I was feeling as if life had passed me by and it was too late to do anything truly great. I tuned into an interview of the filmmaker Richard Linklater on NPR, and felt even more of a failure. He’d accomplished so much and I hadn’t. (It’s a great habit comparing yourself to successful people if you want to create paralysis.)
In thinking about my past life, I decided I fell far short of my dreams. I was clueless about what I wanted for my future life. That’s not exactly true. I knew exactly what I wanted but I was terrified I would fail.
After listening to Linklater, I decided to think of my future as a movie. I’ve heard it takes 2-3 years to make one. Rather than plotting out the rest of my life, I’d focus on that short period of time. What would my next movie be?
I began by reviewing what I’d done so far.
In high school I’d mapped out my future selves: novelist, wife, mother, psychotherapist, college professor. That’s all.
First, the easy ones on that checklist. I’ve been a psychotherapist for most of my working life. I was a wife for a short while and a mother for a long one, raising two sons on my own since they were 2 and 5. They grew up. I taught college as an adjunct professor for many years. I grew up.
Now for the hard one: Novelist.
Novelist path, step 1: Write stories since kindergarten and get lots of praise from teachers and professors. (Not the path to success I thought it would be.)
Step 2: In college, switch from a Psychology major to English, because I was too in love with literature to be practical. (A later masters in Social work helped with the financial practicality a little.)
Step 3: Write lots of novels and never complete them because when you reread them they’ll sound so awful you’ll decide that an old box in the basement is better than a rewrite.
Step 4: Show 1 story to 1 friend. When she doesn’t rave about it like your mother does, don’t show any writing to anyone else, ever again.
Step 5: Become a single mother of 2 preschoolers with a full-time job so you have lots of excuses for not writing. Instead, take classes in screenwriting, comedy writing, and fiction writing as they’re great places to meet men, receive praise, and pretend to be writing.
Step 6: When all excuses are exhausted (kids grown, boyfriends absconded), write several hours daily then join a critique group.
This last step is actually a pretty good idea. A critique group is a great way to learn what works and what doesn’t, as it’s easy to know how to fix writing that belongs to your writing partners.
Step 7: Try to get an agent, go to conferences, make contacts. Then give up.
Step 8: Decide you’re a failure.
I’m not totally hopeless. I love being a psychotherapist and helping people find themselves as I become a part of their inspiring stories. I know I’m a better writer because of all my practice. I know I’ve succeeded as a mother because my sons are happy and love their full, productive lives. They also actually like hanging out with me.
But back to my next movie: this blog. It’s about figuring out your life through stories. Reading them, hearing them, watching them in other media, and making up your own with your actions, your writing, your talking.
Am I scared about sharing my writing with others? Was Shakespeare really Shakespeare? (Apparently not, according to some people.)
I recently read the book Rewrites, a memoir, by Neil Simon. He said that although he began as a successful TV comedy writer he was terrified of doing what he’d always wanted to do, which was write a play. He had to trick himself out of his fear of writing that first play, Come Blow Your Horn, by telling himself it was just an exercise and only he would read it. That way, he couldn’t possibly fail. NEIL SIMON!!! HAD TO TRICK HIMSELF!!! (30 plays, 30 screenplays, more combined Oscar and Tony nominations than any other writer.)
I’ve just tricked myself into writing this first blog post. It’s an exercise. Maybe no one will read it. Maybe someone will.
Although I’m no Richard Linklater, Neil Simon, or Shakespeare, I know one thing. Putting my writing out there is better than sitting in the dark and wondering what might have been.