending on the circumstances, but they always follow the same basic pattern. When I get a halfway decent story idea, I can't stop thinking about it. It follows me everywhere. It's like Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction." Whether I’m driving, pretending to exercise or standing in line at the Coffee Bean, it simply won’t be ignored. After a few days, I might mention my little embryonic idea to a friend, quick to classify it as “No big deal. Just something I’m kicking around.” Gradually, I inch forward; maybe writing an outline. If I like what I see, that means it's time to progress to the next stage of the process: Panic.
Realizing that I might actually have to write this, I start back-peddling and looking for every possible escape hatch. Now, it’s a stupid idea. It’s been done. The ending stinks. And it’s too much like that piece-of-shit movie I saw five years ago. Nobody will buy it. I'll be humiliated. Laughed at. Despite the fact that I now have a pillow over the baby’s face, when my friend asks, “Whatever happened to that idea you told me about?” I shrug and say “Oh, you know, I’m working on it.” Sometimes, I outright lie and claim that I’m writing it. Lying is a sure sign that I’ve hit rock bottom. Next stop: Despair.
This ugly chapter arrives with the realization that I don’t have the guts to write this story. I’m not smart enough, young enough or (my favorite!) "hip" enough to pull this off. I’m a dickless coward. A self-loathing disaster. "Some Cheetos would taste good right now," I think to myself as I scrape my spoon across the bottom of the Haagen-Dazs container. “No deal!” I shout at my TV set. Bitterly, I start tallying up all the years of selfless dedication I've given over to this horrible, heartless business. And that’s when I get mad.
Like a spurned lover, I turn my back on Art. Fuck it! Now, I’m reading the newspaper daily, profoundly concerned about global warming and upcoming elections. This is what I should be focusing on. I mean really, what’s more important? The world economy or some stupid script? I’m a person of substance. Not some Hollywood hack. Ask anybody! They’ll tell you I care deeply about the course of human events. To prove my point, I click-over from “America’s Top Model” to the History Channel -- which coincidentally gets me thinking a little about history.
History (as you may have heard) repeats itself. I start to count the number of times I’ve pronounced my career D.O.A. and how many times it's sputtered back to life. As I sit watching ancient civilizations rise and fall, it occurs to me that the world will most likely keep turning whether I write this script or not. And I’m again reminded that almost anything worth doing usually requires a little risk. I start cleaning my kitchen. I’m running out of excuses.
Then one morning, it happens. I wake up consumed by this strange, dull pain. I honestly don’t know how to describe it except to say that it’s not physical, but it’s real. Antsy and impatient, the only thing that gives me any relief is sitting down in front of my computer. Apparently, my artistic water has broken. I open a nice clean "Final Draft" folder and resign myself to becoming a parent again. Like all commitments, it’s a little scary at first. Initially, things go slowly. Then I worry that they’re going too fast. And then I start laughing. And then I’m okay.
I don’t know why, but artists have notoriously short memories. Anybody I know (who is any good) understands that our best work usually requires that we put a little love into the mix. And love (as you may have heard) can sometimes backfire, explode in your face and make you want to kill yourself. I’m not sure how my spec will ultimately turn out, but I think it's going well. I say this because of something that happened in the supermarket yesterday. I was standing in the frozen food aisle when it dawned on me that I’d been wandering around the store for a full ten minutes and had yet to put a single item in my cart. For a moment, I felt scared that this might be the early onset of Alzheimer’s until I realized that since leaving my house, I had been thinking of nothing but my story. And that is the cool part about being an artist. Every once in a while, we’re granted a wonderful romance where you and your beloved creation can’t get enough of each other. Happy and constant companions, you’re in love, inseparable and breathing life into each other. Like all honeymoons, it can’t last forever, but it holds a lesson for those brave enough to learn it. Fuck heartbreak. Fuck disappointments. Life is short. Suck up your guts. Open the door. Try it. You never know.
Copyright 2008 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.
This essay can be emailed to a friend by clicking on the small “envelope” icon below. David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being triumphantly middle-class in Hollywood at www.partsandlabor.tv